Sam stifled a yawn as he pushed open the door to the Last Drop, Stanford University’s coffee shop.
“Metatarsal, tarsal, phalangeal…” a guy at a table said to himself, flipping over flashcards, clearly cramming for a final. Sam’s was Thursday, so he still had two nights. Plus, it was bound to be essay responses, which he had a knack for if the grades on his homework were any indication.
There were two other people in line, and as he waited, Sam tried not to think about the nightmare he’d had that morning, but couldn’t keep the images from bubbling back up. Him and Dean and Dad in the Impala—the loud crush of the truck as it slammed into them. He’d left Dean a panicked voicemail that seemed silly in retrospect, but the dream had been so vivid, so real—
“Uh...latte, large, three sugars.”
“You got it.”
“Tarsals: talus, calcaneus…” the guy clutched his flashcards tighter but wouldn’t turn them over. “Calcaneus…” he repeated with a forlorn sigh.
“Navicular,” Sam continued.
“Navicular, right.” The guy at the table peered up at Sam, his expression somewhere between annoyance and amusement. “You pre-med, too, or just a nerd?”
Sam snorted a laugh. “The latter, I guess. I’m pre-law actually.”
“Wow. Smart and good looking.”
Sam’s cheeks flushed.
“Tyson Brady,” he said, holding out his hand. “Call me Brady.”
“Sam,” Sam hesitated for a second, but remembered he’d enrolled here under his real name. “Sam Winchester. Nice to meet you.”
“Any chance you could help me study for this damn final?” Brady asked. “I’ll get you a refill.” He nodded at Sam’s drink. “Or a cookie, muffin, whatever.”
“It’s fine.” Sam sat in the chair across from Brady and looked at his watch. “I’ve got two hours ‘til my next class. Was gonna hit the library to study for my own final anyway.”
“Oh shit—you have one today too?” Brady looked crestfallen.
“Nah. Thursday. Got plenty of time.” Sam pointed at Brady’s textbook. “So what are you stuck on?”
Brady spun the textbook around, settled back in his chair, and leveled an appreciative smile at Sam. “Everything.”
The glare from the bright mid-morning sun was blinding, making Sam’s headache that much worse. He’d had barely any sleep, dreams ranging from uneasy to full-blown panic, about fire, about Dean and Dad in danger, about hunts that they’d barely gotten through alive, and after waking up at four thirty with his heart hammering in his throat, he’d given up on sleep altogether, opting to study instead before Applied Physics. He’d had this issue Summer semester during finals too, and now they were approaching midterms. It was normal to be stressed, he told himself. His subconscious just had a particularly disturbing tint to it, thanks to his past. Other students probably weren’t dreaming about fangs and claws and the deafening noise of his Dad’s rifle.
Now it was time for Sam’s second class, and he still felt half-asleep. His headache had only grown worse, and he hadn’t had any coffee yet. He could hurry and grab one along the way, but the Last Drop was in the opposite direction, and his stomach was so queasy he wasn’t sure he could handle it anyway. Sam sighed, trying to ignore the intense pressure in his temples, and pushed on, turning right at the courtyard, towards his Sociology class. The fresh, autumn air helped marginally, grounding him and chasing away the nausea. The seasons never really changed here the way they did further north, and Sam ignored the stab of nostalgia for the sound of fallen leaves crunching beneath Dean’s boots, the smell of apple cider donuts—little snippets of happy memories from years that were otherwise bloody and sad.
The headache came again, a sharp lance of pain this time, strong enough that Sam staggered, slumping against the nearest tree; he caught himself, just barely, with his hands, fingers digging into the rough bark as he clenched his eyes shut. The moment he did, his mind filled with images, and the pulses of pain became a backdrop, a rhythm splicing each of the scenes together:
A bright light bursts forth from a cold, stone floor; the heat and pressure inside of him are blinding but it’s worth it; blood spills, forming a circle; a woman in a white dress with eyes to match cackles; and Dean is...Dean is gone, he’s...
And just like that, the reel ran out, the images cut off, and Sam had to force his eyes back open, the bright cloudless sky a torment instead of a welcome sight. He pushed himself carefully off the tree, and took a slow breath, then resumed walking, keeping his focus on putting one foot in front of the other.
He made it to the Sociology building, through the door. The pain lingered, a ghost of what it was, but there nonetheless. He was cutting it close, he realized, glancing up at the clock. Class was starting in two minutes, and the seats filled up quickly. The classroom was packed full. Sam went to his usual row anyway.
“Saved your seat,” Brady said, pulling his bag off of the chair next to his.
Sam smiled at him weakly and sunk into the chair, eyes instantly drifting half closed. He should’ve gotten a coffee on the way.
“Want a sip?” Brady asked, pointing at his coffee. “Brand new, I already had a large this morning.”
“You’re a lifesaver,” Sam mouthed, trying to keep his voice low as the professor started his lecture. He opened the coffee and had to suppress a moan at the taste. The Last Drop might be overpriced, but their coffee really was damn good.
You okay?Brady wrote on his notebook, pushing it towards Sam.
Didn’t sleep well,Sam wrote back.
Too much fun?
Nightmares. Sam pushed the notebook back and tried to focus on the lecture. The coffee and Brady’s poorly hidden glances helped him make it through. Brady liked to watch Sam. And he probably thought Sam couldn’t tell the way he was staring at his hands, and at his lips.
Sam noticed. He’d been trained to notice all kinds of things most people wouldn’t. But he didn’t mind this kind of attention at all.
“Any questions about the midterm?”
Sam’s head snapped up and he considered. Most of the material had been clear, but he knew he still had to memorize some things. He’d have to spend most of tomorrow in the library, but that had been his plan all along anyway.
“Professor?” a woman in the next row up asked, hand held high.
“Yes, Miss Moore?”
“Could you clarify what Mumford means when he says: This metropolitan world, then, is a world where flesh and blood is less real than paper and ink and celluloid?"
“Well, given the context of the work he was probably referring to— What do you think he meant?”
Miss Moore—Jessica, he remembered from the class roster that had gone around on their first day as an attendance sheet—listened intently, and her mouth curved into a half-smile as she answered, “Well, I think his premise is based in a falsehood. He’s claiming a single human experience, that all people who live in cities feel and think the way he does.”
Sam was impressed by her answer, as was the professor, based on his expression. “He's saying that a city inherently makes people less connected to their bodies and to an ordinary human life, certainly, but—"
"I'd argue cities bring people closer together because of the lack of space,” Jessica said, “Flesh and blood literally living closer together doesn't lead to an experience devoid of it—quite the opposite."
"Miss Moore,” the professor said, a touch more sharply, “we can talk about this more after class. Maybe consider this as a potential topic for your essay later this semester.”
Several people groaned.
Dude. Brady wrote. Close your mouth. You’re drooling.
Sam’s cheeks flushed, and he slammed his mouth shut. Brady snickered into his fist.
“The essay isn’t due for two months—after the Thanksgiving break,” the professor said, “And no, you can’t get out of it, but you can pick a passage from any of the books we’ve read so far. You’d do well to pick something as interesting as Miss Moore has.”
Sam pushed the heels of his hands against his eyes, willing the lingering pieces of nightmare away. Nightmares he’d been having for months now, fractured glimpses of the same horrible whole. He could still see it, even when he was awake, like the horrors had been burned into his retinas—afterimages of blood in a circle; a woman in a white; and Dean being torn apart by unseen claws, screaming in agony, and—
“Need a pick-me-up?” Brady asked.
Sam looked up at him, faked a yawn that turned real halfway through. He’d gone to bed early, to make sure he’d get enough sleep. After jolting awake from the nightmare, he’d been at the library since 4 am, studying.
Brady held out a big cup of hot coffee. “Extra foam, just like you like it.”
“Thanks, man, you’re the best,” Sam said, gratefully. He opened the lid and blew over it, letting the caffeine scent drift up his nostrils. He felt more awake just from the smell. The first taste was even better. “Is this some kind of...is there salted caramel in this?”
“Oh, yeah, it’s this new flavored turbo-shot thing they’re doing at the Last Drop. Figured you could use one.”
“Got that right,” Sam said, feeling considerably more awake by the second. “I owe you one.”
“Don’t mention it. You got me through biology spring semester.”
“You knew most of it.”
“Yeah. Most wouldn’t have gotten me an A, and you know how my parents feel about Bs.”
Sam nodded, trying to imagine what it would be like if Dad cared as much about Sam’s grades as he did hunting. Dean pretended to care, sometimes, but why should he? Life at school was about as far away from hunting as it could be. Sam was happy here, though. He missed Dean every once in a while, but he didn’t miss hunting. Not even a little. The stress of upcoming tests was pleasant in comparison.
“You did fine on the midterms, you’ll do fine on the finals,” Sam said.
Brady scoffed. “Easy for you to say. You memorize everything the first time you read it. I...don’t.”
“So read it again. And again.” Sam slid his stack of blank flashcards across the table, towards Brady. “Maybe make some more of these.”
Brady groaned theatrically, but plopped down across the table from Sam and they both studied silently for another thirty minutes. Sam felt his brain getting faster with every sip of coffee, and easily finished memorizing the clauses he needed to. He was awake now, completely awake, and didn’t have class for another two hours. “I’m gonna hit the gym,” he said, feeling the urge to get rid of some of his excess energy.
Sam ran with boundless strength. He increased the speed, increased the slope, but never quite hit his limit. His lungs didn’t ache, his muscles moved smoothly and his feet flew over the band with ease. His mind drifted, as it tended to do, to the worst parts of his childhood—like running was somehow purging them from his mind, smoothing them over. But instead of his usual memories—the hunts, Dad when he was angry, Dean furious at him for running away—he saw bits of his newer nightmares. They unspooled, slowly, one frame out of a hundred held like a still-life and he ran until they faded: the circle of blood, gone; Dean screaming, back arched with gaping open wounds running down his chest and stomach, gone; a light bursting from the ground to the Heavens flooding everything away until there was nothing left at all. Until everything was gone. Sam let his own mind empty, let the white noise of that light wash away and focused on his body—the even breath in and out of his lungs, his heart beating steadily, and the tireless strength of his muscles. It occurred to him distantly then, that he felt he could go on like this forever and never stop.
After half an hour he stopped, did a full free weight circuit and still felt like he could keep going. He decided to do one more round of pull-ups, watching the rest of the weight-room as he went up and down at a slow, controlled pace.
A guy on the weight-bench near the mirror had an impressive number of plates on his barbell. Sam added them together, two forty-fives, two twenty-fives and a ten times two plus whatever the bar weighed—
The barbell slipped in the man's grip, and fell, the man let out a cry of surprise, as it came crashing down towards his chest and Sam, without thinking about why or how, reached out with his mind and tried to push it back up.
"I told you to wait for me!" another man said, running up to his friend in a panic. He grabbed the barbell and together they lifted it back up. "Never bench press without a spotter!"
Sam could feel the weight in his mind lessen and then vanish completely as the barbell settled back onto the bench's holds. He got off the pull-up bar and stood there with rubbery knees, trying to figure out what had just happened. Shaken, he headed to the locker room, took a shower, and tried to focus on the cooling water, not the long-buried memories he'd done his best to forget. He had done something to that bar, he'd kept it from crushing that guy's ribcage, just like when they were kids and Dean—
But no, he wouldn't think of that. Or Dad's reaction and what he’d said to Sam.
Maybe it was all just in his head. Maybe he hadn't really done anything. Sam considered: he'd been running on too little sleep and too much caffeine for days now, maybe he just thought he'd slowed the barbell. But no matter how often Sam gave himself that explanation it never felt any less like a lie.
Sam’s finals were easy. He got through his first with nearly an hour to spare and the second was even easier. Jessica gave him a surprised but appreciative glance as he passed her row and Sam felt his cheeks flush again. Brady, on the other hand, still looked miserable. Even more lost when Sam gave him one last look before leaving the room.
Sam wasn’t a fan of bars, having spent way too much time at them way too early. But Brady had a—according to him—high quality fake ID, and insisted on celebrating the end of finals at the bar closest to campus.
“So how’d you do?” Sam asked Brady in greeting.
Brady shrugged. “We’ll see. At least it’s over.” He waved the bartender over. “Get my buddy here a drink.”
“He got ID?”
Sam considered for a moment. “It’s fine, I’ll just have a coke.”
Brady gave him a scandalized look and turned back to the bartender. “A rum and coke.”
The bartender looked at him and something passed between them, a silent agreement that Sam didn’t entirely understand. Maybe they knew each other, or maybe Brady was a good enough customer that the bartender considered Sam’s lack of ID a worthwhile risk. Whatever the case, the bartender pulled a bottle of rum from the bottom shelf and mixed a drink for Sam, pushing it towards him.
“I didn’t think the Sociology final was that bad. There was one question where—“
Brady shook his head. “Talk about something else, man, anything else,” he said, an edge of desperation turning it into a beg.
“Okay,” Sam thought for a second, weighing how trustworthy Brady was against how badly he needed distracting. “At the gym yesterday I...I think I kept a barbell from falling, just by thinking about it.”
"You did what?" Brady asked, laughing as he took another drink of his beer.
"I don't know, it was just—it felt like I was keeping the barbell from crushing him—like I—I was holding it." Sam didn't know why he was telling Brady about what happened at the gym. He probably shouldn't have, but he trusted Brady. He'd tease him, sure, but he wouldn't call him a freak. Probably.
"Well, try it again. Do something to that bowl of pretzels," Brady said, pointing at the mostly empty bowl.
"I don't think I can just—" Sam started.
"Come on. Here, I'll make it easier," Brady said, scooping the rest of the pretzels—all but one—up into this hand.
"I don't think that's how it works. I think there has to be—danger, or something."
Brady nodded, clearly more amused than anything else. "Not gonna even try to move the bowl, huh."
Rolling his eyes, Sam glared at the bowl, but couldn't even figure out where to start.
After nearly thirty seconds, Brady leaned in right next to Sam's ear and whispered, "Come on, Carrie, you can do it!"
Sam burst out laughing. "Seriously?"
"Well, you've got psychic powers, gorgeous long hair," Brady trailed his fingers over Sam's hair, pausing by his neck, "...and I'm betting a pretty shitty childhood, based on what little you've said."
Sam's laugh faded. His pulse was racing from the jarring mix of pleasure from Brady's touch and some of the worst moments of his childhood resurfacing, unbidden. "It wasn't all bad."
"Well neither was Carrie's, but she still burned everybody down in the end, didn't she?" Brady sat back, and pulled the bowl away from Sam. He picked up the last pretzel and held it out to Sam. "But then, they had it coming."
Sam took the pretzel, crunching it thoughtfully. He could still feel Brady's breath on his ear, his fingertips against his neck. He thought about kissing him, then, imagined pressing his lips against Brady's.
And Brady reacted, flushing, looking at Sam with wide eyes. He brought his fingers to his lips, stopped just short of touching them. "Did you just...?"
"I—I'm sorry," Sam said, standing, nearly toppling the barstool in his rush.
"Don't be," Brady said, grabbing Sam's shoulder. "Don't go."
Sam stopped and met Brady's eyes, his embarrassment fading when he saw how Brady was looking back at him.
"Have another drink with me?" Brady waved for the bartender and ordered them two shots of something. Sam couldn't hear much past the pounding in his ears. He tried to find something—anything else—to focus on, and stared at the red and green garland wrapped around the liquor shelves, likely intended to make them look more seasonally festive. But Christmas hadn’t exactly been a festive time for Sam. Not since the year he found Dad’s journal.
The shots came, something clear and sharp-smelling.
"To finals being over!" Brady said, holding his shot-glass out.
Sam clinked his against Brady's and they both drank.
After they left the bar, Sam thought about kissing Brady again, for real this time, but couldn't work up the nerve.
"See you tomorrow," Brady said. "No class, so I'm gonna sleep in, but I'll stop by in the afternoon. See you at the Last Drop?"
"Yeah," Sam wished Brady didn't live off campus. Wished he could at least walk him back to his dorm or something. "Okay."
"Night," Brady said, giving Sam a quick hug. He pulled back, gave Sam a soft shy smile, not at all typical for Brady, and then pressed a kiss against Sam's cheek. It was chaste as anything and brief as a heartbeat, but the warmth it left behind lingered, spreading through Sam’s whole body. Brady stepped away, nose and cheeks red from drink and something more. He held up his hand in a wave, turned on his heel and left.
"Night," Sam echoed, watching Brady leave. He felt light—like he was walking on air, like he really was psychic and could make anything float: bowls, barbells, mountains. And he still wanted to kiss Brady.
Brady didn't come to the Last Drop the next day. He wasn't there at two, when he usually was, wasn't there at three or four. Finally Sam called him, but he didn't answer. Following his gut, Sam went back to the bar, and sure enough, he found Brady there, sitting at the end of the bar with a nearly empty glass of beer and two empty shot glasses. He looked awful.
Sam next down next to him and didn't get so much as a hello. But he could tell it had nothing to do with last night. This was something much worse. “What’s wrong?” Sam asked. Brady might not want to talk about it, but he clearly needed to.
“Nothing,” Brady sniffed, rubbing at his reddened nose. “My parents cut me off.”
“They saw my grades.” Brady sniffled. “Told you about my Dad and his success matters more than anything crap.”
“Wait you mean the final? I thought you said—“
“B minus is equivalent to failure in my dad’s book. So, he said I need to focus more and that living off campus was clearly too distracting. He’s not paying the rent anymore, I gotta find a spot in the dorms.”
“I’ve got a double room to myself, maybe you can move in with me?” Sam said, getting excited by the idea. Though he liked having a room to himself, he missed having company, and Brady was the closest thing to a friend he had here.
“You don’t want me as a roommate. I’ll just drag you down.”
“No way. It’ll be great. We can study together and keep each other going. It’ll be good.”
“Yeah, I do.” Sam smiled at him, tried to make it as reassuring as possible.
“Sam, thank you, seriously, man.” Brady rubbed his nose again and gave Sam a weak smile back. That solves one problem. But Dad cancelled my credit cards, bank accounts, all I’ve got left is the shitty pre-paid card that only works on campus. Two hundred a week. How am I supposed to live on that?”
Sam didn’t tell him how he and Dean had learned real early to make do on far, far less, for far longer than a week. “You could...get a job?” Sam suggested, unsure of how Brady would react. “Something part time and easy. Might not pay much but you’d have a little extra cash and it’d be all yours.”
Brady’s eyes lit up at the last bit. But only for a second before they dimmed again. “Yeah, but they’re gonna pay, what, twelve an hour?”
Sam let out a huff. “Yeah, if you’re lucky. But there’s tips and free coffee. Maybe even pastries?”
“Well that’s something.” Brady said, even though he sounded far from convinced.
“It is.” Sam, on impulse, put his hand on Brady’s and squeezed it gently. He immediately regretted it, wondering if it was the wrong thing to do, but Brady didn’t pull back. “And plus,” Sam added, “it’s a start to getting by on your own. To not being dependent on your dad.”
Brady smiled grimly, and his eyes shone with fierce determination. “You’re right.” He clasped his other hand over Sam’s. “Thanks, Sam.”
Sam flushed, felt the heat rising in his cheeks and looked down. “Don’t mention it. I know a little about that.”
“I bet you do. Like I said,” Brady pulled his hands back and finished the rest of his beer. “Carrie.”
Sam laughed, and that made Brady smile sending warmth coursing through Sam’s belly. He took a drink of his beer and decided to make Brady smile more often.
“Mmm,” Sam said, “you smell like lattes.”
Brady scoffed and set a big cup on Sam’s desk. “That’s all I am to you, isn’t it? Free coffee with home delivery.”
Sam took the lid off the coffee, blew over the hot foam and grinned at Brady. “That’s definitely a perk.” He set the cup down and walked over to Brady, circling his waist with his arms, hands clasped at the small of Brady’s lower back. He leaned in close and said, voice low, “But that’s definitely not all you are to me.”
Brady gave an appreciative growl and kissed the spot on Sam’s neck that went straight to his groin. The kisses quickly turned to nipping—short, sharp bites that made Sam gasp. He clutched at Brady’s shirt, curled his fingers in hard, and brought his other hand up behind Brady’s head, pulling him in tighter until he found that perfect spot again and got the message, biting down right there.
Sam rutted against Brady, winding their thighs together and steered them towards the bed. They tumbled down together, shucking their shirts as they went. Sam straddled Brady, leaned down to kiss him deep, reveling in the taste.
Sam finished the rest of his latte on the way to class. It was cold now, but he couldn’t have cared less. His focus was mainly on the gentle aches left behind by Brady’s teeth—two on his neck, and one much lower down.
Brady was quiet now, but he looked damn pleased with himself, and smiled, turning to look at Sam every time he thought he wasn’t looking.
Draining the last few delicious drops of his latte, Sam threw the cup in the next trash can they passed, as they hurried towards the Sciences buildings. Brady had chemistry and Sam had psychology. Just as they crossed the courtyard, the large tree in the center, gave a loud creak. Sam froze in his steps, and time seemed to slow as the largest, lowest branch cracked and fell, heading right for a student walking beneath it, with headphones in his ears, completely oblivious.
Sam reached out with his mind reflexively and the branch stopped falling.
“Look out!” Brady shouted, lunging forward. He shoved headphone guy out of the way, as Sam stared at the hovering branch trying to understand how he was doing what he was doing. The branch was suspended in mid-air, and Sam could feel its weight, the heaviness of it in his mind, the pull of gravity trying to drag it the rest of the way down, but he was holding it up, a mental bench-press. And then, just like that, he lost his hold, his mental grip slipped and the branch crashed down, landing with a noisy crunch of wood and leaves.
“Holy shit!” the guy Brady had saved said, face pale. “Thanks, man.”
“Don’t mention it,” Brady told him. But his eyes were locked on Sam’s. He’d seen the branch. Seen what happened. And by the look of it, he wasn’t nearly as freaked as Sam was. He looked almost excited.
They hurried to their classes in silence. Brady looked he wanted to say something, but held back and Sam was grateful for that. He didn’t know what to say, or think. But during class he could barely focus. All he could think about was the weight of that branch, how tangible it had felt to his mind, and the look on the face of the person he’d saved.
Brady was waiting for Sam after class, and the moment they got back outside, he pulled him around the corner of the building, out of the flow of student traffic. “That was you.”
“No, I’ve been thinking about it since it happened. There’s no other explanation. Branches don’t just stop falling. It was you, and—it was amazing,” he said, with awe in his eyes. He grabbed Sam by the shoulder. “You are amazing.” He stepped closer with every word. Brady paused less than an inch from Sam’s face and then leaned forward, drawing Sam in until their lips touched. He kissed him, gently at first, then more eagerly when Sam responded, a soft moan escaping him as he pulled their bodies flush together.
“Home?” Sam asked, voice soft and eager.
“Yeah,” Brady trailed his hand down to Sam’s wrist and dragged him across campus.
Brady was on Sam the second they got back to the dorm. They tumbled into bed, shedding their shirts and pants as they went.
Blood tracing a circle on cold grey stone, a woman in white laughing, lightning inside of him, pressure in the air, a building storm, a death knell as the ground cracks open wide and light spills forth, a column reaching up towards Heaven...
Sam jerked awake, sitting up halfway. His racing heart was already slowing, and the last lingering images from the dream crumbled like sand when he tried to look at them more closely.
“Mm,” Brady said, his face turning towards Sam, eyes still closed. He grabbed Sam’s forearm and tugged until Sam sunk back against the pillow, Brady nestling on his chest.
There was something familiar and soothing about Brady’s weight there, and Sam breathed deep, inhaling the scent of his hair and his skin. He drifted back into a peaceful, quiet, empty sleep.
Sam was still groggy with sleep as he got dressed, but pleasantly so, the memories of last night a pleasant haze in his brain. He pulled his shirt on, fingers brushing against the bite-mark Brady had left by his stomach.
“See,” Brady said, propped up on his elbow, still in bed, sheets only half covering him. “Now this is when you should be using it.”
“Your psychic whatever. You should be here in bed with me, floating clothes over to us so we don’t have to get up.”
Sam scoffed. “I can’t do that.”
“Not with that attitude.”
“It doesn’t work like that. There has to be—“ Sam paused as he tugged his shirt down over his neck, “—danger or something.”
“You sure?” Brady sat up further. “Do you know that for a fact?”
“Well no, that’s just how it’s worked so far—“
“I’m just saying that you can do things, and maybe with a little more practice you can learn how to totally control it.”
“And then what?” Sam swallowed, fighting back the voice of his father echoing in his head: ‘Psychic powers, when they’re strong—no human comes by that naturally. They’re either witches or they’re not human.’ So that meant that, by his father’s definition, Sam wasn’t human. Just another reason for him to hate Sam. “Maybe it was just a fluke.”
Brady looked at him, nose wrinkled in confusion. “Why wouldn’t you want this? Do you know what most people would give to be able to do what you can do?”
Sam swallowed past the lump in his throat. “I just want to be normal,” he said, hoarsely.
“This isn’t new, is it?” Brady’s eyebrows crept up. “The gym wasn’t the first time.”
Sam chewed on his lip, fighting back tears. Dean had seen him, sworn not to tell Dad, made Sam promise to never do it again. He hadn’t even meant to.
“When you were younger?”
“My brother, Dean, he was crossing the street and there was a car, it ran a red, and—”
“You saved him?” There was an intensity to Brady’s question, an eagerness as he tried to lock eyes with Sam.
“I made the car swerve. I don’t know how, I just pushed.” Sam hesitated for a second. “With my mind.”
“Just like what you did at the gym," Brady said.
“You're meant to have this. To save people.”
Sam shook his head. “That’s not what my father thinks.”
“Who gives a crap what your father thinks?” Brady practically spit the last two words, his voice climbing. “You taught me that, Sam. They don’t get to tell us who we are. They don’t get to tell us what’s right and what’s wrong for us.”
Speechless, Sam took in Brady’s fiery expression: eyes shining with anger and unshed tears. And in that moment, Sam understood that this wasn’t just about him, it wasn’t really about his psychic power, it was about the both of them finding a way for themselves—after years of being told they weren’t good enough by fathers with different priorities. It didn’t matter what Sam could or couldn’t do with his mind—Brady understood him. He accepted him. “Brady, I—“
"Practice on me."
"Right now.” Brady took Sam by the wrist gently. “Practice on me. Kiss me without touching me like you did that night at the bar, or—or pin my wrists down like you did last night, only without using your hands.”
A pulse of want thrummed through Sam’s body, settling down low. The idea of doing that to Brady—of being able to do that to Brady—was more than a little exciting.
“Please, Sam,” Brady let go of him again, sat on the bed, looking up at him expectantly. “I want you to."
And Sam wanted to. The thought alone gave him a heady feeling. But he pushed it down. “I need to get to class. And you need to get to work.”
“We’ve got time. Twenty whole minutes, Sam.” Brady bit his lower lip and that little gleam of teeth on flesh set off dominoes of memories. Sam exhaled, slow and steady, reaching for the part of him that stopped the branch and the barbell and he used it to grab Brady’s wrists—Brady whose eyes widened, whose jaw dropped open in surprise, in awe.
“Tell me to stop, and I will,” Sam said, increasing the pressure, hard enough that he could see the skin of Brady’s wrists indent.
“Don’t stop,” Brady said, breathless as his hips twitched and he let his eyes fall shut, trusting Sam, giving himself to Sam.
And Sam gave another stronger push, against Brady’s chest this time, shoving him down flat, pinning him to the bed.
Brady let out a breathy chuckle and strained against Sam’s hold, hard enough that Sam had to renew his efforts, but not hard enough to break free.
And then, on impulse, Sam imagined himself biting down on Brady’s throat. The skin by the lower curve of Brady’s carotid, right above his collarbone, depressed, and Sam could practically see the way the blood pooled, artery darkening where his mind was pushing. Brady bucked off the bed, boxers tenting. “Sam, please.”
Sam straddled Brady, put his mouth over that spot and his hands on Brady’s wrists and let go with his mind, shifting that invisible touch down lower, down and inside and he bit down on that spot, pinched the skin between his teeth, held it gently there until he imagined he could taste blood on his tongue. Brady cried out, burying his face against Sam’s chest.
They came together, in a dizzying rush and Sam found himself laughing at the sheer joy of it.
“Told you,” Brady said, eyes red-rimmed and filled with contented wonder. “I fucking told you. All you need is some practice.”
“I like this kind of practice.”
“Good, you’re gonna have to do a lot more of it,” Brady said. “Like every day.”
Sam laughed. “And then we’ll never make it to class on time and you’ll lose your job.”
“What a tragedy.”
“Shower,” Sam said, kissing Brady once more. “We have to hurry.”
“Float me there,” Brady whined.
Sam stood and threw a pillow at his head instead.
After an extended weekend morning practice round, on a rainy Saturday, Brady convinced Sam to stay in bed afterwards, before he had to leave for his shift at the Last Drop.
“You look good, Sam,” Brady said. “I mean not just—you always look good, especially to me, but I mean you…” he traced a fingertip gently over Sam’s cheeks. “You look healthy.” Trailed his hand down to Sam’s arm he gave it a hard squeeze. “Damn healthy.”
Sam laughed at Brady’s open admiration. “I’ve had time for the gym in the morning. Would’ve gone today, if somebody hadn’t told me not to go,” he teased.
“It’s more than that though,” Brady said, dropping a kiss on the tender skin just under Sam’s shoulder. “You’ve been sleeping better, eating better, I don’t know.”
“I have been sleeping better.” Sam nodded. “Way better.”
“No more nightmares?”
“No,” Sam said, “I haven’t had any in…” he strained to think, “...in months, actually.”
“Good, that’s great,” Brady smiled at him. “Maybe you just needed to start using your gifts instead of ignoring them.”
“Gifts?” Sam snorted.
“Well, what else am I supposed to call them?”
“Abilities, I guess? Gifts means they were given to me by someone.”
Brady nodded, a hint of a smirk on his lips. “Okay then, abilities. Whatever the case—no more nightmares, and you can do…” his smirk widened as he shimmied closer, leaning close to whisper into Sam’s ear. “All sorts of things with that big brain of yours.”
“Mmhm,” Sam said, mirroring that smirk, psychically tracing a line down Brady’s spine, increasing the pressure as he got lower down, until Brady let out a gasp— of scandalized, surprised pleasure.
“Another round already?”
“I gotta get my workout in somehow,” Sam said, sliding his arm beneath Brady’s waist.
“This is stupid,” Sam said, glaring at his reflection. “I look stupid.”
Brady peered over Sam’s shoulder and grinned back at him from the mirror. “I think you look divine,” he said, suppressing a laugh, as he poked a finger at Sam’s tilted halo. “But if you don’t like it, we’ll trade,” he pointed at his red plastic horns.
“No, whatever, let’s just go.” Sam rolled his eyes, but wasn’t really annoyed. It was Halloween, and a costume party was a costume party after all, and Brady had promised him this was the best one in town.
The party was loud yet boring, as were most parties in Sam’s experience. Luckily, Brady kept him entertained, showing off his prowess at both apple bobbing and downing mass quantities of Halloween themed shots.
Sam was still working on the same beer he’d had when he came in, slowly, so Brady wouldn’t push another drink on him.
The party was still growing, late arrivals joining every few minutes. Sam recognized some from other classes, but nobody he knew well or had any interest in getting to know better until Jessica, from last year’s Sociology walked in. Sam’s jaw dropped at the sight of her: wearing a nurse costume that hugged her hips and stopped just short of her knees. Her long blond hair hung in loose curls, just past her shoulders and she gave Sam a smile and small wave as she passed by.
“Hello, nurse,” Brady said, eyeing her appreciatively. He elbowed Sam in the ribs. “Come on, man. Go talk to her.”
“What? No, I—“
Brady gave him a look. “We’re in college. What we’ve got is golden, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with other people every once in a while.” He took a sip from his beer. “Especially when they look like that.”
Sam stood, and after one last pat on the shoulder from Brady, made a beeline for Jessica. Situations like these were where Sam’s height came in handy. But Jessica was tall herself, he noted, spotting her easily at the other side of the living room. She was talking to another woman from Sociology, Brenda maybe?
Clearing his throat, Sam, walked up next to them, and reached for the conveniently located bowl of Doritos. “Excuse me,” he said as he grabbed a handful.
“Oh hey—“ Jessica gave him another smile that warmed him all the way to his toes. “Sam, right?”
“Yeah, that’s me.“ Sam held the Doritos a bit awkwardly. “And you’re Jessica.”
“The one who disagrees with Mumford’s views on technology.”
Her smile widened. “Well, not all of them.” She gestured towards her friend. “This is Brienne.”
Brienne nodded at them. “Nice to meet you.” She gave Sam a once over, then threw Jessica a knowing wink. “I’m gonna go get another drink,” she said over her shoulder, leaving the two of them alone.
“So...which views do you agree with?” Sam asked, and Jessica huffed out a laugh.
“You didn’t come here to talk Sociology all night, did you?” Something in the tone of her voice made Sam’s heart race and he could’ve sworn he could hear Brady laughing from somewhere far away.
They left the party together: Sam, Jessica, and Brady, warmed by drink and the throng of the crowd. The night seemed exceptionally cool as they walked back to the boys’ dorm room, avoiding the RAs who’d take issue with Jessica coming to their floor this late at night.
“You two are okay with this?” Jessica asked, as Brady closed the door behind them.
“Yeah. Are you?” Sam asked, hesitating mid jacket-removal.
Jessica gave him a look and then a kiss, deep but gentle. “Absolutely,” she said, pulling back, long enough to strip Sam’s jacket off the rest of the way, and then her own.
“Yeah. We—” Sam looked to Brady, who gave him a reassuring nod. “We’re not exclusive.” He reached up and pulled off the plastic halo, tossing it towards his desk.
“Good to have an open mind,” Jessica said, as she moved closer to Sam, grabbing the hem of his flannel. She started unbuttoning it with deft, quick fingers, and Sam’s pulse ran up his throat—he felt paralyzed with want, caught between his brain telling him to move and take and wondering if this was really happening.
Brady came up from behind and pulled Sam’s shirt off the moment all the buttons were open. Jessica pulled on the hem of Sam’s t-shirt, lifting it up, and Sam snapped out of it long enough to pull it the rest of the way off.
Having shed his own shirt, Brady stepped in close and pressed his bare chest against Sam’s back as Jessica unbuttoned her nurse costume. “You leaving those on?” she asked Brady.
He laughed a hot breath against Sam’s back and lowered his head just enough to push the plastic horns into his shoulder. “I don’t know, I kinda like ‘em.”
Jessica let her costume drop to the floor and closed the distance to Sam, pressing her fingertips against his chest. Sam brought his hand around the curve of her hip, hesitantly at first, but she leaned into his touch, shifting her hands down to his hips and crushed their mouths together.
Sam made a noise, low and hungry and moved his mouth down to her neck, laving her there until she let out a gasp and stammered, “What happened to the angel?”
“Sam can be all kinds of things,” Brady said as he slid his fingers between them, just below Jessica’s breasts. “Can’t you, Sam?”
Sam turned to look at Brady, shock piercing his arousal. He couldn’t possibly be suggesting—
“What kind of things?” Jessica asked, grinning wickedly at Sam.
“Things you wouldn’t believe if I told you,” Brady said, moving lower, turning Jessica away from Sam and towards him as he kissed his way down Jessica’s stomach. “But he won’t show you. Not unless you ask him to. He’s way too much of a gentleman...”
Jessica cocked an eyebrow and turned from Brady to Sam. “Show me what you can do.”
Time slowed as Sam considered. He didn’t want to scare Jessica, and though he and Brady had practiced a lot, especially recently, he'd never even considered using his power on anyone else the way he did with Brady. It was too intimate, too risky. What Brady let him do—the way he gave himself over to Sam was intoxicating, and it didn't just lower Sam's hesitations, it abolished them. "I shouldn't—" Sam said.
"Show her on me, Sam," Brady said, stepping away from them. He sat on the bed, unbuckled his pants, but left them on. "So she knows what she's getting into."
Sam stared at Brady, too high-strung to be anything other than nervous. It was bordering on performance anxiety. Could he even touch Brady the way he wanted to—from the inside out— with somebody else watching? But Brady looked at him with such complete trust and unflappable confidence that Sam couldn't refuse. He reached with his mind and grabbed hold of Brady's belt, unwilling to go right for Brady himself just yet. He had to be sure he could control himself first. Carefully, he pulled on the leather strap, undoing the buckle, weaving it free from the loops of his jeans. The belt slithered obediently towards him, writhing through the air like a snake. It settled over his hand and Sam held the belt out to Jessica, who looked, to her credit, only mildly freaked. She took the belt and gave Sam a nod. "Quite the demonstration."
"That's nothing," Brady said, with a smirk. "Come on, Sammy, don't be shy."
Sam swallowed, focused on Brady and took a few steps closer to him, positioned himself so he could just feel Jessica's gaze on them but couldn't see her. Then he took a deep breath, and used his power to shove Brady down on the bed, and lift him up just enough to tug his jeans down to his ankles.
Jessica let out a quiet gasp.
He didn't know if it was imagined or not, but Sam heard an edge of fear there. He turned to look at Jessica.
"Is that—" she started, "what else can you do?"
Sam shook his head. "I stopped a few people from getting hurt."
"Way to be modest, Sam," Brady said, with a snort of a laugh. "What he means is, he kept a tree from crushing somebody."
"Wow." Jessica moved closer to Sam, took his wrist and led him to the bed. She sat on the edge of the bed, next to where Brady had stretched himself out, and waited until Sam sat down beside her. "Okay, try it on me." She nodded at her bra.
Adrenaline and lust flowed through Sam's veins, but he strained to hold that needle-sharp focus, peered over her shoulder, and without touching her, undid the hooks of her bra.
She sucked in a breath and gave him a kiss.
His heart thudded against her and he brought his hands gently to her back, wishing he knew how far she wanted him to go, what he could do, what he couldn't. With Brady it was easy. Brady never told him to stop or slow down, only egged him on, but Jessica was different. Sam had to know what she was thinking, what she really wanted. He pulled back and looked in her eyes, through them, searching for a deeper understanding. And like popping a balloon, he broke through, and a burst of thoughts that weren't his own flowed into his mind. Jessica's thoughts: her arousal, her desire, what she wanted to do to him and what she wanted him to do to her. It was dizzying, seeing himself through her eyes and he pushed deeper, wondering what else she was thinking.
“Get out of my head!” Jessica said, but to Sam, her words were muted, bubbling up slowly beneath miles of ocean. It took him far too long to understand, to comprehend the fear and anger distorting her features. She shoved at Sam’s chest until he jerked away, the mental separation far harder than the physical. He dragged himself out, reeled his mind back into himself and stared at her with dawning horror. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean—“
Jessica scrambled off the edge of the bed, grabbed her discarded shirt and tugged it on.
Brady stood, reached a hand out towards her, “Hey, come on, he didn’t mean—“
“Shut up,” Jessica said. “I don’t care what he meant.” She turned towards Sam, leveled him with a stare that made him feel smaller than he had in years. “Don’t do that again. Not to me, not to anyone. That’s crossing a serious line.”
“I’m so sorry, Jessica—I didn’t know—“
“Didn’t know what?”
“That I could—that's never happened before, not—“ Sam swallowed. “Not like that.”
“Oh. Great. So you just decided to try it out on me?”
“No, I—“ Sam couldn’t find the words, and finally went with the few he did have. “I’m sorry.”
Without another word, Jessica tore open the door and left, slamming it shut behind her.
“What happened wasn’t your fault," Brady said, hand on Sam's thigh. "You’re just getting stronger, that’s all.”
Sam glared at him. “That’s all?” He scoffed and stood up from his bed, suddenly nearly as disgusted with Brady’s attitude as he was with himself. “I’m not doing this anymore. Whatever this power is, I can’t keep using it if I’m going to hurt people without even meaning to.”
“But you’ve saved people too. And you like it—I know you do! It’s a little scary, sure, but think about all the good you’ve done, Sam!”
Sam said nothing, his self-loathing ratcheting up even higher as he remembered the thrill of holding that branch, the sheer rush of pinning Brady to the bed with nothing but a thought. He did like it, and he wanted to go further, see how much more he could do, but if this was the cost, then it was too damn high.
“I can’t just go around hurting people!” Sam snapped. He couldn’t get Jessica’s horrified expression out of his mind, her widened eyes, the fear shifting to disgust. He never wanted to see that look on another person’s face again.
“Sam, you’ve never hurt anyone before today. This is the first time—“ Brady said, grabbing him by the shoulders.
“And that’s one time too many,” Sam shouted, shoving Brady off of him—the old fashioned way.
Brady stumbled back, until he half-fell against the wall, but he caught himself. Eyes glinting, dark with fury, he didn’t say another word, just straightened, and headed for his bed. He got his duffel bag from under the bed, opened his drawer and started packing.
Sam went to his desk, stood there with his arms crossed over his chest, too tense to just sit and watch as Brady finished packing, grabbed his jacket and his keys. “You leaving?”
“Going home for the break.” Brady said tightly.
“But—you hate it there. And break doesn’t start for two more weeks!”
“Yeah, but what do I have to stick around here for?” Brady said, voice flat and heartless.
“Brady, wait—“ Sam said, taking a step forwards, reaching for him.
But Brady was already out the door. It slammed shut with a loud, hollow echo.
A burning in his veins, a flood of light and pure power rushing through him, flowing through him, lashing at a woman in white—more than a woman, someone ancient and deadly saying, "Freak. Monster." Dean, disappointment thick in his voice, "If I didn't know you, I would want to hunt you." The smell of blood heavy in the air, blood spilling over the pale grey floor, a red circle forming, a spiral tracing its way towards the center towards a crack in the earth a crack in the world...
Sam woke with a gasp, head pounding, body lathered in sweat. He felt feverish. Awful. As if all the stress from the fight with Brady and Jessica hadn't been enough, now he was getting sick too. Sam sat, checking himself over for signs of congestion or sore throat. His throat was dry, and everything hurt. Down to his fingers and toes. He stood, held himself upright against the wall through a flash of vertigo. Whatever it was, he deserved it. He'd managed to hurt two people so deeply they never wanted to see him again, and he'd already pushed away his family. Now he was alone again. But this time it didn't feel like freedom, the way it had when he'd first gotten to school. This time it just felt lonely. He'd missed Thanksgiving altogether, which had never meant much to him anyway; growing up with Dad and Dean it usually meant a bucket of chicken wings and maybe some mashed potatoes with gravy and corn if they were really lucky. But without Brady there, and without class to focus on, Sam had fallen into a deep slump, sleeping through most of the day. Maybe that's when he'd started getting sick.
The worst part was classes started up again today, and Brady still wasn't back. He hadn't called or anything, and technically he could go right to class without stopping in, but Sam had hoped he would come by to drop off his things. He'd even made Brady's bed last night, and done all his laundry, as an act of goodwill. But he wasn't here. Maybe he wasn't coming back at all.
Sam pushed the thought away and tried to focus, difficult with the near-blinding pain in his temples. He knew caffeine wasn't the best thing for a cold, but his head was pounding so fiercely, he decided one iced coffee before class wouldn't hurt. So he grabbed his jacket and a pair of sunglasses and headed to the Last Drop.
Sam took a deep pull from the straw, letting the cold, sweet caffeine flood his system. But it didn’t taste quite right. Something was missing, that salty, copper aftertaste never came, and his headache was only getting worse. By the time he got halfway across the courtyard, he’d realized what had happened, and spun on his heel. He was cutting it close, but could probably still make it back before class started if he hurried. Plus, what was the point in going if he couldn’t get rid of this mountain-sized headache. His free hand prickled with pins and needles, and he shook it, trying to get his circulation going again. It only irritated hum further, souring his already bad mood.
Wincing against the glare of the rising sun, Sam turned the corner and tore open the cafe door, nearly slamming into another student on the way out. “Hey!” The freshman said, glaring at Sam.
“Watch where you’re going,” Sam muttered under his breath. He marched past the line, right up to the pick-up counter. “Excuse me!” He called, getting the attention of one of the baristas.
She looked at him, early-morning bags under her eyes. “Yeah?”
He held out his cup, forced on a polite smile. “Hey, I think you gave me decaf, by accident. I asked for the turbo-shot.”
She took the cup, squinted at the checks and said. “Nah, you got the turbo-shot. I remember.”
“Okay, well, could you give me a new one? Please?” Sam asked, forced mask of patience slipping.
“Gotta ask my manager.”
“I don’t have time for that—class starts in ten minutes.”
“Well then you'd better get to class,” she said, setting his cup back on the counter with a smirk.
Sam was about to respond with something not even remotely polite, when another barista came through the kitchen doors. She caught his eyes immediately, smiled at him and flipped her long hair over her shoulder. “Hey, I’m the manager, Ruby, what’s going on?”
“Thank you,” Sam held his cup out to her. “I asked for a turbo-shot.”
“And I gave him a turbo-shot,” the other barista—Denise—insisted.
Ruby cocked an eyebrow. “Your turbo-shot’s like my decaf.” She snatched the cup from Sam’s hand and with a, “Be right back, sir,” disappeared through the kitchen door again.
Denise rolled her eyes and went back to helping fill the other orders, while Sam watched the door. Ruby came back seconds later and handed Sam his cup back. “Gave you a double for free, sorry about that.”
Sam took the cup gratefully and brought the straw to his lips, wanting to be sure they'd really fixed it this time. The first mouthful felt like heaven—cool, salty-sweetness heading right into his brain; all the tension dissipated leaving behind a quiet, pain-free clarity. A sigh of intense relief escaped him.
“That good, huh?” Ruby asked, chuckling. Her smile made her even more beautiful, Sam thought.
“Yeah. Thank you,” Sam said, “thank you so much.” His hand prickled once more, like all the blood had started moving again. He felt intensely good, too good; it was nearly too much of an all-encompassing pleasure to be just from the coffee. Then again, he had been drinking a lot these last few months. Especially with Brady— Sam cut off that train of thought before it started to hurt.
Sam looked at the clock on the wall, as unease started to creep into his thoughts. “Shoot, I'm gonna be late to class.”
“See you tomorrow?” Ruby asked. There was an eagerness in her words, a hopeful curve to her lips. Was she flirting?
“Definitely.” Sam gave her as warm a smile as he could manage, and tried not to think of Brady.
Sam couldn't focus. History of Science had held his interest most of the semester, but today the professor's lecture seemed pointless and boring, and sitting there listening to him was making Sam antsy.
It was all the worse because the seat to his left, Brady's seat, was empty. Sam tried not to wonder when he'd come back, if he was coming back at all. Had he transferred away and just left all his things behind? Was he okay? Had he gotten in another huge argument with his parents? Sam resolved quietly that he'd call him tonight, leave an apology voicemail if he had to. He was worried about Brady. Deep in thought, he took another sip of his iced coffee. The double turbo-shot had worked wonders on his headache, which was completely gone. More than that though, he felt good—better than good. If it hadn't been for all the crap going on around him, he'd feel fantastic. But instead, Sam’s brain was spinning, stuck in a loop worrying about Brady and the trying not to look at Jessica at all; she was, once again, sitting in the row in front of him, which made it nearly impossible to avoid looking at her. He tried though: looking at the woman next to her, at the blackboard, at the slowly ticking clock.
Everything felt so goddamned slow. Sam tapped his pen impatiently, going over his schedule for the rest of his day. He didn't have another class until early afternoon. He hadn't thought he'd have enough energy for the gym, had thought he'd still be struggling with his headache, but now he had energy to spare and not a trace of pain. So he'd go to the gym and then call Brady, or maybe call Brady first and then...
Sam's head snapped up. The professor had said his name.Twice. "I'm sorry?"
"I asked if you could tell us the subject of your essay. I found the read quite fascinating. Nearly as interesting as Miss Moore's," he added with a smile.
Sam felt Jessica turn towards him, but avoided looking at her, felt shame trail up his cheeks. He looked at his hands, and then back at the professor. "I wrote about Mumford's fears and predictions about technology and contrasted it with how technology has actually developed," Sam said. It was only peripherally related to what they’d been studying in History, but at the time he’d picked that topic, Sam was hoping to use his paper as a further talking point with Jess. That was never going to happen now.
"That's a somewhat boring but not inaccurate summary of your well-written piece," the professor turned to the student to Sam's right. "And Mr. Perkins, what was your topic?"
Jessica's stare intensified, as Sam looked down at his hands again. "Asshole," she said, and Sam's head snapped up, a deep stab of hurt lodged in his chest, even if she was right. "Fucking asshole," she said, except no...her lips weren't moving. He'd heard her thoughts, just like that. Without even trying. And then more voices joined hers, all of them talking over each other. "He's so boring—not gonna make it through this semester. I forgot to turn in my paper...afterwards. Homework for Biology—" Sam stared at the rest of his classmates, and the mess of voices grew louder."—tired, need to get some sleep tonight—" “can't even tell her how I—“ “where the hell am I gonna get the money—“ “hate this class. I paid for this? This guy's a—“ “gotta grab a nap after this or—" The voices were growing louder, and they came from everywhere, from all around him. Sam covered his ears, but of course that changed nothing. They weren't actually talking. The professor was the only one speaking out loud, and Sam couldn't hear him at all over the noise.
Stop, he told himself, trying to shut down whatever it was that made him hear everyone else. Stop listening. But the voices continued, so many all at once now that he couldn't pick out the words anymore. He stood, stuffed his notebook and pencil into his bag, grabbed his coffee and hurried out the door, muttering a quiet, "Sorry," towards the professor, who may or may not have said something as he left. Sam couldn't tell, still couldn't parse his voice out from the morass of others. Nor did he, at that very moment, care.
Sam walked back to his dorm room—just his dorm room now, since Brady was still nowhere to be seen—drinking down the rest of his iced coffee along the way. Only when he reached the bottom of his cup did he think it might be a bad idea getting even more caffeinated, considering how his mind already appeared to be in overdrive. Maybe that was why his powers were amped up like this.
He threw the drained cup into the trash, noting that he hadn't emptied the trash bin in over a week. He grabbed a trash bag and dumped the contents of the bin into it. Something stuck to the bottom—Sam wrinkled his nose as he reached in to grab it—if Brady ever did come back, he'd have to have a talk with him about putting bags in the trash bin before adding trash. It was a coffee cup—a hot coffee cup from a week ago stuck to the bottom of the bin. One of Sam's, based on the size. Brady only ever drank mediums. Sam pried the waxed paper cup loose, surprised by how thoroughly it was stuck to the bottom. Maybe there was gum or something. But no, there was something crusted on: a dried dark streak like chocolate but with a reddish tint. Sam sniffed it, before considering what a bad idea it was to inhale garbage that closely. What he smelled there couldn't possibly be right—metallic, pungent and familiar.
Heart racing, he reached into his desk drawer, grabbed his pocket knife and carefully pried up some of the crusted residue at the bottom of the cup. Rubbing it between his fingers left behind dark-red crumbs that streaked the tips of his fingers. His name, scrawled in black Sharpie, was there on the side of the cup, mocking him. This stuff—he wouldn't think of what it was in the cup, didn't have any proof yet—but whatever it was, somebody had put it in there, specifically for him.
The feeling of unease in his gut flipped quickly to panic and he dug through the bag and found his plastic cup from minutes ago. But the cup was nearly completely empty. All that was left was a single drop of coffee. Sam brought the cup up to his nose and inhaled deep. And there, beneath the roasted coffee and caramel was that same unthinkable scent. He dropped the empty plastic cup back in the trash bag and grabbed the old paper cup.
Determined, angry and more than a little scared, Sam clutched the cup close to him as he stormed out of the dorm and across campus to the School of Medicine.
Sam hadn't seen his friend, Zach, since last year, but he looked glad to see Sam, and seemed to have no hesitation honoring his decidedly weird request.
"Yeah, they let us use all this awesome lab equipment anyway. I've never tried analyzing dried coffee residue." Zach cocked an eyebrow and snorted a laugh. Then he saw Sam's face. "Oh whoa, you're really freaked. You think—wait. Do you think somebody spiked this or something?"
"I don't know," Sam said, and he couldn't quite keep the bitterness from his voice. "You tell me."
Zach called back a few hours later. "Well, the good news is, nobody put any drugs in here, but I definitely found some weird shit."
Sam's mouth went dry. "How weird?"
“I mean you know they put all kinds of chemicals in this stuff, and there’s the usual preservatives and corn syrup and crap, but there’s some other stuff too.”
“Traces of sulfur, for one. You’d think that would’ve given it a weird aftertaste or something.”
“Well, this was hopefully a fluke, but there were a few red blood cells in there too.”
“What?” Sam asked, confusion giving way to grim acceptance mingled with disgust. He’d known what it was, but having it confirmed was something else entirely.
Zach lowered his voice, almost conspiratorially. “Look, I remember you get nosebleeds a lot, so if you had one recently, it could’ve gone in through the straw. Don’t worry about it, doesn’t gross me out, I'm a med student, I’ve seen way weirder."
Anger budding in his temples, Sam nodded to himself. “Thanks, Zach." The puzzle pieces were starting to form a really upsetting whole, confirming what he'd already suspected.
Gut churning with unease, Sam hung up the phone, theories spinning wildly in his mind. What had Brady been putting in there? Sulfur and blood? And worse, it wasn't only Brady. Whatever the hell he'd been putting in there, that other barista, Ruby had given him the same thing. Was he the only one? If they were giving this crap to everybody that ordered a turbo shot then surely there'd be others with random psychic outbursts around campus. Maybe he just hadn't seen any yet.
Brady. Sam got angrier as he thought about it more. Brady had left him here, left him to feel guilty and miserable and meanwhile he'd—Sam didn't even know what he'd done, or why. But he knew Brady was involved. He'd been encouraging him to use his powers from the get-go, been eager, egging him on at every opportunity. And Sam—Sam loved him. He hadn't told him yet, but he—
Anguish mixed with his anger, turning it to white-hot rage and Sam wanted to scream, but he held it in, pushed it down, felt pressure building in his veins, throbbing in his head, pulsing in his very core until he couldn't take it anymore. He grabbed for his pillow, intending to scream into it, but it caught fire at his touch, flame pouring from his fingers onto the fabric. He dropped it in shock and stared at his hands, willing the fire away. It died down, receding until his fingertips looked like smoldering embers. "What the hell is happening to me?" Sam wondered out loud, heart thundering in his chest and with another spike of panic he felt the power burst out of him, shooting through the room, crashing into the wall, which splintered like it had been struck by lightning. Another wave of force let loose, rebounded off the wall and into the metal leg of Brady's desk. The desk collapsed, metal bent by an invisible mallet. And Sam stumbled back, horrified and at a complete loss. Legs crumpling, he sunk to the ground as another burst of energy exploded out, knocking everything around him up into the air—the beds bucked up, the desks fell over, the trash bag flew up against the ceiling, raining down its contents. The empty plastic iced coffee cup landed right by Sam's feet. Evidence of his gullibility. He kicked it away and buried his head in his arms, pulling his knees in, willing himself to calm, to stop.
The next few moments ticked by, full of clattering chaos as the aftershocks of Sam's power pulsed out of him, and then with one last push of will, whatever switch it was inside of him finally flipped off, and everything went quiet. Sam waited another few seconds, breathing shallowly in his self-made cave, to be sure it was over, and then carefully lifted his head, opened his eyes. The room was trashed.
Sam shook his hand angrily as it started to cramp up again. Withdrawal. He was going through fucking withdrawal again. And he'd just had some of whatever the hell it was this morning—enough to make his symptoms go away, enough to numb the pain, enough to give him a huge boost of power and then he'd blown it all destroying their room.
He hadn't left the room since, too upset to concentrate. Far too upset to go to class. Part of him was still waiting, hoping pathetically, for Brady to walk in and apologize and explain it all away. But it was just past midnight, and there hadn't been so much as a phone call. Sam was still alone. He should've gone to eat something earlier, but his appetite was still deadened. The power overdrive from earlier had faded, leaving him feeling hollowed out and queasy.
For a drawn-out minute, he contemplated calling Dean, telling him everything. But what would that accomplish? Dean would either drive to see him or never speak to him again and Sam couldn't entirely figure out which was worse. Everything Sam had gone through—everything he'd done in the last twenty-four hours proved that he wasn't entirely human. And maybe he never had been. Dad was right, and Sam was a freak. Something hunters killed. Sam couldn't put that on Dean. And anyway, they both had enough to deal with.
A blinding pain came out of nowhere and Sam's vision tilted, the nightmare he'd lived through a thousand times coming back in full while he was wide awake: "You blood-sucking freak. You're a monster, Sam," Dean said, disgust dripping from every word. And Sam's veins burned and a woman in white with eyes shining like the moon laughed at him. Something snarled and there was nothing Sam could do and it tore into Dean, sharp talons tearing him apart and Dean screamed and there was blood everywhere and— "You couldn't save him. You did nothing. You let him die." A column of light and vengeance spewed from the ground and up to the Heavens and it was his fault, it was all because of him— Sam let out an audible gasp as the pain ratcheted up another notch. Blood dripped from his nose and his body began to seize up, muscles stiffening and cramping. He clawed at the ratty carpeting, as his heart raced faster and faster and then one more wave of force burst out of him, rattling the windows.
He felt cold. And lost.
Exhaustion pulled Sam under then; he didn’t so much fall asleep, as shut off—stuttering back to consciousness two hours later with the taste of bile heavy on his tongue. He staggered towards the bathroom but didn’t quite make it to the toilet bowl before the sick overtook him.
With a quavering hand, he brushed his teeth, the rim of the sink cool against his hips. He washed his face, or tried to, but the cold water prickled against his skin like needles and he shuddered feverishly, heading back towards his bed.
Halfway there, Sam paused, picking up Brady’s scent from his bedsheets. His mouth welled up, he was thirsty and hungry all at once, all of his body’s survival signals screwed to Hell. Angry and scared in equal measure, he took the last few steps towards Brady’s bed, and clutched his pillow to his chest, sinking to the floor. His sobs were dry heaves and he didn’t even know what he was feeling beyond pain—all-encompassing and terrible.
That blinding flash of light came back, streaming through his mind in a column, bursting through the floor up into the heavens with a sound like screaming bells. Sam pushed the pads of his palms against his closed eyes, pleading, “Stop, stop, stop,” to anyone and everyone who was listening. Even though he knew there was nobody. It wasn’t that he’d lost his faith that there was someone, more like the opposite—he knew they’d turned their backs on him, like everyone else. Like Dad, like Dean, like Brady.
The scent caught hold of Sam again, dragging his face down into the pillow, breathing deep, with a longing beyond desire, beyond need. It was like Brady was water and air, everything Sam needed to live—but he was gone, he was gone and Sam was dying.
“Please,” Sam said, to Brady this time, with every last ounce of his will.
But of course Brady couldn’t hear him. Those few remaining dregs of Sam’s strength left him, and he let the pillow fall, slumping onto the ground beside it.
Sam slept through the whole next day, waking only to piss, and later that night, puke until he had nothing left but bile. He managed to brush his teeth with the last of his strength before falling asleep again. When Sam next woke, well after noon the following day, he had a headache spanning both of his temples: migraine level pressure against his skull. But he felt, otherwise, marginally better. The shaking had stopped. But his vision felt covered in a hazy sheen. Everything was grayer; and just a touch blurred. He drank a glass of water that sloshed in his belly as he slowly got dressed in clean clothes.
He stood there, staring at the pock-marked wall with a terribly rooted feeling. Like his body and mind had lost their edge. It clicked in his head then that he had finally come all the way down, he’d reached a peak and crashed, suffered days of withdrawal, and come out the other end. This was just him as he’d been before.
It was awful.
Jessica Moore was at the cafeteria when Sam went to get some kind of dinner that night. He stayed as far away from her as he could, taking a table well across the room. Alone and in silence, he ate methodically, focusing on the Heimlich maneuver poster mounted on the wall across from him. By the time he’d finished, Jessica had already left.
As he had on the way there, Sam avoided the Last Drop on the way home, taking a route that led around the Sciences buildings and was twice as long. The breeze felt good. Sobering. And he let it cool him, tried to inhale the calm of it into this lungs and push it through the lingering ache in his sinuses. The hurt in his heart he couldn’t do a thing about.
Sam slowed when he got near his dorm room. Somebody was inside. Brady was inside. He didn’t know how he knew, but he did, could feel it in his mind with rock solid certainty.
With a deep breath, he steeled himself and opened the door.
Brady was standing in the middle of the room. He whipped around to face Sam, with a look of alarm. “What the hell happened here, Sam?” Brady looked him up and down. “You okay?”
Sam didn’t answer, a million angry questions swarmed through his mind, all of them warring for dominance.
“You don’t look so good.” Brady still looked deeply concerned, but at that moment it all struck Sam as an act. “You get the flu or something?”
“What have you been giving me?” Sam asked, not even remotely interested in playing along.
“What?” Brady furrowed his brow, raised his hands defensively. “What the hell do you mean, how could you think—“
“I know you’ve been putting something in my coffee. It’s not a damn turbo shot.”
Brady’s lips curved into a smirk. “Sure it is. Just got a little more than caffeine.”
“So what—amphetamines, something else? What the hell has sulfur in it and—and blood?”
“You’re being paranoid. You pull a couple all-nighters?” Brady gave him a look of sympathy that was almost convincing. “Did the nightmares come back?”
“They’re not nightmares,” Sam said. “They’re visions. I get that now. They’ve been trying to tell me something. Warn me.” Sam took a step forward. “About you.”
“Sam,” Brady swallowed. “Buddy, you need help. Trust me, I’ve been there.”
“Stop.” Sam said. “Just tell me the truth. What did you put in my drink?”
“Espresso, you fucking freak.” Brady pushed Sam’s shoulder, hard, sending him stumbling back a step. “Guess some people really do crack in college,” he muttered.
Sam, pulse pounding in his ears, stepped forward and shoved him against the wall, pinning Brady’s chest under his forearm. “Stop lying to me.”
“Fine,” Brady said, mouth curling into a grin as his eyes flipped solid black.
Startled, Sam loosened his hold, and Brady broke free. He thrust out his hand and an invisible force slammed into Sam’s chest, lifted him, until he was sliding up the wall.
Brady walked closer, leering up at him.
“You get one guess, law boy, just one.”
“Let me go,” Sam said.
“Wrong answer.” Brady stretched his fingers wider and Sam’s back scraped against the plaster as he was lifted another two feet. The top of his head banged against the ceiling. “Feels a little different when you’re the one being tossed around, doesn’t it?” Brady laughed, sharp and low.
“You said you liked it,” Sam said, angry at himself for the flush of shame running up his cheeks.
“No, I said you liked it. And you do, don’t you? You didn’t want to stop. Even after what happened with Jess.”
“Shut up,” Sam snarled.
“You got off on the power. You wanted more.” Brady reached into his pocket and pulled out a switchblade, flipping it open with one practiced snap of his wrist. “You still want more.”
Sam couldn’t take his eyes off the gleaming metal. Knew its trajectory even before Brady brought it up towards his own throat, and sliced it across his carotid, leaving a vibrant trail of red behind. “Well, here’s more.”
The aching need in Sam intensified, growing a thousandfold and his mouth went from bone dry to welling with drool.
“It’s all yours, Sam, if you can get back down.”
“You fed me—” Sam fought to get the words out, past the pounding in his head, past the agony in his veins, “—your blood?”
Brady nodded, and more blood spilled down his neck, pooling near his collarbone, soaking into his shirt. He grabbed hold of the stained fabric and pulled it away from his skin, walked closer, until he was right under Sam, and the smell—God, the smell.
Sam reached for him, tried to will himself down, but he was stuck. Too weak, too desperate to figure out how to break free of Brady’s hold. Blood began to trickle from his nose, and the pain in his temples grew blinding.
Eyes still beetle-black, Brady looked up at Sam with hooded lids and slowly, deliberately ran a finger over the oozing cut, coating it with blood. Then he brought it up to his lips and slid it inside his mouth, his eyes never leaving Sam’s.
"Why are you doing this to me?" Sam asked, plaintively. The last of his anger left him then, and he felt deflated. Beaten. All he wanted now was an answer. No matter how terrible.
"Because if I don't do this... If I don't get you ready, then when the time comes, you fail, Sam," Brady said, and the sorrow in his voice seemed genuine. "You fail. That's what these visions are trying to show you."
Sam wanted to say something. To tell Brady why he was full of shit, but he couldn't. Everything Brady had just said was true. Sam knew it in his bones.
"You're not strong enough to stop it," Brady continued. "Nobody is. Nobody who cares, anyway. So either you step up now, and keep him from breaking through, or this happens and all that blood, all those deaths will be on your hands."
Brady's words echoed in Sam's head, reverberating, bouncing endlessly down a metal pipe. "Him? I don't understand."
"Of course, you don't," Brady spat out the last word. "You can't see the future the way some of us can, can't feel the inevitability of it." Brady walked closer, his black eyes two endless pools. "I can smell our extinction on the air. Not just humans." He pointed to himself. "Demons too. Monsters. Everything. Lucifer rises and we all die. All of us. And I can't have that."
"You've got a lot to learn, Sam," Brady said. "And I can teach you. But it won't be pretty. None of this is." Brady cocked his head to the side. "People will get hurt. But you'll save the lives of millions."
Sam ignored the tears streaming down his cheek, the salty taste of them on his lips. He shook his head. "I can't do this."
Brady gave him a hard look, blinked the black from his eyes and straightened. "Then we're all dead." He flicked his fingers and let Sam drop, unceremoniously to the floor. "If you grow a pair, you know where to find me. Otherwise, don't bother." And without another word, Brady left, slamming the door behind him.
In the end, the decision was easier than he'd thought it would be. The visions were relentless, became all that Sam could see, regardless of whether he was awake or dreaming. He did call Dean after one particularly bad night, but he got his voicemail, and just the sound of his voice: alive and not in agony, being torn apart by Hellhounds—Sam had seen them clearly enough to understand what they were now—was enough. By the time he finished leaving his message, he'd already made up his mind.
The Last Drop was open, and it was the middle of the night. It looked empty, but Sam knew better. He could sense them inside. Two of them. They looked human, but weren't.
Sam sat at the table by the window, his usual spot, and waited for Brady to sit across from him. It didn't take long.
Brady didn't say a word. He just watched Sam with his black soulless eyes.
At the counter, Ruby waited, with a knowing smirk.
"Get me a coffee," Sam said. "And then tell me everything."
Sam slows his pace, pushes the treadmills buttons, lowering the speed to a walk. He still has energy to burn, even after doing a full free–weight circuit earlier. It's a good day. He’d gotten his LSAT results: 178, easily good enough to get into any law school of his choosing, and Brady was planning a special dinner for him to celebrate. Their new home, off-campus, was a nice, discreet little house. They’d get something bigger soon enough. For now it was plenty, and it gave them the privacy they needed.
The juice bar’s got a new employee, who smiles wide at Sam’s approach. “Your usual, sir?”
The attendant reaches under the counter, into the fridge and brings out a shake: strawberry frozen yoghurt and a winding coil of a much darker shade of red.
Sam reaches for his wallet with one hand, and grabs the shake with the other.
“It’s on the house,” the demon says, his eyes glinting black, “my king.”
Smiling, Sam drinks deep and lets the tickle of sulfur and power chase away his aches and the last few traces of his guilt.