zillion months ago, some people offered me prompts and I held onto them
until I would need them: I pulled them out in prep for this and found these
and wrote this. Chasing Dawn - 1,600 words brain-to-page, SPN, Gen, Sam-character
study. The prompts:
-- green, sunlight, mist, gray_light
-- blue, rhythm, dragon, halfshellvenus
-- forever whisper destiny, rachel_shanz
-- red, moon, glass, scarletts_awry
-- damage, grace, surrender, schnaucl
-- fragile, hope, tenderness
There was a time when Sam only found comfort in the mornings, in the grey break of dawn across the green of a yard or field or even across the cracked grey-black asphalt of a parking lot. He'd been an early riser for as long as he could remember, as long as Dean or as father could remember; first up, first out into sunlight or mist.
He still rose too early according to Dean, no matter how late or how far into the night they fell into bed. Sometimes even when there was enough damage to body or soul that he had trouble falling asleep at all, it made even less sense that he'd wake up with the first of push of dawn against the window glass.
Nights were for hunting. Night was the fragile illusion of the world under a red moon. Nights were when their father would leave them to hunt dragons in the dark, and later when Dean and his father both would go out into the darkness, when Sam was old enough to keep himself but still too young to hunt.
Those years were when he came to find the nights unbearable, not because he feared being alone, but because he feared being alone forever. That one night, instead of coming back whole -- or coming back bloodied but still on their feet -- one or the other or both of them wouldn't come home at all.
Some nights he didn't sleep at all. The company of only the television or radio would become unbearable after awhile. The first-time pride and sense of freedom he felt for being old enough, mature enough, to not need Dean as a baby-sitter or some other friend of his father's, lasted only as long as it took him to realize that he missed Dean's company as much as he worried about him. That he lacked Dean's conviction that Dad would return, that Dean would without Dean's voice in his ear to reassure him, or just his steady presence to bolster his confidence.
There was that first rush of exultation that he could go out, explore, and no one would know he was without a watcher. But the towns were too many, the money too short for movies or idle book browsing, and no fun at all to run wild through the streets without Dean there to share the mischief and the risk.
So he waited, sometimes with the light on, sometimes in a darkness of his own making, waiting for the whisper of car wheels on the drive, for the sound of familiar voices approaching room or door. Waiting for the comfort that his family emerging once more into the day would provide.
It took too many times for him to ask of himself what would happen to him if they didn't come back and find no easy answer for him to ever ask them. In the abstract he knew there were people he could call, familiar and friendly voices and hands to help if his worst fears ever came to be more than truth. Couldn't ask because it was bad enough to be the baby of the family and act like it when his father and brother feared nothing.
And hearing what he wanted to would send him scurrying to bed, or feigning sleep on the couch, circumstance dictating which was the less cowardly choice. Bed if there was talking or even laughter, the exchange of experience between equals, his father and Dean, when he was equal to neither. Couch if there was quiet or the more obvious sounds of distress or injury, "Just a few more steps," and Sam would be up and grabbing med kit and towels ready to play orderly to whoever was cast as nurse and sometimes to play nurse to both of them. He learned to sew up tears in jeans and shirts by first applying needle and surgical thread to flesh.
But even after all was settled and quiet, exhaustion or injury, Sam would remain awake, staring at midnight-blue skies until they paled until he could surrender his fears to dawn once more.
Even long after he was old enough to go with them instead of be left behind, he'd started hating most nights like most people hated jobs that made them unhappy. Necessary, but he often shouldered his part with bad grace and no real desire to discuss it or admit his own weakness to either brother or parent.
Bad job, good job, success or failure. If and when Sam fell asleep, he'd still be up before anyone unless they sat up all night, which happened. Sometimes for him, sometimes for Dean if he was hurt. His father would watch Sam with bleary eyes and fall into his own sleep when Sam was up at daybreak and able to take over ensuring that Dean's injuries were no more dangerous than they thought.
It hadn't changed when he'd left them for some kind of hope, some kind of destiny other than what his father had mapped out for them the same way he mapped out the routes of he next job, the next hunt, the next kill.
Months and then years passed and the pattern remained the same; the urge and need to see that crest between darkness and light. Jessica accused him first of being a night owl, awake long after she'd gone to bed -- and then later, when she knew him better, of just being an insomniac. She would tempt and cajole and worry him to at least lay down and rest, to maybe sleep in on mornings where he didn't have class or work.
Sometimes it worked. Sometimes he could sleep nearly the whole night through and not catch his sleep in counts of hours and minutes only to wake and listen for the sounds that meant comfort and forward and another night survived.
She'd catch him sometimes, in mid afternoon, books and notebooks in his lap, spilling across couch or chair or floor, where he'd finally fallen asleep sitting up, in the daylight. He didn't sleep in class -- even with the most boring of teachers. Focus was something his father had taught him very well.
But mostly, and to Jessica's eternal mild annoyance, Sam would come to bed and sleep (or make love) and then prowl the apartment for a few hours. Return to bed and yet still be up before dawn broke.
But at Stanford, there was no secondary comfort at dawn. There was no sound of car wheels on the drive, the crunch of gravel or the low murmur of voices to reassure him that the night had not taken more than just his sleep.
His limbs would twitch and his mind spin useless wheels until he needed something to focus on and so he took up the illusion of other early risers. He put on decent tennis shoes and loose clothes and hit the sidewalks and lawns and parks, running from the darkness of night until the creep of morning, finding a rhythm and reason in the sound of his shoes hitting pavement or grass, in the ever steady pattern of his breathing, knowing he'd get no answer or cure for his carefully hidden anxiety. But when there was no cure or ease for something not quite pain and less than fear, there was endurance. His father had taught him that as well.
When the dawn broke and the sun showed itself again he could return and shower and rest and try not to wonder if his father or Dean had made it home safe -- wherever they were, whatever shape home took that day or that week.
He could try to be quiet and not wake Jess, but often she did wake, rolling over sleepy and voice still husky and soft. "Did you have a good run?" She'd ask and her hands would wander his skin with tenderness and casual concern.
"Yeah, it was good," he said, another of a million small half truths that he'd regret much later. But running made sense to her, even if why she thought he did it and why he actually did it were far apart in cause and result.
Even after she was gone, and he no longer had to wait to know if Dean would be all right, unharmed and returned to him, he found himself rising to darkness. He'd listen to the steady breathing from the bed next to his and know there was no real reason to find the darkness laden with worry and fear, no reason other than habit to get up and dress and find some unfamiliar path to cover with long strides and he rhythmic pulse of rubber on asphalt.
Dean thought it was Sam trying to get in shape at first, "Out of shape, Sam. Too many hours spent bent over books."
Dean no longer teased or questioned the pre-dawn runs, only cast the same worried eye on him that Jessica had when Sam would push himself, injury or fatigue be damned. When nightmares robbed him of more sleep than worry did.
Sam never said anything. Never explained that he still found comfort in seeing the sun rise -- to know another breach of dawn gave him hours of things holding steady. Hours where he could pretend that the darkness was still too far away and not waiting to steal what little he had left.
Chasing the dawn didn't actually change anything or fix anything. But he did it anyway.
Chasing dawn sounded much better than running from darkness.