Later, Sam thought that things didn't really change all that much. Dean was still a dick a lot of the time, and he still wouldn't talk about anything important unless Sam beat him over the head with it. He was still the better hunter, and still more dedicated to the cause than Sam had ever been. He was still Sam's brother.
Other things, though, were different. Sam had to teach himself the new rules between them and make sure that he didn't slip up, because when he slipped up Dean would get closed off and not talk for hours, sometimes days. These rules included not mentioning the kiss or any of the fallout thereof, not ever. They also included not mentioning Dean's smoking, not going near his things and God forbid Sam even thought about touching his journal. Sam hadn't realized that Dean kept a journal like Dad did, and when he saw Dean writing in it he automatically reached out to snag it and see what Dean had to say about their latest case. But Dean had freaked out on him, snatching it back and practically yelling for Sam not to touch it, ever, before storming out of their room. Sam had waited, bewildered, but when Dean had come back hours later he was in a surly mood and didn't even mention the journal. Didn't talk about anything but the case, and Sam had gotten the hint and never mentioned it again.
Touching Dean was another no-no, and Sam learned fast to avoid it. He didn't even stand too close to his brother because Dean got uncomfortable when he did. He knew the reason behind this, of course, but it didn't make it any easier when his skin ached for contact. He missed the simpler days when the need could be alleviated by Dean wrestling with him, or throwing an arm around his shoulders, or even, on very rare occasions, giving him a hug.
Sam could live with this, though. Because he hadn't lost Dean. And that was what mattered the most.
By unspoken consensus, they stopped looking for their Dad. It had pretty much occurred to both of them that if John Winchester didn't want to be found, he wasn't going to be found, and they were really just wasting their time searching for him. So they stopped, and just focused on hunting. And each other.
"Okay, so, how long after I left was it before Dad started letting you hunt on your own?"
Maybe it was a stupid game, Sam thought. But he was tired of them not knowing things about each other. And maybe getting personal information out of Dean was still like pulling teeth- even more like pulling teeth, ever since The Incident, as Sam referred to it in his head- but it was still better than nothing, and Sam was learning things about his brother that he'd never known before. Big things and trivial, and both were important to Sam because it meant that he learning more about Dean.
"Pretty much right after," Dean said. He was sitting at the table in their grungy hotel room, his gun stripped down and spread across the towel-covered table top, cleaning and polishing it. Sam was lying on his back on his bed, watching him and talking.
Dean shot him a smile as he set down the polishing rag and turned towards him. "Actually, truth be told I've been hunting on my own since I was eighteen."
Sam gaped at him. "You have not."
Dean grinned at his disbelief. "Oh, I was. We just made sure that you didn't know about it. 'Fraid you'd get even worse about it if you did."
This was probably a valid fear. Sam had hated the idea of his father going off on his own, even though he'd done it quite a bit in the years where Dean was too young to be his right-hand man. He'd raised hell every time John had tried to go off on a hunting trip alone and leave Dean at home, working at the same garage their father did to make enough money to supply them with food and gas and weapons.
"How the hell did you pull it off?" Sam asked, wonderingly. "We only had two cars, and you always left the Junker with me so I could get to school and stuff."
The Junker had been a crappy little economy car that ran only by the grace of God and Jon Winchester's talented hands. Sam had hated it, but riding the bus or walking would have been way worse.
"Dad kept another car at the garage. We'd leave the house in the Impala, and then he'd take his car and I'd take the Impala and split up. We worked out ahead of time who was calling when to check in with you, and then met back up and drove back together in the Impala. Easy enough."
"That's insane," Sam said. "Since you were eighteen? I can't believe you were able to pull it off for four years." Till Dean was twenty-two, and Sam was eighteen. Till Sam had left, and they hadn't had to hide it anymore, because there was no one left to worry.
"It got pretty hard, sometimes," Dean admitted. "You've always been too clever by half, you ask me. But Hell, we always were pretty good at lying- we had to be- so we got good at covering our tracks."
Sam was still shaking his head in disbelief. It was just like them, to go to insane lengths just to make him worry less. And he had no doubt that it had been much more difficult to keep him in the dark than Dean was letting on.
It had probably been Dean's idea. Dad wouldn't have- well, he would've cared that Sam worried about them, but he wouldn't have cared enough to actually do something about it. Dean had probably cooked up the whole scheme, and because it was Dean, John wouldn't have been able to say no. Dean always had been the Favored Son, and he'd never hesitated to use that to Sam's benefit.
He didn't say any of that, though. Instead, he asked curiously, "Why did you get the Impala, and Dad take the other one? I thought Dad loved that car." John had told them that he'd restored it for himself and Mary as a wedding present, and that she'd almost given birth to Dean in it, when they nearly didn't make it to the hospital on time. Dean had told him once that after the house had burned, after the police and fire department had showed up too late, that John had wrapped them both and held them close to his chest while he'd leaned against the hood of the Impala, like Dean and Sam did so many times. That car was way more than just a car, to them.
"He did," Dean answered. "But it's like you said- it does draw attention, and Dad hates that. Even if he does love the car." His attention back on the gun he was polishing, he added, "But he gave it to me for my eighteenth birthday. Told me that I was old enough to hunt by myself, and I deserved the car. It's been mine ever since." He flashed Sam an oddly intense look. "He was gonna give you the other car and find one for himself, for your graduation gift."
"But then I left." It wasn't a question.
"But then you left." Dean shrugged and went back to the task at hand, dismissing the incident with far more ease than he ever had before. Progress.
"I was wondering why you had it, when you showed up at Stanford," Sam admitted. Time to change the topic back to something safer. "Didn't really want to ask, though."
"Why, because you were going back home in a couple days?" Dean said, sighting down the barrel. His voice held none of the rancor that Sam expected, though, just idle curiosity, and he realized that he was starting to hope that they were getting somewhere.
Either that, or Dean really was a truly exception liar. Sam chose to believe the former.
"No, because I wasn't sure it was any of my business," Sam said. "For all I knew, he'd lost it to you in a poker game, or something. It wouldn't be the first time, with you two."
"Aw, you know that was just to keep our hand in," Dean said. He assembled the gun with practiced ease, checked it over, and then loaded it and set it gently into his duffel. "Have to stay sharp if we want spending money. Hey, you want me to do yours, too, since I got the stuff out?"
"Sure," Sam said, and watched as he reached into Sam's duffel, going unerringly into the right pocket and retrieving his handgun. "You gonna do the shotguns, too?"
"'Course," Dean said. "You know how salt clogs them up."
Sam made a face. Using a sawed-off loaded with rock salt was a great way to fend off spirits. But God, they were a pain in the ass to keep clean.
Dean stripped down Sam's gun with his usual competent efficiency, and Sam couldn't help but admire Dean's style. If you met him, just another guy on the street, you'd think that he was such a slacker, with his lazy grin and his unshaven jaw and the tiny rips in his jeans and t-shirts because hunting was hard on clothes and Dean's tough old leather jacket could only ward off so much damage. And maybe Dean couldn't hold down a regular job, or conjugate French verbs or even understand basic algebra, but he could clean a gun in minutes, could shoot the spade out of a playing card at fifty paces, could read Latin fluently and translate demonology texts, and he faced down dangers that most people didn't even know existed without so much as a flinch, with a cocky grin and his finger on the trigger. There was so much more to his brother than the surface charm, and Sam felt honored because he was probably the only person in the world who really knew the person underneath.
"Hey," Sam said. "You wanna play a game of poker? You know, just to keep your hand in."
Dean shot him a quick, unreadable glance, but he smiled even as his hands were busy with the gun part in his hands. "Sure," he said. "Not that my hand needs any help, but- Sure." He cocked his head to the side. "Mind waiting till I finish this, though? Get the table cleared off."
"Sure," Sam said, and Dean grinned at him before turning his attention back to the gun. Sam closed his eyes and dozed, and he thought he heard Dean stretch and kick his duffel bag and he thought he heard a pill bottle rattle, but he wasn't sure and by the time Dean woke him up for their poker game, he'd forgotten about it.
"Dean, you moron," Sam said, staring at the supplies laid out on his bed. "When I said stock up on some decent food, I did not mean junk food and Chinese take-out."
"I like Chinese," Dean said, on his bed a couple feet away. "What's wrong with Chinese?"
"Nothing is wrong with Chinese," Sam said patiently. "Except the point was to stock up. How are we supposed to keep this stuff on the road? It'll go bad instantly."
"Actually, you'd be surprised how long you can keep sweet and sour chicken before it goes bad," Dean said. "Three days in the winter, when the car doesn't get too hot. Less in the summer."
Sam stared at him. "I don't want to know how you figured that out."
"Way too much experience," Dean said. "And I did not buy junk food."
Sam carefully perused the foodstuffs on his bed, though he already knew everything that was on there. "I'm sorry, did I somehow miss the fruit and vegetables?"
"Speaking of food that doesn't keep," Dean said. "And I bought pretzels. Pretzels aren't junk food. Neither are granola bars."
Sam had to admit, Dean's selection was (relatively) healthy. For him, anyway. Especially the granola bars. "What's up with you and granola bars? You eat them like they're going out of style."
"Breakfast of champions, Sammy," Dean said, his eyes half-closed. Dean wanted to be asleep already, but he was staying awake to talk to Sam. He always did that, no matter how tired he was.
Sam didn't protest the use of the nickname. Somehow, it just didn't bother him as much anymore. Consequently, Dean had ended up using it a lot more, though only when he was stressed or upset. Or really comfortable. Sam kinda hoped that this time, it was the latter. "I think that's Wheaties," Sam said with a half-laugh. "Anyway, I'm gonna go get some real food. You wanna come with or go to sleep?" Sam knew the answer, but Dean would feel hurt if Sam didn't make the offer. It was all part of the give-and-take that Sam was finally relearning the rules of, when it came to his brother.
"Nah," Dean said, as expected. "Need to sleep. Didn't get much last night." Last night Dean had been up scanning the web for new cases, and had found a couple potentials that they were on their way to check out now.
"Alright," Sam said softly, and turned the lights off as he left. He looked at the closed door behind him, shook his head fondly, and set off for the grocery store.
Dean was awake when he got back, standing outside of their room and smoking. Sam never said anything about his habit, not unless he wanted to get his head bitten off by an irritable Dean, but he had gotten Dean to smoke only outside. Sam hated the way cigarette smoke tasted in his mouth when he breathed it in, and he definitely didn't want it in his room, soaking into his clothes. Nothing was worse to a non-smoker than clothes that smelled like smoke.
"Hey," Sam said, and nodded at the grocery bags he was holding. "Wanna get the door?"
"Sure," Dean said, and pulled it open for him. Sam went over and dumped the bags on his bed among the other stuff, and immediately started sorting the foodstuff into categorical piles. Dean watched from the open doorway and snorted.
"You know it's gonna get all mixed up again when we start going through the bags on the road," Dean pointed out, and Sam, without even looking over his shoulder, flipped his brother the bird.
"I like to be able to find what I'm looking for without going through six bags of stuff," he said. "You'd think you'd be able to understand that, as obsessive as you can get about the weapons trunk."
"Keeping that trunk neat is important," Dean said, sounding offended. "What happens if we have to grab stuff in a hurry and can't find the right weapon?"
"That's my point," Sam said, putting the sorted food back into the bags and tossing his extra clothes into his open duffle. "When I look for food, I want to be able to find it fast."
"Weapons are way more important than snack food, Sam," Dean said, his voice radiating amusement. Sam added his gun to his bag and shot a cheeky grin at Dean over his shoulder.
"Food is always important, Dean," he returned. "You of all people should know that."
Dean's familiar rusty laughter followed him into the bathroom, where he scooped up his toothbrush and the first aid kit and headed back into the room. "You ready to go?" he asked, tossing the stuff into his duffel and zipping it up. He glanced over his shoulder, saw Dean's packed bed on his bed, and answered his own question before Dean could. "Right. Let's hit the road."
He brushed past Dean, ignoring the curl of smoke on the air, and waited for Dean to follow him.
A minute later, Dean did, sans cigarette, duffel in hand. He tossed it in the trunk and then came around and slid behind the wheel, slamming the door behind him. "So where to?" he asked as he started the engine, and Sam consulted the marked-up notepad Dean had handed him earlier this morning.
"Oasis, Maine," he said.
"The haunting?" Dean asked. "Or was that the possession?"
"The haunting," Sam said. "It might turn out to be nothing, but you're right, it looks like it might be worth checking out."
"Cool," Dean said, and floored it.
"So this is Oasis, Maine," Dean said, looking around with disgust. "Do people actually live in places like these?"
"People look for them, actually," Sam said. "Welcome to the white picket fence, Dean. You finally made it."
"Gack," said Dean. "Get me out of here."
Sam hid a smirk at his brother's distress and turned to peer out the window. Oasis was a fair-sized town, with small, friendly neighborhoods that had carbon-copy houses painted different pastel colors with manicured lawns. The inner part of the town consisted of schools, a coffee shop, grocery, botanical gardens, and a civil war museum. On the east edge of the town there was a spacious indoor mall, and on the other side of the tracks there was a run-down section that the rest of the town pretended didn't exist.
In short, it was everything that Sam had ever wanted for himself, through his entire screwed-up childhood, and everything that Dean had always sneered at. Now Sam found himself sharing Dean's disdain for the place, a little, mixed in with the usual wistfulness. Neither of the Winchester brothers would ever really fit in, in a place like this, and while Sam probably wouldn't be tempted to blow his brains out like Dean often told him, loudly, he wasn't sure he'd be happy either.
One good thing that came of the Incident- Sam knew where he wanted to be in his life, and it was right at his brother's side, hunting. Nothing was going to change that, not if he could help it.
Beside him, Dean was still muttering. "Suburban hell, if you ask me. How can anyone live like this? They're all zombies, I tell you. I still get nightmares from watching Stepford Wives. It's a warning to us all."
Grinning contentedly, Sam laid his head back against the seat and watched the town flash by.
"Okay," Dean said, once they were settled in a motel that wasn't quite in the bad part of town but was close. "Give me a rundown on the case."
Sam pulled out the file that held all Dean's printouts on potential cases and sorted through until he found the one he was looking for. "Oasis, Maine," he read, shooting Dean a rueful glance when Dean couldn't contain his instinctive grimace. "Stonewall University. In the past month, three straight-A students have been brutally murdered in their beds. Authorities are baffled because there is no connection between the women save their academic standing, and the perpetrator entered and left the homes without, apparently, leaving a mark. The real puzzler, however, is that no one heard anything during any of the attacks, despite the close living quarters and number of people present in the houses at the time."
"Sounds like a spirit killing to me," Dean said. He was sitting on the bed, idly polishing a long knife with a rag that, five minutes ago, was one of his t-shirts. One thing about Dean that hadn't changed was his lack of modesty, and Sam was strangely grateful for it. If Dean could sit there shirtless with Sam in the room, then things really weren't too fucked up. "Only thing is, what's the connection? I mean, it could be the spirit of a college dropout getting pissy about the kids who could actually hack it, but I doubt it."
"Although this school isn't known for its straight-A's," Sam said, reading further in the article. "It's a good school, but not a great one. Better than the community college on the other side of town, though."
"Maybe it is a grudge thing," Dean mused. "Could be some rival students at the other school are summoning a spirit, or something. It's definitely worth checking out."
"Where to first?" Sam asked. He usually deferred to Dean's judgment when it came to the actual hunt. He'd found that it saved time in the long run, because while occasionally Sam was the one with the sudden burst of insight, Dean was usually the one who knew what to do next.
"Library," Dean said decisively, sliding the knife into its sheath. It went in like butter, a testament to the care he took with his weapons, and when he stood up he put it carefully under his pillow. "If it is a spirit, then there's bound to be a similar death somewhere in the records. If not, then it's either summoned or something else entirely." He reached out to grab a clean t-shirt and Sam watched the play of muscles under his skin, wondering how many of the scars that were scored in white across his tan back were received when he was taking care of Sam. Then Dean pulled the t-shirt on and tucked it in so that it pulled taught across his pecs and abdomen, and Sam turned his attention back to the matter at hand.
"What sort of something else entirely are you thinking?" Sam asked, following him out of the motel room and to the car. Dean shrugged at him over the hood.
"I dunno. Beyond a spirit or a run-of-the-mill human serial killer, I have no idea what might be responsible. If this doesn't pan out, we can check Dad's journal for ideas."
"Sure thing," Sam said, and got in the car. "I don't think you're gonna find anything, though. We've both read that thing forwards and backwards and we know every page, and I'm pretty sure there's nothing like this in there."
"Then we pray," Dean said, with that irritating smirk of his, and Sam glared at him for a moment before shaking his head in resignation.
"I call the computers," he said, causing Dean to mutter and curse about musty old papers, and Sam smirked to himself, his good humor restored.
As it turned out, Dean didn't even have to break out the musty old papers, because it took Sam less than a minute on the library computer to find a record of a similar crime.
"December 12th, 1998," Sam read aloud. His back felt cold, unused even now to Dean standing back instead of leaning over his shoulder and crowding him out of the way so he could read it himself. "Freshman Alice Marie Tines was brutally raped and murdered under the cover of the ritual end-of-finals screaming in the dorms. Every year, to celebrate the end of finals and the subsequent quiet hours, all students will open their windows and scream for exactly one minute, between 12:00 and 12:01. Alice was discovered the next morning, and the ritual is now permanently banned throughout all dormitories."
"Wow," Dean said. "That took planning. And balls."
"Dean, are you admiring a psychotic killer?" Sam demanded, spinning around in his chair to glare at his brother.
Dean shook his head. "No," he said. "I pretty much think that killing people like that is as wrong as you can get. But it tells us that the killer was someone absolutely fearless, and brilliant. And whoever it is, the ghost of Alice Marie is probably killing them, over and over again."
"So you think that Alice is our ghost."
"Oh, yeah," Dean said softly. "The situations are too close for it not to be. What I want to know is why now? She's been dead for several years, why is she killing now?"
"Maybe something happened to trigger her," Dean suggested. "Maybe her killer is back."
"Or maybe it is a summoning, like you said before," Sam pointed out. "She might not be going after her killer; she might just being going after whoever is controlling her wants."
"Then we've got two different possibilities," Dean said. "I'll check out one, you check out the other. Which do you want?"
"I'll poke around the community college," Sam said. "You look for new arrivals."
"Deal," Dean said.
John Wallace Community College wasn't impressive by any standards, as far as Sam could tell. He'd spent awhile lurking and listening, and while there weren't many that he heard who actively hated the place, he also didn't see that many students who seemed happy about being there. This college was the place that people went to when they couldn't get in anywhere else, or couldn't afford anything better. Sam knew that if he hadn't gotten the full ride to Stanford, he might have ended up taking classes at a place like this. The thought made him slightly sad.
What would his life have been like if he hadn't gotten into Stanford? Would he still be hunting with his Dad and Dean? Would their Dad even have gone missing like he did? Would Sam have split off from their father like Dean had and hunted alone, or would he have been with John on the road to Jericho, California? Or would he have been with Dean?
It was an interesting topic to ponder, but not particularly useful at the moment. Things were the way they were, and for maybe the first time in his life Sam was happy with that, and thinking about "what-if's" was just tempting Fate to fuck with it, so he wasn't going to think about it. In fact, at the moment, he wasn't going to think about anything but getting the job done and reporting back to Dean.
He flagged down a passing student and put on his best, "aw shucks, mister," face. "Hey, I'm visiting my brother, and he told me to meet him at the Welcome Center?"
Lying was second nature to the Winchesters. Sam used to think it was just one more thing to separate him from the pack, one more thing that kept him from being normal. Now, he was just grateful for it.
"It's that way," the kid said, and Sam smiled gratefully at him before heading in the direction he'd pointed. The kid wasn't around to see Sam's smile fade, and a determined expression take its place.
In the campus welcome center, he looked up a list of student interest groups and organizations. And luck was obviously running with him for once, because the Occult group was meeting in about half an hour, and they always welcomed drop-by potential new members.
Looked like Sam was going to spend his afternoon meeting a witch or two.
"That was completely fucking useless," Sam moaned three hours later, flopping down onto his bed. "They're all sweetness and light and New Age meditation shit. Not a single drop of magic between 'em."
"What are you groaning about?" Dean asked, turning to him with a frown. "I thought you went to the community college?"
"I did," he said. "There was an occult meeting, so I stopped by, figuring hey, if there was going to be anyone that could summon a spirit, they'd be there, right? Wrong."
"So we cross that off the list," Dean said. "Leaving the killer-returning-to-town theory. Which I was investigating, and luckily, I didn't strike out."
Sam sat up again. "You found someone?"
"I found two someones," Dean corrected, turning back to the laptop he'd been working on when Sam had come into the room. "I went down to the Stonewall library, and started looking around for new arrivals in the academic setting, since Alice seems to be striking out at students. I hit pay dirt. Two new professors were hired at the beginning of the semester, which, incidentally, was when the deaths started."
"Who were they?" Sam wanted to know.
"Sarah Sherman," Dean said. "And David Tines."
Sam's brows drew together in a frown. "Alice's brother?"
"Cousin. He was a year older, and went to the community college." Dean smirked with the air of a man delivering the final punch line. "They were very close."
"I thought you said that Alice was probably killing the image of her killer? And if that was the case, why would she go after straight-A students? John Wallace isn't exactly known for them."
"Ah, but that's the twist, Sam. Her aunt was a single parent and didn't have the money to send her son to a university, but young David was apparently quite brilliant, and went on to get his Masters at Yale. And now he's come back, and straight-A students are dying again. Coincidence? I think not."
"So you think Alice's ghost is killing good students in a sort of revenge against David? Why not just kill him?"
"I don't know," Dean said. "Maybe she's gearing up to kill him. Maybe he's involved, but not the killer. Maybe he's not in it at all, and the ghost is just confused. It wouldn't be the first time. But if it is him then we need to figure it out fast, because we aren't going to be able to get rid of her the traditional way."
"They can't have buried her in an unmarked grave," Sam protested.
"They didn't," Dean said. "She was buried with a very nice headstone, next to her parents in the church graveyard in their hometown. In Louisiana."
Sam groaned. "No way we have time to go down there and salt and burn the bones," he said. "Not as fast as the murders have been happening. Three this month and it's been a week since the last, so Alice's next victim will probably be hit in the next two or three days."
"Exactly," Dean said. "Only I checked, and there aren't any straight-A students left to be killed. Some with very high grades, but none with an exact 4.0. Which means that only her final target is left, and it's probably David Tines."
Which meant that they had to investigate the guy, and fast. "We could drop in on one of his classes," Sam suggested. "That's worked before."
Dean grinned at him, dazzlingly. "Actually," he said, "I've got a better idea."
"This I have to hear," Sam teased.
"Hey, don't mock the master," Dean said. "I got us introduced to the faculty cocktail party tonight."
Sam gaped at him. "How'd you manage that?"
"Charmed the right lady," Dean said. "We're actually not the only non-faculty going, so we won't be too suspicious. And we'll have a chance to meet our suspects."
Sam shook his head wonderingly. "I don't know how you do it," he said. "You're such a smarmosaur, how the hell can they think you're actually charming?"
"It's a God-given talent, Sammy. Don't knock it."
"It's pheromones, is what it is," Sam muttered. "Either that, or you've turned to black magic. It's the only explanation."
"Whatever," Dean said dismissively. "The point is, I got us in. Thing starts at seven o'clock sharp, so you'd better be dressed and ready before then."
A horrible suspicion entered Sam's mind. "Dean?" he asked. "You said this was a cocktail party, right?"
"Yeah," Dean said, with the air of one speaking to an exceptionally slow child.
"Does that mean we have to get dressed up?"
Duh, said Dean's expression. "Yes, Sammy," said Dean. "It's semi-formal. That's kind of the point."
"I don't have anything to wear." Sam knew he was whining. He just didn't care.
"You sound like a teenage girl going on a date," Dean pointed out. "And yeah, you do. It's at the bottom of your duffel."
Sam threw his duffel a suspicious glance. "I don't remember buying nice clothes."
"That's because I bought them for you six months ago," Dean said. "And you never unpack that bag all the way."
Sam stared at him. "You bought me nice clothes?" Dean nodded. "But you hate dressing up."
"I figured that something like this would happen," Dean said. "No reason not to be prepared."
And there was Dean's military training, courtesy of John Winchester, cropping up again. Sam had resisted it so completely that he sometimes forgot how much Dean had embraced it. Eight months they'd been on the road together, and Sam was still sometimes surprised when he woke up to find Dean doing push-ups on the floor, or pull-ups holding on to the door frame. He forgot that Dean worked for his defined muscles, unlike Sam, whose muscles were just sort of… there.
Not that he thought he was hideous or anything, but his build could best be described as lanky and he might be an inch or two taller than his brother, but Dean always made him feel long and bony, because Dean had a whole hell of a lot of muscle compacted onto his smaller frame. It was probably why all the women swooned over him all the time, despite the fact that he was such a smarmy bastard.
"Alright," Sam said finally. "But I don't like it. Just so you know."
"Protest duly noted, Sammy," Dean said absently, and went back to the laptop.
Sam stared at his brother, when Dean came out of the bathroom. "Whoa," he said, and it was richly deserved because Dean looked good. Not just his usual rough handsomeness and the charm that lit his face from the inside, but really good. He'd actually shaved for the first time in forever, and hair had been carefully styled instead of just rubbed dry with one of the thin, rough motel towels. He was wearing a dark red button-up shirt that he'd obviously steamed the wrinkles out of while he was in the shower, matched with a pair on non-holey black jeans, and he'd even polished his boots. He didn't look like a respectable member of a college faculty, but he definitely didn't look like Dean Winchester, rogue demon hunter, either.
"Man, you look good," Sam said, his tone admiring. Dean flushed a little and rubbed the back of his neck.
"You don't look so bad yourself, dude," he said, and Sam grinned at him.
"Yeah, but I had friends in college who taught my how to dress myself. I wasn't even sure you knew how."
"Jerk," Dean said affectionately, and scooped up his keys on the way to the door. Sam didn't miss that he also grabbed a mini vial of holy water and stuffed it in his jacket pocket, but didn't comment. Being prepared for something that didn't happen was better than not being prepared for something that did.
It wasn't a long ride to the college, which was only about ten miles from their hotel. Sam kept sneaking glances at Dean out of the corner of his eye. His brother just looked so different.
"You really do look good," he blurted out, and Dean shot him an unreadable look.
"Thanks," he said, almost neutrally. "You too."
"No, I meant… Just, I don't think I've ever seen you dressed up before." Sam felt a little awkward, for the first time in a long while. But somehow, he just wasn't able to stop talking.
"Not true," Dean said. "I was dressed up for your high school graduation."
"Oh, right," Sam said. "I'd forgotten."
"I like the red shirt, though," Sam said, inanely. "The color's good on you."
Dean turned his head away and stared hard at the road, his jaw clenched. "Thanks," he said, very quietly.
Abruptly, Sam realized what he sounded like. If he'd been anyone else, he could have been considered flirting with Dean. And normally Sam was so careful not to… Well, it was a stupid, unforgivable lapse and obviously hurtful to Dean, and Sam was kicking himself for it. He leaned his burning cheek against the cool glass of the windshield, staring straight ahead just as Dean was, and when they finally got to campus and parked Sam had never been so glad to get out of a car in his life.
Dean didn't abandon him, though, like Sam figured he would. When Dean got uncomfortable he bailed, and stayed away until he felt less uncomfortable again. But he'd almost forgotten that they were on a job, now, and Dean never let anything personal interfere with a job.
They were greeted by a dark-haired librarian type who stood too close to Dean and smiled flirtatiously up him when she greeted them. Obviously Dean's conquest and the reason for their invite, and because of that Sam smiled at her and made nice even though really, he just wanted to track down their target and get out of here. He never had liked fancy parties.
"Dean, you've got to meet my friend Sarah," the librarian said, and if Sam had been a dog, his ears would have pricked up. It was possible that there were multiple Sarah's on the Stonewall faculty, but then again, there was a very good chance that they were about to introduced to Sarah Sherman herself.
A compact blonde with a sleek haircut, a sleeker black sheath, and the bluest eyes Sam had ever seen made her way over to the librarian's side and smiled up at Dean. "Hello, Dean," she said, her voice low and just a little rough. "Long time no see."
Now wait one fucking minute, Sam thought.
"Hey, Sarah," Dean said, his expression unreadable. "I didn't expect to see you here."
"You didn't expect?" Her laugh was musical. "Dean, it's been five years. I didn't think I'd ever see you again at all, much less in a small town like this."
Dean smiled at her, losing his blank expression. "I'm on a road trip with my brother Sam," he said easily. "This is just one stop."
Sarah turned her blue, blue eyes towards Sam, her warm smile turning slightly cool and distant. She was good; Sam wouldn't have noticed the difference if he hadn't spent his whole life lying, but since he had, he could see it. She had been genuinely pleased to see Dean, but not so happy to see his little brother. "Sam," she said. "I've heard so much about you."
And you, not so much. He resisted the urge to say it out loud, though. Dean was the uncontrollable smart-ass in the family, not him. "It's nice to meet you," he said instead.
Dean shot him an amused glance, probably knowing exactly what was going through his head. "So what brought you to teach here, of all places?" he asked Sarah.
"Oh, didn't you know?" she asked. "I did undergrad here. I'd gotten a few offers, but in the end I couldn't resist coming back home."
"So what's it like, living on the set of Stepford Wives?" Dean asked, and she laughed again, and Sam decided to make his escape and leave his brother to it.
He slipped through the crowds until he found a comfortable, unoccupied spot by one wall, and then settled himself there to wait for Dean to finish flirting. (If he finished flirting. Dean had looked disturbingly comfortable, standing there talking to an obvious ex-girlfriend who had at least a fifty-fifty chance of being the target of a homicidal ghost, and though it wasn't very likely with a rape-homicide, was potentially Alice Tines' killer.) Dean was the only one who knew what David Tines looked like, anyway- Sam hadn't remembered to check the faculty photos like his brother had, and now he was paying for it.
"Great job of propping up the wall you're doing there," an unfamiliar voice said at his elbow. "I'm sure the builders are thankful."
Sam turned to look at the newcomer. "Well, it's good to know I'm good at something," he joked. "This really isn't my kind of thing."
"I figured," the guy said. He was about an inch or two shorter than Sam, dark-haired, and handsome in a rough sort of way. "You look a little… displaced. Do you teach here?"
"No, I'm just visiting with my brother," Sam said. He nodded his head across the room, where Dean and Sarah could be clearly seen, still near the door. "That's him, over there with the blonde."
"Ah, Sarah Sherman," the man said. "Your brother has excellent taste."
"You know her?" Sam asked.
"She and I were friends, back in our college days," the man said. "So yes, I'd say I know her quite well."
"What's she like?" Sam said. The man shot him a quick look, and Sam shrugged. "Well, she's going after my brother, who I have to say, is hell on people. I just want to know if she's the vindictive type. I'm not looking forward to running out of town when the inevitable messy ending occurs."
The man laughed and shook his head. "No, she's not the vindictive type. She's probably just looking for some fun, and your brother looks like the type to give it to her. I doubt you'll have to leave town in any sort of hurry."
"Well, that's a relief," Sam said, smiling. The man smiled back at him, then turned and waved back to someone across the room.
"I'm afraid I have to go," he said. "It was nice meeting you though… I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."
"Sam Winchester," he said. The man pulled a card out of his pocket and handed it to him.
"Give me a call if you need someone to show you around town," he said with a faint smile, and then was gone, weaving through the crowds to reach whoever had called him.
Sam was still smiling to himself when he looked down at the card, and then he froze in shock.
The man was David Tines.
Dean slept in the next day, but only because he'd been up all night, silently reviewing the file he'd put together on the case. When Sam went to bed, Dean had still been at it, staring at those pages like they held the secret to the universe. Sam had left him to it and went to sleep.
This morning, Sam took advantage of Dean's sleeping state to do the same, checking over the old coroner report on the old Alice Marie Cooper murder, as well as the crime scene photos from the more recent murders and the notes Dean had taken when they'd visited the crimes scenes themselves yesterday. Sam couldn't find anything new, but he was left with a lingering sense that he was missing something.
When Dean finally did wake up he went straight to the shower, and when he got out he got dressed and headed for the door, all without saying a word. Sam threw a balled-up piece of paper at his head, and admired the way it bounced off Dean's temple and made Dean turn around and scowl at him.
"You could at least say 'good morning, Sam,'" Sam said sweetly. "Or failing that, tell me where you're going in case I need to track you down."
"I'm getting lunch," Dean said shortly. Sam couldn't figure out what the hell had happened to put him in such a snit, but figured that it would probably be a bad idea to ask right then.
"Want company?" Sam said instead. Dean shook his head.
"Lunch with Sarah," he clarified. Sam nodded as understanding dawned.
"Oh, alright. I was gonna call David Tines and see if I could get the tour out of him, maybe grill him a little about Alice," Sam said. But Dean shook his head.
"Not getting info, Sam. I'm just having lunch."
Sam stared at him. "With someone who could very possibly be the target of a homicidal ghost. I know she's your ex and all, but if that's not getting info, I don't know what is."
"Not everything is about the job, Sammy," Dean said softly. "Even for me."
Sam ran a frustrated hand through his hair. He didn't need Dean to tell him that. He, better than anyone, knew exactly how much of Dean's life wasn't about the job. But this was different, and both of them knew it. "Dean, what is up with you, man? Even for you, this is weird."
"Even for me?" Dean quoted, but he didn't look mad, which was a surprise. "Sam. It's just lunch. Not like I'm planning on marrying the girl."
"Dude, you haven't been like this since that time Cassie called and got you to drop everything, and even then you didn't get involved with her while you were on the case." Not that Dean had gotten involved with her after the case was over, either. He'd been very polite, very helpful, very efficient, and also very cold. Dean didn't like being told be was crazy, and he knew how to hold a grudge.
"Cassie was different," Dean said.
"Yeah, how?" Sam challenged. "Same story, different ex. Only this one might be involved, Dean. She might have been a witness, known the killer, something. Why are you dating her?"
"I have reasons, Sam," Dean told him. And then he uttered the fatal words:
Damn it. "All right," Sam said grudgingly. "But you better tell me what the hell you're doing sometime soon," he said.
"Oh, believe me," Dean said. "You'll know soon enough."
David had classes that day, but he did offer to take Sam out to dinner. Sam accepted, and spent the rest of the day cleaning weapons and wondering where the hell his brother had gotten to. Dean had left around noon for lunch with Sarah Sherman, and it was almost five and he hadn't gotten back yet.
Sam resisted the urge to kill something, and focused his energy on the upcoming dinner. He wasn't as good at extracting information as Dean was- not the same way, anyway. Dean was good at sneaking in the right questions at the right moments, and Sam was good at being sincere to allay suspicions. They worked well as a team, but as good a liar as Sam was, he wasn't really used to doing any heavy information-gathering on his own. Especially not with a man who'd potentially raped and murdered his eighteen-year-old cousin.
The worst part, Sam realized a couple hours later as they sat down to dinner at an outside table of a nice little café, was that David was so damn charming. (Almost irritatingly suave, in fact, but Sam was ignoring that because it had no bearing on anything but Sam's own terminal inability to be quite that smooth, quite that comfortable in his own skin, just like David, just like Dean.) Sam knew that there was a possibility that David hadn't actually done anything to his cousin Alice, that it was all just a tragic coincidence, but Sam had learned not to really believe in coincidences. In their line of work, they just didn't happen all too often.
David had been her cousin, had been very close to her, according to whatever gossip Dean had picked up. He'd been a straight-A student at the community college that was looked down upon by the only-slightly-better Stonewall University. She'd been killed, and then six years later he returned to the college and Alice's ghost started killing straight-A students.
Everything tied back to David Tines, and as nice as he seemed, Sam knew that the chances were his smile concealed the heart of a killer.
"So what do you think of our fair town?" David asked, tucking into his own pasta with enjoyment. Sam had thought that his appetite would be gone, but David was paying so he'd ordered a steak. Sam hadn't had anything but diner food for months, and his mouth actually watered as he started cutting up the medium-rare slab on his plate. God, if only Dean could see this, he'd die of jealousy.
Sam was planning on ordering chocolate cake for desert.
"It's nice," Sam said. "The kind of place I always wanted to live as a kid, you know? White picket fences and a coffee shop on the corner and college. It's a nice place."
"No white picket fences for you as a kid?" David asked, his eyebrows arched in polite inquiry. Sam took his time chewing to figure out how, exactly, he should respond.
He was good at opening himself up in order to get people to open up in return, but he was never sure where to draw the line, especially in a situation like this. Thankfully, after four years of college he was good at telling lies about his family and childhood, so he could improvise pretty well.
"My mother died when I was a baby and my brother was just a kid," Sam said finally, when he'd finished chewing and swallowed. Our dad… Well, we traveled a lot."
Nothing but the truth. It just left out, you know, most of the truth.
David smiled a sympathetic smile. "Not everyone can have a Leave It to Beaver childhood. Honestly, I'm not sure everyone would want to. I grew up here, and I liked it, but not everyone is destined for the quiet life. Some people would be miserable in a place like this."
Sam laughed despite himself. "That's my brother, in a nutshell."
David ginned back. "You seem like the two of you are quite close. I though siblings were supposed to fight all the time, not take long road trips together."
"Well, Dean and I have had our rough patches, I'll admit."
Dean's face, when he pulled away from Sam, his hand going up to his mouth like he couldn't believe he'd actually done it. "I wish you'd listened enough to tell me no." Weeks without his brother by his side, and had he known that he would miss Dean as much as he actually had? He didn't think so, but he was glad he learned.
"But things are better now," he finished, a little shaken by the hard flash of remembrance. He'd say that it was a vision from someone's else's mind if he hadn't been there while it happened to him, because he'd never had memories that clear. Sometimes Sam hated his brain.
"That's good to hear," David said. He took a thoughtful sip of his wine. "I was an only child, but I had a cousin that lived nearby. We even went to college here. She was like a sister to me."
Sam tried not to look too avid. Finally, a possibility of getting some real information out of the guy. "You 'had' a cousin? How did you lose her?"
"She was killed rather brutally," David said sadly. Sam wanted to strangle him, right there in the café. "I came back here to teach because of her."
Because you knew her ghost was here? Sam wondered. Or were you just guilty?
"She was the best friend I ever had," David said. "She was the first person I ever told I was gay."
Sam froze and gaped at him as certain facts rewrote themselves in his head. "You- What?"
"You didn't know," David said slowly. "I didn't realize. Everyone in this town knows, I just assumed you'd heard the gossip already."
"I hadn't," Sam said, though now that he was thinking about it, hehad. He'd heard murmurings the night before at the cocktail party, but he hadn't connected them to the handsome potential killer that had spoken with him. "I feel pretty stupid now."
David shrugged gracefully, and Sam let go of the resentment over the man's ease of manner. David was no killer, basic facts said as much, and that comfort in his own skin was probably hard-won. "It's alright," he said. "I won't hold you to the rest of dinner, though."
"No, it's alright, I just-" He stopped. If David hadn't killed his cousin, then who had? The sense that he was missing something in this case grew even stronger, and he knew that it wasn't David's orientation that he was missing, but something even larger. Something crucial.
If David wasn't the killer, then someone else was. Which meant that David wasn't the target for Alice's spirit. Which meant that someone else was.
"I have to go," he said, getting to his feet. Even through his sudden rush of urgency, he saw the quickly hidden pain on David's face, and he shook his head. "Not because of that," he said. "I swear. It's just that- I remembered something. And if I'm right, someone could die."
"What?" David demanded, reaching out and grabbing his wrist with a surprisingly strong grip. "What are you talking about?"
"The killings on campus," Sam said impatiently even as he cursed his own indiscretion. "There'll be another one. Probably tonight. And I can stop her."
"Who?" David said, his voice intense and his face a little haggard, and Sam snarled, "Alice!" in his face before wrenching his arm free and storming off.
The hotel room was empty and the Impala was gone when Sam got back, and he cursed a blue streak at his absent brother. Trust Dean to finally break what had been, as far as Sam had been able to tell, a streak of complete celibacy, just in time for Sam to discover crucial information on their case. Sam was going to kill him.
There was a note propped on his pillow when he got in, though, explaining where Dean was. And it wasn't with Sarah Sherman.
Lunch went okay, and we went to the Botanical Gardens afterwards. I didn't realize that I had my cell off until I got back in. Anyway, I picked up some tips from Sarah. Apparently there's a bar on the other side of the tracks with a pool table and a bunch of suckers that like to play. I dropped her off, came back here to pick up some supplies, and I'm gonna go earn some cash. I'll be back by ten or so, and we'll figure out our next move. Alice's ghost won't move till midnight, so we'll have time.
Sam relaxed a little. That was Dean, always the man with the plan. And at least he hadn't slept with Sarah, which was a relief. Sam wanted Dean to break his pattern of abstinence- and how weird was that, that Sam was actually missing the days when Dean was such a total slut?- but he really didn't want Dean to start with her. She was possibly involved in this case, for one thing. Probably, since David turned out to not be Alice's killer. Women were statistically unlikely to commit rape, but that didn't meant that she wasn't involved in some other way. And for another- well, anyone who was that polished had to be evil.
He settled down with the file and Dean's laptop to go through the case file again, but after an hour he still didn't find whatever it was. There was this itch, in the back of his head, and he just knew that whatever he was missing was in that file somewhere. In one of the news reports, the coroner's reports, Dean's notes, something. It was there. He just couldn't find it.
In frustration, he headed for the bathroom. Maybe a nice hot shower would clear his head and allow him to see what he was missing.
He stopped when he got to the door, though. Stopped and stared, because on the counter was Dean's mortar and pestle, and inside the bowl was a dark, fine dust.
What the hell was Dean mixing? he thought. He's done his own poultices and protection bags before, but usually he just buys the stuff already mixed.
Curious, Sam reached out and swiped some of the dust out of the bowl with one fingertip and brought it up to his face to examine it. It was odorless, and looked like it could be any number of common herbs that Dean used. Cautiously, he licked his finger.
Immediately, he could taste something salty and something astringent, but didn't recognize anything. He picked up the pestle and looked closely at what was left of the mixture again, and this time he could see that there were white grains mixed in with the dark. Salt, probably. Dean must have been making another protection bag.
Sam shrugged and put it out of his mind- he could ask Dean when Dean got back- and got into the shower. The water felt extremely increasingly hot against his skin, even when he lowered the temperature, and he could smell the metal from the pipes. Was he getting a fever, or something? All his sense seemed to be heightened, and that was definitely weird.
He was out of the shower and pulling a shirt over his head when it occurred to him to check the files again- right that instant. He pulled the t-shirt the rest of the way down with an impatient yank and rushed over to the table, opening the file folder and skimming through it at warp speed.
He stopped on one of the police reports about Alice Marie's murder, and read through, fast. He stopped in the middle, his finger pressed to the print, and just stared at the missing link that he'd finally been able to find.
Statement was given by roommate Sarah, who discovered Alice when she came into the room minutes later.
Sarah had to be Sarah Sherman; she was about the right age. And- roommate. Sarah and Alice had been fucking roommates during the semester that Alice had ended up murdered, and they'd completely missed it. How could they have missed something as big as this? It was insane.
David Tines wasn't the killer. But Sarah had gotten there "minutes later," the report said; she must have witnessed something, saw or heard something that could have given her a clue to the killer and she hadn't spoken up. So when she came back into town, Alice's ghost had immediately focused all of her considerable anger at being dead towards her old roommate. It made so much sense now!
Sam grabbed his cell phone and called Dean. He heard the ringing echo faintly, twice, and shook his head to make sure he wasn't hearing things, but then he heard the key scratch in the lock and he realized that Dean was right outside. He glanced at the clock- ten. Oh. He snapped the phone shut, ending the call, just as Dean opened the door.
"Sam?" he asked, his gaze going straight to his brother, sitting in the chair on the other side of the room. "Sam, what's up? That was you calling, right?"
"Alice Tines is after Sarah Sherman, not her cousin," Sam said excitably. Dean was upset, Sam wasn't sure how he knew because Dean's face was completely closed down and usually Sam couldn't read him like this, but somehow he knew that Dean was really, really pissed about something.
"Sam," Dean said, his voice very, very serious. "Sam, look at me for a sec, would you?"
Sam obediently looked up and met his brother's gaze, and Dean grabbed his chin, hard. Sam wanted to wince away from the tight grip that hurt, maybe more than it should, but at the same time he started grinning because it was the first time Dean had voluntarily laid hands on him in a non-emergency situation since The Incident.
Dean didn't seem to be aware of his, though, because he was cursing inventively under his breath. "I can't believe it," Dean said. "You took the stardust."
"What?" Sam asked, completely confused. "What are you talking about?"
"I must have forgotten to clean up after mixing it," Dean said, letting go of Sam and turning to pace angrily across their floor. "I can't believe I was so careless." He whirled back to glare at Sam. "Please tell me you accidentally inhaled it. Please tell me that you did not ingest any of the powder that was left in the bathroom."
"I was just trying to figure out what you were mixing," Sam said, narrowing his eyes at his brother. He didn't like the sound of this. "You've never mixed anything poisonous before."
"It isn't poisonous," Dean said. "Stardust is a mystical drug. In a normal human, like me, it increases reflexes and perception, so I take it before a hunt and sometimes before playing pool. But you took it and you're a fucking psychic, and that stuff is going to open up your brain like there is no tomorrow. Your pupils are already dilated. In about half an hour you are going to know everything about yourself you never wanted to know. In an hour you're going to be hearing the thoughts of every person who gets near you. Do you understand me? It will fuck. You. Up."
"Oh," Sam said. And he believed Dean, Dean was too afraid for it not to be true. "That's not good." Well, that at least explained why he was able to find the right section of news article in seconds when he'd stumbled over it for days. He'd read it a million times, but he'd forgotten it each and every time, and when the drug hit his system he'd gone straight to the right part of the right page.
"Fucking right it's not good," Dean snapped. "We might be hunting tonight, Sam. And pretty soon you're going to be useless against anything."
I can't lose you, Dean was thinking, and thoughtlessly Sam replied, "You're not going to lose me, Dean."
Dean backed about two steps up, his expression horrified. "Fuck, no," he said. "You are not getting in my head." And the next thing Sam knew, the warm familiar presence that was Dean was gone from his mind, like Dean had slammed the door between them.
"How did you do that?" Sam demanded, and Dean curtly replied, "Shielding. Learned it from a telepath in Minnesota." He grabbed Sam's arm- Dean touched him again!- and started dragging him toward the bed. "You are going to lie there and try not to think about anything while I go rescue the damsel in distress from the big, bad ghost. Do not get up from that bed, no matter what happens. Do you understand me?"
"No," Sam said, digging his heels in. "I'm going with you."
"Sam-" Dean started, sounding pissed.
"No," Sam said again. "You are not leaving me behind."
"Fine," Dean said. "But you will wait in the car, or I will do you bodily harm to make you wait. Clear?"
"Crystal," Sam said, and headed for the door.
Sam sat in the passenger seat and tried not to fidget as he stared out of the window. His senses had really been heightened by the drug, and he could feel the weave of his clothes as they pressed against his skin, smell the crisp winter air even though the windows were closed, hear the noise of the engine like it was running right inside his skull. Dean, despite how angry he was with Sam, had been merciful and hadn't turned on the music. Sam knew that otherwise he'd be going crazy.
Giving up looking out the window as a lost cause and dizzying anyway, Sam turned his attention to his brother. Dean was driving fast, his hands clenched around the steering wheel tightly enough that his knuckles were turning white, and his mouth was set into a hard line of a frown. Sam leaned his head against the window and watched him, watched the angry way his eyes twitched back and forth, watched the outline of his muscles under the t-shirt that was all that he was wearing, despite the February chill that seeped through the thin metal of the car.
He's so damned beautiful, Sam thought. When did I start noticing that? When did I start looking at the muscles under his clothes?
And just like that, the answer was right there. Since always, he realized. I've always watched him like this. Why? It's not like I'm…
In love with him.
Oh, god, Sam thought. I am. I'm in love with him.
And then- how could I have not noticed this?
In retrospect, he really did seem almost terminally stupid. These past couple months he'd spent traveling with Dean after the Incident, well, there had always been clues. Dean meant more to him than anyone in the world, even Dad. Even more than Jess' memory. He stared at Dean all the time, watching him move, watching him walk or exercise, and it was only now that he realized that he wasn't just looking at Dean, he was looking at Dean's body. He talked about Dean all the time, even to strangers like David Tines, not because Dean fit well into his lies, but because he couldn't help it. He smiled every time he saw his brother, knew his moods like no other because he fucking watched him so much. He even got jealous when he thought Dean hooked up with a pretty chick. How much more obvious could he be?
What sort of man wanted to touch his brother all the time? He'd thought that it was just need for contact, that there was no one else around but Dean so that's why it had felt more specific, but it wasn't that at all. He wanted to touch Dean, wanted to put his hands all over him and have Dean touch him in return.
He wanted to kiss him. His hand rose halfway to his lips before he was even thinking about it, the sudden sense-memory of Dean's mouth on his was so strong. Dean had only kissed him for just a second, just a chaste press of lips on lips, and suddenly Sam wanted that more than anything in the world.
It's the drug, he thought, and he would have liked to think that it was the drugmaking him think like this, but he knew better. It was just his mind opening up, like Dean had told him, and he was learning things about himself that he'd never thought before.
He had no idea how to deal with this. No idea where on Earth to even start.
Normally, this would be the point in which Sam had a panic attack.
In reality, this is when they got to Sarah Sherman's house.
Dean parked right outside and turned to pin him with a glare. "You will stay here, do you understand me? I don't care what happens. Do not leave this car. You're going to be really distracted when you start hearing people's thoughts, and in a fight that could get you killed. Get it?"
"Yeah, Dean, I get it," Sam snapped. "I won't leave the car."
And just then, someone else's thought hit him like a runaway freight train. I'm going to kill you, bitch.
It came from inside the house.
"Shit!" he yelped, and jumped out of the car. He was running towards the front door before Dean could even move, and distantly he heard his brother cursing and following him, but Sam had longer legs and the strength of panic to fuel him, and there was no way that Dean was catching up.
He hit the front porch at a dead run and somehow got the door open instead of crashing into it. Once inside, he bolted through the foyer and skidded to a stop in the doorway to the living room, where two people stood, arguing. One was Sarah Sherman.
The other was David Tines.
"I knew it was you," David was snarling at her. Tears brightened his eyes and fury brought splotches of color to his cheeks, and somehow he managed to look just as handsome as he had when sitting down to dinner and flirting with Sam. Oh yeah, he was flirting with me, Sam realized. And since when do I notice when men are handsome?
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Sarah said, with admirable calm for someone who was faced with someone clearly not quite in his right mind. "David. Go home. Sober up. We'll talk in the morning."
"I'm not drunk," David said. "I always knew it was you. Always. But I couldn't prove it, couldn't even figure out how I knew. But I did. And it was you."
"David, what one Earth are you going on about?" she demanded. Neither of them had yet noticed Sam in the doorway. Sam suspected that this was going to change very soon, but he didn't know why he was so sure. He just was. "You're not making any sense."
"You killed my cousin," David snarled. "You killed my little Alice."
Sarah started to laugh, then stopped when his expression didn't change. "You're serious," she said. "You really think I killed her?"
Dean came up behind Sam finally, and growled into his ear, "You just had to lock the door behind you, didn't you?"
"I know it," David said. "You were the only one who could have done it."
"I didn't mean to," Sam whispered back. And he hadn't. He must have hit it with his hand when he slammed it shut behind him.
"David, hundreds of people lived in our dorm, and half of them were male," she said slowly. Real fear was on her face now. "Any one of them could have gotten into her room. I wasn't even there, remember? I was in the elevator on my way up from getting us some dinner."
"It was you," David said with unshakeable faith, and that frightened Sam. They had to move soon or he really would kill her out of some misguided belief that Sarah had killed his cousin. She might have been responsible, in some way, enough for Alice's ghost to target her, but she wasn't a killer.
"We've got to stop him," Sam whispered over his shoulder. He was beginning to feel uncomfortably aware of his brother's body, pressed flush up against his back. Was this how Dean had always felt before, back in the days when Sam had carelessly laid hands on him and gotten into his personal space? How had he survived it?
"I know," Dean said in his ear. His breath was warm and damp over the shell of his ear. Sam fought down a shiver.
"He's going to kill her and she didn't even do anything," Sam said, and Dean… didn't respond.
Sam wrenched his head around to stare at his brother- so close, so damn close to him. "Dean?" And still Dean didn't answer, but the look in his eyes was enough. "Oh god, she did kill her."
"Yeah," Dean said quietly. "She-" And the his gaze went past Sam, to the pair still arguing in the living room, still oblivious to their presence. "Sam, we've got company."
Alice Cooper's ghost was clearly visible now, all translucent pale skin and long red hair and empty dark eyes, coming into the living room through the connecting door to the kitchen. In her hand was a very real butcher knife. And when she drew back her hand to throw it, she didn't even seem to realize that David was in her way.
"David, get down!" Sam shouted, and dove forward, knocking the other man to the floor. The knife went straight into Sarah's shoulder, and as she screamed in pain Dean was pulling the trigger on the shotgun and spraying Alice's ghost with rock salt. Her ghost faded out, but Dean didn't relax, just pumped the shotgun and stood there with his finger on the trigger, ready in case she came back. What was she doing here before midnight, anyway? Just couldn't wait to get her revenge?
Sam glanced down at David, half-under him, and realized that David had been knocked unconscious in the tackle. Shaking his head, he climbed to his feet.
"Sammy, you okay?" Dean said, and Sam nodded his head before he realized that Dean wasn't looking at him.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he said, and crossed the room to check on Sarah. Judging from the trajectory, the thrown knife wouldn't have hit David at all, but better safe than sorry either way. Well, safe for David. Notsomuch safe for Sarah.
She was bleeding sluggishly around the blade, and Sam decided against removing it, knowing from experience that it would start gushing blood as soon as the steel wasn't filling the wound. "She's not, though."
Her eyes opened from the pain-tightened squint they'd been in, and she looked up at him. "I know," she whispered, and then Sam suddenly remembered that this woman brutally murdered her roommate, and jerked away.
"You know that was Alice Tines' ghost, don't you?" Dean asked her in a conversational tone. She glared at him.
"I'm not blind."
"Oh good," Dean said. "Then you know she's going to kill you in revenge for you killing her back in your freshman year of high school?"
She stared at him for a long moment. "How'd you figure it out?"
Sam wanted to know the same thing, actually.
"Combination of things," Dean said. "I remember that you were here the right year, you had a roommate named Alice. Easy enough to check back, find your name. Your first name, local cops couldn't write up a report worth shit. I put two and two together." He crossed his arms over his chest. Sam thought dizzily that he looked like some ancient god of vengeance, dressed in worn leather instead of steel, a shotgun instead of a sword. "You were her roommate, and your story was bullshit. But they never looked at you because of the rape. Girls don't commit rape, right? Except the coroner's report showed that after she'd been stabbed several times- with a butcher knife- over the course of one minute, she was raped post-mortem. And no semen was ever collected."
Sam saw where Dean was going, and it was a deeply unpleasant place that he wished he'd never had to visit. In fact, he wished he'd stayed in the car like Dean said.
"What'd you use, Sarah?" Dean asked, soft violence dripping from his voice. "The knife handle? The end of a broom?"
"Her own damn vibrator," Sarah said, with some malicious pleasure at remembrance. "To make it seem more real, you know."
Sam was surprised to hear his own voice, but only because he'd been listening to Dean so intently. "Why'd you do it?" he asked. "Just for kicks?"
"For my 4.0," she said. They both gaped at her. "If your roommate dies, you get a 4.0 for the rest of your college career. She was the cautious type, not likely to get herself run over or to overdose on drugs, so I took matters into my own hands." She coughed wetly, and blood speckled her lips. "Maybe a little bit for kicks."
Sam leaned hard against the wall, then slid down to a sitting position. He'd traveled the country over the course of his life, and he'd seen some pretty horrifying things. But he'd never heard anything as twisted and evil as that.
Dean apparently thought so too, and he looked like he was fighting the urge to swing around the muzzle of the shotgun and let her have it with both barrels. He managed, though, to stop himself, though it was with obvious effort. "I'm almost tempted to let Alice have you."
"Won't matter," Sarah said, and gestured weakly to the knife in her shoulder with the opposite arm. "I'm pretty sure it nicked something vital. I'm not going to be walking out of here alive, Dean."
Sam had known the wound was bad, but it hadn't looked that bad. Then again, it was entirely possible that Alice's ghost had driven into Sarah's soft flesh with something more than just plain steel, and that was what was killing her.
"I shouldn't be so glad to hear that," Dean said softly. "But I am."
"You knew all the time, didn't you?" she asked him. "You had me figured out long before you saw me again last night."
"Yeah," he admitted.
"So why the song and dance? Why take me out on a date if you knew what I'd done? Seeing as you're so disgusted with me now, and everything."
"I was disgusted with you last night, too," Dean said.
"Then you're a very good liar."
"Yes, I am."
Sam watched them, spellbound. Or rather, watched his brother. He'd only seen that particular look on Dean's face once before. That sick certainty, that self-loathing, that sense of doom. He'd seen it on Dean's face just after his brother had kissed him, and he didn't particularly like the comparison.
"I'd missed you, you know," she told him. "I'd never met anyone like me before. You were a bastard, but I missed you."
"I'm not like you," Dean said grimly. "I'm not even close."
"Oh yeah?" She coughed again, paused while she choked on her own blood. When she'd gotten her breath back, she rasped, "So why do it? You already knew what I was. Why pretend like it was five years ago and nothing had changed?"
Sarah- and Sam- were destined not to hear the answer, because right then, Alice's ghost reappeared. Dean had his shotgun trained on her in an instant, but she didn't seem to notice him, or Sarah as she lay dying on the floor. Her bottomless dark eyes were only for her cousin, lying on the floor.
"David," she said, her voice whisper-soft and infinitely tender. "David, please wake up."
David jerked awake, and then stared at her as she stood above him. "Alice," he said, his voice anguished. "Oh, Alice."
She smiled at him, soft and sweet. "She killed you," David said. "She killed you and I couldn't save you."
"It's alright," she said. She reached out and brushed her fingers across his cheek, and where she touched him his skin was visibly burned, as if by the cold of the grave. "It's over now."
"I missed you," he whispered, and she smiled at him. The black pits that were her eyes brightened infinitesimally, and she smiled at him- the smile of an angel, the smile of one damned. And Sam knew why she'd appeared before midnight. She'd come for the family that had loved her, that had come back to avenge her. She'd been trying to protect him from the same woman that had killed her.
"I miss you too," she said. And then she drew back, stood away. Looked down at him with that same sad smile. "I'll be seeing you," she said, and then just melted away.
It was so sad, Sam thought. You could tell that they'd really loved each other. But then David started crying, and Sam was filled with the most terrible grief, like he'd lost her himself. Like he'd lost Dean.
He was feeling David's pain now, he realized with the last remnant of himself that was able to think. David was in his head, and Sam couldn't think, couldn't feel anything but David's overwhelming sorrow and loss, and he was almost blind with it.
"Dean," he said, and Dean was at his side in an instant. "Dean, it hurts." David's pain faded, and he could feel Sarah's physical agony across the room, a teenager masturbating next door, a couple having a marriage-breaking fight three doors down, a little girl playing with her dolls. He could hear everyone, all their thoughts and hopes and dreams and pains and ecstasies, and it was like the Niagra Falls had suddenly pounded into his brain. His skull was not big enough to contain all of it. He might have been going blind.
"It's okay, Sammy," Dean whispered. "I'll get you out of here, okay?" But Sam knew that he wasn't going to be okay.
"Dean, I can hear him," he said, aware in some distant corner of his mind that he sounded like a little boy again, sounded like the chubby twelve-year-old Sammy had been, when he woke up crying from a nightmare that wasn't a nightmare. "They're in my head, Dean. All of them. I can't get them out."
And then he felt Dean's hands on his face, Dean pressing his lips to his forehead, hot like a brand that said one fundamental truth- Sambelonged to Dean. "Don't think about them, Sammy," he said. "Think about me."
"I can't," Sam whimpered, because how could he focus on his brother when there were so many people, all talking to him at once? All talking in him at once.
Then he realized- he could feel everyone. Everyone but Dean. Dean, who had learned shielding from a telepath in Minnesota.
"Come into my head, Sam," Dean said. "I invite you. Come into my mind and stay there. You're safe in me." And Dean dropped his shields.
And that just made sense, made so much sense to Sam's beleaguered brain, because Dean always kept him safe. Always. And Dean's mind was right there next to him, shields down, waiting for him to crawl in and hide. So he did.
Dean's mind was warm, and familiar, and he couldn't hear anyone else. He was safe here, and he was surrounded by his brother, by his brother's thoughts, by his brother's love. Dean loved him, loved him beyond reason or hope, and Sam wrapped that love around himself like a safety blanket and held on tight.
Distantly, he felt Dean pick him up and carry him out. Distantly, he felt Dean put him in the car, get behind the wheel, and drive away.
Distantly, he felt Sarah Sherman die.
But Sam didn't care.
Sam opened his eyes, just a little, and immediately flinched from the bright sunlight that filtered through. Definitely morning, then. What the hell had happened?
"Morning, princess," came the amused rumble of Dean's voice, and he turned his aching head blindly towards the sound. Christ, his head hurt.
"Dean?" he asked, and inwardly marveled at the hoarse roughness of his voice. "Dean, what the hell happened?"
"You took some of my stardust," Dean said. He'd pulled up the hard plastic hotel chair up next to Sam's bed, and was thumbing through a demonology text. "We went to Sarah's house and had the confrontation with Alice's ghost. After it was over you started hearing the thoughts of everyone around you and almost lost it. Any of this ringing a bell?"
Yes, it was. He remembered it all, including the part that Dean left out, the part where Dean had saved him by letting Sam completely into his head. Sam didn't know what he would be like, waking up this morning, if Dean hadn't done it, and he didn't want to think about it, 'cause he was sure that it wouldn't be pretty.
"Sarah Sherman is dead," he said, because he knew that Dean wouldn't want him to bring up the other thing, and he wasn't up to doing something Dean didn't want yet. That would have to wait till he was actually able to open his eyes without flinching.
"I know," Dean said. "She was dying when we left."
"I'm not sorry she's dead," Sam said, because he had the feeling that he should be. They'd gone in there to save her, but Sam wasn't sure that she deserved to be saved.
"Neither am I," Dean said. "It's right that Alice killed her."
Which was exactly what Sam was thinking. "You knew she was the killer all along," Sam said slowly. "Before we went to that dinner, you knew it was her."
"Yeah, I did," Dean said. "It wasn't that hard to put it together. Like I said, I knew she was here in the right year, I knew she had a roommate named Alice, and as soon as I saw that coroner's report, I knew that it was her. I went over the police reports about a million times that night, hoping I was wrong, but I wasn't. It had to be her. And it was."
So that's why he'd looked so grim when he was going over that file. "That doesn't explain why you were dating her," Sam said. "And don't tell me that wasn't dating, because you already told me it wasn't just gathering info, which you didn't need to do anyway. So what were you doing?"
Dean didn't answer for a long moment, just stuffed his hands in his pockets and turned away. Finally, his back still to Sam, he said, in a low voice, "You heard her back there. She said she'd never met anyone like her before."
Sam immediately saw where he was going with this. "Dean, that's bullshit. You and she are not the same person."
"Maybe not," Dean said. "But we were alike, in a lot of ways. You only saw her twice, but five years ago, she was getting her graduate degree and I checking out some poltergeist activity at the college, and we met at this frat party. Took me two days to finish up the job, and I killed a couple weeks with her." He sighed, ran a hand through his hair. "I didn't tell her the big secret, and she didn't really ask. But she knew I was a hunter. She knew a lot about me, actually. And she wasn't wrong. Until her, I hadn't met anyone like me, either."
"So you were… what, trying to see if she'd changed?" Sam asked, baffled.
"Sort of," Dean said.
"And had she?"
"Not even a little," Dean admitted. "She's just the same as she was five years ago. Just like me."
"That's such bullshit and you know it," Sam said. Dean seemed not to hear him. "Dean, look at me, okay?" When Dean obeyed, reluctantly, he said, "You're not the same as you were five years ago. Trust me, okay? I may have been a little wrapped up in my own stuff then, but I can still remember. You're way different. And way better. You're a good guy, Dean. You never could have done what she did."
Dean didn't appear to be listening, so Sam half-sat up, propped up on one elbow, and his free hand shot out to grab Dean's wrist. Dean tried to flinch away, like he always did before Sam learned not to touch him, but they're playing by different rules now. Sam was gonna make sure of it.
"Dean," he said, and waited till Dean looked up at him. "I love you, okay? And it's not just because you're my brother. It's because you're worth it. I love you, so please get over it and move on."
A declaration of intent disguised as brotherly love and a joke, and Sam realized how very, very much he was turning into Dean. Because looking back on it, Dean had done the very same thing hundreds of times, and Sam never caught on.
Dean didn't look like he was catching on this time, either, though there was a hint of something in his eyes- like maybe somewhere, he had an idea of what might be going on, but Sam knew that there was no way he could know the full truth of it.
Because Sam was in love with Dean, and he knew that Dean was in love with him. Dean hadn't been cautious, hadn't tried to hide anything from Sam, but then he hadn't had to because Sam hadn't been in any condition to be snooping and through the long hours before the stardust wore off and he'd been able to withdraw and finally go to sleep, all he'd been able to feel was Dean's love for him.
And he knew that he was everything to Dean. Dean loved him in every way possible, as a brother, as a friend, as a partner, romantic love and platonic love and big-brother protective love and the trusting love for someone he knew had his back. He knew that given the choice, Dean would turn his back on their father for Sam- had, in essence, already done so when they'd given up the search months earlier, because Dean had made the decision that putting his relationship with Sam back together had been more important than finding a man who didn't want to be found.
They loved each other, and Sam was determined that one day soon, they'd take that next step and be together. But not now, not like this. Because Dean loved Sam beyond hope, in fact almost without hope, and Sam knew that if he were to lean over and kiss Dean on the mouth, Dean would get up and walk out of the hotel room and Sam would never, ever see him again, no matter how hard he looked.
Dean laughed uneasily, and tried to tug his wrist free. "Sure thing, Sam."
"I'm serious, Dean," Sam said, and Dean nodded at him, nervous laughter gone from his face.
"I know, Sammy," he said quietly, and then added, with some asperity, "Can I have my hand back now?"
"Sure," Sam said, and let him go. Dean snorted at him, but got up with his book and started to pack both their things away.
Sam watched him and considered asking him about the Stardust. Obviously it didn't affect Dean like it did Sam, but still, he took it, and Sam hadn't know about it at all. He wanted to ask him how long he'd been taking it, when he'd started, and why. But he knew that this was a conversation that was better left for another time, when they'd both had a little time to settled and distance themselves from the events of the evening before.
"You heard anything from David Tines?" he asked finally, because it was a safer topic and because he actually did want to know.
"Yeah," Dean said. "He's okay. A little broken up, but mostly happy, and okay. He called in an anonymous tip to the cops after he got out of the house."
"The cops have anything that might link back to us or him?"
"Nope," Dean said. "We're clear. Her house was back far enough that there weren't any nosy neighbors who could see our car, or anything."
"Which is good," Sam pointed out, "since it's so damn memorable."
"I'll give up my car when I actually get caught and not before," Dean said.
"You have been caught." Dean gave him a Look. "Those cops in Jericho?"
"Caught by someone that could actually make trouble," Dean clarified. "So that doesn't count."
"Whatever, man," Sam said. "You're too attached to that car, if you ask me."
"Well, I didn't," Dean said, and changed the subject. "I'm just about done here. You gonna get outta bed anytime, sunshine, so we can hit the road?"
Sam didn't want to get out of bed. He had a lingering headache and every muscle in his body felt like a limp noodle. But one look at Dean's impatient face convinced him that he did, in fact, want to get out of bed, if he didn't want to be stuck in a hotel room with his brother's hyperactive wanderlust going full swing. Pain was all relative, in Sam's mind.
"Load the car and gimme a chance to change," he said. Dean flinched visibly and got the hell out of the room.
Sam shook his head. Dean was completely lacking in modesty, and that hadn't changed. But even the threat of Sam losing clothing sent Dean bolting away like the hounds of hell were at his heels.
It was just one of the many things that Sam was going to have to deal with sooner or later. But it was okay. He could be patient, if something mattered enough. And Dean definitely mattered.
Sam changed quickly but carefully, moving gingerly thanks to his aching head and tired body. He stored away the last of his stuff, noticing wryly that Dean had packed away any remaining signs of the stardust that had been on the bathroom counter. It seemed that Dean was trying to avoid a repeat of the night before- or maybe was just trying to remove any reminders, in hopes of putting off the talk that they both knew would happen. Personally, Sam suspected the latter.
Dean had already checked them out and was waiting in the car when Sam came out of the hotel room, duffel bag in tow. "Come on, we're burning daylight here," Dean called out impatiently, and Sam made sure to lean around far enough so that Dean could see him flick him off over the raised trunk. He tossed his duffel in and slammed the trunk over the sound of Dean's raucous laughter, and went around the car to slide onto the seat next to him.
"So," he said. "Where we headed?"
"Don't know yet," Dean said, and shot him a grin. "We'll figure it out on the way, eh?"
Sam just laughed. "Sure, Dean. Now let's go. We're burning daylight," he mocked.
Dean started the car, then rolled down the window and carefully lit a cigarette. Sam watched him, saying nothing.
He wanted to tell him not to smoke. But he knew that it wasn't time for that yet.
But it would be, Sam decided as Dean pulled out of the parking lot with a spray of gravel. Soon, he'd make time for it.
Dean was his brother, and Sam was in love with him. And maybe that was wrong, and fucked-up, but he didn't care. Dean loved him back, and one way or another, Sam was determined that they'd be together.
Anything else was unthinkable.