Jack and Lily have the day off, and Sammy had planned on giving Ben the day off with them so he could have another day to skulk alone in the Warehouse aisles. He only has a week left now until he has to give the Regents an answer, after all.
Then, through a barrage of serious guilt and terror, Sammy makes himself text Ben and tell him they’re cleaning the Madrid Section today.
Ben’s not upset when he comes in. Ben’s never upset about coming to the Warehouse. Learning the paranormal was real was one of the best things to ever happen to Ben, Sammy knows.
Ben does ask a million questions about Herschel that Sammy deftly avoids answering in their entirety, and that gets Ben to make faces. Still, he seems perfectly content as he sweeps the floor near Edgar Allen Poe’s various artifacts, humming a song that Sammy thinks is from Rent.
They have a system - Ben sweeps while Sammy handles the artifacts, wearing gloves the whole time, because Ben can’t be trusted to accidentally misfire one. He’s clumsy like that.
Ben makes a new record today - it takes him a full hour before he somehow crashes into the side of a shelving unit. Sammy blinks over at him, not concerned since he sees that no artifacts have been jostled.
“Alright?” Sammy asks, a little amused, though his heart’s pounding in his chest. He and Ben haven’t worked in silence, per se - Ben’s incapable of silence - but they haven’t talked about anything meaningful, and Sammy knows that he has to find the courage to tell Ben right now or he might never.
Ben ignores Sammy, instead choosing to pat the shelf as if he’s comforting it. “Sorry, Warehouse. I’ll try to do better next time.”
Sammy smiles despite himself. “You think the Warehouse can hear you?”
“Of course it can,” Ben says like Sammy’s stupid if he thinks otherwise. “It’s not a person - but it’s like, the closest a building can get to a person. C’mon, I know you know that.”
“Yeah, I know,” Sammy admits, and then before he can stop himself, says “You know, Ben, someday you’ll have my job.”
Ben’s eyes widen, and he sets down his broom.
Oh, Sammy must have said that with way more gravity than he meant to.
“What do you mean?” Ben’s voice is half-suspicious, but Sammy can tell by the way he starts hitting a higher register that now he’s nervous.
“Nothing, just - just that you love this place, you could stay here,” Sammy’s talking too much now, and the suspicion seems to vanish from Ben the more he does. Now he’s just radiating concern, blinking up at Sammy. “You’d be good at my job, Ben.”
You’ll have my job, Ben, is what Sammy doesn’t say. You’ll have my job if I become the Caretaker.
“How could I have your job?” Ben says, and Sammy can tell from the way he laughs that the tension Sammy created hasn’t diffused, not in the slightest. “You - you’ll be here forever. Maybe even literally. Right?”
God, that hits home worse than Sammy expected.
He needs to tell Ben. Sammy knows with perfect clarity that he needs to tell Ben, right now, immediately, because Ben’s right here and he’s worried and he’s going to stay worried. Sammy doesn’t want to upset him, but he knows that he has to, he has to get these words out.
“About that,” Sammy stares at his feet, not at Ben. “I could be.”
“Um - what?”
Sammy sighs, exhausted immediately from the mental fatigue, and takes his gloves off. He gestures to Ben to come closer, and Sammy slides his back against a shelving unit until he’s sitting down. He feels like he needs to sit down for this.
Ben doesn’t quite sit, but he perches next to Sammy, green eyes too worried and loving. He grabs Sammy’s wrist.
“What is it?” There’s an urgency to Ben’s voice, and Sammy can tell he hasn’t figured it out on his own. He just knows something’s wrong, and wants to fix it. Ben could fix anything, Sammy’s pretty sure.
He can’t fix this until Sammy tells him what the fuck is happening, though, so Sammy steels himself with a shaky breath.
“Remember my meeting with the Regents last week?” Sammy asks, and Ben nods, his grip tightening. It’s almost painful. Ben really needs to cut his fingernails. “They, um. They told me that Merv was retiring. And they asked me…..they asked me to take his job.”
Ben’s fingernails cut into Sammy’s skin so tightly Sammy’s sure it’ll leave marks.
“Caretaker,” Ben whispers, and stops perching. Instead, he folds his legs beneath him to sit criss-cross, facing Sammy, grip tight. That’s alright, though. Sammy doesn’t mind. “Sammy, you can’t. I mean - are you - did you say -”
“I have a week to decide,” Sammy says quickly, and Ben doesn’t relax but the terrifying energy thrumming off of him becomes less intense. “Ben, it - it wouldn’t change everything. I’d still be here, just - just not all the time. I don’t really know the rules, yet. But I’d be here. You could have my job. Everything would be fine, I’d just - I’d just be a little...different.”
“I don’t want you different,” Ben’s voice shakes, and Sammy leans in to hug Ben before the tears start falling.
It’s a close call - Sammy gets one arm around Ben’s waist, and Ben folds into him immediately, a small whimper escaping his mouth. He buries his head in Sammy’s neck, and Sammy reaches a hand up to smooth his hair.
“It’s alright,” Sammy says, clumsy, not knowing if he’s telling the truth.
“I don’t want anything to be different,” Ben chokes out into Sammy’s collarbone, but Sammy understands every word. “Things are good now. They’re so good - with me, and Emily, and you - this is all I’ve ever wanted, and you’re - you’re -”
“Ben,” Sammy hugs him tighter. “I’ll always be here. Always here for - for the Warehouse, and for you -”
Sammy knows they both realize that he said the Warehouse first - and that the Warehouse would, inevitably, have to be first.
“What about you, though?” Ben breaks away from the hug, wiping his eyes as he stares up at Sammy, eyes huge like the horrible realization just settled in. “You’d - you’d live forever, Sammy.”
Sammy nods, his throat too tight and constricted to properly answer.
Ben’s face crumples even more than it already has. “What am I supposed to do when I’m old and you’re still the same? When I know I’m going to die and you’re still just - the same ? And knowing that no matter what’s out there after this, you won’t ever be there?”
Ben’s not a religious person, Sammy knows - but he’s the kind of person who believes in a great unknowable something. And Ben’s absolutely the kind of person who wants his friends there with him, in whatever that something may be.
Sammy can’t even begin to think about that, or his head will hurt and the tears will come, and everything will be a lost cause. Instead, he says, “It wouldn’t be so bad. I’d be different, but I’d always be there to protect you.”
Ben blinks at him, eyes narrowing like he can’t believe Sammy just said that. “I don’t want you to protect me. Or at least not just that. I want you to be my best friend who sings Grease songs with me and who I teach how to play videogames, who I take Lucy on walks with - you shouldn’t be some unknowable, powerful force, Sammy. You should be my best friend .”
“Ben,” Sammy’s helpless, “I will if I can be.”
“Please don’t take the job,” Ben’s lip quivers. “I know you - you have problems, that you’re not as happy here as I am. As we all are. I don’t know why, but - but it could get better for you, Sammy. If you just let us make you better. If you let me fix whatever hurts rather than becoming something that can’t be hurt.”
“When’d you get so perceptive?” Sammy finds himself wiping at his own eyes, trying not to sniffle.
“Who else knows?” Ben asks after they both sit quietly for a moment, Ben’s hand still clamped around Sammy’s wrist. Sammy doesn’t think he’ll ever let go - that he’ll have to drag Ben around with him wherever he goes from now on. It’s almost comforting.
“Everyone but Jack,” Sammy admits. Ben sits up straighter, his shoulders tightening. It’s like Sammy flipped a switch on him, and Ben’s eyes go back to their previous levels of suspicious.
“You like him back,” Ben says, and it’s not a question. Sammy doesn’t feel the need to respond because Ben clearly knows the answer. “Jack’s never been able to tell - but I have. I always knew how much you liked him. You get so nervous and excited whenever you see him, whenever he gets home, even though you’ve known him for years. It’s the same every time.”
Sammy didn’t know he’d been so obvious, but then again, Ben spends more time alone with him than anyone else ever has or probably ever will.
“I never got why you guys weren’t together,” Ben keeps going, “other than the obvious, which is that you’re scared to be vulnerable, or open up, or let people in. It’s why you live here when you could live with the rest of us. You clearly love the B&B, but it’s like you force yourself to leave, every Sunday.”
“Ben,” Sammy starts, trying to explain something, anything, about why he’s the way he is, but Ben doesn’t let him.
“Being Caretaker means not letting people in, ever,” Ben’s eyes well up with tears again, “but if you did that, you could never be with Jack. You could spend your whole life with him, Sammy. You could spend your life with me. And Emily, and Lily. We all love you, we all want you to live with us. And I make fun of Jack, all the time, about when do I get to be your kids’ uncle. But I want that, Sammy. I want that so badly. You wouldn’t be happy as the Caretaker. You just wouldn’t. But you could be happy with us.”
Ben’s face breaks into a short sob. “Please be happy with us.”
Sammy hugs him again, but doesn’t say anything. He wants to tell Ben that he will be, that he’s going to try so hard to be happy with them. That he’ll move in and let Ben teach him whatever PS4 games he wants, that he’ll ask Jack on a date. That he’ll make them breakfast the next morning.
He wants to say he’ll tell the Regents no. Unequivocally, forever a no, because he has a family he wants to stay with.
He doesn’t say that, though. He doesn’t say anything, because he doesn’t want to make Ben a promise he can’t keep.
Sammy doesn’t want to be the Caretaker. He doesn’t. He knows it won’t make him happy.
And yet, Sammy still can’t make himself promise Ben no.
Sammy feels Lucille Ball coming in his head before she leaps between him and Ben, trying to nestle against both of their laps.
Stop sad, stop sad, stop sad!
“Lucille Ball wants us to stop being sad,” Sammy usually doesn’t communicate Lucille’s thoughts to anyone else, but he’ll make an exception this time. He breaks apart from Ben, who has a watery smile. He leans down to stroke Lucille Ball’s head. She stares up at them both, green eyes accusing.
Don’t want sad!
“Sorry, Lucy,” Ben leans down to kiss her. “I’ll try not to be, just for you. I love you, Lucy.”
Baby kitty, Lucille Ball purrs, batting at Ben. Baby kitty shouldn’t be sad.
Sammy can’t help but laugh, just a little, and Ben suddenly gets a determined glint in his eye as he notices. Ben’s determined glints always mean he’s going to get his way - Sammy hopes that somehow, Ben gets his way this time.
“I love you, too, Sammy,” Ben doesn’t reach out again, and his voice is very small, but firm. “I know I can’t - can’t tell you what to do. But please don’t ever leave me.”
Sammy doesn’t answer right away, instead shifting so that he and Ben are sitting side by side instead of facing each other, and he leans over to rest his head on Ben’s shoulder.
Ben makes a surprised noise - Sammy knows he’s not the tactile one here, and though Ben rests his head on Sammy at least once a week, Sammy’s never returned the favor.
“I love you, too,” Sammy says quietly after a moment, because that’s a promise he knows, without a doubt, he can keep.
Can you come over? I need to talk to you.
Sammy sends the text to Jack with shaking hands, forcing himself to type every single word. He stares at the message for at least five minutes before he sends it, and that’s only through a burst of adrenaline and extreme mental effort not to stop himself.
Sammy feels his phone buzz a minute later, sees Jack wrote yeah give me 15, and resigns himself to hyperventilating with his head between his knees for the next fifteen minutes.
Lucille Ball curls up against his feet. She usually doesn’t come in Sammy’s room unless it’s bedtime, but she’s clearly making an exception today. Don’t worry.
“Worry is what I do, you should know that,” Sammy mumbles, but he reaches down to pet Lucille all the same. She sits up, stretching, and blinks at him with her luminous eyes.
Leave you alone?
Jesus, even his cat is giving him privacy in his great hour of need. Sammy nods, and Lucille pushes her head against Sammy’s leg one more time before she trots out of the open door, through Sammy’s office, and down the stairs into the Warehouse aisles.
Great. Alone again. Sammy doesn’t want to get used to it, because -
Jack appears in the doorway, wearing a rumpled button-down. He’d been at the Warehouse with Lily and Ben earlier today, they’d all sprayed down the doors to the Dark Vault again to make them more impenetrable. Ben and Lily had both kept giving Sammy pointed looks, and he knew that it wasn’t fair to leave Jack out of this conversation any longer.
It terrifies Sammy, the idea of telling Jack what’s going on in his head - because he can’t just tell Jack about the offer. He has to tell Jack how he feels about him, how he’s always felt about him. It's so entangled within how Sammy thinks of this offer, it would be impossible not to tell Jack the sordid, awful details.
And he should also tell Jack a few other things, as long as he’s here. As long as they have to undergo this traumatic conversation, there are things Jack should know, explanations and justifications that don’t make up for three years of pretending that he doesn't know Jack wants him.
“Is this your room?” Jack asks, taking a tentative step into the doorway, eyes casting around the broom cupboard-like space with concern. All that’s in here is Sammy’s cot, basically. Nothing else can really fit. Sammy’s computer, Lucille’s food and litter box, that’s all in the office. “You sleep here? Every night?”
“Yeah,” Sammy admits, feeling his face heat up.
Jack’s jaw sets. “There are plenty of rooms at Emily’s. Some very, very far away from the rest of ours. You could still have privacy there - and a proper mattress.”
Sammy supposes this is as good of place to start as any. “I used to live at Emily’s. Before.”
Jack stares, and seems to realize this is an invitation that Sammy rarely extends. He takes a couple tentative steps into the room, before he looks at Sammy’s bed with an unsure expression.
Sammy, despite himself, nods and pats the bed next to him. Jack sits, and his weight makes the bed creak. Jack’s right - it’s not a proper mattress.
“You moved out when we moved in,” Jack says, final like it isn’t a question. Like he’s blaming himself for it.
“Six months before. I moved out six months before, when - when Herschel left. It didn't have anything to do with you. It didn't, I swear.”
“Oh,” Jack says, frowning a bit, and Sammy realizes this isn’t the right place to begin.
“I have something to tell you,” Sammy says, then corrects, “Ask you. Something to ask you.”
“I...yeah?” Jack looks at him through his lashes, hazel eyes a little wary. So much has gone unspoken between them, Sammy doesn’t know if Jack has any expectations of what Sammy's going to say next, and what they are if he does.
Sammy doesn’t know what words will come out, where he’s going to begin, until the words begin to spill out, unbidden and without his permission. “My parents kicked me out when I was sixteen, and I lived in my car for three years.”
That’s not what Sammy thought he was going to say - but he supposes the beginning is as good a place to start as any. No one knows the beginning, no one’s known that in a long time. Especially not here. Sammy's tried to forget the beginning for most of the middle.
“I - Jesus,” Jack says, eyes wide. He leans in, just slightly, just so their shoulders touch. “I’m sorry, that’s horrible.”
“I - I managed to go to community college, somehow, and got an apartment,” Sammy keeps going, not sure what’s important and what isn’t. “I got hired at the National Archives before, before I came here. Merv recruited me. I was never sure why, I never believed in any of this stuff - not like you or, or Ben. But for some reason, he chose me. I think maybe because I didn’t have anything else? I’ve always thought maybe the Warehouse could sense that - sense who needs it.”
Jack’s voice is soft and contemplative, matching his eyes. “I’ve always thought that, too.”
“I was lonely, and - and this place was home,” Sammy stumbles, because now they’re reaching the part of the story that hurts the most. “Herschel was the lead agent when I got here - Cecil was his field partner.”
“Cecil,” Jack repeats, and the hushed quality of his tone makes Sammy think he knows what’s coming next.
“Cecil Sheffiled, he - he died...six months before you and Lily got here.”
The words hang between them as Jack nods. Sammy knows that the correlation between his moving out of Emily’s and Cecil’s death isn’t lost on Jack.
“Sammy,” Jack says, slow, “why are you telling me this right now?”
Well. Sammy supposes he might have to skip forward, just slightly.
“Because Merv is retiring,” these words, at least, come easier than Sammy expected. “And I was asked to become the next Caretaker.”
Jack’s silent. His expression doesn’t change.
Sammy can’t take the silence, it’s worse than the story, so he goes back. “I don’t want to take the job. I don’t, but - but I feel like I have to, as - as a sort of penance, for what happened to Cecil.”
Jack’s voice is too gentle for Sammy to take. “What happened to Cecil?”
Sammy breathes in.
“I’ve never told anyone this,” Sammy whispers. He’s told others - Herschel, Emily, the Regents - about what happened that day, but not why. Not the lead-up. Not the gigantic bruise that formed over his heart that day and never healed properly. Not about the one thing that prevents him from ever letting go of this.
Sammy feels Jack move closer, and then Sammy has an arm around his shoulder. Jack’s arm, solid and comforting and so much more than Sammy deserves.
“It’s okay,” Jack nearly whispers. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
“I need to, though, because it’s - I need to apologize to you.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes,” pinprick tears form in the corners of Sammy’s eyes. “I do. Cecil died because - because there was a man who wanted access to the Warehouse. A former agent, an enemy of Herschel’s. His name was Judd Gunderson.”
Jack stills for a moment. “He’s in the Bronze chamber, isn’t he?”
Sammy nods. “But Gunderson couldn’t get in here on his own - Warehouse agents who betray the place get a compound in their blood that makes it impossible without help. He needed someone else to get in first to neutralize the effect, and then he could break in.”
Sammy shudders. Moment of truth.
“My boyfriend,” Sammy says, and he feels Jack’s arm tighten almost imperceptibly. “He asked my boyfriend. My one person who knew about the Warehouse. I’d just told him a few weeks before it happened. I really thought I could trust him. I don’t know what Gunderson offered him - money, I guess. Access to artifacts. But he let Gunderson in, and then he killed Cecil before Herschel apprehended them both.”
Sammy looks at his feet, not at Jack, but that doesn’t stop him from noticing when Jack’s other arm comes up to pull Sammy toward him. Sammy lets his head fall against Jack not because he’s trying to, he just doesn’t know what else his body can do right now.
“Sammy -” Jack starts, so soft.
“The Regents know that it’s my fault, that he was my One,” Sammy whispers. “Emily knows. Herschel even knows now. But they all think that Micah had been in cahoots with Gunderson from the beginning. That it’s the only reason he was interested in me in the first place, to get access to the Warehouse. But it wasn’t like that. He was my boyfriend, for real. We’d talked about being together for the rest of our lives, and I know he meant it. He didn’t know about the Warehouse until I told him. And all it took was a few promises from Gunderson to get him to betray me.”
Sammy’s all too aware of the feeling of Jack’s arms around him, the tightening grip, Jack cursing under his breath.
“That’s not your fault,” Jack says. “That’s the most horrible thing I’ve ever heard in my life, but it’s not your fault. You’re the victim here as much as Cecil. Why - why you think you deserve penance for that -”
“I spent two years with him - could’ve spent the rest of my life with him, and I would’ve never known how little I mattered to him,” Sammy chokes out. “That he could do that to me without a second thought. If that hadn’t happened, I might still be with him. I’m just that stupid, and desperate, and - and I think that if I became Caretaker, I could stop being so vulnerable. I could make up for my stupidity and make sure no one else was ever as stupid as I was again."
Jack’s quiet for a moment before he speaks, and when he does it’s with a kind of gravity Sammy’s never heard from him. “You wouldn’t have spent the rest of your life with him.”
Sammy lifts his head, just enough to look Jack in the eye. His expression is steely, and sure, and maybe a little scared himself as he looks down at Sammy. Hazel eyes - Micah’s had been blue. Sammy hates comparing the two of them, wishes his mind wouldn’t go there. Because Jack doesn’t deserve that. Jack's never been anything like him, not even who Micah had been in the beginning. Who Sammy thought he was.
“I could’ve,” Sammy admits, but Jack shakes his head. “I’m sure there were other warning signs but - I just missed them. I would’ve kept missing them.”
“I would’ve helped you,” Jack says, and Sammy frowns.
“Jack, without Cecil dying - Herschel leaving - you wouldn’t be here.”
“I would have,” Jack says, serious and sure. “I would’ve found a way to be here.”
For some reason, Sammy believes his conviction.
They’re quiet for a moment, and Jack’s arms don’t move from around Sammy. He doesn’t know what to do with his own arms, wants to reach for Jack as well, but he isn’t sure if that’s allowed.
“I want to protect this place, to make up for it,” Sammy says, and feels Jack shift uncomfortably, “but I also worry I’m not cut out for it. That even with the Caretaker’s power, I’d still fall short.”
“Sammy…” Jack hesitates. “No one in the world loves this place the way you do. Not even me or Ben, even if we are true believers. You’re already a part of his place, you already take care of it, even without the official title.”
Sammy's suddenly struck with the horrible fear that Jack’s certainly picked up on the subtext of this conversation, about what it means for the two of them, but he’s decided Sammy’s too damaged for him, that Sammy should be Caretaker instead of lead an ordinary life, because that’s the only thing he could ever be good at. He’s clearly not good at romance and now Jack has the proof.
“What -” Sammy clears his throat weakly. “Are you - do you think - think I should take the job?”
Jack flinches away from him, arms falling from Sammy and to his sides. Sammy sits up fully again, leaning away from Jack instead of closer. Jack’s eyes are huge, and utterly bewildered.
“What? Fuck no,” Jack swears, and Sammy suddenly and acutely feels tension drain away from him. Then Jack bites his lip, and Sammy recognizes guilt in the furrow of his brow. “I mean - that’s selfish of me. If you want the job, you should take it. But if you’re just taking it as some sort of self-inflicted punishment - then I’m begging you not to. If there’s another reason -”
“Not a better one,” Sammy admits, and then forces out the words he was too embarrassed to say in front of anyone else, “only that being Caretaker would give me something to blame other than myself for being the way I am.”
“Why would you want something to blame for that?” Jack blinks at him, too kind. “I love the way you are, Sammy.”
“Jack,” Sammy doesn’t think Jack would ever be purposefully cruel, but this feels needless, “I’m so damaged that I couldn’t even sit at a fucking lake with you for half an hour to watch the sunset without having a panic attack about my evil ex. I’m so distant and repressed that I’d rather sleep in a cot alone than in a house where all my friends live. I’ve wanted to date you since I met you but I sequestered myself in this room rather than have a serious conversation with you about -”
Jack kisses him.
It’s just a peck, half a second long, and Jack looks apologetic and terrified as he pulls away.
“I’m sorry,” Jack’s words come out more like a panicked breath than a sentence.
“Don’t be,” Sammy says back, knowing he sounds just as shell-shocked. “I just - I’m just - I don’t know - know what to do -"
“I think…” Jack looks down, and Sammy thinks it’s to avoid his gaze - but then Jack takes Sammy’s hand in his own and squeezes. “I think you should move into the B&B. Ben and I have video game marathons that I know he wants you to be a part of. And you should help Emily cook - because you’re so good at it, and it’s being wasted here with your microwavable meals. And you should let me take you on dates - we can avoid lakes if you want, but - Univille has plenty of dive bars. We don’t have to hold hands, but we do have to go. And I don’t want you to belong to the Warehouse for an eternity, because then you’ll feel guilty forever, you’ll never move on. But if you’re mine - if you’re ours -”
Jack’s voice tremors, and Sammy finds himself squeezing Jack’s hands back. He wants Jack to kiss him again. He wants to kiss Jack again.
“I love you,” Jack says, matter-of-fact, like it’s a given. Sammy feels all the breath go out of his lungs, “I want - I want to be with you. That’s probably been clear for years now. But more than anything, I just want you to live a good life. And that’s not what’ll happen if you’re Caretaker. I know it. I know you love the Warehouse, but you deserve a life outside of it. It doesn’t have to be with me, but -”
Sammy kisses Jack this time, and though he doesn’t manage to keep his lips there for anything longer than a second, he’s not surprised this time and he can focus on how Jack is soft and warm and perfect.
“What would be the point, if it wasn’t with you?” Sammy manages to get out with a weak chuckle, and Jack smiles back. There would be a point, though - because there’s Ben, and Emily, and Lily, and even Herschel.
Sammy needs all of them - he needs of all of them to have the strength to say no. Jack’s the last piece of the puzzle, just like Ben had been when he came here. Now everything makes sense - now everything can slot into place, and they can be a family, and Sammy can say no.
Maybe that makes Sammy needy - but then again, he’s always been the thorough type.
“Thank you for your consideration, but I’m going to have to pass.”
Sammy’s back in the diner, Grisham opposite him and Cynthia on his left, just as uncomfortable as he’d been here two weeks prior. Cynthia wrinkles her nose in disgust at him, though for some reason Grisham gives him a satisfied smile.
“Ugh,” Cynthia reaches into her overlarge handbag and pulls out a twenty which she hands to Grisham.
“You bet on me?” Sammy aghast, stares between them. Grisham smirks, pocketing the money.
“I thought you’d relish in the power,” Cynthia rolls her eyes violently.
“And I thought you’d be too much of a coward,” Grisham says. Sammy isn’t sure which of them he wants to punch more - well, no, Grisham for sure.
“Well, I’m not taking the job,” Sammy folds in on himself slightly.
“Three guesses why,” Cynthia says, and pulls at Sammy’s sleeve. Sammy remembers that he’s wearing one of Jack’s high school wrestling sweatshirts, and sort of wants to die.
Whatever. It’s a nice sweatshirt, and it smells like Jack’s cologne which is honestly quite comforting and makes Sammy feel like Jack’s close by. Sammy refuses to feel ashamed about that.
“It’s alright,” Grisham waves his hand as if Sammy’s personal life doesn’t concern him in the slightest. “We have a contingency plan, and he’s already agreed to take the position.”
“I - uh - what?” Sammy stares at Grisham, not sure who he could possibly be referring to. The Caretaker wasn’t really an outside hire sort of position. Not to mention that they hadn’t even heard his answer before this guy apparently agreed. “One of the Regents? Is it Ron?”
“You picked the wrong curse-happy bastard,” Cynthia mutters under her breath, and Sammy’s heart freezes in his chest.
“You don’t mean -”
“Jesus, Stevens, is that a salad I see on your plate? Once I’m back in the Warehouse, I’ll have to institute some new rules about mealtimes. If there’s not meat, it’s not a meal!”
Sammy stares, trying not to gape, as Herschel appears right in front of his eyes, sitting opposite Grisham like he had just poofed into existence. Sammy remembers when Merv used to do that, how he’d jump every time.
“You - you already - you -”
“Close your mouth or I’ll confuse you for a fish and jam a hook down your throat,” Herschel advises. Grisham rolls his eyes and looks out the window rather than at Herschel, and Cynthia makes a disapproving noise in the back of her throat. “I wasn’t gonna let you take this job, son. Not for nothing. So I took it before you got the chance.”
Sammy wants to hit him. Sammy wants to cuss him out. Mainly, he sort of wants to cry, because Herschel cares that much about him.
There’s something more youthful about Herschel today. He doesn’t look like a young man again - far from it - but he’s holding his shoulders like there’s no pain there anymore. The wrinkles in his face are less pronounced. There’s a satisfaction to his expression too, like he’d been waiting for a chance to get back out there in the world.
“I was sick of retirement, anyway,” Herschel says as if he’s reading Sammy’s mind. “Only so many fish you can catch without a best friend there to needle. I needed to get out and do some good in the world, and I started with making sure you can live your life without these clowns interfering.”
Herschel jabs Grisham in the side with his elbow, and Grisham glares but doesn’t respond. Herschel’s sort of his boss now, after all, Sammy realizes.
“But Herschel,” Sammy struggles to find a way to phrase this that won’t piss him off, “it’s forever. Cecil and Edna -”
“Cecil and Edna are gone,” Herschel says, and though his voice starts strong, it gets a little gentler as he finishes the thought. “I got to live a great, long life with my two best friends. And I think you’ve got four of them that could really use you around.”
“You’re just gonna have to put up with me for the rest of your goddamn life, Stevens,” Herschel’s grin is nearly delighted. Grisham and Cynthia look as though they’ve swallowed lemons. “And I’d like to see that place zap away any of my leagues of personality. I’m not disappearing like Merv, that’s for damn sure.”
Sammy supposes he’s right - if there’s anyone he trusts to remain a full person while still being the Caretaker, it’s Herschel Baumgardner. Herschel’s never let anything stop him from being exactly who he is.
“I’m gonna need to have a talk with the pipsqueak sometime soon about the new fucking technology in that place,” Herschel says, “and I haven’t even vetted that boy of yours yet. He looks like he could bench press you, so I’m gonna have to make sure that’s all consensual. That’s a word I learned from Tumblr, it’s very important.”
“ Oh my God.”
“Ms. Potter and I have a lot to catch up on, and I’ll have to put in my request for steak dinners. That was my first question, if I could still eat steak as Caretaker. I don’t need food anymore, but at least I can still enjoy life’s simplest pleasures. I take it you’ve moved out of that sad little cupboard in the Warehouse? Good. I don’t need a room, don’t need sleep in general now, but I don’t want or need you in that place 24/7. That’s my job now. Go have a fucking life for a change, kid. And another thing -”
Sammy finds himself begin to smile. All things considered, he supposes he's grateful.