"She seemed sweet." I said. My lousy attempt at sympathy. We were in the car, driving away from Sam's apartment. Driving him away from his life.
"She had the same birthday as you."
"Yeah. Not the same year of course." That had to be the lawyer part of Sammy, the whole truth. "But – yeah."
"So – how'd you two meet?" Another lousy attempt. I knew it was shallow, but I figured getting Sammy to talk was better than letting him huddle inside his guilt. He didn't answer the question though.
"Where're we going?" He sounded like he did when we were kids and we'd pile in the car with Dad, when he wasn't on a hunt, when we didn't know where we were headed, we only knew we were getting to go somewhere with Dad.
"Find a motel."
"Oh." He sounded confused. And I thought, it's sinking into him that he's homeless. Again. "Oh." Maybe he thought we'd get right on the hunt. He probably did, knowing Sammy. Once he's got his teeth into something, it's move now and don't stop until it's done. But he needed to sleep, he needed to eat. He needed to grieve.
"I saw a few places down this way. We'll -."
We'll what genius? I asked myself. Sleep? Probably not going to happen. Get something to eat? Like either of us would be hungry. I was saved from having to come up with something by Sam's phone ringing.
"Hello?" His voice sounded funny, more than tired - thick, numb. In shock. "Tracy. Yeah, that was my building. It was – yeah. No. I – we – Tracy –." Well, wasn't Tracy the chatterbox, not letting Sam get an answer in. "No, she's not. She's not all right. She – yeah, she was the one on the news. She's – Jess is – look Tracy, I've got to go, okay? I -." He hung up mid-sentence and stared at the phone.
He'd just started saying something when it rang again. I pulled it out of his hand, found the 'OFF' button and tossed it in the back seat.
"I'm gonna need to answer it eventually."
He didn't dispute me, he only looked out the passenger window.
"Bookstore?" I asked. Sam wanted to go to a bookstore now?
"I met Jess in the bookstore. She was in line in front of me, she had like a hundred pounds of books in her arms and she dropped one and I picked it up for her and we started talking."
I try not to be a 'what if' kind of guy, because in this life, in any life I guess, that could drive you crazy. But right now I couldn't help it. What if he'd stood in another line? What if she'd bought her books on another day? What if we'd gotten back to his apartment ten minutes sooner?
What if I'd gotten back to his apartment ten seconds later?
"A hundred pounds of books, hunh? So she was as strong and as smart as she was pretty."
That made Sam smile at least. A real smile.
"Okay, maybe not a hundred pounds. But she had a lot of books."
"What was her major?"
He didn't answer me again. I wondered if he didn't want to or if he didn't hear the question.
"She loves to draw. She has an easel in our bedroom. She did this sketch of me, I'll have to show you -."
He stopped talking there and I seriously thought he wasn't breathing he looked so bad. But – he was only realizing that the sketch was gone. Jessica was gone. Everything was gone. Every sketch and photograph and book and scrap of paper was gone. All of his clothes. Any weapons he had. Anything he owned that wasn't in his travel bag was gone.
His normal, safe, life was gone.
Tears rolled down his face and he looked out the passenger window and all I wanted to do was drive as far as I could as fast as I could away from this town. But that's not what Sammy needed. There'd be a wake and a funeral, or a memorial service at the very least. He'd want to go to that. He'd want to talk to Jessica's parents, assuming she still had them. We'd have to go through the apartment in case anything survived.
And if that damn demon was anywhere still around, I was getting my shot at it.
I didn't say anything, I kept my eyes open for a decent motel. The shock was bad enough for Sam already, I didn't want him having to go from comfortable home to crappy dive.
When I pulled into the parking lot of the motel and stopped in front of the office, Sam started to sob. I slid closer to him and put my hands on his shoulders.
"It's okay. It's okay."
Wasn't that the biggest lie I ever told him?
He sat back and started to turn but not enough and I held him a minute in a kind of awkward hug, with his shoulder pushing into my sternum and his head against my chin. Four days ago we weren't even speaking, and now he was sobbing in my arms. I didn't care if it was a chick flick moment. I didn't care about anything except taking care of Sam. And that job was suddenly bigger than it had ever been in our lives.
"I'm fine." he said. Did he actually expect me to believe that? "You don't have to – Dean, please – I'm fine." He turned himself back and out of my arms and scrubbed his face with his hand so hard I thought it ought to leave a mark. "Just – we should get a room, right? We need to – we need to – get indoors."
Yesterday, earlier today, I would've cheered that Sam's old hunting instincts were still going strong. We were back together, we were a team again, chasing the bad guys and taking them down, we were where we were supposed to be.
Today, the bad guys were chasing us and where we should be was inside four walls where we could salt the doors and windows and cover our asses until we figured out our next move.
Problem was, I could count a dozen 'next moves' right off the top of my head, and all of them were part of getting Sammy through this first night and the next couple of days: get a room, give him some clean clothes and have him take a shower because he smelled like ashes and death, get him to eat something, call to cancel his interview in the morning, buy him new clothes, find out what the funeral arrangements were going to be, deal with the authorities who were gonna want to ask him about the fire. And above all – protect Sam. I mighta been out of practice a few years but it all came pouring back on me as easy as coffee. It wasn't a thought, it was barely an instinct. It just was. Protect Sam.
"All right, we'll get the room. But I want you to come in with me. I don't want to leave you in the car by yourself."
"Dean – c'mon."
"Hey – the driver's window is gone." I didn't want to remind him of the danger but I had to. "Anything could get in. I don't want you out here by yourself."
"We're right outside the office, you can see me through the window." He waited for me to give but I wasn't budging. He wiped at his face again. "Dean, please. I don't want to go in there like this."
Man, I was torn. Protect Sam. I didn't want to leave Sammy in the car where anything could reach its filthy claw through the open window and grab him while he wasn't paying attention. But I couldn't force him to come inside and stand behind me with his red eyes and wet face and make him the object of rude looks if not outright stupid questions.
"All right." I hated it but I said it. "Just – keep alert."
"I know the drill Dean." He said it annoyed but still sounded heartbroken, like he'd start crying again any second.
"Yeah, I know you do. I know you do. I'll be right back."
I slid out of the car and made the trip into the motel office as quick as I could. I hated taking my eyes off Sam. I was beginning to wonder how I'd survived the past three years with him out of my sight.
"Help you?" The unimpressed and unimpressive kid behind the desk asked. He was mabye as old as Sam and looked like he'd just woken up out of a sound sleep.
"I need a room. Two beds."
While he muttered and grumbled his way through his job, I looked back at Sam and did some muttering and grumbling of my own – he'd grabbed his phone out of the backseat and was talking to somebody. I was gonna flush that thing as soon as I had a chance.
"How're you gonna pay for this?" Clerk McPerky asked me. I considered my options. Aframian was out thanks to 5-O in Jericho. I didn't know if we'd be in town long enough to get in trouble on another card, but I didn't want anybody being able to find Sam just by calling around to motels asking for Winchester.
"You take cash?"
"I live for it."
This guy was a laugh a minute. I signed us in under the name Walsh, paid up front for a week, grabbed the key and went back out. Sam was still on his phone and I was thinking about throwing it under the wheels as we drove down to our room but when I got to the car he was saying to somebody,
"No, my brother's here. Yeah -." He laughed a little. "He got here that fast. Whenever I'm in trouble, he's right there to take care of me. I'm gonna – I'm just gonna regroup tonight and not think about facing tomorrow yet." Well I guessed it wasn't Tracy on the phone again; whoever it was was actually letting Sam get an answer in. "No I can't even think about that right now. I just - I just need to be with my brother. Tomorrow I'll think about – whatever I need to think about. Tonight is just -." His voice broke and I was going to take the phone from him and throw it out the window but he said, "Yeah, bye," and hung up.
I got behind the wheel and looked at Sam and he looked at me and then he hit the 'OFF' button on the phone .
"No more tonight." I said and held my hand out. He nodded and handed the phone to me.
"Just don't destroy it, OK?" He asked me and actually had a not-totally-miserable look on his face.
"I make no promises Sammy." I figured if I tossed it out, he'd only scrounge it up again so I put in my inside jacket pocket. "All right. Room 26. It's supposed to be down this way."
We pulled in front of the room and I got out and went to the trunk and Sam walked around to stand next to me. I missed that , having somebody, having Sam, standing next to me. Dad had his own truck so whenever we stopped, we'd be separate, each getting our own stuff. I missed Sam standing there, waiting to get his backpack or waiting for me to hand it to him. I'd just missed Sammy.
I'd put his leather travel bag in the trunk next to my duffel but when I pulled it out I held onto it even as he reached for it.
"I've got it." I said and repeated when it didn't seem like he heard me or maybe didn't understand me. "C'mon, let's get to the room. I've got it." I slammed the trunk and we went inside.
It wasn't a bad motel room but it sure wasn't the Ritz. OK, so I wouldn't know a Ritz room if I woke up in one, but I figured flocked yellow wallpaper and yellow nylon bedspreads wouldn't be part of the décor. Sam looked around for a minute then sat himself on the far bed. I put my bag on my bed and set his on the table.
"Hungry?" I asked after I'd laid down salt lines. "I saw a 24-hour drive-thru down the way. I can get us something while you take a shower.
"No." He shook his head and then held his collar closed like he was gonna not want to get out of his clothes. I ignored that. He needed the shower.
"Okay, well let's get you a shower then. Here…" I dug some clothes out of my bag, sweats, t-shirt, a flannel shirt. I walked the few feet to hand them to Sam and he took them after staring at them like he wasn't sure what they were.
"You're not – you won't – you're not going anywhere, right?"
"Not going anywhere." I promised him and put my jacket over the back of a chair to reinforce it. He nodded and headed for the bathroom. "Tomorrow we'll go get you some clothes of your own." I only meant to reassure him that he wasn't gonna have to try to wear my clothes for any length of time, pretty much just thinking out loud. But Sam stopped and turned back to me, holding the clothes out like he was handing them back.
"Oh – well – you don't have to –." His expression was anguish and confusion. He thought I was putting conditions on handing over my stuff.
"Sam – Sammy – hey, you can have anything of mine you want, you know that." I pushed his hand and his clothes back towards his body and let my hand wrap around his wrist. "It's just been awhile. You've gotten a little bigger since the last time we shared clothes, hunh?'
I gave a smile that I meant to be encouraging. It took a few beats but Sam smiled too and nodded and went into the bathroom. When he shut the door I let out a deep breath I didn't know I'd been holding. Even being half over already, this was going to be a long night.
The bottle of whiskey was in my duffel and I pulled it out and pour us each a plastic cupful. It'd help Sam sleep and it'd help me – it'd just help me. I tossed it back and poured another one but left it to wait until Sam drank his. Then I turned my attention to his bag.
The leather was pocked with soot and burned bits of what I wasn't even going to think about. The bathroom sink was outside the bathroom and I grabbed some paper towels and soaked them in water and scrubbed the bag as clean as I could get it.
Once that was done I opened it up, intending to go through his clothes and sort 'em out for the laundry, but the inside of the bag smelled even more of smoke than the outside if that was even possible, so I closed it again and shoved the whole thing into my duffel. Sam didn't need to see that bag or smell t hat smell again tonight.
I pulled out my phone and called Dad. He didn't answer and I didn't expect he would. It went straight to voice mail.
"Hey Dad. I've got Sam with me. His girlfriend – the demon killed his girlfriend, same way it killed Mom. It just happened tonight, a couple of hours ago. I've got Sam with me, he's OK, he didn't get burned or anything. We're in Palo Alto. I figure we'll be here a few days at least, for the funeral, and to find anything out about the demon being around. I'll – I'll call you if we find anything. Just – take care of yourself."
A little while after I hung up, Sam came out of the bathroom and sat on the end of his bed like he couldn't move another step. I didn't tell him I'd called Dad.
"Here." I handed him the cup of whiskey and took my own. He looked at it, then looked up at me like I was supposed to explain something to him. "It'll help you sleep Sam. Tomorrow things are gonna be –." What? Rough? Busy? Hell? "You'll need your sleep for tomorrow."
He nodded and looked at the cup again but didn't drink.
"To Jess." I said. "Smartest, prettiest, strongest girl I ever met."
And Sam nodded again and drank the whiskey and the empty plastic cup crumpled in his hand but I didn't think he meant that to happen. He started crying, hard, terrible, gagging sobs that came out of the break in his heart. I dropped my cup on the table and sat next to him to put my arm around him. He leaned against me and I put both arms around him and held onto him.
When he finally fell asleep, the sun was coming up and I still had him in my arms.