A/N: Written for my hc_bingo wild card, with the prompt "grief."
Warnings: Perceived character death?
He turns up on her doorstep less than twenty-four hours after she hears the news about Dick Roman's disappearance. Sam must have driven straight through from Seattle to Sioux Falls, and he looks it; his face is pale with bruised circles under his eyes, and he's clinging to her doorframe like a drowning man.
When she opens the door, he takes an unsteady step away from the wall and pitches forward as his knees give. Jody catches him before he falls, suddenly very aware of just how much of Sam there is, though she guesses there's less of him than there should be—she can feel his ribs even through the layers of fabric.
"'m sorry," he mumbles. "Didn't know where else to go." He's either drunk, exhausted, or both. Given the way the Winchesters' lives had been going lately, Jody can understand all of the above.
"No, no, it's fine." She glances around the street, looking for anything out of the ordinary, anything that might hint that something dark and hungry is trying to tear down the carefully crafted normality of her life here. It doesn't look like Sam's been followed, though, and the only sign of another soul is the suspicious twitch of Mrs. Lewis' curtains across the street. "Let's get you inside."
She lets him collapse on the couch, and he slumps bonelessly against the pillows.
"Sam," she asks carefully, "where's Dean?" She'd seen the boys' old Chevy out front, and she'd heard enough stories to know that Dean and that car were inseparable. Ever since the news had broken about Roman's disappearance, she'd know the Winchesters had something to do with it, and she'd known that the chances were good they didn't make it out unscathed. Still, there's thinking that something might happen, and then there's Sam Winchester sitting on your couch, looking like Hell, with an empty car outside.
"He's gone," he says, and it sounds like he can't quite believe it himself. "Oh God, Jody, he's gone."
She sinks down onto the couch next to him, and pulls him into a tight hug. He doesn't resist, but doesn't seem to really register it either. He's numb, lost in his own head. Jody can remember what it feels like to be there, the loop of pain and half-formed questions that you don't really want answered. She just holds him, and hopes that in some way, it's helping.
Jody's never been good with other people's grief.
She deals with death all the time, and she's to the point where while it still bothers her—and she hopes it always will—she can handle it. The living are what she dreads. There are too many long silences that she always feels need to be filled, and too many trite sayings that she knows from experience mean absolutely nothing. The right words never come, and she's left cut-off, her meaning trapped somewhere between her heart and her mouth.
With Sam, it's different. He's not some civilian who's loved one lost their life to something Jody can't even begin to explain. He's a solider who knew this was coming. It doesn't lessen the pain of loosing Dean or Castiel, but somehow, it makes it easier for Jody to relate to.
Sam doesn't want words. He doesn't want casseroles or pies (especially not pies). He just wants shelter and a friend.
"You should eat something." It's been three days, and he's still barely eaten. Jody's not sure if he's sleeping. Mostly, he just sits, staring at something in the middle distance that Jody can't see.
He shakes his head slightly. "I'll eat later." He shrugs. "I'm not hungry."
Five days, and she's coaxed some food into him, but he's still barely interested in eating. Instead, he pushes the macaroni and cheese around the plate, tracing curving patterns in the sauce with his fork. He eats maybe ten bites, and Jody counts it as a victory.
A week. Jody thinks it's probably a very, very bad idea, but she and Sam split a bottle of Jack and get spectacularly drunk. Sam apparently gets talky with a little liquor in him, and, in fragmented pieces, she gets the whole story of what happened in the Sucracorp headquarters. She even remembers most of it in the morning, enough that when Sam can't hear her, she sits down and cries for Dean for the first time. It does absolutely nothing for her hangover, but it does make her feel a little better.
As far as she knows, Sam hasn't cried at all.
Two weeks, and she's starting to worry. Sam's eating now, though it's more like his survival instinct finally kicked in than because he takes any actual pleasure in it. It's mechanical and forced, and while Jody's glad he's probably not going to starve himself to death now, it doesn't feel like much of an improvement. He's slipping away, and Jody doesn't know how to pull him back.
She's been there herself—the weeks after she'd lost her husband had been…difficult. She'd had her job and her friends, and she'd still almost lost herself in the grief. She's all Sam has, and she's not sure anymore if it's going to be enough.
"He's died before, you know." They're eating dinner, three weeks after his world feel apart—again—and it's the first time he's spoken all day.
"What?" Jody pauses with a forkful of lasagna halfway to her mouth.
"I don't even know how many times he's died," Sam goes on. His voice is calm, conversational, but there's a faint tremor just under his words. "And he always comes back. I just keep waiting for him to come back."
Maybe he will, Jody wants to say, but really, how many times can a man come back from the dead before his luck just runs out?
A month, and she's starting to feel like things are getting worse, not better. Sam barely seems to have the energy to get out of bed, and he keeps forgetting to eat. Jody recognizes what's happening to him, because she'd gone through this herself. She knows what got her through, too, but she doesn't think the chances are very high that Sam would go to her therapist.
Dean's been gone for just shy of six weeks when the doorbell rings. Jody's getting ready for work, and there's still a half-eaten bowl of cereal in her hand when she opens the door. It's a woman, comfortably plump and middle aged, wearing an ugly purple tweed suit. Jody's first guess is that she's either selling makeup or magazine subscriptions.
"Hello dear," the woman says, her voice cheerful and slightly sing-song. "I'm looking for Sam Winchester. Is he home?"
Crap. "There's no one here by that name." Jody's gun is in its holster, slung over the back of a kitchen chair. She could reach it in five seconds flat, but she's got the unpleasant feeling that it wouldn't do her any good.
"You're sure about that?" The woman's voice hasn't changed, but her expression is starting to slip into something less than friendly.
"I think I'd know," Jody says, then closes the door. She presses her back against it, and closes her eyes. She's filled with a heady rush of relief that she moved the Impala into the garage the second day Sam was here, but it's equaled by the weight that someone is looking for Sam, and it can't be for anything good. There's no sound from beyond the door, but her heart's still racing.
When she opens her eyes, Sam's standing at the top of the stairs.
"She was a demon," he says, his voice hoarse. It's not a question.
Jody nods. "Yeah. I think she was."
Sam sinks down onto the top step and scrubs his hands over his face. "Damn it."
Jody crosses to the kitchen window. There's a flash of purple at the end of the block; the demon is standing perfectly still on the corner. After a few seconds, a sleek black car pulls up and the demon climbs inside. The car peals off back the way it came, and Jody leans back against the counter and lets out a relived sigh.
"They'll be back." Sam's finally made it down the stairs, and Jody's suddenly very aware that this is the most he's said in days. "I'm sorry," he says quietly, soft enough that she wonders if he hadn't actually intended her to hear it. "I should never have dragged you into all this."
Jody snorts. "Come on Sam, don't you dare say that. I'm in this of my own free will."
"But the demons, the leviathans, Hell, the zombies. You'd never have got caught up in all that if it wasn't for us." It's almost pleading, like Sam wants the blame. The injustice of it all is like a slap in the face. Sam's been like this for as long as she's known him, the weight of the world on his shoulders, pushed and pulled from one crisis to another, the pawn of angels and demons, and then he apologizes for it.
"I'd be dead if it weren't for you," Jody tells him bluntly. "You pulled me out of here, you kept what was left of this town alive. I owe you my life, Sam, and that's not something I can just shrug away."
Sam suddenly gets very interested in the patterns of the whorls on the floorboards. "I'm gonna take a shower," he mutters, and heads back upstairs. Jody sighs, shakes her head, and finishes her cereal.
When she gets home that night, the house smells like food. There's also a whiff of something else by the door that reminds her of rotten eggs. Sam's in the kitchen, a bowl of pasta on the table, and sauce simmering on the stove. There's an ugly gash on his forehead that's been clumsily cleaned and bandaged, but apart from that he looks better than he has for weeks.
"The demon came back," Sam explains, following her gaze. "I exorcised her. The doctor says her host will be okay."
"And how about you?" There's something different about him, something that the smell of dinner is making it difficult for her to focus on. Then she realizes it's that he's shaved; even his ridiculous sideburns are mostly gone.
Sam shrugs. "I'll live."
Jody supposes that'll have to do.
Sam packs the next day. "I can't bring this down on you," he tells her as they're standing by the door, his duffle slung over his shoulder. "I'll try and make myself visible somewhere a long way from here, and then I'll lie low. It'll be better for both of us." He doesn't look convinced, but even if he's not back to the way he was before, he's getting better. Still, that doesn't mean he can't backslide.
"You know you always have a place here, don't you?" It's probably the fifth time Jody's asked, but right now, the thought of Sam spiraling back down when he's alone and a thousand miles away is more present then the fear of any demons that might come looking for him.
Sam nods, but it's not a real answer. They both know he's not coming back. "Thank you," he says, and gives her a quick, awkward hug that leaves her too startled to respond. Then he's gone.
A week later, Jody gets a text that he's in Texas and he has a dog. It's a start.