Note: I can hardly take any credit for this. Though perhaps no one else will want to, either. All the same, the prompt came from Tempestt – this is written for her as part of the SFTCOL(AR)S summer secret Santa game. It was for an AU in which Dean went with Sam to Stanford. The actual plot, though, came from Mazza, who had planned to write this story, but didn't. And … it doesn't exactly fit the parameters. I owe Tempestt one that does.
And just a warning, because I've procrastinated like a mug, I didn't have time to wait for an edit. I'll probably go back and clean it up some soon, but there may be typos and other ugly things lurking in the copy.
Sam stepped off the bus, slung his bags over one shoulder and looked around at his new home.
"Gawd, I wish they all could be California girls," came an appreciative drawl from over his shoulder.
Sam grinned, moving aside to clear the path to the platform. He couldn't help but agree. After two days, 23 hours and 25 minutes on the Greyhound from Albany, and another excruciating hour and a half of stop, go, stop, go from the Greyhound station to the campus on the metro line, just being vertical felt like heaven. Add to that the bright blue skies, the ridiculously cheerful poppies planted in the shape of an S and a U, and the shiny mass of freshly scrubbed co-eds milling around in front of him, and those little twinges of nerves he'd been getting since May were fading. Yeah, this college thing might work out after all.
Dean would love it here, he told himself.
"So what now?" Dean asked.
Sam frowned and moved toward a bench where he could drop his bags and dig out the envelope. It was thick and worn soft around the creases from a steady routine of careful study. Inside was a map of the campus with a star marking the dorm he'd been assigned to. A second page informed him that he would be receiving mail at room 315 of Roble Hall for the next nine months, as would one Clinton Jeffs. Sam had tried to talk his admissions adviser into letting him break the all-freshmen-must-live-on-campus rule, but to no avail. It was a recipe for awkward, but there was nothing to be done about it.
Sam looked around until he found a street sign, then studied the map for a moment.
"Looks like Memorial Drive to Galvez Mall. Right. Then left on Escondido Road," Sam mumbled. "Left on Duena, right on Teressa, left on Roble."
"Geez-Louise, this place is friggin' huge," Dean remarked, helpfully. "Looks like Dad's workout regime is gonna come in handy after all, huh?"
Sam rolled his eyes and muttered "unlikely" under his breath.
Still. He had to admit, it was a long way. He squinted into the California sunshine toward the spire of what he thought was probably Hover Tower, way off in the distance. It looked to be a good mile away, and he was pretty sure Roble Hall was on the far side of it.
"Stanford sits on 8,180 acres – that's more than 12 square miles," a tour guide to Sam's right suddenly piped up, earning impressed ahhs from what looked to be two or three dozen proud parents. "Of course, the central campus only takes up about 1,200 of them. But I'd still recommend a good pair of walking shoes."
A few of the tour guidees, who seemed to be taking notes, dutifully marked the advice down. Others simply pulled out a cell phone. "Chelsea, honey, don't let me forget to run by the mall and get your some new tennies before I leave, OK?"
Sam couldn't help but glance down at his own tattered boots. They were heavy and probably more appropriate for tromping through the forest to a Wendigo lair than for hiking across campus to calculus class.
"Eh," Dean comforted. "Sneakers are for sissies. Besides. At least with those, you know that if you suddenly need to kick in the lid of an old coffin, you won't break a toe."
Sam scowled. If there was one thing he was planning on not doing, it was kicking in coffin lids. But try and explain that to Dean.
He sighed, shouldered his bags and set off down Memorial. Twenty minutes later, he arrived, sweating, at the latest in a long string of temporary residences.
Even Dean couldn't miss the differences in this one, though.
"Wow," he said. "I didn't realize Ivy League meant there would be, like, actual ivy."
The building was, indeed, strung with shady ivy that gave it a lofty, academic look. Red brick peaked out around the windows – some of which were bay windows. And they actually did look out over a bay. Well, a lake, anyway. Or maybe a pond. A smallish pond, actually. But still. None of the hotels they stayed at or apartments Dad leased had water views. Sam felt a smile break out – the goofy kind that always caused Dean to heckle.
"Yeah, yeah." Dean said, right on cue. "Just don't go forgetting us little people now that you're gonna be living in a mansion."
The smile just grew in response. "Home," Sam confidently christened it, the way Adam must have known his first giraffe when he saw it. That shut Dean up for a few minutes.
The trip up the steps was treacherous. Three times Sam was almost mowed down by dads maneuvering stereo systems and television sets through the glass doors. And inside was even worse. Swarms of red-faced fathers were waiting in line for the elevators, eyeing each other and trying to calculate the likelihood of all of them and their boxes making it into the 5-feet-squared space on the next trip. Those lucky enough to have sired children with spots on the first floor were disappearing down hallways on all sides in steady, hunch-backed streams.
In the center of all the activity, a ragged line of girls in short shorts and boys in baggy pants snaked up to the dorm's front desk. Most were accompanied by their mothers.
"So you don't want to mix the lights and darks," a woman at the end of the line instructed her son as Sam fell in behind them. At his slightly baffled expression, she frowned worriedly. "Maybe you'd better just plan on bringing your laundry home on the weekends for now."
Sam bit his lip and kept his eyes glued to the floor in front of him, trying not to imagine the incredulous look Dean would be shooting the couple. "I thought this was supposed to be some kind of smart kid school," he hissed in Sam's ear. Sam choked on a suppressed chuckle, and the mother glanced back at him, looking him over like she might reconsider leaving her son there at all.
"Promise me you'll cut your hair every once in awhile, OK?" she said when she turned back around. "I know it's the style right now, but these boys wearing it long just look to me like they don't have a mirror."
Sam quit laughing at that, but Dean howled.
Luckily the line moved quickly, and soon the soccer mom and her preppy progeny were making their way toward the second floor. Sam stepped up to the desk.
"Name?" the bored upperclassman demanded.
"Sam Winchester?" Sam said uncertainly. Dean snorted behind him.
The man flipped listlessly to the back of a box of files. "Samuel?" he asked, as though Sam had been trying to trick him. Sam shrugged and nodded. The man sighed and pulled out a folder.
"Here's your room key; here's your mail key. You need to go to the central office in the student union and get an I.D. card made. Do you have a map?"
Sam slid his map over. The guy circled a building near the middle of campus.
"That'll be your meal card, and you'll need it to get into this building after today, plus the libraries, labs and any classrooms you need to get into after hours. If you lose it, it's $5 for a new one. If you lose any of your real keys, it's $20. You're on the yellow wing. There will be a mandatory meeting in your hall at 8 p.m. to go over rules, but so that you don't do anything you'll regret in the meantime, do not nail or glue anything to the walls of your room. The approved hanging devices are listed on this sheet." He handed Sam one piece of paper and held up another. "When you get to your room fill this one out, so we'll know what damage we can charge you for when you leave. Are you 18?"
"Uh," Sam flailed for a second, not having anticipated the sudden question. "Yeah."
"Then you don't need a guardian to sign for you."
Dean snorted again. "If he knew you, he wouldn't be so quick to say you didn't need a guardian," he murmured. Sam tried to ignore him.
"You will, however, need a fake i.d. to buy alcohol," the guy went on. "So don't. No underage drinking on campus. What you do off campus is not my problem, but you should know that the police will inform the university of any students they arrest. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, you could be expelled."
He stopped there, and it took Sam a minute to realize the spiel was over. "Oh," he said when he caught up. "Right. Thanks." He gathered his pile of keys and paperwork
"Well. He was friendly," Dean quipped, just outside the guy's earshot. "Where do you think all that breaking and entering you've done rates on the expelled/not expelled spectrum?"
"You're not helping," Sam hissed, then snapped his mouth shut, afraid that such acknowledgement would just spur Dean on. Dean laughed.
"What about grave desecration? You think that's better or worse than underage drinking?"
Sam silently hoped he never had to find out.
A quick glance showed that the elevator situation had not improved while he was in line, so Sam headed for the stairs. He tried not to be judgmental about all the people stopped on the landing for a rest. Dean was not so kind.
"Sammy, promise me you'll train every once in awhile, OK?" he said in a disconcertingly soccer-mom-like voice. "I know it's the style right now, but these boys with man boobs just look to me like they'll never get any action."
Sam avoided making any eye contact whatsoever after that and hurried past.
On the third floor, he emerged into yet another variation of chaos. For what seemed like as far as the eye could see, people were darting in and out of rooms carrying boxes and bundles and even small rolls of carpet. Walking down the hall was like passing through a series of vignettes. On the left two girls were making beds with identical blankets and pillows. On the right, a middle aged man was installing vanity lights, which were surely illegal given the no nail hole policy, over a full-length mirror while a girl wearing heavy makeup looked on critically. Farther down, two guys seemed about to come to blows over the exact angle of the big screen TV that must have been built in the room since there was no way it could have fit through the door.
A few doors past that, a girl with sleek brown hair and full red lips was working hard at holding back tears as a balding man kissed her on the forehead and turned to leave.
Just as Sam was starting to feel overwhelmed by the normalness of it all, Dean spoke up.
"I'm thinkin' that girl back there's gonna need a little help getting over her homesickness tonight, if you know what I mean."
Sam rolled his eyes, unfortunately knowing exactly what Dean meant. He was distracted, however, when a long-legged blonde with cheeks on the adorable side of chipmunk slid past him. Almost involuntarily, he turned to watch her disappear – and found her doing the same.
"Hey, hey!" Dean crowed. "That's my boy! I think she liked you, Sam!"
Sam ducked his head but allowed a small smile. "I wish," he mumbled.
When he looked up, he was standing in front of room 315.
Squaring his shoulders, he cautiously pushed the door open. The inside was completely bare – bare floor, bare walls, bare mattresses. Miracle of miracles, his roommate seemed to be the one person he'd beaten to the dorm.
Sam stood in the door, just looking, for a solid 30 seconds before Dean huffed and told him to move his ass. Sam complied, but stopped again in the middle of the room, where he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to get a handle on the idea that this was his.
Unfortunately, Dean didn't let that last long, either.
"Come on, you big girl. You want to get the room secured now or wait until Clinton's here's to learn how, too?"
Sam sighed, but opened his eyes and chose a bed to pile his bags on. Fifteen minutes later, he had laid a thin line of salt along the top edge of the door jam and another in the metal groves where the window met the sill. He pulled up his mattress and box springs to outline the inside of hollow bed frame, as well, then did the same for his roommate, just to be nice. A few well-placed sigils on the door blended in seamlessly with the graffiti of generations past, and the one at the top of the window was high enough that even someone Sam's height would have to know where to look to see it.
"They won't keep everything out," Dean warned, as though he, not Sam, had been the one to discover the symbols. "You should still keep my knife under your pillow. And check the lines at least once a week."
"I've been doing it all my life," Sam said. "I ought to be able to handle it by now."
The actual unpacking was accomplished with far less care, and by the time both bags were empty, Sam's roommate still hadn't shown.
"Didn't that punk downstairs say something about a meal card?" Dean asked, probably in response to the rather loud growls emanating from Sam's stomach region.
Sam briefly considered giving the roommate a little longer to make an appearance, but quickly decided that he'd have the whole year to get to know the guy. So after an hour of schlepping across campus to the central office, standing in line, smiling for what might be his first legitimate identification card and schlepping back, Sam found himself staring with mouth-watering awe at one of the biggest collections of food he'd ever seen. John had never exactly let him and Dean go hungry, but Sam had been creeping up on enormous for a few years now, and it was hard to keep a growing boy in food even if you weren't relying on fraudulent credit cards and illegal gambling to pay the grocery bills.
A cheeseburger chased down with pizza and maybe mashed potatoes might do the trick, though, Sam thought. Then, maybe waffles for dessert.
"Dude," Dean said, voice full of the kind of wonder others might reserve for something like the Grand Canyon. "Can I come to college, too?"
The meal took almost two hours, and moving was no small feat afterward. Suddenly all those people needing a rest on the landing of the stairs made sense, so rather than face the two-flight climb to his room, Sam decided a trip to the bookstore was in order. That, however, was not altogether painless, either.
"Seriously?" Dean repeated. Again. "$426? For books? And they're not even thrillers?"
Sam didn't even attempt to justify it.
On the way back to the dorm (Sam was planning to go take a look at some of his books, but Dean was threatening to repeat the word geek until it lost all meaning and drove Sam out to wherever college kids were supposed to spend Saturday nights), Sam spotted the mail boxes. On a whim, he decided to find his and try out his key.
To his surprise, there was a small package with familiar handwriting waiting inside for him.
"Sammy," said the letter inside, scrawled on a piece of generic hotel stationary. "Hope you made it all right. That bus ride must've been a bitch. I would have driven you but, well, you know. Dad'll calm down, though. You'll see.
"For now, though, here's some money to get you through the first few weeks. Buy some new shoes. And a haircut. Don't forget to put down some salt lines. If you're careful, you should be able to do it without anyone noticing. But you'll have to check them at least once a week to make sure they're holding, OK?
"Don't study to hard, and kiss a few of those California girls for me. And I'm putting in half my box of those Little Debbie brownies we like. I don't know what kind of food they're going to have over there. Sprouts, maybe. Don't eat sprouts, OK? That's gross. You're a person, not a cow.
"Anyway. I guess that's all. If you get a chance, maybe give us a call? Let us know you made it? Wish I could be there.
Sam slid down the wall he'd been leaning against, staring at the letter. For the first time since he'd gotten on the bus in Albany, he was alone in his head, the echoes of Dean fading away in the face of the real thing.
And for the first time since he'd been alone, he felt lonely.
Note: So it didn't exactly turn out to be an AU, which was the theme of this round. I hope SFTCOL(AR)S won't throw me out.