Jo's been living with them long enough that Sam doesn't need to hide things any more.
She even dropped her guard enough to walk out of the bathroom naked once, thinking they were out. Dean jerked his eyes away like he expected someone in the room would castrate him for looking, and Sam enjoyed watching Dean freak, so Jo was able to restore her dignity—or anyway, grab a towel—in relative peace. Later, there was the flying glass that tore Sam up something good, when Dean had to do some tricky work pulling fragments out of Sam's back while Sam was also bleeding from the slice high on his thigh. Jo stepped up and put in the stitches with just a sheet between her and a personal interview with Sam's dick. Sam was grateful for the sheet, since the grinding pain had set in and he wasn't exactly showing to best advantage at that particular moment.
Dean thinks he let Jo join up with them, congratulates himself on it every time having a third person (tiny, blonde, appealing in ways they aren't) lets them get into places or take down a monster more efficiently. Sam lets him think that, because it's not worth the energy to point out just who made the suggestion and waited out Dean's counterarguments. Dean's been spinning like a ball bearing on glass since Dad died, and Dean always does better when he's able to take care of someone else. Sam refuses to let that person be him, but training an up-and-coming hunter fills the bill.
And there are other benefits.
It doesn't take much to convince Dean to jerk off while she's supposed to be out doing research. Dean hit puberty at Mach 5 and hasn't gotten any less oversexed over time. Sam would resent it if Dean just didn't love sex so purely, with a glee that's hard to describe as anything less than innocent. Dean loves pie, the Impala, and orgasms uncomplicatedly; everything else has issues, even if Dean does love one other thing more.
Sam hurries them out the door that morning, before Dean can get his usual session in the shower, leaving Jo to her own assignment with a wave. Sam keeps Dean with him, interviewing witnesses, until there's just enough time for a quick stop at the motel room before lunch, right about when Jo should've finished up at the police station.
Claiming to have spilled coffee on his pants, Sam grabs a shower for himself, leaving Dean lying on their bed, boots off and fingers already creeping towards his belt. Dean's not exactly shy when it comes to Sam, but in the past few months (after Dad, which suggests a lot of things that Sam isn't going to examine) there's been a greater tension between them. Last year, Dean would have called out his thanks just to emphasize what he was about to do. Now, he just rolls onto his side as Sam shuts the door.
Sam's phone buzzes on the counter as he turns on the water: Jo, telling them that she's on her way. Sam gets himself clean quickly, even though his dick wants him to take some time, and manages to have his boxers on when he hears the outer door open.
He cracks the bathroom door and Jo's still frozen in the doorway, silhouetted against the noon sun, nothing but the vaguest details of her shocked mouth and widened eyes visible. Then Sam's gaze too is drawn to Dean, who's registered Jo's arrival but is just too close to stop. Dean's jeans have been pushed down over his thighs, his shirt rucked up to show the plane of his stomach. Dean's hand is tight around his cock, the slick red head looking extra fat as it peeks out from his tanned fingers. Dean lets his head fall back, eyes closing, as he gives it up, his free hand clenched in the bedcovers. His close-stubbled jaw is shining with sweat and he grunts as he comes, streaks darkening his T-shirt and sliding down his belly.
Jo stammers out something and closes the door, way too late to pretend innocence. Sam highly doubts she even noticed Sam caught her looking.
"... Shit," Dean gasps. He turns his head towards the now-closed door and tries to push himself upright, but it's too soon and he just flails around, getting the bedspread even messier with his spunk.
"Should've charged admission," Sam says, amused, and Dean's head jerks around towards him. Sam bets he'd be just as flushed from the sex alone, but it is highly satisfying to see Dean embarrassed, given that he pretends to have no sense of shame whatsoever.
Dean struggles to his feet, wiping his hand on his ruined shirt, tugging his jeans up and busying himself with his belt and boots. He swallows a couple of times, obviously trying to think his way out of this one, which isn't his strong suit even when his brain isn't orgasm-fogged.
"Don't worry about it," Sam tells him. "She was surprised, but you know the only thing she minds is that you didn't ask her to join in."
"Shut it," Dean snaps, then fights his T-shirt off and starts looking around for a clean one.
Sam's across the room in a few steps, cold air pebbling his skin—he's less dressed than Dean, and usually that would make him feel vulnerable, but things are different right now—until he's close enough that Dean has to tilt his head up to meet Sam's eyes. Dean's mouth tightens in annoyance.
"It would be okay," Sam says, softly. "You can, if you want. I won't mind."
Dean tries to snort, because he can't let any suggestion that Sam might have an influence on his decisions let pass unremarked, but his attempt is largely unsuccessful. Instead he swallows, turns his head a fraction, and rubs the back of his neck. "It's not okay," he nearly whispers. "I'm supposed to—it's my job to take care of her."
"She's a grownup," Sam points out, because he's fine with having this conversation by proxy. For now.
"It's a bad idea," Dean says with desperate finality and shoulders past Sam towards his duffel.
Sam doesn't say anything, just stretches and then goes for his own clothes. They meet Jo out by the car, where she gives a slightly pink-faced report about what she found as they drive towards the local diner.
At lunch, while Dean's in the bathroom, Sam leans forward over the table. "Dean's not really housebroken, but I'm working on training him."
Jo's face goes tomato red again. "I knocked!" she says in preemptive defense—she really does have a lot in common with Dean, down to her aim and her unhealthy attachment to her weapons.
Sam nods reassuringly. "Don't worry about it," he advises. "It happens on the road. If you knew the things I've walked in on Dean doing—"
That thought keeps Jo flushed and off-balance for the rest of the day.
The basic fact of the matter is that Sam needs Dean. Needs him to keep from going darkside, needs him at his back, just plain needs him. And Dean needs Sam right back, even more now that Dad's gone and Dean thinks he's got something to make up for. But Dean is also having trouble taking their relationship to the next level, even after a year pressed so close that Sam feels like his blood flows straight into Dean's veins.
So Sam's not hating that they stick to renting one room at a time, for money and for safety's sake, meaning that Sam and Dean end up sharing one bed—king if they're lucky, queen if they're not; Sam likes to have a choice about how close he gets to Dean. They don't wake up tangled together or anything like that, but just the feel of Dean inches away is enough to pour some oil on the troubled waters of Sam's heart.
Then Meg returns and Sam is gone, into a blackout so deep that he doesn't even know that time has passed. Except that he opens his eyes and Dean's shoulder is bulky with bandages and Jo's neck is bruise-dark and there's a goose egg on her temple. She's wary of him and she tries not to be, and the combination feels like she's pressing on a bad burn.
Dean, though, Dean is mad, but he's not afraid: he's known Sam long enough to understand, bone-deep, that Meg was not Sam. Dean puts himself between Sam and Jo, steady as a redwood, until Jo starts to relax and Sam starts to believe that the main thing he did wrong was to not have the anti-possession tattoo.
There is darkness in him. He can't hide from that. When he tries, it just leads to more people getting killed. There's a line from Mom to Jess to Steve Wandell and the sooner Sam faces that fact, the better.
So Sam needs to be in charge, not just carried along with events. He needs to start making some decisions.
It's well past the witching hour. Jo's breath has been steady for hours, exhausted from all the digging earlier. Six graves, because they hadn't been sure which of Carlisle and Roberta Washburne's short-lived brood had been responsible for luring five kids to their deaths.
Jo hates the ones with kids. Sam's been picking as many of those as he can without Dean catching on, not because he wants to hurt her but because she needs seasoning. Little bodies will stop meaning more to her than big ones, and she'll be a better hunter for it. (Dean wouldn't disagree, but he'd have trouble with the method, which means Sam's working slowly; Dean has unbelievable instincts and he'll shut Sam down for months if he notices too high a percentage of kiddie killers.)
Point being, Jo's deeply out of it. Dean's asleep too, one hand tucked under his pillow to touch his gun the way another man might put a sleepy hand between his own legs, just for comfort. His face is turned towards Sam, and he hadn't bothered to put on a T-shirt before bed, so his shoulders are bare to the blue light seeping around the curtains from the parking lot. Dean's back doesn't have many scars; Dean doesn't spend a lot of time running away from danger.
Sam shifts his weight so that he's pressed up against Dean's side. Dean startles, just a second, then subsides, wriggling his hips a little in an unconscious invitation that makes Sam's breath catch. No, what gets him is that Dean knew. Anyone else in the world would have been looking down the barrel of Dean's gun. But Dean's body—always honest and true, no matter the words coming out of Dean's mouth—accepted him, knew him without needing to look.
Sam puts a careful hand on Dean's hip, feeling his fingers spread out on the hot skin above the waistband of Dean's boxers. His palm rests on cotton, coarse above flesh and bone. Dean breathes out and Sam pulls, turning Dean on his side until they're spooning, snaking his other arm under Dean so that they're pulled tight, chest to back.
Dean mumbles, and in a second he's going to get loud, so Sam leans forward until his lips are at Dean's ear. "Shhh." That brings Dean fully awake, every muscle tensing, but he's well-trained enough that he's obediently silent. Before Dean can conclude that there's an intruder and jump out of the bed, Sam slides his hand off of Dean's hip and over his belly, fingers dipping into Dean's boxers so that he gets his hand around Dean's dick.
"Shhh," Sam whispers again before Dean's open mouth can emit its first yelp. "She'll hear."
Jo's sleep is as yet untroubled. Maybe it's years living behind a bar, or maybe she learned to sleep through worse in college, but she doesn't have the Winchester hair-trigger on these things, which is what Sam's been counting on.
Sam can feel Dean's eyes open in the darkness, peering across the gap between the beds. Dean's shaking like the Impala in neutral, his dick starting to swell against Sam's fingers, hot and impossibly soft-skinned, just what Sam was hoping for. Sam bites down on the back of Dean's neck, using more tongue than teeth but enough of both to make his point.
"Sam," Dean breathes, his hand clamping down on Sam's wrist, tugging but not hard enough to force Sam to move if he doesn't want to. Sam uncurls his fingers anyway and pulls up until his hand is splayed over Dean's chest, that strong heartbeat now double-timing as Dean sucks in air like he's about to dive underwater.
"Please, Dean," he says into Dean's ear. "If I have you, I know I can fight all the rest of it." You won't ever have to keep your other promise, he doesn't say. He can trust Dean to figure that part out himself. He's not going to talk about what Dean wants, because Dean doesn't think he's supposed to have what he wants, and God only knows he's not wrong on this particular topic. But Sam doesn't care any more; hasn't given a flying fuck about what he's supposed to do since Dad died and it turned out that Sam was some essential cog in a demonic plan.
Dean's still breathing like he's been climbing a mountain, but his bruising grip on Sam's wrist relaxes and Sam presses down again, cupping his hand around Dean's still-hardening cock. Sam uses his other arm to pull Dean closer, wrapping around his chest as Sam runs his lips and teeth down the line of Dean's neck.
Dean bites into his forearm while Sam jerks him off. Dean likes it rough and the bedframe is cheap, so there's some squeaking, but Jo doesn't make any sound. Dean comes with a near-whimper and Sam uses his come to slick himself up. He braces himself over Dean's back, Dean pushed flat on his stomach with his boxers shoved down just enough that Sam can have skin on skin, and grinds himself to orgasm with his dick wedged against Dean's ass.
When the sun rises, Dean grumps at him to get coffee without raising his head from the pillow. In the bathroom, Sam looks at himself in the mirror and sees no difference at all.
After that, they fuck around pretty much constantly. Sam had forgotten how good sex is, especially when the rest of life sucks. They sneak into the shower together while Jo is out and Sam opens Dean up with cheap lotion and fucks him standing. At night, Dean shoves his thigh between Sam's and they trade hand jobs, or Sam crawls down under the sheets and blows Dean while Dean struggles valiantly to stay silent. Sam pats his thigh when he's finished, good soldier, and comes all over Dean's stomach.
Sometimes Dean gets this lost expression, like just after Dad died, but Sam can always coax him out of the mood, especially when Jo will join him in teasing Dean or demanding another sparring session. They're tearing through ghosts and monsters like they're trying to collect an encyclopedic set, and Sam doesn't dream nine nights out of ten. Clean living and clean pipes, Dean would probably say.
Coming back from his mission scouting out the area where the werewolf was last sighted, Sam overhears Dean talking to Jo, low and serious as a shotgun blast. "—could still go back," he insists. "This is no life for—this is no life."
Jo murmurs something—she's refusing. She's not exactly happy. Their lives are too dangerous and exhausting for happiness, on top of which demons are still following Sam around and Sam's occasional nightmares break furniture. But she's doing good work, she knows it, and she's spending almost twenty-four/seven with Dean, whose gross personal habits and idiotic directives have not managed to dispel her crush. Sam would mock, except for the obvious.
Sam opens the door and Dean looks up, something dark in his eyes. Dean doesn't want to, but he likes her, and the slight slump of his shoulders tells Sam that he feels guilty about that too, as if Sam were one of his high school girlfriends (and as if Dean had ever given a shit about what his high school girlfriends thought).
That night, after the werewolf dies, Sam takes Dean on his hands and knees, muffling his grunts in the meat of Dean's shoulder. Dean punches out breath after breath, managing to keep himself silent right up until the end. The noise he makes then is just loud enough that they both freeze, waiting, but the sounds from the next bed don't change.
Jo hasn't really been looking at them, for all she stares at Dean, and occasionally at Sam; it's purely physical there, but she's not blind (and Sam's not falsely modest). She sees them in relation to herself, and she thinks that the two of them are close, but she has no idea.
It's amazing what people will make themselves avoid seeing, when seeing would make their lives more complicated. In his intro psych class, Sam had read about a study where people were asked to watch a film of basketball players and count the number of passes one team made. During the film, a guy in a gorilla suit walked right across the screen, but most of the people were so caught up in doing what they were told that they didn't even notice.
Sam had already known the basic lesson: If you're sufficiently bizarre and you keep other people sufficiently busy, you don't need to worry about hiding. Plain sight just won't see you.
Jo's ignorance won't last, and Sam is happy with that fact. Sam wants the world to know who Dean belongs to, but that's a bad idea for a whole host of reasons. Jo can stand in for the rest of the population.
Ghouls are a fucking mess, especially a nest of them, especially when you decide that you're such awesome hunters that you can go straight in without a full reconnaissance because you are a fucking moron.
Or so Sam explains to Dean when Dean whines about the gobbets of flesh dripping off of all three of them onto the Impala's seats. Jo is quiet in the back, not joining in Sam's lecture even though she has just as much right. She had to deal with a little one, and with the corpse of its littler victim, and it's at least as bad a night for her as it is for the Impala.
Dean offers her first shower because Dean has a marshmallow heart (and no discernible sense of smell), and they stand in the room and drip offensive fluids on the floor together. "Seriously," Sam says, because he can't stop himself. "You gotta be more careful. What would I—Dean, I can't lose you, you know that, right?"
Dean's eyes are very white in his dirt- and blood-crusted face. "Sammy," he says, and it's him answering not really, but Sam can work with that. His remaining dreams are bloodier than Dean's ever been, but lately he's been seeing the three of them together, and they are stronger and more beautiful than anything that tries to fight against them.
"I'll show you," Sam says as the shower shuts off. Dean's not good with words in any capacity. Fortunately Sam knows what he is good at.
They go out to a bar and get drunk. Jo matches Sam and Dean shot for shot, which is brave but misguided. After Dean carries her back to the motel room, he holds her hair back from her face while she brings enough of it back up that Sam is less worried about alcohol poisoning. Then Sam helps her choke down a couple of glasses of water while Dean pisses his own night's drinking out. Dean's none too steady himself as he ambles towards their bed, far enough gone that he strips down as he walks and is naked by the time he faceplants down. The noise of his near-fall doesn't make Jo twitch; she's on her stomach just in case, her face turned towards them, her mouth slack and smushed against the pillow.
Sam finishes in the bathroom and turns off the light. Full moon and cheap curtains mean the room is still pretty bright, which is fortunate because the floor is an obstacle course, weapons and clothes and random crap scattered where they left it, and Sam is not exactly one hundred percent sober himself.
Dean waits half a minute after Sam presses up against him before starting to grope him. Sam kind of wants to be annoyed at how sloppy a drunk Dean is, but it's unfortunately hot: Dean clumsy and careless, humping Sam's leg like he doesn't care how he gets off as long as it happens.
Sam pushes him over onto his back and then goes to town, sucking and licking his way down Dean's chest, teasing over the tops of Dean's thighs, resisting the hot heavy pressure of Dean's hand on his head tugging towards Dean's cock.
"Dammit, Sam," Dean growls, too loud, and there's a distinct gasp from the other bed.
Sam freezes, just a second, then continues, tracing the muscles of Dean's thigh with his tongue. Dean is twitching like someone's got a gun in his face, his fingers tightening in Sam's hair, but he doesn't push Sam away, and then he starts to relax into it again.
When Sam actually gets his mouth around the head of Dean's cock, Dean chokes, and Sam pulls right off, tightening his fingers around the base. "If you can't keep quiet I'm going to stop," he whispers.
He doesn't stop.
The next morning, Jo avoids meeting their eyes as if they'd sun-blind her. Dean is determined to ignore her freakout, so he slides into the diner booth next to her, facing Sam. Sam's interested in the way their feet tangle, a little bit of friendly competition for the limited space under the table, but he notices the way Jo jumps at Dean's outstretched arm across the back of the booth. Jo bites her lip and turns her face towards the window.
All that long day, hurrying to get across the country before the overactive ghost takes its next victim, he watches her in the rear-view mirror. The air in the car seems humid with anticipation, and only Dean seems oblivious.
Dean's playing it too cool for school, Sam realizes, because Dean really likes her, is maybe afraid of losing her, one way or another. If Jo bolts and then gets herself killed on a solo hunt, Dean will blame himself forever, which raises the stakes a fair amount.
Sam doesn't think they'll lose Jo. Ever since they met her, she's been unable to back away from a challenge, and Sam is definitely giving her that. Every time their eyes almost lock, he can feel the heat grow.
That night he waits only long enough to make a creditable pretense that she might be asleep before flipping Dean over and starting with a blowjob, enjoying the feel of Dean lengthening and hardening in his mouth, taking him deeper than he's ever gone. Dean's thighs quiver around his head, and when Sam stuffs two of his own fingers into his mouth and then presses them into Dean's ass, Dean chokes.
Sam pulls off. "Shhh," he says, blowing cool air over Dean's shiny, desperate cock. "Don't wake Jo."
Almost perfect silence: neither of the other two can do anything but take the shallowest of breaths.
"Do you think she'd like it if she woke up and saw you like this, begging me for it, spreading your legs 'cause you can't get enough?"
Dean jerks and makes a pained grunt that suggests he's bitten through his lip.
Sam drops his voice further and speaks the words almost directly into the crease of Dean's thigh. "It's okay to want her. It's okay to have her. I don't mind as long as it's us."
Dean's body seizes up as he comes, curling his upper body towards Sam, dragging him up for a kiss before Dean's even finished, his spunk marking a line down Sam's chest. Sam thrusts a couple of times against Dean's belly and then he's done too, hot and sticky between them, filthy with it.
Twenty minutes later, when Dean's asleep for real, Jo gets out of her bed and sneaks into the bathroom. Her stealth skills have improved; she moves like she weighs no more than a cloud, but Sam's watching through slitted eyes. The sink turns on and Sam rolls off the bed to wait by the door.
Jo nearly collides with him when she comes out; Sam has to reach out and grab her arms to keep her from falling. Her near-yelp turns into a gasping breath as she gets herself under control. Jo's eyes dart down to his hands, his hands on her flesh, and Sam can see her nipples harden further under the overlarge T-shirt she's wearing (which might well be Dean's; very cute, and Sam has the urge to see whether it still smells like his brother, but he refrains for now).
"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you up," she says, cringing.
"No worries," Sam tells her. "I've been up for a while."
Her nostrils flare at that: she's smelling him. If the light were better, he's sure he could see her skin red as hazard lights. She shivers and he releases her so that she can scuttle past and crawl back into her bed.
Sam follows suit. He's given her the apple of knowledge. Now it remains to be seen whether she'll eat it.
When they get back to the hotel, sometime around three in the morning, covered in mud, blood and viscera, Dean's flying high and Jo's not far behind. Dean lives for this, lights up like there's a nuclear reactor inside him and a searchlight behind his eyes. Jo's practically giddy, not even wincing yet over the bruise she's going to have in the morning; endorphins making her feel better before she feels worse.
That's almost half the reason Sam allowed the ghost to throw her against the crypt, though he would've covered Dean first regardless.
Dean is the only one who got truly dirty—and smelly; Jesus, the man can sweat, and by no means in a sexy way. By mutual acclamation, he's sent to the shower.
Which is also convenient.
Sam waits for the moment Jo realizes that it's just the two of them. It comes when she's checking the knives: her hands still and her body stiffens, and then she resumes her work with an artificial confidence that is even more laughable in contrast to her usual hunter's grace.
Sam moves so that he's standing next to her. To her credit, she keeps working at the same pace.
"I know you heard us last night," Sam says.
Jo raises a dagger, but she's not aiming it. Her hand trembles before she puts it down. Sam puts his hand on her shoulder. "Jo," he says.
She spins and her mouth is opening to accuse, to demand, to say something, but before she can figure out what, he's leaning in to kiss her.
She's as deceptively fragile as a flower made out of bulletproof nylon, opening to him with a suddenness he suspects shocks them both. Sam tastes her deep, kisses her the way Dean would, all welcoming and full of promise.
When he moves away from her mouth to kiss his way down her neck, she gasps again, and he can feel that Dean's standing in the bathroom doorway, watching them. Sam smiles into her neck and she shudders when she feels it.
"Package deal," Sam says, low and heated, and he doesn't have to look at her face to know that she's nodding.
They strip her down together, Sam in front and Dean behind, moving with the same coordination they share gravedigging.
Dean gets on the bed when Sam pushes him there. Dean's silently checking in with Sam again and again, searching for some sign on Sam's face that this is something Sam secretly hates, as if Sam could hate anything that would keep Dean happy. Sam lifts Jo into place, her back against Dean's chest so that Sam can watch Dean play with her tits and put his own hand over hers when she moves to rub her clit; Dean already knows that Sam wants to take care of that himself. Sam rolls the condom down Dean and then pulls Jo's hips into position, despite her wriggling. She's tight and the angle is unusual; Sam works Dean into her slowly, then bends so that he can eat her out while Dean fucks her. She's salty and thick, delicious, and as much as Sam wants Dean, he's missed this too, holding her open with his thumbs so he can get a better angle.
Dean whimpers nearly as much as Jo does, but then Sam's spending nearly as much time on his cock where they're joined. Jo's legs aren't nearly as muscled as Dean's, but that's just biology. She's still strong and lithe, her smooth skin an exciting contrast to Dean's coarse-haired thighs. He runs his hands up and down both of them.
Dean manages to hold out until just after Jo comes, then groans out his own orgasm, which leaves Sam to help Jo roll off and tell her to watch. She obeys, wide-eyed—he spares a moment to wish either of them were half this compliant on hunts—as he puts Dean on his side so the two of them are facing. Sam leans over long enough to kiss the taste of Jo into Dean's mouth, and then he's curled up behind Dean, fucking into him with fingers wet with Jo's slick.
Jo leans in for a kiss from Dean as Sam presses his cock inside. "Yeah, take it," Sam says, watching over Dean's shoulder. "Just take it, baby." Dean pulls Jo close enough that her breasts press against his chest, then moans a little, like he's not sure he's allowed. "Doing so good," Sam reassures him.
Dean brings Jo off again with his hand (which makes Sam think that his brother's boasting wasn't all that exaggerated, because that's a tricky angle, even assuming a major assist from Jo herself) and then Sam lets himself go, pounding into Dean hard enough to make the bed protest.
Coming feels like victory.
Dean grumbles a little when Sam pulls out, but it's just for show.
"You okay?" Sam asks Jo once he's caught his breath. (Dean will, of course, answer the question as applied to him with his behavior, not his words; Sam's pretty sure that he'll do better now that someone else knows and can deal with it. If she can deal with it. If not, Sam's going to have to look into that whole Andy and Ansem deal.)
Jo won't open her eyes, but she nods.
Sam smiles and puts his hand on the back of Dean's neck, just below the razored edge of his hair, where his skin is smooth and warm.
Eventually, Dean and Jo both fall asleep, even though they're all three crammed into the slightly-too-small bed. Sam doesn't even consider moving to the other one for some breathing room.
There's risk here, Sam knows. Not just that Jo will freak and try to run, or worse, try to save Dean from Sam. If she doesn't, she's going to be another potential hostage, somebody who could be used against them. But then again, Meg showed them that Jo was already on deck for that role. This way, at least, she's going to be invested in taking good care of Dean, and Dean gets some of that hero worship up close; someone else to tell him that Dad's sacrifice was right.
Sam's learned. He can't escape what or who he is. But that doesn't mean there's nothing he can do.
He listens to Jo and Dean breathe, familiar and comforting, and whispers in the darkness: "Welcome to the family."