Authors: shes_gone and peccatrixjusta
Word count: 23,200
Summary: When Sam's old Stanford buddy unexpectedly calls in a favor, the Winchester brothers find themselves tested in more ways than one.
Warnings: AU-ish, in that this takes place a few years after Sam left Stanford, but we've ignored virtually all the canon from Seasons Three and Four. Those of you familiar with the Boston area (and a certain academic institution there) will recognize many things, most especially the liberties that we have taken with both. Also, this is Wincest. (But if you're here, you knew that already.)
Notes: Written for the 2009 spn_j2_bigbang. This is our first collab, and what a great time we had writing together! Huge, endless thanks to reallycorking for her ridiculously gorgeous art (which is 1. amazing, 2. absolutely not worksafe, and 3. a bit spoilery for the fic, ha), and to both her and cmere for the betas, helpful feedback, and obligatory hand-holding. ♥.
Dean was ready to get the hell out of Ohio. More fucked-up shit happened in Ohio than anyone gave the state credit for, and he had seen enough to last him the next two or three years, at least.
"Sam, would you hurry up?" he barked, standing in the half-open door of the motel room. "I swear, it's like traveling with a woman."
Sam emerged from the bathroom, rolling his eyes. "Sorry," he said, as he grabbed his duffel and stuffed his damp shirt inside, "but cursed blood is a bitch to get out if it dries, and that's my favorite shirt."
"God, you're an embarrassment."
"And besides, Dean, what would you know about it? The farthest you've ever traveled with a woman was from the bar back to the motel."
"And even that's too far, most of the time, Sammy. Now shake a leg, and if you're lucky, I won't leave without you."
"Oh, and Sam?"
"Where are we going, again?"
Sam groaned. "Dean."
"Oh, wait, right—Punxsutawney."
"Dean, I swear to God—" He looked for something to throw, but the door slammed shut as Dean darted out into the parking lot.
Bobby had called that morning, both to check on their progress in Akron and to see if they'd be available to swing into western Pennsylvania after they'd finished. There was a hunt in Punxsutawney, most likely a witches' circle, from what Bobby had heard.
Dean was never happy with a witch hunt, but this one was made much more pleasant by how much fun it was to say 'Punxsutawney,' which Dean thought he might never get tired of doing. Sam, shockingly, was being a total bitch about it.
"C'mon, Sammy, you gotta love the way it rolls off the tongue," Dean said as they pulled away from the motel. "Punxsu-tawney." Sam just gave him an exasperated look. "And don't lie, I know you're excited to go there. You love that groundhog, man."
Sam rolled his eyes.
"What were you, like, thirteen? You wouldn't shut up about him for an entire February."
"Well, I was upset. It's blatant animal cruelty."
"Whatever, that groundhog probably lives better than we do."
"Everyone lives better than we do, Dean."
"Aw, c'mon, Sammy. You gotta loosen up. Try saying it a few times, it'll cheer you up."
"Just once, c'mon. Try it."
"God, fine! Punxsutawney! Will you stop now?"
Dean threw him a sideways glance. "One more time."
Sam gave a long-suffering sigh. "Punxsutawney," he said resignedly, but the corners of his mouth twitched in a very satisfying way.
"Told you, bitch," Dean said, and he grinned as he cranked up the radio.
They'd barely made it into Pennsylvania when Sam's phone rang, buzzing earnestly against the leather seat where it had fallen out of his pocket. Sam checked the caller ID and frowned before he answered, not recognizing the number.
"Hello? Yeah, this is Sam. Sorry, who? Shaheen?" Sam said, and Dean glanced over at the surprise in his voice. "Oh my God, hi!" Dean raised his eyebrows. "I—wow. How are you, man? How'd you get this number?"
Dean frowned and looked back at the stretch of I-80 in front of him.
Ten minutes and one very suspicious sounding half of a conversation later, Sam hung up.
"Who the hell was that?" Dean asked, though he was pretty sure he already knew.
"Shaheen," Sam said, staring at his phone. "Friend from Stanford."
Dean nodded. "I didn't realize you kept in touch."
"I don't. I mean, I haven't. That was pretty much the last phone call I expected to get."
"So how'd he get your number?"
"Becky," Sam said, stiffening, and Dean gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter.
"Becky? Who the hell is that?"
"St. Louis?" Sam said, impatiently.
"Oh, right." Dean felt his jaw clench. "Wait, Becky still has your number? You've changed it like six times since we were in St. Louis, Sam."
Sam shrugged, and pointedly stared at the windshield. Dean stared at him, watching his jaw and neck tense a moment before looking back to the road with an aggravated sigh. "Well that's just great. So, how much did Becky tell this… Seamus guy?"
"Shaheen, right. How much did she spill?"
"She didn't spill anything, Dean. They were hanging out a couple weeks ago, and Shaheen told her about some weird shit that's been going on near his new place—sounds like a spirit, by the way—and she very vaguely suggested that he call me. And she gave him my new number."
"And now you want to go say hi."
"And waste the spirit, yeah. I do."
Dean glared at the highway. "Is this spirit in California?"
"Last I checked, yeah."
Dean frowned. He still got irrationally nervous every time he and Sam had to go near California, but Massachusetts? Sucked. "What's this friend of yours doing in Boston?"
"Law school," Sam said flatly.
Dean needed a moment before he was ready to laugh that one off. "Let me guess, he's at Harvard, right?"
"Yup," Sam said, still staring out the window.
"Dude, I was kidding," Dean said, glancing at Sam. "Christ, the crowd you ran with, man. I bet Little Miss Becky's a Harvard law student now, too?"
"No," Sam sighed. "She went back to St. Louis after she graduated. She's in marketing for some beer company, I think."
"Dude, you have a friend who works for a brewery? Shit man, forget Boston, we gotta go back to St. Louis."
Sam ignored him.
"OK, so wait," Dean said, after a moment, "if Becky's in Missouri, then how—I thought you said she and this friend of yours were just hanging out."
Sam shifted in his seat and turned back to the window. "Another friend of ours from school just got married. They both went back to California for the wedding."
Dean paused. "I take it you weren't invited?"
"Would it have mattered if I had been?" Sam said coolly.
Exit 78, Highway 36 into Punxsutawney appeared on a green highway sign, but Dean pressed on up the interstate with a sigh. "You sure you wouldn't rather go liberate that groundhog?"
"We'll do it on the way back," Sam said, with just enough thank you in his voice to make Dean uncomfortable.
"You've heard about how they drive in Boston, right? If one of those douchebags fucks up my car, Sam, I swear to God."
"I'll take full responsibility."
"Damn straight you will." Dean sighed. "So, how much did Shaquille tell you about this spirit?"
"Shaheen, right. What kind of name is that, anyway?"
"Right on," Dean said. "Dots or feathers?"
"Oh my God, Dean," Sam said, thoroughly scandalized, and Dean grinned.
There were some unexplainable mysteries in the world. The persistence of evil despite the efforts of good people. The thin membrane between the living and the dead. The fact that they were once again, completely inexplicably, back on Plummer Street.
"God damn it!"
Dean didn't actually shout; his curse fought its way out through clenched teeth in that too controlled way that indicated he was really mad. Sam couldn't help but think of Dad, but the reminder didn't make him feel pissed off and defensive as it might have, at one time. Instead he just felt vaguely sad. Perhaps weirdly nostalgic? Sam gazed at the red-brick, ivy-laurelled buildings that lined the narrow street, thinking of Dad and Dean and…
"Sammy! Focus! We need to find our way of out of here. I can't see anything. This is like being in a fucking Lego town built by a deranged three-year-old."
Sam returned to the task at hand. Dean's analogy actually fit pretty well. They had been driving for an hour—literally, an hour—around the tight little knot of streets and buildings known as Harvard Square. They had gathered, so far, that the big fenced-in campus was Harvard. But the university seemed to spill out uncontrollably into the business district, as did all the students. Or freaking eggheads as Dean called them. There were people everywhere, more people packed into this tiny section of city than populated most of the rural Midwest combined.
As far as Dean was concerned, this was hostile country—more inhospitable to life than any rundown bus depot or dying town. This was because the Impala was not built for places like Harvard Square. There was no room here for her broad elegance; she negotiated the one-way streets like a battleship easing its way down a country creek—that is, awkwardly. Dean actually gasped—a genuine exclamation of suspense and terror—when a crazy cyclist with dreadlocks and a messenger bag zipped past and nearly clipped his sweetheart's bumper.
"Dean, we just have to leave her somewhere. C'mon, just pull over," Sam suggested for the millionth time, no real enthusiasm in his voice.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Sam! Have you been paying attention at all? Look at the signs! Restricted parking! Residential parking only! And what's with all these meters?… I don't know about you, Sammy, but I'm not going to leave in the middle of the goddamn hunt to go feed the frickin' meter."
Sam would have suggested that they just risk a ticket. But Dean was adamant that the Impala couldn't be towed. He darkly referred to an incident during their one previous visit to Boston, when the car got impounded and Dad, well. "Dad was ready to pound something in return," Dean said.
Sam didn't push the matter. Things felt too charged between him and Dean already. Dean would never admit it, but Sam could tell that his brother was more than a little shocked that one of Sam's old Stanford buddies had made contact. Dean liked to think of that period of Sam's life as sealed-off and inaccessible, so that neither of them ever had to deal with it again.
So Dean didn't want to be here. Sam knew they were here because he himself wanted it, and because at the end of the day, Dean was incapable of refusing Sam. It worked when they were kids, floating around another crappy rental apartment while Dad was off fighting evil. And it worked now—this mysterious, undeniable power that Sam had over Dean. Sam didn't know whether to love Dean or hate him for it.
And maybe that was an example of Dean's power over him.
Sam squirmed in his seat. He was ready to get out of this car, out into the unseasonably balmy New England fall air. They somehow emerged from the tiny streets for tiny cars, and turned right onto a drive that ran along the river separating Boston from Cambridge. The road was a little wider and faster moving. He could feel both their bodies relax slightly at the mild breeze coming through the windows.
It was Sam who spotted the parking space—Dean was concentrating way too hard on protecting the Impala from Massachusetts drivers.
"Dean, look!" It was the first space they'd seen that they could simply pull right into, sparing everybody the ego- and bumper-bruising ordeal of parallel parking.
Dean eased her in, turned her off; the car had stopped moving but the world continued to zoom past, cars zipping, the sun reflecting off the river. They sat there, quiet for a second.
"Look, Dean," Sam finally spoke up, sounding way too much like an overly enthusiastic elementary school teacher. "No parking restrictions anywhere! The sign just says 'Snow Emergency Route.' I've heard about New England weather, but I don't think we're in for a blizzard tonight. She should be all right here."
Dean just glowered, looking out the driver's side window to the Harvard crew team rowing by in their long boats. Sam didn't need to be psychic to know what Dean was making of that sight. There was something sort of poignant about the whole thing—Dean didn't trust the Impala would be safe, alone and undefended on the mean streets of… Harvard University.
Sam looked out his own window, and saw they were parked alongside some sort of stone church. He gazed at the cross carved above the door, at the bronze sign welcoming all people to the monastery. It seemed like a nice, quiet place. He half-believed he could hear liturgical chant floating out from behind the wooden door.
"Dean," he said, half smiling, "see there? This is hallowed ground."
Dean raised an eyebrow—truly, his most expressive feature—and took in the scene. To Sam's surprise, he appeared totally satisfied, for the first time all day, throwing open the door and hauling himself out of the car.
Dean leaned down through the car window, putting his arms on the ledge. He blocked out Sam's view of the river, the sunrays on the water, everything.
"Hey princess, you going to wait around all day, or should we go rescue your pal She-Ra from this evil spirit?"
"Sam, what the hell is this?"
"What?" Sam asked, without looking away from door.
"This food, Sam."
Sam glanced at him, and down at his own menu, resting on the table. "What's wrong with it?"
"I thought this was a pub. Didn't it say 'pub' out front?" Sam merely raised his eyebrows. Dean sighed and turned his menu so that Sam could see it. "A hummus plate, Sam?" he said, pointing to an item near the top. "What the hell kind of 'pub' serves a hummus plate? Chutney, tabouli, quinoa? I don't even know what half this shit is."
"Yeah, that's because it's good for you, Dean. I know that's terrifying." Dean glared at him. "I'm sure they can make you a burger, if you absolutely need one."
"Dude, the only burger they've got listed on here is made with something called 'tempeh', and I don't have to know what that is to know that it's wrong. And the beer on tap? Is organic. You're honestly friends with the dude that recommended this place?"
"Winchester!" a voice near the front of the not-pub called. Dean looked up, and Sam was up from his seat before Dean could pick out the voice from the crowd. "You bastard," a short, dark-skinned guy said as Sam approached him and, to Dean's surprise, enveloped him in a hug. Dean could barely see the kid as Sam towered over him, his broad shoulders blocking him almost completely.
Dean stood when Sam turned to introduce them, and shook Shaheen's hand with a smile. Shaheen wasn't what Dean had been expecting, but he hadn't known what to expect, really, when his vision of Sam's friends from Stanford consisted entirely of Jess and Becky, and everything he knew about Harvard law students came from one (very much secret) viewing of Legally Blonde. Dean took Shaheen in—his faux-vintage Dave Matthews t-shirt and baggy brown shorts, the black messenger bag littered with various political pins, the sunglasses pushed up into his hair, the top of which was scarcely as high as Sam's shoulders—and had to suppress a laugh at the mental image of the two of them, hunkered down together in the library, Sam towering over a stack of books, and Shaheen's feet dangling from the chair next to him.
"So Shaheen," Dean said, after they'd settled back into their seats, "what's good here?" He gestured to his menu.
"They've got a wicked hummus plate," Shaheen said.
Dean gave a tight smile. "What if you're not really a hummus kind of guy?"
"The chili's top notch."
"The vegan chili, you mean?" Dean asked, and Sam stifled a grin behind his hand.
"Seriously, it's delicious, and totally satisfying. You would never know it was meatless."
"Awesome," Dean said, unconvinced. The waitress appeared a moment later, and Dean hadn't found anything that sounded more promising, so he ordered the chili with an unhappy sigh.
"And can I get two beers with that, please? I'm going to need all the help I can get." The waitress raised an eyebrow but jotted down his order.
"So, hey," Shaheen said, mostly to Sam, "thanks for coming. I was beginning to think I'd never see you again, man."
"Never say never," Sam said, with a sheepish grin.
"What have you been doing?" Shaheen asked. "I mean, did you finish school?"
"No," Sam said, looking uncomfortable. "Not yet, anyway." Dean tried not to flinch. "I've been, well, we've been busy."
"So I hear," Shaheen said, his eyes darting over to Dean. "Well, it's never too late. You still thinking about law school?"
"So, Shaheen, I hear you've been seeing ghosts?" Dean said, with a bit more bite than was probably necessary.
Shaheen blushed and looked worriedly at the nearby tables. "I'm not—I don't know, I mean," he stammered.
"It's OK, man," Sam said, glaring at Dean. "Just tell us what's been going on. We hear a lot of crazy stuff, so, don't worry about what it sounds like."
Shaheen glanced at Sam warily. "Yeah?" Sam nodded, and Dean did his best to emulate Sam's open, trustworthy expression when Shaheen looked back at him.
"Well, like I said on the phone, there's this, well. I don't know what, but there's something going on up the street. There's this intersection. And it's, well..."
"Haunted?" Dean prompted, with a more careful edge.
Shaheen averted his eyes. "I dunno. I mean, there's always something going on there, it's kind of nuts—you probably saw it on the way here, Mass Ave and Cambridge Street? It's totally insane."
"All the intersections here are insane," Dean said with a snort.
Shaheen chuckled uncomfortably. "I know, man, I know. And, well, there are a lot of accidents at that intersection, pretty much all the time. The streets come in at strange angles, and sometimes it's hard to tell which light is yours, and when you can turn, and it's constantly full of cars and pedestrians, and it's—it's just a complete cluster fuck, all the time. So it took a while for people to notice."
"Notice what, exactly?" Sam asked.
"That there were way more accidents than usual. Even for the fall, when the numbers go way up, with all the freshmen and their parents in from out of town. It usually takes a couple weeks for things to calm back down, but this year it just didn't. It only got worse. People just keep doing all this stupid shit, slamming on their brakes for no reason, getting themselves rear-ended. Or suddenly swerving into the wrong lane, or driving up onto the sidewalk. It's a fucking mess."
"Sounds like it," Dean said darkly. "Thank god we found a safe place to put the car, Sam."
Sam ignored him. "So the accidents have just been getting worse. Does anyone have any idea why?"
"Well, some people think they do." Shaheen swallowed, and Sam nodded encouragingly. "After a while, people started talking about… seeing things. Seeing people, or, well, seeing this guy, anyway. This guy who just appears out of nowhere, like out of thin air, in front of your car, before you can avoid him. And, I mean, I didn't pay much attention at first, I don't think anyone really did, because, that's crazy. I mean, people here are idiots, and they don't watch where they're going, and they seem to appear out of nowhere all the time, because everyone's distracted and listening to their iPods and not paying attention and whatever else. So I honestly just thought that these people were out of their minds, just looking for excuses for their bad driving. But, well, I don't know."
The waitress appeared again, setting Dean's chili and two beers in front of him, and Shaheen suddenly seemed to remember that he was in public. His mouth snapped shut as soon as he saw her, and he shifted in his seat.
"You want one of these?" Dean asked, sliding one of his beers across the table to Shaheen.
Shaheen glanced at him. "Yeah, actually. Thanks." He reached for the beer, and took a long sip.
"So," Sam said, as Shaheen set the glass back down. "You thought people were just making excuses, but you don't anymore?"
"Well, it just. It hasn't gotten any better, and more and more people claim to have seen… something, and well. I—I don't know."
"Have you seen it?" Sam asked.
Shaheen wouldn't quite look at him.
"We don't think you're crazy," Dean said, in his best Sam-voice. "Honestly."
Shaheen eyed him cautiously for a moment before giving a resigned sigh. "Yeah, I saw him. I was on my bike, that's how I got this." He held up his arm to show a nasty scrape on his elbow and forearm. "Fucking scared me right off of my bike. I'm lucky I didn't get hit by a car once I went down."
Dean raised an eyebrow. "Maybe that'll get you to rethink weaving in and out of traffic on your bike, now, huh?"
"Dean," Sam said, scowling at him. "Ignore him," he said to Shaheen. "What did you see, exactly?"
Shaheen shrugged. "I don't know, just a guy. I didn't get a very good look at him. He just appeared, right in front of me, and I had to jerk the handle to keep from hitting him, and I fell off. By the time I got a look around, he was gone. Or disappeared. Or whatever."
"Did you notice anything about him? Anything at all about what he looked like?"
Shaheen shrugged. "He was a white guy, I think. Kinda… dark hair, maybe."
"Are there any rumors about who he might be?"
Shaheen eyed them uneasily. "You guys really are serious about this, aren't you?"
"Yeah," Sam said. "We are."
"Well, there aren't any rumors that I've heard, but I've never really been in the loop around here. No one really tells me anything."
Sam grinned knowingly. "Some things never change, huh?"
"Shut up," Shaheen said with a smirk. "So this is what you do now, huh? Gave up on law school to go hunt ghosts?"
"Pretty much," Sam said, smiling helplessly. "It's not quite that simple, but. Yeah."
"When Becky told me to call you, I was sure she was fucking with me," Shaheen said. "I nearly dropped the phone when you actually answered, man."
Sam colored a bit. "Yeah, sorry. I just kind of... fell out of touch."
Shaheen shrugged. "Just glad you're OK. We were worried. You know, after everything. It's really good to see you."
"Thanks," Sam said, and Dean thought that Shaheen might not suck as much as he had originally thought. "You, uh," Sam said, after a moment, "you still in touch with everyone, since coming out East?"
"Pretty much, yeah," Shaheen said, smiling. "I don't have much time these days, but Facebook keeps us all a little too close, if you ask me."
"Yeah?" Sam said, laughing. "What are they all up to? Is anyone else nearby?"
Dean watched for a moment as Sam fell easily into a familiar banter with Shaheen, talking about people he'd never heard of like they were family, before turning his attention to the no-longer piping-hot bowl of chili in front of him. He picked up his spoon and stirred it.
Sam laughed about something (or someone), and Dean felt an irrational flare of anger. He shoved his spoon into the chili, hard, and thought about making a show of his first bite, thought about plugging his nose and just swallowing it real quick, like he had shown Sam how to do when he was six and their dad made them finish whatever they could find in the fridge before he figured out where the next round of groceries were coming from.
He didn't, though, and when he finally did brave his first bite, it was actually something pretty close to delicious, which made Dean hate it even more.
"So, uh, how was the wedding?" Dean heard Sam say uneasily.
"Awesome. The ceremony was short and the party was bitching. But, you know, that's Danny."
"Yeah." Sam nodded, with a small chuckle.
"A bunch of us were hoping you would show up, put in a surprise appearance. We thought maybe you actually would."
"I would've loved to, believe me. But I, uh, missed the invite, I guess."
Shaheen shrugged. "A couple of people thought you might not have been invited, but I knew that was horseshit. I mean, there's always a chance that history like that'll make things awkward, but—"
"No, no," Sam said quickly, going red and glancing at Dean.
"Exactly," Shaheen continued. "You guys were always totally cool, after all that. And he was asking about you at the reception. He said he'd tried and failed like all the rest of us to track you down."
"Yeah, well," Sam said, his face pinched. "That's, uh, my bad. Um, so, hey, do you have time to show us around this afternoon at all? Take us up to that intersection, maybe?" He waved at the waitress, asking for the bill.
Shaheen looked confused at the abrupt change of subject, but comprehension seemed to dawn as he threw a very unsubtle glance at Dean. It was all Dean could do not to laugh out loud. Whatever the story with this Danny character was, it was good.
"Actually, shit," Shaheen said, glancing at his watch, "I have class in about ten minutes, and then I've got to go to work, but what are you doing tonight?"
"Depends on what we find out, I guess," Sam said.
"The roomies and I are having party at the house, you should come. Both of you," he said, smiling at Dean. "Should be a good time."
"Yeah, man, that sounds great," Sam said quickly, without so much as looking at Dean. "We'll be there."
"Awesome," Shaheen said. "Anytime after eight. I'll text you the address."
Shaheen stood and left, and Sam quickly busied himself with the bill.
"You know you're going to tell me what that was all about, right?" Dean said, and he knew he didn't need to be any more specific.
"No, I'm not," Sam said, as he full-on blushed.
"Sammy, you dog!"
"Shut up, Dean."
"Just tell me this much: when you slept with Danny's girlfriend, were they still together?"
"Shut up, Dean."
"Or were they on a 'break'? And is this the same girl he just married?"
"Shut up, Dean. Let's go see what we can find at that intersection." He stood, tossing cash down on the table, and bee-lined for the door.
"Fine, fine," Dean called after him, "but you know I'm going to get this out of you sooner or later."
They waded through crowds of people in Harvard Square, past bookstores and boutiques and convenience stores. This was definitely easier to do on foot, but Sam noticed that Dean seemed to take a cue from the Impala. His brother continued to look out of place here, almost tripping on cobblestones and nearly crashing into hipsters, homeless people, and sleep-deprived coeds absorbed in their iPhones.
Sam wasn't ashamed to admit to himself that he rather enjoyed watching Dean be the big awkward one, for once.
Not that Sam felt exactly at home, either. It didn't help when a tiny older woman with silver hair gasped in their direction. "My God! You two are giants!"
They passed by an old church with an ancient graveyard. Sam imagined that you could stand in there and completely forget, for a second, that it wasn't 1801. But then you would look up and notice the extremely fragile, haunted-looking old Vietnamese man sitting on a bench opposite the cemetery, coaxing high-pitched squeals from a delicate string instrument. To Sam's surprise, Dean dug around in his pockets and deposited some loose change into the shoebox at the man's feet. Dean noticed Sam's raised eyebrows and shrugged. "What d'you wanna bet that guy hates Boston even more than I do?"
They emerged out of the dense crowd, passing a bus stop and approaching the three-way intersection.
"Damn," Dean said, with a low whistle. "I'm surprised people don't get flattened here every day."
"It's not the best urban planning I've ever seen," Sam agreed. If normal intersections were a simple cross, this one was a primitive symbol, angles askew and irregular. It was unclear, to Sam's untrained eye, which lanes belonged to which cars. A crosswalk bisected the roads, connecting a public park with a stretch of manicured lawn and stately buildings that could only be the Harvard Law School campus.
Sam recognized one large, neo-classical building as the law school library, and a memory flashed into his mind like a light bulb turning on: there he was, sitting at his crappy desk in the dorm, paging through a glossy prospectus with the Harvard seal on the cover. Page one: a multicultural array of law students bent studiously over their laptops. Page two: a multicultural array of law students perched on their seats in class, gazing at a wizened professor. Even then, Sam saw Stanford Law on his horizon; but he couldn't help imagining himself into those Harvard pictures.
He heard the voice of Professor Lipsky, his mentor, the anti-Dad, encouraging him to check out his alma mater: "I have a feeling Harvard seems worlds away to you, Sam. But maybe that's exactly why you should explore the possibility." Professor Lipsky, who never asked him many questions about his family or his pre-college life, but who seemed to understand that Sam had traveled a long way to get to Stanford.
Professor Lipsky… where was he now? Sam had memories of dinners at his house with his wife, a novelist. Thoughts of Lipsky led to thoughts of Shaheen and the other guys, to his classes, to staying up late into the night pounding out another poli-sci paper as if it were the most important, urgent, worthy mission in the universe. Thoughts of class led to thoughts of Danny… and thoughts of Danny led inevitably to thoughts of Jess.
Sam jerked. Dean was staring at him a little bug-eyed. They had arrived at the crosswalk of the intersection. Volvos, Saabs, and Mini Coopers sped through, somehow not smashing into each other.
"What the fuck, Sam. Where are you?"
"Aw, Dean—" Sam didn't know what to say. Sorry, Dean. Just remembering my old life and my dead girlfriend. Just daydreaming how my world might be without you.
There was just no way to explain it to Dean. Not without breaking his brother's heart. Sam felt a little embarrassed, both for Dean and for himself, to be thinking in those terms.
Speaking of embarrassing, it was at this moment that Dean chose to whip out his EMF reader. Never had a beat-up old walkman/paranormal energy reader been so out of place. A frat boy with iPod buds in his ears openly scoffed at Dean, while a pierced and bespectacled teenager wearing a vintage concert t-shirt regarded him with admiration.
Dean waited a moment, head cocked as if actually listening to those headphones, before ripping them off and stuffing the whole thing back in his jacket. "Never tried using this thing on a city grid. Too much interference."
Sam shrugged. "What would it have told us anyway? We know there's a ghost."
"Yeah, according to your pal Cherise."
"Dean, you know his name."
"I'm just saying, maybe we should confirm some of these sightings? Like… what's that across the street?"
Dean gestured to a restored colonial whose windows provided a clear view of the intersection; inside were the Harvard Law Review offices.
"That's like a journal, Dean."
"The newspaper? Maybe they've been reporting on it."
"No… not that kind of journal. It's a scholarly review." Even as he uttered the words he knew how ridiculous that would sound to Dean. He expected some wise-ass comeback. Instead, Dean just looked at him, almost thoughtfully, then turned fully around to face the park behind them.
"There are some homeless dudes over by that statue. I'm guessing they'll be a little more useful than a 'scholarly review.'" Sam observed Dean's lips twist with—what? Derision?
When did he start having such a hard time reading his own brother?
They set off towards their targets, passing teenagers basking in the grass and people sitting in quiet isolation on park benches. The 'homeless dudes' turned out to be a man and woman, each with long scruffy hair pulled back in bandannas. They were each wearing layers of clothes and had a small mountain of duffel bags and boxes piled up next to the statue. Several cats and dogs, all eerily quiet and tame, were curled up around the couple and their things. They were aware of Sam and Dean's approach, observing them with open curiosity.
"Howdy," the man said.
Dean nodded. "We'd like to ask you a few questions, if you don't mind."
The woman perked up. "What paper are you from?"
"Excuse me?" said Sam.
"We're not from a paper, we're… students," Dean said, in that way he had which suggested that he himself didn't believe what he was saying.
"At the college?" the homeless man asked, understandably dubious.
"No! No…" Dean smiled and waved his hand. "The… uh… journalism school."
"What, we don't look like Harvard material to you?" Dean sputtered, before Sam could intervene.
"Ha ha, Dean, you know there isn't a school of journalism at Harvard… no, we're from BU."
"Ha ha!" Dean barked.
"Actually, we're doing a project for school, and we're hoping you can answer a few questions for us."
"Oh here," the woman reached into her jacket and produced a small business card. "You can contact our publicist at this email address."
"Um…" Sam managed, reaching for the card.
"You've never heard of us? I assumed you wanted to interview us about our pets, or our clothing store…"
"You have a clothing store? Where, on the other side of this statue?" Dean made a face, then shook his head. "Actually, no. Never mind. Look, we don't want to know about you—"
"—Though we're sure you have an amazing story!" Sam interjected.
"We're doing an article about… paranormal activity. In Boston." Dean pronounced 'Boston' like a bad taste in his mouth.
The woman raised an eyebrow. She clearly didn't believe a word they were saying, but she nodded anyway. "You want to know about the ghost in the intersection there."
Sam and Dean must have looked like eager puppies. The man continued, "We haven't seen it, but we know who it is."
"You do?" Sam said.
"Who else could it be? It's that poor law student who died there."
"What? Some kid died there?" Dean turned to Sam. "How could your precious Sharon have missed that?"
"When was this?" Sam asked.
The man scratched his head. "Oh, must have been about two years ago."
"Was it an accident?" Dean said.
Sam felt like he knew the answer before the woman spoke. "I don't think so. Guy just walked right into traffic. Plowed down by a city bus."
Dean shuddered. "Know why he did it?"
"How the hell would we know that?"
"I don't know, should we ask your publicist?" Dean snapped.
"Okay, Dean," Sam said, patting his brother on the shoulder and turning away. He nodded at their informants. "Thanks a lot."
"Yeah, good luck on your 'project,'" the woman said to their retreating backs.
"Guess it's time to do some research," Sam said.
"I'm not going anywhere near a library in this town," Dean warned. "They'd probably chase me out with pitchforks."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm on it."
When they reached the intersection, Dean wanted to go through another time with his EMF reader, just in case. The walk light turned on, and they started across the street. Dean was looking down, focused on turning on the reader, when a green Subaru's brakes squealed. Out of nowhere, it swerved out its lane and into the crosswalk.
It was over before Sam knew it; his body moved without participation from his brain. When he could think again, the Subaru had screeched to a halt halfway into the intersection, the huge-eyed female driver clutching at the wheel. Sam and Dean were in a pile on the asphalt, where Sam had deposited them after lunging, grabbing Dean, and throwing them both out of the car's trajectory.
Their bodies panted together in the same shocked rhythm. He felt Dean's chest heaving beneath the palm of his hand. The driver got out of her car, trembling. Pedestrians started to gather, and car horns began to honk.
"There was a man in the street!" the driver bleated. "I swear! I'm sorry! I thought..."
"I saw him too!" a bystander volunteered.
"Where is he?" another asked, stooping to look under the car.
"I don't know! It looked like—I swear he just... disappeared..."
"Did you see him? Did you...?"
With a reluctance more powerful than his own racing pulse, Sam let go of Dean so they could stand up, brush off, and interview the witnesses.
"Oh, yes," Dean said. "Yes, yes, yes." He gripped his menu a little bit more tightly and unconsciously rubbed his fingers against the plastic.
"Should I leave you two alone?" Sam asked, arching a wry eyebrow in Dean's direction.
"Shut up. This is how real men eat." He set his menu down on the marbleized laminate tabletop with satisfaction. "You can't go wrong at a place best known for both its double cheeseburger and its double lobster roll special. This is a classy joint, Sam." Sam rolled his eyes. "And they've got real beer," Dean said triumphantly as the waitress arrived with two tall glasses.
"Are you ready to order, then?" she asked, blushing a little when Dean smiled at her.
"Two double cheeseburgers, please," Dean said.
"What?" Sam said incredulously. "No. I'll have the grilled chicken sandwich."
"What are you, my wife? I wasn't ordering for you. They're both for me."
The waitress giggled and Sam frowned. Dean couldn't understand why his brother was so bitchy; he'd just spent several hours in Sam's favorite place in the whole world—the library.
"So," Dean said, after the waitress had left and he'd taken a few long sips from his beer. "Tell me what you found, Sparky."
"Paul Stevens," Sam answered. "Third-year Harvard Law student, hit by a city bus at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Cambridge Street, two years ago. The details in the obit are sketchy, but it certainly sounds like suicide. I think he's our guy.
"We got a locale on the parents?"
"No. Names, but no details. I made some calls, and they don't live in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, which was listed as Paul's home. The registrar's office confirmed that he was a student here, but wouldn't give up any of his family information."
"You think you can hack into their system?"
"Probably not, at least not within any reasonable amount of time."
"So what do we do now? Just start asking around?"
Sam shrugged. "I bet most of the students will have heard something about him, it was only a couple of years ago. Some of his friends are probably still here."
"All right, so. It's Friday night, let's make the rounds. There's gotta be at least a couple parties around here, right?"
"We're going to Shaheen's, remember?"
"Dude, what makes you think his friends will know anything? Shaheen had no idea who he was."
Sam shrugged. "Seems as good a place to start as any."
"You just want to party with your buddy."
"Is there something wrong with that?"
"We're on a job, Sam."
"Yeah, and you just said we should hit the parties tonight. Shaheen just so happens to be having a party. Tonight. Why shouldn't we go?"
Dean gritted his teeth, but couldn't think of a rational reason. "Fine, we'll start there. But don't go getting all shitfaced and nostalgic on me, I'll need you to be ready to go if the crowd turns up dry."
Sam glared at him as Dean took a long swig of beer.
The waitress arrived, then, with two double cheeseburgers and a grilled chicken sandwich, and Dean was glad for the distraction. His burger was delicious, in all its perfect, meaty glory, and they ate in silence for several minutes.
Sam seemed even more weirdly broody than usual as he ate, and Dean found himself wondering how much all the Stanford reminders of the past couple of days had him thinking about Jess. Dean eyed his brother and struggled to swallow a suddenly too-large piece of burger.
"So, uh," Dean managed a few moments later, "You seem to like it here."
Sam looked up, surprised out of his reverie. "Yeah," he said. "I guess I do."
Dean chewed and nodded and avoided looking at him.
"I, uh," Sam said, and Dean knew he was about to hear something he wouldn't like. "I was going to apply here. To the law school."
"Yeah. I had the application all filled out. Ready to go, just sitting on my desk."
"Why didn't you send it?" Dean said, after a minute.
"I wanted to see how that scholarship interview went, first. If Stanford had given me the money, it would've been a done deal. Figured I'd save myself the application fee until I knew."
Dean examined the fake marble swirl of the table top and blinked away the image of a crisp white envelope catching fire, blackening and twisting and disintegrating into nothing. An acid burn seared through his stomach, and he almost had to set his burger down.
He could feel Sam watching him, waiting. Dean licked at his teeth before taking another bite of his burger.
"What I don't understand, Sam," he said around meat and bun and cheese, "is why you won't tell me more about this girl you fucked that pissed Danny off so bad."
Sam's face hardened in annoyance. "Dean," he said, part exasperation, part disbelief.
"No, really, I think I have a right to know."
"I'm pretty sure you don't, actually."
"No way. It's, like, biological law or something. I'm entitled to pry every last detail out of you—especially the dirty ones."
"Shut up, Dean."
"Honestly, Sam, I didn't think you had it in you to scam on a buddy like that. I mean, you're barely able to seal the deal with available women, and I thought you had some strict moral code or whatever that would prevent these things, so what was the deal? Were you going through some sort of amoral phase?"
"Dean, seriously. You don't want to know, OK, so just shut the fuck up."
"Oh, I do want to know, that much I can promise you. Was she just that hot, or what?"
Sam's jaw clenched as he looked away. "Shut up, Dean."
"Was it just the once? Was she drunk? When did it happen?"
"Shut up, Dean."
"Come on, Sammy, I'm just proud, is all. How many times did you hook up with Danny's girlfriend?"
"Never," Sam snapped. "I didn't sleep with Danny's girlfriend, Dean. I slept with Danny."
Dean inhaled sharply—maybe to laugh, he wasn't sure—and promptly choked on his double cheeseburger.