The constricted feeling hadn't left Sam. It had been gripping his gut ever since he saw Lilith's blood curling into a circle, opening the gates of hell. No, it started before that. Was it when Dean saw him drinking blood? Was it when he talked to Ruby alone and kept secrets from Dean?
Maybe it had been there even longer, only now with guilt layered on top. Sam had always been angry.
And now his weakness, his arrogance, his flawed nature had kick-started the goddamn apocalypse.
It was overwhelming.
At Stanford, Sam read a philosophical essay on "moral luck". The idea was that some people have an easy time being good because they never have to make any hard choices, but other people are tested and we judge them harshly when they fail. If you lived in the Congo, would you sell out your neighbors to buy your own or your family's safety? If you lived in Palestine, would you kill civilians because they might be suicide bombers? If you lived in Nazi Germany, would risk yourself and your children to shelter strangers from an unknown but terrible fate? The point isn't whether you answered yes or no, the point is that you've never had to face the question. And that accident of birth and history is luck, not moral fortitude. That's what Thomas Nagel argued anyway.
Sam's professor said his analysis was "among the most cogent and insightful" she had ever read.
So maybe Sam was a little resentful instead of completely guilty. Bitter that he had to make this choice and that everyone lucky enough to escape that particular conundrum got to sit back in pity and judgment.
Sam scribbled a note so Dean wouldn't panic if he woke up and he left the motel room to go sit in the Impala. He grabbed the iPod adapter out from under the seat and plugs it in.
Sammy is thirteen and he just stole an mp3 player. Dad has taught him all about how to pickpocket and palm stuff. It's a useful skill for hunting, but it's also a useful skill when no one in your family has held a real, honest paying job in over a decade. Sam doesn't steal a lot. He doesn't take the fanciest model. In fact, most of the time, he only steals stuff he needs or stuff he's too embarrassed to ask for, like diarrhea medicine.
He has a couple of excuses as to why this is a need and not a want, but he's knows he's just rationalizing. He downloads a bunch of mp3s at the school library (their crappy NetWall censorware is practically useless) and loads them onto the drive. It's modern music, not like the stuff Dean and Dad listen to: grunge and alternative and punk and yeah, even the whole girls-with-guitars genre that he knows will earn him nothing but mockery from his older brother. Then he rips a copy of 'Teach Yourself Latin, Volume 2' and adds that as well, to justify the whole thing.
He's a moody kid. Thirteen is a moody age and Sam feels pretty justified in arguing that he has more on his plate than most thirteen-year-olds. So if he wants to sulk around with headphones on, is that really too damn much to ask?
He likes the Smashing Pumpkins, the song Bullet with Butterfly Wings. It's the one where they keep screaming, Despite all my rage / I am still just a rat in a cage. Sammy's got a lot of rage and it doesn't do him a damn bit of good.
Sammy's going to need his rage fresh when he gets back to the motel because he found some information today and now he needs to have a talk with Dean.
"You're not registered for school," says Sammy, flatly.
Dean shrugs. "I haven't been going for a while, anyhow." That's true enough. Dean plays hooky when there's research or training to do, or when he just feels like getting stoned and watching porn. And even when Dean does go to school, it's been ages since he's actually done his work.
Sammy scowls. "So Dad just makes you drop out of school? So you can be his lackey full-time?"
Dean smacks Sammy across the back of the head – hard enough to hurt, but not hard enough to do damage. "Dad didn't make me, shithead. He let me pick between school and hunting. It wasn't a hard choice."
"Yeah, but what about your future? You're going to be a high school dropout?"
Dean scoffs. "Yeah, I can see it now. It's gonna be me versus a werewolf and the thing is gonna charge at me, teeth bared and suddenly it's gonna stop and say, 'I just can't bring myself to kill somebody with a diploma'." The werewolf's imagined speech is said in mocking falsetto. "Seriously, Sammy. We're hunters. Nobody fucking cares about the War of 1812."
"I can't believe you're not pissed. Parents should want their kids to have opportunities, not just end up in the same crap life they have."
Dean rolls his eyes, but he says placatingly, "Nobody's talking about you dropping out, Sammy. I was never cut out for school and I like this life."
"No, you like doing whatever Dad tells you. Maybe following orders isn't even the best way to help. What if I went off and made a lot of money as a banker or something? I could buy you guys Kevlar so you wouldn't have to worry about getting shot. And all the silver you need, and good sniper rifles. Or what if I became a lawyer? You think the police would keep holding you guys without charges if you had a lawyer on speed-dial?"
Dean just shakes his head and sighs.
And that makes Sammy angry. His brother has always had a job instead of a childhood, been treated like a soldier instead of a son, and Sammy can't for the life of him see why Dean isn't pissed about it. "Seriously, man. You're signing yourself up for a lifetime of this and you're not even thinking it through. You ever think about having kids?"
"I think about not having kids. That's what condoms are for."
"I don't mean now," says Sammy. "I mean someday. You really want to raise your kids the way Dad raised us?"
There's so much meaning packed into 'the way Dad raised us'. There's the constant moving. There's the lies and the lawbreaking that become second nature. There's the training that takes up every free minute. There's the implicit message that they exist to hunt and life beyond that doesn't really apply to them. There's the times when they squat in abandoned cabins with no running water, and Sammy goes to school embarrassed, knowing that he stinks. There're the times that Dad does have time for them as people and not just pupils, but he passes out drunk instead. Not to mention the times that Dad spends money they need for food on another bottle of cheap gin. (Dean will argue that only happened once, but Sammy knows the reason it only happened once is that ever since then, Dean has kept an emergency fund hidden in his duffle.) There's the orders and the secrecy. There's the way Dad holds up Mom like a totem, like a reason and a cause instead of a person.
It's illegal, Sammy knows, at least some of it. Making your kids do push-ups in the rain might be fuzzy before the law, but leaving your four-year-old son in the care of your eight-year-old son for over a week? There's no question how family court would rule on that case.
But somehow Dean just doesn't see it that way. He doesn't feel like it's unfair, or if he does, he puts on a good front. "I think we've got it pretty good," says Dean.
Sammy's hands make fists. "That fact you even think that shows just how much of a hold Dad has on you." Sammy shakes his head ruefully. "If I ever have kids, I swear to god, I'm not ever going to let him meet them. I'm not even going to tell him they exist."
The door creaked open.
"Hello, boys," says John Winchester. "Sammy," he says, "how was your day at school?" There's something about the way he says the word 'school' that makes clear just how long he's been listening.
Sammy's startles with something like guilt. It was a cruel thing to say and there's hurt on his father's face. But it was true(ish) and Sammy still thinks it was justified. "I…uh…"
"I asked you a question," says John. "Did you have a good day at school?" He changes it to a yes/no question.
"Yessir," says Sammy, sullen and seething. He doesn't like to be made to feel guilty, not when he's in the right.
"I thought you were heading to Iowa," says Dean, eager to avoid whatever his father and brother have brewing.
"Yeah, I got a call from Caleb a few miles out. Turns out it's not a problem for hunters. The so-called 'witchcraft' wasn't real rituals; it was just the work of a schizophrenic off his meds."
"But the vics had their eyes gouged out," argues Dean, tone casual.
"Rival drug cartel. Apparently it's all the rage down in Jaurez these days. Supposed to send some kind of message about snitching, like 'you didn't see anything'." John shrugs. He looks back at Sammy. "We do agility tonight before dinner. Around five. You can work on homework until then."
It's a peace offering, sort of. It feels a little bit like forgiveness when Sammy doesn't think he's committed a crime. He's thirteen and he's moody and he spends the next two hours in the corner of the motel room listening to Bullet with Butterfly Wings.
Agility is combat training. It's not exactly sparring, but no one's supposed to do any real damage. The rules are simple: John takes the pop-tab from a soda can and puts it on a string tied around his neck; they have to grab the tab and take it. When the boys were little, he just used his hands to fend them off and he let them tag-team him, but now they charge him one at a time and he usually has some kind of blunt weapon. Today, it's a broom handle and he's using it to sweep Sammy's feet out from under him.
They're in a clearing back behind the motel. It's hard dirt mixed with gravel, like someone thought about paving it but gave up early in the process. Sammy knows how to take a fall properly, so he's not actually taking damage, but it's more than a little unpleasant. Dean is reclining on the hood of the Impala, lazily flipping through a magazine.
Sammy tries bull-rushing his dad and ends up on his ass. Sammy tries dodging from side to side and ends up on his ass. Sammy tries using a nearby tree to cut the angle of his approach and ends up on his ass.
He doesn't have his headphones in, but he can hear the song anyway. Despite all my rage / I am still just a rat in a cage. He doesn't know what he's doing, only that he's pissed, only that something is wrong and he wants to fight it. He charges his dad again, but this time he leaps forward, grabbing at the broom handle. Instead of trying to wrest it away like his dad would expect, he swings on the handle like it's a monkey bar and kicks with both feet. The physics of the situation prevent him from knocking his father back, but he does manage to evoke a startled grunt followed by an almost satisfied-looking smirk. Of course Dad would be pleased that Sammy managed to strike him, because that was the sort of thing parents should be proud of.
Sammy's mind is like a rubber band, always getting stretched tighter and tighter, and when he sees his father's smirk, the rubber band snaps. He swings wildly, violently. John tries to restrain his son, but Sammy snaps his head straight up and back; blood streams out of John's nose. Sammy bites, he kicks. He gets hold of the broom handle and swings it in a wide haymaker that snaps against his father's head. As John drops to the ground, Sammy pries up a cobble and straddles his father's chest. John isn't fighting back anymore. Sammy slams the rock down on his father's breastbone, raises it again and cracks it against John's temple. The man's head smacks against the ground – neither combatant knows it, but John bites his tongue badly and he will need stitches later.
Sammy lifts the rock to strike again, but before he can connect, there are hands on his arms, grabbing and twisting. There is someone in between him and Dad, someone who is yelling and screaming, someone who catches a glancing blow before he manages to roll Sammy off to the side.
Sammy's vision blurs. He feels unsteady where only a moment ago, he felt strong and certain. Dean – the hands and the yelling must have been Dean – is kneeling by Dad, checking for breathing and pulse. Sammy doesn't know how long Dean kneels there before he helps Dad stand and they make their way back into the motel room. Sammy feels dizzy and drunk, like mind and his body won't quite meet. He's aware that Dean is shouting questions at him, twisting his shoulder as he pushes Sammy into the Impala. Hearing is hard and so is talking. Sammy settles in the backseat, sullen and silent.
They pull into the Bobby's salvage yard a little past sunset. Sammy still feels out of it, or he would be trying to figure out the time and bursting out of the car to greet Bobby's dogs.
He hears Dean talking to Bobby. "He was just- you should've seen him, he looked like a monster. It wasn't…our Dad got real torn up. I already tested him with holy water and nothing, but there's gotta be something."
Bobby sighs. "I can test him with a few other things, but from what you're saying, it doesn't sound like anything supernatural. It sounds like it was just Sammy."
Dean sniffs unhappily. "Dad was out for…I don't know, it wasn't five minutes, but it was more than one. He's got broken ribs, a broken nose, a bad concussion. And Sammy wasn't stopping, he was-"
Bobby interrupts. "I don't suppose John had the sense to go to a hospital, am I right?" A pause.
"Then why don't you head back there? I'll keep an eye on Sammy."
Somebody was always keeping an eye on Sammy, to keep him safe or make him practice hunting stuff. This was a different kind of keeping an eye on him. His Dad was hurt really bad and Sammy did it.
He looked like a monster….it was just Sammy.
Sam rubbed his knuckles against his temples before he set his iPod up to play Bullet with Butterfly Wings over and over again. He was faintly aware that there was something immature about hiding in his brother's car listening to the same whiny song he'd fixated on as a teenager, but he would have liked to see how everyone else handled knowing that they accidentally (except if they'd been strong and smart, they could have avoided it) caused the apocalypse, huh? 'So, quit judging', he thought to his imaginary critics.
He found himself rocking arrhythmically. Not rocking, really, since that suggested the movement was gentle. He was jerking back and forth. He really wanted to smash something, but Dean would probably find out and use it as a reason to keep an eye on him even more than he already did. So he curled his hands into fists and listened to the song and just let himself feel like shit. Mostly guilty, but every once in a while, he felt angry and indignant and justified and then he felt guilty about that too.
He was in the middle of trying to decide whether he felt worse about betraying Dean or about all the collateral deaths and whether he should feel guilty about his priorities if he does feel worse about Dean when he noticed that the ends of the song is looping. Instead of the whole song repeating, he just heard Billy Corgan shouting, I still believe that I cannot be saved over and over again.
Sam sat up and glanced at the rearview mirror. Castiel was sitting in the backseat, as unexpressive as ever. There was something about Cas that makes Sam feel ashamed. That something being the whole 'angel' thing.
Cas teleported to the passenger's seat. "Sam," he said. He fixed Sam with a gaze.
"I was, um-" There wasn't really a good explanation. I was indulging in self-pity? I was confronting my deep-seated fear that I'm really irredeemably wicked? I was trying to figure out why I can't stop feeling angry at everyone else when it's really everyone else who has the right to be angry with me?
Cas's head tipped slightly to the right, non-plussed by Sam's lack of response. "Would you like to pray with me?"
"I, um-" Sam's lips were dry and he licked them. He could feel his head run hot and his face burn. He wished Castiel would look away. "I…Yes," he said finally. "Yes. But I, um, I don't know what to say."
"Perhaps you should say the prayer you say every night."
How did Cas know that? "I don't pray out l-" Sam interrupted himself because the answer is obvious: if they can communicate with Cas by prayer, he can obviously hear them praying. "Oh," said Sam. "It's not really a prayer," he added, still feeling very much like he wants to hide from the angel's gaze. "It's just a song I learned when I was a little kid and my dad signed me up for a church choir."
Castiel's brow furrowed. "John Winchester was not a religious man."
Sam shrugged. "It was really just a scam to steal holy water."
Castiel began to blink, first slowly, then faster and faster, as if he were unable to process that sentence. He shook his head as if to unstick it from the moral complexity of a 'scam to steal holy water'. "Speak your prayer," he said.
Sam was gripped by a sudden and powerful urge to hide, but he'd whispered the words so many times that muscle memory pushed him forward. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, that I might serve you / Create in me a clean heart, O God, that I might be renewed. / So fill me, and heal me, a bring me back to you." Sam's throat was thick and stiff. His lips didn't want to cooperate with commands from his mind. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, that I might be good, too." The last line was barely a whisper.
"Say it again," said Castiel.
Sam swallowed mightily and tried to shift so that he wasn't so visible. "Create in me a clean heart," he recited, looking from left to right so he didn't have to meet Cas's gaze. "O God, that I might serve you / Create in me a clean heart, O God, that I might be renewed / So fill me –" Dean always snickered at that line. "And heal me, and bring me back to you / Create in me a clean heart, O God, that I might," another swallow, "be good, too."
"Sing it," said Castiel.
Sam hadn't sung the song since before his voice changed, but the melody was simple enough. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, that I might serve you." Sam couldn't remember ever feeling more ashamed than he did in that moment, singing an off-key prayer while an angel stared at him. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, that I might be renewed." Need a clean heart, need clean blood. "So fill me, and heal me, and bring me back to you." The urge to run and hide was almost overwhelming. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, that I might be good too."
"You should sleep now," said Castiel solemnly. He raised two fingers to Sam's forehead.