Sam's earliest memory is not of his mother. He remembers nothing about her, though he's tried. Looked at her picture whenever he could, peering over Dad's slumped shoulder when the man stopped cursing over his whiskey and finally gave in to sleep. He's pestered Dean about it, made his older brother retell the same stories until it's almost like being there-- The Time Mom Made Pie For Breakfast, The Day Mom Mixed Up the Laundry And Dad's Underpants Were All Pink, The Day Mom Threw The Football Into The Window. Sam's favorite, the only one he appears in, is The Day Mom Brought You Home.
He's asked Dean over and over, if Mom really cried out of happiness when he was born, if she really smiled so wide her cheeks went red, if she really said (as Dean swears she did) that she wanted Dean to meet the new member of their family, her "special little girl."
He's never asked Dean if he thinks Mom would have been just as happy to have another boy, if he thinks Dad wanted another son.
That's because his first memory made it very clear.
Samantha-- Call me Sam, she insisted, every time, my name is Sam-- really had to pee. The new daycare her dad had dropped her at was nice, lots of kids and even an old wooden playground with monkey bars and swings. Dean was already 9, so he got to go on a business trip with dad, but she had to stay at daycare until tomorrow. The lady in charge had told her daddy she'd be able to stay overnight, so it was kind of like a sleepover. She wasn't sure she'd be able to sleep without Dean there to tuck her in and say the story of the day Mom brought her home, her special little girl. She wanted Dad to kiss her goodnight like he normally did before his business trips, a firm kiss against her forehead that she'd be able to reach up and feel all night long.
One of the older kids in second grade had let Dean borrow a book last town they'd been in, one where mothers kissed their kids goodnight to protect them from bad dreams, and smoothed out their thoughts or something. Sam didn't know about smoothing out thoughts, but she had a lot of bad dreams, some where Dad died, or Dean died, or they both just went away on a trip and left her. She wanted Dad to kiss her forehead and keep those dreams away.
But before that, she wanted to go to the bathroom. The other kids were hogging the swings and she didn't know where the bathroom was. She didn't think she was supposed to ask questions of the lady. Dad said never to ask questions unless you really needed it. He hated questions.
"Screw it," she muttered. Dean's new favorite phrase. Between the wooden playground and the back of the baby nursery, there was a bit of bush almost as tall as she was. Daddy went to the bathroom in the woods sometimes, she'd heard him tell Dean how to do it.
She asked one of the kids in the sandbox if she could borrow his shovel, and he looked at her for a bit before nodding. She promised to bring it back.
When she got behind the bush, she was squirming a bit, but she still dug the hole. Dad had said it was important. She finished her business quickly, took a couple of leaves to dry off (another Dad tip) and covered the hole over. All done, she stood up and reached down to pull up her pants.
The lady's voice screeched.
Sam could never remember exactly what the lady said after she grabbed Sam's hand and yanked her away from the bush, but she remembered how the lady pulled her into the house, pushed her against the door and told her to Never Do That Again. Sam tried to explain that Daddy told Dean, but the lady kept talking. She talked for a long time, loud and angry, until Sam started to cry and the lady seemed pleased. "I just want you to understand, Samantha, that there are certain things boys can do that you can't."
The lady said the same thing to Dad the next day when he came to pick her up. Dad had white stuff wrapped around his hand, and Dean was walking funny, holding his shoulder. They both smiled when they saw Sam, straightening up taller. The lady asked Dad if he could please keep in mind that it was different, raising a little girl.
Dad just snorted. "The only thing I could teach Dean that I can't teach Sam is how to write his name in the snow."
Dean, next to him, did a gesture to help Sam know what that meant. The lady turned bright red and shouted at them about appropriate parenting and role models. She said something about how Sam needed some female figures in her life because her mother---
The lady shut up after that. Sam took Dean's hand and Dad took Sam's duffel, and the Winchesters walked away. When they got into the Impala, Sam piped up, "I can too write my name, Dad. I can write it with a stick. S-A-M."
Dad ruffled her hair. "Knew you could, kiddo." Dean grinned back at her from the front seat, and they took off down the road.
When Sam was six, she got in trouble for using the boy's room at school. She didn't get what was so wrong. In the motel rooms, she used the same bathroom as Dad and Dean, anyway. The first couple days, a couple boys stared at her when she walked in, but after she punched a few of them, they stopped.
Instead, her teacher called her dad to come in and talk. She said a lot of things about appropriate gender roles and how Sam might be confused because she had no female role models. Sam grinned and said, "The only thing Dad and Dean can do that I can't is pee on the snow."
This time, Dad didn't ruffle her hair. He took the brochure for single parents the teacher gave him, but chucked it in the back of the Impala without opening. Then he looked around the room, taking in the two queen beds, the mini fridge stuffed with leftovers and beer, the walls covered in pinned paper and maps. He sighed.
"Sammy," he said tiredly. "Do you know why that teacher wanted to talk to me?"
Sam nodded. "I used the bathroom wrong."
"Why did you do that, Tiger?" He wasn't quite looking at her.
"It's just a bathroom. I use the same one as you and Dean anyway." She knew Dad didn't like questions, but maybe... "Why was that wrong?"
Dad ran a hand over his face, pulling at his chin. "You're a girl, Tiger. Bathrooms in schools and truck stops... now that you're older, you have to go to the ones for girls."
"Why?" Dad's least favorite question.
"Because if you go into the wrong bathroom, people might try to..." he swallowed. "They might try and hurt you. It's dangerous if Dean and I aren't there."
"Don't worry, Dad. I punched all the boys before they could punch me," Sam was quick to assure him.
Dad laughed in that way he had, a single bark without a smile. He crouched down so his head was level with hers. "Good going, Tiger. But it could be dangerous if you do that somewhere where Dean and I can't back you up. Promise me you'll use the girl's restroom from now on."
Sam nodded. "Yes, sir."
Later that night, she heard Dean and Dad talking about it outside their motel room. When she snuck up to the door to listen better, careful to keep her toes behind the salt line, she heard Dad crying.
"--so much like Mary, always doing what she wants and asking forgiveness afterwards. All these teachers.....saying she needs a stable life, female role models... as if I can't raise my little girl right!"
Dean murmured something quietly in response, Sam only caught the words "school" and "bully."
Dad snapped back, "She knows how to defend herself!"
"Not from words." Dean's voice was heavy, final, the tone he used when no, she couldn't have just five more minutes before lights out. Sam thought the conversation might be over and crept quietly back into bed, settling on the left side, her spot. Dad always took the bed nearest the door, and Dean the side nearest the window, so at night she could wake herself up from a nightmare and hear their slow, heavy breaths wrapping around her to send her back to sleep.
Dean came back in a minute later, letting in a breeze that smelled slightly sour, like Dad was at the whiskey again. He brushed his teeth and settled into his side of the bed, pulling the blankets so they'd cover his side fully. Sam kicked her feet out in protest and laughed when Dean squeaked at how cold they were.
"You heard that outside?" Dean asked.
"Sammy... you need to act more like a girl at school. We have to keep under the radar and we can't do that if your teachers always want to meet Dad."
Sam thought it over. "Okay. How do I act more like a girl?"
Dean kicked her. "How should I know?"
Sam hated when Dean said that. He said it like she should feel stupid for even thinking to ask the question. But Sam's favorite teacher that year had said that there were no stupid questions, and that it was smart to be curious and try to find answers.
She kicked Dean back hard. "How do I act more like a girl, jerkwad?" One of the kids at her last school had called people that and been sent to the office.
Dean sniggered. "Just keep acting like a little bitch, whine, cry, you'll be fine."
Dad had to come in and break apart the resulting fight. Sam had scrapes on her arms the next day from falling off the bed into the nightstand, but Dean had a ring of bruises on his arm from her teeth, so she thought it was about a tie.
At schools after that, Sammy remembered her promise to her dad. Years later, Sam remembered that as the first time she ever lied to him.
When Sam was 8 years old, Dad didn't come back for Christmas and Dean stole her toys from a little girl's house. She stared down at the Barbie, the magic wand. Now that she'd read Dad's journal, she didn't see the point in these things. She wasn't a kid anymore. Witches apparently cast spells using blood and animal bits, there was nothing a glittery wand could do to protect her. And she'd never played with dolls, unless you count Dean's green army men.
So she made a decision and gave Dean the amulet she got from Bobby for Dad. She could give him his real present-- a lunchbox to hold his cassette tapes-- for his birthday.
When she confronted Dean about the lies, how they both lied to her about what they do, how Dad hunts monsters and could get killed, she lay down on the bed away from Dean and cried. He shifted around like he might reach forward and hug her, but hung back. Feeling truly sorry for herself, she imagined that there could be someone there to hold her, to pull her into a big soft hug and not let go, if only her mother hadn't been killed in her nursery when she was a baby.
She tried to imagine what it'd like to be that girl whose parents gave her a Barbie and a magic wand, the girl down the street who didn't know anything about parents who die, who go out to kill things and might get killed someday. She tried to picture what little girl she would have been if her mom was alive, her mom's "special little girl." Maybe she would wear skirts instead of Dean's too-big jeans, maybe she'd have pink flat shoes instead of ratty grey sneakers, maybe she'd know how to braid her hair.
Sam wished she wanted more to be that little girl.
Later she remembers that night and thinks that might have been when she first knew-- if Dad could break his promises to her, then she didn't have to keep hers to him.
When Sam was nine, she had a friend named Sully who wanted her to run away, but she stayed. She stayed even though the girls at school laughed at her when she tried to talk like them, laughed at how messy her hair was and how loose and ratty her clothes were. She stayed even when she wanted to run, to slap them for calling her white trash and trailer park girl and dyke (she had to ask Dean what some of those meant).
When Sam turned ten, she stopped staying and started planning instead. If people kept noticing them because she wasn't good at being a girl, she'd just be a better boy. She'd been watching Dean and Dad act and lie her whole life, now it was her turn.
For all her plans, it didn't take much. She asked Dad to cut her hair like he cut Dean's. He started to ask a question, but stopped himself, ruffled her bangs. "Probably better for combat training if it's out of your eyes, huh, Sammy?"
"Yeah," she growled. Her voice still sounded too high and she was practicing keeping it lower. She was getting better.
"You got a sore throat, kiddo?" Maybe she needed more practice.
If this was one of those movies Dean complained about watching with his girlfriends (but later told her all about with relish), Sam would go out and get clothes and have a makeover. But she didn't really want to wear makeup (that would defeat the purpose and anyway she didn't know how) so she'd just stick with Dean's old clothes, baggy shirts with flannel over rolled-up jeans.
The next part was trickier.
When they were walking to school one day, she asked Dean, "Can you tell your friends I'm your little brother?" Dean had lots of friends at this school, or so she thought. She'd seen him coming out of broom closets with some of them.
Dean didn't blink. "They already think you are. You wear all my clothes anyway."
"But can you call me your little brother?" Sam persisted.
Because I'm no good at being a girl. I don't know what people expect of me. I don't like the way they look at me. I don't like being called names when they think I'm not listening. Because girls on their own can be nice but in groups they whisper and giggle and ignore me. Boys I can punch or talk to or ignore, but girls make walls out of words and I can't get through.
"No reason. I just want to know what it's like."
One of the boys at that school took a special interest in messing with her, calling her Losechester. That's the stupidest insult she'd ever heard, but Dad didn't want her to fight in school. Dean could, but when she did it the teachers started asking questions about her home life. Her motel life. She couldn't wait to leave this place.
But then she made a friend, Barry. He didn't blink when she told him to call her Sam, never Samantha, not even when she said that the teacher had the wrong papers and she's really a boy. She thought she might be a boy. Her friend didn't blink, he grinned and said quietly not to tell but his older sister used to be a brother and does she want him to call her "him"?
It was the first time Sam had heard that you could choose that, you could choose whether people call you her or him, not just Sam or Samantha. She-- "he," he told his friend, "call me 'he,'"-- wanted to know more.
His friend brought a couple of the zines his older sister gave him to explain, asked Sam to give them back after school the day after. Sam didn't do his homework until late that night, reading and reading about the gender binary and gender spectrum, about sexual versus gender orientation and about transitioning and hormones. He went to the bathroom and took off his shirts, looking down at the flat plane of his chest where tits might grow someday. He wished it could stay flat forever, the way his body seemed inclined to stay small forever. Some of the other-- some of the girls in his classes had started wearing bras under their shirts, he saw the way boys looked at them and tried to snap at the straps. He didn't think he looked at girls the way other boys looked at them, but he didn't look at them the way other girls looked, either. He wasn't like Dean, he didn't talk about their bodies or the way they smelled or how much they'd let him kiss them.
He didn't want to be them. He couldn't even imagine being them. But he did want them to smile at him, maybe let him try wearing their Lipgloss and nail varnish, just to see if he could. They never had extra money, so it wasn't like he could ask Dad to buy something useless like a nail polish he might not even like.
He told this to Barry the next day, along with all his questions about how he felt like he wasn't a girl, but he wasn't entirely sure he's a boy either, that he didn't want his body to grow into something soft and curvy, that he wanted his arms to be thick and strong like his Dad's and he wanted his hands to be quick and callused like Dean's but maybe he also wanted his hair to be long and curly like his mom's and he wanted to learn how to do a braid.
His friend invited him over to dinner, saying "My sister is taking a gap year, she'd be happy to talk to you."
His friend's older sister was the coolest person he'd ever met, except for Dean. When she talked, her voice was warm and calm, and she looked straight into his eyes and LISTENED. Sam wished Dean would date her instead of the girls in school, because then maybe (Sully might be gone, but he still got lost in imagination sometimes) they could fall in love and Dad might let them stay until they got married, and he could have an older sister and a brother his own age. He wished he could ask her every single question he had, even the ones about what he should do when it was late at night and his dad hadn't come home and he started getting very very sure that his dad was dead and Dean was dead and he was all alone and he started not being able to breathe and his heart started pounding so hard he got dizzy and his teeth tingled and he started not being able to see.
The question slipped out anyway and his friend's sister-- Call me Ericka, she said-- reached out with her strong arms, thick like Dean's are, and asked if she could give him a hug, asked him like it was a privilege she wanted to earn, like it was something he could give her as a gift. He fell forward into her shoulder, which smelled clean like flowery shampoo and laundry detergent, and his friend left the room, and he maybe cried for a bit. This was what Dean called a Chick Flick moment and Sam was torn between embarrassment, shame, and helpless gratitude. He wished-- well, he didn't wish Ericka were his sister instead of Dean, but he wished she were his family.
While they stayed at that town, Sam tried to go over to Barry's house as much as possible. He didn't always talk to Ericka-- he played with his friend, and sometimes she was there, sometimes she wasn't-- but he always got to take a book or what Ericka called a "zine" home with him, or sometimes watch a movie about people like him, people like her. Her parents smiled at him and call him "son," even, and he'd never felt so much like smiling and crying at the same time. He wanted Dad to try calling him "son."
But he didn't want Dad to drink and cry and think he wasn't like his mom, that he wasn't Mom's "special little girl." He couldn't put that on his dad.
Finally, Dad finished all the hunts in the surrounding towns, and Sam ran to his friend's house as soon as he heard, books in hand, because he didn't want to steal them, he didn't want to leave without saying goodbye.
His friend hugged him and his parents gave him a firm handshake and a cookie and a card with their number on it, and a promise that they'd pick up if he ever needed someone to talk to. Ericka asked for a hug, the way she always asked before touching anyone, and she held him long and hard, and he maybe cried a little into her warm, clean-smelling shoulder. He thought Ericka might be the first girl he ever loved. He told her that before he went, even though he thought he might die of embarrassment, because he thought she might like to hear it, to hear someone call her a girl they love, like he loved it when her parents called him "son."
She didn't cry but her eyes got really shiny and she told him to wait while she ran up to her room, and she came back with one of his favorite books, The Outsiders. She told him to take it with him and to remember them. She'd written "Stay gold, Ponyboy!", and signed with her name and a heart "because she couldn't draw a hug."
Underneath that she'd written her email and phone number with "Stay in touch!" underlined three times and another heart. Sam couldn't stop smiling all the way home, even though he hated this, he hated leaving, he hated never being in just one place. Dean seemed happy to go, almost hyper with how fast he packed, how he threw his clothes into his bag. And then he snapped that no matter what, Dean never wanted to talk about that school or that town or his friends there again.
Sam doesn't ask Dean to call him his little brother for a long time after.