Title: Buzz Cut
By: Emily Brunson
Pairing: gen
Rating: PG
Summary: Sam, lemon vodka, and the barber's chair.

He stopped cutting his hair the day he left for California. Kneejerk at first: until then, the only hair allowed to grow past half an inch in the Winchester family sprouted out of Dad’s eyebrow the summer Sam was thirteen. It was silver and curly, and Dad was weird about it and never plucked it out, not even when it got long enough to dangle in front of his eye. Lasted just past Dean’s birthday the next year, and Sam remembered Dean whispering to him, breath fragrant with the single Bud they’d illicitly shared, that it looked a lot like a big old gray pubic hair.

They’d snickered about that until way past lights-out, and Dad never knew. But the long silver hair disappeared along with most of both of Dad’s eyebrows when a blazing yeti got too close, or maybe Dad moved too slow, and that was that.

Dad didn’t get to call the shots in Palo Alto, so Sam walked past the old-fashioned barber shop across the street from his residence hall just about every day and never darkened more than the doorstep. It was sort of interesting to let his hair grow. He discovered it was lighter as it got longer, and curled in a sort of floppy way over his ears, and it felt illicit and wrong. Wrong in a good way, never mind it was just sort of transparent rebellion shit, and besides, wasn’t like Dad knew anyway, but the only thing to finally force him to get a trim was Abigail’s dress-up New Year’s party and that 40s motif.

After that, he didn’t cut it at all for nearly two years. When it got long enough, he sometimes bound it back with a rubber band, but mostly just let it go where it would. It stopped feeling illicit during his sophomore year; by his junior year it was just Sam’s hair, nothing special, although a few girls he went out with here and there thought it was all right.

Then Jess, and after some cajoling he reluctantly agreed to a trim. The trim was nearly eight inches, and he sulked for nearly a week before agreeing that yes, it was probably not so bad, cooler anyway. Whatever. Ungracious, but Jess had liked it better, and that was enough. She wanted it shorter, said it would set off his bone structure, but a guy had to draw the line somewhere.

His senior year he kept it under control, although he could never bring himself to cut it as short as Jess really wanted. Just enough rebellion left to keep him happy to cover his ears. One time he saw a guy in fatigues, standing hipshot and languid in front of Tower Records, and that dark-blond buzz cut made it hard for him to breathe. Dean’s hair, Dean’s build, but when he turned, not Dean’s face, just some guy, and Sam refused the trim when Jess started nagging him that time.

And then the real Dean showed up, and Jess burned, and Sam forgot about his hair for a while.

A year later, head echoing from cheap lemon vodka and chewing a peppermint, he walked into a tiny barber shop in Waterloo, Iowa, and told the barber to go to town. Without saying a word, the man put down his paper, covered Sam’s shoulders with a couple of towels, and took out the clippers.

Sam realized he was crying only after the last of it hit the floor.

The barber didn’t comment. Handed him an extra towel and swept up the curls of hair, flicked away the towels around Sam’s shoulders and dusted him off. Still had hair under his collar, but he blinked through his tears, touched his shorn skull with his fingers. Nearly five years, and now it was like the old days. Three-minute buzz cuts with Dad’s old rusty clippers, every two weeks whether you needed it or not.

He stood on shaky legs, feeling the vodka like a sullen coal in his belly, and stared into his own eyes in the mirror. Wiping away the tears that wouldn’t quite stop, and whispering, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t do that for you.”

When he got back to the motel, Dean glanced over, did a comically huge double-take. “Whoa,” he pronounced. “It has ears.”

“Screw you,” and Sam retrieved the vodka bottle on his way back to his lair on the far bed.

Dean’s eyebrows had climbed so high, they’d just about melded with his own strict haircut. “Dude. Maybe you should drink lemon vodka more often.”

“It was Jess’s favorite,” Sam told him, and swigged a warm mouthful.

Dean didn’t say anything, just went back to watching his Alien marathon.

At midnight, when Sam threw up, Dean rubbed his face with a wet washcloth, wiping down the back of Sam’s neck and cleaning up all the little itchy shorn hairs. “Shower after you get a haircut,” he said in a low voice, chucking the washcloth in the sink. “You done?”

Sam spat and nodded. “Done.”

Dean handed him a loaded toothbrush. “Please.”

And after he’d brushed his teeth, Dean herded him back to his bed, and made him watch Sigourney Weaver. “See there?” Dean’s arm was warm over Sam’s shoulders, and his armpit smelled like Right Guard and clean laundry. “She could be your twin.”

“She’s like twice my age, Dean,” Sam slurred.

“Hey, look on the bright side. At least you didn’t have lice.”

He fell asleep with Dean’s shirt button pressing against his cheek, and the next morning he wore that imprint branded into his skin for nearly six hours before it finally went away.