The knocking is so soft he wonders if he's imagining it. He opens his door, still drying his hair with a towel, and sees Sue. "Sorry," she says; "I'm early. I'm always early. I can wait out here in the hallway."
"Don't worry about it. Come on in." He stands out of the way while she limps through the doorway. He shuts the door and clears off his bed, hastily pulling up the covers and smoothing them out.
"Actually, a hard chair is better for me," she says, pointing to the sturdy wooden one tucked in at his desk. "May I?"
"Yeah, of course," he says, dropping the towel on the bed to pull the chair out for her. "I'm sorry."
"Not your fault," she says with a bright smile. "At least I can still walk." He can see sweat beading on her upper lip, so he hands her a bottle of water from Steve's small fridge. "Thanks." She drinks deeply, then caps the bottle and looks around the room. His walls are blank and the only things scattered around are books and clothes. She meets his eyes directly. "Looks like you're starting over too."
He's saved from answering by another knock on the door. Karla smiles brightly at him and breezes in, waving to Sue and settling herself on the bed. "Your pillow's all wet," she giggles and moves to the center of the bed.
He hangs up the towel and sits on the bed. Karla's pressed up against him, and Sam has to make an effort to keep his eyes on Sue's essay rather than on the toned, tan skin of Karla's thigh. She shifts, crossing her legs, and he jerks his eyes back to the paper lying limp in his hands.
When they trade papers again, Karla leans forward, and her shirt falls open enough for him to see how little she's wearing underneath it. He finishes reading her essay, adding commas haphazardly, watching her china-blue eyes track his comments on Sue's paper, her silver bracelet glinting as she makes her own notes in the margins.
The sound of Sue uncapping her bottle of water reminds him of her presence, and he looks over to see her eyes resolutely down. She braces herself to get off the chair in one movement, stern brown gaze pinning him to the bed when he starts to get up to help her. "I'm fine, Sam," she says, but he can see the tension in the set of her mouth. Karla looks up from the paper on her lap, eyes flicking back and forth between them, bracelet slipping down her arm as she runs her fingers through her sleek hair.
Sue stands, leaning one hip against the back of the chair, taking the essay Karla holds out. "Thanks," she says, dropping it in her bag and slinging the straps over her shoulders. "I should get going; see you guys on Monday." She makes her way to the door and closes it carefully behind her.
"Oh my God, what happened? Was she in an accident?" Karla leans into him to whisper as though Sue is lingering outside the door, eavesdropping.
"I don't know. I didn't want to ask." He can see right down her shirt again. He's always had a weakness for brainy blondes, looking like ice but feeling like fire. She leans back a little, meeting his eyes with a small and purposeful smile.
"So," she says, tilting her head, "what's the deal with the Spartan decor?" He frowns his confusion, so she elaborates, walking over to his desk, perching on it and letting her foot rest on his knee. "No pictures, no mementoes; you don't even have a beer-can pyramid."
He grins and follows the line of her trim leg with his eyes. "Sorry. I'll start working on that one right away. But don't I get points for minimalist decoration?"
She smiles sharply, baring her teeth. "Not if I find out you have a girlfriend and you only put her picture out when she visits."
"There is no girlfriend," he says, standing up and pulling her close. She tastes like peppermint, her hair runs through his fingers like water, and when they hit the bed, their essays crinkle loudly beneath them.
Karla's walls are covered in photographs he hasn't bothered to look at yet. While she's in the shower and he's still stretched out under her baby-blue duvet, her roommate packs up her stuff. "Bye," he says, and she stops and looks at him quizzically before closing the door behind her. He throws off the duvet and springs up to grab his jeans from the floor, fishing in the front left pocket for a stick of gum, and crawls back into bed.
When Karla comes back she's wrapped in a pink towel, smelling like peaches and gleaming from the water that streaks her tan skin. She drops the towel and stands in front of him, her eyes glinting at his morning erection. He lets his eyes sweep slowly over her, amazed again by the sight. She's got no tan lines at all, and just the thought of her bare to the sun and slick with lotion gets him breathing even faster.
He pulls her down on top of him, one hand heavy on her back. He licks her nipple and grins when she grinds down and starts to speak. They've got two hours before class, and he knows by now how to make this last.
Her hair shines on his pillow. Her eyes are screwed tightly shut and her voice has lost its sophisticated polish.
"Sam," she says, sounding strangled; "tongue." He spreads her thighs with his hands, licking at her, and her head thrashes from side to side as she digs her heels into the bed, muscles shaking under his palms.
"No, no," she finally groans, "I want your fingers," and he works one hand between her legs while he kisses her breasts. He's teasing her now, not giving her enough, keeping all of his touches whisper-soft, and she cries out in frustration; she likes giving orders, and he likes denying her by following them to the letter. It's been a few weeks, and she still hasn't caught on.
When he finally moves up her body and thrusts into her, her arms tighten around him in sheer relief. She doesn't need to speak now that she's getting what she wants, and she kisses his chin, digging her fingernails painfully into his shoulders when a clever motion of his hips pulls her climax from her.
She goes limp. He pushes into her a few last, urgent times and comes, burying his face in her scented hair. It's slick and cool like it has nothing to do with her tanned and sweaty body. Her eyes open, pale powder-blue like a misty mountain-top; lighter than Irene's, he thinks suddenly, and she frowns at him from underneath plucked brown eyebrows as if she read his thought.
He gets up to throw out the condom, and by the time he's turned back, she's already shimmied into her dress. He pulls on his underwear and jeans while she sits on the bed to work the straps of her sandals, then hands her her purse. Her goodbye kiss feels a lot like their first.
Karla's eyes have pretty much stopped issuing any invitations, so he's free tonight. He thinks about heading over to Matalind to see Irene, but the sky is filled with heavy black clouds and thunder rumbles threateningly. He picks up the pace and gets to his room to find it empty.
This would probably be a good time to do laundry, but he's feeling far too lazy for that. He scoops his dirty clothes off his desk and chair and walks to the closet to dump them in the blue duffel. His eye falls on the green canvas bag that's been sitting untouched in his closet since he shoved it in there back in September. The day before that, he'd been pulled into Dean's arms and felt a kiss - warm, soft lips surrounded by stubble - scrape briefly against the underside of his jaw; when he'd been released, this barracks bag was in his arms and he was turning dazedly to board the Greyhound bus, unable to see Dean through the dirt on the glass door and the glare on the Impala's windshield.
He sets his jaw and pulls the bag from its dark corner - he'd forgotten how heavy it is - and unties the drawstring that's still in one of Dean's neat knots. The stiff canvas sides mean he can't root around like he could in a duffel; he just has to take things as they come, reversing the order in which Dean buried them. The first thing he finds is a single piece of paper, torn messily from a spiral notebook. "Sammy" cuts diagonally across the faint blue lines in black marker, the S strong and the rest collapsing on itself in Dean's looped cursive. That's it, no note, no pearls of wisdom; just his name, and already he's sensing that he might not be able to get through this.
Three packages still in shrink-wrap come out next - one of white boxer-briefs, one of black t-shirts, and one of crew socks, the good kind where the elastic doesn't snap or give. He's never really liked doing laundry, having to relive all of their hunts through bloodstains and rips, and whenever his turn came up on the unbalanced schedule, Dean usually managed to find extra clothes they hadn't yet pulled from the packaging lying in a dresser drawer or at the bottom of a battered duffel.
There's a small brown envelope next, with his name printed on a white mailing label; it's what the report cards from his first high school used to come in, and inside it he finds several worn tens and twenties and fifties. He sets it down on top of the underwear and reaches into the bag again.
His hand closes on a cardboard box. He pulls it out and starts laughing. It's a large box of individually-wrapped condoms; he wishes he'd known about this before Irene, before he'd had to make that uncomfortable run, half-hard, to the pharmacy three blocks from Karla's dorm. He turns it over and over in his hands, but he can't find a note from Dean. There isn't one on the bag of rocksalt either but he has to admit that both items are pretty self-explanatory.
The wooden box that Dean made in eighth-grade shop is next; he remembers how hard Dean had worked to make the lid airtight. The protective symbols look as fresh as if Dean'd just carved them. A few of the paperbacks they used to swap back and forth are tucked inside. Back in the bag, his hand encounters something soft. It's the red corduroy shirt they both liked to wear on fall mornings, on evening hunts. He shakes it out and the framed picture of Mom and Dad that Dean put on top of every dresser goes flying. He looks at her and sees Dean in the wide eyes and soft smile, the hand spread protectively on his father's chest. He turns it face down on top of the books.
Something is rolling loose inside the bag, and he fishes around for a minute before coming up with several rolls of quarters. He wonders if Dean imagined the coins being inserted into a washing machine or a pay phone. He wonders if Dean's number is the same as it was eight weeks ago, if he's still living in that little yellow house near the lake. He wonders if Dean's still waking up lonely.
He pulls the last item out, and the bag topples over, relieved of its duty. It's his baby blanket, its plush white fabric worn thin by repeated washings. The grass stains from its tenure as a cape during Dean's exuberant Batman phase never quite came out, but it's still whole. He peels back one corner to reveal a curved, razor-sharp blade; each fold cradles another weapon, a prime example of the Dean Winchester school of packing. He tests every blade with his thumb, inflicting small, painful cuts that sting but refuse to bleed, as if he's just skin and bones and nerves. He puts the sheet of looseleaf, the money, the blanket, the weapons, and the salt back in the bag and tucks it away in its corner of the closet. The books go on his desk, the quarters in the top drawer. The condoms go under his bed. The packages of clothes get tossed inside a dresser drawer on top of the photograph. He turns out the lights, gets under the covers, and lies awake, listening to the pounding of the rain.
He's never slept through a storm without Dean at his side, and he realizes that's still true; sleep eluded him the entire night. When his alarm sounds, his eyes are at half-mast. He shuffles to the bathroom, stumbles back to his room, and pulls on yesterday's jeans and the first shirt he can grab. He's looking around for his bag when he feels something heavy in his hand. He's palmed a roll of quarters, and he tightens his fist around it.
He worries the flap with his sliced-up thumb as he walks to the dining hall. There's a pay phone tucked in one corner of the lobby. He dials the number with quick sharp jabs and hears the operator's untroubled voice directing him to push his quarters into the slot. He cradles the phone against his shoulder and rips open the brown paper, pouring the coins into his palm. George Washington's profile, the bitterly precious word LIBERTY embossed above it instead of a crown, shines sternly against his hand as he considers the possibility that Dad will pick up. That he'll hear stony silence or another cutting lecture. No one can hold on to bitterness like John fucking Winchester. Even if he gets Dean on the line, Dad will know somehow, will make Dean pay all over again for his part in letting Sam go.
The operator's monotone drones in his ear again, echoing even after he hangs up the receiver and heads down the stairs to the cafeteria. It will be four years before he can see his brother again, and he hears her voice repeating relentlessly four years, four years, four years. He wants the time to fly away, wants to be safe again.
He wants Dean sitting across the table from him. His bacon and eggs and juice crumble to dust in his mouth.
"You've never seen Being John Malkovich? How is that possible?"
"I've never even heard of it," he says, pausing to watch all of the ways in which her indignation will manifest. Irene's rants are his favorite spectator sport.
Each point is being ticked off on her fingers like she's scolding him. "Okay, first of all: Catherine Keener is in it. And so is John Cusack. And -"
"And - let me guess - John Malkovich?" She's trying very hard to ignore him, walking a little faster now, as if her little legs are going to leave him in the dust. "You still haven't told me what it's about," he says in his most reasonable tone, steering her through the crowd outside the student center with a hand on her back.
She lights up again, and he finds himself smiling at how irrepressible she is. "It's about . . . identity. What makes you who you are. Who makes you who you are. Whose voice you hear in your head." She trails off as she stops in front of her mailbox and twirls the combination lock.
"Meet you by my box," he says, moving away, trying not to think about what she just said. He knows very well who made him into who he is, who wouldn't let him go without a kiss. What he doesn't know is why it's always Dad's unforgiving voice in his head instead of Dean's. He pounds his post office box with his fist before opening it.
There's a photocopied flyer inside, a single sheet of bright orange paper with a cartoon turkey strutting happily above a message in large block type. "In honor of Thanksgiving, all classes will be suspended after Tuesday, November 26. Classes will resume on Monday, December 2. All dormitories must be vacated by 6 p.m. on Tuesday, November 26. Dormitories will be re-opened at 6 pm on Sunday, December 1. Have a safe and happy holiday!"
Irene's purple hair catches his eye as she comes around the corner and he summons up a smile. She picks up right where she left off, relaying her favorite scenes from the movie, but her voice is just a buzz in his ear.
He's almost finished his Thursday afternoon shift at work when it hits him that he could probably stay in the SFS office over the break. The couches are pretty comfortable and it's not as if he's a stranger to sponge baths with liquid soap over restroom sinks, patting himself dry with rough paper towels. He's still got a few days to plan this all out - more than enough time to work out what exactly he needs.
He finishes entering the last set of figures and glances around the quiet office. He closes the spreadsheet and gets online, wondering if he can figure out what Dean's hunting this week, what his honed, precise weapons and bright, careless smile could be up against. Internet Explorer crashes immediately, and he shuts down his computer unsatisfied.
It turns out driving the Impala while your brother bleeds out on the back seat and your father keeps interrupting his prayers and first aid with curses (Goddamn you, Dean; don't you fucking die, please God) is actually excellent preparation for playing Project Gotham Racing on Dave's Xbox. He wonders if that's what it says on the box. Maybe he should go into marketing.
Then again, maybe not.
He hands his controller off to Jorge, who'd fallen silent once he saw Sam didn't actually need any advice, and heads through the kitchen to the bathroom. He's coming back, drying his hands off on his jeans, when he hears an odd quiet fall over the den. He peeks in and hears Ben say, "Angie deserves the best," holding a small dark box. Jones takes the box and opens it, and Sam can see the diamond ring shining triumphantly against black velvet.
"'Bout time, man," Jorge says, turning back to the game. Sam strides back into the den, snatches the controller back, and takes the first corner with complete recklessness, the car tilted dangerously on two wheels. Jorge slaps his head then crows, "Holy shit!" as the car lands safely, Sam's fingers maneuvering it deftly.
"So when are you gonna ask her?" Ben asks, and Sam promptly crashes his car.
"Right after the pumpkin pie," Jones says. "Thanks for holding on to this, man. I know she would have found it if I'd kept it at home." His raises his voice a little, verging on the melodramatic. "Now, if only Angie and I had a ride to the airport, I'd be all set."
"Subtle, dude," Mark snorts. "When's your flight?"
"Wednesday morning," Jones answers.
"Mine too," says Ben.
"Mine's Tuesday night, and these fuckers" - Mark points to Dave and Jorge, now playing head-to-head and crashing into each other every fifty yards or so - "are out of here even before me. So I can drive them and you can drive me, but . . ."
"I could drive you guys out on Wednesday morning," Sam says, surprising himself. He grins to cover his confusion and looks at Mark. "Would you trust me with Betsy?"
Mark opens his mouth, but Ben beats him to the punch. "When are you skipping town, Sam?"
"I'm, uh, sticking around, actually," he says, more to his sneakers than to any sentient being.
"Where?" Jones asks. "Don't the dorms kick y'all out?"
Sam shrugs, his head jerking up in surprise when Mark says, "Why don't you just stay here over the break? You know, house-sit?"
Ben's smiling at him. "Really?"
Mark points a meaty finger at him. "Yeah. But no touching Betsy except for airport runs. She's a one-man kind of girl."
Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Sam counts off as he drops his last five clean pairs of underwear into the emptied blue duffel, counts again as he matches up pairs of socks, then once more for t-shirts. He throws in an extra pair of jeans. It's surprisingly hard to concentrate with Ben patiently answering all of Steve's questions about the horrors of the MCAT, their quiet voices weaving together as he tries to remember what he'll need from his room. Books, he remembers. If he can get through the last novel for McAllister's class and write at least the outline for his final history paper, he should be in pretty good shape. And he really should go through his pre-calc textbook again and see if it makes any sense this time around, so that he doesn't walk into next semester's calc class completely blind. He drops the books and his notebooks into the bag, slinging its long strap over his shoulder.
He turns to see Steve and Ben still deep in conversation. "Steve," Sam says, "have a good vacation, man."
Steve sticks his hand out for a shake. "See you in December, Sam. It was nice to meet you, Ben."
"I'll see you around," Ben says, following Sam out the door. They leave Cullen and walk downtown. "Nice guy, your roommate," Ben says.
"I guess." He's never really given it much thought, beyond being glad Steve's nothing he'd have to take care of.
"It makes a big difference, having a roommate you're friends with," Ben says; "I got lucky with Mark."
"When'd you meet him?"
"We were roommates freshman year; Sam and Jorge lived next door. And Dave was Jorge's lab partner, and his roommate was insane, so he ended up staying with us most nights."
"You've all been living together since freshman year?" He doesn't really know why he's so surprised; the guys are clearly close. Maybe it's just that Mark has been the least welcoming of all of them, the one he assumed was on the periphery of the group that revolved around Ben; the idea of strong bonds connecting all five throws that picture completely out of whack.
"Yup." They turn the corner, leaving the dorms behind, and the stores come into view. He sees the Tower Records where he bought Ben's birthday present. Ben nudges him as they cross the street. "That pizza place there? Does awesome slices. And they'll be open over break."
It hits him, then, that of course the dining halls won't be serving, and the cash in his wallet is minimal. A few blocks down he sees a grocery store and breathes a sigh of relief; a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a couple gallons of milk should see him through until classes start again. Next to it is a pharmacy.
"Shit," he says, nearly dropping his bag as it hits him. Ben peers worriedly up at him. "I forgot to pack my toothbrush." Ben's relieved smile makes him laugh. "Can I just . . . ?" he asks, heading across the street for the automatic doors.
He's always kind of liked pharmacies, arsenals for everyday life, with orderly rows of shampoo bottles and neat stacks of toothpaste. He finds a toothbrush and a stick of deodorant as he walks the aisles with Ben at his side. Heading for the register, he sees a sale bin holding packages of white boxer-briefs. Buy one, get one free; he likes that motto and he'll be out of underwear by the time the break's over, so he snags two packages and smiles at the girl with a name he can't pronounce.
Ben's keys jingle in his hand, and as he pushes the front door open he says over his shoulder, "Nobody wanted to cook today, so there's probably take-out in the kitchen. You can drop your stuff by the couch and grab a plate." He's pulling his cell phone out of one pocket as he shoves his keys back into the other. "I'm just gonna call my folks."
Sam kicks his duffel between the legs of the end table next to the couch and follows his nose to the kitchen. The entire counter is covered in disposable aluminum containers, mostly empty now. It looks like some kind of Asian food, and he doesn't really know what's what, but he gets a plate from the cabinet and puts a little of everything on it. He sits down at the table and begins to eat. Mark comes down the stairs, bellowing over his shoulder. "Five minutes or you're missing your flights!" he warns, stepping into the kitchen and seeing Sam. "Hey, man," he says.
"Hey," he says around a mouthful of spinach and fiery chicken and rice. He remembers that it was Mark who extended the invitation to stay. "You all packed?"
"Yeah." Mark scrubs a hand through his short blond hair. "I am, but those two kept insisting it would only take ten minutes, and it's been an hour. When they come down, tell them I'm waiting outside, okay?"
Sam nods and turns back to his food. Ben strolls into the kitchen with his phone tucked against one shoulder. "I love you," he says, then laughs. "See you tomorrow. Bye." He hangs up and looks at Sam. "Gimme one sec; just want to confirm my flight." Sam watches Ben punching numbers into his tiny silver phone and takes another bite.
His mouth is suddenly on fire. "Gaaaahhhhh!" he slurs, spitting the mouthful back on his plate. He jumps up to get a glass of water, anything, and startles when he feels Ben's hand on his arm. Through teary eyes he can see Ben holding a spoon out to him. The moment he closes his lips around the spoon, he feels relief; something cool and soothing slips down his throat. He swallows and blinks away the tears. Ben's still holding the container, and he peers inside and sees yogurt studded with small bits of tomato and cucumber. He looks up, sees Ben is still on hold, and whispers, "Thanks," as he drops the spoon in the sink. He sits back down and pushes his fork through the mess on his plate, spotting a wicked-looking maroon pepper. "Never again," he says as Jorge and Dave gallop down the stairs, bags in hand, shouting goodbyes.
Ben finally hangs up and gets a plate for himself. "Sam," he says, spooning mound after mound of unidentifiable food on his plate, "there's a trick to eating Indian food; didn't anyone ever tell you?" He gets out another spoon for the yogurt concoction and sets it by his plate on the table. "This stuff'll save your life," he says, nodding wisely, and the roar of Betsy's engine cuts off whatever he says next.
"Mark, Sam'll be fine," Ben says patiently as he maneuvers around the airport traffic. He catches a glimpse of Mark's face, set in unhappy lines. "I mean, Betsy will be fine; Sam will treat her right."
Sam nods solemnly, trying to convey his appreciation for the trust being bestowed upon him. He catches Ben's eye in the rearview mirror and fights a grin. Mark's swiveled all the way around in the passenger seat to assess Sam's fitness once more. Mark sighs and nods reluctantly. Ben pulls up at the curb and the two of them get out to wrestle Mark's luggage out of the capacious trunk. Looking in the mirror, Sam can see the trunk being slammed shut and the guys breaking apart from a hug and Ben comes back around and settles himself in the passenger seat. "Let's see how you do, Sam," he says, and Sam scrambles to get behind the wheel.
After opening the front door and stepping into the house, Ben cocks his head, listening to the murmur of expressive voices, and turns to Sam with a bright smile. "I love this episode!" he says, racing to the den, already giggling at the Simpsons rerun Jones and Angie are watching.
He stands behind the couch and pushes Jones aside, wrapping his arms around Angie and kissing her forehead when she wordlessly tilts her face up for him. "You guys hungry?" he asks when the commercials begin. "We ordered pretty much the whole menu from Bombay Palace. Going once, going twice . . . ."
When nobody says anything, Ben turns to Sam and shrugs. "Looks like the leftovers are yours, then. Just watch out for chili peppers." Sam follows him as he goes to the kitchen to put away all the food, humming as he tosses the empty aluminum containers in the trash, pausing just long enough to say, "Garbage collection is Saturday morning, by the way, and they come early." He finds lids for the half-full containers and stacks the food in the fridge. "Anything in here is fair game. Just don't eat the pasta unless you're desperate; Jorge did a little experimenting."
Sam wets a paper towel and wipes down the counter and table. "I can do the dishes tomorrow," he offers.
"Thanks, man." Ben smiles, and they go back to the den to watch John Waters save Homer's life with a tiny robot Santa.
Ben yawns and stretches and heads for his room, mumbling a sleepy good night as he goes. "Baby, we should get to sleep," Angie says; "we gotta be out of here way too early." She turns to Sam. "In case I'm too tired tomorrow morning to remember, let me say thanks now for driving us to the airport." She nudges Jones with her shoulder. "Up," she orders as she stands, leaning back down to kiss him when he makes no move to comply. "At least tell me where the sheets and blankets are, you lazy ass," she smiles.
He realizes that Angie and Jones are planning to sleep on the sofabed, and he doesn't know where that leaves him. While Angie is rummaging through the closet, he pulls his duffel out from under the end table and walks up the stairs. Only one room - the last one on the left - has a light on, so he makes his way down the hall. The door is partially open, but he knocks anyway, and it slides open a little more from the pressure of his hand.
Ben's taken off his shirt and is balling it up and throwing it in the direction of his closet. It falls short, and Sam grins. "Told you you were a sucky quarterback."
"Hey, Sam. What's up?" Ben asks, kicking the shirt into his laundry bag.
He shifts a bit, suddenly aware of how big a favor Ben and his roommates have already granted him. "Um, it looks like Sam and Angie are gonna be sleeping on the pull-out couch," he says. "I didn't know where I should bunk."
"Oh." Ben bites his lip. "Well, I didn't ask any of the others if you could sleep in their rooms, and if the den's taken, then . . . you could sleep in here with me."
"Are you sure?" Sam asks, relief rushing through him; there's no way he'd be able to find a motel room he could afford.
"You don't kick, do you?" Ben asks. "Or hog the covers?" Sam shakes his head. "Then we're fine. I'm gonna go pee; make yourself at home."
Sam pulls the pharmacy bag from his duffel and liberates his new toothbrush from its plastic shell. He hears a flush, then running water, and he scrambles to find a free corner to shove his duffel into. Ben comes back, his face scrubbed clean and rosy; he's wearing metal-rimmed glasses and has his jeans draped over one shoulder. "Bathroom's all yours," he says; "second door on the left. If you need to borrow a towel, they're on the top shelf."
The bathroom's not as clean as lots of motel bathrooms, but it's nice, using a space that is clearly part of a home and doesn't smell like industrial-strength bleach. He takes his time brushing his teeth, then deposits his white brush next to Ben's orange one in the chipped Marvin the Martian mug next to the sink.
He walks back to the bedroom and sees Ben leaning over the bed, shaking out the top sheet so it billows like parachute silks, straightening it but leaving it untucked. He smoothes the sheets down with his hands and straightens the crumpled blanket. Sam walks toward his bag, lying in front of the closet. He pulls off his shirt and drops it in the bag. His hands are on his fly when he realizes that sleeping in the same bed is totally different from sleeping in the same room, ridiculous as it sounds. "Ben," he says hesitantly, "I, uh, didn't bring anything to sleep in." He's never even owned pajamas; he slept in boxers or thermals, depending on the weather, and always had Dean's heat at his side or in the next bed over.
Ben's face is blank for a long moment. Then he says curiously, "Damn, Sam, what did you remember to pack in that heavy-ass bag of yours?"
He grins to sell the lie. "Porn. Lots and lots of porn."
"Well alright then," Ben laughs. "Um, in the closet, bottom right shelf. Should be a pair of sleep pants." Sam goes digging and pulls out dark blue drawstring pants emblazoned with a pattern of orange soccer balls and yellow bolts of lightning; he holds them up and makes a face. "Shut up. My sister gave 'em to me." Sam slips off his jeans quickly and hastily pulls the cotton pants on. The cuffs are about four inches above his ankles, thanks to yet another growth spurt, and he knows he must look ridiculous, but when he looks back over at Ben, Ben's sort of frowning gently. "I wonder where my red ones are?" Ben mutters as he stands next to Sam and rummages through the shelves. He finds a faded pair, soft red plaid, and steps into them gracefully. "Hit the lights; we gotta be up at the ass-crack of dawn."
Sam lies down and pulls the flat sheet, softer than he's used to, up over his chest. He looks up at the ceiling and hears Ben breathing quietly next to him. He turns so he's lying on his side, moving as carefully as possible, and the last thing he remembers is Ben murmuring, "I thought you said you wouldn't steal the covers, Sam."
It's weird, sitting around a house all day, being able to walk from room to room, following the sunlight and napping in puddles of it instead of cleaning weapons or doing research or enduring calisthenics. He eats bowl after bowl of corn flakes, letting the dishes accumulate in the sink. He flips through all hundred and fifty channels twice in rapid succession, settling on cartoons. Tomorrow, he'll get started on all of his work. Tomorrow.
The campus is suddenly packed with people again; he doesn't miss the quiet of the long holiday weekend one bit. "Sam!" he hears just before Irene jumps on his back like a hyperactive six-year-old. "You doing anything tonight?"
"No. I was just going to stare at the walls of my room and go catatonic."
"Sarcasm needs a light touch, Sam," she chides as she slides down. "I'll pick you up after my rehearsal tonight."
The heavy backpack she's carrying when she knocks on his door makes her looks more academic than he's ever seen her. "No, you can't carry my bag," she says when he reaches his hand out to her. "You're like a cave man, I swear. Just come on."
He tugs on her ponytail. "I know better than to ask where we're going."
She beams up at him. "A smart cave man," she amends cheerfully. She leads the way out, past the dorms, finally stopping in the middle of the deserted quad. She slings the backpack off and rolls her shoulders before pulling out a blanket. She spreads it out on the grass and seats herself, patting the spot next to her. Once he's sitting beside her she digs in the bag again and pulls out rolls, cheese, lunch meat, and bottles of water. "Get cracking, man; do I have to do everything myself?" she says, so he starts to make her a ham-and-cheese sandwich. She takes several quick bites and flops onto her back contentedly. "This is the life." She turns to look at him. "I missed you, Sam."
"After less than a week?" he scoffs, his eyes sliding away from her face.
She rolls her eyes. "I forgot you were such a boy," she says, finishing her sandwich with one gargantuan bite. "Just for that, no candy for you."
He pulls the bag away from her before she can even get a hand on it, surprised by how heavy it still is. "Jeez, Irene, no joke, how did you carry this?" He peers in and sees several slabs of chocolate and more bottles of water.
She kicks him in the shin. "I'm stronger than I look, Sam."
"What are we doing out here?" he finally asks.
"Spending some time together."
He lies down next to her while she tells him the latest news from Plainfield, Oregon, and he thinks he can remember the tiny house with the curving floorboards, the wet ocean breezes that they trained in, and the way Dean's bare toes would curl as he made omelets in the chilly kitchen.
They talk the whole night through, trading dirty jokes and gossip. The sunrise is pearly rather than brilliant and Irene's mouth tugs down. "It followed me. Stupid storm. Rained all of Thanksgiving and now it's going to rain here too?"
He looks up at the sky. "Not today," he says and feeds her the last rectangle of chocolate. He gathers all of their trash while she folds up the blanket and packs it away and then he gives her a piggyback ride home.
[illustration by vengefuldemon69]
On to Part 3