Disclaimer: I own nothing! (If I did, Sam and Dean would hug WAY more. :P)
It begins when he is five. It is his first day of kindergarten, and he is nervous and excited at the same time. Dean gives him a hug and a "Good luck, Sammy!" before heading to his own class. Sammy tears up and starts to follow after his big brother when his new teacher grabs his hand, pulling him toward a different classroom. "It's okay, sweetie," she coos, "you can see your brother after school." He doesn't want to go with her, but puts on a brave face (like Dean would) and joins the other children.
Halfway through the day, Sam is almost starting to forget about his brother and enjoy himself. The class is doing crafts, coloring on construction paper, decorating it with glitter and stickers. Sam had stood to get some more glue, and is on his way back to his desk when he trips on his shoelaces, landing hard on his knees and spilling the small cup of paste on the floor. The other students laugh at his clumsiness, and Sammy feels tears well up in his eyes. The teacher quickly comes and helps him up, speaking soothingly "It's okay, you're alright," as she shushes him. The boy pouts as she puts a Band-Aid on his knee. "I wanna go home!" "You can't until school's over." Sammy rethinks his request. "I want my brother." The teacher smiles patiently. "He has to stay in his class, honey." She begins to lead him back into the classroom and Sam remembers the other students' laughter. He whispers despairingly under his breath,
"I wanna hide."
The nightmares start the first time he is left alone. Sam is eight, close to nine, and Dean had just turned thirteen and had begged their father to let him come on a hunt. The oldest Winchester had been hesitant, but finally agreed to let his eldest son accompany him on a routine salt and burn. It is a simple enough job, and they should only be gone for one night, so once the sun goes down John reminds Sam to check the wards before bed, says a quick "see you in the morning" and drives away with an excited Dean beside him. Neither hear the quiet "Be careful" behind them. When Sam curls up in bed, even when the numbers on the clock glow midnight, one o'clock, two, he cannot sleep. In the back of him mind, he's always feared for his father's safety, but he's never lost sleep over it. But now all he can think about are the times his dad came home covered in blood, and how he's never had it in him to ask who, or what, the blood belonged to. When he finally drifts to sleep, he dreams of John coming home, alone, dripping blood that smells like Dean and shaking his head in apology. Sam is asleep for two hours before he wakes up shaking.
The next morning, John and Dean walk in casually, and Dean looks annoyed when his little brother immediately latches on to him. "Jeez, kid, I was only gone one night." When he finally pries Sam off of him, he grinningly tells exaggerated tales of his adventure while their father shakes his head in amusement. When Dean finally stops to take a breath, John chimes in "You did good out there, son. I might start taking you out with me more often." Dean beams with pride and Sam smiles weakly, trying so hard to be happy for his brother.
When Sammy wakes up screaming, Dean asks him what's wrong and stares at him in confusion. Sam says nothing. He just cries.
At ten, Sam is scarily aware of his own thoughts. Teachers have commented on how smart he is, and if he stayed in one place for more than a few months he might have been allowed to skip a grade or two. But as it is, he finds himself "the new kid" practically every other month, and he walks down the hallway feeling the eyes on him, hearing the whispers following him. In those moments, Sam knows what he wants. While other kids want bikes or candy or video games, Sam stands in front of fountains and wishes to not be seen. He stares as the sky and on every falling star wishes to be invisible. More than anything the youngest Winchester wants to exist in peace, with no one to watch him, see him, judge him. He is self aware enough to recognize that his thoughts are unusual, but with every new wish, he can't bring himself to care.
Sam is eleven when he realizes how unfair the world is. He had an idea up till now, but the realization is stark when he comes home one day, clothes dirty and torn from some particularly mean kids at school, and no one notices. John Winchester is busy researching the current case he is on, and makes no move to even acknowledge is son's presence. Not seeing his older brother, Sam rushes back into the room the two boys share, not bothering to say anything to his father, who probably wouldn't hear him anyway. He finds Dean lying on his bed reading a car magazine. When Sam enters, the other boy lifts his head briefly before turning back to his magazine. "Hey Sammy." He adds as an afterthought. It is then that Sam realizes. He has spent the entire day under the unwanted scrutiny of his peers, but once he comes home to the two people in the world he wants to see him, he goes unnoticed.
Dropping his backpack, he flings himself at Dean, burying his face in his big brother's stomach. Dean starts, surprised by the action, and immediately wraps his arms around the boy. "Hey, Sammy, what's wrong? Sammy?" The younger Winchester takes a shuddering breath, still hiding his face in the other's shirt. "Bad day." The worst.
It is soon after this realization that the OCD starts to kick in. Sam's life is riddled with chaos, and even as a child he finds the lack of control over his own life disturbing. Constantly moving, constantly watching his family leave, constantly waiting fearfully for their return, all with no rhyme or reason. The youngest Winchester finds comfort in the little things he can influence. The way his clothes are folded, the way his bed is made, the way his pencils are lined up next to his notebooks which are placed in the very center of his desk with his back pack hung carefully on the back of his chair. His father and brother only take notice long enough to deem him useful for cleaning and organizing the weapons, Sam always keeping them sharp and polished and neatly placed in logical spots. Beyond that there are no comments, beyond occasional sarcastic remarks from Dean about being a "neat freak". Sam never replies. He just keeps cleaning and organizing, finding places for everything in a vain attempt to find a place for himself.
Twelve is a hard age for Sam. He is always the new kid and smart and a bit chubby and middle school boys are cruel and have no issue singling him out. If he's honest with himself, it's not much different from how kids have treated him before. But now, Sam has reached an awkward age were he still feels like a child but has been deemed too old for comfort by his father. For the first time, when Dean asks him how his day was, he lies. Keeping his head down, he claims his day was "fine" despite the scrapes on his elbows and the bruises on his back and the tears locked away inside him. He learns to be tough, not to run to his older brother for every little thing. Every now and then he catches Dean looking at him, and he screams in his mind for the older boy to call him out, to catch him in his lie and force the truth out of him and tell him it's going to be okay and hold him until he believes it. But he never does. It is painful, and Sam is once again torn between walking to school praying for invisibility, and walking home just wanting to be seen.
Sam goes on his first hunt when he is thirteen, same as Dean. The difference is that he never asks to go. The first job they come across after his birthday, John looks at him, like he's sizing him up, before tossing him a shotgun with a gruff, "You're old enough now. Dean was." The comparison is not lost on Sam, and he feels a sudden need to prove himself. Maybe he could be like Dean. Maybe he should be like Dean. The older boy never had problems with kids at school, or nightmares, or filled their father with disappointment. John looked at Dean and saw him and smiled at him. Sam wanted to be like Dean.
John and Dean dig up the bones of their angry spirit while Sam keeps watch, hands grasped tight around the gun loaded with rock salt. When the spirit appears, wailing and screeching at the attempt to destroy it, Sam aims and fires. And misses. The ghostly figure flings him into a tombstone, causing the gun to drop from his fingers. Sam stares, eyes wide, and the spirit moves toward him. He knows he should reach for his gun, but his body is frozen. Suddenly, there is an unearthly scream as the spirit bursts into flames. Sam feels like he is looking into the sun, but can't bring himself to turn away or even blink at the inexplicably familiar sight.
Once it is over, John brushes the dirt from his hands and frowns at his youngest son. "You need to practice your shooting more, your aim was way off. And don't freeze up like that again! That's a grade-A way to get one of us killed." His voice is harsh, almost accusatory, as if Sam had wanted any of this to happen. Shaking slightly, Sam wishes his father would go back to ignoring him. "Yes, sir." As his father returns to the car, Dean smiles sympathetically and gives him a hand up.
Driving home, Sam decides he hates hunting.
He is fourteen when the growth spurt hits. In a matter of weeks the small, stocky boy shoots up and Sam finds himself suddenly tall and lanky. Dean ruffles his hair, laughing about how it was about time and sarcastically mourning the loss of "a good arm rest". Sam sits in his room and tries not to cry. How was this better? What was the point of keeping his head down when he was head and shoulders above his peers?
The increase in height increases the smaller things Sam thought he had a handle on. Control has become a valuable commodity that the youngest Winchester can't get enough of. His half of the room he shares with Dean is beyond neat, it's sterile. Whatever apartment or motel the family is staying in is almost always cleaner when they leave than it was when they arrived. Food enters the control category unexpectedly, but after finally escaping the relentless comments from his family about his weight and eating habits, he fears going back. Sam's growth spurt had left him long and lean, and he'd be damned if a little too much junk food made him the target of fat jokes again. Of course, it doesn't take long for Dean to start making fun of Sam for eating "rabbit food", so Sam resorts to eating only when he is alone. It isn't hard, considering his father and brother spend most of their time working and rarely keep up with regular, family meals.
Only once does Dean witness the true disorder of his brother's mind. He's noticed the cleaning; it's hard not too. Waking up and finding every room mysteriously neater than when he fell asleep, it wasn't difficult to figure out. But Dean never really thought about it, about the deeper meaning, the ramifications, the fact that he never actually sees Sam do anything. Until one day, after a long morning of fruitless research on a spirit that has continuously evaded them, their father abruptly stands, "Damn it!" and sweeps a mug of coffee onto the floor of the kitchen in frustration. After watching John stalk into his own room, Dean carefully picks the shards of ceramic off the tiles before wiping the coffee up with a damp paper towel. All the while, he can feel Sam's eyes boring into him. His little brother sits unmoving on the couch in the adjoining living room of the apartment they are currently occupying. His hands are clenched in tight fists in his lap, and his eyes are unblinking as he stares at the kitchen floor. Dean finds it odd, but the tension in the room is too thick, so he remains silent.
That night, Dean wakes and finds Sam's bed empty. The clock shows that it is three in the morning as Dean quietly slides out of bed. It only takes him moments to find his brother. Sam is in the kitchen, the lights still off leaving only a sliver of moonlight to illuminate the small space. He is on his hands and knees, still in his pajamas, and scrubbing relentlessly at the tiles that had been coffee stained mere hours earlier. The smell of lemon soap and harsh bleach cleaner sting Dean's nose, and he wonders how his little brother can stand being so close to the fumes.
Sam knows Dean is there. And Dean knows that Sam knows that he is there. But the whole scene is far too surreal, watching the silhouette of his baby brother bruise his knees as he desperately tries to make the off-white tiles white again. The older Winchester stands there for almost an hour, trying to wrap his head around exactly what he is seeing and what he is suppose to do about it. Finally, he slowly backs away and returns to his room. In the morning he pretends it was all a dream (prays that it was all a dream) and tries to ignore the way the off-white kitchen tiles are shining, and the dark circles under Sam's eyes, and the fact that Sam's fingers are raw from staying up till dawn scrubbing at stains that Dean just couldn't see.
As the impala drives through the dark on a road he's forgotten the name of, Sam curls up in the back seat, knees to his chest, doing everything he can to take up as little space as possible. He wonders, if he could fold himself in half enough times would he eventually disappear? Somewhere in his mind, he acknowledges the shift from wanting to be invisible, to wanting to disappear. It's a dangerous train of thought to follow, he knows, but it's too appealing for him to let go.
Sam is fifteen when he almost dies.
A single water spirit is trouble, but it doesn't take long for the Winchesters to realize that they are dealing with the spirits of thirty-two people who drowned in a lake after their boat was sabotaged by an angry, drunk family enemy. Their bones are at the bottom of the lake, and it seems as though different spirits want different things, leaving no way to satisfy them all. The only solution the hunters can think of is an old, complicated spell to essentially exorcise the entire lake. John and dean are shooting endless rounds of rock salt at the angry waves, as Sam stands on the dock and reads the spell.
He is almost finished, close enough to think that everything just might be okay, when the water begins ripping at the rotting wood of the dock. Sam tries to brace himself as the platform rocks. Hearing the wood begin to crack, he stops reading, instead turning to run back towards the shore. However, Sam knows almost immediately that he isn't going to make it. Realizing that without the spell his family stands almost no chance, Sam chucks the book he was reading from onto solid ground just as the support beams give way.
Suddenly, Sam finds himself plunged under icy water, shocking his body and mind. Everywhere the water touches, everywhere, he can feel the hands, countless hands, of the many spirits touching him. Some are angry, tearing and clawing and pulling him down. Other are crazed, lonely, gentle, and he chokes at the feel of fingers running down his spine, up his chest, across his jaw. He swears he feels a body pressed against his, swears he can feel lips on his neck, his collarbone, whispering in his ear and he feels sick. The angry ones continue to drag him down, scratching at his skin and clothes, and Sam wonders if it would be so bad to go like this. His body could vanish into the black waters, his flesh disintegrating until he was just a pile of bones hiding among rocks. John and Dean may be sad at first but they would be fine. They were always fine. In the depths of this lake he could finally disappear.
Sam doesn't know how long it has been since he was pulled under, if it has been seconds or minutes or hours, but he closes his eyes, stops struggling, and releases the breath that has been burning his lungs.
The stream of bubbles creates halos of light as they drift towards the sun.
He feels himself fading, ready to curl up in the oblivion of nonexistence where there are no eyes but his own, when the numerous hands on him suddenly burn away, and a new pair wrap around him. Sam begins thrashing, trying to escape, trying to pull away from the light he is being dragged towards. Within moments, Dean has broken the surface of the lake, and Sam takes an involuntary gulp of air, gasping and sputtering. Dean drags him to the shore, clutching Sam to him even when he starts screaming.
"Let me go, LET ME GO!"
Dean gently grabs his little brother's face, forcing him make eye contact even as he continued to struggle.
"Sammy, it's me. It's me! Calm down. I got you, I got you."
The youngest Winchester goes limp in his arms. And if a few tears escape, his older brother is nice enough not to say anything. And if Dean thinks Sam was crying out of fear of almost dying, his little brother is nice enough not to say anything.
It takes weeks for Sam to muster the courage to tell his father about Stanford. He had received his acceptance letter shortly before he learned of the full-ride he had received. Any other kid would have been jumping off the walls, but Sam merely stares at the letters for over an hour in the dead of night when no one can see him.
As he finally stands before his father, he carefully lays his plans out, outlining every logic he has come up with. With the scholarship it wont cost the family a thing, he can still return home on breaks, his father had always called him a burden anyway, and he would only be a phone call away if they ever did need him. He speaks in a quiet, subdued voice. Sam just wants to leave quietly, slip through their lives silent and unnoticed as he has on any other day. He is not so lucky.
John tries to brush his youngest son off almost immediately. A brusque "No", that he expects to be obeyed same as every command. But Sam is persistent. He wants this. Wants this opportunity, because he knows that maybe his father is right and maybe he can never lead a normal life but he has to know that he tried. And if he makes a mistake, he is fully prepared to own up to it. However, he needs to know that he was the one who made it, that he had control over this one decision in his life. His father does not see it this way.
His heart beats wildly and Sam feels like his ears may bleed from the hurtful words his father throws at him as efficiently as knives. John stands, his presence huge and intimidating as he shouts about Sam abandoning the family and disrespecting the memory Sam didn't have of a woman Sam didn't know. He calls Sam foolish and naïve and selfish. Maybe if John saw, really saw what his words were doing to his child, he would stop. But he doesn't, and Sam can't bring himself to just stand there and take it.
Sam doesn't even know what he himself is saying. He is vaguely aware of hearing his voice sprouting nonsense in a furious tone. On a surface level he feels his arms waving in frantic gestures that could easily be misread as anger. Sam's whole body is shaking and he just wants to cry.
Look at me. Look at me look at me.
"LOOK AT ME!"
John Winchester looked straight into his youngest son's eyes, gaze as cold as ice.
"If you walk out that door, don't you ever come back."
Frozen, Sam stares at his father. This isn't right, this isn't fair. More than anything he doesn't want to give up his family. But at the same time… what kind of family makes you choose like this?
His father's eyes are still piercing him, and Sam can feel it even as he finally turns away, even as he gathers his meager belongings and placing them meticulously into a small duffle bag. Hoisting the bag onto his shoulder, he glances at his father once more, opening his mouth to say something, anything. The look given to him kills the words before they can even form.
As he walks out the door, he spares a glance for Dean, his big brother that even at this moment he can't imagine life without. The older Winchester is staring at him blankly, like a stranger he is just seeing for the first time.
Walking out the door, tears streaming down his face, Sam knows it isn't far from the truth.
Alright, for the record, sorry if Dean seems kind of cold or mean or, I dunno, uncaring? I actually love Dean, but in my head, I put him in some difficult situations (I love me a messed up Sam. XP), and you have to remember that Dean was a kid, too. I imagine he wouldn't have really known what to do in those situations, and may have even been a little scared. So it's not that he doesn't care, he's just a kid in a hard situation who doesn't handle it in exactly the best way.
Aaaand rant done. :P