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Alma Mater Studiorum

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Sam learns to love books before he learns how to read. The way they feel, the way they smell; John Winchester realizes that while a great way to occupy an antsy Dean is to give him an ammo clip to empty and refill, simply give Sam a book, any book, and he will fall utterly silent and absorbed, emerging hours later squint-eyed from the dim overhead car light and mouth brimming with the stories he created from the symbols and letters he couldn’t yet decipher.

Sam finally bugs Dean enough that he teaches him to read, one halting word at a time highlighted by a finger still grimy with dirt and ash under the fingernail. Sam still wishes, sometimes, that the stories he reads are as good as the ones he’d imagined.

As soon as his pronounciation gets good enough (he finally outgrows the tendency to drop r’s, which had amused Dean to no end) John lets him read for exorcisms, as long as it isn’t too dangerous of a hunt. And not a school night.

His fifth grade Spanish teacher remarks how sophisticated his accent sounds, and how it even seems to have tones of more medieval dialects (Sam knows enough not to tell her that he’d only started Spanish after mastering early Latin, Romanian, and a smattering of Greek).

Dean has been calling him “geek” and “book-boy” for as long as he can remember, but the lovely silence of a quiet library while doing research, paging through books and trying to forget that the reason he was there was to find a violent murder, a flood, a fire… that more than makes up for it.

The summer he turns twelve, his dad leaves him with Pastor Jim while he takes Dean to hunt Red Eyes in Alabama; Sam spends nearly every day with his head stuck in a book, learning about chemistry, physics, religion, algebra, anything and everything he can find or even begin to understand. Sounds boring, Dean tells him over the phone.

Sam sleeps the soundest he can ever remember, that summer, a battered grammar book shoved under his pillow.

When Dad yells at him about how his aim had gotten worse, Sam finds himself doing long division in his head, conjugating verbs.

The rhythm of a Shakespearean sonnet hits harder than a load of rock salt, sometimes. And quadratic equations don’t wonder why this is the third school in as many months, or at the four inch scar across Sam’s shoulder blades, or at the sharpened knife under his pillow instead of a book.

Sam brings home A after A, even though all John cares about is practicality: a strong written argument means a strong verbal argument, means strength in fist and hand and mind. Sam starts spending all his free time at the library, because every time he comes home, Dean is chasing him off to practice knife-throwing, or to run another obstacle course.

Sam writes his final junior year English paper on The Lord of the Flies and the loss of innocence that occurs when children are forced to grow up too soon. He gets the highest grade in the class and the paper is published in the school lit magazine. He never tells Dean or his dad, and hides his copy under his mattress.

When he goes to the SATs, John gives him rock salt to put in his pocket. Dean offers to lend him his lead-tipped baseball bat. Sam feels the grainy whiteness clinging to his pants all morning, and is almost disappointed that he nearly aces the test. While he knows it’s because he studied his ass off ever since sophomore year, he wishes he’d flushed the salt down the toilet like he’d meant to.

Because demons and bindings and blood and ash? That’s Dad and Dean’s job. School is Sam’s. So that night he digs out a book of college rankings he borrowed from the school library and stuffs it under his pillow.

He sleeps without dreams.

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