DISCLAIMER: I own Sarah and Coach Larson (hey, Coach! *G*), but that's about it. The rest of the characters belong to Fox and all that jazz.
CATEGORY: fluff, family!fic, angst; WAY pre-Day 1
SUMMARY: Sam's playing a bigger role than expected.
AUTHOR's NOTES: I was watching Day 6 a few weeks ago and remembered a character - another one of those 'throwaways' that 24 is famous for - that I fell in love with. The idea of Sam and what he must've eventually become (in my head, at least, from the way that Jack spoke with him on the phone), combined with some fond memories of my own mother and her attempts to sway me from playing in so many contact sports, resulted in this piece. As always, thanks to sardonicynic for taking a look-see over this way back when. Hope you guys like it. :)
“Mom! Mom, I got it. I did what you said and I got it!”
He rushed into the house, eager to find his mother, but the living room was empty and so was the kitchen.
She’s probably in her room.
He tossed his books and his water bottle onto the sofa and quickly pulled his shoes off before bounding down the main hallway. He nearly slid and fell onto the hardwood before grabbing the handle to the bedroom door.
“Mom!” he shouted once more, bursting into the room with a heaving chest.
He regretted the racket he’d caused immediately, because there, on the bed, was his mother, just waking from what had once been an afternoon nap.
“Sorry,” he whispered, his face a mask of apology. He inched back and started to pull the door closed in front of him when he heard a weak “Jack?”
Poking his head through the doorway, he apologized once more and started to say that it wasn't that important, but Sarah waved him back in. It wasn’t often that she saw him so enthused over something – she didn’t want to miss the moment.
“No, sweetheart – come here. What is it? What’s gotten you so excited?” she asked with a tired smile.
Grunting, she pushed herself higher onto the pillows that were piled at the headboard, shifting over to make room for her son if he decided to sit down on the bed. She watched as he wavered for a long moment between feeling guilty and letting the enthusiasm take hold once more before he finally relented.
“I got it,” he divulged conspiratorially, his voice low as a grin threatened to take over his face. “I got the start.”
Suddenly invigorated, Sarah let out a ‘whoop’ and clapped her hands once before opening her arms wide to accept a hug from her oldest son. He fell heavily into her embrace and it nearly knocked her over, but she would never tire of having him so close to her.
“I’m so proud of you, sweetheart,” she murmured into his still-wet hair before kissing his ear. It was obvious from his clothing that he hadn’t changed out of his practice sweats and her first instinct was to gently remind him about using deodorant, but she couldn’t ruin the moment.
After a last quick squeeze, he pushed away from her, propping himself up with one arm while using the other hand to emphasize his points. “I stretched my legs out so far when I was running…Mom, I felt like I was flying.”
“That’s wonderful,” Sarah gushed, happy to have made a difference despite being unable to actually follow the game itself. “This old track star still has a few tricks up her sleeves, huh? Where’s he going to put you? Receiver?”
“I’ll catch the ball when the other team kicks it off and then run it all the way back for a touchdown.”
“Oh you will, will you?”
She had been teasing of course, but Jack was so intent on explaining what needed to be done, he hadn’t picked up on it. He only nodded and shifted closer to her on the bed so it would free up his other hand.
“Uh-huh. Me an’ Coach Larson worked on this maneuver today where I go like this and then, once the defense is breaking, I’ll come around the end and split through the middle like this.”
Sarah tried to follow along, but decided that his motions would only make sense to someone who actually knew the play by heart. It didn’t matter, though – he had gotten the start after an entire off-season of sprints and sit-ups and pick-up games with the older boys down the street.
“So you won’t be catching the ball when the quarterback throws it to you?”
Jack shook his head. “Normally I would, but just not for this game. Coach said that since I’m a little smaller than most of the defensive tackle, it’d probably be better for me to be back there instead of wide receiver – at least for this game. Next game the guys on the other team aren’t so big.”
Frowning, Sarah clucked her tongue and winced. “Oh, Jack – be careful, all right? I always worry. It’s different with JV, but they’re so much rougher on this team.”
“It doesn’t even hurt, I promise,” Jack assured. “I have all those pads on – it’s just like getting knocked down is all.”
“I know, I know,” she conceded, smiling to herself at the memory of how, when he had first started Pee-Wee, he had assured her that ‘it didn’t hurt’ by jumping, in all of his gear, headfirst into the cinderblock garage three times before she could stop him.
“Besides,” Jack added, his smile widening, “they’re not even gonna catch me to tackle me.”
“Okay,” Sarah agreed reluctantly, knowing the argument was as useless as the first time she’d voiced it. “Is Graem back?”
“I don’t think so. When I came in, it didn’t sound like anybody was here.”
Sarah frowned and reached for her housecoat that she’d draped across Phillip’s side of the bed. “He’s probably still at the library, then. Sam should be around somewhere,” she mused as she pushed herself from the mattress.
Jack held her arm and led her to the bathroom, then waited by the bed until she came out.
“Sweetie, you should get cleaned up. Sam will have dinner ready in a little while.”
Jack barely disguised the huff as the two of them ventured into the main hallway. “I hate it when he cooks,” he muttered under his breath.
“Give him some time,” Sarah cautioned, using a hand on Jack’s shoulder for support. “He’s still getting used to this routine, too.”
Three loud shrills of the whistle signaled the end of the game, so Jack stood from his spot on the bench and pulled his helmet off. The stands were full, but after his second fumble he’d had plenty of time to sit on his butt and scan the crowd for familiar faces.
So far he’d only noticed Sam. Maybe that was a good thing. If his father had actually come like he said he was going to…
He grabbed his water bottle and sprinted after the rest of the team toward the locker room. They’d lost it in the end on an errant field goal and, despite being filled by forty teenage boys, the concrete bunker-style room was silent when he stepped inside.
Thirty minutes later, he emerged from the tunnel that led to the field and, once again, spotted Sam. He’d pulled the family car around to the front of the parking lot and was leaning against the hood, umbrella in hand, waiting for him. The broad smile on his face only made Jack angrier.
“I thought you guys were going to pull that one out. It was a real nail-biter,” Sam praised as he lifted the trunk open.
Jack tossed his bags inside and shrugged before trudging to the passenger side.
Sam was used to the sullen behavior by then. He simply ignored it, closing the trunk before shaking off his umbrella and climbing into the car. He put it in gear and navigated through the maze of cars and trucks that couldn’t wait to leave the parking lot.
“You played very well today,” Sam offered as he pulled to a stop behind a mint-green Cadillac. As he turned, he caught the rolling eyes and the half-snort that came out of Jack’s nose. “What? You don’t think so?”
“I dropped the ball twice,” Jack reminded, turning to Sam then with a look of pure disgust.
“Yes, but you scored a touchdown, too. And you must’ve had at least fifty yards from your other two returns – it wasn’t all bad, Jack. Your mother told me it was your first varsity effort this season? I was impressed.”
“It was my first start,” Jack clarified, this time with less heat. “I played in three other games.”
“Ah, well then – there’s definitely no excuse for what happened today.”
Sam pulled onto the main highway and noticed Jack’s surprised confusion. He smiled, enjoying briefly that he’d been able to catch the normally perceptive boy.
Seeing that he’d been had, Jack settled into the seat a little farther and crossed his arms. Maybe he hadn’t done so horribly after all. “Is my mom okay? She feeling any better?”
“I think she was fine – it’s really just the weather that kept her from coming. She wanted so badly to be here, Jack.”
The rain had never amounted to much, just a light spray all morning and into the afternoon, but it had brought a chill to the fall air. Jack wiped at a trail of water that was trickling down his temple and sniffed. “I guess my dad’s probably still at work, then, if you’re here.”
Sam glanced over at Jack, catching the disappointment not so much in his tone, but the set to his shoulders as he stared blankly through the windshield.
“Probably,” he said softly, feeling more than a little resentful toward Phillip for the lack of anything remotely resembling interest in either of his children’s endeavors. He would never tell Jack that his father had only left for the office again after Sarah mentioned the game.
Sam frowned. “What do you mean?”
Jack shrugged. “It would’ve been a waste of time to come.”
Sam turned back to the road, but, from the corner of his eye, he could see the blur of motion that the bottle was causing as it was tossed back and forth between Jack’s hands. Traffic was still slow and on top of the weather, Sam decided that a slight detour was needed.
Jack looked up, noticing the deviation immediately. “Where’re we going?”
“I once knew a man who said that ice cream could cure anything. I imagine ‘game-day blues’ would fall into that category as well,” Sam answered with a smile.
There was a Dairy Queen Brazier ahead and the parking lot was relatively empty, so they got a spot next to the front door.
Jack got out of the car slowly, still trying to fight off anything resembling pleasure after a game he felt his team should have won. He made it to the front door first, remembering his manners and holding the door open for Sam who had his overcoat turned up at the collar. He was from Phoenix and although the climate was similar to Southern California, freak cold snaps were something he thought he had left behind.
“Do you know what you want?” Sam asked as they stepped up to the counter.
A curly-headed teenager with braces and a look of boredom that had to have been practiced at home in front of the mirror waited to take their order.
Jack nearly shrugged and told Sam that he didn’t want anything, but he caught sight of Dennis the Menace beckoning him to enjoy one of his favorite treats. “I guess a cherry Dilly Bar.”
Sam ordered himself a chocolate milkshake and they took seats at a table near the window.
“Graem’s science fair is tonight,” Sam offered after a minute of silence. There were only two other people in the store and both of them were sitting by themselves.
“Yeah, at seven.”
“Have you seen his project? It’s very good.”
Jack nodded. He’d done something similar in seventh grade, but Graem had used his Erector set to rig the planets so they actually rotated around the paper mache sun. “He’ll probably win.”
Shrugging, Jack looked back at the front counter. “Yeah – he’s the smartest in his class.”
Sam tried to see what had gotten his attention, but he couldn’t find anything. “What about you? How are you doing in school this year? High school’s a lot different than middle school.”
“It’s not bad.”
“No trouble navigating the halls?” Sam asked, a hint of teasing in his voice.
Jack wasn’t biting. “Not really.”
“What about your teachers? Have you been branded a ‘jock’ yet?”
“No. All my teachers are nice.”
Sam decided that, at least until the food was served, he wasn’t going to get much conversation out of Jack. Luckily for him, the bored attendant was making her way around the counter with a tray holding their order. She handed Jack the Dilly Bar with a sigh and Sam’s shake was set in front of him with equal enthusiasm.
“You think she likes her job?” Sam asked quietly once the girl had disappeared behind the counter again.
That garnered a half-smile from Jack. “Maybe she’s not big on customer service.”
Sam laughed and dipped into his shake.
“Your mom told me that you were on the Honor Roll,” he said after another lapse of silence.
It was an odd combination, Sam thought – a quiet kid who did well in school and also played sports. Serious. Responsible, but with a bit of a rebellious streak. That was how his mother had described him. But seeing what he had of Jack over the past four weeks of working for the Bauers, Sam decided that ‘worried’ might fit better at times.
Jack looked up from his melting, candy-covered ice cream. He narrowed his eyes slightly and tried to figure out just why Sam was acting the way that he was.
“Is my mom okay?” he asked, repeating his question from earlier.
Sam nodded, confused at the sudden change of topic. “She’s fine, Jack. She’s at home, resting. Why do you ask?”
Jack studied him for a moment before returning his focus to the ice cream. Something had to be wrong, Sam had to have done something and this – taking him out to Dairy Queen after a crappy game and talking to him about school and cracking jokes – was just his way to make up for it.
He squirmed in the seat, rubbing his back against the cracked patent leather where his damp t-shirt clung to his shoulder blades. He didn’t want to be there any longer. “Can we go home?”
“Are you going to finish your ice cream?”
“I’ll eat it in the car.”
“Okay, then,” Sam conceded, grabbing a napkin from the holder before pushing himself up from the booth. He held the door open for Jack this time, relieved that the drizzle seemed to have stopped for the moment. “Do you want me to get your sweater from the trunk?”
Jack merely shook his head and slipped into the passenger seat, leaving Sam to wonder what he’d done to change the mood so quickly.
“Are you okay, Jack?” Sam asked once he’d started the car. “You’re not hurt from the game, are you?”
He could only take his answer at face value, so Sam turned the car back onto the highway while managing to balance his shake against the wheel.
The rest of the drive was spent without a word passing between either of them – they were too busy trying to figure out one another to think of anything to fill the silence.