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Nowhere Man

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He’d been standing outside the shop for fifteen minutes, pacing slowly back and forth near the front door. From her position behind the counter, Rachel had watched passersby and customers sidestep nervously around him, trying not to make eye contact with the tall man. Seemingly oblivious to the people around him, he was just staring off into space, pacing restlessly, his hands constantly moving as he fidgeted with the zipper on his jacket or tangled his fingers in his shaggy brown hair. Occasionally there would be a burst of movement and Rachel would hear his voice get momentarily louder, but so far it hadn’t escalated beyond that.

So she watched him out of the corner of her eye as she made drinks and filled orders for her customers, glancing at the phone at the opposite end of the counter and trying to decide whether or not to call the police. He wasn’t exactly causing any trouble, but there was something not right, that was for sure.

Turning her attention back to the customer in front of her, she handed over the woman’s drink with a friendly smile. “Here you go, ma’am,” she said.

The woman took the cup from Rachel and headed across the café to find a table. In the absence of new customers to serve, Rachel glanced back out the window at the man pacing on the sidewalk. With a sigh that was part resignation, part sympathy, she brushed her hands off on her apron, checked that she had her phone in the back pocket of her jeans, and looked over at Teddy, who was washing dishes in the back. “Cover the register for a minute, okay?” she asked. “I’ll be right back.”

He raised an eyebrow at her, heaving a sigh that spoke of his previous experiences with Rachel’s endeavors to connect with the outcasts of society. “Rachel, what are you gonna do?”

She waved him off, giving him an annoyed look. “Relax, Teddy. I just want to make sure he’s okay. I’ll call the cops if something’s really going on, I promise.”

He didn’t look entirely convinced, but placed a soapy coffee mug back in the sink and came out to fill her spot at the register as Rachel maneuvered around the far end of the counter and out into the main area of the café.

She sidled past customers at the soda fountain and a small group of people rearranging a couple of tables near the wall. Pulling the front door open, she stepped out onto the cracked sidewalk in front of the café. Now that she was outside, she could clearly hear the man’s voice, quiet but agitated.

“Um… sir?” she tried, not wanting to startle him.

The man didn’t even seem to have heard her, tugging at his hair as he paced restlessly back and forth. “…No, no, you—you promised. You said if… if I did that, then he would be okay…” His voice was tense, fearful, and though Rachel couldn’t get a good look at his face, he was clearly upset about something.

“Is something wrong? Is there anything I can do to help?” Rachel tried again. She took a step closer to him, moving slowly and keeping her hands slightly out in front of her body, trying to show him that she meant no harm.

“…I’m trying to… trying to be good, I swear…” he whispered, though she was pretty sure none of it was directed towards her.

“It’s okay, you’re okay,” Rachel continued, with absolutely no clue what he was talking about. “Can you hear me? Huh?”

He paused briefly, almost facing her, and Rachel thought she saw the barest hint of a nod. In the silence, she took a good look at the man, trying to make some sense of the situation. He didn’t look like he was homeless, dressed in jeans and a gray canvas jacket over a plaid flannel shirt, all of which looked clean. His shaggy hair was well kept, aside from being a little messy because of the way he kept running his hands through it, fingers tangling in the smooth brown locks. Whatever seemed off about him, it was all in his actions, body tight with nervous energy and a dazed, lost look in his eyes.

She decided to keep talking, with the hope that maybe he actually was paying attention and understanding what she was saying. “I’m Rachel,” she said in a slow, easy rhythm, touching her fingertips lightly to her own chest. “What’s your name?”

He made an agitated noise, twisting the hem of his jacket back and forth in his fingers as he took a step away, shaking his head. “No, I’m not… I know I can’t… please…”

Rachel sighed softly, about to head back inside and call the police to let them deal with it, but then he took a step or two in her direction. Still not looking at her, his eyes fixed on the ground, he opened his mouth to speak.

“Sam,” he whispered quickly, before bringing a hand up to his face, covering his mouth and biting the skin of his palm, looking upset. His breath came in loud, shallow gasps, and Rachel kept talking, trying to calm him down.

“Sam? That’s your name? Sam, it’s okay,” she continued gently, falling into the soft voice she used with her nephew when he was upset, even though Sam looked to be about the same age she was. “You’re alright here, you’re safe. Do you want to sit down?” She took a few steps to the side so that she wasn’t blocking the two little café tables that sat near the front entrance of the shop. “You’re okay, honey,” she tried to reassure him.

Sam hesitated and stopped moving for a second, his hand still up in front of his mouth. He whimpered a little, whispered something that Rachel didn’t catch, and then slowly moved around her on the sidewalk, keeping his distance from her until he’d reached the closer of the two tables. He sat down awkwardly, perched on the edge of the chair like he was still ready to bolt at any second. Giving him as much space as possible, Rachel moved back to lean against the brick wall, still close enough to hear him, but far enough not to make him feel trapped.

“That’s it,” she coaxed quietly. “That’s good, Sam. Can you talk to me, hon? Are you lost?”

“Went a long way…” Sam said, responding more quickly than he had before. That had to be a good sign, some signal that she was reaching him.

“You did? You’re in Westfield, Sam. Westfield, Indiana,” Rachel clarified for him, just in case. But if he wasn’t from here, she had no idea how he would have gotten here on his own. He barely seemed lucid enough to have a conversation, much less drive or even hitchhike from somewhere else.

“No, you promised!” Sam shouted, startling her as he rocked forward in the chair before flinching back like he’d been hit. Rachel stumbled back against the wall, tripping over her own feet as she took a few steps back. But even as she contemplated darting back inside, Sam stilled, hanging his head with a quiet sigh. “I can’t… I can’t do it…” he said, sounding sad and defeated. “I can’t do it, but Dean… Dean will come soon. He can—“ He stopped short, bringing a finger up to his slightly parted lips, glancing nervously around, his eyes sliding right past her as he looked at something only he could see.

“Dean?” Rachel repeated, holding onto that tiny scrap of information. “Who is Dean, Sam?” she asked, still keeping her distance.

Sam hummed under his breath, a wordless sound that seemed to calm him a bit. “I’m here, I’ll take care of you,” he murmured. This sounded different, though, not like his other words, agitated and hesitant. This voice sounded stronger, surer, almost like it was coming from someone else.

“Did Dean say that?” Rachel asked, trying to keep him on track. It was like assembling a puzzle while blindfolded, fumbling her way through the pieces as she tried to figure out how they all fit together.

“You’re okay, Sammy,” Sam answered her, in that same voice that belonged to someone else.

Clearly, Dean was someone important, someone who was able to comfort Sam. Now just who was he, and how was she supposed to find him? Rachel sighed softly, tucking her long blonde hair behind her ear as they both fell silent again. She looked over at Sam, who didn’t seem to be aware of her gaze. He was just staring out across the street, eyes not focused on anything in particular. He reached up a hand to twist his fingers nervously in his hair, rubbing at the back of his neck, and as he moved, Rachel caught a glint of silver on his wrist, hanging just outside the cuff of his jacket. It was a bracelet, a silver chain with a metal plate attached to it, like one of those medical alert bracelets she’d seen at the pharmacy. Rachel took a cautious step closer, trying to get a better look at it.

Sure enough, there was that little red medical symbol, that twisty thing she could never remember the name of. She smiled to herself. It was a start.

“Sam?” she asked softly, trying to get his attention back to her. “Is there anything on your bracelet? Can I see it?”

He moved his hand, the fingers twitching slightly, but didn’t make a move to hold it out towards her.

“I promise I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to help you find Dean, okay? Can I see?” She didn’t dare move, waiting to see if he would react – positively or negatively. Given the brief outburst she’d just witnessed, she kept every move slow and careful, trying to reassure him that she meant no harm.

Sam stayed motionless for several long moments, only his lips moving as he whispered words too quiet for her to hear. And then, finally, he held his wrist out stiffly, still not making any eye contact.

Rachel took a step forward and crouched down, reaching towards Sam’s outstretched wrist, trying not to touch him or startle him as she lifted the tag on the bracelet and tilted it to see what was inscribed there.

 

Sam Winchester
PTSD/Anxiety
Contact: Dean
785-555-0128

 

Rachel stared hard at the number, repeating it over and over in her head as quickly as she could until she was sure she had it right. As she let go of the bracelet and it fell back onto Sam’s wrist, he pulled his arms back, crossing them protectively over his chest.

Mumbling the phone number under her breath, Rachel quickly keyed it in and waited. After two rings, someone on the other end picked up and she heard a man’s voice, sounding stressed, say, “Hello?!”

“Um,” Rachel said, momentarily lost for words at the suddenness of the response. “Is… is this Dean?”

“It is,” the voice responded. “Who’s this?” He sounded impatient, like he didn’t have time to listen to her.

“Uh, my name is Rachel. Is… do you know Sam? I’m here with him,” she stammered nervously.

“Where is he? Where are you?” There was an immediate, noticeable change in the tone of Dean’s voice, going from gruff impatience to an overwhelming sense of relief. “Is he okay?”

“He’s fine,” Rachel assured him quickly, glancing over at Sam who was still mumbling softly to himself. “I think… he’s a little upset? He’s been talking to himself a lot, but I got him to tell me his name. Do you live in Westfield? We’re here on Monroe Street, outside the Whole Latte Love coffee shop.”

“Yeah, I’m about a mile away from there.” There was a pause, and then Dean continued, “Can you stay with him? Just until I get there?” He sounded anxious, and Rachel fully understood why, even though she still didn’t have the whole picture. Whatever was going on with Sam, she wouldn’t want him to be by himself in a strange place, either.

“Yeah, of course. We’ll stay right here,” Rachel assured him. “I think he’s okay for the moment. And I can call you if anything happens.”

Dean breathed out, and it was a sound of pure relief. “Jesus… Thank you. Gimme a minute, I’ll be right there.”

Rachel brought her phone away from her ear as the call ended and looked back at Sam, who was still sitting in the chair, lost somewhere in his own head. “You doing okay, Sam?” she asked softly, not really expecting a response.

Sam’s mouth moved, the words almost inaudible until Rachel leaned in a little closer.

“…have to go back…” he whispered, fingers clutching at the cuffs of his jacket. Then, louder, he repeated in a stilted, anxious voice, “I have to go back. Um, I’m not… I have to go back.” He made a move as if to get up, hands reaching for the metal armrests of the chair.

“No, Sam, can you stay here?” Rachel said quickly, before he could stand up. “Please? Dean will be here soon. You need to stay until Dean gets here.”

“Something’s wrong…” Sam murmured. “I… I know, I’m trying… but I can’t find the walls.” Neither of those seemed particularly directed at her, as Sam chewed on his knuckles and stared distractedly down at the ground, but Rachel responded all the same.

“It’s okay, Sam,” she tried to reassure him. “Dean’s on his way. Dean is coming.”

Sam closed his eyes and made a frustrated sound, but then she heard him whisper, “…Dean…” His body language relaxed a little, and she sighed in relief, not quite so worried that he might bolt at any second. Making herself as comfortable as possible, Rachel leaned back against the wall of the café again, silently keeping an eye on this mysterious stranger, feeling responsible for his safety in a way that she didn’t expect.

“It’s okay, Sam,” she murmured again.

Sam, for his part, said nothing, but remained in his seat, staring out at the street in front of them. Rachel did the same, staring at the occasional car that passed by, keeping an eye out for anyone who looked like they might be missing someone, anyone who looked like their name could possibly be Dean.

At some point she glanced back through the windows of the café to find Teddy walking towards them, nearing the door. Of course he’d be wondering what was going on, whether she was okay. She waved him away with a subtle hand motion and a shake of the head, trying not to startle Sam, but signaling to Teddy at the same time that she had things under control. Or at least, as under control as they could be in that sort of situation.

So they sat and waited in silence, until finally, from the other end of the street, Rachel heard the rumble of a car engine. She turned to see a shiny black muscle car turn onto the street and move in their direction, swinging into an empty parking spot right in front of the café. The engine cut off, and a man wearing a brown leather jacket stepped out, closing the door behind him with a loud creak.

“Sammy!” He hurried up the sidewalk towards them, eyes darting back and forth between Rachel and Sam. “Are you Rachel?” he asked.

“Yeah. Hi,” she answered, moving forward to shake his hand quickly before he brushed past her to kneel down in front of Sam, who was still seated on the edge of the chair, hands fidgeting nervously.

“Hey, buddy,” Rachel heard him say quietly. “It’s me. It’s Dean. You hear me?”

Sam’s gaze slowly shifted from unfocused and staring out ahead of him to looking over at Dean, still crouched near his knees.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Dean coaxed softly. “Come on back. I’m right here.”

Sam didn’t say anything, just sat there, his fingers still twisting the cuffs of his jacket restlessly.

“Sam?” Dean asked, cocking his head to the side to try to get Sam to look at him. “Hey, you hearing me? It’s safe, okay?”

“I need to… need to go…” Sam stuttered quietly. “I promised…”

“No. You don’t.” Rachel watched as Dean shook his head, reaching forward and placing his hands on top of Sam’s, remaining steady even when Sam tried to flinch away. As flustered as he’d sounded on the phone, she could tell that this was something he’d had practice dealing with, his words calm and soft in response to Sam’s agitation. “No, you don’t,” he repeated. “You gotta stay here with me, okay?”

“I need to help him,” Sam responded, eyes flickering up to meet Dean’s for a second before he looked away again. “…They’ll make me—“ Sam stopped short, grimacing as if at some unspeakable thought. “But if I don’t, they’ll do it and—and it’s worse when they…”

On the periphery of the conversation, Rachel hung back, unsure of whether or not she should leave them alone. Whatever it was that Sam was talking about, it didn’t sound good, but she had no idea what she could do to help. So she hung back, shifting her weight from one foot to the other as she tried not to listen, tried to give them some space.

“No, Sammy, listen to me. Can you listen to me?” Dean said, gentle but firm. “You don’t need to go back. You can’t. You gotta stay here with me.”

Sam shook his head, looking near tears.

“You gotta stay, buddy,” Dean insisted, voice wavering a little at Sam’s distress.

Sam pulled his arms back, hands sliding out of Dean’s grip. “My… my brother… I can’t—They—You know what they can—“

“I know, I know, shhh,” Dean hushed him, reaching up a hand to rest it against the back of Sam’s neck. “I know, but I’m your brother, too. I need you here with me. Huh?” He shifted, trying to make eye contact. “Do you know where you are, Sammy?”

“I don’t know…” Sam moaned, shaking his head, still visibly upset by something Rachel didn’t fully understand.

“You’re in Indiana. We’re home, remember?” Dean prompted him. He kept his hand reassuringly on Sam’s neck, thumb rubbing circles along the edge of Sam’s jaw. “We’re home. You’re safe.”

“Home?” Sam echoed, sounding a little unsure, though his breathing had slowed a bit, the restless fidgeting easing up as Dean continued to talk.

“Yeah. You’re home.” Dean confirmed, a note of relief in his voice. He patted Sam’s arm reassuringly. “You wanna get up? Let’s go back to the apartment, okay? Quiet space for a while?”

“Not too bright?”

“Not too bright,” Dean confirmed.

Sam nodded mutely and pushed himself up out of the chair, standing close to Dean once he was on his feet.

Dean wrapped an arm around his brother’s shoulders, nudging him gently until they were facing the parked cars. “Hey, Sammy,” Dean said softly, looking up at his brother with a reassuring smile on his face. He leaned closer, as if it was a moment meant for just them. “Did you know that a day is longer than a year on the planet Mercury?”

Sam shook his head, staring down at his feet, shaggy hair in front of his eyes. “It’s always a long time…” he whispered.

Squeezing Sam’s shoulder, Dean answered, a little sadly, “I know, man… But it’s me, right?”

Sam nodded without answering, leaning into Dean’s grip on his shoulder.

Beside them, Rachel hovered near the tables, unsure if she was still needed as she watched Dean point towards the big black car he’d arrived in. “Look, there’s the car, okay?” Turning his head to look over at Rachel, he said quietly to her, “I’ll be right back.”

She nodded, watching as Dean guided his brother across the sidewalk, helping Sam keep his balance when he squeezed his eyes shut against the midday sun as they came out from under the big café awning. Maneuvering between the parked cars, Dean got the passenger door open and helped Sam settle into the passenger seat. Speaking a few words that Rachel couldn’t hear, he reached over to fasten Sam’s seatbelt before closing the door.

Turning back towards Rachel, Dean stepped back up onto the sidewalk and came over to where she was standing, still hovering nervously near the front door of the café. He reached one hand up and rubbed at the back of his neck, looking grateful and at the same time, Rachel felt, so very tired.

“Thanks,” Dean said, reaching out to shake her hand.

She leaned forward and took it, smiling at him. “You’re welcome. I’m just glad I could help.”

“Yeah,” Dean said a little distractedly, looking back at Sam. “It’s… it’s hard sometimes, you know? To be there all the time. I don’t know how he got away from me, but he did, and, well—“ Dean stopped, shoving his hands in the pockets of his jacket and staring down at the sidewalk. “Well, anyway, thanks.”

“Sure,” she answered lamely, the response feeling totally inadequate even as the word left her mouth. He started to walk away, back towards the car, and she raised a hand, calling after him, “Wait!”

Dean turned back, a little surprised.

“Can I… can I offer you a pastry or something? From the café?” Rachel stammered, wanting to offer him something after what he’d just been through.

“Oh,” Dean said, looking caught off guard like he wasn’t used to people being nice to him. “Uh… yeah. Sure.” He bit his lip, considering her offering. “Yeah, anything—anything is good. Uh, something simple if you have it. Sam can get weird about food sometimes,” he added, looking a little guilty.

“Oh, sure! Sure! Wait right here, I’ve got just the thing!” Rachel held out a hand, motioning him for him to stay put as she dashed back inside the shop, the bell ringing over her head as she opened the door. Ignoring Teddy’s curious questions with a wave of her hand and a quick word, she grabbed a bag from the stack behind the counter and headed for the bakery case, sliding open the glass panel at the back.

Less than a minute later, she was outside again, holding out the paper bag to a befuddled Dean, who took it awkwardly.

“I hope you guys both like sugar cookies. Just baked them this morning,” she explained proudly. “Not too sweet, but they’re really good, if I do say so myself.”

“Thanks,” he said, accepting the bag. He gave her a charming smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, and if the situation had been different, Rachel had the feeling it might have hinted at the possibility of something more. Now, though, he just looked like someone who needed a break.

“My pleasure.” She hesitated a moment, then jerked a thumb back towards the café. “Well, I should…”

“Oh. Yeah.” Dean glanced back towards the car, where Sam was still seated in the passenger seat, curled up with his head resting against the window. “Thanks again. I really appreciate you staying with him.”

“People gotta look out for each other,” she said. “I hope… I hope Sam will be okay.” Even as she said it, she knew it was probably an empty hope, but it still felt like saying it mattered.

Dean exhaled, eyes downcast as he searched for a response. “…We manage,” he answered softly. He lifted the bag of cookies with one final nod of thanks and turned back towards his brother.

Rachel leaned back against the wall for a moment, hands in her pockets as she watched Dean climb back into the car. A hush settled over the street for a moment, a breath of relief from the tension of the last twenty minutes, until it was broken by the rumble of the engine as Dean started up the car and backed out of the parking spot. Turning to head back into the café, she watched the reflection of the car as they headed down the quiet street.

Rachel took a breath and stepped inside, where a customer was waiting at the register.