"Sam, this is my dad. Dad, this is Sam."
Robert Moore surveyed the young man his daughter introduced. The boy's hair was too long and his clothes were a bit worn. Still, his handshake was strong and his "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir," more respectful that Rob would have expected.
"Call me Rob. Jess has told us a lot about you."
She had. Every other sentence these days was Sam this, Sam that – not as if she was obsessing like a schoolgirl, that was never Jess, but more as if they were attached at the hip. Sam and I were eating lunch, Sam and I were in the library, Sam and I were arguing about Hamlet, Sam and I, Sam and I . . . . it had gotten to the point where she didn't even bother with his name anymore, just used a great big 'we.' It hadn't been a surprise when she asked to bring him home for Thanksgiving.
(She had warned them, fiercely, not to ask about his family. Now, Rob automatically catalogued the signs – Sam was visibly uneasy around a male authority figure, he seemed jittery when confined to the car, his bag was light and obviously being stretched as far as possible. All things which could be present in any broke college student nervous about meeting his girlfriend's family, but it was hard to explain away the almost military posture and manners – more significantly, Rob hadn't been a high school teacher for thirty years without acquiring an instinct for that sort of thing. He withheld the normal joking threats, at least until the boy stopped looking like he was waiting for a blow.)
Jess slid into the backseat with Sam, took his hand, and held it all the way home. His large hand trembled between her small, steady ones as she ran a thumb over his knuckles soothingly. Rob pretended not to notice, but he allowed his lips to twist into a bittersweet smile. That was his girl. Always the spitfire, always strong and solid underneath. God help anyone who underestimated her because of her looks.
He hoped this Sam knew what he had. He probably did, Rob decided when he glanced into the rearview mirror in time to see the boy looking at his daughter as if she was his saving light.
Patty met them at the door with a warm smile and hugs all around (and if she noticed the way Sam didn't quite know how to react, she didn't comment). The turkey was already in the oven, she informed them, but she could use a couple extra pairs of hands in the kitchen.
Sam looked a little lost when faced with cooking utensils, but he was eager to please and a fast learner. With a bit of guidance he was at least more help than hurt, which was more than Rob could say of himself – or Jess, for that matter. It was only Sam's fast reflexes which kept her from accidentally slicing her finger open. After that she surrendered the knives to him and her mother and joined Rob in their traditional duty of setting the table and stealing food when Patty wasn't looking.
Between the four of them, Thanksgiving dinner was on the table by two. Rob poured the wine, and Sam hesitated, as if suspecting a trap.
"I, um, I'm not twenty-one."
"They know, Sam. It's not a test," Jess assured him, reaching for her own glass.
"I always say that the drinking age is ridiculous, anyway," Patty said. "If you're old enough to get drafted, you're old enough to get drunk about it."
Sam made an odd choking noise, but accepted the alcohol.
"Sounds about right," he agreed.
"I'm sure you two are much more responsible than I ever was," Rob added. "When I was sixteen, I got completely smashed at a cast party with the pastor's son – we were both altar boys, and we were so hung over the next morning we couldn't go to the service."
Some combination of the wine and the food and the conversation seemed to loosen Sam up a bit, and by the time they got to dessert he was relaxed enough that Rob felt comfortable issuing a couple over-done threats.
"Now, I like you, Sam," he said seriously. "But you should know that I have People. Many, many People, all over the world. And if you ever hurt my daughter, I will find you."
"Dad!" Jess protested exasperatedly, rolling her eyes.
Sam ducked his head and tried to suppress a smile, his dimples giving away his amusement.
They retired to the living room as the sky began to darken, turning on the game. Sam, it seemed, was a fan. With a second glass of wine loosening his tongue, he expounded enthusiastically on the two teams – their histories, their current members, the reasons why the odds the network was giving were mathematically inaccurate; he was rambling, but Jess was watching him with such a fond smile that Rob couldn't find it in his heart to cut him off.
Just as the sun dipped below the horizon, Sam's phone rang.
He looked at the caller id and froze, his face going white as a sheet.
"Sam?" Jess questioned worriedly, a hand on his arm. "Sam, what's wrong?"
He barely seemed to hear her, his hands beginning to shake visibly as he stood abruptly, tearing his arm from her grip without even noticing.
"I—I have to take this," he said distantly, eyes still on the phone. He was out of the room in three strides.
Jess made to follow, but Rob stopped her.
"Give him some privacy," he advised. Sam obviously didn't want Jess seeing him so vulnerable, and however foolish that was in Jess' mind, Rob could relate. He had been young and in love once, after all. Still, Jess looked so scared, and the boy had looked so shaken . . . "I'll go check on him."
Sam had stepped out into the cool night air. In the yellow porch light with every muscle tense and his knuckles white on the phone he looked much, much older than twenty. Rob quietly cracked open the door, and Sam's voice floated back to him.
". . . you're drunk, Dean. Look, I can't do this right now. Just – just go back to the motel – walk – and sleep it off."
He sounded tired, Rob thought. Exhausted. His next words were even more so.
"I'm sorry Dad got hurt, and I'm glad he's going to be okay. I am. But I'm not sorry I left."
A pause, and the weariness evaporated in sudden fury, Sam's free hand hitting the porch railing with a bang which shook the whole structure and made Rob jump.
"I could have been there, Dean, if Dad hadn't fucking kicked me out. Unless you don't remember that argument – I seem to remember you doing your best to pretend it didn't involve you!"
Another pause, and the fury drained away (though not completely, it was still there in the tension in his shoulders and the line of his jaw), leaving Sam's voice thick with something which sounded an awful lot like tears.
"I know. I'm – dammit, Dean, I'm sorry. But I had to – you know I did. I wouldn't have –" He choked, his shoulders hitching. "Dean, I wouldn't have lasted another year. I wasn't – I wasn't strong enough. I never was. I had to get out. Dean? Dean –"
It was evident he had been hung up on.
Sam leant his head against the porch, gave a single, wracking sob, and then abruptly pulled back and hurled the phone into the yard with a wordless snarl of grief and rage. He sank down, buried his face in his hands, and was silent.
Rob wanted to help the boy, but he sensed that this was a pain which ought not to be intruded upon. He stepped back inside and went about assuring his daughter that Sam only needed time (now, to regain his composure, and with her, to learn to be vulnerable).
When Sam stepped back inside twenty minutes later with a damp phone and damp eyes, Rob didn't comment.
But he remembered.
November 4 th , 2005:
Sammy wasn't eating.
He also wasn't sleeping, had barely even spoken since the fire. All Dean wanted to do was get him out of here, away from these strangers who acted like they knew him (they didn't know a damn thing) and away from this perverse, mocking California sunlight which threw all the lines of pain and grief on his face into harsh relief.
But Sam had insisted they stay for the funeral.
(Well, no, Sam hadn't insisted. He had just stated, wearily, that they had to. And Dean had said that no, they didn't, but Sam had just given him a look which he never, ever wanted to see on his baby brother's face, empty and broken and tired beyond words.)
So they stayed.
And Sam didn't sleep.
And didn't speak.
And didn't eat.
Dean was at least going to fix that last one, right now. (He was going to fix all of them, eventually. He was.) Dean had never understood why there was so much free food at wakes, but he wasn't complaining.
He pushed Sam into a chair and didn't bother asking whether he wanted anything. He grabbed a plate and started loading it up with fancy chocolates and little finger sandwiches and some of the fifty different types of fruit, because Sammy had always liked girly food like that.
He was just trying to balance another strawberry on top of the plate and shooting another worried glance at Sam (who hadn't moved an inch, hunched over and staring unseeingly at his hands, and god, Dean was going to fix this) when an older man caught his eye. It was Jess' father, he realized, and hastily set down the overloaded plate in order to snap to attention and hold out a hand. The guy looked just as bad as Sam, he noted objectively.
"Mr. Moore," he greeted respectfully. He didn't know this man, but he knew that he was going through hell, knew that he had raised the woman Sam loved, and that earned him Dean's respect, at least on a preliminary basis.
Mr. Moore ignored his hand.
Dean let his hand drop, a trickle of unease finding its way up his spine.
"Your brother did that, too," said Mr. Moore, looking at him piercingly. "Don't think he ever was entirely comfortable calling me by my first name."
"How our father raised us," said Dean, as noncommittally as he could manage. He was starting to get the feeling that this wasn't going anywhere good.
Mr. Moore made a not-entirely-approving sound in the back of his throat, and Dean had to bite back an automatic surge of anger. This man had just lost his daughter, and all he knew about John Winchester was what he had seen through Sam's screamingly obvious Daddy Issues. This was not the time to leap to their father's defense.
"Look," Dean bit out instead, reaching for the plate again. "I should really get back to Sam–"
"You'll look after that boy," said Mr. Moore, part statement, part question, part command.
"I always do," Dean responded without even thinking about it. Mr. Moore's gaze went even sharper.
The bottom dropped out of Dean's stomach.
His first reaction was anger, but it was quickly drowned out by guilt – because it was true. It was true, dammit. He hadn't been there for Sam. And maybe Sam hadn't needed him, with his college friends and Jess and his 'normal' – or maybe that was just what he told himself to make himself feel better (or to make himself hurt worse, he had never been quite sure).
"I'll watch out for him," he assured this total stranger, this man who Sam had seen more of in the past four years than his own brother.
Mr. Moore regarded him for a moment, then nodded in approval and turned away without another word.
Dean went back to Sam and crouched at his side, holding up the stupid plate full of stupid food.
"I've got something for you, Sammy."
It wasn't enough, not nearly enough, and he meant to make a joke about rabbit food but it was sticking in his throat (that was all that tightness was, he told himself), and what came out was,
"You know I'm here for you, right?"
And that had to be the most insanely chick-flicky thing he had ever said and he was sober and everything and he could not believe those words just came out of his mouth but if it just gets Sam to look at him –
Sam looked up.
His eyes were dull and red-rimmed but they weren't hollow, weren't as far away as they had been for the past two days (weren't so far away that Dean couldn't reach), and the corners of his lips tugged upward in something which might, at some point in the far distant future, become a smile.
"Yeah," Sam rasped out. "I know."