Title: Finding Home
Rating: PG-13/R for language, mostly
Disclaimer: Nothing you recognize is mine. I gain nothing of materialistic value from this.
Pairings: Mostly gen. Briefly, Sam/Jess
1. This is about Sam and Dean—or, really, about samndean. It's biased a little toward Sam-centric, especially in the first chapter or so, but both of them have a strong presence no matter how many states away they are from the current narrative. There are secondary characters, some invented, as is necessary for Stanford-fics, but they will always remain secondary to the Winchester boys. Sam's characterization seems right to me but may not to you—I'm going on the idea of a Sam who's a little more messed up from his fallout with his family than we see explicitly on the show, but please tell me if it seems too far off the mark. As it's my first Supernatural fic, I'm trying to get the boys right, and I'd be grateful if you'd help me.
2. It's AU, following Sam's leaving for Stanford (and assumes that "Pilot" takes place in his senior year). Canon for me is the show--I haven't read the comics. Some things come earlier than they do in canon or happen differently, but this is still the same universe—I haven't changed the rules or mythology. Well, maybe, concerning psychic-ness, but to be fair, we don't actually know exactly how that works, so...
3. Romance isn't really my thing. Jess is present, there are hints and suggestions of others, but our favorite fraternal relationship is what I'm focusing on.
4. You might recognize a few lines from the show, some taken directly and others altered in some ways or said by a different person. This was done deliberately, either for irony or to draw some parallel, so keep that in mind.
5. Hope you enjoy!
"If I'd called, would you have answered?"
The door was already open when Sam found the room, so he stuffed his key into a pocket. His duffel bag slipped as he did so, and he winced at the soft thump it made as he broke its fall with a foot.
Two people looked up at the sound, one emerging from behind a box on the far bed. "Hey," the youngest one called, grinning. "Samuel Winchester? Good to see you made it, roomie." He'd been pinning up posters, and he now slapped a hand on the wall as one unfixed corner started to droop.
Sam hefted the bag back onto his shoulder and entered cautiously, berating himself for not having learned his roommate's name, too. "Hey," he answered instead. "And call me Sam," he said, hoping the other boy would introduce himself without making it seem as through Sam were fishing for information.
He told himself it was ridiculous to feel like he'd missed something important in his pre-hunt research. Because it wasn't a hunt.
"Alright, Sam. And you can call me Steve," said Steve, pushing a pin through the corner of the poster. "This is my dad—s'helping me move in and stuff. Hope you don't mind me picking this bed."
Sam stepped over a pile of something—clothes?—on the floor and dropped his duffel and backpack onto the other bed, closest to the door. "No, it's fine," he replied automatically, clamping down on the voice that said he was taking Dean's bed and that Dean would kick his ass when he got in. "Uh, nice to meet you, sir," he added belatedly, looking at Steve's father.
"Hi, Sam. You need help with the rest of your things? Or is your family bringing it up?"
He flinched slightly. Not at the mention of his family. Just...surprised and maybe a little embarrassed at the assumption, because while he saw how many boxes and bags and suitcases his roommate had brought with him, it was strange to think of owning so much that he'd need help—was that a trolley beside Steve's bed?—carrying it all. If nothing else, Dean would have snorted and called him a pansy before dragging everything in himself.
"Uh, no sir, this is it. Just me and…" he gestured toward the fraying bags. He barely stopped himself and his hand twitched toward the knife at his back. Dad would have asked what he was carrying, too, but he thought Steve's dad might not appreciate the blade quite as much. Sam raised the hand instead, scratching the back of his head. God, he must be more tired than he'd thought if he was getting so twitchy. "I just got in on the Greyhound." He wasn't sure why he'd said it, since it didn't really answer anything, and he could hear Dad in his head berating him for volunteering unsolicited, needless, useless information.
"Seriously?" Steve asked incredulously, because apparently he had as much tact as Dean. "Oh…well, the rest is being shipped here, right? I'll help you with it once it gets here." Sam opened his mouth, but then shut it, not really in the mood to come up with an answer to that.
"Are you okay, son?" Sam snapped his gaze back to the older man, whose brow was furrowed, quelling the urge to say I'm not your son. "What happened to your face?"
Ducking away as if he could hide the bruise on his cheek, Sam forced a sheepish look onto his face. "Uh, I was kinda tired when I got off the bus and ended up walking face-first into a stop sign. There was this police officer about three feet away, and it took me forever to convince him I wasn't drunk," he added, hoping the detail would make the lie seem more real.
Steve's dad chuckled, shaking his head. "Well, I'll let you two get to know each other, then. Nice to meet you, Sam. And Steve…"
Sam turned back to his bag, tuning out the good-byes behind him. There was a chest of drawers and a desk, but he left everything except his clothes in the bags, feeling irrationally uncomfortable leaving things lying around, especially with Steve's belongings strewn everywhere. Sam often complained—had complained—about Dean's sloppiness, but, glancing back at the floor now, he supposed Dean was only sloppy compared to an obsessive ex-marine who acted like he was still in the military.
Besides, he was pretty sure a lot of the things in the duffel bag were against Stanford rules. And the law, probably. It would be better to leave them there. While Steve was squirming to get out of his dad's hug, Sam took out his jar of salt and tucked it inside a drawer, then stuffed the whole bag in it.
There was a party that night. Sam claimed tiredness from the long bus ride, and as soon as Steve had left, he lifted the edge of the carpet by the door and drew a line of salt across the threshold before dropping the carpet back over it. For the windowsill, he covered the entire salt line with a thick strip of tape for security.
The protection runes would have been easier if he'd been using charcoal, or paint, or something visible, but his hands were familiar enough with the motions not to really need to see what he was doing. The last thing he needed was for Steve or someone else to think he was a devil-worshipper, which was what people tended to assume when they saw ritualistic symbols they didn't recognize. As it was, Sam hoped holy water would be powerful enough to last for at least a while after it dried.
Reaching into a pocket sewn on the inside of the duffel bag, Sam extracted the rosary beads that Pastor Jim had given him years ago before pouring water into a cup.
("Keep it with you, Samuel," he said, "as a reminder of your faith in the Lord."
Sam frowned as he turned it over in his hands. " This is cold iron, isn't it, Pastor Jim?"
He winked then. "That doesn't hurt, either. However…I want you to remember, Samuel, that you can spread all your salt and recite all the Latin you want, and it won't matter a whit if you don't mean it. You have to believe.")
He'd always had mixed feelings about those days with Jim Murphy. The older man had been friend, mentor, confessor, and teacher, and it was there that Sam had learned to perform exorcisms almost as well as Dad.
At the same time, weeks with Jim were also weeks without Dean and Dad, wishing he were with them and guiltily relieved that he wasn't. The first time had been when he was almost nine years old, and it hadn't slipped his notice that five years later, at fourteen, he'd still been left there during the more dangerous hunts, no matter how much he'd complained that he didn't need a babysitter and Dean had been thirteen when he'd started hunting almost full-time.
("You're not coming unless you're watching our backs," Dad growled.
Sam was insulted; he'd been with them for plenty of hauntings and even a werewolf once. " Of course I'd—!"
"You'd what? You miss the target like you do half the time during practice?" That was a big exaggeration, but Sam had to suppress a flinch anyway because while he knew he was pretty good, he also knew that pretty good wasn't good enough. "You miss this time, you put a silver bullet into your brother."
There was no hiding the shudder that came with that. "I wouldn't hit Dean, Dad."
"Who're you trying to convince, Sam? You can start watching out for your brother's ass when he stops having to pick yours up off the ground.")
They'd been gone for barely a week that time, but by the time they were back, Sam had gotten pretty damn good with the guns they'd left behind. A month later, he'd exorcized his first demon.
Staring at the rosary now, he shook head, closed his eyes, and began to recite.
"Exorcizo te, creatura aquae…"
Motels weren't quiet places, but somehow the dorm building seemed too loud, every sound jolting Sam from his restless doze. Or maybe it was too quiet, but there was no way he was going to examine that.
Even his dreams, when he managed to drift off for brief periods, were odd. Not even real images, or sounds even. Just the feeling that someone was bending over him, doing…well, something, maybe. Or maybe not.
He woke to the sound of someone rattling the doorknob. He lay disoriented for a few moments, looking at a drop of something dark that fell on his pillow. Blood?
Bolting upright, he jerked his gaze upward, but saw nothing more than the ceiling. Blinking away the remnants of a headache, he looked back to his pillow. Nothing. Blowing out a breath, he rubbed his eyes and tried to wake more fully.
The doorknob rattled again, and he reached under the mattress in panic before he heard a muffled curse and the sound of keys dropping. He barely managed the slide the knife back out of sight as Steve fumbled his way in, laughing.
"Y'missed a great party, Sammy," he slurred before staggering past to his own bed, producing a half-empty bottle of water, and gulping down the few mouthfuls. Sam winced as he tossed it aside--some of it splashing onto the walls--lay down, and passed out loudly.
Sam sighed, vowing never to complain about Dean's snoring again before remembering that he probably wouldn't get that chance, anyway.
Steve didn't wake as Sam pulled a stick of charcoal from the duffel bag, pulled down a poster, and redrew the sigils before pinning everything back. He didn't even stir as Sam fixed the broken salt line at the doorway, this time securing it with tape, too.
His dreams had always been notoriously vivid. Sam lay back on his bed, not even trying to sleep anymore, and tried to remember images from this dream, but all he could draw was a blank.
The next morning, Sam had taken a short run through campus, showered, and come back from breakfast by the time Steve woke with a hangover that Sam was surprised to find didn't remind him at all of Dean, who always managed to sound more threatening than whiny even while he was bitching and moaning. He wanted to make some joke, but all that came out was, "Hey, Steve…don't call me Sammy."
He wandered outside and dropped into a crouch just outside the building, fishing the cell phone from his pocket. Dean was on speed-dial, and his finger hovered for an eternity of seconds over the key. Then, hating himself for his cowardice, he dialed Dad's number instead. Not to…reconcile or anything. Just to…to let them know he was alive. An exchange with Dad
("...dare turn your back on your brother and me. On your mother, Sam…"
"…your obsession, not mine—I don't even remember what she…"
"…out that door, don't bother coming back.")
could be short, if not civil. A conversation with Dean right now would probably be neither.
A second later he realized that the phone on the other end was ringing. He considered for two desperate seconds slamming it closed, then sucked in a breath and brought it up to his ear. Then the ringing stopped, and he almost dropped his hand, heart pounding with relief and despair, but then, he heard a thud on the other side. "Dad?" he said, but his voice came out so soft he barely heard it himself. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Dad? Sir?"
From the other end, a muffled "Who is it, Dad?" Sam froze.
A pause, and then, "No one, son."
Click. Dial tone.
The nice thing about college campuses was that no one asked questions about why Sam took his backpack everywhere he went. Still, just in case, he always had a few books to pull out as an excuse and kept the silver-bladed knife secure behind the hidden flap he'd sewn in. He'd had plenty of practice keeping the smaller, steel knife on his person. The holy water didn't look out of place in a Nalgene.
Bobby said the water retained its power best in metal. Dad said Bobby was full of shit, but he might have just been pissed because Bobby had threatened him with a shotgun once. Still, not many people knew more about demon hunting than Bobby, so Sam made sure to refill the water bottle every so often. It was a simple enough ritual, anyway.
The day before classes started, Sam found himself in Memorial Church. It was early; no one else was there. Dipping his fingers into the font of holy water was automatic. After a week of watching the frantic move-in activities, wanting to join in but fearing missteps, the tingling sensation he always felt upon touching holy water went a long way toward soothing his frazzled nerves. Closing his eyes, he breathed in deeply as he crossed himself, then made his way forward.
Hunting had brought the Winchesters to churches relatively often, especially since they counted Jim Murphy among their small number of trusted allies and information sources. When he'd been younger, Dean had touched the holy water each time they entered. Sam suspected it had been mostly superstition, which was understandable—in their lives, some superstitions were worth heeding. As he'd gotten older, though, and begun separating truth from myth, he'd begun to drop certain habits. He was still respectful in churches, but that was all, and Sam suspected even that was only to prevent being kicked out in the middle of an investigation.
Dad had never prayed. He could bless water, of course, and recite exorcisms and perform rituals, but that was all. Sam wasn't sure whether the man was religious or not, and he'd never raised the courage to ask about Mom.
Sam had opened a Bible for the first time at the age of nine, when he'd been staying with Pastor Jim while Dad and Dean went to hunt a poltergeist—just for three days, Dad had said, maybe four or five. It had been Dean's first real hunt, and when the elder Winchesters hadn't returned a week later, Jim had found Sam huddled in a pew, crying.
The following days were filled with lessons. About faith, God, prayers, Latin, rituals—Jim Murphy's areas of expertise. Sam had been reading had just closed the Bible Jim gave him when the Impala had pulled up.
As it turned out, they'd been fine: Dad had gotten wind of a demon while he was away and had gone to check it out. The poltergeist had smashed Dad's phone, and he hadn't had time to call and let them know until they'd stopped at a payphone a few hours out.
Dean had found him in their shared room, sitting on their shared bed and fiddling with one of their shared duffel bags. He'd smirked at the sight of the book.
("Hey, Sammy! What, not enough reading during the school year? You have to read on vacation, too?" Sam didn't dare to move, but the sullen response was automatic.
"It's not vacation," he groused. "Just because Dad pulled us out of school again for this hunt doesn't mean—"
"Yeah, whatever," Dean had brushed off airily. "Don't tell me you'd rather be taking math class now? Then he'd snorted. Well, you probably would, actually."
"Was it there?"
A pause. "Uh...by 'It,' you mean a homicidal clown?"
"Dean! Stop joking!" His voice was almost a shout now, and probably would have been had he not been able to hear Dad and Pastor Jim downstairs.
"Well, you'll have to be a little more specific, Sam!"
"The demon, jerk!"
"Oh," Dean said, finally dropping the bag he'd been carrying. "Nah, just some college kids messing around. No big deal."
Sam opened his mouth but found he didn't know how to respond to that. He snapped his jaw shut, not sure he wasn't going to start to bawl like a little kid. And then Dean would say something like 'It's okay, you are a little girl, Samantha,' and Sam didn't wanted to hear it because was so mad at Dad for staying away so long and at Dean for acting like it was okay, and he wanted to throw himself at Dean and not let go except that Dean would call him a little girl and…well.
Then Dean really looked at the book in Sam's hands. He raised his eyebrows in surprise and said, "You really are going for the whole choirboy thing, aren't you? We don't even go to church, dude." Sam wanted to laugh at him, since they were on church grounds right then, but he started crying instead and ended up falling asleep curled up under Dean's chin while his brother called him a little girl and tucked him in, which wasn't so bad after all.)
After that, whenever they entered a church, Sam had gone in trailing just a little behind Dean, making sure his brother wasn't looking when his fingers found the font and made the sign of the cross. He'd never picked up the habit of kneeling at his bed at nighttime to pray or saying Grace before meals, so when he started praying, he did so silently, staring blankly at a page or cleaning a gun or wrapped in Dean's arms when they turned in at night. He made sure Dean never noticed.
Sometimes he'd felt guilty about being embarrassed about his faith in front of his cocky, more confident older brother. But then, sometimes he had believed more in Dean than in God, anyway. Still believed, maybe.
It was Dean, after all.
Over the past week, Sam had lain awake in bed, imagining that he would walk outside one day and find his brother there, leaning against the Impala. Sometimes he wished it would happen, that Dean would be there, whole and healthy, and forgive everything. Sometimes he was terrified of it, and then laughed at the arrogance that made him think it was even possible for Dean to come looking for him.
Once, a worried middle school teacher had pulled him aside with "Are your parents away from home a lot?" and something about an "unusual attachment to your older brother." She'd shut up upon learning that Mom was dead and Dad had to work a lot to support them, because two things people were uncomfortable around were death and economic status.
Dean had thought it was hilarious. It had taken years for Sam to admit it was probably true.
Thinking of Dean these days meant imagining the blinding look of betrayal in his brother's eyes. Trying to hate him instead was worse. Avoiding him in his thoughts was impossible.
And now, it was the first time in almost ten years that he'd been able to sit in a church without looking over his shoulder, wondering if Dean or Dad would walk in…
Then the door opened, and someone—another student, probably—came in. It wasn't Dean or Dad, and Sam thought maybe that was even worse. With a sigh, he rose and slipped back out. He didn't need to sit in a pew to ask for forgiveness.
As soon as he was outside, though, the hollow feeling of alone alone alone crashed over him again. He actually took a moment to wonder whether it was something demonic that hallowed ground had staved off, except he knew it had nothing to do with that. The church had reminded him of the place that had been more like a stable home than anything else Sam could remember.
Except maybe the car.
He didn't worship cars the way Dean did, but the Impala had been their constant, as far back as he could remember, even when his legs had grown too long to fit comfortably for the interminable hours on the road. Even more than the church, the Impala had been home. His dad in the driver's seat and his brother...it had been home.
The thought didn't help at all, and he had to stop to calm his breathing before continuing toward his dorm.
As it turned out, Steve wasn't really a hard partier, despite his adventure that first day. Sam got along pretty well with the guy—he was good at getting along with people at every new school. He took a few of the same classes, went out with him and his friends on Friday nights, though Steve never got quite that drunk again. They were too different to really connect—Steve's dad was rich as hell, his family lived about two hours away, and he laughed and talked openly with practically everyone. Sam had always been the social one in the Winchester family—Dean's flirting didn't count—but next to Steve and his friends he looked downright shy, even when he stood a head taller than most of them.
It had never been that much of a problem before. As much as Dean mocked his height, he'd never really been the biggest one on the room, not with Dean and Dad there.
Then again, he was still a Winchester, and they were good at nothing if not acting like they fit in. However much Dad reminded Sam that he wasn't good enough at shooting, Sam had always been the best at seeming normal. Before long, he'd even almost convinced himself that this was what he'd wanted all along: sitting here at this table with four others from class, conjuring up smiles and chatting about nothing and occasionally cracking open a book and scribbling in some notes.
"You do the reading for IHUM yet, Sam?" asked Mike. They were in the same class, and Mike had cottoned on quickly to the fact that Sam seemed to know more than the professor about religious symbolism. "Pretty cool stuff, huh?"
"Sure," he answered.
"Not really what you learn in church, though. Not all of it, anyway."
"The class is called 'Religious Myth, History and Practice,' not 'Modern Christian Practices,'" he pointed out. "Most Christian priests aren't exactly going to teach you about Wicca and the Wheel of Dharma." Pastor Jim had, but those lessons had been interspersed with lessons on how to throw a knife, too so he probably didn't count as a usual, everyday kind of pastor.
"Well, yeah," Mike huffed. "But some stuff, like…the pentagram? Man, this one time, my sister came home with this pentagram necklace, and my momflipped. Thought it was a Satanic…demon thingy." Sam didn't bother to hide his snort. "Shut up, you know what I mean."
He did know, although Mike didn't know he was just thinking of how much an actual demon would like being stuck in a pentagram. "It's more like a protection symbol. If you believe in that kind of stuff, anyway." He grinned. "Although you might not want to go around calling it a protection charm in front of your mom."
Mike rolled his eyes, but laughed anyway. "Hey, just because I'm not fluent in Latin doesn't mean I'm an idiot."
Rebecca, across the table, lifted an eyebrow and looked up at him from under the blond hair. "No one's fluent in Latin these days."
"Sam is, actually," Steve chimed in. "He speaks Latin in his sleep."
Sam asked, surprised, "I speak Latin in my sleep?" just as Jessica, next to Rebecca, threw up her hands and snorted.
"Wow, okay, that's just not right. I'm barely passing Latin class, and all I have to be able to do is decline 'servus'." Sam laughed automatically along with them, racking his brains for what he might have said. As a kid, he'd sometimes blurted things in Latin when he was upset, but that hadn't happened for years. And as well as he knew the language, it wasn't well enough ingrained in him to be able to spout it subconsciously. Besides, he couldn't actually remember most of his dreams recently.
Steve was snickering. "Get Sam to tutor you, Jess," and Sam saw her flick her eyes toward him and blush faintly. "Seriously, I took Latin," he continued, looking at Sam now, "and I know what I'm hearing at night, Geekboy."
Sam frowned, thinking that the only Latin he probably could spit out in his sleep was ritualistic. "Learned it at home as a kid. Sorry, I didn't even know I was doing it."
Steve waved it off. "Whatever, man. It's not like I remember anything from high school Latin class. Besides, I learned classical Latin, and I'm not gonna waste my time picking apart your church pronunciation. Whatever kinky Latin fantasies you've got going in your head are safe from me."
Sam felt heat creep up his ears, wishing he hadn't said that in front of Jessica. And Becky, of course. "At least I don't snore. And going by whatyou mutter in your sleep, I really don't wanna know what your fantasies are." And then Mike started making ragging on a protesting Steve and the topic was dropped.
Jessica found him the next day as he made his way out of the Memorial Church.
"Hey," he greeted. They knew each other well enough to be friendly but not a whole lot more. He glanced around to make sure Dean wasn't going to snicker about him talking to the hot blonde girl before he could stop himself.
"Hey, Sam," she answered, pulling out earphones and hitting a button on her mp3 player. "Actually, I've been hoping to run into you. I've got a question, Mister I-can-speak-church-Latin-and-give-lectures-on-pentagrams…" she teased.
"S'what happens when you grow up in the back seat of a car," Sam answered lightly. "Mixed signals and everything."
"The back seat of a car?" she asked. "Really."
"We moved around a lot. Lived in a bunch of different places."
Jessica looked genuinely interested. "Yeah? Military brat?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess," he replied. Although marine was always an essential part of his dad in Sam's mind, he'd never really thought of himself that way. It wasn't why they'd grown up rootless, anyway. Hunter's brat, maybe. "My dad's ex-Marines."
"I can relate—mine was in the Navy." She gave him a wry smile that he returned, thinking that she had no idea how much their lives didn't relate. "On the other hand, I didn't grow up learning Latin. Is your dad, like, a traveling teacher or something?"
"He…um, fixes cars. Mechanic." Which didn't really do anything to answer her question. Sam hesitated; reluctant to say more but hoping it would stave off more questions, he added, "We don't really get along. When I left…it wasn't exactly on the best of terms." He could practically see the I'm sorry in her eyes and said quickly, "Hey, you know, I started learning Latin in church, but I did study classical Latin like they teach here. You wanna study together sometime?" And then he blushed a little, because he wasn't blind—she was really pretty.
She looked relieved. "That's what I was gonna ask, actually. That'd be really great. You free tomorrow after math class?"
"Sure, I'll see you then. Cras."
"Uh. I was just. Cras. It means tomor…uh, you know what, never mind. See you then."
It didn't count, Sam thought. Not really. Hell, it wasn't like he'd been looking for it.
Well, not at first, anyway. But seriously, he'd finished the calculus problem set so fast he was actually bored—and he didn't even like math—and his other classes weren't that much better. Art history was okay, but his IHUM class had turned out to be a joke, however interesting it seemed to Mike. Religious Symbology Lite. What the professors taught in that class wouldn't be any help at all if an angry spirit found them.
Sam reminded himself that most people didn't think about angry spirits very often, quashing the thought that that was pretty stupid, considering how often spirits came up. Then he shut his textbook and starting thinking in earnest about the spirit inside Memorial Church.
It didn't take long to find. Well, okay, maybe the librarian was clearing her throat pointedly, clearly wanting to close up, by the time he'd sifted through piles of embellished urban legends, but the research—real research, not the stupid stuff they did for class—had felt so good that Sam barely noticed four hours passing.
Not that he'd liked it. It barely counted, anyway, just an in-and-out salt and burn, and the spirit wasn't even violent. A woman murdered in the church back in 1974, buried in a cemetery a few miles off campus, her spirit screaming and scaring the hell out of people once in a while. A one-time thing, he promised, feeling guilty as he stashed away a handful of salt shakers from the dining hall rather than take from his own salt jar. It wasn't really hunting; just a precaution.
He woke Steve getting back to the dorm room afterward, who mumbled, "I can't believe I was stuck writing a friggin' paper the one day you decide to shut your laptop for once. Hope you had fun, at least."
"Yeah," Sam whispered back. Not because he had. Just a standard answer, that was all. "Go back to sleep."
He lay in bed, too wired to sleep himself, and thought about how screwed up it was that the lingering, nauseating scent of ashes and burning corpse was more like home than this room.
Jess loved her music. Sam was a little surprised by her playlist. "Metallica," he stated with raised brows, scrolling through. "Blue Oyster Cult?"
She shrugged, carelessly sweeping up a notebook and pushing back from the library table. "My dad drilled his favorite music into my big brother's head, and when you live in a house with two guys blasting their music all day long, well…It's grown on me, I guess." She quirked an eyebrow at him. "Why so shocked?"
"Oh, just…you didn't really seem the type." To Sam, Metallica meant cockiness and casual cussing, leather jackets and hard-earned muscle, shotguns and borderline pyromania. He didn't know Jessica all that well yet, but she seemed all soft curves and innocence, the kind of girl who studied for class and blushed at profanity.
Her smirk at that was dazzlingly beautiful, but somehow reminded him oddly of Dean. "Maybe you should get to know my type better." Her step toward him was teasing, coy, but with an enticingly feminine swagger in the movement.
Huh. Maybe he'd judged too soon.
Sam cleared his throat. "We should get out before the librarian locks us in here."
She smirked again, and Sam almost heard Dean's voice saying, Kinky, Sammy. Jessica pushed the door open and pressed closer when he tentatively wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
"So, I've seen you coming out of the church a few times," Jessica said one day.
"Mm," Sam answered, not looking up from the conjugation chart she'd just finished. "This one, here, it should be cupiunt, not cupunt." He himself had learned quickly which verbs took an extra i, mostly from pointing them out when Dean missed them.
"Oh." She uncapped a pen with her teeth and squeezed an i into place. "You go to services on Sundays?"
"No," he said. She was still watching him, so he flashed a quick smile and explained, "We used to stay a lot with a family friend, a pastor. I picked up a few habits from him."
"You're not really religious, then?"
"I—well, I am, sort of. It's not…I mean, I don't believe everything in the Bible or anything." Even Pastor Jim said the thing with the Red Sea might have had something to do with an undine. Sam thought it would have had to be a mutant undine, but he wasn't going to rule that out, either. "I'm not Christian, exactly. But I guess I believe there's something…some…higher power. You know? That we're not alone. I'd like to think so, anyway."
"Huh," Jessica said. "It's kind of hard for me to believe in something without seeing it. Not that…you know…I mean, I don't have anything against God or faith or whatever." Jess was blushing faintly, clearly embarrassed, curious but uncomfortable.
"No, it's fine, my family doesn't put much stock in religion, either. Sometimes I'm not so sure myself." If Sam was honest with himself, it was true, and how ironic was it that a family hunting supernatural beings was so firmly rooted in the tangible?
Or, well, intangible, in the case of spirits, but even spirits tended to throw stuff around, which was pretty tangible.
But the thing was, they were all alive, and while that might not have been the greatest feat for a normal family, with the lives they led, it was practically a miracle. Sam believed a little more every time they collapsed into ratty motel beds after a hunt, bruised and tired and bleeding but not dead.
("…won't matter a whit if you don't mean it. You have to believe.")
Unexpectedly, he wondered whether his mother had been religious, then stopped wondering because what was the point?
"Not that I'm doubting," he added after a few seconds. Holy water and consecrated iron were useless if he didn't believe.
He thought maybe it didn't count if he only believed so he could bless water, then stopped thinking about that, too.
"Okay," Jess said, looking uncomfortable with the awkward turn the conversation had taken. After a while, she offered, her tone teasing, "I don't doubt, either. I don't doubt the Force is with you, young Skywalker. You know who that is, right?"
Sam threw her an incredulous look. "I do know who Luke Skywalker is, thanks."
"Well, you never know. You said you'd seen Star Wars. Seriously, it's like you lived under a rock all your life, Geekboy." She put in her earphones, smirking at him as she bent over her book again.
"Oh, don't you start that now, too."
She lifted her eyes from the book and waggled her eyebrows at him. "What? Sorry, can't hear you over Brian Johnson."
Sam leaned across the table, pulled out an earphone, and started to repeat loudly, "I said—"
"Shh," Jess interrupted, slapping his hand away playfully. "We're in a library, Sam." She widened her eyes innocently and grinned up at him.
Sam sat back down. After a moment, he grinned back and thought it might be his first real smile since getting to Palo Alto.
"You know," he'd explained once, " 'geek' comes from a word that means 'simpleton'."
This had not helped his case.
Rebecca once told him that anyone a hundred feet tall should be fighting crime, or at least playing a sport, not outscoring everyone on exams. He did manage to nip her "gentle giant" teasing in the bud by starting to call her "Little Becky." Which turned out to be kind of fun, since it was reinforced by her older brother, Zach, so he kept doing it. Becky responded by constantly trying to make him stop doing homework.
Steve was glad to help her.
"Come on, Sam!" he was saying. "You gotta come out of here sometime. You even missed the party last week! What's that about, anyway?"
"I've got two midterms tomorrow, Steve. And I'm not a fan of Halloween," Sam told him, passing off his discomfort as a casual shrug.
"What the hell's not to like? Candy and alcohol and chicks dressed up as…like…I don't know what they were supposed to be, man but they were wearing the tiniest dresses ever. Dude," he waggled his eyebrows, "Jess went as a nurse. I think she was missing her favorite patient."
"Shut up," Sam muttered. Yeah, he'd misjudged her at first glance. She was smart and acted like the naïve schoolgirl, but she liked the skimpy nurse—and, actually, schoolgirl—costumes. Sam wasn't complaining.
"You're such a prude. Seriously, dude, she told Becky she's getting an A in Latin now. Must be all that 'studying' you two are doing."
"Yeah," Sam said firmly, though not firmly enough to hide his blush. "She's beenstudying hard." When Steve snorted, he warned, "You keep your head in that gutter all the time? 'Cause someone might come along and step on it."
"Aw, how sweet…Sammy's all protective of his girl."
A pang stabbed through him, honed rather than dulled by the months of absence and the tenseness he'd lived through during Halloween, and his voice was sharper than he'd intended when he said, "Jesus, Steve, how many times do I have to tell you to stop calling me that!"
Steve jumped, raising his hands placatingly but clearly a bit annoyed. "Well, shit, man. What's up your ass?"
Sam blew out a breath, a little surprised himself, and raked a hand through his hair. "Sorry. Didn't get a lot of sleep" he hadn't since coming to Stanford, though stress had made it worse lately— "and I'm tired, and…look, it's just something my brother used to call me, okay?"
By now his friends knew him well enough that mention of his family was usually enough to make them stop asking. Steve, though, had his head cocked to the side and had a question written clearly in his eyes.
"Your brother Dean?" he asked.
Sam dropped his hand. "Wha-- How'd you know?" He didn't think he'd mentioned Dean's name to anyone.
"Well, you know how I said you talk in your sleep? You've said his name a few times. I heard you on the phone yesterday, leaving a message for Dean, and since you've been pining for Jess, I figured it wasn't…you know. An ex. Or something." Steve's look of annoyance had morphed into apprehension.
And now Sam was a little too weirded out to deny that he was crushing pretty hard on Jess, because, besides the naked-in-class-forgot-my-homework ones, he still couldn't remember most of his dreams—and now, he really wanted to know what the hell was playing in his brain at night, if it involved Latin and Dean and that shivery sense of desperation and foreboding he always woke with.
Steve had swallowed his hesitance and continued, "And I know how you don't like to talk about your folks, and that's cool, really, not my business or anything…It's just, I've never seen you lose your temper about anything except stuff like…like the Sammy thing—which I get, dude, and I won't do it again—and I remember how you showed up that first day by yourself with, like, a backpack and this bruise on your face, and I was wondering…" He cut himself off to take a breath and went on, as if trying to get it all out, "You sounded pretty upset on the phone…"
Sam wasn't touching that one with a ten-foot pole from inside a circle of protection. Not everything that haunted you was scared of salt. So…
"Dean's my older brother," he interrupted quickly. "My mom died when I was a baby, and my dad sorta lost it a little. Moved around a lot. Dean practically raised me. Dad was pissed when I wanted to go to college. We had an fight, Dean—" didn't have a choice "—stayed, Dad…said some things, I said some things, I left. That's it." His life in a nutshell, minus a few ghosts and demons.
"Well, he sounds like a supportive older brother."
Anger was starting to curl around the edges of his mind, and he held it back with the calmest expression in his arsenal while at the same time clutching to the irritation to keep everything else at bay. "Don't talk about him like that," he said, his voice coming out quiet and controlled. "Dean's…you don't know anything about him." Leave it alone, leave it alone, just shut up about it—
Steve raised his hands again but this time in surrender. "Alright, fine. I'll stay out of it. You just keep your weirdo dreams away from my side of the room."
Sam bit down on the retort he had prepared and decided maybe he could joke his way out of this one, too. "Not a problem, man, I don't swing that way."
His roommate laughed, still sounding a little uncomfortable. "Yeah, got the memo. Tutoring the chick down the hall. So, last chance, you comin' or what?"
A relieved sigh. "Midterms, Steve. Homework. GPA. Ring a bell?"
"Not really," came the cheerful answer. "Have fun with your books then, Geekboy. I'll tell Jess you wanna have another study session tomorrow."
The door slammed. "Jer—" Sam sighed and changed his mind. "Asshole."
His pocket buzzed, and he told himself he wasn't going to answer the phone. Only two numbers elicited a silent ring.
His fingers had other ideas and fished the damn thing out anyway, but his thoughts must have been frantic enough to freeze the traitorous digits before they could flip it open. The breath that whooshed out of him when he stuffed the phone back into his jeans was a sigh of relief. Not a sob.
While Steve was away, he refilled his bottle with water. "Exorcizo te, creature aquae, in nomine Dei Patris…" he began, then stopped as his father's face flashed through his head.
("Who is it, Dad?" Dean, God, Dean's voice.
"No one, son.")
Sam shook his head. Jesus. Focus. "Exorcizo te…"
("…have to believe…")
Gritting his teeth—in annoyance, not shame—he poured the water down the sink and set off to the church instead. At this hour, no one would notice him taking a little water from the font.
Next Chapter: Exposition time's up--the plot begins...