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Of Coffee Shops and College Woes

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General Studies were one of the most irritating parts about college life.

Sam liked learning. It was one of the reasons university life was such a draw to him, and one of the reasons he was so very good at research. It wasn’t a chore to bury himself in a book in search of one piece of information. Sitting through a basic level math class, however, would test anyone’s patience.

Sam groaned and let his head drop from his hand onto the open book in front of him. His professor was a bore. His first run-through of college life, he’d put his General Studies off as long as possible, desperate to prove himself capable of entering Law School. He’d succeeded in that, of course, and had an interview before the mess with their dad disappearing and Jess dying, but those last two semesters, filled as they were with the general classes he had been putting off, had been the most painful year of his life. Considering that Sam had literally been to Hell, that was saying something.

Putting off his generals had given him one benefit, at least. He had missed having Dr. Roderick as a professor, and thus escaped the tedium of his monotonous voice as he discussed how to calculate the length of a hypotenuse.

He could feel the pages from his math text beginning to stick to his forehead but he didn’t bother lifted his head. He tried to think of a moment during a hunt - any hunt - where Algebra had been of some assistance, but nothing would come to mind.

“Chuck save me,” he murmured into page 32 of a $200 piece of firewood.

A high-pitched shrieking buzz reverberating through the room and Sam sat up abruptly. His math book came with him partway, dropping into his lap as he straightened in his seat, every muscle tensing in preparation for an attack. He mentally catalogued what was around him that could be used as a weapon. He was limited to what he could carry with him on campus, but he still had a carton of salt in his bag and a silver crucifix. The desks weren’t bolted to the floor so, if necessary, they could block the door or he could break off one of the chair legs (thankfully they were wood and not metal) and use it as a weapon. He cringed at the thought of it being vampires attacking, though the next thought in his mind was trickster , and he really didn’t need that sort of distraction right now.

“Everyone calm down,” Dr. Monotonous said in his low drone, barely heard over the nervous muttering of students and the rhythmic buzzing screech of the alarm. “If you’ll all please form a single-file line, we will be exiting to the right.”

Why are you so calm?? Sam wanted to screech. There could be a demon!!!

He forced himself to take a deep breath and think.

It was an alarm. Just an alarm.

You’re in a school, Sam, he told himself. You’re at Stanford. You’re not in a war. It’s just a fire alarm. Everything’s okay.

What did it say about his life that the possibility of being inside a burning building barely registered as a concern?

“Please leave your bags at your desk and make your way out of the room and to the right.”

The other students had begun to stand up and make their way to the classroom door. Sam slung his bag over his shoulder. Even if this was a false alarm or a drill and his bag wasn’t in danger of being burned to a crisp, he wanted to have what little defense against demons he had on him in case this was a trap.

And he knew now that the demons had been a concern this far back. His eyes moved over the crowd of students as he moved among them, keeping himself near the back but not last in line so as not to draw attention to the bag he was carrying. His eyes found a distantly-familiar head of light brown hair and he felt sorrow well up, rather than the expected rage.

He hadn’t officially met Tyson Brady yet. His first week of classes had been somewhat hectic as he determined where he would be going. Those first couple days, he had to resist the urge to go to classes that were no longer on his schedule, even as he marveled over the fact that he seemed to remember the way without having to think about it.

In his mind, he ran over the timeline of things he knew he would need to deal with, and Brady’s possession by a demon wouldn’t occur for another year. After Thanksgiving Break, Sam remembered. Until then, he would simply need to make sure that he kept an eye on Brady. He wasn’t sure about becoming friends with the boy. When Dean came back for Sam, he would leave with his brother, whether or not he was done with university, and he would leave behind everyone here. Creating friendships just created ties that could be manipulated.

Something inside him twisted at the thought of Brady not being there at his side. A voice spoke up in his mind, sounding far too much like Gabriel for his peace of mind. “Sounds more than a bit lonely, Samoose, going through life with no friends. You wanna live like that?”

“It’s safer,” Sam murmured to himself, ignoring the girl who turned to look at him with a questioning expression.

“But is it?” the voice asked.

Sam closed his eyes and shook his head, the voice dispersing away beneath the sound of the alarm. He followed his classmates as they made their way out into the hall and then outside, a crowd of gossiping students who joined with other classes and peered around looking for the source of the alarm.

He watched as the professors spoke amongst themselves, moving around, or pulled their cell phones from their pockets to text or answer a call. He checked his phone periodically for the time and as it ticked on, the professors began to dismiss their students. He felt like rolling his eyes as the other classes dispersed but their professor stubbornly kept them despite the obvious fact that they wouldn’t be returning to the classroom within his teaching period.

Sam was actually surprised when Professor Jameson, who had taught him his general math class in his first go-around, came into view. She spoke briefly with Dr. Roderick and he watched the man sigh before dismissing them with more emotion than he taught the class. There was a collective sigh of relief from the students, who quickly distanced themselves from the area before their professor could change his mind. A few of them had to run back inside for their bags but most, like Sam, had grabbed their stuff when the alarm went off.

The benefit of being so tall was that Sam’s gait let him outdistance most of his classmates without much effort on his part. He didn’t have another class until the afternoon so Sam made his way off campus, heading to a quieter part of town.

There was a coffee shop here that he had loved coming to, especially when classes were rough and he needed a break. It was set back off the main road and few of the students knew about it. It was more a local haunt and required slipping down a narrow alley between two tall buildings and then walking around a moderately-successful bookstore.

The alley was barely wide enough for Sam to walk comfortably and he knew in a few years, when he gained another foot of height and his shoulders bulked out even more, he would need to move down it sideways. For the moment, he enjoyed the fact that he could walk straight down it and only needed to adjust how he held his bag so the canvas wasn’t scraped open on rough brick.

He barely glanced at the windows of the bookstore, distantly noting that there were multiple displays set up within, most likely to attract the attention of new students as they desperately looked for a cheaper alternative to their painfully expensive textbooks. He wondered if the bookstore also sold tissues for when those students realized they really would have to pay more for books than for tuition.

He sent up a silent prayer of thanks to whichever god oversaw the creation of scholarships.

He moved around the bookstore and the coffee shop came into view. It was a single-story building made of red brick, the flat roof covered in green cacti of various sizes and species. Some of them were flowering and Sam took a moment to appreciate the beauty of that much nature localized on top of a man-made structure.

Cas would love this, he thought, only to feel his smile fall at the thought of the seraph, left behind with his brother in a world that never would be. He had the sudden desire to pray to the angel who would have no connection to him, who would be more an enemy than a friend, just so he could have someone there who was familiar.

With a heavier heart, Sam stepped past the tables with their large umbrellas and into the coffee shop. The smell of caffeine was bracing and Sam took a deep breath, letting the familiarity of coffee soothe him.

His eyes scanned the inside of the coffee shop. It looked the same as he remembered. A few tables were set up along the far wall, but the majority of the shop was filled with comfortable armchairs, a long, L-shaped couch, and bean bag chairs. There were a few people already there. A couple sat at one of the far tables, talking quietly over cups of coffee and a shared croissant. One of the couches held a girl who had stretched out across its length. Her laptop was balanced on her stomach and it looked like she had been in the middle of an essay assignment when she’d fallen asleep. Her one hand was balanced precariously on the edge of her computer and her head was tilted back on the arm of the couch. She was snoring quietly. Sam felt his lips quirk in amused sympathy. He remembered days like that.

A young man was also lying on one of the beanbags, spread-eagled as though he had been thrown there. His head was resting on the ground in what appeared an uncomfortable angle and one of his hands was wrapped around a cup of coffee that appeared to be empty. Sam eyed him with concern.

“Please don’t make me leave,” the boy muttered without opening his eyes, and Sam was surprised to realize that he was awake. “I haven’t slept in three days and I am very comfortable.”

“That’s a little concerning since we’re only in the first week,” Sam said quietly, and the kid opened his eyes, squinting up at him.

“Do you work here?” he asked and the bags under his eyes made Sam wish he had kept going and not disturbed him.

“No.”

“Awesome. If one of them asks, tell them I died from the strain of moving into my apartment and it’s in their best interests just to let me decompose right here.” He closed his eyes and let his head fall back on the floor with a thunk. “Why did I decide this was the year I was going to move out of my parents’ house?”

Sam eased quietly away as the kid continued to mutter to himself about foolish decisions. He didn’t appear to be missed, so stepped up to the counter and glanced at the menu.

Nothing had changed that he could recall, with the exception of the monthly special. He mostly ignored the new flavors as they appeared and disappeared from the menu. They were usually much too sweet for his tastes. The one time he had tried one, it had been some sort of vanilla ice cream concoction. It had tasted, the barista had told him, like maple syrup and the tears of small children. Sam hadn’t believed her and had ordered it.

Never, ever again.

“Welcome to The Feckin’ Bean.”

Sam glanced away from the menu to the barista. She was shorter than him (who wasn’t?) but relatively tall, with long light red hair tied back in a loose braid. He blinked as he took in her attire, having forgotten about the colorful uniforms worn by the coffee shop’s employees. Her shirt was a soft brown, but the apron she wore over it was a faded shade of purple, soft on the eyes but still wildly out-of-place. She wore a beret of the same color, the seams of the cap sewn with golden thread that he wouldn’t have noticed except for how the overhead lights shone on it.

Her words registered and he met her gaze. “Did you just swear at me?”

Someone behind him snorted in laughter. He suspected the decomposing bean bag kid.

The girl’s mouth twisted, though he couldn’t decide whether she was trying not to grimace or trying to hide a grin. She tapped the design on her apron. It was… it was a coffee bean flipping him the bird. Dear Chuck, who owned this place? “The coffee shop you’re standing in? It’s called The Feckin’ Bean. Now can I take your feckin’ order or you gonna just stand there and look cute?” She gave him an actual up and down look. Holy shit. “Wouldn’t mind you hanging out all day, if we’re being honest.”

  

Sam felt his face flush with heat. It’d been a while since someone had so obviously flirted with him.  “I, um…” What the actual fuck ? “I’ll take a coffee.”

The barista raised her eyebrow at him. “Really? Imagine that.” She put her elbow on the counter and cupped her cheek in a palm. “What kinda coffee, Sweets? Or you want me to pick something for you I think you’ll like?”

Sam flushed a deeper red. He tried to think of what he used to order but the different names of coffees across the country at various shops blurred in his mind. He glanced at the menu but there were too many choices. Nothing stood out. He looked back down at the barista nervously. She was eyeing him not unlike how he imagined a cat might eye a lamed mouse. He prayed for another fire alarm to go off.

Nothing happened.

Thanks a lot, Chuck.

“Sure,” he said, trying a smile. “Let’s do that. Um… nothing… super sweet?”

“Too sweet all on your own, are you?” She stood back up and winked at him. “I got you covered.”

“You, uh… need my name?”

“Nah. Have a seat, darling.”

Sam fumbled for a moment. Did he pay now? Had he paid before he got his drink in the last timeline? Had the barista been so obviously into him in the last timeline? He was pretty sure he would have remembered that. Then again, maybe he repressed it.

He walked straight into a bean bag chair and nearly fell over.

Yep. Definitely repressed it, and he would be doing so again.

He made it to an unoccupied loveseat and sat down before he could fall over legs that seemed too long. He felt like a giant on the couch, long legs sticking out like some awkward giraffe unused to its height.

Oh god, I really am a moose, he thought desperately, and cursed Crowley to… to some place not as nice as the Hell he was accustomed to for starting that blasted nickname.

He sat there, lamenting the fact that he would grow another foot before he hit his third semester, until he saw the barista move out from behind the counter. Her braid was so long it swished from side-to-side like a pendulum as she walked, smacking into her hip at each return.

She flashed him a grin as she maneuvered her way around bean bags with the ease of long practice. “Not allergic to anything, are you, Sweets?”

Sam shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of, anyway.”

She held out the coffee - a large, with a cardboard strap meant to guard against heat that bore the shop’s symbol. He stared for a moment at the rude coffee bean and wondered why he had never noted the coffee shop’s name before.

“Thank you,” he said, taking the coffee from her. “What do I owe you?”

She grinned at him again. “This one’s on the house for being so damn cute.”

Sam flushed again and she laughed, turning around and heading back to her station. He thought he heard her mutter “so damn cute” but didn’t want to ask and be proven correct. He watched as she let herself behind the counter but, rather than focus on him, for which he was grateful, she turned her attention to cleaning the equipment.

He relaxed a little into the couch, bringing his coffee up to his nose to smell. The scent of hazelnuts and chocolate wafted up to his nose and he breathed deep. It smelled amazing.

“Nice to see she does that to everyone,” muttered a nearby beanbag.

Sam glanced over at the boy who hadn’t moved. “Have you finished decomposing yet?” he asked casually.

“Nah. Maybe next week.” The kid lifted his head and glanced at Sam. “What’d she make you?”

Sam sipped his coffee, considering the flavors. “Hazelnut mocha, I think.”

“I got a cherry chocolate truffle,” he said, sitting up and straightening his shirt. “And I think Leah got some mint thing.” He waved a hand at the girl who was asleep on the couch. Her laptop was still balanced on her stomach but her arm had fallen and her fingertips were brushing the hardwood floor. “Smelled like those Andes candies, ya know?”

Sam nodded.

“The first time I came in here, she was like a cat with a new toy. It’s scary . But there was free coffee so I can’t complain too much.” He held out his hand. “Name’s Rey, by the way.”

“Sam.” He shook the kid’s hand. “You come here a lot?”

“Every chance I get. I live on coffee and my parents’ disappointment.” He scratched a hand through his dark brown hair, making it stand up in all directions. “This your first semester, then? I haven’t seen you around.”

Sam nodded, taking another drink of his cooling coffee. “I just got here a couple weeks ago. I’m a…” He almost said Law major. “I’m studying parapsychology.”

“Nice.” Rey folded his legs up and glanced at his empty cup mournfully. “I’m a culinary arts major. Testing my parents’ patience with every useless class I take.” He grinned, a wild, unrestrained smile that, ridiculously, made Sam think of Gabriel. “But I’ve got some ideas of what I want to do when I graduate. You?”

“Only just started,” Sam said. “I think I have time.”

“True.” Rey jumped to his feet, stretching until his joints cracked loudly. “Well, I’ve got class in ten minutes and it takes me fifteen minutes to work up the desire to even care, so I better get going. I’ll see you around, Sweets .” The kid winked at him and rushed out the door before Sam could work through the pros and cons of throwing his half-empty coffee cup.

He leaned back in his seat and slowly drank the remainder of his coffee. He pulled out his phone after a few minutes to glance at the time. His next class didn’t start until 2 and it was only 10:23. He should probably head back to his apartment and grab some lunch, maybe throw his laundry in the wash. He would need to add a few more outfits to his wardrobe before they got too far into the semester. He couldn’t go to every class wearing jeans and flannel.

Sam finished his coffee and stood up. He glanced around as he tossed his cup in the trash but he didn’t see the barista. She had said his coffee was on the house, though he’d feel like a real heel if he stepped outside and someone tackled him for skipping on the bill. The three occupants he could see were ignoring him completely, however. With a shake of his head, Sam pushed open the door.

“Come back and see me again, Sweets!” the barista called from somewhere in the back.

Sam’s face went tomato-red and burned about as hot as the coffee steamer.

“You, too!” he called back thoughtlessly, then resisted the urge to slap himself in the face.

He was definitely repressing today.