Characters: Sam, Sock, Ben, Others (Gen, Humor)
Summary: Just another exciting day of being the Devil's little bounty-hunting puppet...
Author's Notes: Written for linear_flower during Yuletide 2008, and much longer than I first intended though no less snarky. @5000 words. \o/
When Sam steps out of the shower and trips over this week's demon box, he wonders—not for the first time—if the Devil is trying to kill him.
Today it's just a nosebleed and a skinned knee (so far), but the fact is that most of the Featured Escapee Souls are a lot more homicidal than the Devil lets on. Sam has nearly been torched, crushed, stabbed, and shot, and he hasn't even been on the job two months already. Last week he nearly crashed the car again when the demon box appeared on his lap while he was driving. It's only a matter of time before it falls on him from out of the sky, he's convinced of it.
"Ho-ho, what've we got today?" Sock crows, as soon as he gets into Sam's car and sees the familiar container sitting on the back seat. "Did this just come?"
"About an hour ago, in the bathroom. Don't ask."
Sock lurches around between the bucket seats. "So what's in it?"
"Some piece of metal."
Straining against his seatbelt, Sock wrenches the lid open to peer inside. "It's a tuning fork."
"Great." Sam pulls into the Work Bench parking lot. "I can't wait to find out why."
Sam's really only happy these days when he's between Devil jobs (as he tends to think of them). He's relatively safe, he has as much control over his personal schedule as a normal person, and for the most part no-one's trying to kill him. This morning's demon box and vessel herald the beginning of a new cycle of chaos that Sam frankly isn't all that eager to start up again. Consequently, he misses most of Ted's anti-motivational lecture for the day, though he's pretty sure it involved the phrase 'be the barcode' and something about restocking penalties.
"So I hear you got something this morning," Ben says when the meeting is over. The three of them are still putting on their aprons, while the rest of the shift heads out to their stations. "Any word on the story behind it?"
"Nope. I usually get the vessel before the background, because he likes to make it as inconvenient as possible." Sam slams the door on his locker.
"He's dicking you around," Sock volunteers. "Likes to string you along, pull the old bait and switch."
"What are you even talking about?" Sam says.
"Eh. Damned if I know," Sock shrugs. He stuffs a pencil over his ear and walks to the door. "If I'm not back by lunchtime, send out a search party. I'm working in Housewares today, and I saw Old Lady Rabinski out there earlier."
Ben shudders but Sam just nods: "You got it. See ya, Ben." he adds. Sam walks over to Power Tools, readying himself for the weekend swarm of Do-It-Yourselfers.
He's in the middle of cleaning up the drill-bit display when the store goes dark. Before anyone has time to make an announcement over the P.A. system, the lights come back on and Sam finds himself in a concert hall, standing in the audience section. The Devil is wearing a tuxedo and waiting for him down near the front, a few seats in from the aisle.
"Sammy!" he chuckles. "I see you made it." He waves Sam over.
Sam steps his way through and sits down next to him. No point in delaying the inevitable.
"Do you like music, Sam?" the Devil asks—like he doesn't already know everything there is to know about Sam.
"Sure," Sam says, though he's thinking more along the lines of Nickelback than Beethoven. "Why are we here?"
The house lights dim, revealing musicians tuning up and practicing in the orchestra pit. Then a man stands up in the center of the pit, bows to the audience and raises his baton. Music begins, something energetic and purposeful. Next to Sam, the Devil moves and sways cheerfully, waving his hands as if the orchestra is his to conduct.
"Trauermeister," he says.
"What?" Sam whispers loudly.
"The conductor—Wolfgang Trauermeister. He toured America as a guest conductor in the Fifties, but he left a string of souvenirs behind." The lights go off and then on again, and now the Devil and Sam are standing in an alley next to the body of a woman. "Tragic, really. He brought beauty to the world with his music, and took it away when the audience was gone."
"And now?" Sam asks.
"Now? Well, he's at it again," the Devil gestures expansively. "Back to his old tricks. And you, Sammy—you're the one to stop him."
Of course I am. Funny how the escaped souls never fixate on killing vegetable gardens or stealing other people's cats. It's always something dangerous and disgusting.
"Where can I find—" Sam begins, but then he's in the stockroom next to a pile of Weed-Be-Gone before he can finish the question.
"Hey, Sam," Ben says, like Sam didn't just fall out of the sky or whatever it looks like when the Devil dumps him back into his own world.
Ted comes around the corner, clipboard in hand. "No chit-chatting on company time," he says. "Oliver, you should be out there guiding people to the top-of-the-line Black-and-Decker and Ryobi products. Let Mr. Gonzalez here take care of the gardening situation."
Sam half-smiles at Ben and shrugs before heading back out to the floor. Leave it to Ted to have the daily employee assignments memorized—and to catch him in his single off-task moment for today.
Sam goes looking for Sock on his lunch break (Ben's break isn't for another hour). Sock isn't in the break room, nor is he in Housewares, Plumbing or Flooring—though Sam is sure that Housewares' fondue-pot demo-station got lots of loving attention from him all morning long.
"Sock!" Sam hisses as he steps into the storeroom again, winding in and out of the aisles and looking for evidence of the usual Sock-related activities. "Sock!" he calls again, hoping to be heard over the warning beeps of the forklift.
Sam tracks the sound to the back rear corner but finds nothing until a familiar arm comes out from under a metal shelf and waves him closer. "Over here," Sock says.
"You've got to be kidding."
Sock squeezes out from the shelves, rolling his neck. "What? Don't be mocking my sweet, sweet hideaway."
Sam looks under the shelf. There's a hammock and a pillow there, firmly suspended up and around the metal rails. "What's all this for?"
"Mostly sleeping," Sock admits. "My other spot got busted last week."
"And you're not afraid the shelves will collapse and crush you? Especially when they're loaded?"
"Nah," Sock says. "So what's up? Got some news?"
"A name and a pattern. We can do research!"
Sock grins at him and shakes his head. "If it's that exciting, you should think about going back to school."
Later, armed with the locations of the previous and current murders, the three of them narrow down the choices of where the Soul is most likely to appear next. Four places and three people, so they'll be lucky or outnumbered.
"I say we each take a couple of hand grenades in case we run into trouble," Sock says.
It's typical Sock—the grenades probably wouldn't hurt the Soul at all, but they'd wreak havoc on everything else. And Sock would make some excuse for it afterwards, like the time he was a teenager and crashed his mother's car into the neighbor's hedges:
"Look at that! You'll never see landscaping like that in a magazine—it's unique, Sammy, I'm telling you. Their shrubs have never looked more awesome!"
Excuses didn't keep Sock from getting grounded, or from owing money and time to the neighbors and his mother through the end of his Junior year. And it's not like Sock ever learned anything from those experiences, either.
Because Sam prefers not to become personally dead while hunting the Soul, he vetoes the idea immediately. "We need to stick together on this anyway, for our own safety. There's only one vessel," he adds.
Sock grumbles, but Ben looks relieved. "Based on the first two murders, our best bets are probably Anderson or Polk Street."
"We could take a blowtorch," Sock suggests, apparently still stuck on the topic of destruction.
"Yeah, okay," Sam says. The blowtorch might turn out to be smart or useless, but at least it probably won't come back to haunt them. "I'll pick you up around seven."
Sam shows them to the door, and heads to the kitchen to scrounge up dinner. The lights are already on in there, though he could swear everyone but him is out of the house. He peers around the corner.
"Sammy!" the Devil says happily, tossing a salad with the aid of two undersized pitchforks. "Come and join me."
Sam suppresses a sigh. "What are you doing here?"
"Just thought I'd drop in, whip us up a little something. Hand me the parmesan cheese, would you?"
"My parents will be back here soon," Sam hints, as he makes his way to the fridge and starts rummaging inside.
"No they won't," the Devil chuckles. "But it doesn't matter—it's not as if they don't believe in me, now is it Sammy? After all," he gestures at Sam with one of the pitchforks, "that's what brought us together to begin with."
Sam shakes his head at the martyred tone in the Devil's voice. "I can't stay long, by the way—I wanted to stop by Andi's before going to Sock's house, apologize for disappearing on her last night."
The universe shifts in between breaths, and then Sam's at a strip club with a blue umbrella-adorned drink at his elbow. "Now this is the way for a guy your age to be spending his time," the Devil says. "Not getting all hung up on commitments and responsibilities." He raises his glass to the onstage dancer, then takes a drink. "Laphroaig," he sighs. "This is so good, I'd almost think I invented it myself." He looks at Sam slyly. "Or maybe I did."
Sam shifts in his seat impatiently. "Why are we here?"
The Devil laughs. "To experience what life has to offer, to make choices and learn, be all that you can be."
"I meant, here in this bar."
"Yes," the Devil says with mock seriousness, "so did I."
The dark room and stage lights vanish, and suddenly Sam is standing in the kitchen again, alone.
"Oh, for crying out loud—"
He doesn't make it to Andi's house (and now that he thinks about it, that was probably the whole point of the Devil's visit), but at least he's on time for picking Sock and Ben.
"Samster, you ready to do this thing?" Sock greets him. "You seem distracted. And what's that smell?"
Sam groans. "I got hijacked by the Devil for a while after you left. And then he made a mess in the kitchen."
"Ooh, Devil's Pet," Sock croons. "Next thing you know he'll be showing up announced, wanting to hang out. Oh wait—already happening."
Ben's waiting for them outside his house. "I brought some flashlights and food for later, in case we're out late. Though I hope not, 'cause I have to open at eight tomorrow morning."
"That's okay—if it goes on too long, you can bed down in the car and we'll take care of the Soul on our own," Sam says. He's glad someone came prepared for the long haul, assuming Sock doesn't randomly burn down half the street while they're waiting in the shadows.
They park just around the corner from Anderson Street. They don't want to be too obvious, but they've also learned the importance of a quick getaway. Sock would say otherwise, but they've nearly gotten killed a couple of times already, or at least risked permanent damage.
The street is three blocks long in the section they've chosen, the one where the murder took place decades ago. Sam and the others hide at the edge of an alley half-way through, where they can keep watch without being seen (or so they hope). Jammed together in a cluster, they sit and wait. Ben watches the alley behind them, and Sock and Sam keep an eye on either end of Anderson.
About twenty minutes later, nothing has happened. The air is colder, but the three of them are packed in close enough to keep each other warm. What's changed is the degree to which Sock has become bored.
"Anyone up for twenty questions?"
"Shhhh!" Sam hisses. "No talking!" As many of these as they've done before, Sock knows the ground rules. Never seems to make a difference.
After a few more minutes, Sock brushes his fingers over the ends of Sam's hair. First it's the left side, and then after a long and misleading pause he goes for the right. Sam ducks his head away and Sock chuckles in what probably amounts to victory, but if the Soul doesn't show up soon this will only be the beginning.
Back when Sam was thirteen, he and Sock found themselves fooling around on the rec-room sofa in the dark after Sam's parents went to bed. It didn't go far—a few misfired kisses and some clumsy groping. Even though both of them were the age where willingness was practically everything, the chemistry just wasn't there. Instead, they pushed their hormones aside and went back to watching the Godzilla movie Sock had brought over.
Now Sam half-wishes it was Ben that all happened with instead of Sock, because Ben is practically the politest human being he's ever known. Ben would never mention the incident again, let alone bring it up multiple times a year just to embarrass Sam the way Sock does. But then Sam remembers Ben's grandmother and her scary evil eye and how she just knows things. Maybe he got off easy by having it be Sock after all.
Sock elbows him in the ribs, and Sam's about to retaliate when he notices movement down the street. Funny how he forgets that Sock sometimes actually has a point.
Sam sees a woman walking down the street in the dark, the tapping of her high heels echoing off the pavement. If she gets close enough to see the three of them lurking there, she'll think they're perverts and probably start screaming. Sam pushes backward, bumping into Sock and Ben, and gestures for them to move back too.
A shadow creeps up behind the woman, trailing her silently. Under the glow of a nearby streetlight, the shadow becomes a man whose arms reach out to—
"Hey!" Sock jumps to his feet, challenging the attacker. "Keep your mitts off the mamacita!"
The woman stops, startled by Sock's yelling or maybe by his whole demented appearance. But as soon as she sees the Soul lurking there behind her, she screams and makes a dash for the next intersection. The bright lights and busy traffic will help keep her safe.
Sam steps forward, holding the tuning fork out in front of him like a cross to ward off vampires or evil spirits. But it doesn't work—instead of getting pulled down inside of it, the Soul turns and runs away. He vanishes halfway to the next block, transported back to wherever he came from.
"Loser-dirt!" Sock yells. "That's right, you'd better run!"
Only Sock would try to save face in an empty alley. Sam's convinced that Sock will go to his grave still trash-talking whoever's responsible for putting him there.
"Why didn't that work?" Ben asks breathlessly.
"God, I hate the crap vessels we get stuck with!" Sam smacks the tuning fork against his hand. "Bunch of useless pieces of—"
He stops as the vibration from the tuning fork travels through the hand that holds it. "Aw, damnit…"
"You're kidding me," Sock says forlornly. "You didn't even hit it against anything? No wonder it didn't work!"
"How was I supposed to know? It's not like the vessels ever come with instructions!"
"But it is a tuning fork," Ben points out. "That's its basic function."
"All right, rub it in already. You think it's fun being the Devil's minion?"
"Hell yeah." Sock slaps Sam on the shoulder. "You know you love it—adventure and excitement, never the same thing twice."
"Including the girl I'm trying to date, where the Devil just keeps making me look like a bigger asshole with every passing day."
"Well okay. Maybe that part sucks," Sock admits. "But the rest is awesome!"
Sam sighs. "Well, 'awesome' is still on the loose. Think he'll be back again tonight?"
"Not on this street," Ben says. "And it's a real shame—we even picked the right one."
"So now what? Try another street? It's only ten o'clock." Sam puts the tuning fork in his pocket and looks at the others expectantly.
Sock scratches his beard, and then nods. "I'm in."
"Yeah, all right," Ben agrees. "So long as we don't stay out too long."
They set up for round number two on Polk Street, squeezing into an alleyway out of the line-of-sight so the Soul doesn't spot them and run off before they even have a chance to react. Things stay pretty quiet, except for an opera-loving wino around eleven-fifteen. At two-thirty, the intense pressure of being crushed between Sock and a brick wall wakes Sam up. The street is silent and empty, and that point all three decide there are more comfortable places to sleep.
They pack up and turn in for the night.
Sam's shift starts at nine this morning, a small blessing. The alarm clock still seems to go off much too early, and he's definitely had better days. The bad ones used to involve a lot more fun along the road to waking up trashed. But thanks to moonlighting for the Devil, Sam now suffers all of the punishment without any of the reward.
Sock is unbelievably annoying today, some random combination of pissy and hyper-energetic. He can't get along with anyone and he can't keep his mouth shut, and Sam thinks this is probably how most of High School went for Sock—or so he's heard. Ben, on the other hand, looks like he needs toothpicks to keep his eyelids open. Sam's glad he's not working the same department as either of them today. He would never stop wanting to kill Sock, and Ben would make him feel more tired than he already is.
Two hour later, Sam has survived both licensed contractors and would-be amateur carpenters in the Lumber section. He makes his way to the break room by way of the Home Office department, always edging away from the sound of Ted's voice. Sometimes Sam manages to get through an entire day without running into Ted, or close enough if he avoids him once the morning lecture has been delivered.
Andi is at the coffee station when he gets there. Thank god he didn't tell her about his plans to come by last night—thanks to the Devil, he's building up a solid history of flaking out on Andi both as a friend and potentially as something more.
"Hi, Andi," he begins.
"Sam." She's already being more polite than he probably deserves.
"I wanted to tell you how sorry I was about the other night. I really didn't mean to leave you sitting at the bar all by yourself."
She looks at him, hurt. "That makes no sense to me, Sam. You didn't mean to do it, but nobody did it for you. You're a grown up—winged monkeys don't fly down and carry you off. You make the choices, and you chose to leave."
This situation is eating him alive because he can't tell her the truth, that some quasi-lumberjack freak tried to blow up an environmentalist's home that night and Sam had to chase him down with a magic boot and stop him. The Devil has tied his hands.
"I know it doesn't make sense, and I'm sorry," he pleads. "I really like you, and I'm really not trying to hurt you."
Andi's eyes redden and her mouth goes tight. "And yet, you do." She drops her coffee stirrer in the trash and heads out to the floor, the stiffness in her shoulders radiating her obvious sense of betrayal.
"Damn it," Sam mutters. Why are Sock and Ben allowed to know, but not Andi? It's making everything miserable between them, and Sam knows she won't tolerate it much longer.
Or maybe that's the point.
"This fiscal quarter won't build itself, Oliver. Hurry up and get back to the floor."
Sam let his guard down for just a couple of minutes, and look where it led. He's about thirty seconds shy of a lecture on Maximizing Your Display Area or something equally horrifying. He leaves the break room and detours to the regular customer bathrooms, because answering home improvement questions at a urinal is still less frightening than spending extended time with Ted.
"My man," Sock greets him, as Sam passes through Lighting on the way back to the Lumber department. "Still on for tonight?"
It's the perky version of Sock. Sam hopes this is the keeper for the day, because he's already had it with Shut up—you're the reason for all your problems Sock and Jeez, get a real car Sock, not to mention That's bull—my Mom totally loves that I still live with her Sock.
"Yeah—I'll come by a little later, around seven-thirty," Sam says. "Pass it along to Ben if you see him, okay?"
The rest of the day is smoother than most—one belligerent customer around lunchtime, two clueless ones mid-afternoon, but the rest are nondescript and fairly well-behaved. Nothing falls or explodes on Sam, and he makes it through the entire workday without a single one of those unscheduled side-trips the Devil so clearly enjoys.
No-one's home after work except Kyle, and Sam wonders whether his parents go out more often than other people and when that might have started. Are they avoiding him out of guilt? Or maybe they're just sick of never having the place to themselves, what with both kids still living at home.
Thank god there's still meatloaf in the fridge…
"Let's do this thing," Sock says when Sam picks him up. It's nice that Sam can count on Sock's enthusiasm for the job, because most days Sam wishes the whole thing would go away while Sock's still pinging on Coolest thing ever. It definitely helps.
Ben is out in front of his house, talking to a girl that Sam can tell is pretty even in the dark. He wonders why Ben hasn't mentioned her before.
"Who's the babe?" Sock asks when Ben gets in the car. "Damn, she's hot."
"Not to you, she isn't. Don't be talking about Sissy that way."
"That's Cecilia?" Sock cranes his neck to look as the car pulls away from the curb. "She grew up fine."
"I'm going to tell Uncle Manny you said that, if you don't stop it right now," Ben says.
Sock pauses. "Is he the big one?"
"Hell yeah—all of them are big. But Manny's out of work right now, so he's got all the time he needs to make you sorry. If he has to."
"Ah." Sock is unusually quiet the rest of the way to their lookout site.
They park around the corner from tonight's location, a four-block stretch of 6th Avenue that has isolated and creepy written all over it. The hope is that the Soul will pick this spot, instead of going back to Polk or choosing the other unused scene of his former crimes. The one thing they're sure of is that he won't be going back to Anderson Street anytime soon, not after last night.
"Brought my iPod," Sock announces. "I can loan it around."
"That's great, but I think I'll pass," Sam says. "I want to be sure I can hear what's going on."
"Yeah," Ben adds, "and that he can't hear us. For all we know, he's got ears like a bat. I always wonder if the Souls have extra abilities like that."
"Because it's not like anyone would warn us if they did." Sam might be a little bitter on the subject, because he's been through the drill enough times to know that Ben is right. Every escaped soul seems to have at least one special capability, and more often that not Sam and his friends have been hit with it before they realized what was happening.
They pick a spot to set up watch, at the edge of another alley at the midpoint of the street. No-one is eager to sit down right away—it's much colder than last night, and they could be out here for hours. Instead, they huddle in a clump, a back-to-back triangle where each of them can keep an eye on his respective view.
An hour goes by, then two. Nothing. So much nothing that Sam nods off for a second, rocking back on his feet and nearly falling over before he catches himself. Sock elbows back, probably trying to keep Sam from knocking him over. Ben turns around and looks at the two of them like they're crazy, then just shakes his head and shrugs.
A half hour later, Sam can feel Ben squirming behind him. "Got to go to the bathroom," Ben whispers, then ducks away. Sam hears his footsteps as Ben moves down the alley for privacy.
Still nothing on Sam's side of the street, for the millionth time. Ben gives a muffled yelp, and Sam raises an eyebrow. It's not that cold out here—no need to be so dramatic. He turns around, ready to give Ben a hard time about it, and then stops.
The Soul is right there behind Ben, squeezing Ben's throat.
Should've thought of that, why didn't I think of that? Sam fumbles inside his pocket for the vessel, his fingers clumsy. He's as panicked as the look on Ben's face.
The whole thing finally draws Sock's attention. "Hey! Hey, you scum-sucking piece of rat poison—let go of Ben!" He rushes toward the Soul, faster than Sam's seen him move in ages, as Sam finally, finally pulls the vessel free.
Sam holds it up toward the Soul, waiting for—"God damn it!" How could he have forgotten that already? He thwacks the tuning fork against his leg, then points it toward the Soul again. This time something happens.
The Soul begins to stretch like vapor, slowly streaming toward the vibrating tuning fork. It disappears inside the vessel a little bit at a time, still strangling Ben until the end when the vessel sucks the last of it up quickly and Ben is free.
"Take that, you homicidal hairball!" Sock yells, before turning serious. "Ben, you okay?" he asks, helping to support him as Ben weaves and coughs.
"Yeah," Ben croaks out unconvincingly. He coughs again, then draws a deeper breath while Sock pats his shoulder.
This is my fault. Sam walks over to the other two, touches Ben's arm in apology. "I'm sorry—I should never have gotten you into this," Sam says.
Ben smiles softly. "It's okay—I chose to come. Can't believe I let him get behind me."
"Are you going to be able to make it to the car?"
Ben takes an experimental breath. "It's better now." He walks a few steps. "Yeah—I think I'm good."
By the time they reach the car, Sock's all ramped up again. "That was awesome! We should totally go out, celebrate a little."
"The bar?" Sam asks. "I'd buy Ben some ice cream, but it's kind of cold for that."
"Still, nice thought," Ben says from the back seat. "I could do the bar. Sure, why not?"
The bar is as busy as ever, even though it's Thursday. Having to work the next day has never slowed down any of the Work Bench crowd—why should anyone else be different?
"Andi's here," Ben comments.
"No-ho-ho Sammy," Sock protests, "let it go. You've been dumped off that ride enough already."
"Maybe." Sam goes up to the counter to order a pitcher, and Andi turns and catches sight of him. "Hey," he says, with a smile that's friendly enough without over-committing. He'll never be rude, and she doesn't deserve that anyway. But it's her choice now whether to trust him again. Thanks to the Devil, he's failed her too many times to have any business asking.
"Sam." She smiles—more forgiving than she should be—and he salutes her with the pitcher before heading back to the table where Ben and Sock are waiting.
"So, going to see Gladbags tomorrow?" Sock pours himself a mug of beer and gulps half of it down in three or four swallows. "I think she digs me."
"Are you crazy?" Sam laughs. "I think she'd send each of us off to Hell personally, if she thought it would get rid of us."
"Nah. We're the high point of her day, you can totally tell."
"Well she does work at the DMV," Ben points out. "It wouldn't take much, with a job like that."
Sam thinks of Ted's Guidelines for Go-Getters, and shudders. Sometimes Gladys is the high point of his day, if it means escaping Ted's radar for an hour or so. He should seriously find another job, but all his friends work at this one, and he's not that ambitious anyway.
"So, what do we think about the new chick at the Starbucks on Roosevelt?" Sock begins.
The room darkens, and then Sam falls into the front seat of big American sedan parked at a drive-in movie.
"This is my favorite part," the Devil says, as Janet Leigh screams and her blood washes slowly across the bottom of the tub.
Sam thinks about beer and wonders why his life can't just be simple anymore. "What's this about?"
"It's a psycho-sexual metaphor of repression and lost identity." The Devil takes a bite of popcorn, his eyes never leaving the screen.
Walked right into that one. "I meant the purpose of this little visit."
The Devil chuckles. "Why, the pleasure of your company! You and me and a little quality time with the classics. After all, I can't afford to neglect my protégé."
Sam chokes, then clears his throat to cover it. "I see." His voice sounds much too high.
"We've got to get you up to a level of sufficient evil, if you're ever going to be my right-hand minion."
"What?" Sam squeaks.
The Devil looks at him for a long moment, and then laughs. "Just kidding, Sammy!"
"Oh." Sam's head spins with relief.
"This time," the Devil says ominously, as the car goes dark again.
"—even listening, Sam? Sam." Sock pounds the table, and Sam jumps.
"Uh. Yeah," Sam says. "Was I here? Just now?"
"As opposed to what, on the moon? Riding down the coast on a motorcycle?" Sock says. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Nothing." Sam takes a drink from his beer like it'll revive him, or maybe just put the world back the way it was.
"Okay, because I can totally drive you home if you need it. In your snot-colored car. Just let me know."
"Thanks," Sam says, looking around him at all the familiar faces in this wonderfully normal setting he used to take for granted.
"I'm all right," he adds, then smiles as he realizes that it's actually true. "Let's order some hot wings and chips, and another round." He lifts his mug in a toast, and Sock and Ben join him.
"To us," Ben says, and all of them murmur in agreement and drink.
Sock keeps going, chugging the rest of his beer and then slamming the mug down on the table. He grins like a maniac.
"For the incredible awesomeness that is us—badasses to the end!"
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