Author's Note: Eventual Kurt/Sam, with a little bit of Finn&Sam friendship. Inspired by and written for a good friend of mine. This one's for you.
Sam piles his things into the backseat of his car - the used car he had bought toward the end of his time in Lima, with scraps of his paycheck and an anonymous loan, the car that symbolizes freedom to him - and sets out on the road.
The terrain stays roughly the same, flat and even. He keeps his eyes on the road ahead. He knows where he's going; the only questions are how long it's going to take to get there and what he's going to do once he's there.
He can get his job back, considering his boss really liked him and was sad to see him go, and he knew he could always go back to McKinley. And for now, he can stay in his car, at least until he figures out the whole "place to lay your head" thing. It's not that much worse than camping, anyway, and camping was something that he and his father had done a lot, back in the old days, back before he lost his job the first time. At least the roof of his car doesn't leak, unlike the tent.
The little lighted sign says "Welcome to Lima" in chipped and faded red paint, and he breaks his concentration long enough to grin broadly at that thought. There's something comforting about being back.
The next morning, Sam is awoken by the sun brightly shining in his window, and he stretches his arms above his head, slamming his hands into the car roof, and it's only then that he realizes exactly where he is: parked in a park parking lot. More specifically, the park that's down the street from his old house. If he squints into the morning sun, he can see the swings he swung Stevie and Stacey on.
He gets out of the car and stretches. The memories that this park holds are too strong. "It's all for the best," he says, trying to rationalize the decision he had made the week before. The promised job in Aurora fell through right after they got there; the next opportunity hadn't come along until recently, with an opportunity in Johnson City.
"You're not going to graduate on time," the school counselor in Johnson City had said, examining his thick sheaf of transcripts from each of his previous schools. "This is your fourth high school in just over two years, Mr. Evans. There's no way." His parents had exchanged anguished looks between them, and he'd wanted to do nothing more than to sink into the chair.
Later that night, his parents called him out to the kitchen. "Do you want to graduate on time?" his mother asked, handing him a cracked mug with tea in it. "Because we could probably get you back in at McKinley - you seemed happy there."
"I do, but Dad has a job now. I don't want to make us move back for me -" he protested.
"You do what you feel is best," his father said.
He'd deliberated for a few days, and then packed up everything he had left, ready to restart his old life. Of course he'd miss his family, that wasn't the point. The point was - he guessed - that it was time to start living his own life.
He gets back in the car and drives to find something to eat. His appointment with Miss Pillsbury is still a few hours away, and McDonald's hash browns are cheap and delicious - a winning combination.
"So, Sam, what brings you back to McKinley?" Emma asks, glancing over the pile of transcripts. "When you withdrew last spring, you said something about moving to Illinois?"
"Yeah, well, um," he bites his lip and stares at the impeccably clean woodgrain of her desk, "I guess you could say that I need to be here?"
"I see." She shuffled the papers together and aligned them perfectly with each other. "It's not going to be easy for you to graduate on time -"
"So I've been told," he mutters under his breath, hanging his head. He has left his family and is hundreds of miles away from them, and now it's all going to be wasted. He's mentally calculating how many dollars in gas money he's wasted and how many he would need to get back to Johnson City, when she continues talking.
"But," she interjects, and he cautiously looks up, "if you put in hard work and effort, I don't see any reason you shouldn't be able to graduate with your friends."
She's smiling really sweetly at him - it's almost saccharine - and he wants to make a comment about how all of his really good friends here are seniors and there's no way he'd be graduating with them anyway, but he knows what she meant by it. "Thank you, Ms. P.," he says, shaking her hand with fervor, and he means what he said.
Fifteen minutes later, he's walking out of her office, with a bounce in his step and a freshly printed schedule in his hand.
He'd forgotten how insane this school could be.
By the time third period is over, he's already caught up with most of the gossip from the past semester - who'd hooked up in the janitor's closet at homecoming, who had been caught shoplifting six-packs of Coors from the Circle K - but he's heard absolutely nothing about any of his New Directions friends: the eternal sign of being next to bottom on the social ladder.
On his way to fourth period English, though, he sees a familiar head of hair turn the corner, and he speeds up his pace. "Kurt?" he asks, and the figure spins around on one heel at the sound of his voice.
"Sam? Sam Evans?" Kurt drops his books on the hallway floor, and Sam can see a hint of embarrassment in his face as his voice raises in pitch. "What are you doing here?"
He carries his tray of food to Kurt and Finn's table at lunch; Rachel's eyes light up when she sees him. "You came back so that we'd have enough people for Sectionals!" she says, embracing him. "I had hoped you would, but it seemed too crazy -"
"No," he says with a laugh, "I didn't come back for Sectionals."
"So, man, why are you back then?" Finn asks, popping a French fry in his mouth. "Because it seemed like you were pretty dead set on being with your family in Abilene."
He shrugs and drags two of his French fries through a puddle of ketchup. "I should have just made a placard and hung it around my neck with the entire story printed on it, with how many times I've had to explain it today."
"Fifteen words or less, then," Kurt says, resting his chin in his hand.
"Dad lost Illinois job. New job in Tennessee. Couldn't graduate on time. Came back here." He counts on his fingers. "Fifteen on the nose."
Rachel winces, and Kurt flinches, and Finn says the words that all three of them are thinking, "Dude, that sucks." The other two nod in agreement.
The silence at the table is stifling, and Sam shifts uncomfortably in his seat. This wasn't what he wanted out of his first day back, the pity and sympathy cards being played on him. He wasn't the new guy. He was the new-old guy.
As if he had been reflecting on the implications of Sam's fifteen-word story, Finn asks another question, "So, are your folks here? Or where are you staying?"
"I hope not in that motel again," Kurt chimes in. "That place was an affront to good taste everywhere."
"Nah," Sam says nonchalantly, "I'm staying in my car."
Kurt's expression distorts into one of blatant disgust. Finn interjects, before Kurt can begin to formulate words in response. "No. You're not staying in your car. I don't care if we have to pay for you to stay at the Days Inn. At least you'd have a shower and a bed."
"Finn," Kurt and Sam say in unison. Kurt continues, "We have a guest room that we only use once a year, when Finn's aunt Margery comes to town. I'm sure my dad and Carole won't mind if you stay there."
"Okay," he says. "Cool." It's not worth the argument, and it's a really nice thing to do.
Sam throws his backpack against the wall of the Hudson-Hummel guest room and takes it all in. It's decorated in shades of navy blue and a vague sort of off-white; a quick squeeze of the mountain of pillows proves that they are indeed just as soft and fluffy as they appear to be. He flops down on the bed and stares at the ceiling. Maybe he could put up a poster or two in here, once he got settled. He has one with the constellations of North America, and another with famous movie quotes - his Avatar poster got damaged in one of the recent moves, and his mother had thrown it out. The room is close enough to an even better version of how he'd decorate.
"Settling in okay?" Kurt asks from just outside the door. "I brought you some homemade macaroons and lemonade, as sort of a welcome present." He walks in and sets the tray on the nightstand next to Sam.
Sam gratefully takes a macaroon and swallows it in two bites. "It's the nicest place I've ever lived in," he says, and motions for Kurt to sit on the bed next to him. "You sure they won't mind me being here?"
"Carole's the one who made the macaroons in the first place," Kurt says with a smile. "They already raise two teenage boys; what's the matter with adding one more?"
"But the groceries -"
"Don't worry about the groceries, Sam." Kurt pats the blanket. "We don't go hungry here."
"We lived on fast food and frozen pizzas for a long time," Sam says. "And I guess I had the leftover pizza from my job, but you never quite get that smell out of anything."
Kurt makes dramatic gagging noises. "I don't want to think about stale pizza, Sam. But I never noticed the smell."
"Not even the cheap cologne I piled on to mask it?"
"Okay, I did notice that part," Kurt says with a laugh. "Come on, I think dinner's about ready. And it's not pizza or anything that comes in a greasy cardboard container. I think Carole said she was making cavatelli."
"Good." Sam smiles. "That's the way I'd want it."
"Look at what the cat dragged in," Santana says the next afternoon, as Sam walks to New Directions practice. "Trouty Mouth is back, and joining New Directions again? Newsflash: the population in there dropped faster than rats fleeing a sinking ship. Which is what New Directions is anymore. It's the Titanic, in musical form, and the captain wears argyle."
"Nice to see you again too, Santana," Sam replies, keeping his voice low and even. "I heard about that, but I'd rather stick with my friends."
"I thought you and Mercedes were becoming quite 'friendly,' if you know what I'm saying." She uses her fingers to form air quotes around the word "friendly." "And she jumped ship."
"I can still see her outside of our after-school activities, if I want to," he says, "I don't think there's anything wrong with that."
"Just remember who your real friends here are." She walks away, and Sam ducks into a bank of lockers to catch his thoughts before walking into the choir room.
"His real friends" feels like a loaded phrase. He's always prided himself on being able to get along with just about anyone. There are exceptions, naturally: Karofsky was never one of his favorite people, and Santana would more than likely be omitted from his hypothetical Christmas card list. But he likes Mercedes and Quinn in equal measure - the thought of having to choose between them to hang out with, simply on merit of being in different glee clubs, is a heartbreaker.
And then there's Finn and Kurt, and by extension through Finn, Rachel. Finn and Kurt had welcomed him into their home, shared their dinner table with him, and gone completely far and above anything that he could have imagined the definition of a friend including. If they aren't real friends, then - who is?
He squares his shoulders and walks through the choir room door for the first time in what feels like forever.
A few weeks later, Sam's staying up late, furiously scribbling the rough draft of his essay on the causes of the American Revolution and singing under his breath - "like I'm the only one that you'll ever love, like I'm the only one who knows your heart" - practicing for the group song at Sectionals. There's too little time to get everything done anymore; he has to multi-task in order to keep his head above water. At least he's settled into the routine of living here again.
He hears a whimper and a cry from the hallway; he puts down his pen and eases back in the chair. "Kurt?" There's no response, so he repeats the question, a little louder this time. "Kurt? You okay?"
He steps out into the hallway, and he sees Kurt curled up in a small ball, tucked against the wall. His legs are folded up, and his knees are touching his chin, and he's rocking back and forth crying. "B-Blaine b-b-broke up with me," Kurt stammers out. "He-he-he said that it wasn't w-w-working out." A fresh spate of tears comes pouring out of Kurt as he finishes the sentence.
Sam feels dumbfounded; it wasn't that he ever put much thought to what would happen if Kurt and Blaine ever broke up, because it was just something that was there and a fact of life, like Finn and Rachel having a thing for each other or something, and he's really unsure of what to do to help Kurt at this juncture. He pats Kurt on the shoulder and tries to think of what to say. "He's an idiot," he says, and he's unsure if this is really the right thing to be saying right now, but it's how he feels at the moment. Seeing Kurt broken in two like this over a guy is tough.
Kurt looks up at him, bloodshot eyes staring at him as if he had three heads or blue skin or something. "S-so not helpful," he says between hiccups, "but t-t-thanks."
Sam awkwardly reaches around Kurt, his arms encircling Kurt's form, in an attempt to give him some sort of comfort. "I'm here if you want to stick pins in a voodoo doll of him," he says, and for the quickest of instants, Sam swears he sees Kurt smile.
-to be continued-