Pete's sitting on a bench just outside the double doors at the front of the school when Sam finds him before first period. "Hey, what have you got there?" Sam asks, gesturing at the book on Pete's lap.
He recognizes that stupid drawing of the kid with weird-colored glasses, hair like he stuck a fork in a light socket, and a broomstick when Pete holds the book up. It's a hardcover copy, and it doesn't even have library plastic covers on it; Pete must be pretty rich to afford something like that.
"Hey, I read that just before I moved here," Sam says. "How far into the story are you?"
Pete smiles eagerly, keeping one finger in the book to mark his place. "Harry just met Hagrid, and they're going to that cool place to buy all the school stuff."
"Just wait. It's going to get really good."
The early bell goes off just then, and they join the throng of people shuffling into the building.
All through English, Sam is cursing not only the alphabetically organized seating chart that keeps him and Jaime a full room apart, but also his own previous failure to recognize that she's in a few of his classes other than gym. It totally sucks to think he might have missed something she said, or the way she looked when she wrapped a lock of hair around her finger.
Even from across the room, he can see the light red shine of her hair, just as bright as the silver clip holding some of it back. Mrs. Sims is saying something about a unit on poetry, and when Sam sees Jaime writing something down in her notebook, and registers that the rest of his classmates are doing the same, he mentally rewinds a little and this time hears that they've got to hand in an original poem in a week.
No problem. He's already got the perfect subject in mind. If he could just get close enough to see what color her eyes are, he'd be all set.
Principal Bergen greets them in study hall with enough of a smile - the corner of his mouth is turned up a quarter of an inch - that Sam starts to get nervous, and he stops listening to whatever it is that Pete is saying. His instincts are telling him he's just stepped into danger, but he can't figure out from which corner. Yesterday's study hall was totally uneventful, and the French teacher monitoring them had even left them alone a few times for phone calls or bathroom breaks or to adjust his beret or something.
"Hello, students," Principal Bergen says, rubbing his hands together briskly. "There's been a bit of a scheduling change. You will no longer have study hall fourth period. From now on you will all be enrolled in Home Economics. Let me just make this very clear: Home Economics is not a pass/fail class. There is no such thing as a pass/fail class at Rapture High School, with the exception of your time in the gymnasium."
He moves his arms like an orchestra conductor instructing them all to rise. "Gather your things and follow me, please. Ms. Bonling is expecting you."
Sam exchanges the same incredulous glance with Pete that he sees the rest of their classmates giving each other around him. "Cooking and sewing? This is gonna suck," Pete says grimly.
Sewing won't be so bad; he's used to it and he knows he can manage it tolerably well. Maybe he could even liberate a few needles and spools of thread for the first aid kit - no, wait. Dad hasn't brought up a single hunt since they got here, and neither has Dean. No need to remind them of what they're skipping if it's not occurring to them already.
Though if Dad keeps up with his track record, he's going to need first aid sooner or later, Sam figures. Uncle Bobby's bound to be like all the other hunters Dad's spent time with; he'll snap at some point.
"Okay, people, listen up," Coach Snyder says, and Sam wonders if that's his catchphrase. Then he wonders when he started calling the guy "Coach."
Still, he joins the huddle around Snyder, aware of Pete at his shoulder, and looks out of the corner of his eyes at Jaime. All he can see is a flash of her long hair, hanging over her shoulder until she tosses her head to smooth it back.
"The school board has decided that gym classes should be broken up into units, with a different emphasis each unit. The first one we're tackling is going to be . . . ballroom dancing."
Coach Snyder is practically rolling his eyes, and Sam feels a strong wave of sympathy. "Apparently, the school board feels you'll thank them once Homecoming rolls around and you're not just standing on the sidelines and drowning your sorrows in a cup of fruit punch."
Wow, he had no idea Coach Snyder could be so eloquent. "Okay," Snyder mumbles to himself, then starts counting them off, pairing them up.
There are a few more boys than girls, which makes the chances even smaller, but evidently nothing can stand in the way of destiny, because Snyder pushes him toward Jaime with a brusque, "Winchester, you've got Collins."
There is a God, and Snyder is His instrument here on earth.
As Snyder turns away to set up a boombox on a folding card table, Sam spares a kind thought for the school board, and another for his guidance counselor, the humorless Mr. Yates, for scheduling him in this gym class. And maybe one for Dean, for suggesting this move and getting Dad to agree. Yeah, Dean gets one too.
"Stand next to your partner and face me," Snyder calls. "All of you in one straight line. We're starting with the waltz. Now everyone watch once and then try it along with me. Ready?"
Snyder turns his back so that they can mirror him more easily, and starts calling instructions over his shoulder. Standing at one end of the line, Sam can see Snyder consulting the cheat sheet he's got inked on his hand. "Left foot forward, right foot over, left foot over. Right foot back, left foot over, right foot over. Now you guys. Try it with me."
They get through one step, most of them stumbling a little, but Sam sees that Jaime, next to him, moves so smoothly her hair doesn't even flutter.
Coach Snyder starts blowing his whistle to help them keep track of their steps, emphatic tweets in a long-short-short pattern. That's D in Morse code, Dean's usual sign-off when they're separated and have only alert whistles to stay in touch. Sam can feel his body respond as if this were one of Dad's training sessions, and his feet glide into place over and over.
"Okay," Snyder finally says, red in the face from blowing his whistle for five minutes straight. "Let's try this with music. Face your partners. Gentlemen, you'll start by going forward with the left foot, and ladies, you'll start by going back with the right. Men, hold your left hand out at shoulder level and put your right hand on her waist. Ladies, put your right hand in his left hand and put your left hand on his right shoulder. I trust you all can figure out how close you're supposed to get. Fisher and Zipes," Snyder continues, turning to the two guys who are partnered together, "I'll let you work out the details on your own. Everybody ready?"
There's a shuffling that echoes throughout the gym as they all try to remember exactly what Coach Snyder said. Sam starts to rewind a bit, but the touch of Jaime's light hand on his shoulder freezes his brain. Her charm bracelet is resting against his chest. She shakes her right hand a few times, and it finally clicks that she's waiting for him to take it in his. Her hand is warm and soft and he wants to drop it, wipe his own on his sweatpants, and then reclaim it.
She's looking down the whole time, and he can see apricot-colored bangs, long light eyelashes too fair to be seen from a distance, and a little square chin that's set in determination. And then she looks up and he has his answer: her eyes are big and blue and look like the sky on a perfect cloudless day. "I'm Sam," he says stupidly.
She smiles. "I know. You're new."
"You smell like sugar."
It looks like he needs to thank Ms. Bonling in his acceptance speech too, even though she said that the sugar cookies he and Pete had made in Home Ec were inedible. The list is getting pretty long, he thinks, as Coach Snyder hits play and "Open Arms" comes pouring out of the boombox.
Over lunch, Sam recaps what happened in gym for Pete, detail by glorious detail, and Pete just says "uh-huh" or "yeah" between bites of his pizza and tater tots. By the time Pete's on his pudding, he isn't even bothering to do much more than say "mmmm."
Sam's stomach growls, so he wraps up quickly and bolts down the food in front of him. It's gone cold and kind of tasteless, but at least it shuts his stomach up.
"Hey," Pete says. "You wanna come over to my house after school?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess." He's never been allowed to do that before, because Dad has firm rules about knowing where he is at all times and also because Dad doesn't want Sam returning an invitation and bringing anyone by to their place, which is usually in a pretty crappy part of town, and even when it's not, is always filled with dangerous weapons and information. But Sam doesn't know what the rules are here, now that they've settled down for a year. "We, uh, just need to stop by the place where my brother works first, so I can let him know where I'm gonna be."
"Yeah, sure. I'll meet you at the bench out front."
"Yeah, and Draco's just such a jerk," Pete's saying as they walk into Vanzini's Body Work. "I mean, all that stuff about Ron's family being poor? Not like it's anybody's fault, you know?"
"Yeah, of course," Sam says. "Hang on a sec." He scopes out the area until he sees a familiar pair of worn work boots peeking out from under a car painted a dusty-looking light blue, then kicks lightly at his brother's ankle. "Hey, Dean. I'm checking in."
Dean slides out and hops up, black grease streaked along his forearms. His eyes run quickly down Sam and then over to Pete. "Hey, Sam," is all he says, though.
"Hey, listen, can I go over to Pete's? This is Pete. Pete, this is my brother Dean."
Dean nods like it's not a big deal at all. "Sure. I can pick you up on my way home. Where do you live, Pete?"
"Over on Little Eagle Road, number seven. At the corner of Little Eagle and Eagle Butte."
Sam can barely hold back a snicker, remembering the conversation they'd had over the state map, but Dean keeps a straight face. "Yeah, I know where that is. I'll come by around seven-thirty?"
"And why don't you come over to our place for dinner tomorrow? You like mac and cheese?"
"You like vegetables?"
"Um, well . . ."
"Excellent," Dean says, then gets back down on his rolling board thing that looks like Marty McFly's homemade skateboard. "Have fun. Good to meet you, Pete."
Pete nods back. They're about two steps outside the shop when Pete says, "Just gimme a sneak peek at the ending. Tell me Draco dies in some 'tragic' wizarding accident at the end of the book," and Sam bites his lip and smiles.
Sam doesn't really get how Dean can listen to him while doing ten other things, but Dean nods and answers at all the right places, so he must be. "Okay," Sam says, taking a deep breath. "So I need to write a poem for my English class, and there's this girl, and . . ."
"And what, Sammy?" Dean's peering out the windshield at the street signs. "Would it kill them to have a streetlamp out here?"
Sam sighs. "And I need some help."
"With your English homework? Sorry, buddy, you're on your own for that."
"Alright, alright. You need help with the girl?"
"No." He's made up his mind to do this without Dean; Dean could probably trick or sweet-talk Jaime onto the living room couch in three seconds flat, but Sam wants this to be his victory alone. "I just . . . um, what rhymes with 'Jaime'?"
"Hang on, Sammy." Dean puts the car in park and hops out to pull Dad out of Uncle Bobby's house.
Uncle Bobby comes out to the front porch after Dad and Dean, one hand around the puppy's collar, and waves at Sam. Before Sam can get out and into the back seat, Dad's already got the back door open. Dean climbs back in and slams his door shut.
"Okay," Dean says, and Sam's expecting him to say something about work or ask Dad if he got anything good out of Uncle Bobby. But Dean goes back to Sam's question, not even picking up on the death stare Sam is aiming at the side of his head, because the last thing he needs is Dad finding out about any of this. "'Jaime,'" Dean muses. "Um, 'Amy'? Oh! 'Lay me'!" Dean grins hugely.
"Gross, Dean," Sam says, and faces forward again. "You're such a pig."
"Think about it, grasshopper," Dean says in his stupid kung-fu accent, and then Dad leans forward and asks Dean about work.
"Next time you come over, I'll make sure that the ping-pong table's cleared," Pete says while they're waltzing together, hands on each other's shoulders, both of them looking down at their feet to make sure they don't go sprawling on the gym floor.
"Why's it all covered up now?" Sam asks distractedly, wishing Coach Snyder would start using his whistle again; it's much easier to dance to Morse Code than it is to music. And he's really starting to hate "Open Arms." And Journey. And - he sneaks another glance over Pete's shoulder - that Brian kid who's over there dancing with Jaime and holding her a little closer than he really should.
Pete stumbles a little. "My dad and I used to play every night. When he moved out, I didn't really have anyone to play with, that's all. It's not a big deal."
It is, though; Sam can tell not only by Pete's face but also by the way Pete's hands seem to have lost their grip on his shoulders. "Is he still around?" It's pretty safe to ask, he figures, since Pete had muttered something about his dad's cooking while they were choking on the clouds of flour they'd raised with their disastrous oatmeal raisin walnut cookie dough during home ec last period.
"Every other weekend," Pete says, obviously trying really hard to smile and shrug. "Sometimes we go hiking or fishing or something. He's picking me up after school on Friday, and he said something about renting a boat."
"Sounds really cool. All my dad and I do together is argue or play chess. Mostly argue."
"Yeah," Pete says as the cassette grinds mercifully to a halt and Coach Snyder sends them back to the locker rooms.
Sam figures he better not press his luck, so he talks Pete into staying in the nice, air-conditioned school library after school instead of heading straight home. Maybe this way Dean will have the place cleared out of anything weird or hunting-related and have dinner on the table when they get there. It's tempting to call Uncle Bobby and ask if he'll keep Dad there, but given the way Uncle Bobby can gossip for hours with Dean, Sam wouldn't put it past him to horn in on the dinner too.
They find a table in the corner and get to work. Sam puts the poem out of his mind; until he stops hearing Dean's voice like a demented conscience chanting Amy! Lay me! Jaime!, he figures it's no good working on that. With a dissatisfied groan, he pulls out his Intro to Algebra textbook. Ugh, math. Maybe it won't matter if he procrastinates a little. Just a little.
"What are you working on?" he asks Pete.
Pete looks up from his notebook. "This proof for geometry."
"Oh." Well, now he feels stupid; he has no idea what a proof even is. "You're in Intro to Geometry? I thought that class was only open to sophomores." Pete might even be as good at math as Dean.
"Nah," Pete says, ducking his head down and getting back to work. "Just not a lot of freshmen take it." Pete looks up suddenly. "You know, Jaime's in that class too. She's really smart."
Sam grins. He knows Pete could not possibly care less about Jaime. "So, you're telling me she hasn't puked in class yet?"
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed," Pete says, totally deadpan, and then they burst out laughing. Mrs. Malley glares at them from behind the big front desk.
Sam is going to owe Dean for the rest of his natural life, and he figures he should start by cleaning the guns or mowing the lawn or something else horrible, but he doesn't care, because Dean's made everything perfect, like he mainlined every episode of Family Ties that he could get his hands on, and took lots of notes.
The house smells like dinner, like mac and cheese with onion powder and crushed red pepper and ground beef, like peas and corn mixed together with butter and salt. There's not a sign of weaponry or research anywhere, and the place is pretty tidy. Dean's even thrown a blanket over the ratty couch cushions.
"Hey, guys, dinner's gonna be ready in a few," Dean says, and Sam is just starting to think he's going to get away with this when Dad comes out of his bedroom with his journal in his hand, flipping through pages as he walks.
"Hi, Dad!" Sam says desperately, trying to catch his eye. "This is my friend, Pete Crawford."
Dad pulls up short and gives Sam a look that means we'll talk about this later, but he's at least nice to Pete, shaking his hand and saying, "Good to meet you, Pete."
Sam looks over at Dean for a cue, but Dean's looking totally unconcerned as he sets the table with their mismatched plates. He looks back at Dad, only to find him looking at Dean too, like he's also waiting for a script to follow.
"Hey, you know what I found last night?" Dean asks, setting out their glasses with cartoon characters portrayed in faded paint. "Our old dartboard. I set it up in our room, Sam, if you guys want to play a round."
"Great," he says, and leads the way, wondering if Dad's going to chew Dean out for allowing him to have a friend over, hoping he'll at least keep his voice down if he does.
In the bedroom, Dean's got the battered dartboard hanging on the back of the door, pristine darts lined up on the little table between their beds. He's only ever thrown knives before, during training sessions with Dad barking at him and Dean setting an example that's pretty much impossible to follow; it takes him a couple of throws to get used to the darts' heft, but pretty soon he's doing okay. Pete's not far behind; in fact, he's doing really suspiciously well for someone who hasn't been training under John Winchester for his whole life. "Wait a minute," Sam finally says. "Did you and your dad shoot darts, too?" Pete just shrugs like it's all perfectly innocent, and oh man, is it on now.
They play a few hotly contested rounds, until Sam's stomach growls and they head back to the living room. Dinner looks great, steam rising from the two big pots, ice cubes snapping in glasses of soda, and they settle in around the cheap metal-wrapped table and get right to it.
Pete doesn't seem to mind that Dean tells his dumb jokes with his mouth full, but the real shocker is that even Dad smiles at one of Pete's.
They're on the front porch, Dad and Dean on the lightweight plastic chairs he and Dean had dug out of the pit of despair that had once been a garage, and him and Pete down on the steps, all of them sucking down cherry vanilla ice cream and crunching on the pale, squat cones that taste mostly like styrofoam.
The sun is going down, reflecting purple off the car's blue hood and red off the primer-white front passenger door. This is the best night Sam's ever had - good food, his favorite ice cream, everyone getting along, and no training. Pete fits right in, and not in a weird way, like his dad is secretly a hunter too. It's just that Dean likes him and Dad actually seems okay with having someone else in the house.
"Come on, boys," Dad finally says; "you've still got school in the morning. Sam and I'll drive you home, Pete. Dean, you leave those dishes for your brother; I know you've got an early day tomorrow."
Pete stands and goes inside to get his backpack. Dad pushes Sam along too, with a hand on his shoulder. "You go inside too, Sammy, and get your wallet. You're driving."
Pete's mom comes out of the house to meet Dad, and Sam feels weirdly paternal as he sits in the driver's seat, motor still running, and tries not to eavesdrop on the conversation Dad and Mrs. Crawford are having, both of them hunched and awkward in the headlights, like they're on a date with chaperones. He can hear something about him and Pete both being "good boys," which makes him roll his eyes.
Mrs. Crawford isn't really pretty, but she's absolutely what a mom should look like, with her blonde hair back in a braid and no make-up or jewelry on. She and Dad smile and shake hands, and then she's leaning over to make eye contact with him through the windshield. "Goodnight, Sam," she mouths, then waves, and he keeps his hands on the steering wheel but smiles back at her.
"Sam," Dad says, getting back into the car, "we need to set some ground rules."
Oh, here it comes. "Let me guess," Sam says. "Pete can't come over again, no more friends at the house, and, oh yeah, get back to your dungeon, Sam."
"Button that lip, Sam," Dad says sharply. "And pull over. I don't want you trying to drive in the dark and sass back at the same time."
Sam obeys, because it's not like he wants to crash and die either. He puts the car in park, and Dad reaches over and pulls the key from the ignition. "Listen up," Dad says. "Dean told me you checked in with him yesterday about having Pete over today. So I'm not going to give you any grief about that, even though you should have asked me. And as long as you give me a couple of days' notice, you can have Pete over again, but not more than once a week. Understood?"
Sam nods vigorously, agreeing before Dad can take it back. This is way more than he ever thought Dad would concede. And if Dad likes Pete so much, then of course he'll love Jaime, and -
"Hey." Dad's poking him right in the middle of his chest, jamming one finger hard against his breastbone. "I'm not done here. Look at me when I'm talking to you, Sammy."
Sam looks up, and comes close to pointing out that in the dark, it makes no difference where he's looking, but he bites his tongue. Dad's obviously gearing up for a Dad-talk, the kind he breaks out once a year or so, when he and Dean are tired of communicating in grunts and bandages. "Now, having Pete over is okay. He seems like a good kid, and his mother seems like she's got a good head on her shoulders. And if he and his mother are going to offer you hospitality, it's only fair that you do the same for him; you never have to owe anybody anything. However. You are not to take this permission as license to bring all of your friends over, do you understand? No other friends, no parties, and especially no girls."
"What? Why?" Dad-logic is always a little strange, but that is just flat-out crazy.
"My roof, my rules," Dad says, and sits back.
"But what if . . . say my lab partner in bio is a girl, and we have to write a lab report, and -"
Dad cuts him off again. "I'll write you a note to get your purely theoretical lab partner switched."
Damn it. He knew he shouldn't have let that "say" sneak in there. "But why?" he wails.
Dad turns to look at him, and in that moment, Sam is fully convinced that his dad has eyes like infrared goggles, or maybe microscopes, because Sam feels totally naked under Dad's unshakable gaze. "Because I know how you get, Sammy. You've made friends with this boy Pete, and you might even stay in touch with him when we leave at the end of the year. But it won't break your heart to leave him. And I won't let you do that to yourself over some little girl you won't ever see again after the school year's over." Dad sits back in his seat, closes his eyes, and holds the keys out. "Now drive."
The drive home is quick and silent, with Dad simply gesturing whenever Sam needs to use his blinkers and turn.
Sam walks into the house, moping, then can't help sniffing the air contentedly. It still smells like dinner, and that's when he realizes Dean took Dad at his word and left the dishes in a messy clutter in the sink, though he did scrape the leftovers into plastic containers and stick them in the fridge.
Dad pulls his journal off the kitchen counter and sits on the living room couch. Dean strolls in, hair still wet from a shower, and chugs some milk straight from the carton. "Night," Dean calls on his way out, ending the performance with a long, disgusting burp.
There's no point in putting it off or trying to weasel out of it, so Sam gets to work on the dishes, counting on the blast of water to muffle his words but not his angry tone. He's scrubbing at the mac and cheese pot so hard, mumbling furiously all the while, that he doesn't even hear Dad come up beside him. Dad's first words, spoken in a rumble he can just barely hear over the running water, make him jump a couple of inches and drop the pot with a clatter and a splash.
"I don't want you to think I'm being unfair to you, Sammy," Dad says, still calling him by that stupid kid's name. As if Dad's ever cared about being fair. Sam just sets his jaw, picks the pot back up, and starts scrubbing it again. "You've gone and gotten yourself all worked up over a girl already, haven't you? Jaime Somebody, right?"
Of course Dad remembers that. He probably wrote it down in his stupid journal.
"Answer me, Sammy." Dad sounds serious.
Sam squares his shoulders. "Yes, sir. Jaime Collins."
"Then it looks like we're at an impasse, doesn't it? Tell you what, I'll make you a deal."
Sam tries to keep his expression as bland as possible while he sets the pot on the drying rack. "What kind of deal?" he asks, aiming for casual. Dad makes deals with Dean all the time, but he's never thought of Sam as grown up enough for anything more than barked orders.
"Gentlemen's agreement. You can bring Jaime over to meet all of us -" Dad raises a hand to keep Sam from interrupting "- as soon as your brother does the same with a girl he's serious about."
"That's totally unfair!" Dean never brings girls home; he always gets the girl to smuggle him into her house, or else he finds the local make-out spot and takes her there. Sam's about ninety percent sure that Dean's mapped all the Lovers Lanes in the contiguous forty-eight states.
"Like it or not, that's the deal," Dad says, smiling smugly. "You went from a straight-up no to a conditional no; your position has only improved."
Sure, Dad's all heart. He just doesn't want to have to put up with any arguments, so he offered up this sucker deal. Because it's not like Dad doesn't know he's pretty much conditioned Dean into not being serious about any girl, anyone who could get in the way of the family mission.
"Yeah, yeah," Sam says automatically, scrubbing at the artificial cheese crusted on the forks, then smiles as the answer clicks in his brain. Dean will bring his latest flavor of the week home if Sam just asks.
Too bad Dad's a freaking psychic, though, because he says, "And if you breathe one word of this to Dean, the whole deal's off." Sam goes utterly still, reeling when Dad claps him on the shoulder. "Goodnight, son."
Sam goes back to washing dishes, his mind whirring along. Isn't Dad the one who taught him that as long as there are rules, there are also ways to bend them? All he has to do is figure out the loophole in Dad's evil deal, and he'll be home free, sitting next to Jaime on the living room couch and holding her hand.