Where They'll Always Take You In
K Hanna Korossy
The cab dropped him off in front of the motel's gravel parking lot. Sam peeled off a few bills without looking and pushed them at the driver before he got out. The rain was still pouring, the sun had nearly set, but Sam only had eyes for the black car parked in a shadowed corner of the lot, and the lit window just beyond it. He hadn't been sure they'd be there until that moment. Still wasn't sure about his welcome.
He swallowed, then shoved his hands into his pockets and started walking.
At the door, he hesitated again. It was less than two days since he'd last stood there, but his world had tipped—again—since then, and he felt like he was starting from scratch, unable to take anything for granted. Including, for the first time in his life, that Dean wouldn't turn him away.
It was, possibly, the loneliest he'd ever felt, and that included his first day at Stanford.
Sam lifted his hand, slid it back down. Lips twisting, he finally raised his knuckles once more and knocked before he lost his courage.
The door opened in seconds. Like Dean had been waiting.
But there was no expectation or joy in his brother's face. Maybe a touch of relief, because Dean would never wish him ill. But as they stood there staring at each other, the elder Winchester made no move to step aside, to invite Sam in from the wet and cold.
"So. You came back."
Sam's face kept threatening to crumple. "Yeah," he said hoarsely.
"Cali not sunny enough for you?"
He didn't ask how Dean had known. Of course Dean had known. Sam just wasn't sure how much. He bowed his head and shifted in place, unable to summon a defense. Rain water trickled from his hair into his eyes.
Dean's jaw rippled, and finally he held the door open a little wider, moving with it. "You coming in, or just here to pick up your stuff?"
"I'm staying," Sam said quietly, ignoring Dean's ironic snort, and shuffled past him into the inviting warmth before the offer could be rescinded.
He stood in the middle of the room like a guest that hadn't yet been invited to sit, hunched in the same hoodie—now soaked through—and jeans he'd left in. Part of him knew he was shivering; the rest of him didn't care. His eyes stayed on a safe patch of laminate table, waiting for Dean to decide the next step.
Dean shut the door, then circled him, doubtless watching Sam warily. Stopping somewhere to his left, beyond arm's reach.
"I don't suppose you want to tell me where you've been the last two days. I mean, not like it's any of my business or anything if you want to disappear without a word, right?" Dean finally said, and while there was challenge and anger in his tone, Sam could also hear the thread of concern. Dean was cracking the door for him, and not just physically.
Sam took a breath, more weary than he could say, and glanced halfway up at Dean. "Can I have some coffee?" he asked hesitantly.
There was a pause, then Dean moved again. "Sure." Heading around behind Sam to the coffeemaker in the corner of the room. "Sit."
Sam did, gratefully. He even managed a curl of the mouth for Dean when his brother settled a steaming mug into his hands. The aroma cleared Sam's head a little, and the warmth made his icy fingers tingle.
Dean sat down a quarter way around the table from him, still watching him impassively. "When did you last eat?" he finally asked as Sam drank and the silence stretched out.
Sam's face twitched. "When'd we go to that bar?"
Dean cursed under his breath and rose. "Hold on." Sam didn't look where he was going, concentrating on his coffee until a ham sandwich on a napkin was set in front of him. "I was going out to get food, remember?"
Sam didn't have to ask when Dean meant. He set the mug down on the table carefully but kept his hands wrapped around it. "I went to Palo Alto," he said quietly.
"I know." At the quick glance up at him, Dean tilted his head and added, "Checked the buses and trains first, but I found the plane reservation eventually. You know, after I spent a few hours wondering if you'd been grabbed again or killed or something." But his voice wasn't as strident anymore, the complaint pro forma.
Sam flinched. "I'm sorry I didn't leave a note, Dean, but I had to go."
Dean's face hardened again. "Right. So, what was this important mission that didn't even let you call to say you were taking off? Bailing out an old buddy? Homesick for your alma mater? Another anniversary with Jess you forgot to mention? 'Cause, I gotta tell you, Sam, after the thing with the Benders last month, you taking off with no word, nothing, isn't exactly—"
"Somebody dug up Jess's grave," Sam blurted out, then drew his shoulders in around his ears like a turtle.
Dean ground to a halt, shocked silent for a second. "Sorry?"
Sam winced a little tighter. "Her sister Abby called while you were out. She was crying—the cops were calling it vandalism, but…somebody dug her up and-and salted her remains."
The silence was viscous, sticking in his throat, pressing on his back.
"I know I should have called, all right?" Sam suddenly broke out, staring at his speechless brother, the words tumbling from him without his control or plan. "Or left a note or something—I know that, Dean, I just…man, I wasn't thinking, I just went. Abby was so upset, and…he desecrated her grave and salted her, Dean. It was a friggin' hunter. Somebody thought she was…" He clamped his mouth shut, Adam's apple working hard.
Dean's mouth moved a moment before he quietly spoke. "Do you know who?"
Sam sneered. "Never heard of him before. Says he's been at it less than a year. He thought her death was suspicious," he added bitterly.
"You tracked him down?" Dean asked, surprise clear.
Sam's gaze fell to the hands he still had wrapped around the mug, the dried blood on his knuckles. He slid them back so the evidence was hidden behind the coffee mug, as if Dean might forget it was there then.
"There a body to take care of?"
He thought Dean was joking at first, and the dark humor seemed like the final straw. But then he realized his big brother was not only totally serious, he was offering. And it was a final straw of a different kind. Sam's eyes swam as he shook his head, not daring to open his mouth.
There was a pause, Dean regrouping again, finally clearing his throat. "Dude, you look like a drowned…I don't know what, but you smell like wet cat. Go take a shower." His voice had lost all its coldness, the command gentle.
Sam nodded with tenuous control and struggled to his feet. He hadn't even touched the sandwich, and he looked around the room in confusion. Where'd he leave his bag? Had Dean even kept it there?
"I'll get you some clothes," his brother broke into the bramble of thoughts. "Go warm up." A hand wrapped around his biceps and pushed lightly. Sam shuddered at the warm touch, the first since he'd returned. He turned and went before he lost what pride he had left by falling apart on Dean.
Sam stayed in the shower a long time, letting the heat of the water seep into his bones. He still didn't feel clean when he climbed out, but his legs refused to hold him any longer and he couldn't seem to stop shivering no matter how warm he got.
A pair of jeans, thick socks, and a few layers of his warmest shirts were folded on the toilet seat, the wet clothes gone. He hadn't even heard Dean come in. Sam dressed slowly, ran a comb through his tangled hair, then stared in the mirror at his stubbled chin and bloodshot eyes for a minute before he ventured back out.
Dean must've made a quick run to the market next door: the table was swept clear of paper and laptop, laid out instead with food. A container of diced watermelon and another of what looked like steaming chicken soup flanked a different sandwich, one that warmly oozed cheese. A covered Styrofoam cup had taken the place of the nearly empty mug.
Dean glanced up at him from where he was laying out Sam's wet things over a pair of chairs dragged next to the radiator. He just nodded at the table, and Sam tacitly sat. It took Dean shoving a spoon into his hand before he finally started eating.
The soup warmed his insides and reminded him he was hungry. The sandwich was devoured in a few bites, the watermelon savored a little longer. Dean never forgot his favorites. Ditto with the hot cup of what turned out to be tea. The taste of honey in it surprised Sam and then didn't; it probably showed in his voice how rough his throat felt. He'd done some yelling those last two days.
Dean tossed containers as Sam emptied them, checked his damp clothes, dropped Sam's duffel onto his bed, seemingly too restless to just sit. Sam was glad for the small offer of space. Still, he felt adrift until Dean finally pulled up a chair beside him, then tugged out Sam's left hand to rest on the tabletop.
He sipped slowly as his brother checked each of his fingers for damage, then dabbed the knuckles with disinfectant, followed by liquid band-aid. Satisfied with one hand, he waited until Sam finished his tea, then claimed the other and went through the process again.
Sam watched him work through heavy-lidded eyes. His brain felt jumbled, his heart sick, but everything was settling in the warm comfort of the room, of Dean's ministrations. For the first time in two days, things made sense again.
"I'm sorry," Sam whispered huskily.
Dean made a scoffing sound, cut a glance up at Sam. "The only thing you've got to be sorry for is tackling this by yourself, dude. If I can get on a plane for a demon, I can do it for you." A shrug. "Or Kirsten Dunst, whichever."
Dean's brow rose. "What, you don't know that? Seriously?"
Sam smiled wearily. "How 'bout going into a roomful of rats?"
Off Dean's blank look, he almost retreated, thinking he'd read things wrong, made light of something important when he was just trying to make sure they were okay. But then Dean grinned, eyes lightening. "Don't push it, Sammy."
Sam breathed a laugh, found he could breathe better for it. Knowing he was forgiven.
Dean looked him up and down. "You hurt anywhere else?"
Sam shook his head.
"Promise? No new holes or breaks?"
He managed a glare.
Dean's expression, amazingly, quirked with humor. "Okay, don't get your tights in a knot, princess, I'm just asking. You do have two days unaccounted for."
Sam swallowed, eyes darting to the side, then back again. "You wanna hear what happened?"
His brother glanced at him soberly. "Yeah, I do." He stood. "Tomorrow. After the biggest pancake breakfast known to man, and when you don't look like you're gonna pass out in the syrup."
A hand under his arm helped him stand, then steered him toward his bed when it turned out he wasn't so steady on his feet. Sam tiredly slid under the covers and lay down on his side, knees bending up.
Dean just stood there, eyebrows descending, his mouth pursed as he regarded Sam. "You do know there's always a bed for you to come back to, right? I mean, yeah, it would be nice to know where you are meanwhile, but you've always got a place, Sam."
He hadn't been sure of that, not for a long time. Jess had given him one briefly, but even that had been yanked away. After standing over her wrecked grave, however, then her grave's defiler, all Sam had wanted was to get back to Dean. Now, stomach full and body warm and heart soothed, he nodded silently. Yeah, he knew.
He was home.
This story has a loose sequel, "Who Will Always Come After You"