Locus Standi: Latin for "a leg to stand on". Legal meaning: "the right to appear in court and argue a case."
Written for the ohsam LJ community for the prompt: "Stanford-era. Say Sam has a trick knee from the hunting life - usually it's okay, but once in a while it hurts enough that he favors it noticeably. Say he does something to re-injure this knee, maybe something heroic, maybe not. Say he's so used to treating his own injuries that he brushes off Jess' pleas to visit a doctor and wraps it and ices it by himself, like he's always done. Say the injury was far more serious than he realized, and it just keeps on getting worse - cue Jess getting kind of frantic and begging him to go to a doctor. Say the doctor has some bad news..."
Some nights, Sam doesn't come home.
It isn't that often, maybe just a handful of times, and Jess doesn't worry about it. After all, she likes her occasional girls' nights out, too. She figures if Sam wants to stay out late drinking or playing pool with his buddies every few months, it's only fair. Occasionally, Jess just crashes at Lisa's or Deb's after a night out, and she imagines Sam must be claiming the couch at Brady's or Zach's.
Although the guys probably don't giggle and paint their toenails and call it an impromptu pajama party.
Some of those nights, Sam slinks in close to dawn, flushed with exertion. Once or twice smelling of smoke.
She doesn't ask.
Jess has learned to recognize Sam's wary look, the one that too often is followed by Sam withdrawing into himself and giving answers she can see right through, even if nobody else can.
So she swallows her curiosity, at least for now. Those times he drags himself home at daybreak, she pretends she doesn't notice the slight limp that can't have come from playing pool, and Sam's tired eyes crinkle with something like gratitude. He folds her in his arms and holds on tight, those mornings, and Jess is glad she didn't ask.
One day, she thinks, he'll trust her enough to tell her. About those rare random nights out, and about his family and his enigmatic childhood, too.
He just needs time.
And until then, Jess will just amuse herself daydreaming that he's a part-time spy recruited out of college, like Sydney on Alias.
Anyway, this morning there are no secrets in the air, no worries. No wondering where Sam is. Not when she can feel his breath, panting, teasing her hair where it clings to the sweat on the side of her neck. His thumb is idly brushing the soft sensitive skin on the underside of her breast. Her hand trails up across his ribs, strokes the muscles in his broad chest, and settles over his heart, savoring the thud-thud-thud of his pulse as it begins to slow.
He nuzzles her ear. "I love you, you know."
Jess opens her eyes and bites her lip mischievously. "You aren't just saying that so I'll make you my famous cinnamon French toast, are you?"
Sam props himself up on an elbow and leans forward to kiss the tip of her nose. "Did it work?"
To be honest, Jess would rather indulge in a little post-coital snuggle for another hour or so. But Sam's always been a morning person. He's awake and he's hungry and she reminds herself that those muscles she enjoys so much burn a lot of calories. "I must really love you," she sighs, beginning to extricate herself from his arms, but she's smiling.
He presses her back into the pillows. "Take your time. I'll make you coffee first," he says, tucking a wayward lock of hair behind her ear. Then he eases away from her, drawing the sheets up over her shoulders, and tucks her in.
He knows her so well.
Jess dozes. When she wakes, she hears the shower running, smells coffee brewing - hazelnut, she thinks - and she stretches luxuriously. Happy. It's spring break, they're on their first real vacation together, and she can sleep in.
At first, she'd wanted a traditional surf-n-sand getaway - imagining Sam in board shorts, acres of skin growing more sleek and bronze with each passing hour in the sun. But Sam can't afford that; won't let her pay his way either. And then Professor Burns had put up a notice on the bulletin board where his office hours were posted. He was planning his own beach vacation and offered up the use of his remote cabin in the woods to anyone who'd agree to dog-sit for a week.
And here they are.
Which reminds her. Laska. Poor little fur ball probably needs to go outside.
Jess digs some clothes out of her backpack and throws them on, sliding her feet into flip-flops as she heads for the kitchen. Laska's toenails are chittering on the linoleum as she dances in place, staring pathetically at the unresponsive back door. If a shih-tzu could cross its legs, Jess thinks Laska would. She opens the door, laughing as Laska bursts onto the porch and down the two short steps to the grass. The little pink-bowed mop of fur couldn't be any less like the hunter from Anna Karenina she was named for.
Jess watches for a moment: the "wee darling" is supposedly safe unsupervised, too skittish by nature to ever wander more than twenty feet away. The dog starts exploring with a happy yip, but true to predictions stays close to the house, and Jess turns back to the alluring aroma coming from the steaming coffeemaker on the kitchen counter.
Dr. Burns had called the place a 'hunting cabin', so the kitchen was a pleasant surprise. It was sunny and bright, with yellow painted walls, southern-facing windows flanked by gingham curtains, and enough modern conveniences to keep them in comfort. The bathroom had been a relief, too; no indoor plumbing would have been a deal-breaker. It was clean and the water was hot, and if the shower was barely big enough for one, well – they could deal. Her main worry had been that she might find hunting 'trophies' mounted on the walls, but despite the rifle over the mantle, and the bow and arrows propped by the fireplace, she suspects now that Dr. Burns isn't any more of a hunter than "wee Laska". Who, Jess notices, is interrupted in her peeing when she suddenly barks and darts away, startled by a nosy butterfly.
Spring perennials are starting the push through the dead leaves around the cabin. It's a perfect little retreat, Jess thinks. It's cozy and intimate. And far away from jobs, classes, schoolwork… and best of all, away from people.
Just her and Sam. A little corner of heaven.
The only obligation they have - besides dog-sitting - is the pledge they made each other to use the peace and quiet to decide on their career paths. At Stanford, they have to apply to the department they want to major in before the start of their junior year. Which means soon.
Jess loves her lit classes… but she doesn't want to teach. So what would she do with a degree in literature? Her teachers in grade school said that with her imagination she should be a writer. But her high school aptitude test told her she was better suited to become a tax auditor for the IRS.
And then there's Sam. Jess shakes her head. He is so damn smart. He could be successful at anything he wants, she thinks. But she has no idea what he wants to make a living doing. Doesn't know if Sam has a clue, either.
She hears the shower turn off and suddenly remembers that promise to make breakfast. Milk, eggs, margarine, bread… cinnamon... they'd picked up all those things in a grocery run before packing the car, and now she lines them up on the counter, singing the tune "Banana Pancakes" under her breath:
we got everything we need right here... hmmm...
Just so easy when the whole world fits inside of your arms... hmmm...
... this song is meant to keep you from doing what you're supposed to
Like waking up too early
Maybe we can sleep in
I'll make you banana pancakes...
Jess is rummaging in a cupboard for a frying pan and a mixing bowl when she hears a frightened yip outside.
She isn't worried – Laska probably discovered a new and terrifying earthworm or something. But she glances out the window anyway, still humming as she pushes aside the gingham curtains, and the tune falters on her lips.
A coyote has its jaws clamped around Laska's neck and it's trying to drag her toward a patch of pine trees at the edge of the yard.
Jess yells for Sam but she doesn't wait. She runs outside, screen door banging shut behind her, and looks around frantically. There are rocks edging the garden, bigger than her fist, and she bends to pick up one in each hand and fires the first one at the coyote. Those years on the softball team pay off: the stone hits the coyote on the hip. It yelps and lets go. Laska is loose for a moment, but then the coyote snarls and snaps at her again.
Jess takes a few steps closer and throws the other rock, channeling her inner Ripley: "Get away from her, you bitch!" This one smacks against the soft earth at the animals' feet. Laska stumbles free again, whining fearfully, and the coyote turns toward Jess.
Coyotes don't attack adults, Jess reminds herself, swallowing back a sudden rush of fear. The look in its eyes is feral and wild, though, and she starts thinking about rabies. She's unarmed now, she realizes, and she's moved too close to the trees, too far from the garden to reach any more rocks.
The coyote springs toward her and she braces herself.
And Jess hears a plunk and a thin whistle; the coyote makes a shrill sound, jerks away and then drops and lies still. A narrow shaft is buried in the base of its throat.
Jess whirls and sees Sam standing on the back porch in jeans and a tee-shirt, socks but no shoes, wet hair plastered to his scalp. He's notching a second arrow on his bow, eyes locked on the predator. Making sure.
How the hell did Sam learn to shoot like that?
But Laska is crying so Jess turns toward the pup, who runs haltingly in her direction just as Sam jogs toward them both. They reach her at the same time, Laska dancing around her ankles in panic, and Sam has to stop and turn abruptly to avoid stepping on her.
Without warning, his leg buckles, a cry of pain bitten off before he hits the ground.
"Sam!" Jess drops to her knees beside him, hands fluttering helplessly inches above him. "Sam! What is it – what…"
"Don't touch me," he grunts, teeth bared. "Not yet." He's curled on his side, legs bent, both hands clenched around his right leg just above the knee. His breathing is harsh, loud in the morning stillness.
Laska nudges Jess and she sits on her heels, scoops the quivering dog onto her lap, and strokes her as she watches Sam prop himself up on an elbow. There's a dead tree just a couple feet away and he drags himself across a carpet of pine needles to reach to it. Once there, he settles into a sitting position, one leg outstretched, the other bent at a right angle, and lets his head fall back against the rough bark. Eyes screwed shut, he bangs his skull against the trunk once, twice, as though that would somehow derail the excruciating pain signals coming from his knee, Jess thinks.
She checks Laska quickly. There's blood on her fur, but it's not streaming out, and Jess decides maybe the wounds are just superficial after all. So she sets the little dog back on the grass and crawls to Sam's side. "What's wrong?" she asks. "Should I -" call 911, she was going to say, because Sam's in too much pain to think anything else. But she has no idea if they even have cell reception out here. Still, she starts to climb to her feet to go get her phone when Sam's hand closes around her wrist, tugging her back down. "Don't leave."
Jess searches his face, sees the clenched jaw, his usually tan face a chalky gray. He's so rigid she's almost afraid to touch him, afraid of hurting him more. "Sam. You need help," she says, and adds reassuringly, "I'll just call-"
"No!" Sam's panting now but it seems purposeful, controlled. "I mean, I'll be fine, you're right. In a minute." He looks at her intently, and then lets go of her arm and puts both hands back on the denim pulled taut over his bent knee. "I don't need anyone's help. Just you."
She watches as Sam's fingers trace the edge of his kneecap, and her stomach lurches when she realizes the bone is alarmingly off-center.
"Oh my God, Sam. Your knee! It's – is it dislocated?"
"Not the whole knee. Just the patella." His attempt at a grin is feeble but valiant. "It's okay, Jess. It's happened before. Several times. I just –" he winces. "I just need you to help me pop it back in place."
Now Jess's face blanches, too. "Sam, I don't care how macho you are; this is something you should let a doctor handle."
"Please, Jess. I can't -" His free hand pounds the earth. Not in anger or frustration, Jess thinks, just in pain. Pain so intense he is practically vibrating with it.
She has to do something. She knows even if she can get a call through, it could still take a couple hours for medical personnel to arrive. Her hand is shaking as she leans forward to brush Sam's hair away from his face, but she tries to make her voice steady. "You're serious. You've done this before. Really?"
He gives a small, jerky nod. "All the time," he whispers.
Laska is lying carefully on the ground beside Sam now, licking Sam's fingers where they're clawing at the ground. She looks up at Jess, her big eyes seeming to say, "I'm doing my part to soothe him. What are you going to do?"
"Okay." Jess takes a deep breath. "What do you want me to do?"
Sam exhales raggedly. "It's easy. Really. Just take – take my ankle. And pull on it. Slow and steady. To straighten out my leg."
She frowns, but crawls around to kneel at Sam's feet. "That's all?"
"There's a groove in the femur. Where the kneecap should be." Sam's breathing faster now. He curls forward so that his thumb is on one side of the patella and his index finger on the other. "When Dean did this, he pulled on my leg with one hand and guided the bone back in the slot with the other." Sam looks up, gives Jess a glance that she thinks is meant to be encouraging. "But I can guide it. If you can straighten my leg. Just go slow and steady."
Her hands close around Sam's heel, the sock damp and muddy from running across the yard, and her teeth catch on her lower lip. "Isn't this going to hurt like hell?"
He huffs a laugh. "You can't even imagine how good it's gonna feel when we're done."
Jess resolves to at least pretend she's not freaked out. "Better than sex?" Her eyes twinkle as she tightens her grip.
"When we get home. Scientific method. We should probably acquire fresh data. For comparison." Sam's attempt at a smile is weak but she appreciates it. He nods to her to begin.
She squares her shoulders and starts to pull. And immediately falters as she sees Sam's face contort.
"Don't look at me," he tells her. "Just focus on the leg. If I need you to stop what you're doing, I'll scream or something to get your attention. I promise."
She swallows, steels her nerves. "That's so reassuring," she says drily. But she re-fastens her grip, wrapping her hands around his ankle this time, and begins again.
A minute has never passed so slowly for Jess. At first, Sam doesn't make a sound, but she can see his good leg tense, heel digging into the soft ground, the more she extends the injured leg. She doesn't look at his face, but she can hear a strangled whimper as she gets close.
She can almost imagine hearing bone scrape against bone, and she falters again. Dean used to do this to Sam. Do this for Sam, she tells herself. She doesn't understand how Sam could have gotten hurt like this, repeatedly. But it doesn't matter. Sam's brother isn't here, and it's up to her.
One more tug, and Sam's right leg is finally stretched flat, parallel to his left. He cries out. Jess can't help looking up, and sees that it's a cry of relief. His lip is bleeding a little where he's bitten it, but he's smiling broadly and holding his arms out to her, and she feels a shaky urge to laugh. She crawls back beside him to lay her head on his shoulder and let his long arms wrap around her.
"Thank you," he whispers into her hair.
Laska puts her chin on Sam's thigh and they sit there together until their heart rates and breathing start to settle back to normal. Before long, Jess realizes that she's freezing. The ground is cold and damp and neither of them are dressed for being outside. She stands, still a little wobbly with frayed nerves, and pulls Sam to his feet. He bends to scoop up Laska and tucks her in his arm like a football.
Surprisingly, Jess thinks that Sam seems to recover his composure from the ordeal first. He even walks back into the cabin on his own, hardly favoring the bad leg at all, insisting he's fine and that they could continue their vacation.
"Laska needs medical attention," Jess reminds him. "Unless you were planning to stitch her up?" She's kidding, of course, but for a second Sam looks prepared to offer to do just that. "Professor Burns left me the name of their vet," Jess adds with conviction. "We're taking her there."
They finish getting dressed and then Jess wraps Laska in an old sweatshirt, plops her back in Sam's arms, and pushes them both down in a rocking chair while she sets the cabin back to rights. Sam tries to help, but she doesn't want him on his feet any more than he has to be, and she's not above using the injured dog to keep him in line.
In the end, her car is loaded and there's just one thing left to worry about. She doesn't know what to do about the coyote, and says so, staring vaguely at her phone.
"I could bury it," Sam suggests. "There's a shovel by the shed out back."
"I meant - there's probably some Animal Control organization I should notify, but I don't know who," Jess explains. She wonders just exactly how Sam's mind works sometimes. "I can't believe you shot it," she adds. "With a bow and arrow! I mean..."
"The rifle wasn't loaded," Sam explains simply. "I checked. And there wasn't time to look around for ammo. I just grabbed the bow..."
He's missing the point, again. You don't just hit a bulls-eye your first try. Where did he learn to shoot like that? The military? Spy school? Police academy? The lingering adrenaline is still making her thoughts race. Maybe, Jess muses, he's a hit man for the mob...
But Laska stretches to lick Sam's neck, and he grins down at her and flicks her silly, muddy pink satin bow, and he looks all of nine years old. Jess's heart melts and she forgets about how Sam is just a little bit strange and unpredictable sometimes.
He's worth it.
It takes two hours to get back to Palo Alto. While Jess drives, Sam calls Professor Burns and then the veterinary clinic and learns there's a pet boarding service attached to it. The vet's office says they'll be happy to transfer Laska there after she's fixed up. They'll even replace her straggly pink bow with a fresh polka-dot one, they reassure Sam and Jess. Everything seems to be simple.
They get Laska situated and pick up take-out at Hobee's. Finally, Jess pulls up in front of their apartment building and hurries around to the passenger side door.
Despite pushing the seat back as far as it could go, Sam's leg has stiffened, and the ice they'd picked up at Pt. Reyes Station is now just a sodden bag of cold water around his knee. He's slow to get out, but insists he's fine, that it just needs to loosen up a bit. He leans on her going up the stairs, and Jess has never been more glad to be six feet tall in her boots.
Pushing open their front door, she's not sure whether to steer Sam toward the kitchen and the promise of thick Portobello Ciabatti sandwiches, or toward their bedroom, with the promise of that 'scientific method' Sam had proposed earlier. After all, he's come home limping before and has never been not in the mood. But this time he stops at the battered couch, says "This is good, here," and sinks onto it gratefully.
Given a choice between food and sex, and he picks sitting on a ratty old couch? "Alright, that right there? Tells me you definitely do need to see a doctor."
But Sam just shakes his head. "I'm okay. I mean, it's not 100%, yet. I know that. But I know the drill. Don't need a doctor to tell me what I already know. And I don't want to sit in another waiting room and fill out more forms and - I just want to stay here. Okay?"
She can't resist those pleading eyes.
So Jess gets him settled sideways on the couch, shoes eased off, right leg stretched out on the cushions, and then disappears into the kitchen. She returns with the bottle of ibuprofen, a glass of water that she hands to Sam, and a large bag of frozen peas. This she settles on his sore knee, after scooting herself under his leg so his knee is elevated in her lap.
"You're pretty useful to have around, you know that?" Sam says, dimples in full view.
Jess feels a bit smug about the peas. Sam's taught her a thing or two about making do. And she likes to think she's taught him a thing or two, as well.
"You have NO idea," she purrs, and from a canvas bag on the floor by the couch, she pulls out two library books. "Guess which books on our waiting lists came in?" She waggles both: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. Like there was any question which one was Sam's choice. He reaches eagerly for the latter, they divvy up the sandwiches and settle in.
Jess is so hungry she finishes her sandwich without saying much, and when she crumples her napkin to dump it back in the bag, she sees Sam has devoured his even faster. He's already engrossed in his book. Jess opens hers and finds she isn't ready to immerse herself in a literary escape just yet. Her eyes don't want to focus on the words. After a minute or two, she gives up and just watches Sam read. The intent look in his eyes. The way they light up and the corners of his mouth curl when something amuses him. His long fingers uncurling as they turn the page. She licks her lips.
He looks up to catch her studying him, and she smiles guiltily.
"You know," she says quietly, "I'm sorry our vacation got ruined."
Sam folds the book closed around one finger to hold his place and leans forward to brush her hair back, his finger lingering gently on the shell of her ear. "When I was growing up... you know, I prayed for vacations like this!" He laughs, sitting back. "No chores, no training, just lie around all day reading books? Trust me. It's a dream come true, Jess."
A warm glow feels kindled inside her, and Jess is ready to forget about the bad things that happened today and just wallow in the present. Until - "Chores... damn." She sits up straight. "Damn. I should do something about those bloodstains on our clothes, before they set."
Sam is already nose-deep in his book again. "Just soak 'em in cold water for now."
"But I should get... " Jess tries to remember what her mom used to do. "We need some special detergent, with enzymes or something, I think. I should go to the store..."
"Just cold water," Sam repeats. "After half an hour, you can soak the stains in a mix of lemon juice and salt, if you want, for another ten minutes. The real secret is not to put them in the dryer. "
The real secret... but no. Jess doesn't know the real secret. Like how Sam can be so damn matter-of-fact about blood stains. He knows the weirdest things... and then there's odd stuff Sam is simply clueless about. Like the time she handed him an orange and he didn't know how to peel one.
He's a puzzle.
A pretty adorable one sometimes.
"So, you've decided on your career path, huh?" Jess opens her book again, and peers at him over the top. "Gonna be a laundress, aren't you."
Sam hits her with a couch pillow, and when she gets back from dunking the blood-streaked clothes in a sink full of cold water, she tucks the pillow behind the small of her back, and settles cross-legged on the couch again, Sam's leg across her lap. They read in companionable silence while the bloodstains soak and the frozen peas thaw.
It's late afternoon when Jess remembers that she never called the authorities to report the coyote. When she rummages in her bag, the phone's not there.
"Sam? Do you remember the last place you saw my phone?" she asks, digging fingers in pockets and cursing under her breath.
He thinks a minute. "At the cabin. When we talked about burying the coyote. You had the phone in your hand then. I didn't see where you put it."
"Damn." Jess crawls out from under Sam's legs. "I bet I left it at the cabin."
She paces a moment, then says, "Maybe not. Sam - can you call my number?"
He flips open his phone and dials her number with one push of his thumb. There's no ring to be heard.
"Damnit." Jess sighs. "I've gotta go back for it." She snags her jacket and Sam reaches out to grab her wrist.
"You could wait till tomorrow."
"I'm not too tired," she says. "And I'd rather not be without it... " She sees Sam start to say something and cuts him off. "And don't even think about coming with me. I'll park right by the door and be in and out before any critters even know I'm there. I don't need you to protect me."
Sam nods and Jess has a second thought. "Unless?" She waves at Sam's leg. "Unless I should stay here in case you need my help?"
"Nah. I can manage." He gives her hand a squeeze and lets go, swinging his feet to the floor.
"You can manage?" She lifts an eyebrow skeptically.
"We got past the hard part hours ago. No more stairs." Sam shrugs. "I can move around the apartment just fine." To demonstrate he stands up and walks into the kitchen. She has to admit, he's moving cautiously but with almost no trace of a limp now.
"You better be right about that," Jess tells him, scooping up her purse. "You don't have one of those Life Alert call buttons, you know. I don't want to come home and find that you've fallen and you can't get up!"
Sam grins, dimples flashing, but as Jess turns away, she catches a wistful look in his eyes. Every so often, something she says seems to remind Sam of something or someone Before Stanford. But he always deflects when she asks.
She's just glad Sam doesn't treat her like a fragile flower about the driving. He acts like six hours driving in one day is no big deal, and she appreciates his faith in her.
It's nearly 10 p.m. by the time she returns home, and the apartment is dark except for the glow of a welcoming lamp on a table by the front door.
All is quiet.
She drops her keys in the bowl on the table and moves through the apartment. The kitchen is just as she left it; there's no sign that Sam fixed dinner for himself or ordered anything delivered. That's not like him. He's not much of a cook, but she knows he learned how to fend for himself at an early age, and he burns off too many calories in a day to willingly skip a meal. Normally, anyway.
In the bathroom, Sam's towel is damp and the clothes he'd been wearing are in the hamper. The bottle of Advil is sitting open on the bathroom sink next to their toothbrushes, and Jess thinks the mystery might be solved. Ibuprofen can cause nausea and maybe that's why Sam didn't eat.
The bedroom door is open; she can see the shadow of Sam sleeping. It's still early for Jess – early for either of them – but she just wants to crawl under the covers and curl up with her boyfriend. She takes her time getting ready for bed, then lifts the blanket and slides under the sheets. Her foot barely nudges Sam's leg and he hisses, his breath sucked in through clenched teeth.
Jess freezes, propped up on one elbow."Sam? Are you okay?"
He doesn't pull away, just sags deeper in the mattress, and mutters, "Yeah. M'fine. Just – your feet're cold."
Right. If she hadn't just finished letting a hot shower knead out the kinks from the long drive, she might have believed it. But in this case...
"Sam. Is it your knee? Maybe we should –"
"It's okay, Jess." Sam reaches for her; it's too dark for her to read his eyes. "It's just a stupid trick knee; it's always better the next day." He pulls her in, and she scoots closer, mindful of the sore leg, and tucks her head under his chin. His long arms wrap around her, and maybe she's just imagining that he's holding her so close so she won't jostle him.
Slowly, his breathing evens out, and when she senses he's completely relaxed, she asks, "How did it happen? Your knee - that first time?"
"First time? I was on a job with m'dad and Dean."
Sam so rarely talks about his family. "What happened?" she asks again, and holds her breath.
"Dean knocked me out of the way," Sam says, words slurring as he drifts toward sleep. "To save me. But my foot was caught under an exposed tree root. I landed wrong. Blew out my knee."
"It was bad, huh?" she asks, stroking his arm.
He gives a tiny nod, and she can see his eyes are closed now. "That time," Sam murmurs. "Dad had to carry me all the way back to the car. Piggyback," he adds indignantly. "Then I was on crutches for weeks." He yawns. "Since then, it just pops out sometimes if I twist it wrong. But it always pops back in okay."
Jess thinks about asking Sam what kind of a 'job' they were on. A job where his life was in danger. Where Dean had to save him! He's mentioned the family hunting before, but this sure as hell wasn't hunting turkeys. She wants to press Sam to explain, even though she's sure he'll offer some innocuous explanation that she won't believe for a second, like always. But it's already too late. Sam's asleep.
She lies awake a long time wondering about Sam and his family.
When Jess wakes up, she's alone. It's not long past dawn – normally she would figure Sam was off on a morning run and she would wrap her arms around his pillow, breathe in his scent, and drift back to sleep until he returned. But then she remembers. Sam's not out jogging.
She climbs out of bed, rubbing the sleep from her eyes, and stumbles toward the bright light coming from the kitchen. She finds Sam there leaning heavily against the counter, pouring dishwashing liquid soap into a gallon-size plastic bag.
"Sam? What are you doing?"
"Jesus!" Sam spins around, staggers off balance, and would have fallen if Jess hadn't leapt forward to brace him up. She steers him toward a kitchen chair.
He turns toward her and sits awkwardly, bad leg stiff in front of him, and runs one hand through disheveled hair. The other hand is clenched around the edge of the chair seat. "It's okay," he grunts. "Just need to make a new ice pack. So I can alternate when the peas thaw." His face looks drawn, like he didn't sleep much, his lips pressed together thinly.
"You make it out of dish soap?"
"It freezes into a gel," he explains and looks a bit sheepish. "So it's malleable. It can flex around a joint. Better than ice."
"That's not the science experiment you're supposed to be conducting," she reminds lightly, trying not to sound worried.
"S'not an experiment," Sam mumbles. "Dean -" He breaks off when Jess crouches at his feet.
"Maybe it's time you get a second opinion?" she suggests.
She doesn't wait for an answer, just starts rolling up the leg of the lightweight sweats he sleeps in. He doesn't object. She glances up, sees that his jaw is clenched too tightly to offer any protest. Her fingers brush his shin, near the knee, and he flinches so hard she stops short, muttering, "sorry, sorry," under her breath.
Finally, he nods, a tiny permission. She glances back down and is equal parts surprised and relieved to see that the kneecap is still in the front, right where it belongs. She thinks. But the skin over it and around it is bloodless white where it isn't shiny with dark, mottled bruising.
"Is it supposed to look like this?" she asks doubtfully. "I mean. Those other times, did it…"
"I don't understand." Sam sounds confused, a little bit scared. "This…" he lets go of his death grip on the chair to gesture at his leg. "It swelled up, before. And sure, it hurt. But this – God, it never hurt like this!"
Maybe, Jess thinks, I screwed up. Did something wrong when I helped Sam manipulate the bone back in place. God, what if it's still not, what – in the groove properly? And Sam been walking on it that way? And he's just been lying around in pain for hours with a dislocated knee?
"Hey. This is not your fault." Sam is leaning forward, touching her arm, reading her mind in that infuriating way he sometimes has. "I'm probably just getting soft. Getting spoiled with no training, just going to classes. Dean would kick my ass, say I'm turning into a delicate princess. Like the one from The Princess and the Pea."
Jess starts to smile. "So your brother knows his fairy tales, huh? He's a big Hans Christian Anderson fan?"
"Well. He knows the ones on Fractured Fairy Tales anyway," Sam explains, grimace fading as he reflects back. "On Rocky and Bullwinkle?" he adds when she looks at him dimly.
"If you say so. So what do you want to do?"
"I'll wrap it up and keep it elevated. Ice it. That should do the trick."
Jess finds the ACE bandage in the first-aid kit under the sink and passes it to him. Then, thinking of the next step, she takes his heel and starts to straighten his leg so he can wind the tape around his knee.
Sam bites off a scream.
Two hours later, Sam is in surgery. And Jess is staring at his cell phone. His contact list. Finding nothing resembling Dad or even John. But there is a number for Dean.
Something like adrenaline has been carrying her along up to this point. She's been calm and collected (maybe even downright bossy) while slinging Sam's arm over her shoulder and guiding him down the stairs and into the passenger seat of her car. That competent, practical energy lasted through the process of driving Sam to the student health clinic and filling in the paperwork while they jabbed his leg with the biggest needle she had even seen, looked at the results wide-eyed, and then sent them on to a true ER.
Now Jess is alone and there's nothing more she can do to help. All that energy that has buoyed her over the last hour has fled, and she's trembling with the aftermath and the horrid feeling of uncertainty and helplessness. She takes a deep breath, and calls.
"Dean Winchester? This is, um, Jessica Moore. I'm… I'm a friend of Sam's. Your brother?"
She hates how her voice sounds timid. So unlike her. She's a little pissed that she's having to talk to Dean's voicemail, too, and that steadies her voice when she blurts out, "Sam put your name down as next-of-kin on the surgery consent form, and I thought you ought to know."
And immediately feels guilty. That's a hell of a message to leave, she knows, and she starts to ramble apologetically. "He just twisted his knee. We thought, anyway. But the pain just got worse and worse, so we went to the Vader Health Center here on campus, and they stuck a needle in Sam's leg that was as big as a drinking straw, I swear. I guess it measures pressure or something – and they said it's like the swelling got trapped wrong and was pressing on the nerves in his leg, which is why the pain was so bad. But it cuts off the blood supply, too…"
She has to stop, her voice getting shakier and thinner the more she babbles. The more she thinks about how they told Sam if it went untreated any longer he could lose his leg, or even his life… She can't bring herself to say that out loud, much less leave it on voicemail, but she wants to tell Dean enough to make him put down everything and get the hell over here. "They took Sam to Stanford Hospital for emergency surgery," she says finally. "It's pretty serious. I think you should -"
There's a beep, and her message is cut off mid-sentence.
Dean doesn't call back.
The surgical waiting room has an electric coffee pot sitting on top of a built-in cabinet, surrounded by stacks of Styrofoam cups. Thank God. Jess is pouring herself a cup when a voice behind her calls out, "Sam Winchester? Is the family of Sam Winchester here?"
Jess whirls. "So soon?" she asks, stepping forward eagerly. "Is that – that's good news. Right?"
The nurse smiles. "The procedure itself isn't complex, you know. You're -?"
"I'm sorry. I'm Jess," she says apologetically. "Jessica Moore."
"Sam's - ?"
"Sam's – " Good question. "I'm Sam's family."
The nurse accepts that. "He's doing well," she says reassuringly. "He won't need to stay in post-op very long."
"And then?" Jess can hardly believe that, after all the dire possibilities that they were warned about, it's all over now and Sam is fine. "Then I can take him home?"
The nurse touches Jess's arm. "No. Sam will need to stay for a few days; he's not out of the woods yet. But he came through the surgery just fine. Why don't you get some food, and after he's settled in a room, you can see him and talk to his doctor together, when Sam's more alert."
Jess wants answers. She feels shaky and confused and she wants to see Sam more than anything else. But she doesn't get what she wants.
She waits some more.
"No cast? I wanted to draw pictures on a cast," she tells Sam playfully, taking his hand in hers. His leg is elevated, the shin and calf wrapped in thick sterile dressings. Underneath, the wound is left open. Maybe stitches in a few days, the surgeon says. Probably skin grafts. It's too soon to say for sure.
Jess has made a conscious effort to be calm and attentive, even has a pad ready to take notes. She remembers when her Aunt Alice had broken her hip and her mom had spent a lot of time in the hospital with her. She'd told Jess that patients need an advocate with them, someone to ask questions and take notes, because when you're in a lot of pain, or dazed from the meds, you have trouble doing that for yourself.
In the end, Sam asks all the questions himself, though. Jess can tell by the pinched furrow in his brow that he hasn't hit the pain pump in a while, and she knows Sam well enough to figure it's because he didn't want to be fuzzy when the doctor came. Jess takes the notes for him, the fingers of Sam's right hand clenching around the blanket instead of a pen. When the doctor leaves, Jess gets up from her plastic chair and leans over Sam, her thumb smoothing the creases in his forehead. "You can rest now," she tells him.
Sam fumbles for the pump and she puts it in his palm, watches as he thumbs it. Her eyes track the length of catheter that trails down toward the incision site and she imagines the relief flowing through Sam, settling over him like a warmed blanket. She presses her lips to his eyelids as they fall shut, and he gives her a small smile before he sleeps.
Dean still hasn't called.
Jess shifts the uncomfortable chair so the afternoon sun falls across her lap, and she opens the spiral notebook, tries to make sense of her handwriting. She'd been watching Sam, and sometimes the doctor, more than she had the page while she jotted notes.
* ACS = Acute Compartment Syndrome
* fasciotomy = surgical procedure to release the pressure
* Sam's peripheral pulse volume not yet normal - monitoring this
* Measure muscle vitality vs. necrosis - next few days critical
* possible saphenous nerve injury (Jess remembers asking the doctor to spell that; he'd been surprised, maybe annoyed, but that was his problem. She is going to Google it before she talks to him again.)
* Best case scenario – skin grafts or stitches to close the wound when it's clear that everything is healing inside. PT 2x/week for 6 weeks after discharge. Consider surgery later to address problem of patellar instability?
* Worst case scenario – ACS can lead to sepsis, renal failure, death but they caught this in time. Amputation not ruled out yet. If necrosis -
Jess has to drag her gaze away from that last bullet item. If she hadn't written those words down while the doctor was saying them, she's not sure she would believe it now.
She closes the notebook, and her hand brushes against Sam's phone when she puts it back in her bag. She'd offered to call their friends when they told Sam they were taking him into surgery, and he'd looked surprised. "Why? No one's expecting me anywhere right now."
Like the only reason to tell people would be to satisfy their curiosity about his sudden absence. Sam doesn't seem to get that people care about him, would want to offer their help or support.
But she honors his wishes, for now. Everyone they know is off-campus this week anyway. By the time they come back, Sam will have more news. For better or worse.
He didn't even want her to call Dean, when she admitted that she already had. When she couldn't understand why, Sam's rationale was: "Because I'd never hear the end of it, getting hurt tripping over a shih-tzu!"
Still, Jess pulls out the phone, scrolls through his contacts again. As independent as Sam is, his family should still know. Maybe someone on his contact list will know how to reach them.
There aren't many names. She recognizes almost all of them, from school and from Sam's two jobs. There's Dean, who never answers. A business called Singer Salvage, in an area code she doesn't recognize. She shrugs and calls that number, and the person who answers in a growly voice identifies himself as a US Marshall.
Jess mumbles something about a wrong number and hangs up.
The only other name she doesn't recognize on Sam's phone is - a Pastor Jim Murphy?
It's day four in the stupid hospital. The hardest thing is the waiting. Waiting for the latest test results that will decide if the blood vessels in Sam's leg are responding to the treatment; if the muscles and nerves in his leg are healing or dying.
Waiting is driving Jess crazy. To take her mind off the pending prognosis, she's been preoccupied with the mystery of the Winchester family. She's just about decided that they're all hit men for the mob. Trained to be killers from the time they were in their teens. Who, with the counsel of the kindly neighborhood parish priest they call Pastor Jim, must have repented and then agreed to testify against the mob. And now they're all in the Witness Protection program, under the supervision of the US Marshall's office with the code name Singer Salvage.
And they'll stay hidden away or on the run - until some lawyer with the brains and balls to stand up to the mob ends up getting the bad guys convicted. And then, the Winchesters will be able to come out of hiding. They'll be able to come home.
No doubt, Jess is sure, the family turned their back on the mob before Sam ever had to actually kill someone. Given that Sam even carries spiders outside instead of squishing them, she's sure he couldn't kill anyone unless it was in self-defense.
The more she thinks about it, the more she likes her theory. The family had to split up for their own safety. They'd be too easy to find if they stayed together. And that's why Sam won't talk about his dad or brother. To protect them. And because it hurts too much.
This little reverie has helped distract Jess from her worries, but she can't let Sam know her suspicions. And he needs a diversion of his own, too, Jess thinks as she rides the elevator up to his floor. He puts on a good stoic front, but the prospect of maybe losing his leg has to be freaking him out even worse than her. Books would be perfect distraction for Sam, but that cadaver book of his gives her the shivers, so she left it home. She wishes she could just crawl into the narrow hospital bed with Sam and distract him in more personal ways... but there are always too damn many interruptions in a hospital for that.
They still need to talk about their plans for the future, what majors to declare. Like they'd planned when spring break began. There are so many things she can imagine Sam doing. Something that involves lots of reading and research would be right in his comfort zone. He'd want something challenging, too. Something where an artificial leg would be no impediment…
Stop that! Sam is getting better, Jess tells herself sternly as she passes the nurses' station, turning down the corridor.
She stops in the hall, hears voices coming Sam's room. At first, she thinks it's the doctor, but they aren't talking about Sam's leg. They're talking about his family. And she can't help herself. She stands outside and listens.
"Dad and Dean? Are they okay?" That's Sam's voice, sounding worried.
"They're fine," someone answers. "Just a few days in a small town jail. You know how that goes."
Sam does? (Well, maybe. If he really is in a gangster family...)
The stranger continues. "It's not like they've got a lawyer in their pocket, who'd listen to their side of things and help them post bail."
There's a long beat, while Sam doesn't say anything. Then the man adds, "So your dad and Dean broke out – long story - but they had to get out of Dodge fast. All the stuff that got confiscated when they were booked got left behind."
Of course they had to break out. They couldn't afford to have their fingerprints processed, have their real identities revealed.
"They didn't lose the Impala!"
A car? Who the hell cares about a damn car?
"Of course not! They'd never leave her behind. But wallets, phone… they're gone. My point is, Dean never got Jess's message."
"That's okay. It's for the best, Jim," Sam tells him. "They don't need to know."
Jim? This must be Pastor Jim. Jess had left him a message, before Sam had asked to have his phone back.
"Sam, you know your dad and your brother would be here if they knew. I haven't called them yet because I wanted to see you first, but –"
"I said they don't need to know, Jim." Sam insists. "They've got their life. And I've got mine."
"Are you going to tell me you've never caught a case since you've been at Stanford? You think you're really out, for good?"
"I tripped on a damn shih-tzu, Jim. Honest to god. It wasn't anything supernatural."
At least, that's what the conversation sounds like, but Jess is sure she can't have heard that part right. She should stop eavesdropping, she knows, but Pastor Jim's words keep her riveted outside the door.
"I believe you, Sam. On this. But I know you. And I keep my ear to the underground, I hear things. You can't convince me that cleaning up that manticore mess wasn't you."
Manticore? Is that a Mafioso name? Jess is scrambling to guess what she's hearing right and what she's hearing wrong. She wishes they'd speak a little louder.
"I know your dad can be a bit of a bastard," Jim is saying, "but Sam. You can't tell me you wouldn't jump if they needed you, and I'm telling you, they would be here if you asked for their help." A pause. "You know Dean would."
"Well, I'm not asking for their help."
Jess hears a sigh.
"Tell you what. The doc tells you that you're good to go, and I'll keep this to myself. This time. But you go under the knife again and I'm ratting you out."
Damn, it's the doctor, and Jess reaches for a lock of her hair, a nervous gesture while she tries to think of some excuse for why it only looks like she's eavesdropping. But Dr. Bhatnagar is ignoring her, apparently just saying her name to get her to move out of his way. Jess follows on his heels, stepping around him when he stops at the foot of Sam's bed.
Pastor Jim introduces himself briefly, but there's no time to chat because Dr. Bhatnagar is a busy man with something to say. Jess is holding Sam's hand when the doctor looks up from his clipboard and smiles.
"It's good news."
"Remember when I thought that sitting around our own apartment just reading books was a sucky vacation?"
Sam nods, but stays focused on his right foot, tallying the leg extensions as he puts his knee through the prescribed range of motion exercises.
"Well, I was wrong," Jess confesses. "Now, I'm glad to be back in our own place together."
Sam closes his eyes when he gets to the end of the set and takes a deep breath. "Me, too."
"That last week really sucked, huh." She brushes his hair off his forehead, damp with sweat.
Jess brings him a homemade cold pack, double-bagged so it won't leak, and molds it over the soft jersey sweats covering Sam's knee.
His eyebrow arches. "Pink?"
"It's pink grapefruit scented dish soap. What did you expect?" She grins, pulling up a chair and sitting across from him so she can lift his foot onto her lap. The doctor said soft tissue massage would be very helpful, and she's glad there's something she can do. "I've been giving some thought to my career path," she tells Sam, flexing his ankle and trying to decide how to approach the muscles in his calf without hurting the area around the long incision.
"You gonna be a masseuse?" Sam suggests hopefully.
"You wish. No - I think I'm gonna go ahead and major in lit. And then maybe try my hand at writing fiction."
"Yeah. You have no idea the ridiculous things my imagination can come up with," Jess admits with a guilty grin. She can't really believe the stories she told herself to pass the time over the last few days. But it made her realize that escaping into fantasy was actually instinctive and rewarding for her. They always say to look for a job that you like so much, you'd do it anyway, even if it didn't pay. Maybe making up stories is her... thing.
Of course, learning to read great literature isn't the same as learning to write great literature. There's a highly regarded graduate program in creative writing at the University of Montana she's started to look into... and she wonders if they'd have a graduate program in something that would appeal to Sam. She wants to see him in cowboy boots and hat, trying to blend in...
"So - fiction, huh?" Sam is saying, smiling broadly, proudly. Like he thinks she'll be awesome at it.
"Yeah, fiction. Like your driver's license."
"What?" There's definitely a flicker of guilt and worry, Jess is sure, before Sam schools his features into mild bewilderment.
"I talked to the PT who ordered your crutches. He says you topped off at six feet five, not six feet four."
"Yes. Sam, you lied. On your driver's license. Isn't that a federal offense or something?" she teases.
"No, I didn't!" Sam's voice rises indignantly. "In the first place, I - um - I was six four when I got my driver's license. I can't help it if that all-you-can-eat cafeteria food plan made me shoot up another inch last year. And in the second place, it's not a federal offense. It would be a violation of the California Penal Code 118 PC. If I falsified information on my license. Which I didn't."
"How the hell do you even know something like that?" Jess shakes her head.
"I pick things up." Sam shrugs. "Actually, I've been giving some thought to my academic future, too. I'm thinking of going pre-law."
"Really?" Jess can't help but flash back to her crazy theory. Sam would have the guts to stand up to the mob, and the brains and skills to prosecute them successfully and get his family out of hiding. It's the perfect explanation. She'd wanted to talk to Pastor Jim, pump him for information, but he seemed to disappear as soon as they found out Sam was going home.
"Does this have anything to do with your family, Sam?" She has to ask.
"No?" Sam's tone is puzzled, but Jess recognizes his wary look, the one that tells her he's hiding something. She thinks Sam does think maybe a lawyer in the family would be useful. And it doesn't matter what the real family secret is. If Sam becoming a lawyer means he can help his family someday, and then she'd be able to meet them, then Jess will support him one hundred percent.
She'd really like to meet his family one day.