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Twenty-two. That's the age Sam's picked for Jack on all of his IDs; easy to remember, old enough that Dean can send him on beer runs. They're minting twenty-two year olds out of babies born in 1997, now, which should probably terrify him, but instead it just feels vaguely reassuring. Proof that the world didn't end with them.  Not yet, anyhow.

Sometimes he falls down the rabbit hole, thinking about the rickety tower of resentments and unmetered ego that added up to a Sam at that age. Some of the gobsmackingly clueless shit he unloaded on Dean after the abrupt conclusion of his four-year tour of the realms of privilege – a venture quietly purchased for Sam at the bargain basement cost of (what a coincidence) twenty-two years of Dean’s one wild and precious life. Not so much biting the hand that fed him as pissing onto it. 

It's no kind of apology, but he’s told Dean plenty of times since that he’s truly over it – that original fantasy, the thing he left for. Velcroing himself before the end of freshman orientation to a smart, funny girl who went home over Christmas break to sleep in her flawlessly preserved childhood bedroom. Going into some righteously underpaid corner of the law, buying a starter house, adopting dogs with tragic backstories, switching to a digital subscription to the New Yorker because the print ones were starting to really pile up on the coffee table.

And, not that it would matter to Dean at this point, not that it even matters to Sam at this point, because it’s all been relitigated six-hundred and sixty-six ways to Sunday, but –

– but Sam is now completely certain of this fact: Sammy Does Normal would have been a complete and utter shitshow. Gods and monsters aside, he never would’ve made it to the coffee table stage. Not even if it came from IKEA.

Because Sam is Very Smart, and he tests like a fiend, but he figured out about one week into his first semester that he absolutely did not possess the sharklike, effortless brilliance of a scary number of his classmates. Papers that took him three nights of bashing away in the computer lab rattled off their laptops in the hour before class; they grazed up against some abstruse logical concept and internalized it before lunchtime while he was still doggedly beating out its name, rank and serial number.

At first he’d hoped that it was just some overdue socioeconomic catch-up, but a quick survey of his hallmates at Schiff robbed him of that illusion, too. Rich kids, poor kids, kids who’d had it worse (though not weirder) than he did: it didn’t matter. He was a leggy mutt on a greyhound track.

That left him exactly two options. One of those involved a collect payphone call and complete ego suicide, and the other involved gutting it the fuck out.

So he yoked his entirely adequate smarts to the Winchester-brand twin engines of obsessive persistence and existential terror, and floored it for the next four years. Two hours of sleep, knowledge maintenance drills, psycho case boards with the News of the Weird swapped out for German philosophers and Plessy v. Ferguson.

And he knows, from everything he has experienced since, that the tank was going to run empty eventually. He would’ve hit run up against his limit somewhere in the first year of law school, maybe. Would’ve let Jess talk him into taking some time off to recuperate, to “just be a person for awhile.”

Then, without the North star of his Grand Plan To Get Out Of The Life hitting him like a spotlight from above, he would’ve slowly careened off into the darkness. He would’ve taken some menial office job to pay the rent and not feel like a total deadbeat, and then he would’ve started to feel like he belonged there, or deserved to be there, maybe, and so he would’ve gradually started drinking, or using – probably using, because he could pretend it was some unique expression of his personality to pop uppers instead of drinking downers.

And he would’ve gotten increasingly weird and self-justifying about it, and then he would’ve sent Jess packing because they “came from different worlds” or some equally inane bit of self-destructing crazoid guy-logic. From there he would’ve picked up with some comfortably broken girl, somebody with sharp edges he could cut himself against. Then he would’ve had a bad day, and then a worse day, and so on until they accumulated into a bad year, and then he would’ve woken up one morning to find himself wearing slip-on shoes in a mandatory group therapy session somewhere with security doors and visitor sign-in sheets.

And then?

Then he would’ve ended up in the exact same place he did;

Lying pale and half-stunned in the back of the Impala, Dean glancing at him every twenty seconds in the rear view mirror. Silently handing him french fries, one by one, as if he were a baby bird.