Sam, a broody 17 year-old, was finishing up his latest essay for the school John was about to pull him out of before they moved onto the next town. He’d grown into a more manly body over the previous four years, shooting up to a robust 6’4”, towering over his brother and with more definitive muscles. His chestnut brown hair kissed his forehead and he wore his faded, favourite pair of runners, exuding an air of innocence that showed he was still the child of the family.
He looked up from his notebook to see Dean, his overbearing older brother, lying on the bed next to him giving his thumb a workout with the TV remote. Dean was 21, a fully fledged adult; able to vote, drink, have legal sex (not that he’d followed the later) and if he wanted to he could leave the family and begin his own life, but he never did. Dean had made himself a promise: to always follow Dad’s orders and to always look out for Sam. It was his job. What kind of life would Dean have? Sam wondered he’d never finished school. Hell, he didn’t even try when he was there. He didn’t have people skills, not like Sam. Sam knew how to talk to people; he could read the pain on people’s faces when he used to watch his dad and brother locked in the backseat of the Impala. They’d go knocking at people’s doors investigating what had happened to their loved one and what creature might have done it. Sam would study the pained expressions on their faces and could relate. He’d felt that pain all too well.
Since his short stint at Truman High four years ago Sam had begun to show his rebellious side. He didn’t jump when John gave an order and, unlike Dean, didn’t get excited when a new supernatural beastie was put down. Instead Sam found Mr. Wyatt’s words swimming around in his head, pushing their way into every out of the way motel room and every truck stop diner the Winchesters stopped at.
There are maybe three or four big choices that shape someone’s whole life, and you need to be the one that makes them, not anyone else. Just live the life you want to live.
These words were ringing clearer to Sam every day as his anger over being pulled away from the normalcy of school and on the road with his Drill Sergeant Father and gun toting older brother was getting to be too much for him. He wanted the opposite. He’d been introduced to the subject of law at school and he’d taken a shine to it - ironic, he’d think to himself, given that almost everything his family did to survive was against the law. He’d even gone to the school’s guidance councillor who’d told him he had a real shot at getting into a Pre-Law college degree at Stanford – little more than a pipe dream for the moment. Sam turned back to his essay; he wanted to get an A for this before they left for the next town.
John now left them for weeks at a time. He’d pay for their motel room for the entire month and go off hunting, leaving Dean to ‘father’ Sam- that’s the way their “family” worked. Sam couldn’t even remember the last time he’d had a decent meal. His first proper Thanksgiving was at age eleven at Stephanie’s house with her family. Someone else’s family. It was also the first time a girl had squeezed his thigh, Sam had nervously jumped at the eagerness of her hand and at that point he wasn’t prepared for a girl showing her affections. He remembered thinking Dean would have handled himself better. Hell, thought Sam, he probably would have been making out with her five minutes later.
Before John left them this time, Sam did what he’d been afraid to do for years. He stood up to his father. John told them to stay put in the motel room only leaving for food, supplies and school. For Sam, this was torture. While friends of his at school would invite him over to their homes for a study session he could never return the favour. How could he bring friends or girls for that matter to a two-bit motel room in Hookerville USA? And with womanizing Dean around they wouldn’t be his friends or girl for very long.
“What did you just say to me?” John replied, stunned that his youngest son was daring to question a direct order.
“I said no. I’m sick of being told what to do, this isn’t a life. Normal seventeen year olds don’t live out of motel rooms. They go to school, to college, get jobs. They don’t hunt werewolves and chupacabras!” Sam could feel his heart in his throat. He tried to calm himself by slowing his breathing. There was something about staring into his father’s focused Marine eyes that got him so riled up.
“Normal?! Why the hell would you want to be normal?” chimed in Dean. But one glare from John silenced him again.
“I’m sick of taking orders. It’s all I ever do: take orders from you and from Dean. I’m seventeen now, Dad! Soon I’ll be old enough to...” the strain in his voice caused Sam to stop mid sentence.
“Don’t talk back to me boy! That’s right, you are seventeen - still a child and you will follow orders whether they come from me or your brother, you understand?” Sam did but chose not to care.
John looked at the cheap clock on the wall - the paint was chipped and the number 3 had fallen off. He was running out of daylight. “We’ll continue this when I get back”.
After John slammed the motel room door shut Sam thought he heard his father cock his shotgun but it might also have been in his head.
Then Dean began to harp, “What the hell is the matter with you? You don’t question Dad’s orders!” Dean didn’t want to listen to Sam, “Whatever dude. I’m goin’ out to grab dinner. Want a burger?”
Sam’s eye twinkled, “Yeah sure. Extra fries?” he knew that’d take Dean an extra ten minutes or so to argue with the local diner over what constituted as extra fries. Dean was sure they were ripping him off. Dean rolled his eyes and nodded in agreement. Even after in intense argument Sammy always won out in the end.
Sam knew he had to be quick if he wanted to get away before Dean came back. He also knew he had to play it smart. They hid for a living; hid their job from normal society, hid their illegal dealings from the authorities and now Sam would have to hide from Dean and John. He had some cash stored in his backpack, it wasn’t much but it was enough to catch a bus somewhere. He figured if he got far enough he could start a new life - away from Dean and far away from John. Sam hurriedly packed his things and ran for the door. One last look at the messy motel room only spurred him to echo his father and slam the door shut.
* * * * *
Two buses and numerous flickering lights later brought Sam to Flagstaff. He smiled. Dean and Dad were towns away and for the first time in his life he was free - free to do whatever he wanted without taking orders from either of them.
After eating at the local diner Sam sought out a placed to sleep. Whenever they were on the road he’d curl up on the back seat and fall asleep while looking up at the starry sky. Now the Impala’s comfy back seat wasn’t going to cut it. Eventually he found a vacated apartment, it was littered with furniture from the previous owner but the fridge was empty.
Over the next few days Sam redecorated his apartment with one-cent postcards of all the places he’s been and all the places he now could go without Dean pulling him by the collar. That made him smile and hungry.
Sam opened the pizza box letting out the steam of his hot dinner.
At that same moment many towns away Dean was sitting at the cheap table staring blankly at the now cold pizza he’d left out since lunch.
It had been days since Sam ran away and soon John would be back. Dean had been searching for him the entire time but was coming up with nothing. It was obvious his little brother didn’t want to be found and had learnt too much about hiding his tracks from their father.
Sam walked by the local cemetery on his way back to the apartment, his bag full of junk food swinging by his right leg. In what can only be considered as second nature to Sam he looked through the railing at the numerous graves. Only a few weeks ago he had been holding the flashlight for Dean as they had unearthed the grave of a vengeful spirit and salted and burned her bones, saving a local businessman from an untimely death. Sam shook it off.
No, he thought, that isn’t my life. I don’t want to spend my life digging up graves and hunting ghosts, I want to be a lawyer. It sounded nerdy even to Sam but it was what wanted, more than anything.
Suddenly he felt someone nudge the back of his leg; he turned around to see a large stray golden retriever sniffing his shopping bag looking for something to eat.
“Hey boy!” Sam said lovingly, “You hungry? Huh?” He gave the dog a Funyun from the open packet in the bag which he ate with glee. “Where did you come from?” Sam asked quizzically. The dog seemed to turn its head to the cemetery, probably because it heard a noise, but in doing so gave him his name - Bones. “Okay well I gotta go now, see ya boy”, Sam said and continued walking home; soon though, he noticed “Bones” was following him.
It’d been almost a week since Sam and Dean had seen each other and while Sam was enjoying his freedom, Dean was scouring the tri-state area looking for his rebellious younger brother. He’d tried Sam’s cell phone but of course he’d ditched the sim long ago. Dean stopped at every motel and truck stop he came across asking locals if they’d seen a “tall, lanky pain in the ass” but no one fit that description, only his Sammy. Running on fumes, both Dean and the Impala, he only stopped searching once he finally had to admit the impossible - maybe Sam was dead.
On the contrary Sam was living it up rebel style. With an apartment lined with empty pizza boxes, packets of Funyuns, Mr. Pibb and beer bottles (he’d had beer since he was fifteen, Dean called it a ‘right of passage’ to have a beer to celebrate his first kill) Sam was living day by day on the money they’d made hustling pool and poker games to his chagrin. He was smart, he didn’t use the credit card John had obtained for the boys – Mark Harrison and his two sons Han and Luke - he knew it’d be one of the first things Dean checked.
Two weeks had passed since Sam ran out on Dean’s watch. Two weeks of searching, two weeks of freedom. Both brothers had had polar experiences. Dean was sick with worry, he hadn’t eaten for two days, and he was beside himself as to how to tell John Sam had run away on his watch. He’d already messed up as a kid, left his post and it had almost cost Sammy his life. After that, John had looked at Dean different, it wasn’t colder but it was indescribably different. There was less trust in his eyes. He’d have to do it, he decided. He’d have to tell John, be up front about it, look him in the eye and tell him that his son was missing and presumed dead.... he did have to do it right?
John came in, physically and emotionally wrecked from the hunt. He laid his shotgun on the table beside him, a fact Dean made sure to check before opening his mouth.
“What did you just say to me?” the mirrored words echoing the fight he’d had with Sam two weeks ago. “What do you mean your brother is gone?” John demanded. His Marine toughness made the anger in his voice intensify tenfold.
Dean swallowed hard and repeated “He’s gone.... Sir. I went out to get us dinner the night you left and when I came back he’d gone. I’ve been driving around for the last two weeks; I haven’t been able to find him. He’s covering his tracks good.” Dean could see none of this mattered to his father.
“Two weeks?!” John roared. “Two weeks your brother has been off God knows where and you don’t see fit to pick up a phone and tell me?” Dean could see John’s fist starting to clench. Would he ever... really?
“Sir, I thought I’d find him. He’s never run off before. I figured he’d wonder back by Monday to go to school but he never showed.”
John wasn’t having any of it. “It’s your responsibility to watch him while I’m on a hunt. You’ve been doing it for years, years Dean and now you tell me you let him run off... on his own?!” John was moving closer to Dean, fist still clenched.
“I didn’t let him do anything. He ran off. I’ve been up for days looking for him while you were out, your son!” Dean was surprised at the anger in his voice. Where did that came from, he wondered. He could see John wondered that too as he took that last part offensively and lifted his fist to hit Dean. He’d been angry before, hell he’d wanted to throttle Dean after the Shtriga but he had never hit him, and he didn’t now. John, seeing the dark path that single swing would lead him down looked into his son’s remorseful eyes and lowered his hand, unclenching his fist in the process. John instead took his undeniable anger out on the cheap metal chair, which scrapped across the lino. Neither Dean or John could meet the other’s eye for a while after that. Dean put his hands over his tired eyes not knowing what to do next.
Sam took his hands away from his eyes after he’d rubbed them awake. He’d been on his own for two weeks and had a blast. He and Bones had lived like bachelors, played ball and they’d lived off Funyuns and Mr. Pibb. Sam looked at the mess of empty junk food packets that had seemed to multiply as the days had gone by and let his mind think of Dean and how he’d always leave his rubbish laying around which annoyed Sam to no end. He had always been the tidy one, but even he thought its fun to make mess once in a while; he smiled at the thought of him thinking like Dean then cleared his throat and the smile faded into hunger. There was nothing left to eat.
On the way back from the local store Sam walked passed a car stopped at a set of lights. It was an old beat up ’65 Mustang. Inside was a family of three, a father and two sons. The father in the driver’s seat smiled when he looked in the mirror and caught a glimpse of his two young sons playing in the back. Sam stood there and watched the younger boy extend his army man to his older brother who took it and started playing with it to make his little brother happy. Sam felt a warm feeling inside his gut and realised he needed to go back to his family.
He found a payphone and called Dean’s cell. “Dean, it’s me. I’m in Flagstaff.”
John and Dean were there in a couple of hours. Sam could see the effect his leaving had had on his brother and his heart sank. He looked at his father and prepared for the worst; yelling, swearing maybe a swing or two he was ready to bear it all and shut his eyes tight. Instead he felt John wrap his arms around him and hug him tightly.
“Don’t you ever do that again, you hear me!” Sam never forgot those words, not even when he left for real.
Dean later asked Sam what made him come back. Sam simply replied: “You”.