Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Supernatural. All rights remain. Written for fun, not profit.
Prompt: Homesickness for the hc_bingo, and Joyce/Sam for TTH's Fic For All (non-ship, in this case)
Author's notes: Loosely inspired by a fic I wrote a few days ago called "Toy Soldiers" about John stopping in Sunnydale and seeing Buffy, but not necessarily in the same 'verse (yet).***
Through the ringing in his ears, Sam could hear a voice calling to him. At first he thought it must be Dean trying to wake him up, but his mind brushed that possibility aside. Dean was with Dad and Dad was in the Joshua Tree National Park, hunting a beast that had killed three little girls. So far.
Dean and Dad always left him behind these days, even though it was summer and his sprained ankle was pretty much healed already—not that he wanted to go on stupid hunts with them, but it was better than being left out of the loop. Some days it felt like he was being made to train for no reason; too young to go on the really dangerous hunts, too old to need his brother to stay home with him. Never asked what he wanted to do.
It was frustrating. Almost as frustrating as that ringing. Why the hell wouldn't Dean turn off the alarm clock already?
Only, wait, he'd ruled Dean out.
And that voice in the background belonged to a woman.
Sam blinked, pushing himself up on his elbows. Baby steps. Because he was pretty sure that cool sensation running down his hair, over the back of his neck, and following the curve of gravity till it found his jaw, was likely a stream of blood.
A hand pressed against his upper arm, gingerly, as if afraid he might break. "Can you hear me?"she, the woman, said again. "You need to stay still. You hit your head—I'll call ambulance, alright?"
If there was anything that could clear his mind fast, it was that offer, that threat…
"No!" he said, almost pleased it didn't come out slurred. "No—I'm fine. Don't call."
He took a breath, bracing himself for the inevitable wave of dizziness that came with sitting up on his knees. A wince later, he was staring up at the woman bent down over him, searching his scalp for the wound, which seemed like an oddly intimate movement at the time. Sam couldn't remember ever having a grown woman outside a hospital running her hand through his hair. He really hoped he wasn't blushing...Clearing his throat, he remembered his training and took her in with a quick sweep of his eyes. She was blonde, her features narrow but soft, her wide eyes worried—it was too dark to see their color, but Sam could easily see the concern in them. A necklace weighed down her satiny pastel pink shell shirt, and the pale beige slacks she was wearing was probably the reason she hadn't taken to one knee.
She was older. But not older, older. Just, like, old like his dad. Maybe even a few years younger than him. Sam couldn't tell. Probably middle class, from her dress. No ring on her finger, her purse sitting on the ground beside him.
"Are you alright?" she asked, and by the grimace on her face, Sam almost thought she was feeling his pain. Nope, just overactive empathy when her prodding fingers touched the tender goose-egg on the back of his head. "Ouch, that has to hurt—are you sure you don't want me to call for help? I could drive you to the hospital myself… Or maybe call your parents?"
Sam was officially awake now. His eyes widened. Sometimes he took for granted that he was a fifteen-year-old, and, to some people, that still made him a kid. "No, that's fine, Ma'am. I'm fine. Thanks."
The woman looked over her shoulder, away from him, still frowning. "I saw that thing toss you into the lamp-post, but then it fell and..."
Sam blinked. She did? It wasn't often that a civilian admitted that much. Especially without being in a hysterical state. Speaking of scary orange-skinned horned monster…Sam leaned over, following her gaze to a mound of goo marking the closest parking spot. Apparently the iron knife he'd pulled out of the wrap around his ankle had worked wonders. A self cleaning monster, who knew? Sam certainly didn't recognize the thing.
"There could be more," she noted. "We shouldn't stay out here."
It was good advice. That Sam should have been the first one to give. He felt that blush return.
The woman hesitated, chewing her lip as her eyes scanned him, no longer looking for wounds. Whatever she saw, she didn't like it. Sam could tell. And he felt a little defensive about her reaction until he realized he wasn't in his best pair of jeans—he was saving those for tomorrow—or his cleanest sneakers—he didn't really have any of those to save—and his summer clothes, his t-shirts, all tended to look kinda ratty. More so, since he'd been in them all day. She probably thought he was—
Sam bit down that bit of aggravation. She probably thought right. He looked like he either didn't have a home fit to return to or didn't have a home at all. Small duffel over his shoulder, skinny now that his body was beginning to lean-out, grease in his stringy, too-long hair; he looked like a runaway.
Sam decided it was time to bail. He reached out, discretely picking the goo-covered knife off the pavement and sliding it into the side pocket of his duffel, and then stood up…Only to nearly tumble back over. So much for his ankle being healed.
Before he could protest, the woman had an arm around him, holding him steady and taking the duffel onto her opposite shoulder. She nodded toward a vehicle across the strip-mall's parking lot. "That's my car." It was the only warning he received before he found himself being walked toward it.
Sam wanted to protest. He really did. Dad would kill him if he found out he got in the car with some strange woman who just happened to be there when he was attacked by some unknown monster. But Dad wasn't there. Thankfully.***
Sam felt like a stranger in his own skin. Or maybe just a stranger in general. Here he was, in the living room of a woman's house as she walked past him, into the kitchen, rattling off everything in her refrigerator in an attempt to get him to confess what he was really craving. For supper. Joyce—the woman had given her name to him, and he'd given his, mentally blaming the move on his head wound—was fixing him supper. It was bizarre.
He shifted against the couch, trying not to disturb the icepack on his elevated foot or the icepack on the back of his head, propped in place with a pillow. He should really try and snatch the phone and follow the woman's suggestion that he call his family. But, instead he slouched back again, defeated. Because there was no way to contact Dean and Dad where they currently where. And even if there was, he wouldn't.
Dad hated California. Had even told Dean he wasn't allowed to go there with Caleb, like it was the devil's playground or something. And then what had the old man done? Taken up a hunt in California. Of course, he'd not bothered to justify himself, just ordered Sam not to leave the hundred yard radius around the hotel room. So, on a scale of one-to-ten, how screwed was Sam if Dad found out he'd crossed the state? Thirteen.
He sighed, frustrated with himself.
The plan had been so simple and so damned perfect, especially when, a day ago, his dad had announced he and Dean would be out of contact for at least two days, doing some kind of purification ritual, and probably just stay out of town another night, too, if the hunt went as planned. Which meant Sam would have at least three days free. For two of which he wouldn't even be called to help with the research.
This was exactly what he'd been waiting for.
Over the past year, since one of his teachers had brought it up to him, he'd been looking into college. Sure, he had a couple more grades to go before it became dire, but from what he'd read, he needed to start making some decisions early. Especially based on what schools offered the courses he was interested, what their requirements for scholarships were, what SAT score was needed just to qualify…And, Sam had managed to keep the fact that he was even considering college a secret. He knew his dad would be—
Another sigh. Sam shook his head. He didn't even want to think about that right now.
His plan had been to make the nine hour trip from the motel where he'd been left in Blythe and travel to Stanford. Sam was a realist. He knew his chances of getting into that particular university were slim, what with his past school-hopping record; and his chances of getting help paying for it? Nearly nonexistent. But…God, it would just be so cool, going there, touring the campus like a normal high school student, getting pamphlets and info and…
He'd figured he could leave after Dad and Dean on Friday afternoon and find his way there by his appointment on Saturday. Back by Sunday morning and none would be the wiser.
So he'd thought.
Hitching had been his first mistake.
When he was thirteen, he'd run away. He'd hitched. And apparently, he'd gotten really, really lucky that time. This time? Not so much. He knew what Dean would have done in his shoes—not that Dean would ever have been in these shoes, as he seemed to think all forms of school were a joke—but Sam knew Dean would have hot-wired a car. Easy peasy. Which was exactly the reason Sam had decided not to hot-wire a car.
Sam frowned. He should have hot-wired a damn car. Committing one crime would have equaled not having to take a ride in LA with Pete the Delivery Guy, who'd been headed all the way up the coast with an "Oh, sure I can drop ya off, kiddo" attitude. It would have meant not being ditched by good old Pete when Sam didn't quite measure up to the type of all-purpose "travel companion" he was obviously looking for…
"Should have seen that coming," Sam muttered to himself, shivering.
One awkward conversation later, he'd found himself dumped here in "Sunnydale," two hours north of LA. And several hours short of Stanford University. Sure, he could still make it in time—it wasn't even midnight yet and his appointment was for the afternoon tour. He could make it, if the swelling on his head and ankle would go down long enough to let him hike to the highway. Why the heck a monster had just been wandering around a closing mall's parking lot was a question he still couldn't find a decent answer to…Perhaps it was super hungry? But, seriously, out in the public like that? Ballsy, even for something with five inch claws.
The smell of frozen pizza browning in the oven hit his nose. Okay, maybe he could wait until Joyce fed him. "Never turn down food
," as Dean had always said.
Sam let his gaze drift to the small table at his side. There was a framed photograph sitting beneath the lamp. It was a picture of Joyce, with her arms around a teenage girl, maybe about Sam's age. From their matching smiles, they were probably family. Both of them were in PJs, surrounded by torn shreds of wrapping paper bearing pictures of peppermint canes and polar bears.
Sam reached out, picking it up a few inches, as if entranced by this evidence of normality, Christmas morning captured in an image. His chest felt heavy with want.
Sam looked up, startled by the statement, and quickly sat the photo back down. He pushed himself up and took one of the paper plates, laden with a hefty slice of burnt pizza, from Joyce's outstretched hand.
"Ms. Summers, I—"
"Joyce," she reminded. "And it's no problem."
He gave her a crooked grin. "Thanks."
"Buffy. That's my daughter's name," Joyce continued, after a moment. She opened her mouth, as if to say more, but stopped. "So, that thing that attacked you…"
"I have no clue what it was," Sam answered. And truthfully. He'd have to research the creature as soon as he made it back to Blythe. "Have you ever seen one of those before?"
She shook her head. "Can't say that I have—but I suppose there are lots of things I haven't seen before in this town…" Her tight voice drifted off, as if she were thinking about something else. From the expression on her face, it wasn't a happy thought, either. "You could have been killed
, wandering around by yourself like that."
But, as hard as the accusation came out, Sam could have sworn it wasn't directed at him. Her eyes stayed on the photo of her daughter the entire time.
"Does she live here?" Sam asked. Anything to get Joyce off the subject of the monster. This trip was supposed to be about the opposite of hunting, and monsters, and explaining things to civilians. "Your daughter, I mean."
Joyce's jaw tightened, some mix of fear and anger crossing her eyes for an instant before she pushed it down, smiling at him kindly. "Yes. But, she's not here right now. She left… for a while. She'll be back, though." She swallowed hard, nodding to herself. "She will."
Sam let out a shallow breath, and then it struck him why he was here, sitting in the room. Taken home like a stray. Joyce Summers' daughter had run away.
The long silence that stretched between them seemed to fill in blanks. Joyce knew it. Sam knew it.
"Do you miss your home?" Joyce asked, softly.
Sam looked back at the picture, wishing he had one like that too. Christmas morning. PJs. Gifts. His family. "I would if I had one," he said. The words slipped out before he could stop them. He felt instantly ashamed of them. "I'm not a—I mean, I'm not a runaway. I'm not leaving them." Not yet.
"But I miss my family when we're apart." Which is often.
"I guess that's the same thing, right?"
Only it wasn't. Not fully. Sam wished it was. Home meant more than the people you cared about, no matter what people said; it meant a place to feel safe
. Comfortable. And he didn't have that yet.
What he'd said, though, must have satisfied Joyce, because she gave him a soft pat on the arm. "You're apart right now," she reminded him. "Do they know where you are?"
Sam didn't answer, and she shook her head. "Sam," she said, pulling his attention back…he'd let his eyes lower, not wanting to meet hers. "You need to let them know. You don't know how much it hurts not to know.
"Actually, I do,
he wanted to say. Because he'd left them before, when he'd run off to Flagstaff. It had been some of the best days…all that freedom. Just him. He'd even had a dog for a while. But he'd seen the hurt on Dean's face when he'd been picked up. He didn't want to see that again. Not any time soon, at least.
"I can get home before they find out."***
Joyce pulled the car to a stop in front of the train station. Sam already had his bag in his lap, ready to go, and he felt buzzed, despite the aching head wound or the fact that he'd only had a few hours of sleep. It was too early in the morning for the station to be crowded yet, but this was where he figured she could drop him off. He could get back from here.
She held out a small fold of cash for him, giving him a hard glance that told him not to bother with refusing. He smiled half-heartedly and took it. "Thanks, Joyce."
She shook her head. "Get home safe, Sam."
He hesitated halfway out the door, gritting his teeth, but then gave up, turning around to see her again. "She'll come back, Joyce. Everyone leaves, but they come back, eventually, right? That's just how it works."
Joyce's eyes were wet, but she tried to grin past the tears. "Unless you tell them not to," she said, sadly. She blinked away the emotion there, shaking her head slightly. "Go home."
"I will," Sam promised. "Thanks again, Joyce. For everything."
Sam stared after the car as it drove away before pocketing the cash regretfully. He didn't enjoy lying, especially not to someone so nice. The train would take him as far as Palo Alto, he was certain, and then he could still get back in time not to hurt anyone. At least, for now. But one day, he'd have to find a home, a real one, and he was afraid home and family wouldn't mean the same thing when that day came, either. He was even more afraid that fact wouldn't change anything. He was homesick, and there was only one remedy for homesickness.