Notes: BIG thanks to 2ndaryauthor over on livejournal for a great beta read and providing invaluable suggestions. You know I picked at it though, right? So, mistakes are mine.
A Little Less Conversation
Elvis is fifteen.
He tells Sam so and then pulls out his wallet to show him an obviously fake ID that says he's twenty-two and his name is Frank.
Sam isn't sure what to believe, but the kid's eyes are earnest and wide and he's saying all this for a reason.
From over his shoulder, Sam can hear the quiet murmur of Dean's voice by the pool table. A bearded man dozes in a corner booth. At the other end of the bar, two women chat softly.
Sam looks at the kid again. "Who are you here with?"
"Any of these people?" Sam gestures, thinks bartender's kid. Maybe.
Elvis shakes his head. He's got a duffel bag tucked up against the bar by his feet.
Sam takes a deep breath and a swig of his coke. "What's your name?"
"Elvis." The answer is immediate and his eyes go shiny and bright blue with sincerity. "Elvis Thompson. I swear it."
"Okay. Okay." Sam backpedals a bit, doesn't want to make the kid upset. "You want something to drink? Maybe a sandwich?" He doesn't wait for an answer, just motions the barkeep over and orders another coke and a basket of fries.
The basket is nearly empty, wax paper crinkling under Elvis' fingers, when Sam tells him, "You should go home."
Elvis looks up fast and wipes both hands on the front of his t-shirt.
"Whatever it is, it's not that bad. I promise you," Sam says gently. "Go home."
Elvis nods in wide-eyed agreement. "I'm trying."
Dean wanders over awhile later and props an elbow on the bar. "Hey, Sammy," he says, eyes going from his brother to Elvis and back again. "Didn't realize they had a kiddie section here."
"Dean," Sam says, not looking at either of them. "This is Elvis. Elvis, my brother Dean."
"Elvis, eh? The King does live. Maybe I could get an autograph?"
Sam glares at him.
"I don't have a pen," Elvis says with a straight face.
Dean stares at him, blinks, and then starts laughing, a sharp sound in the quiet bar. "Elvis." He shakes his head. "Nice to meet you, dude. Ready to hit the road, Sam?"
Sam eases off his stool and lays some money on the bar.
Elvis watches the two of them, holding onto the stool beneath him with both hands.
"You, uh, you need a ride somewhere?" Sam asks. Dean's halfway to the door.
Elvis nods and hurries to gather his things.
At the motel, Sam follows Dean into the office, screen door slapping shut behind them. Elvis waits out by the car.
"No. No. NO," Dean hisses, turning on Sam.
"No way. I'm not running some halfway home for orphan Annie's, Sam."
"That's not what this is."
"No," Dean says again, like it's the only word he can think of. "Sam. No."
"Just for tonight. We could get him a cot."
"Yeah, or we could take him to the highway."
"Get him a good meal."
"Let him make a phone call. That's being generous."
"Look, he's just a kid. We can help him, so we should. That's all." Sam takes a step back and crosses his arms.
"No, Sam, we shouldn't. If we help him now, he's going to think he can depend on people, trust them, and he can't, okay? The next ride he gets isn't going to be from us, or Dad, or Jim, and when next week's news has some story about the kid who got killed hitching down Six, that's going to be on you, not me, and I will not feel bad about it because it's your fault he's staying here tonight, not mine, got it?"
The elderly woman behind the desk clears her throat. "So, is that gonna be one room, then?"
Elvis is a blank slate. He wears a plain, white t-shirt and jeans over wiry, thin limbs. He has even fewer possessions in his bag than Sam can remember having as a kid. He doesn't say much, but when he does it's with a non-specific, light drawl Sam's heard in a range of places across the country.
"There you go." Dean gestures to the cot set up next to the window in their room. "Good
night. Don't kill us in our sleep, please and thanks."
Elvis sets his bag down and sits on the cot to pull off his shoes.
"Need anything?" Sam hovers between the door and the bed.
Elvis shakes his head. "Thanks for all this."
"Don't worry about it."
Dean pushes past Sam, rougher than is necessary, on his way to the bathroom. It's just like Dean, too to let Sam have his way but continue to rub it in every chance he gets.
When Dean turns to close the bathroom door, Sam lifts his shoulders in an innocent shrug. They're doing the right thing here. He's sure of it.
Dean rolls his eyes.
The next morning, at a small 24-hour diner a few blocks down, Dean orders the special and a side of bacon.
Sam orders waffles and a glass of milk, a side of fruit.
Elvis just shakes his head.
"Nothing?" The waitress leans in toward them. "You're sure?"
Dean and Sam sit on one side of the booth, Elvis on the other. The waitress sits down on the edge of the bench next to him, easing off her feet. "How about some milk?"
Elvis shakes his head, no.
"Maybe just juice?" Sam asks.
Elvis shrugs, nods.
"Hey, we've got our Two-Part breakfast," the waitress suggests. "That's two pieces of toast,
two eggs, two sausages, two pieces of bacon." She winks. "Two ninety-nine."
"All right." She stands. "I'll be back."
"Cat got your tongue?" Dean asks Elvis.
Sam sits up straight and clasps his hands. "Is there somewhere we can drop you off?" He can feel the harshness of the morning light shining through the window beside them when Elvis hesitates to answer.
Elvis sits on his hands and looks down at his knees. "Not really."
Sam considers what it might have taken for this Elvis, the one sitting across from them right now, to approach him last night in a sleazy bar. Considers the kind and amount of desperation that would require.
"Are you sure? Where are you from? Maybe there's some family?"
"Ohio," Elvis nearly moans. "My Dad."
Sam and Dean share a look. They're in southern Georgia.
"That where you want to go?" Dean asks dryly.
Elvis scrubs at his face with both hands. "Yeah."
"Okay. Okay." Sam tries to catch Dean's eye, but Dean is looking quite purposefully out the window.
"'Scuse me." Elvis stands and shuffles toward the bathroom in the far corner. He takes his bag with him.
Behind the counter, the waitress smiles and laughs with a young man in an apron, one of the line cooks. A couple of elderly men share a pot of coffee at a grouping of tables by the door.
"We're not doing this."
Sam turns to face Dean. "Yes, we are."
Dean still doesn't look at him. "Nope."
"What if it was me, Dean? Wouldn't you want someone to help me out? Plus, if we take him home, you can be guilt-free, knowing he got there alive."
"You can be guilt-free."
"Just say yes, okay? Don't be a bitch about it."
Dean turns on him, eyes flashing. The booth is suddenly very small and Dean tries to speak so fast, he splutters. "I am not--"
"Okay." Sam interrupts the tantrum before it can start. "Just--"
"You're going to get attached," Dean says, flexing his fists on the table. "Pickin' up stray puppies and hit-and-run kittens and trying to make them all perfect and nice again. It's like a disease, Sam. A compulsion. You can't do it."
"We help people all the time. How's this any different?" Sam's nearly turned sideways, his back to the rest of the diner.
"I can't...you can't…we don't…"
Elvis trips into his seat across from them and sets a handful of mints in the middle of the table. "They had these in the bathroom."
Dean gives Sam a droll look and then turns to Elvis. "We're headed up to Chattanooga. We can take you that far. Sound good?"
Elvis nods enthusiastically.
Chattanooga, for a poltergeist, Sam remembers. And then, how will they manage that with Elvis around? And then, oh, no…
Dean is right.
There's a rest stop just north of Atlanta. They get hotdogs and Dean drinks about a half a gallon of coffee before wandering off in search of some Tums and a bathroom.
Sam folds his legs up to sit down on the curb.
Elvis sits Indian-style in the dry grass behind him.
Sam glances back over his shoulder. "You okay?"
"Mm-hmm." Elvis nods, eyes trailing the cars as they zoom past on the highway.
Sam watches them too, cars and trucks flying by and then disappearing beyond the oak trees and spruces that line the highway.
"You ever get homesick?"
Sam doesn't turn around, and tries not to show his surprise. He looks down at his hands. "Not really. I mean, we're always on the road."
Sam frowns, fishes for more words. "There was…there was one time. I didn't expect it, because we never really had a home. I guess…I was missing the people. My Dad and Dean. I was just homesick for them." He twists around to see Elvis nod. "Wasn't much fun."
"Couldn't you call?"
Sam smiles sadly. "We didn't exactly part on good terms. Dean and I, we were okay. But my Dad…we've barely talked."
"My Dad didn't want me to go."
Sam watches Elvis from the corner of his eye and waits.
"He said it was a bad idea. My Mom, she just doesn't see straight sometimes, you know?"
Sam doesn't, not really, but he nods and listens anyway.
"I messed up. I just thought things would be better."
"Can you call your Dad?"
Elvis nods. "I did, but I…I don't want him to worry. He can't help anyway."
Off behind them, Sam sees Dean come out of the building and start across the lawn. "I'll bet he's worrying anyway."
Elvis stares at him and then turns to follow Sam's gaze. "I just want to go home."
"Okay. Well." Sam stands up and smiles with more cheer than he feels. "We're working on it."
The poltergeist in Chattanooga only takes them a day. It's as routine as it ever gets. Elvis sits in the back of the car, mouth shut tight at the cemetery.
While Dean is gathering their things from the trunk, Sam twists around in his seat, left arm hooked over the back. "Look, this is kind of hard to explain, but I promise it's nothing illegal."
Elvis doesn't blink, doesn't move.
It's two o'clock in the morning.
"Well, it's sort of illegal, but I swear it's for a good reason, okay? We're just trying to help some people out, maybe keep someone from getting hurt. Does that make sense?" Sam winces, waiting for a response, tries to remind himself that explaining this is better than leaving Elvis standing next to the on ramp to I-75.
Elvis glances out the window. Dean is stalking across the dark graveyard away from them, shovels in hand.
He gives the barest hint of a nod, which is more than Sam expected.
"Okay. We'll be back. Call if you need something." Sam leaves his cell phone setting on the dash and goes to help his brother.
Dean has already outlined the hole when Sam gets to him, a rectangle of muddy half-moons. He stops to lean on his shovel and gestures to another that lies on the ground. Sam picks it up and sets about scraping off the first layer of dirt.
They can work for awhile that way in silence, Dean near the headstone, Sam near the foot, clearing away dirt, layer after layer. Dean's the first to break.
He digs through the bag for a bottle of water and sits down in the grass. "What did you tell him?"
Sam pauses, shovel full of dirt in mid-air. "I didn't. I didn't tell him anything, except we were doing something good."
"Right." Dean's sarcastic, eyeing the dirt and the grave marker beside it. "We just go around spreading the sunshine, don't we?"
"Something like that."
"He buy it?"
Sam would shrug if he weren't shoveling.
"Think he'll take off?"
"Maybe. I left him my phone."
"Oh, great." Dean scrubs at his forehead. "So, Joe Law is going to be waiting for us when we get back."
Sam pauses to take a breath. "I hope not."
"You give him a phone, leave him alone, and set off to dig up a grave, who do you think he's going to call?"
"I was thinking maybe his Dad."
Dean stops shoveling and stares; the depth of the hole Sam stands in puts them almost exactly at eye-level. His phone starts to vibrate and buzz in his jeans pocket. Sam turns back to his work while Dean answers. "Hello?"
"Whoa, hang on a second." Dean sits up straight, eyes growing wide and white in the dark.
"Who is it?"
"Elvis," Dean says into the phone, meeting Sam's eyes. "Hang on a second, buddy. What's going on?"
Sam stabs his shovel into the dirt and frowns at Dean.
"What's going on?" Dean says again, harder this time. He's climbing to his feet and motioning at Sam to keep digging.
"He okay?" Sam asks.
Dean shakes his head, mouths polter. "You're fine, just get in the car and stay there, alright? I'm on my way. Everything's going to be fine." He flips the phone shut, legs already moving into a sprint.
"Dean," Sam yells at his back.
"Dig!" is the barked reply.
By the time Sam finishes up and gets back to the car, everything is fine.
He gives Dean a questioning look, but Dean just shakes his head.
Elvis is sitting on the curb next to the rear bumper looking dazed, hands hanging limply between his knees. The hem of his t-shirt sleeve is torn and there's a smudge of rusty blood on his arm.
"Everything…okay?" Sam tries to catch Dean's eye again.
Dean crouches down in front of Elvis and holds out a bottle of water. "We're okay. Right?"
Elvis nods jerkily. He doesn't speak again until they're on the road, merging onto the highway.
"Did you all just dig somebody up?" he asks, somewhere in the middle of curious, disgusted, and frightened.
Sam glances over at Dean. Dean adjusts his grip on the wheel, mouth tugging into a frown.
"Yeah," Sam answers after a moment. "Yes."
"You…you do that a lot?"
Sam can remember back when they first started out, steadily following Dad's rules of 'tell no one, nothing.' The world becomes grayer every day, though. Sometimes it's necessary. Sometimes it's right. He's lost count now, how many people they've told a little bit of the story to. When he opens his mouth, the words rush out.
He tells Elvis everything.
Dean doesn't stop him.
They sleep all day and have dinner at a Waffle House, pecan pie a la mode for dessert. Small talk seems a moot point by now, but it's got to be done.
"So, how'd you end up in Georgia?" Sam pushes a piece of crust around his plate. Dean doesn't look up from his pie.
Elvis shrugs, fumbling with his fork. "Started out in Florida, actually. Pensacola."
Point A to Point B, maybe two hundred, three hundred miles. Walking, riding, running.
"What were you doing there?" Dean asks.
"My mom. She lives down that way."
Elvis shrugs. "That was the plan."
Sam shakes his head, brow furrowed as he tries to put the pieces together. "You didn't want to?"
"No, just…she never showed up. At the bus station."
The lady that doesn't see straight sometimes, Sam recalls. Elvis is good at understating things.
"Dude. That sucks." Dean sits up straight and pushes his empty plate away. "Did you try calling?"
Elvis nods, shakes his head.
"And your dad?"
"My mom was supposed to buy the return ticket while I was there in Pensacola. My dad, he, we can't…we can't manage it right now."
"Have you talked to him?"
Elvis blinks and says, "Not in a while."
Sam's afraid to ask how long Elvis has been allowing his Dad to 'not worry'. Even more afraid to ask when exactly it was that he'd first left.
Dean wipes at his mouth with a napkin. "Where at in Ohio?"
"Just west of Ada."
Dean shrugs easily, like it was never a problem at all. "We can do that."
"One condition," Sam interrupts and both Dean and Elvis look at him in surprise. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and pushes it across the table. "Call your Dad."
Without a word, Elvis takes the phone, slips out of the booth, and out to the parking lot, dialing as he goes.
They stop for the last time in Gallipolis, just on the north side of the Ohio River, and have dinner at Wanda's Country Grill. Wanda herself stops by their table to say hi. She's Appalachian and sounds it: when Elvis mentions Ada, she nods blankly like he's talking about a foreign nation.
When he says he's going home, her eyes get crinkled and damp. Elvis bows his head toward the table and Wanda runs an arthritic hand over his hair. "Good luck, sweetheart." She nods to Sam and Dean and smiles. "Take care, boys."
North and west, the land flattens out and the horizon soars away. There's not much in Ada at all.
Elvis sits up steel-rod straight in the back seat, pointing out roads and landmarks.
Dean focuses on navigating, over-focuses. Sam drums his fingers on his knee, watches them both out of the corner of his eye.
It's late evening and dusky gray. They turn down a road with an equal number of slouching, worn houses and empty, overgrown lots.
"There." Elvis nods toward the last house on the road, dusty white where the paint hasn't flaked off, and yellow lights in every window.
Dean turns into the driveway and shuts off the engine.
Elvis is out of the car without a word. He drops his pack on the cracked sidewalk and leaps up the porch stairs.
Dean slouches against the car and Sam circles around to stand at the edge of the sidewalk, hands jammed deep into his jeans pockets.
The door opens just as Elvis reaches for it. There are no words. Sam can see Elvis's back shaking under his dirty t-shirt. His father's arms cross there, fingers spread out and holding firm.
Elvis's father introduces himself as Matthew Thompson. He's a blend of youthful features and aged skin that puts him anywhere between thirty and a senior discount with every shift of the evening light. When he shakes their hands, his grip rivals that of their father's.
"Thank you," he says, eyes on their boots. "Thank you."
"No problem." Dean nods.
"Glad we could help."
"I owe you…something." He looks up then and past them to the car. "Gas? An oil change?"
Dean holds his hands up, takes a step back. "No, no, no. It's okay. Don't worry about it. We were…in the neighborhood."
Elvis hovers near his father's elbow and ducks his head at the mournful look Matthew gives him. "It's quite a distance. I wish…" He shakes his head. "How about dinner, at least? I know it's late and we don't really have anything here, but maybe I could just order up a pizza?"
Sam shares a look with Dean, a smile, and a nod. "Sure. That sounds great."
The house is tiny. There are boxes and tools and newspapers stacked messily in the corners. When the pizza arrives, Elvis drags in two folding chairs from the backyard so they can all crowd around the table.
"So," Sam barrels into small talk in true to form fashion. "Elvis is an interesting name."
Matthew smiles, eyes crinkled in amusement. "My…his mother was a fan."
"Understatement." Elvis glowers.
"It suits you," Sam tells him.
Elvis doesn't say anything, smiling around a piece of crust.
"About that…" Dean starts in because they are things Elvis won't say and things Matthew needs to hear. "She--"
Matthew shakes his head. "I know. It's…I shouldn't have trusted her," he says, looking at his son. "That's family, though. We do the best we can. We've all got problems. Maybe her more so than some, but it's not my job to judge her for it."
Sam opens his mouth and then closes it again, unsure where exactly they stand here. It's not their place and yet, for a few days, it was their problem to solve. Not, he decides, that he'll look back on Elvis as a problem.
He takes a good look around the table. They can't fix everything and the past can't be
changed, but this is normal. As normal as it gets.
He catches Dean's eye and nods.
This is good.
Matthew and Dean get into a long-winded discussion about carburetors and wrenches and other topics Sam doesn't care to follow.
About halfway through, Elvis gets up from the table and motions for Sam to follow. He leads the way down a short hallway and pulls open a small closet, digging deep behind a rack of heavy coats and a pile of shoes. When he emerges, he holds a shotgun with both hands and looks up at Sam, eyes wide in the dim light of the hall.
"Show me how to load it for salt?" he whispers.
Sam feels his mouth fall open. He should have seen this coming, but he didn't, not at all. Somewhere in the back of his mind, someone is yelling to hit the brakes. "Elvis, no. No, I can't."
Sam glances over his shoulder, down the hall. The light from the kitchen spills through the doorway. Dean and Matthew's voices carry softly and Sam's struck by the grief of homesickness for a moment, wishing he was five years younger and listening to his Dad and Dean argue over rifle sights in the dinette of some random apartment.
"You can't tell me all that and not show me how to handle this."
Yes, I can.
No, I can't.
"Salt doesn't even work on everything," Sam argues, trying to deflect him.
"But, it works for a lot, right?"
Sam hunches down to look Elvis in the eye. "You can't go hunting this stuff. It's not…it's not for you."
"Okay." Elvis nods, holds out the weapon.
Sam raises his hands to avoid touching it.
"What if it comes here?" Elvis nudges him.
Sam can't imagine anything bad, evil, coming here, to this house, on this road, in this town. Not to Elvis and his father, but that's how it happens. To good people in good towns that don't ever see it coming.
He presses the heels of his hands over his eyes, takes a deep breath, and accepts the gun from Elvis. "You promise me," he says, calm and controlled. "You promise me you won't go looking for anything. This is not the kind of thing you do when you've got better options, okay? You do this when you have a reason, when you're angry and there's nothing left. Not when you're young and smart and you've got people that care about you. Understand?"
Elvis nods solemnly.
"I promise." Elvis meets his eyes and doesn't blink. "I swear it."
It's late by the time they hit the road. Matthew gives them directions to the nearest motel just east, outside of Lima. Dean takes them with a nod and a thanks and then turns and heads south.
Sam props his elbow on the door, head on his fist.
Dean drives with the windows down, in no hurry. "So…"
Sam makes a noise of acknowledgement.
"Are you going to make a habit of this mediator thing?"
"Mediating. The Dr. Phil, thing."
Sam sighs. "There's no thing, Dean."
"I'm just saying, you know, maybe you could take some of your own advice."
Sam lifts his head and turns to look out the window. "More like I've learned from my mistakes." He waits for Dean to say something, but no words come. "I showed Elvis how to load salt shot."
Dean's foot comes off the accelerator and it takes a minute for him to realize it and straighten the car out. "And you did that, why?"
"Self-defense, I guess."
"…Okay? This from the guy that never wanted anything to do with this stuff. I thought we were supposed to tell Elvis not to worry and everything would be fine and there's nothing hiding in the dark. No monsters in the closet. That whole thing."
"Yeah, well. I changed my mind, I guess. Dad was right."
Dean leans back in his seat. "Huh." Sam bites his tongue, presses his fist against his lips.
"Nice people, though," Dean says, filling the silence.
Sam doesn't turn from the window, eyes intent on the moonlit landscape. "I hope I never see them again."
Dean only hesitates a second. "Me, too."