Title: Home to My Heart
Summary: Part of the Fusion 'verse. Written for the Hug Time Now comment-fic meme. Dean has to go away for a few days, and leaves Sam in the care of a friend. Original prompt by the lovely and talented de_nugis was Sam and Dean settle down together, whether as Sam/Dean or platonically. Years pass. One of them is away on a perfectly ordinary, not especially long trip. The other misses him. Really misses him. Yeah, it's kind of ridiculous, he knows that. But still. Cue casual, manly homecoming with underlying schmoop and being secretly really glad to see each other and maybe a brief, awkward hug that they pretend didn't happen. She very generously allowed me to write the fill as part of the 'verse. :)
Characters: Sam, Dean, OFC
Disclaimer: If they were mine, they would hug a LOT MORE OFTEN.
Neurotic Author's Note #1: This is part of the Fusion 'verse. To understand what the hell is going on, I suggest you at the very least read the first story. Otherwise, the gist of it is this: AU starting from the end of 'Swan Song.' Sam and Dean have retired from hunting. Sam has been badly traumatized by his time in hell, and Dean has had to undergo knee fusion surgery after repeated trauma, and can no longer bend his leg.
Neurotic Author's Note #2: So this is unbeta'd and written kind of off-the-cuff. Please be forgiving of spelling errors and typos and weird grammar and unhappy syntax.
Neurotic Author's Note #3: This was meant to be a short fic about a hug. Instead it became kind of a medium-length fic about Sam with a hug at the end. So, it sort of works for the prompt, but I kind of took liberties. This 'verse has never been especially cooperative when it comes to my plans. It just takes my ideas and runs off in another direction. *shrug* I got nothin'.
Neurotic Author's Note #4: Chronologically, this is set before And Death's Dark Shadows Put To Flight.
Neurotic Author's Note #5: Title is taken from the Dean Martin song 'Return to Me.' It felt appropriate. :)
It's funny how quickly you lose the habit of letting yourself in and out of other people's homes, once you move to the big city. So much so that, coming back to your tiny home town, it feels almost wrong to just walk through someone's front door and announce your presence, even when you've already been explicitly invited. Amanda Noble hesitates on the doorstep, wondering if she should at least knock, then tells herself she's being silly. Sam knows she's coming, she's been coming every day at the same time for three days now.
The house is quiet when she slips inside, not even the radio on for company. She wonders, sometimes, how Sam can bear the constant silence. Whenever she's home alone she invariably switches on the television for company, but Sam seems to enjoy the quiet, or at least prefer it to anything else. She checks her watch, to see if she's early or late, but no, it's definitely seven o'clock.
"Sam?" she calls out softly.
There's no answer, so she quickly shuts the door behind her and goes looking, worried that he's having what Dean euphemistically terms a 'bad day' and has gone off on his own. She has no idea where to even start looking, if that's the case, and she doesn't relish the prospect of having to ask anyone else in town for help in looking for him. God only knows what Dean would say once he found out.
She supposes she's been lucky so far, in that Sam has always been where she expected to find him. Dean's been gone for a little over two days, and is meant to be back sometime this morning depending on traffic in from the city. It took her weeks of pestering to even get him to consider getting a service dog, and she's pretty sure that the idea of leaving Sam by himself even for a couple of days was a source of stress for both brothers that likely contributed to Dean's reluctance to even try. Still, he grudgingly allowed that going to at least see if a dog would work for him was probably a good idea, especially after he'd taken a bad fall and Sam had been too far away to hear him call out at first.
After he'd agreed, though, there was the whole question of what to do about Sam, who couldn't very well go with him –not unless they wanted to invite a whole host of extra problems– but also couldn't be left behind on his own. The town was too small for there to be any sort of formal home care system, and in the few months she's been treating the brothers since she had returned home to take over old Dr. Sinclair's practice, she's come to learn that neither one is especially keen on outside interference in their affairs.
They don't have much in terms of medical coverage, which Dean refuses to elaborate on, stating only that there won't be a record of them in any military records, and that she shouldn't bother looking.
"Just tell me what we're looking at in terms of cost, and I'll figure it out," he'd told her the first time they'd been in to see her. As it turns out, they have a small insurance policy through their uncle, and Sophie at the bookshop does cover some medical expenses for her employees, and so Amanda has become adept at juggling forms to make sure that they can get treatment without going bankrupt in the process.
Treating Dean is always pretty straightforward. The few times he's come in it's been for an inflammation in his hip, aggravated by the slightly awkward gait that he favours for getting around. She prescribed an anti-inflammatory, gave him some PT exercises and some tips to avoid future problems, and that was that. Sam, on the other hand, is an exercise in frustration. Both he and Dean steadfastly refuse to see a professional other than her, despite her repeated protestations that she's not a psychiatrist, that there are people better-equipped to deal with Sam's particular problems than she.
"You're doing just fine," Dean had said, and wasn't that a kicker? Being reassured by a patient. It was almost insulting. "We've been to specialists, and they can't help. Sam just needs someone who gives a crap, you know?"
And that Amanda can do. Sam doesn't present with typical PTSD, though some of the symptoms are there. It's like he's an odd mish-mash of different diagnoses, without a single one fitting properly, and she can't even begin to make sense of what little he's able to tell her, even on a good day. It's become a question of managing the worst of the symptoms –the anxiety and agitation, mostly– and hoping for the best. Except, of course, for the times when she feels hopelessly out of her depth. Today, not for the first time, she finds herself questioning whether she was maybe out of her mind for agreeing to watch over Sam while Dean was away, but she's their doctor, it's a tiny town, and it's her responsibility to help.
"Sam?" she calls out again.
She finds him curled up on his brother's bed upstairs, staring fixedly at the wall. He's dressed in jeans and a ratty grey t-shirt, and while he hasn't shaved she's pretty sure that he hasn't been here the whole night either, judging by the state of disarray of his own bed in the adjoining room. She walks around the bed, makes sure she's directly in front of him so he'll know she's there, but he doesn't so much as blink to acknowledge her presence.
"Hey, what's going on?" she reaches out carefully to touch his arm, but he flinches so hard that she pulls back again.
He hates having his bare arms touched, she remembers belatedly, and she could kick herself for forgetting. He never goes out without long sleeves to cover the scars that criss-cross the skin, starting at the wrists and snaking up all the way past his biceps to his shoulders. He has similar scars all over his body, though the worst ones are on his arms, and one massive keloid scar at the small of his back, which looks like an old wound which should by all rights have crippled or outright killed him. He's never told her where the scars came from, and Dean can't explain them either.
"Sam," she keeps her tone firm, trying to get his attention. "Can you tell me what's wrong?"
He seems to figure out that he's not alone, then. His gaze flicks away from the wall, toward her, and he hugs his arms to his chest, worrying at his wrist with the opposing thumb, a gesture she's learned to associate with anxiety where he's concerned. "I'm okay," he says, so softly she almost doesn't hear him, even in the quiet.
She purses her lips. "I'm not so sure. You're usually up at this hour, remember? What are you doing in here?"
He shrugs, looks away from her. "I don't know. It thought it would help."
"Did it?" Any port in a storm. If lying on his brother's bed can help, then so be it.
"Um. Yes. Dean helps, when it's bad."
She nods. She can't provide his brother, not yet, anyway, but she can offer the next best thing. "I'll make breakfast, if you want to come downstairs with me. Your meds are down there, and Dean's going to be here in a few hours. You game for that? I don't have to be at the clinic until this afternoon, so we could watch a movie, if you want."
There's a moment of silence while he considers what she just said, then he carefully uncurls from his spot on the bed and sits up, still clutching his left wrist with his right hand, hair tousled, cheeks flushed, so that he looks a little like an overgrown kid. Sometimes it's hard to remember that there's a razor-sharp mind caught behind that thousand-yard stare.
Amanda takes the lead down the stairs, confident that he'll follow and not wanting him to feel rushed. If it's a bad day, or even an off-day, it won't take much for him to go almost completely catatonic, and that's the last thing she wants or needs only a few hours before his brother is due back. She heads into the kitchen, finds Sam's meds and sets them out, the only part of the routine that is entirely her responsibility. Sam knows what his meds are, but he and Dean both agreed that it would be better if Amanda took charge of them for now, just in case. Otherwise, Sam has been up and ready the past two days and making breakfast by the time she walked in the door, so she's a bit at a loss to find things. She's beginning to appreciate how difficult this must be for Dean, never knowing from one day to the next just how functional his brother's going to be.
She decides that pancakes aren't beyond her this morning, and when she turns back from getting the flour out of the cupboard she almost jumps out of her skin because Sam has managed to slip unnoticed into the kitchen and is standing a few paces behind her. He flinches at her reaction, and she immediately feels bad. Being jumpy around a PTSD patient is the last thing she should allow herself.
"Oh, Sam, I'm sorry. I didn't mean... you startled me. I never heard you come in."
He glances away, rubbing his wrist. "Sorry."
"No, it's fine. You sure you weren't a ninja in a past life?"
He looks back at her, and away again just as quickly, but there's the ghost of a smile on his face. "Not a ninja, no."
"I'm making pancakes. Your meds are on the table."
"Okay." He doesn't move, looks around the kitchen as though he's never seen it before in his life.
"I'll make coffee. Do you like coffee? I don't remember..."
"Good idea. And yeah, I do like coffee."
He's already carefully spooning coffee out of a tin into a reusable filter, and she can see that his hands are shaking, ever so slightly. "I would have remembered," he says, apparently to the coffee. "I would have remembered before."
She cracks an egg into a mixing bowl, and doesn't answer right away. Getting information out of Sam is always a tricky business: often enough he doesn't respond to direct questioning, either unable to process the question or just maybe unable to express exactly what it is that's going through his mind. So the fact that he's volunteering something is huge.
"What do you mean, Sam?" She adds flour to the egg, starts measuring out the milk, and deliberately doesn't look at him.
He blows out a frustrated-sounding breath, slides the filter into place, and fills the carafe with water, pouring it into the machine with the same painstaking care that she's seen small children take when pouring orange juice. She doesn't push, waiting for him to finish what he's doing.
"I would have remembered that you like coffee," he clarifies, once his hands are free. "I keep forgetting things. I should write it down," he looks around, back at the table. "Did I take my meds?"
"No, they're still there. Do you want some water?"
Sam shakes his head, takes the little plastic cup and dry-swallows the pills, making her wince. She has no idea how many years of practice it must have taken for him to be able to do that with so many pills.
"Is it everything that you have trouble remembering? Or small things? Recent things?"
"What? Oh!" She snatches the pan off the stove before the butter turns black, and hastily runs water into it, wipes it with a paper towel before trying again. "Thanks."
"What?" She's beginning to feel stupid, but sometimes following Sam's erratic train of thought is exhausting.
"I thought about it. Short-term memory only. I remember everything else just fine."
She nods, considering the question as she pours batter into the pan. "Could be your meds, you know. Some of them interfere with concentration. If you want, we can try some different dosages, see if we can't make things better."
"I don't think it's going to get much better," Sam is staring at the tabletop, tracing a pattern there with his finger, and she sighs.
"I know it's hard to see past the here and now, but you're not the first person to live through trauma, Sam. It does get better."
He looks up at that, and meets her gaze directly for the first time this morning. To her surprise, he smiles at her, dimples showing unexpectedly. "No, that's not... I mean, this is better. Better than I was. I can't... I don't know how to explain it, but it was... it was bad, before. It's good now."
He drums his fingers on the table for a moment, watching his hands, and she can tell he's frustrated again at not being able to express himself more clearly. It's not the worst she's seen him —on his bad days he's completely uncommunicative, or doesn't make any sense at all— but compared to days when he's able to converse properly, it's damned heartbreaking. This is one of the reasons she didn't want to come back to a small town practice, she thinks as she scrapes the first pancake onto his plate. It's too easy to get attached to your patients, and when there's something seriously wrong with them, it wrecks what objectivity you have. She would never have been in this position if she'd stayed in the city.
Sam gets up and pours them both a cup of coffee from the pot, and dumps two teaspoons of sugar into hers. "No milk, right?"
She takes it from him and smiles. "See? You do remember."
He shrugs, but he's smiling now. "I guess." He rummages in the fridge, and pulls out a bottle of French vanilla-flavoured coffee creamer. He turns to lean against the counter, twisting the bottle in his hands. "Dean bought this for me before he left."
"Oh?" She's at a loss. Again.
"He hates this stuff. Drinks his coffee black, like our dad. I'm the only one who ever put stuff in my coffee. Cream and sugar when I was a teenager, and when I was at Stanford I discovered Starbucks. Best four dollars I ever wasted," he grins. "It drove Dean nuts. I don't think he ever understood how anyone could spend that much money on coffee."
She stares at him, trying not to frown, no idea at all where this is coming from or what he's driving at. He seems to notice her confusion, because he just snaps open the lid and pours a couple of tablespoonfuls into his cup.
"No, you don't have to apologize. I'm just not sure where this is coming from."
"Neither am I, half the time. What time is it?"
"Just before eight. Why?"
His gaze flicks to the refrigerator, where Dean's schedule has been stuck with a magnet sporting a phone number for the local plumber. "Just checking."
"How about a movie?" she suggests again. His brother is due back in a couple of hours, and a movie should get them right through the intervening time. Somehow it sounds easier than trying to talk for the entire time, even though it makes her feel like a coward. "I can make a tray, we can eat in front of the TV."
Sam seems equally relieved not to have to make small talk with her. He brings his cup of coffee to the living room and curls himself up on the sofa while she picks out a DVD for them to watch. Apparently they're both fans of action movies rather than anything else, or maybe it's just because those were the ones available in the bargain bin, since most of the boxes are labelled 'pre-viewed' and have little green and blue and yellow stickers marking the discounts. Everything in their house, she's realized, is second-hand or marked-down, a curious mash-up of things found at garage sales and at the Salvation Army, and somehow they've managed to pull it all together in a way that makes it all feel kind of cozy.
"So, uh, you have your pick. Action movie, action movie, or action movie."
Sam snorts into his coffee cup. "How about 'Die Hard?' It's Dean's favourite."
"Yippee-ki-yay," she rolls her eyes and smiles, slots the DVD into the tray, and hits 'Play' before joining him on the sofa.
He gives her an approving nod, but doesn't say anything else, wrapping his hands all the way around his mug and settling more comfortably against the sofa. She's not sure how he can stand to be all folded up on himself the way he is, but he seems content enough, and so she stretches out until her feet are almost touching the coffee table, and watches as Bruce Willis negotiates 1980's traffic. About twenty minutes into the movie she glances over, and sees that Sam is asleep, his coffee mug at his feet, head pillowed on his arm. She actually kind of likes 'Die Hard,' and she's got nowhere else to be this morning, so she pours herself another cup of coffee, and settles back down to wait for Alan Rickman to make his appearance.
The movie is in the middle of a hail of gunfire when the front door opens, and Amanda just about jumps out of her skin again. She takes a deep breath, heart hammering in her ribcage, reaches for the remote to pause the movie, then glances over to where Sam is still asleep, apparently oblivious to any and all noise around him. She debates waking him then and there, decides against it, and hurries toward the front door, where Dean is pulling off his jacket. He looks surprised to see her, but he smiles anyway.
"Amanda, hey. I didn't think you'd be here. Everything okay?"
"Sure. Sam and I were watching a movie. Well, I was watching the movie and he's sleeping on the sofa," she amends, and Dean laughs.
"Sounds about right. If he's asleep, then it must be 'Die Hard.' Better 'n a lullaby, that movie. I used to put it on when we were kids and he couldn't sleep, waiting for Dad to get back." He glances past her, his expression suddenly unreadable, maybe a little sad, she thinks, looking over to see his brother curled up on the sofa. "He okay?"
"I think so. He was feeling a little anxious this morning, but he got dressed and came down and had breakfast with me, so it's not too bad, I don't think. I found him on your bed."
Dean's expression turns pained. "Oh."
"I think he just missed you. He'll be fine," she says, unsure why she's trying to reassure him. Dean knows his brother better than anyone. "How was the trip? Did you like the centre?"
He nods, only half-paying attention to her. "It was fine. The bus sucked. Those seats at the front are okay if you're in a wheelchair, but they're not really designed for this," he gestures vaguely at his leg. "Anyway, the centre was pretty cool, and they think they have the right dog for me, if I want her. Trouble is, I'd have to go train with her for a few weeks, close to a month."
And that's the trouble right there. She sighs, looks back at Sam, and starts mentally trying to figure out the mathematics that might allow for Dean to leave both his job and his little brother for up to a month without everything going to hell, and comes up with nothing.
"I'm sure we can figure something out," she says, knowing it's a meaningless platitude. Sometimes the world is so damned unfair she wants to scream.
He shrugs. "It's fine. I've managed this far, haven't I? Anyway, thanks. For looking out for Sammy, I mean. You didn't have trouble, did you?"
"No, he was fine," she hates talking about Sam as if he wasn't there, and she's sure Dean feels the same way. "I mean, he... it was good. We had a great talk about factual accuracy in television," she grins, remembering the conversation.
Dean rolls his eyes. "Figures. Once a geek, always a geek. I appreciate your looking out for him, Amanda. Really."
"Anytime," she assures him, and means it. "I should go. Let you settle back in. You want me to let Sophie know you're back? It's on my way."
"That'd be great, thanks. Tell her I'll give her a call, anyway, probably this afternoon."
"Sure. Take care, Dean."
She drops her key onto the small table by the door for them to find later, and prepares to let herself out, pulling on her running shoes and tying the laces while Dean limps over to where Sam is still sleeping on the sofa. Looking up, she sees him lean over his brother, one hand on the arm of the sofa, and shake him gently by the shoulder.
"Hey, Sammy, I'm back."
It takes a moment for Sam to wake, and he blinks blearily for a moment. Then the befuddled expression fades from his face, to be replaced with one of those blinding smiles that come so rarely and which he seems to reserve almost solely for his brother. He uncoils like a spring, suddenly looming over his brother, who has to take a step back so as not to get knocked over like a bowling pin, and wraps his arms around him and hugs him as though they've been apart for twenty years. Dean sputters, arms wind-milling as he fights for balance under the onslaught.
"Ack! Sam! Gimme a sec, here," he laughs, regains his footing, and brings his arms around, giving Sam a fond pat on the back before returning the embrace. "I missed you too, you giant girl," he murmurs, just loud enough for Amanda to hear.
She watches them for a moment, feeling, not for the first time, like an intruder in their little private world. Then she slips outside and closes the door behind her as quietly as she can, leaving them to their reunion.