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SPN fic: "Ride the Lightning"

Fandom: Supernatural
Rating: PG-13
Length: 7,300 words
Genre: Gen case-fic
Spoilers: Mild spoilers for seasons 1 & 2
Author's Notes: Thanks to my betas, thevinegarworks and Steven. All feedback, including critical commentary, is greatly appreciated.
Disclaimer: Sam, Dean, and the concept of Supernatural belong to Kripke. Any character's resemblance to actual professors, fraternity brothers, or jocks at the UW is purely coincidental.
Summary: An investigation of some unusual electrical storms in Seattle leads the Winchesters undercover in a gay fraternity.

‘We would’ve made it to Seattle in twenty-five hours, if Sammy didn’t drive like a girl on his stretch.’

Sam sat with his laptop in a booth in the student union, the Hub. It was almost empty, just a few bright-eyed early birds and their shambling, coffee-seeking night owl brethren. Dean was slumped down across the table from him, head cushioned on his left arm. Dean’s right arm was stretched out, fingertips just touching his cell phone, ready for Ash’s call.

Sam slipped the cell phone towards him and hooked it up to the laptop. With a few quick button pushes, he changed the ring-tone alarm from ‘Enter Sandman’ to ‘Mr. Sandman.’ He slid the cell phone back into position.

Dean didn’t stir. A spate of unusual electrical storms in the area had inspired a drive straight through from San Antonio to Seattle. They’d followed the painted lines up the highway north through the night. Dawn light streaming in through the passenger window had woken Sam up and they’d traded off for a few hours so Dean could get some sleep. Finally they’d turned west into the sunset and followed the I-90 all the way to the Puget Sound. They’d made the drive in good time, just under twenty-seven hours. Ash was predicting overcast skies, highs in the 50’s, and major demonic activity.

Sam examined the University of Washington website, looking for the best professor to approach for information about the recent ball lightning sightings. Sam needed someone with expertise in the field. Somebody with a gift and passion for explaining what he knew to the uninitiated.

There. Dr. Sanfield was an associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences. She was in her 40’s, with research interests in mesoscale meteorology, remote sensing, and computer modeling of precipitation microphysics. She also taught an “Introduction to Atmospheric Sciences” class for non-majors that had been rated an impressive 4.6 out of 5 by former students. She even had office hours this morning.

Now for a cover story. Professors were always more willing to talk to an eager young student in their discipline, but Sam didn’t have the hard science background to pull that off over a long discussion. In Law, History, Psychology, and Anthropology he could pass for a grad student. But not meteorology. Maybe a BS in Forest Resources, shopping for a good climatology grad program? Yeah, he could pull that off with a few more minutes to study up.

Sam reached out and tapped Dean on the shoulder. Dean sat up and looked around, rubbing his eyes.

“Any leads?” he asked gruffly, reaching across the table for Sam’s latte.

“There’s a Professor Sanfield we can go see at 10am, and –“

Dean had taken a gulp of the coffee. He was sitting frozen, eyebrows crawling upwards while the rest of his face crumpled in disgust. He pointed at the coffee cup.

“Blueberry?” Dean said, voice breaking. “Really?”

Sam shrugged. “It’s Seattle. Gotta blend with the natives.”

Dean pushed the grande cup back across the table, pulled out a stick of gum from his pocket, unwrapped it, and popped it in his mouth. Dean grimaced. “Even worse with mint,” he complained. He shook his head and straightened up, chewing energetically. “Anything else besides the professor?”

“Yeah. The ball lightning occurrences seem to center around a frat house just off-campus, Delta Lambda Phi. “

“Excellent. We gonna move in, be fraternity brothers from Ohio again? That’d stretch this batch of credit cards.”

“California,” Sam corrected absently, posting to the MySpace page he’d created for the occasion. “I’ve already inserted us in the fraternity’s national database. One thing, though.” Sam saved his work and closed the laptop, focusing on Dean. “The frat’s, uh,” he rushed forward. “It’s for gay men. Well, for ‘gay, bisexual, and progressive men.’”

Dean peered at him, obviously setting all of his still-sleepy brain to deciding if this was a joke. “Gay frat? Didn’t know they had those.”

“Since the 80’s,” Sam informed him.

“Okay,” Dean said, rotating his shoulders. Dean had a whole set of little exercises to limber up in a tight space. Came in handy when they slept in the car. “You still got that pink t-shirt?”

“No, that swamp monster in Florida got slime all over it, remember? Smelled so bad, you wouldn’t let me in the Impala until I took it off.”

“Right,” Dean said, grinning a little at the memory. “Well, we still might have some beads in the glove compartment from Mardi Gras.”

Sam’s mind produced images of a whole series of outrageous outfits he could get Dean to wear, from spandex to taffeta, Village People to Priscilla Queen of the Desert-chic. He was seriously tempted for a minute, but managed to resist the call of the dark-side. “We don’t really have to dress up for this gig, Dean. I mean, it won’t be the first time people have mistaken us for a couple.”

Dean shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “We’re going in as a couple?”

“Well, we don’t have to,” Sam amended. “We could just be friends, or even brothers, travelling together. But …”

Sam thought about the best way to put this. Dean was pretty. He attracted attention just by walking into a room. Plus he didn’t have the best social skills. Dean only interacted with people when he wanted something: a cheeseburger, a blowjob, some information. And sometimes he got his wires crossed. Even Sam couldn’t always tell if Dean was intentionally flirting when they were interviewing a witness or ordering dinner. A bunch of guys in a gay frat probably wouldn’t be too shy about expressing their interest, and Sam would rather avoid the inevitable fistfight.

“… this way you can defend my virtue,” Sam finished.

Dean rolled his eyes. “Whatever, princess.”

*****

‘I can unscramble porn channels using some basic tools, a busted digital watch and an empty beer can. It’s a gift.’

They left Dr. Sanfield’s office with a brochure about the ‘UDub’ grad program in Atmospheric Sciences, a handful of journal articles to look up, and a helping of scorn for the Wikipedia entry on ball lightning. Dr. Sanfield had also passed on some technical specs on equipment used to detect the kind of charge ball lightning would require. And once Dean understood how to detect it, he could put together a gizmo to help track it, maybe even ground the energy.

The first EMF meter was built 50 years ago, in response to a mass haunting in Galveston, Texas. It weighed over two tons and required its own generator. Five years ago Dad bought a portable EMF meter from this mad scientist-type, a terrified physicist who’d once been on the wrong side of a vengeful spirit. The guy worked out of a basement lab at MIT, surrounded by protective charms and concentric circles of salt. The EMF meter cost $950.

And then Dean had built his own EMF meter out of a walkman, while Sam was away at Stanford. Based on some comments Ash had made, that shouldn’t even be possible. But the thing worked. Dean had a way with machines, could make them sit up and beg. Someday Dean would stroke the Impala’s dashboard, reassure her, and Sam wouldn’t even be surprised when she talked back.

Dean pulled out a duffle from the back seat of the car and poked through it. “Could use paper,” he muttered to himself. “Nah, it might get wet.” Finally he looked up at Sam. “I’ll need to run to Radio Shack for this, get a decent capacitor. Glass, maybe mica. Want to check out the frat first?”

****

‘I’m kind of disappointed. I figured a gay frat would be wild. These guys are, like, little Sams.’

The Delta Lambda Phi fraternity house was off-campus, in a quiet neighborhood. It fit the frat’s squeaky-clean reputation. Sam hadn’t found a single complaint or mysterious incident associated with the house, until the ball lightning occurrences last week. The lawn was neatly mowed, the house a tidy white two-story trimmed in golden-rod. Sam picked it out from the neighbors’ houses by the three Greek letters over the door and an excessive amount of lawn furniture on the front porch.

They stood on the porch for a minute. Sam reached over, grabbed Dean’s shoulder, and pulled him in for a hug. Dean shot him a dirty look.

“Gotta sell it, man,” Sam murmured. Dean sighed but stayed close, with an arm around Sam’s hip. When they knocked, the door was opened by a guy with short spiked black hair, wire rim glasses, jeans, and a smile.

“Hi, I’m Sam Allen and this is my partner Dean Wyms. We’re your frat brothers from California.”

“Hey,” the man said, taking a few steps back and peering up at Sam. “I’m Zach, the chapter president. Come on in.”

Turned out the frat had a room open, and no problem with some frat brothers crashing there for a week or two, on a break from their road trip. Sam offered to pay for the room.

“No need,” Zach said. “Just pitch in for groceries while you’re here, and we’ll call it even.”

Zach gave them a quick tour of the house. Dean had the EMF meter tucked in his pocket, a single bud in his ear to pick up any squeal. Zach introduced them to Shawn, a tall blond who talked non-stop from the moment they walked into his room until they left.

“ADHD,” Zach confided. “And he gets excited when he meets new people. He slows down a bit once he gets to know you.”

“Really?” asked Dean skeptically.

“Well, a little bit.”

They also met Wei, a shy sophomore who wore button-down shirts. “We’ve got three other brothers staying here right now,” Zach said. “And a few more that live on-campus or with friends. They’ll all be around this weekend, so you can meet everybody.”

After they finished the tour, Dean gave a quick head shake. No EMF.

Zach explained apologetically that only residents with a special parking permit could park in the neighborhood, and gave them directions to some garages in the district where they could leave the car during their stay. He offered to help them bring their stuff in and set-up the room, but didn’t seem bothered when they turned him down.

Sam and Dean brought in their usual duffels and one extra bag of supplies. Things that would be useful, but not too incriminating. The house was quiet. Sam wondered out loud where the guys had gone. He and Dean exchanged a look, and then started searching. Finally they heard quiet voices behind Zach’s closed door. Sam pressed close to the door and listened.

“- think you can handle a major summoning ritual?”

Sam stepped back and jerked his thumb towards their room.

“They’re gearing up for a major summoning ritual, don’t know what kind,” he said, shoving a blessed iron knife and an extra clip of silver rounds into his pockets. The EMF meter started chirping away on Dean’s bed.

“I’ve got holy water in my flask,” Dean told him. “Want me to grab a shotgun with rock salt from the car?”

Sam hesitated. “No. No way to conceal it.”

“Then let’s get moving,” Dean said, tossing Sam the box of Morton’s iodized they used for drawing salt lines. “The earlier we interrupt the ritual, the less chance it has of releasing whatever they’re summoning.”

They ghosted down the hallway and paused outside Zach’s room.

“Oh, fuck,” someone yelled, panicky, from inside.

Dean slammed open the door.

Zach, Wei, and Shawn were sitting on the bed with a pile of books and papers. They looked up as Sam and Dean barreled into the room.

“Oh, hey guys,” Zach said. From the tone of his voice, he was trying hard not to laugh. “Did you need a hand? We were going to work through our White Wolf campaign, but I think Shawn here just accidentally wiped out the Eastern Seaboard.”

“You are so screwed,” Wei said gleefully to Shawn.

Sam edged closer to the bed. There were no runes, chalices, herbs, sacrificial daggers, or binding symbols. Instead, Shawn had some dice in front of him. He’d rolled five 1’s and a 2.

“That bad a roll shouldn’t even be possible,” moaned Shawn.

“Sure it’s possible,” said Wei. “One in six to the power of five possible. Six times six times six-”

Shawn shoved Wei off the bed. Wei lay on the carpet snickering.

“We’ll just, uh, leave you guys to your game, then,” Sam said.

“What’s with the salt?” Zach asked.

Sam looked down at the box of salt in his hand.

Dean smirked. “Sam thought you guys were doing body shots in here.”

Sam elbowed him, opened his mouth, and couldn’t come up with anything better. He turned and left.

Back in the room, Dean said, “So, the game’s a gateway magic thing, like Ouija boards?”

Sam shook his head. “I don’t think so. Some of Jess’ friends played, back at Stanford. Seemed pretty harmless.”

“Well, something was sparking off some low-level EMF there. Still, good news, Sam – we’ve found some guys that are even bigger dorks than you.”

****

‘We should stick some razor wire on the edge of one of those Frisbees. It’d make an awesome edged distance weapon.’

There was an old charcoal grill on the front porch of the frat house. It reminded Sam of the summer after he turned 15. They’d spent a month squatting in a recently un-haunted house in Alabama that didn’t even have electricity; just an outhouse, an ice box in the kitchen and a grill out back. Dad had been away hunting nix along the coast. Sam had been hungry pretty much the whole time, aching and whining his way through a growth spurt. Dean had somehow managed to keep him fed.

Pastor Jim had always claimed that you could get anything, from wild beasts to wild boys, to trust you by feeding it, so he and Dean announced they were throwing a barbeque to thank the guys at the frat for letting them crash while they were in town. They got directions to the nearest grocery store, Radio Shack, and Kinko’s.

They wandered a few streets over to find an older model car they could open with a wire, and snagged the parking permit. An hour later they returned it, put their new parking pass in the Impala’s window, parked it a few blocks away, and delivered bags full of supplies to the frat’s kitchen.

Dean took control of the grill that evening, cooking up hamburgers, hotdogs, and garden burgers ‘For any pussies that refuse to admit they’re at the top of the food chain.’ The guys plowed through the food and a few six-packs of beer, hanging out on the deck chairs, the front steps, the grass, chatting about nothing that mattered as the sun settled lower in the sky. Sam worked ‘Christo’ into his conversations, but got no reactions. It was mellow, like his first summer at Stanford, but better, with Dean at his side.

They drifted into a twilight game of Ultimate Frisbee. Dean didn’t know the rules, but he picked them up fast. He played with all the grace, speed and instinct that had saved their lives on a hundred hunts. This time it was just for fun. Pretty soon Zach, Tyler, Shawn and Wei teamed up against Sam and Dean. Dean threw the Frisbee to him, high and fast. Zach and Wei both leaped to intercept it. Sam reached up from behind them, using every bit of his reach advantage, and snagged the Frisbee from the air for the winning point.

Zach landed and spun around, hair a sweaty mess, mouth agape. “No way, man! No fair.”

“That’s what happens when you screw with Gigantor,” Dean crowed triumphantly from the other side of the lawn.

Zach and Wei exchanged a look, then tackled Sam to the ground. The other guys piled on. Sam let it happen, squirming away from a knee too close to his crotch, and then tensed up, listening for Dean’s reaction. Dean let out a war whoop and threw himself on top of the pile, offering helpful hints about where Sam was most ticklish.

For the first time in a while, Sam let himself hope that maybe there was a way out. Maybe, after they killed the Yellow-Eyed Demon, Dean would let Sam talk him out of hunting, settle down somewhere, and just live.

****

‘Just what Sammy needs. More freaky dreams.’

Sam was running through a dark forest, sprinting empty-handed, desperately trying to catch the monster he caught glimpses of through the ancient trees. Brush snagged at his jeans. He almost fell, caught himself on a painfully rough-barked trunk, and forced himself to move a little faster. If he caught the monster, something bad would happen. But if he didn’t, it would be so much worse.

Golden light flooded the forest and he skidded to a stop. Sam was standing in a field of tall grasses blowing in a gentle wind. The sky was a perfect clear blue. In the distance was the gray silhouette of a mountain.

Something was behind him, breathing deep and heavy. As it stepped closer, it cast a shadow over Sam.

“YOU,” it said, sounding like the brass section of an orchestra trying to form words. “WHY YOU HERE?”

“I don’t know. It’s just a dream,” Sam told it calmly.

“HERE.” And now Sam could see a house, the frat, dimly in the sunlight.

“YOU HARM?” Firelight flickered in an upper window of the house. Hint of sulfur on the breeze. Bad memories uncurled in the back of Sam’s mind.

“No. If the house, or the guys in it, are in danger, it’s not from us. We’re here to help.” It was slowly penetrating that this wasn’t just a dream. Sam started fighting to wake up.

“- up, Sam!” Dean was speaking to him in the low, intense voice he used when there was no point in shouting.

“Dean?” Sam opened his eyes. They snapped shut automatically, brilliant after-images dancing on the back of his eyelids.

A sudden burst of ozone, and the room went dark.

“You okay?” Dean asked urgently.

Sam squinted up at him. He could barely see through the bright purple blob in the center of his vision, but his peripheral was okay. Dean was a dark shape by his bed. “Umm, yeah, I think so,” Sam replied.

Dean fumbled at the wall near the door and turned the overhead light on. He shoved his knife back under his pillow and sank to a seat on his bed. “So, I vote we cross ‘natural phenomenon’ off the list.”

“What happened?”

“That ball lightning thing was hovering over you, couple inches from your face,” Dean told him.

“I think it was trying to communicate with me through my dreams,” Sam said.

Dean made a face. “Awesome. What’d you find out?”

Sam reached for the fading fragments of the dream. “Not much. It was asking why we’re here. I think it’s trying to protect this house, or the people in it.”

“Huh.” Dean grabbed the salt out of the bag, started a salt line by the door. “Maybe it’s some kind of guardian spirit, thinks we’re a threat?” he said over his shoulder.

“Maybe,” Sam said, “but … it didn’t sound human.”

They finished the salt lines, drew a few protective runes over the door and windows with a black Sharpie, and went back to sleep.

****

‘The colored marshmallows taste nasty. But anything that can gross Sam out first-thing in the morning? Totally worth it.’

The tinny, cheerful opening bars of ‘Mr. Sandman’ penetrated Sam’s sleep. Repeated. Repeated again. And again, louder this time. Just when he thought he might have to do something about that, Dean sat up, grabbed his cell phone, and collapsed back down on his bed.

“Fuck,” Dean said, in a sleep-slurred voice. “I thought there was an ice cream truck sitting outside. Bitch.”

“Jerk,” Sam responded automatically.

“Where do you even find a ring-tone like that?” Dean complained.

“The internet’s not just for porn,” Sam said, getting up and grabbing some clothes. “I’m going for a run, gonna grab the paper. You want anything?”

“Nah,” Dean said from his bed. “I’ll see what I can scrounge up in the kitchen.”

When Sam got back from his run, Dean was sitting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and a bowl of Lucky Charms. His milk had already turned a disturbing blue-green.

“There’s plenty of cereal left,” Dean mumbled around a spoonful.

“I am not eating that,” Sam announced, dumping the Seattle-Times and ‘The Daily’, a free college paper, on the table.

Dean shrugged. “More for me,” he said, chewing with his mouth open. “You always were a picky eater. Oatmeal’s in the cupboard over the stove. Coffee’s in the pot.”

Dean flipped through the college paper while Sam started cooking his oatmeal. “Huh,” he said, a few minutes later.

“Find something?” Sam asked.

“Yeah. Looks like this job just racked up a body count,” Dean said curtly, sliding the paper towards Sam. Even though half their jobs started with an obituary, Dean always took it personally when people died once they were in town.

‘Husky Track Star Killed in Freak Lightning Strike’ read the headline. There was a picture of a young black male with close-cropped hair accepting a trophy while beaming at the camera.

“Yesterday,” Dean said. “Out of a clear blue sky.”

“Does he have any connection with the frat?”

“Not from what I see in the article,” Dean answered.

Shawn came bounding in, wearing boxers and a Madonna t-shirt. “You made coffee? Excellent!”

Dean watched Shawn pour coffee into a Santa Claus mug and take a sip. “Hey, Shawn, do you know this guy, James Robinson?” Dean asked, folding over the paper so only the picture showed and holding it up for Shawn to see.

“Oh, Jimmy Robinson? Guy’s an asshole,” Shawn said immediately. “He and Wei got into a fight at the BigTime Brewery night before last. I heard him and Zach talking about it.”

Sam and Dean exchanged a look. Witch, necromancer, houngan – they’d come across plenty of humans that used the supernatural to do their dirty work.

“I’m going to take a shower,” Dean said quietly under Shawn’s running commentary about his plans for the day. “Warm up the laptop, see what you can find out?”

Sam nodded.

****

‘I just need a little brotherly advice. I mean, Sam’s a college boy, he should know this stuff.’

Sam checked into Wei’s background. There were no lightning strikes, disappearances or mysterious deaths associated with him or his family since they’d moved here from mainland China a decade ago. Sam looked up from the laptop as Dean sidled through the door, wearing only a towel, and closed it carefully behind him.

“You okay?” Sam asked.

“Yeah. Just, uh,” Dean squirmed a little, “Shawn was looking at me.”

Sam fought to keep a straight face. “Well, it was bound to happen. You could always get dressed in the bathroom, if it’s awkward.”

“No, it’s cool, I just … I’m not sure what to do. I mean, if it was a chick looking, I’d strut it a little, give her a smile, maybe a wink. So, for the cover, I’m wondering - do guys do that?”

“Sure. But, Dean, we’re here as a couple. Just because somebody’s looking, doesn’t mean you have to flirt with them.”

Dean looked vaguely offended. “Of course I do! Let’s say you see a girl, and she’s hot. I’m not talking a perfect ten, maybe, but a nice smile, or a good rack, or a sexy way of walking, or something. So you flirt. It’s like, ‘I’m hot, you’re hot, we’d be hot together.’ It’s a compliment. Chicks dig that.”

“Not all of them,” Sam countered, thinking of a particular woman in San Antonio who had thrown a drink in Dean’s face.

“No, not all of them, ‘cause some girls are freaks. But that’s what I’m talking about. Some guy I’m sharing a house with whistles at me, and I ignore it? That’s pretty cold. I just don’t want to be writing checks I can’t cash, here.”

Sam nodded along, wondering if Dean was suggesting a check scam to supplement their cash, and then stopped, his attention fixed on a new detail. “Wait – he whistled?”

“Um …” Dean’s eyes darted left, then right. “Yeah?”

Sam carefully saved his notes, powered down the laptop, and stood up.

“… foot off the gas there, man,” Dean was saying, “I can handle it.”

“No, it’s fine,” Sam said, voice coming from deep in his chest. “You get dressed. I’ll go talk to Shawn.”

Dean stood in front of the door, re-wrapping his towel where it threatened to slip off his hips. “Remember what that crazy 3rd grade teacher of yours taught you about fighting, Sammy. ‘Words are for people. Hands are for God.’” Dean folded his hands in prayer and looked heavenward in a dead-on impression of Mrs. Leroux.

Sam started laughing. “Yeah, and you told me to kick Ricky Maynard’s ass.”

Dean grinned and shrugged. “What can I say; I’ve grown as a person.”

******

‘Just when I thought Seattle was going to be no fun at all.’

The spot where James Robinson had died was a lightning-scarred tree marked with flowers, photos, and some astoundingly bad poetry written with a hot-pink pen. There were some residual EMF readings, but nothing useful. Jimmy sounded like an upstanding citizen. No police record, partial scholarship from the track team, 3.2 GPA. They walked from the library to the BigTime Brewery & Alehouse around seven that night and split a decent thin-crust pepperoni pizza before getting down to work.

It was funny watching Dean operate with a handicap. He kept forgetting that he wasn’t supposed to flirt with girls, and then had to turn them down when he remembered. Sam saw him actually stand up to dump a curvaceous little blonde who had settled on his lap. Dean’s strained, “Sorry, honey, not interested,” carried through a lull in the bar noise, as did the slap that followed.

Sam brought up the fight between Wei and Jimmy Robinson over a few games at the shuffleboard table, but nobody seemed to know anything about it. Sam won $80. It wasn’t even a hustle, since he really had never played before. He sat down at a table rather than risk pushing his luck – they might need to come back here tomorrow, ask more questions. Dean was talking to the bartender, a rangy woman wearing two tank-tops, no bra, and deep red lipstick. The woman looked over at Sam, met his eyes with a predatory smile, and said something to Dean.

Dean trotted over with two draft beers and slid into the chair across from him. “Here, try the Pale Ale, they brew it on-site.”

Sam tried a sip. It was good, light and not too yeasty.

“So, Tessa, the bartender, she’s got some good info, but that chick will not take no for an answer.” Dean said, staring into his beer, words spilling out one over the other. “I told her I wasn’t interested. She said I was lying. I told her I’m gay. She said she likes a challenge. I told her I’ve got a jealous boyfriend,” Dean jerked his chin at Sam. “And she said you were invited.”

There was a short, hopeful pause.

“No,” Sam said. “We are not having a threesome with the bartender.”

“Right, knew you’d say that,” Dean said. “Plus, it’d be weird. I’ll be right back.”

Dean walked back to the bartender. Sam saw an apologetic shrug and a gesture back at him. Tessa laughed. They talked for another minute. Tessa scrawled something down on a piece of paper and handed it to Dean, who shoved it in his pocket.

Dean came back, biting his lip. He smacked Sam on the shoulder. “Come on, man, let’s get out of here. If I have to turn down any more hot college-girl pussy, I’m gonna jinx myself.”

When they got outside the air had a cold, damp bite to it. Somewhere, away from the Pacific, it was snowing. The sidewalk was busy with college students and citizens.

“Tessa threatened to call the cops on Jimmy Robinson two nights ago,” Dean explained. “Seems he was getting loud and obnoxious with a little Asian guy, yelling about his sins. It turned into a shoving match before she shut them down. But here’s the good part. Tessa said the reason it surprised her so much, was that last year she used to see those two guys in there together all the time. They were friends.”

It got quieter as they stepped off the main street, into an area full of tall concrete office buildings that probably closed at five.

Dean slung an arm over Sam’s shoulder and whispered, “Two on our six, two on our nine, and a couple of guys just snuck into that alley up ahead.”

“I saw them,” Sam confirmed quietly. “You carrying?”

“Of course,” Dean said. “Bar fight rules unless something freaky happens.”

As they approached the alley, two jocks stepped out from the alley under the streetlight.

“What have we got here,” a guy with no-neck and a Huskies jacket drawled. “Couple of he-shes from Delta Lambda Fag?”

Dean turned around slowly, getting a good look at the six men surrounding them. Sam caught sight of his shit-eating grin as Dean murmured, “And it’s not even my birthday.”

“They were asking about Jimmy,” said a bleach-blond in a leather jacket behind them. He’d lost $20 to Sam at shuffleboard.

“That’s right,” Sam called out. He had to try. “We were wondering, did you notice anything unusual going on with Jimmy over the past few days?”

“Ain’t respectful,” the alpha jock in front of them said, “Jimmy’s name coming out of that dirty cock-sucking mouth.”

“Why?” Dean challenged, rolling his neck. “There something else you’d rather put in there?”

Sam slotted in against Dean’s back. “Thought you’d grown as a person?” he muttered.

“What,” Dean said as the pack of jocks rushed them. “Those were words.”

It took about three minutes for them to put the college kids on the ground and convince them to stay there. Bar fight rules and no one had pulled a weapon, so there were no broken bones. None of them would even need stitches. Well, except maybe the bleach-blond. He really didn’t know how to take a fall.

Dean nudged the guy in the Huskies jacket, lying curled into a fetal position on the ground, with the toe of his boot. There was a low groan. “More man than you’ll ever be, Honey Buns.”

He strutted off down the street. Sam caught up a few steps later.

“So, that was fun,” Dean said. “Why don’t you head back to the house, see if Zach’s back yet? He might know more about this fight between Wei and Jimmy. I’m going to go check on the car, maybe move her so she doesn’t attract too much attention.”

“Uh-huh,” Sam said, watching Dean jingle his keys to some fast, loud song in his head. “You know, we’ve probably taken out all of the neighborhood’s roving gay-bashers already.”

“Never know,” Dean said with a grin. “I could get lucky.”

*****

‘Gun cleaning? Way better than that self-help yoga crap.’

Sam turned the handle to get into the room. It was locked.

“Just a second!” Dean called out.

Was he jerking off in there, or … Sam put his nose near the doorframe, sniffed, and grinned. Break-Free CLP, Dean’s favorite gun oil. “It’s me,” Sam said, pulling out his key.

Sam carefully closed and locked the door behind him. Dean gave a cheerful nod from where he sat on the bed with a big towel full of guns, rods, patches, rags, and of course the oil.

Dad had always viewed gun cleaning as an important duty. ‘Take care of your weapons, and they’ll take care of you.’ Dean had taken on the job as soon as his chubby little fingers were long and strong enough to twist the trigger assembly out of a Ruger. Dean was always looking for ways to help Dad out after a hunt.

But in Dean’s hands, gun-cleaning wasn’t a chore, it was a game. He cleaned guns blind-folded, left-handed, with fingers taped down to simulate injuries. He perfected a weird one-handed spin-shake to remove the extractor from his Colt. Sam had timed him in countless exercises across the lower 48. At first, Dad had been pissed that Dean wasn’t taking weapons-cleaning seriously, but the guns were always, always in perfect shape when Dean was done with them.

Dean started using Break-Free CLP when he was 15. He’d spent weeks wearing Dad down, reading off specs, reviews, and lab test results. Salt-spray tests, friction coefficients, temperature ranges. Dad finally conceded it was worth a try over their usual 3-in-1 oil and WD40. From that moment on, they always had a gallon of the stuff in the trunk. The scent of it sank into motel carpets and furnished apartment drapes, into their clothes, into their skin and hair. It steamed off of them in the shower. The night Dean broke into his apartment at Stanford, Sam’s body had known he was sparring before he did, the smell of Break-Free CLP a lizard-brain reminder of home.

“So I talked to Zach,” Sam said. “Not only were Jimmy and Wei friends. They were room-mates last year as freshmen, really close. Jimmy supported him when he rushed the frat last spring. They kept in touch over the summer, but hadn’t talked much since school started up again.”

Dean grunted, easing the Colt’s slide back into place and wiping his hands clean. “So, could be Jimmy got religion over the summer. Or just some latent asshole gene,” he said, playing Devil’s advocate.

“Maybe,” Sam said. “But that extreme a personality change? Could be our kind of thing. Also, Zach recognized my description of some of the guys that tried to jump us. They’re sharing a house with Jimmy off-campus. We could check it out tomorrow, during the Memorial service.”

“Sure. Unless Wei’s planning on-”

“No, Zach says Wei’s pretty broken up, between the fight and Jimmy’s death. He doesn’t want to stir up trouble at the Memorial.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Dean agreed. “Want me to clean your 9mm for you?”

Sam pulled the Taurus out from where it was tucked into the small of his back and tossed it to Dean. Dean caught it, ejected the clip, and pulled back on the slide. When the extra round popped out, Dean snapped it out of the air before it could hit the bed, the Winchester version of jacks. Then Dean started stripping down the Taurus with leisurely movements.

That had changed in the years Sam was away. Dean still loved to clean the guns. But he didn’t race anymore. He took it slowly, like a pleasure to be savored.

“While I’m doing this, you can touch up the protective runes and fix my ring-tone,” Dean said. “Fuck if I want to wake up like that again.”

Sam wasn’t sure if Dean was referring to ‘Mr. Sandman’ or the ball lightning, but he took care of both. When Dean finished with the guns, he put a device that looked like an old portable TV set next to Sam’s bed. When he plugged it in, it flickered twice and then emitted a deep, reassuring hum. It made for a decent lullaby.

*****

‘I swear, college turns people into idiots. Luckily, Sam was already an idiot, so he’s immune.’

Jimmy Robinson’s house was definitely a student rental. There was peeling paint, duct tape holding the rain gutter together, and a patchy lawn studded with broken beer bottles and a moldy old couch.

“Our house is way nicer,” Dean said. Sam found himself agreeing.

Dean covered him while Sam picked the lock. Then they were inside. They searched the house, quick and thorough. Something was rotting in the fridge. There was no evidence of rituals, and no sulfur, but the place was lousy with cold spots and low-level EMF. It felt dark, even with sunlight trembling through the windows. Claustrophobic. The house creaked and groaned around them.

“Hard to believe anybody would voluntarily live in a place this haunted,” Sam said.

“College kids,” Dean said with a shrug. “We could torch the place,” he offered.

Sam made a face at him.

“Just putting it out there.” Dean flicked his lighter.

“Dean, not every supernatural problem can be solved with arson.”

“No, but lots of them can.”

“Research. We need to research the house, see what spirit is behind this.”

“Fine,” Dean sighed. “But if we have to come back here and burn it down anyway, you’re the one has to pry the assholes out of their cozy little haunted house.”

An afternoon split between Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development and the library revealed that the house had been built in the ‘60’s and purchased by Elmore Johnson. Elmore was a bit of a loner, never married, but was known for his donations to the more conservative local churches. He’d died from an over-dose of sleeping pills eight years ago, and the house had passed into the hands of his nephew, an absentee landlord who lived in San Francisco.

“Seriously, what more do we need here, Sam? A letter scrawled in the guy’s blood, proclaiming vengeance on gays?”

“No, I think it’s pretty solid. Johnson’s buried at the Calvary Cemetery across town.”

“So, salt-and-burn tonight?”

“It’s a date.”

****

‘Sometimes I just get this crazy urge to tell somebody the truth.’

It was just after ten at night when Sam went looking for Dean. He finally heard Dean’s voice coming from Wei’s room. “So how’d that go?”

“It was …” Wei paused. “Pretty bad, at first. Not in a loud, screaming way. My parents are traditional, you know? They expected certain things from their eldest son. But my sister was great, and my folks just invited me up for the Spirit Festival, so I think things are getting better. How about you? How’d your parents take it, when you came out?”

Sam had been about to step in, but instead he waited, curious to see what Dean came up with. Dean was great with a quick lie. In Salt Lake City a poltergeist threw Dean face-first into a wall. He insisted on going out afterwards, with bruises blossoming across his face. Sam had watched Dean introduce himself to women in the bar as a stock car driver, firefighter, rodeo clown, bull fighter, and crash test dummy. But he’d always been careful not to let people get too close when they were kids, and avoided the kind of plausible, long-term, almost-truths that let Sam pass for normal at Stanford.

The silence stretched.

“I never did.” Dean said abruptly. “Mom died when I was little. Dad took it hard.” Each short sentence sounded gruff, like it was fighting to get out of Dean’s throat. “It was just me, Dad, and my little brother. I had my role in the family, my job, and I was good at it. It wasn’t … wasn’t worth causing trouble over. And Dad, a few months ago he, so I guess it ...”

Sam, feeling self-conscious, stepped back towards their room. “Dean?” He yelled out. “Hey, where are you, man? It’s time to get going.”

*****

‘I have a pair of old jeans I use for grave digging. No matter how many times I wash them, the smell of burning corpses never really comes out of the denim.’

The grave was a pain to find in the dark. Johnson’s stone had been set flat into the ground, and the grass was a little over-grown. Pacing back and forth across the entire length of a cemetery with flashlights and shovels at midnight was not Sam’s idea of a good time.

They finally stumbled across it and settled into the back-breaking monotony of grave digging. Dean had a list of charges against him a mile long, but for some reason grave desecration was the only charge on Sam’s record. Dean thought that was funny. The familiar thump of metal against wood announced that they’d found the coffin.

“I’ve got this part,” Dean said. “Cover me in case Elmore gets feisty?”

Sam climbed up out of the grave and stood poised with a shotgun full of rock salt as Dean broke into the coffin. The fetid scent of old corpse drifted towards him. When Sam was twelve, his teacher had explained that the sense of smell worked by chemical analysis of particles of inhaled substances. He’d run out of the class to puke, thinking of all the things he’d smelled.

Sam felt a cold breeze, and then a whisper in his mind. ‘Look at him down there. Full of wicked, filthy desires.’

“Elmore’s here,” Sam warned, looking for a target. “And he doesn’t seem too happy with you.”

“I’m shocked,” said Dean. “And most of the spirits we deal with are so friendly.”

The ghost appeared, a flickering old man in a black suit, and tossed Dean into the side of the grave. Sam took it out with a blast of rock salt and gave Dean a hand up out of the hole.

Dean poured salt and gasoline into the coffin while Sam kept watch. Sometimes they were fast enough that the spirit didn’t have time to reform. Dean lit a match and dropped it. The spirit appeared behind Dean and tried to push him into the grave as the gasoline caught. Sam pulled him back, away from the roaring flames.

The spirit burned into ash with a wail.

“I think that’s my hundredth salt-and-burn,” Dean said eventually. “Let’s get some pie to celebrate.”

*****

‘Awkward. But in a good way.’

Two days later the brothers walked over to Jimmy Robinson‘s house with Wei and a casserole. The house was clean of EMF, and the head asshole, who turned out to be named Cameron, couldn’t quite meet their eyes. The ball lighting hadn’t made any more appearances. Sam suggested to Wei that he might want to be a little more careful with role-playing games, and his family’s traditional festivals and rituals. They left their cell number with Zach, told him to call if anything strange happened. Sam and Dean said their good-byes to the brothers of Delta Lambda Phi. Shawn gave them a 175 gram Frisbee as a going away present. Dean stowed it in the trunk with the weapons.

Then they were back on the road, heading east for a possible werewolf sighting in Idaho. Sam turned down ‘Wherever I May Roam’ and turned sideways to face his brother.

“So, Dean,” Sam took a breath. “Are you into guys?”

The car was quiet for a minute, Dean humming along with the barely audible Metallica.

“Yeah. Sometimes," Dean finally answered. “Haven't really done much about it, but, umm, I might.” His eyes flicked to Sam and then back to the road. “It’s not a big deal.”

“No,” Sam agreed. “But … thanks for telling me, anyway.”

Dean gave a choked-off laugh. “You’re going to go all after-school special over this, aren’t you? Jesus.” He reached out and turned the volume up until the car shook with the bass.

Sam took off his hoodie and rolled it up for a pillow, then settled in for a nap as the Impala slid back and forth through the hairpin turns of a sunlit pass over the Cascade Mountains.

Comments

( 65 comments — Leave a comment )
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garnet_words
Jul. 31st, 2009 12:36 am (UTC)
Awesome! Great case-fic and I love the interaction between the boys. And Sam changing Dean's ringtone (ice cream truck! hee!)
keerawa
Jul. 31st, 2009 03:51 am (UTC)
*grins* Even I would be pissed off, having to wake up to 'Mr. Sandman'. Thanks, garnet_words!
patita_fea
Jul. 31st, 2009 02:13 am (UTC)
Low-key, in-character, and utterly enjoyable. Dean trying to remember not to flirt with women had me giggling, and then there was full-on barking seal laughter when he came back to report to Sam "She said you're invited too."

"Our house is nicer." I dunno why, but I thought this line was just adorable.

Also, I love love loved the overheard conversation between Dean and Wei. This is a portrayal of Dean's sexuality (and Sam's not-a-big-deal understanding of it) that feels to me like it could be canon.

ETA: Sam and Dean kicking the shit out of gay-bashers will never not be awesome.

Edited at 2009-07-31 02:16 am (UTC)
keerawa
Jul. 31st, 2009 04:28 am (UTC)
full-on barking seal laughter
Hah! I'm glad to hear it, had a lot of fun writing that scene. And that Dean's sexuality felt in-character.

Sam and Dean kicking the shit out of gay-bashers will never not be awesome. So true.

I really appreciate the detailed feedback, patita_fea!
ophite68
Jul. 31st, 2009 02:58 am (UTC)
I really liked that the case was a bit multifaceted. I especially liked that it had gay characters and wasn't wincest. There is is enough family dysfunction to justify it, but in this fandom it can be kind of relentless. Also I thought Dean's attitude towards the gay bashers was hilarious, "and its not even my birthday" I also liked the chapter intro quotes.
keerawa
Jul. 31st, 2009 06:15 am (UTC)
I'm a huge fan of the wincest, it just wasn't the story I was telling here. Dean was getting a little antsy with the lack of action there, and those gay bashers provided some good clean fun.

Thanks for mentioning the chapter intro quotes! The story's from Sam's POV, but I felt like I wanted to hear from Dean in there, so the quotes seemed a good way to bring that in.
musesfool
Jul. 31st, 2009 03:02 am (UTC)
I enjoyed this.
keerawa
Jul. 31st, 2009 06:16 am (UTC)
Thanks for letting me know, musesfool!
(Deleted comment)
keerawa
Jul. 31st, 2009 06:18 am (UTC)
*snickers* Thanks, rinkle, glad you had fun with it.
spiritedcretin
Aug. 1st, 2009 12:42 am (UTC)
“Dean, not every supernatural problem can be solved with arson.”

Sam is such a buzz kill. ;)

I really enjoyed this! The brothers are so true to form and the dialog is pitch-perfect. Thanks for sharing your story!
keerawa
Aug. 1st, 2009 02:42 am (UTC)
*laughs* Sam is! Thanks for the comment, spiritedcretin!
msninacat
Aug. 1st, 2009 11:23 am (UTC)
I loved this!! Thank you for taking they recurring gay joke in the series and doing it justice. ♥
keerawa
Aug. 2nd, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks msninacat!
arliss
Aug. 2nd, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, I love this. I miss the "simple" haunting casefiles, and the easy connection between the brothers. Dean's quiet joy in the game he's made of cleaning the guns, how evident you've made his sensual nature: cleaning guns, left-handed, with fingers taped. How difficult it is for him to not flirt.

Sam is a joy here, too, observing and quietly loving Dean not only without judgement but with approval and support as he discovers new aspects to his older brother.

The scene where Dean details why he never came out to his parents feels very true to character. And his affirming his attraction to guys just reinforces how Dean's experience of the world is tactile and sensual.

Beautifully done.
keerawa
Aug. 2nd, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC)
the easy connection between the brothers
Yes, that's exactly what I wanted to explore in this fic.

Oh, Dean's gun-cleaning game. *sighs happily*

I'm glad the story felt true to the characters, and I really appreciate the detailed feedback. Thanks, arliss!
dotfic
Aug. 4th, 2009 12:59 am (UTC)
I really liked this, the interplay between Sam and Dean, the casefile, how they deal with being in a gay frat house but also, being in a place for a few days with frisbee and barbecues . The details of their hunting life and the characterization felt so very like them, and I liked how you wove the what-if of Dean being bi into all that, without it having to be a big thing.
keerawa
Aug. 4th, 2009 02:32 am (UTC)
how they deal with ... being in a place for a few days with frisbee and barbecues Very true, it's certainly not their natural habitat!

I'm pleased that the brothers and the little details felt right to you. Thanks for the feedback, dotfic!
embroiderama
Aug. 6th, 2009 02:00 am (UTC)
This is so very good! I love the case story and the minor revelation about Dean and the way Sam plays everything. Gorgeous!
keerawa
Aug. 6th, 2009 05:47 am (UTC)
Thanks, embroiderama, I'm glad you liked it!
amothea
Aug. 9th, 2009 08:24 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed your story and the character voices were spot on.
keerawa
Aug. 9th, 2009 08:35 am (UTC)
Thank you, amothea, I apprecaite the feedback!
rivkat
Aug. 11th, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
I can't tell you how many lines of this I loved. Also the casefile, and the brothers' rock-solid connection, and Dean as usual trying out his emotions on a stranger before he can reveal anything to Sam. Thanks so much for sharing it!
keerawa
Aug. 11th, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
Hurray! the brothers' rock-solid connection That is what Supernatural is ALL ABOUT, to me, however it plays out. The love, knowledge, and loyalty between the two of them. Thank you, rivkat!
yourlibrarian
Aug. 12th, 2009 10:52 pm (UTC)
Ride the Lightning
I really enjoyed the details in here, such as Dean's gun cleaning, the Frisbee game, and Dean's glee at getting into a fight and wanting more.
keerawa
Aug. 13th, 2009 02:33 am (UTC)
Re: Ride the Lightning
Thank you kindly, those are 3 of my favorite bits as well. There's just something care-free about a game of Ultimate Frisbee.
katiki7
Aug. 20th, 2009 12:25 am (UTC)
I've been looking for a good gen casefile for a while (which in this fandom, can be like looking for a needle in a stack of needles ;)) and was really happy to come across this. The idea of setting a non-Wincest story in a gay environment was great. I loved the character voices, and the dropping in of a line straight from Dean's mind, and all the little details that make the boys who they are.
keerawa
Aug. 20th, 2009 03:30 am (UTC)
Why thank you! I really had fun writing the little Dean comments at the start of each section. I appreciate the feedback, katiki7!
tinzelda
Sep. 22nd, 2009 01:41 pm (UTC)
I liked this! When I read the summary, I went "gay frat? I thought this was gen!" It was an interesting choice. I loved the way you used the situation to display my favorite thing about Dean: smart ass on the outside, achy on the inside. I loved Dean making a game/ritual out of cleaning the guns - this fits so well, his taking comfort from a simple, physical task that he can savor, do a good job with, and know it's taken care of. I always like when the boys visit colleges - I like that Dean gets a glimpse of what Sam experienced when he was in school, so I liked the line where Sam enjoyed hanging because it reminded him of his time at Stanford AND he could have Dean there. Your use of the quotes at the beginning of each section was clever too - it worked really well. The story made me want to watch the show! But alas, I have to work.
keerawa
Sep. 24th, 2009 03:33 am (UTC)
I started working on this story after reading some discussions over at the Queerly Gen community. After all, people are queer even when they're not fucking!

Dean spends a lot of time in canon cleaning guns - it's more than just a chore for him. Stanford + Dean = good times.

Thanks for the feedback, tinzelda!
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