“Jesus, Sammy,” says Dean, “did that shrink in the wash?” It wouldn’t be the first time. Laundromats are always a slightly unstable quantity. Dean’s lost all kinds of beloved clothing over the years. (The Stanford T-shirt Sam mailed him during his first semester at college. A vintage Iron Maiden tour T-shirt he’d picked up for cents at a Goodwill in Philly. Shreds of pink satin, six months after Rhonda Hurley, pulled and pocketed surreptitious from a malfunctioning machine outside Cleveland.)
Sam looks down at his chest, at the logo straining tight across the taut-pulled fabric. “No-oo?” he says. Dean raises an eyebrow.
Two patches of pink blossom rosy over Sam’s cheekbones. “I went shopping,” he says, “the other weekend. In Kansas City. When I went to see that film.”
“Yeah,” says Dean, carefully neutral.
“Well,” says Sam. “The sales assistant. Uh. I did think it was a little tight but.” He rubs a hand over the back of his neck. The movement tugs the T-shirt even tighter, emphasising the curved lines of Sam’s pecs, the rounded swell of his bicep. “Threw it in half-price,” he mumbles. “Said it would be a shame.”
Dean’s amused, mostly. Sammy’s taste in clothes is… idiosyncratic. He can’t imagine his brother in the kind of boutique that might sell him something like this. He tries to picture her, the salesgirl, heart-eyed over this big scruffy scarecrow. She was probably tiny, tiny and glamorous and young.
“Lady-killer,” he says.
Sam turns pinker, looks up to meet Dean’s eye. Aw, Sammy, Dean wants to say. He doesn’t quite understand how Sam can still be so clueless around women, so surprised every time he gets hit on. And it doesn’t sound like this chick was trying too hard to be subtle. Half-price.
Then, “Who says it was a lady?” Sam says, and Dean’s world tilts a little bit sideways. The tiny blonde saleswoman in his head dissolves, resolving into a hard-bodied, chisel-chinned dude, a guy looking Sam up and down as he twists in the mirror. This isn’t. Dean doesn’t.
He blinks at his brother, open-mouthed, but Sam’s already shrugging, looking away. “Yeah, I don’t know. You’re right, it’s… I’ll go take it off.”
“Hey, no,” Dean says without thinking, his own cheeks heated now, tingling-flush with an indefinable anxiety. “Leave it, Sam. It looks good.”
Sam wrinkles his nose.
“Really,” Dean says. His eyes skitter again over Sam’s chest, the breadth of his shoulders, the veins that twist down his arms. “You look good,” he says.
“I meant to say,” Sam says. “That is. I should have said, at the house, at Asa’s place, before we left. I think you and Alicia should get tattoos."
Max’s eyes narrow for a second before his face relaxes into a smile. “Oh yeah?” he says. “Anything particular you had in mind?”
Sam isn’t the bumbling romantic embarrassment that Dean seems to think him but there’s something about this guy which makes him feel teenage, stupid and clumsy and too big for his skin. Which is dumb as fuck, considering that Max is like, what, must be coming on for ten years younger than him. Eight years, maybe. Regardless, Sam should be cooler than this.
He should be, but he isn’t, so when Max asks about the tattoo he doesn’t produce the smooth line that he’ll no doubt think of in the shower in two days’ time. Instead, he blushes and stammers and scratches the back of his head, and answers Max’s joking question with a straight response. “Yeah,” he says, and he slides a napkin towards him over the table and digs a ballpoint pen from his jacket pocket. “Something like this.”
Seeing Sam’s seriousness, Max frowns, and watches as he sketches a wonky approximation of the symbol that he first drew out for Dean, in a bar not dissimilar to this one, almost ten years ago.
“It’s not, uh, it’s not fancy,” Sam says. “But it works.”
Max puts his fingertips to the edge of the napkin, just brushing Sam’s. They linger there a moment before Sam moves his hand, allowing Max to take hold of the napkin. Max picks it up and holds it in front of him, rotates it, takes a look.
“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I can see that it would.” He looks at Sam over the folded paper, not kidding now but earnest. “You have this?”
It’s the first thing that Sam would ask, himself, the obvious thing and he knew Max would say it but he still finds himself lost for words. He looks down at the symbol, blue lines curving familiar, looks at Max’s elegant fingers framing the shape. He takes a breath, looks up again to meet Max’s eyes.
“Dean has it,” he says. “I, uh. I lost mine.”
Max’s eyebrows draw together in a frown. He’s not stupid. Sam can see him considering the implications; can see him choosing not to ask. This is one of the things Sam likes about Max. It’s refreshing to be around somebody who doesn’t take it personally when Sam has secrets. Perversely, it makes him more inclined to share. He wonders. Could he tell Max about Gadreel? The thought tightens his chest, makes his thoughts swim dizzy. He hasn’t really ever explained it, not to anybody. Charlie picked up bits of it, but not enough to understand. At least. Sam hopes that was it. He remembers again Max and Alicia frowning up at Elvis, after he asked about Lucifer; their instant, easy intervention in Sam’s defence. “Seriously, dude,” Max had told the guy. “Back off.”
Jeez. No wonder Sam feels like a teenager. Fucking… damsel in distress. But.
“You gonna get it redone?” Max asks, interrupting Sam’s fantasies.
“Uh,” says Sam. He’s been meaning to. He has. But it’s so bound up with all the shit that surrounded its removal that he hasn’t been able to bring himself to do it; finds himself both perversely anxious of going under the needle (the needles in his brain and Crowley twisting them, clinical) and absolutely unwilling to mention it to Dean. If he said something now then Dean would probably lay into him for not having fixed the thing fricking two and a half years ago. “Christ, Sammy,” he’d say, the kind of angry that he gets when Sam puts himself in jeopardy. “Christ, Sammy, what the fuck did you think you were playing at?” Sam’s on a good run, lately, of not disappointing. He’d really like not to rock the boat.
Max is studying him, a focused golden-green gaze that doesn’t help Sam’s thought process. As Sam stutters and chokes, he shakes his head a little, grins easy, breaks the tension. “I just have some suggestions for improvement,” he says.
I’m starting to see some right-before-the-holidays-be-nice-to-retail-workers posts, so I want to just say a couple things you can do to make your local retail workers’ lives a little easier:
1. If you’re buying cards, especially multiple cards, face the barcode out. This isn’t a huge thing, but fumbling with the envelopes and trying to make sure not to miss any takes time.
2. ASK FOR GIFT RECEIPTS BEFORE YOU PAY. This one actually IS pretty big, as a lot of places require a manager to print them once a transaction is closed. And everyone gets mad about how long that can take, because managers are BUSY right now.
3. Be aware of the fact that many stores can’t match online prices. Don’t waste your time and your store workers’ time by arguing about it.
4. If you try and call your store, don’t get nasty if you have to wait awhile to get through. We’re all doing our best, but EVERYONE is calling or coming in this week, and no matter how many people we staff we’re very busy.
5. This is less a holiday thing, but always think through things you say to retail workers! They almost always have to be nice to you, even when you make them uncomfortable, and that dynamic makes things even more uneasy for them.
So I have this longstanding headcanon that Sam doesn’t really like having his own room in the Bunker: because, if you think about it, he’s almost never slept alone (sharing rooms during his life with Dean, college roommate [Brady, probably], Jess, Dean again and Amelia in an almost unbroken run). I think he’d find it hard to drop off in the silence, that he’d miss having somebody else’s breathing across the other side of the room. (He has a little nightlight in his bedroom: maybe he doesn’t like being in small dark spaces, after the Cage.)
Anyway so I’ve had this thought for ages but because of it I’m particularly happy about this new development where Cas is just camping out in Sam’s room. I like the idea that Cas has been there all this time, not sleeping (because angels don’t, right?), not doing anything apart from gradually marathoning through Netflix shows, sitting on the bed or in that chair beside it and just watching watching while Sam goes about his daily life. Sometimes he’s in the library or the kitchen and he comes back and Cas is still there; sometimes he works at his desk and Cas is still there; at nights he goes to sleep and the gentle sound of House of Cards or Daredevil washes over him as he dozes off, just white noise but Cas’s presence in the room and the sound of his activity makes an enormous difference and it helps Sam to sleep better and (therefore) to feel more comfortable and less depersonalised than he has done in years.
This was such a powerful moment to me. It’s so rare for Sam to admit he isn’t coping, and when it does happen it tends to be extremely serious. So, I’m happy that Sully could be there for him to talk to but I’m also very sad because of the new perspective this offers on Sam’s prayers this season. He’s been saying ‘I’m not sure what you mean’; when actually what he’s been thinking is, ‘I know exactly what you mean but please, tell me that I’m wrong because I can’t, I can’t.’
I was rewatching the episode to try to pin down my thoughts on a whole slew of things, but it also increased my appreciation for the moments I enjoyed, so… I want to talk about Sam. Remember how Metatron was driven nearly to tears talking about the hope and perseverance of humanity? Sam Winchester embodied that from the start of the episode to its finish.
Let’s talk about how Sam was relentlessly invested in saving as many people as he could. When they went out to look for Deputy Harris, Sam stopped everyone he met in order to tell them to go somewhere safe. Sam addressed Harris calmly and asked her to let him help her.
When the fog was bearing down on him, Sam, already having been infected with this same thing once before, was mere feet away from it, unfastening a baby from her car-seat and turning his back to the fog in order to make sure the infant and her parents got to safety.
When he noticed two people who were about to be consumed, Dean had to physically turn him around while Sam was reaching toward them.
And when they all made it someplace safe and the tape over the vent came unsealed, Sam rushed to fix it despite the deadly fog pouring out…and infected himself in the process.
And when he was infected by the fast-acting contagion that drove the people on the other side of the door to madness in moments–when he was spiraling into hopelessness and despair, Sam snapped himself out of it and begged Dean to go somewhere safe so Sam couldn’t hurt him.
If we’re talking about giving and loving and never giving up–if we’re talking about courage in the face of something that nearly killed him and unerring determination to save people, let me tell you about Sam Fucking Winchester, my friends.