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Fic Commentary: "Vocabulary"
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away
innie_darling


For pheebs1, who asked for some insight into my writing process and suggested "Vocabulary" as a way to do it. (Commentaries can be requested here. Commentaries can be found here.)


So let me start at the very beginning, as Bobby would say. I'd written fic for a few other fandoms before, but always in a sort of "wouldn't it be cool if _____?" mindset; however much I loved the characters and/or the storylines, it was always mostly an intellectual exercise. This was the first story that I felt absolutely compelled to write, like I'd be missing out on something if I didn't. I don't know if it's something about me that's changed or if it's this fandom or what, but that's become my default setting, and I'm not writing outside this fandom anymore (after I wrote this story, I still had three Veronica Mars fics half-finished and a sequel to my Firefly story in the works, but those are now pretty much dead to me).

I was incredibly nervous writing this story, not only because of this new *compulsion* to write, but also because it felt intensely personal (more on that later) and because I didn't know the show very well. The first ep I watched was "Faith." Glory hallelujah. After I saw that, the idea for this story popped into my head and wouldn't go away. After that, I saw "Asylum" and clips from the pilot, and that was pretty much it. So I was missing a large chunk of canon when I started writing and I kept waiting for feedback that said, "You got X, Y, and Z totally wrong, dumbass!" But you guys were too nice for that. Let's see if your patience extends to this commentary.


He hadn’t realized there could be a downside to losing the baby fat. Obviously, one of the pilot clips I saw included the "'Sammy' is a chubby twelve-year-old" bit. I was so desperate to work what little I knew of canon into this story. But there most definitely is one. This school had seen fit to couple ninety-minute classes with the hardest chairs known to mankind. Maybe demonkind too. They couldn’t all have cushy thrones, could they? Clearly, I had no idea that even the bad guys on this show were blue-collar types. I think I was picturing more of the Buffy school of villains, particularly the Master.

He shifts a little in his seat, accidentally kicking Shelley’s chair. He still hasn’t grown into his newly long legs. She turns to give him an irritated look, but smiles when she sees he is meeting her eyes apologetically. Now, I was a geek and I really enjoyed a lot of my classes in school, but I still remember shifting uncomfortably in those hard seats that would just bite into your ass. And I was not nearly as bony as Sam; I had plenty of padding. When she sees his blush – and when is he going to outgrow that little habit? – she drops him a quick wink and turns back around.

Sam doesn’t hear the rest of Mr. Krindle’s lecture. Ninety minutes, as I know from teaching, is a long time to fill up and not have your kids' attention wander. I wanted Sam to be a good student, but still let him drift off a little. This also allowed me to skip the lecture that led to this assignment. I actually tried writing it a few times before realizing I didn't have to. It’s only when he hears the surreptitious shuffling of papers, a sure sign the bell will ring in a few minutes, that he tunes back in, willing himself to forget Shelley and her shiny blonde hair, the way one long golden lock lingers on his desk. I think this is the first moment in the story when it appears that Sam's language might be beyond a typical sixteen-year-old boy. But. I wanted him to be very intelligent, very well-read (I pictured him reading anything and everything he could get his hands on while John and Dean kept their focus on the hunt). So hopefully his vocabulary, his diction weren't completely unreasonable.

“So, to further the quest for self-knowledge, each of you will turn in an assignment. Due Friday.” Mr. Krindle pauses for groans, smiles, and spreads his hands in a placating gesture. “Relax, people, it’s a short assignment. One word, in fact. You will complete this sentence: ‘I am ____.’ You may of course use an article if you want to use a noun to fill in the blank. As in, ‘I am the bomb.’” He grins as they laugh. “If you choose to use an adjective, that’s also fine. No phrases. One word. Distillation. Quintessence. Strip it all away and see what you’re left with.” Full disclosure: I got this same assignment in tenth grade. Actually, our assignment (spread out over a week) was "write your autobiography in one page" then "one paragraph" then "one sentence" and finally, "one word." It was really interesting, and I remember how seriously everyone took the one word part of the assignment. All of my classmates waited in line for the really big dictionary and then flipped through it as if hoping for divine guidance. A friend of mine found a word, "xenolithically-quadlibantical" or something like that, which meant musically-inclined, and everyone else had similarly bizarre answers. I wanted a word that I'd actually use in an everyday conversation, and I didn't want it to be too specific; I wanted something that would always be true (note that Sam and I share a tendency to overthink things). So my word was very simple and I still like it. If Dean wrote one of these assignments, I think my word is the one he'd pick.

***

I think one of the strengths of this story is that I set up a strict schedule for it and then actually stuck to it. I was pretty surprised by that. But Sam has a finite amount of time to come up with his word, and therefore I had a limited number of scenes to work with. Usually timelines feel like ticking time bombs to me, but this one didn't; it felt more like a nudge, a reminder of what I had to do and where I had to be.

[Monday after school]

Krindle’s assignment is already tickling at him. I am sixteen he tries. No good. That isn’t exactly unalterable fact, although the connotations of “sixteen” and all the attendant trials and tribulations of being an adolescent make the sentence strangely meaningful. Or not. Maybe he shouldn’t overthink it. Too late, Sam. Maybe he should go for a surface truth. I am a virgin. It's kind of neat to go back to my first fic in this fandom and see that my gut feelings about these characters haven't altered much. I'm convinced that Sam was a virgin until he got to college. Simpler still. I am horny. No lie there. Years of watching Dean laugh into a girl’s soft hair, drop a light kiss on a girl’s freckled nose, walk up to a girl with the promise of pleasure in his eyes have made him all the more aware of his own body. Sam watches Dean all the time in this story. Dean is totally and completely his hero. I think it's interesting that what Sam reels off here is completely about pleasure, about fun; he doesn't remember Dean saying anything about love. Whether or not he chooses to follow, that's an instructive example for Sam. He wonders how Dean would complete the sentence. Probably I am Dean, trusting his name to be enough. No need for explanation or embellishment. For the record, I think Sam's totally wrong about this. But is Sam wrong about the confidence that he ascribes to Dean? But he can’t do that, because he doesn’t even know if it should be I am Sam or I am Sammy. I am Samuel. He comes in mono-, bi-, and trisyllabic varieties, apparently. Stop. Back to basics. Start over. As I was writing this, I actually was keeping a list of words Sam would plug in and try out. It was fun trying to remember myself at that age (I used myself because I was out of the house when my little brother was sixteen) and figure out what Sam could ascribe to himself. I wish I'd kept the list.

He sees Dean pull up and he catches his brother’s eye. Part of the reason Sam is 16 here is so that there'd be no trouble having Dean driving solo. He tosses his backpack into the back seat and swings himself into the front seat. “Sammy,” greets Dean with almost absent-minded affection, one hand already out for a gesture halfway between cuffing him upside the head and tousling his hair. I don't think we've ever seen this on the show, but I could picture it so very clearly. I think Dean is a very tactile person, but he trained himself out of it as he got older. “Where is it?” At Sam’s blank look he clarifies, “Your trig exam? Aced it, right?” Dean is the mommy. He knows what his boy's up to all the time. He waits for Sam to smile and twist his long body toward the bag in the back seat before he peels out of the parking space and heads home. I am smart. I wanted Sam to have a moment of triumph here, especially since I'm convinced that math is not one of his better subjects.

I am methodical he thinks an hour later as he carefully goes through all of the boxes they bring to each new apartment but never really unpack. How is it possible that their possessions include handbound texts any rare book room curator would covet but not a paperback dictionary? Their lives are so weird. He goes in search of his brother. “Dean, I need to go to the library.”

“Not tonight, Sammy. Dad needs me – us, if you can get your homework done in time – for a job. Tomorrow work for you?”

“Yeah.” Might as well exhaust his own brain before he starts looking for inspiration from Webster’s guide words. “You making dinner or are we ordering in?” It's unclear, canonically, what Dean was doing when he was done with school. He wasn't doing full-fledged solo hunts; we know that from Sam's surprise in the pilot when he hears about the New Orleans hunt. I like the idea of Dean working, most likely as a mechanic, bringing in money, but I have no idea how plausible that is. In any case, Dean's arranged his schedule so that he is the one to whom the housework falls, and that includes getting dinner on the table.

“Bought groceries today,” Dean leans in closer and grins up at him. I am taller. I am tall. I am the winner. Sam doesn't think he's got much over Dean at this point in time. He savors his little victories. “Even something green.”

“Lime Jell-O?” I thought this was funny, and I wanted Sam to have a sense of humor, not be too serious all the time.

“Salad in a bag, smartass. I remember the food pyramid.”

“I knew that one brain cell had to be getting lonely in there; I’m glad it found a friend.” Whoa. I am a dick. I think Sam is a dick here, though he realizes it, and that makes up for a lot. But he feels like second-best in his dad's eyes, and he wants the fact that he brings home straight A's to mean something, to be a source of pride, and he gets frustrated with the fact that his intelligence gets overlooked.

Dean’s grin doesn’t falter; he simply shifts his weight and his gaze away from Sam. Dean is determined not to show his hurt, but he's way too transparent to hide it. “See for yourself,” he says, jerking his thumb in the direction of the fridge. The fridge where his trig exam is being held up by a pizza delivery magnet. Sam's straight A's mean something to Dean. I am sorry. Sam can't say it, but he does mean it. “Thought I’d make that mushroom chicken Dad likes; recipe’s right on the soup can.” I'm a vegetarian, so I was scrabbling a bit for something cheap and easy that Dean could make. A family friend told us that while he was in grad school (read: poor), he made this chicken pretty much every night. Apparently, you dump a can of mushroom soup and some milk and spices over chicken and you're pretty much done. He reaches under Sam’s arm to extract the milk, takes a long swig, and replaces it on the door. “Now get your work done,” he orders, shouldering Sam aside to start pulling out ingredients. “We’re going out tonight.”

***

[Tuesday]

I am bruised. The Department of Youth and Family Services would descend on Dad and Dean. Scratch that. I am tired. Too true. Poor Sam. The way Sam has to edit his list of words because he knows how they'll be misinterpreted really pushed me to find a word that would work for both Sam and his teacher. At this point I still didn't know what that word would be.

Dad had dug up reports of blood bubbling up from the ground at dusk in an empty field a few acres square. The vagueness of the reports had left a lot to be desired and made it a necessity to pack the fullest arsenal they could muster while still being discreet. The vagueness of this problem was due entirely to my being clueless about what to have them hunting. I wanted something that sounded sinister but without a tangible bad guy, and something that might well require Sam's participation. He’d had a heavy leather satchel full of weapons and charms pushing down his shoulder for hours, slapping heavily against his thin thigh every time he took a step. Both areas are green-tinged and sore this morning, so he doesn’t fasten his seat belt No seat belts in the Impala, right? D'oh! as Dad drives him to school and he keeps them angled toward his locker as he changes for gym, drained of all energy. High school locker rooms are the sixth circle of hell.

I am weary. Shelley has a silver ribbon in her hair today. The noble gases are helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon, and radon. Matt’s watch beeps on the hour. Major General Ambrose Burnside gallops about and does heroic things. I am weary. I wanted tiny details here, things Sam would notice and/or be learning in class. It's strange the random things you remember, years later, from classes.

He sinks, exhausted and in an afterschool daze, into the soft grass and props himself up against the brick wall. No point in sitting near everyone else, looking up every time a “Hey man” is called out. They wouldn’t be for him; they never were for the new kid. He wonders when he gets to stop playing the new kid. Poor kid, of course he's tired. I didn't want to go for the full-on Buffy cheese of "I *have* a job," but I wanted a small reminder of how alone Sam feels.

He pulls out the list he’s been compiling for Krindle’s assignment. I am a warrior. Cross it off. Once again, protective custody would be an issue, or maybe they’d just throw him in a nice padded cell somewhere. Problem number two is, he is a reluctant warrior at best. I really like how honest Sam is with himself at this moment. "I am a warrior" sounds cool, but he can't claim it. He’d be perfectly happy never knowing why there is blood in that field or how an exorcism is conducted. He doesn’t like the way his whole life has been co-opted by a quest for vengeance, a mission that can’t be won; what is going to make up for the fact that he’s never known his mother’s touch, smile, love? And yet, I am babied is the next on the list. And here is where my true affiliation becomes completely clear. I am a Deangirl, forever and ever, world without end, amen. Because of Dean, who’d taken it upon himself to act as his mom, short of donning a long blonde wig. Dean, who’s the source of every nickname Sam’s borne, who taught him how to load a gun, who puts an unwittingly charming and inept smile on his carefully clean-shaven face whenever Parent/Teacher night rolls around, who had long ago whispered the powers of salt beneath shared covers. Dean didn't have a normal childhood, but he does his best to give Sam one. And that includes teasing and teaching and loving. Dean is something of a wonder to me. He's the reason Sam can dream outside the life he's in. Dean, who just last night had gotten one strong hand square on his chest and pushed, so that the blood didn’t seep into Sam’s shadow as he rolled out the Latin chant. Sometimes, of course, the protection has to be more obvious. Dean, who treats Sam as special. Dean, who makes him realize I am lonely. The two go hand-in-hand, I think; Sam is all alone on the pedestal Dean puts him on. Lonely when he stares out the window as Dad drives and maps out the latest plan of attack with Dean, lonelier still when he reads from texts while Dad nods and Dean, queasy from trying to read in a moving car, struggles to listen. Dean gets motion sickness because I do. Here is as good a place as any for the autobiographical portion of this commentary. The relationship I have with my little brother (a 6'3" behemoth, incidentally) is very similar to the Dean-Sam relationship. I don't want to go into too much detail, but I have had to be someone who protects him from a lot, and I know that until I left for college, he resented that protection even while being unaware of a lot of it. He's told me recently, now that we are both aged and can look back with a little more clarity, that he gives me half the credit for raising him (our mom gets the other half), and I know that I'm proud of the person he's grown up to be. Anyway, I know where Dean's coming from, being so wrapped up in someone extraordinary, who is determined to get past everything and go his own way. It’s ridiculous to feel lonely when it is obvious Dad and Dean are the outsiders; all of his dreams are so embarrassingly normal. But there it is – loneliness is the name of the game for a Winchester man who longs not for justice but for peace. I think Sam is surprisingly precise here. He's a smart cookie.

He closes his eyes and allows his head to fall slowly back and thunk gently against the wall behind him. He could have peace at the cost of the dream team Dad thinks he is forming, at the cost of the family Dean thinks he is building. I worked at this sentence for an unreasonably long time. The "dream team" is there, all the pieces in place, so it simply needs to be *formed*, pulled together, but the family needs to be *built*, and Dean has the patience to do the work. Peace. The word, the promise of it, beckons like a siren.

He is just being lulled into a catnap when he hears soft female voices around the corner, borne along by a warm breeze. This juxtaposition - the "siren" and these female voices - was meant to contrast Sam's life with ordinary life. I still like it.

“Who is that?”

“God, he’s got eyelashes out to here.”

A giggle, quickly stifled. “Oh. My. God. His mouth is just lush.”

“No, no, wait. His mouth is to die for.” Murmurs of agreement drift in the air. Umm. Pretty much what I said while watching "Faith." Except not so much with the complete sentences.

Todiefor she said, a single word on a single exhalation. Sam smiles. Fantasizing that he is the object of desire. I am todiefor. Sam will grow into being a hunk, a dreamboat, all of that, but he doesn't think he's there yet. Realization jolts him fully, unpleasantly awake. Todiefor isn’t fun at all when it is literal, when something wicked had taken a young mother up on her offer of her life instead of her child’s. While I was writing this, I had no clue about the reason Mary died. But I figured Sam would believe that it was his fault, that his mother had traded her life for his. He clenches his fists and jumps to his feet, disagreeably surprised when his shoulder and thigh twinge. He checks his watch only to find he’s been sitting there for a few hours. He stalks around the corner to find Dean.

And there he is in plain sight but just out of earshot, leaning back against the hood of the car with his eyes closed. Dean lifts his heavy lids and looks completely unsurprised to see Sam standing suddenly in front of him. “Sammy,” he smiles.

There is something off, something about the way he holds himself, braced against the clean black vastness of the car, about his silence. Sam notices these things, but is learning to talk around them. Gah, this family! “How long have you been waiting?”

No shrug, no eye-rolling. Something is definitely up. “Not long. Just thought I’d soak in the sun for a few minutes.” And then he knows that Dean has gotten hurt, that he wanted the heat of the sun to sink drowsily into his bones and relieve his aching body Dean in the sunshine like a kitten - a nice image Sam only hints at before moving on before he went in search of his younger brother, who has express and standing orders to wait at the front of the school with plenty of classmates around. Sam is being protected by those orders. This is where I started to figure out the final word that Sam would hand in.

“Did you go back to the field without me? Is that why Dad had to drive me to school this morning?”

“Nothing major, Sammy. Just a midnight walk in the park. No point in dragging you out of bed.” Dean downplaying his injuries is driving Sam crazy.

There are no openings in that honey-over-gravel voice I love Jensen's Dean voice, so he settles for “Want me to drive?”

He gets an eyebrow raised incredulously over a moss-green eye. This description is a little poetic, yes, but I like it because Sam would know what moss really looks like, and he's always hyperaware of Dean in any case (kicked into overdrive now that he's inspecting Dean for injury). “Without a license in a town full of bored cops? Nope. Library, right?”

“Not tonight. Can we put it off till tomorrow?”

There is a brief struggle in Dean’s eyes, but then he asks, “When’s this project due?”

“Friday. Plenty of time.”

When they reach home Dad is there, whistling off-key as he stirs a pot on the stove. He turns as they come in the door. “Think you might have knocked this one out of the park, son.” Grrr, John. Ask your kids how their days were. But at the same time, yay, John, for offering praise and doing the cooking for once.

Dean straightens and his chin comes up. “It’s done?” he asks. He's so happy with his father's praise and needs to hear from him that the job is done.

“Done,” Dad affirms. He turns back to the stove. “Soup and sandwiches on the table in ten minutes. Tomato and onion in your grilled cheese and bacon in mine and Sammy’s.” Yeah, I made a *lot* of grilled cheese in my day. Even now, my brother won't eat anyone else's.

Dean slurps his soup. Sam scarfs his down, getting up for seconds before Dean can gross him out by drowning his sandwich crusts in his soup. Again, I think it's these little, inconsequential details that make a story; I know I remember them when other people write them, even when their fanon clearly differs from my own.

Sam pretends to read about Josef K as Dean gets ready for bed. We read Kafka's The Trial the same year as the "one word" assignment, plus I thought it fit, with its themes of frustrated escape. Dean mumbles, “You’ll do the salt?” as he kicks off his boots and strips off his shirt. Clearly, I had no idea that laying down salt was only for special occasions and not a nightly ritual. Oopsie. And now he can see the ugliness of red, blue, and black wending its way across his brother’s body, bruises and burns, fresh and fading. Dean shucks off his jeans and finally allows himself to slump, to topple into his unmade bed; he curls on his side, the thin protruding line of his spine clear even across the room. I am scared. I am sorry. Sam seeing his hero marked up is too familiar, and therefore even more painful. These lines are also to make clear that they're sharing a room.

***

[Wednesday evening]

He knows better than to try to cajole Dean into coming into the library with him. On a moonlit October night like this, Dean can only be lured from the brightness of the sky by a job. There's so much Sam knows about his brother. And so much that he never sees at all.

He finds the room that houses the reference materials. A mammoth dictionary holds pride of place on an elaborately carved wooden stand situated in front of a window that overlooks the unlit yard behind the building. He goes over and starts flipping through, feeling like an old lady with a Bible in one hand and a pin in the other. Thankfully he’s been spared an audience as the room is empty. He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and stabs the page with a digit. This is pretty much what happened when our tenth-grade class went to the library to work on this assignment. “Laconic” lies beneath his finger. I am laconic. True enough. He isn’t a motormouth but he isn’t a Trappist monk either. Of course, he never really speaks to anyone except Dad and Dean, so in the grand scheme of things, he probably is laconic. Not bad, but not the right answer. Try again.

“Dean Winchester,” he hears, a voice coming through the window soft and sweet. “What are you doing here?”

“Waiting on my brother, just like I said I would when I called you this morning.” I like how matter-of-fact Dean is here. He gives his real name, real reason for hanging around, and it's completely effective.

He can’t hear any further conversation, and it’s only a quiet little sigh that tells him that they’ve found a better use for their mouths. He retreats, not wanting to eavesdrop, but he’s curious about the girl’s identity. When he realizes how stupid he must look, standing stock-still in the middle of a room crowded with encyclopedias, he ventures back toward the window, and he’s glad he did because this is the stuff he wants to hear. He wants to learn how Dean does it. Sam isn't really sure right now if he wants to hear because it'll teach him how to charm girls or if he wants to learn more about his brother. “A girl named Lolita or Andromeda, she’s gonna spend her whole life trying to live up to that name; it weighs her down,” Dean says, his burnt-sugar voice low and clear. “But a name like Jane leaves you clear, free to be whatever you want.” I like that Dean's talking about free will and that Sam hears it. It doesn’t seem to matter how meaningless the words are; every syllable resonates, and he’s tempted to think that Dean’s charm is just smoke and mirrors. But the kicker is that the smoke is Dean’s sincerity and the mirrors are those he holds up to his audience; Dean always believes what he says in any moment, whether his conviction lasts or not, and as he tells the truth it becomes precisely what the world wants to hear. Dean is a liar, but he believes in the purpose those lies serve; Sam has not yet learned how to do that.

“And what do you want to be, Dean?” Janie asks, just as Sam knew she would. He holds his breath to hear the answer.

“Nothing special,” he murmurs, and Sam backs away, knowing the honest puzzlement in Dean’s dark voice will be like catnip to Janie, that she’ll lay herself down on the grass in the dark bright night and reach for Dean. Even here, Dean is hovering between the truth and the lie. He wants to be just like John, something very special, but at the same time he knows that he will be invisible, overlooked because of the nature of the work. And again, Sam feels both of these things without being able to say anything about them.

The library will be open for another hour. He leaves the reference room and pulls The Trial from his bag.

***

[Thursday after school]

Dean’s eyes are cloudy rather than clear; the energy he should have spent recovering was lavished instead on Janie Gibbs. Yes, Janie Gibbs from Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, because Dean would of course have a great time with an intelligent girl who can blow up anything she wants. He watches his older brother build himself up, bit by bit, assemble himself like a weapon, beat by beat, as the therapeutic thump of hard rock energizes him and gets him drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. I am amazed. He doesn’t protest as Dean turns the volume up. I love that canon insists on music as one of Dean's pleasures, one of his few allowable luxuries, and I wanted to work that into my story. I love the idea that Dean loves something so much and it gives something back to him - I see this all the time now with the Impala, but I hadn't clued into that relationship when I wrote this.

“Dean,” he says, trying to time it so there’s a lull in the music. He looks over and Dean’s looking back with a wide smile. I am loved. He looks away. Sam can't give it up, but Dean's love can be a little hard to take.

“Yeah, Sammy?”

He doesn’t protest the nickname. “Dad got anything planned for tonight?”

“We get the night off, baby,” Dean crows. He's still a kid too.

“Oh. Okay.” He doesn’t know why he can’t just come right out and say that he wants Dean’s company, that he wants to be five years old again, watching TV with his brother’s protective arm thrown over him. "Something Wicked" both wrecked and justified this line. He clears his throat. He darts a glance at Dean. Sam's reluctance to just *say* what he wants hurts a little. “I found some of our old videotapes a couple nights ago.” A few movies and TV episodes sandwiched between the Ramayana yeah, so I worked my own culture into the story, and then did it again in "Sita" and a copy of the score of a Bach cantata again, me just working my own loves in - J. S. Bach is my favorite composer, plus he used to write "for the glory of God" on his scores, so they could conceivably have been used in rituals – yeah, that was normal. Sam is yearning so desperately for normal.

Dean shuts off the music and looks straight at him. “The Mystery Science Theater tape?” Sam knows that he doesn’t have to ask; Dean’s already offering it to him. Sam does recognize that Dean lets him get away with quite a bit.

“Yeah. Viking Women and the Sea Serpent.” My favorite MST3K episode (and if anyone has it to share, I'd be very grateful), and in general, I think a show the boys would have enjoyed.

“Dude, none of the blondes in that movie can hold a candle to the priestess.”

“Dude, she’s evil. And a skank.”

“Nah, she just knows what she wants and how to get it. I admire that in a woman.”

“She’s ready to nail that old guy!”

“That is a pretty sweet shag rug he’s wearing.”

“Do you have the thing memorized?”

“Keep it up and I’ll sing the theme song,” Dean warns as Sam follows him into the apartment. Hit it, Dean!

Dad’s sitting at the kitchen table, face and knuckles white with tension. He watches silently as Dean sheds his mirth and goes to him and lays one warm hand on his head, sunk low between his shoulders. That pose, to me, always connotes strength laid low, completely humbled and yet watchful. “Dad?” Dean tries quietly. The dark face, dominated by red-rimmed eyes, tilts up Sam's already distancing - it's not "Dad's face" but "the dark face", and Dean’s hand slides off; he brings his bright bronze head in close instead.

But Dad looks past Dean and unerringly fixes his wide, hurt gaze like a bullet between Sam’s eyes. Of course Sam thinks of a bullet, given the life he's led. And of course he sees that John's hurting, but he can't help feeling like he's the one being cut down. “I didn’t have anything left,” he says hoarsely. I am hated. “There was nothing else.” Just to be clear, I didn't mean that John melted down his wedding ring; I just wanted to imply that he'd used the last of Mary's silver, or something similarly meaningful.

“What, Dad? What is it? ” Dean asks as he gentles one of Dad’s fists open. Dean is gentle and John lets him be, though his hands are clenched tight as he tries to get hold of himself. There’s a homemade silver bullet tucked away in there, and it rolls a little in Dad’s palm as his fingers shake. And Sam is watching it all.

“Silver,” Dad’s breath hitches as he finally turns his heavy gaze away and rests its full weight on Dean. The burden of that gaze is what Sam keeps coming back to.

Dean looks like he’s been kicked. “Silver,” he agrees gently; “twenty-five years.” Dean remembers what Sam never knew, the date of their parents' wedding. Dean doesn’t move to take the bullet or leave Dad to his grief; Sam watches the two of them uncertainly. I struggled with this scene for a long time, trying to figure out what Dean would, or could, do here. I ended up sleeping on it and realizing Dean would just be Dean, silent and still, and let John take what he needed.

He sees it when Dad’s head snaps back and he studies Dean’s face intently. There is a ravaged joy in his eyes and Dean lets him look his fill without fidgeting. That stillness is what always gets me about Dean. I write these moments into a lot of my stories, and I always get choked up when I do. Dad’s voice is caught halfway between speech and breath, and it’s hard to hear him, but he looks up at Dean like he knows he’ll understand. I am overlooked. I think this is the most effective "I am" moment in the story, because it reminds us that this is Sam's story, even though the focus has all been on Dean and John for several tense moments. “. . . that crooked smile?”

“I remember, Dad. Sammy has it too,” Dean says steadily. And this is exactly the premise that "Mayday" was based on - that John remembers Mary, and that Dean does too, but by translating her into Sam terms. Of course it's Dean who voices the fact that both his mother and his brother have the same smile.

“Only time she . . . that little half-smile became whole . . . moment I put you in her arms.” And I love John here, so determined to give something to Dean that's been only his for all these years.

“Must have been beautiful.”

“Only time,” Dad repeats. He seems to make a decision and his hands grip Dean’s shoulders like a vise. His voice clears a little. “It was for me but it was because of you.” Dean was their golden child, a laughing, happy baby.

He doesn’t want to hear anymore. It’s clear where all of this is tending. I am responsible. Dad had a wife and Dean had a mom and it’s because of him that she’s been snatched away. Just putting Mary into those more universal terms of "wife" and "mom" somehow personalized the loss for me. This line still makes me hurt intensely. He turns and leaves before Dad can say what he will never let himself say, what Dean will never let himself hear, that Mom destroyed too much in sacrificing herself, that it should have been him slashed and immolated. They would have found a better way to survive, a better life than this. Sam is convinced that he's not the only one who knows he's to blame. Poor baby.

***

[Friday]

He wakes completely unable to move. There’s a lulling warmth behind him. This should be a little alarming, but I don't think it is. His bleary eyes make out a forearm sprinkled with golden hair around his waist. Dean’s spooned up behind him. I like the callback to Shelley's "golden" hair, this time in a realizable context for Sam. I deliberately chose to show only Sam waking up, not Dean getting into bed with him, because I didn't want to decide if Dean sleeping with Sam was for Sam's comfort or Dean's.

He rolls over without dislodging Dean’s arm. Dean’s wide eyes open, lingering in drowsiness only for a moment before coming into full awareness. mmmmmmmmmm, sleepy, warm Dean “Shit, it’s already seven,” Dean mumbles. “Breakfast in ten, Sammy.” Dean = mommy

He wants to scream, to pin Dean down and make him admit that he hates this life, to choke out an apology for being so well-loved by Mom. Sam keeps retreating into silence in this story, can't find words even as he searches for one. But all he does is swing his legs over the side of the bed and walk in the direction of the bathroom, pushing his boxers down as he goes. There are no words big enough for all he needs to say.

There is silence.

Is there a word that can define him? For all of the sorrow and grief he caused, is it enough to say I am the catalyst? Can he dismiss all of the friction between himself and Dad with I am misunderstood? If he gives in to his dreams and leaves Dean behind, will he ever be able to look at his own reflection without knowing I am the betrayer? Sam is still thinking of his relationship with John as separate from his relationship with Dean. When he puts them together, he'll get his answer.

His life is made of this: knowing what blood tastes like, keeping his back to a wall, sitting alone in every school cafeteria, playing the hero. And always Dean, who shines steadily beside him while Dad flickers ahead of them. He is defined by Dean. I am protected. He knows but cannot yet acknowledge how big a part John plays in this protection. But he feels that this word is right.

Always. I am protected.

So, that's it. Hope you enjoyed!

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I love this story. The subtle things you hinted at are so effective and it makes me appreciate the story a little more. Thanks for sharing!

I'm so pleased to hear that - thanks!

Thanks so much for such a detailed and interesting commentary. Commentary on your commentary:

I love that you work canon details into it like Sam's puppy fat. (I like it about Field Trip too). It helps also show Sam's separation from Dean I always think - Dean was presumably a fit able 16 year old while Sam is struggling along behind but I digress.

usually timelines feel like ticking bombs to me In other people's fic or only when you write your own? An interesting point, that it helped nudge you in the direction you had. When I wrote Acceptance I gave myself a mini deadline, partly because of your fic here, and it worked well for me, with guidance.

This computer isn't letting me copy / paste for some reason but : Dean talking to the girl and not mentioning love - interesting and of course very Dean. I like how you say it's an instructive example for Sam (even if it is one he may not choose to follow. I don't think Sam has the confidence to promise just pleasure for some time ;) )

I like how you say that you bring your own interests into the story with Bach and other references - we all do that and it's something that helps connect the reader to the writer as well as to the story I think. It also means that when I read I really feel like I'm reading something that you know about. The details in Sam's classroom really help that too.

Dean is so the mommy and you show that well here. Very interesting point about Dean's stillness.

I'm interested - did you plan this out? Did you go through and think - these are the steps I want to hit, Dean with John toward the end, Dean with girl before that? Did you write a list of words out? - Midway you say that you began to figure there what your final word would be - so you had to work through yourself to get that? Did you do that via thinking about it or actually writing it.

Sorry for all the questions. Very interesting, and thank you for taking the time to go through it. I still love this story immensely. It's one of the stories I go back and look at if I'm stuck with my writing - hoping for inspiration maybe, looking at what I think is a good example. Acceptance wouldn't have been written without this anyway.

In other people's fic or only when you write your own? Both, actually, but my own more intensely.

I'm interested - did you plan this out? Did you go through and think - these are the steps I want to hit, Dean with John toward the end, Dean with girl before that? Did you write a list of words out? - Midway you say that you began to figure there what your final word would be - so you had to work through yourself to get that? Did you do that via thinking about it or actually writing it. I knew that I needed to give Sam some time on his own to try to think about the word analytically. And that I needed to have him in the library, doing some research. And also that I wanted a scene with all three of the Winchester men. But I didn't know if each of those things would simply be one scene or a series - if Sam would end up needing more than one night in the library, for instance. Tuesday and Wednesday were a little troubling, because I wasn't sure how they advanced the plot, but I liked them too much to cut. As for the word Sam finally picked, I had a list of words that I knew he'd try out but reject as wrong. And I had a few that I thought would make up his final list - brother, Winchester, etc., but I felt like only "protected" was something he could embrace as Dean's little brother and that the reader could understand to be true with respect to both Dean and John.

Glad you enjoyed!

I absolutely love hearing about the real-life things that happened to you that then get into your stories, like getting that class assignment.

I like the idea about Dean being very tactile - I think so, too. The leather jacket, that he wears a ring, and that he probably has a thing for LP album covers - how they're all dusty and cardboardy like that.

ahaha MST3K! I don't remember if I've seen the Viking Women one. My favorites tended to be the Hercules movies.

sigh. Protecting little brothers. Sometimes it's like it really never ends.

I'm so glad this was interesting! And I'm pleased that you agree with the way Dean likes to touch, to feel things.

An older sibling's work is never done, right? Boys are so fragile.

Thanks, sugar!

This will sound so annoying, but I'd really rather not say.

Thank you for reading, though!

no problem, its not annoying at all

What a terrific story! I hope you don't mind my commenting on your comments, rather than on the story itself, but I saw the links and clicked and here I am. Never heard about the roundtable, or discussions on writing, nor saw this process that you describe above. It was cool to see your insights, the parts you liked best, what you struggled with. I felt very well satisfied with the ending of your story, and then, with your insights, even more so. Thank you for sharing it, I really appreciate it.

Thank you so much! I'm very pleased the story held up to examination for you!

Harriet The Spy!!!!!! *does happy dance*
Clearly, I've been stalking you all evening but I can't help it - you're too good. May I "friend" you so I can keep an eye on your fabulous writing (and I'm sure your even fabulouser self)?

Harriet the Spy is so awesome! Yay!

Please feel free to friend! There's not a lot going on here except for stories, but you're very welcome to join in!

Its interesting the way you think.
You pick out small things from the show
that are important but kind of in the dark
(like Dean's relationship with music and
I love how you used that word "relationship"
because it makes you see that music is
more or less alive for Dean). I want to
go back and watch it all again to see
if I can see the things you see and maybe
pick out a couple of my own things.
Thanks for the insight- I think I'll save
this to my memories as well! Keep writing

I appreciate your kind words here - and it's neat to see what you're picking out. Happy watching and reading!

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