With Dad he never had the chance to be the good son, was always the one who was sulking, misstepping, kicking back; and it was Dean who was mediating, negotiating, policing, Dean who had Dad’s trust and respect and even, occasionally, praise.
So sue him if he saw some inversion of that tension in Mom and Dean’s relationship, Dean’s sulky rejection and Mom’s apparent unease with the fact they were hunting; sue him if he thought maybe he could be the bridge between them, if he pictured in some prideful selfish part of himself Mom grateful for his understanding, saw Dean making tentative peace with Mom and the both of them thanking him for clearing the way. Sue him if he thought maybe some way down the line, he could talk to Mom about Stanford and the fact that it was so fucking hard to get there, that he worked himself to the bone for it and he did it and hear her say that she’s proud.
He tries. He tries. He watches Dean scowl every time they see their mother and he works, honestly works to try and smooth things over, talks to Dean and talks to Mom and tries to help them see the other point of view. And if he catches Dean texting surreptitiously, later, he’s pleased about it. It’s good, right? That was the point, and there’s no reason she should message them both. They’re together all the time anyway. He doesn’t care. He even fucking helps Dean think of Scrabble words to play against her, “come on Einstein,” Dean says, “what can I do with three Gs and a K?” Sam doesn’t have that stupid app anyway. So.
He knows his self-esteem’s for shit and it’s something he’s trying to work on. It makes him oversensitive and that’s not fair on everybody else. He can’t expect, shouldn’t expect, people to read his mind; if he doesn’t explain his feelings then how can he expect other people to act on them? He knows and so he’s careful not to let it bother him, when Mom turns up Dean’s music and eats Dean’s cold bacon and laughs conspiratorial with Dean about the car. He sucks it up when he tries to ask Mom how she’s doing and she snaps at him, when she says to him “life’s not about getting what you want,” as if that were news. As if she hadn’t asked him, back on that first night before she got to know him a little better and decided that he wasn’t worth the effort (fuck off, Sam, take your fucking pity party somewhere else), if she hadn’t asked what brought him back in – like she might have space for a world in which Sam could admit that he’s not sure he wants this, not always, not forever.
He doesn’t know how to stop acting like this, praise-desperate and appeasing. It’s fucking pathetic. He’s still doing it when she drops the bombshell; has barely closed his lips on shushing Dean’s grumpy greeting, is still smiling carefully big to set his mother at ease when she outright tells them that she’s working with the Brits.
“But,” he says, and he can’t help it, deafened almost by the sudden thundering of his blood in his ears. She’s nervous, but she’s not… she’s looking at Dean, more than him, and he can see in his mind Dean’s stony expression but he can’t get himself together enough to turn his head and look.
“We don’t… trust them,” Sam says slowly, and how is he supposed even to begin to articulate the reasons why? “Broken ribs,” he says. “Burnt feet.” The blowtorch, so bright and he cringing away, trying hard to be strong (‘screw you’) and the women unshaken, laughing, the charred-meat smell and the all too familiar sizzle-pop sound of his flesh. And Lady Bevell’s face, amused, and her body underneath him and Sam flushed hot with shame, ‘was it good for you’ and the lurch of his stomach as he understood what she’d done. Has Mom. He can’t stop himself from thinking it, Mom in a bar and the man, Ketch, his stupid round-vowelled accent as he tells the story, ‘of course your youngest couldn’t help but succumb to my lady’s charms’. And Mom incredulous, disgusted, discounting the whole experience because Sam asked for it, after all. No wonder she doesn’t want to look him in the eye. No wonder she doesn’t – and his stomach heaves again, queasy, and he pushes back his chair with a clatter because he needs to get to the bathroom, somewhere, needs to get out.
The smell from the paper bags on the table is heavy in the air and Sam’s so loaded with mixed up feelings and he opens his mouth and says, stupid, “I fucking hate burgers anyway.” That’s it, then, it’s all right up behind his face and he has to get out before either of them sees it, running down the corridor to lock himself in the bathroom where he can hyperventilate and throw up like he’s fifteen and just argued with Dad.
He can hear voices raised behind him as he goes, Dean hard and angry and he’s glad for that, selfish, some part of him glad at the wedge between them, glad for the conflict that’s put Dean on his side.
(Later, a knock at the door and Dean’s voice, “Sammy?” Sam lets him in, slides back to the floor where he’s sat against the bath. “Sam, what happened with those Brits?” says Dean, and Sam shakes his head, hides his face against his thighs. “Sam,” says Dean, with a thready kind of urgency, “you don’t… man, you never…” He clears his throat. “It’s not just the foot.”
Sam shakes his head, still pressed tight against the denim. He’s not gonna talk about it. He’s not.
Dean’s fingers touch his hair, just lightly. “I told Mom she should have brought you rabbit food,” he says. It’s well-intentioned but it makes Sam’s throat close up.) (Dean over the dinner table like “Sammy made the soccer team,” and Dad like “Didn’t I say we’re leaving next week?”)
(Dean the person and Sam the other, the object, the burden.)
(Crusts off your sandwiches, baby? Guess it’s not your memory, Sam.)