A Cardinal Affair

Chapter 2: Crazy Little Thing


Before he can turn at the sound of his name, the bed creaks as someone climbs up, and a warm body settles in next to him. He tenses.

“Sam?” he whispers.

“Misha,” Sam says again, more quietly this time, and then long arms are wrapping around him, soft lips trailing kisses down the back of his neck, and pulling him flush to his roommate’s well-toned body.

Sam’s hard.

Sam’s hard and rocking into the crack of his ass, and fuck, Misha needs it inside him so badly — he whimpers a little, already half-hard from this mere hint of intent, and when Sam’s hand —God, it’s big enough to hold almost all of him at once— slips into his pajama pants to wrap around his cock, he has to bury his face in his pillow to muffle his cry as his hips jerk involuntarily. Sam nibbles on the shell of his ear and breathes “Love you, Mish; fuck, so beautiful, so good to me” before sucking on an earlobe as the slight calluses on long fingers drag sparks of pleasure over Misha’s sensitive flesh. He’s keening desperately into the pillow, flushed with desire, wet with precum slicking the way for those practiced fingers to glide lightly over his balls, and he nearly comes — they’re so sensitive when he’s aroused.

“Please,” he gasps, begging. For what, he doesn’t even know anymore — he’s so close. “Please.”

And then, Sam is turning him and kissing him deeply as he thumbs his way up the underside of Misha’s cock to the tip, and fuck.

White-hot pleasure sears through him as he comes all over Sam’s hand—

—that isn’t there.

He’s panting, gasping for breath alone in his bed, and he’s never come so hard in his life, but it’s just a dream, and he’ll never really have his roommate—


He quickly twists around and raises himself on his arms to check.

Oh, thank heavens; he’s alone in the room.

Flopping back gracelessly in relief, he checks his cell phone for the time. It’s one in the morning. Sam’s probably still out with Jess. He sighs.

By the time Misha admitted to Vicki that he never got around to “confessing” to Sam, his roommate had already gone on a very enjoyable coffee date with Jess. Coffee led to dinner and then the movies, and by the end of the year, Sam was crashing her family home in San Francisco while working a few seasonal jobs for the holidays. And if Misha wasn’t depressed from just hearing about how wonderful Jess is, he certainly was when he returned to their room one day to find a lovely blonde sitting beside Sam on the bed. He had probably seemed pretty dazed through the introductions.

Jess would have made a great Agent 13.

Misha can’t decide which idea is more crushing — that Sam doesn’t remember what happened, or that Sam merely mistook him for Jessica Moore that night. Either way, he’s already cried in the shower three times over the entire affair —not including the time he ran to Vicki’s to avoid Sam and Jess hanging out in the room, called his mother and ended up breaking down in tears all over again when she asked about his “gorgeous hunk of a sweetheart”— and he’s decided he’s done. It’s time to move on. Jess is good for Sam. She's a nice girl — she bakes great cookies, joins them for runs in the morning, and is always upbeat, sincere and attentive. Heck, she even likes the sweater he knitted for Sam, who actually wears it around. No one wears the sweaters he knits to anything but Ugly Sweater parties. No one. Not even Vicki. No one but Sam, apparently. And Jess thinks it’s cute. He sighs. He and Sam have been the best of friends for months. How hard could it be to just go back to that?

Only it really, really is, and as sexually attracted as Misha suddenly finds himself to Sam, it’s not the lack of physical intimacy that gets to him — it’s the ugly twist of jealousy he feels whenever he sees Sam with Jess, and they do something to make each other smile or laugh like the world is the most beautiful place imaginable. He would never want anything but happiness for Sam, never wish Jess anything but well, but he can’t help wishing it were him instead of her that could make Sam so happy, that could make them both feel so at home. So he runs. Because the ugliness eats him up inside, and he doesn’t want to feel that way, doesn’t want to be that person.

He contemplates taking a shower, but ends up wiping himself down at the sink instead and tossing both the washcloth and his soiled pants into his laundry hamper, because if he showers now, he won't be able to sleep for another couple of hours at least, and he has a long day ahead. He's pulling on a clean pair of shorts when Sam walks in the door, beaming like sunshine and smelling of popcorn and lilies — late night movie with Jess, then.

“Hey,” Sam greets, coming over to ruffle his hair lightly like it's the most natural thing in the world. “What are you doing up? Don't you have five hours of rehearsal after class tomorrow?”

Misha is leaning into the touch before he can stop himself and almost forgets to answer. “Hm? Yeah, I was just about to go to sleep.”

“Think you have time for lunch or dinner tomorrow? I feel like we haven't really hung out in a while,” Sam adds ruefully as he sits down and starts changing, obviously oblivious to how Misha has been avoiding him of late.

“Yeah, you've been busy with Jess,” Misha agrees automatically and regrets it. It's a fact, but it came out with more snark than he'd intended, and now it just sounds like a barb at either Jess or Sam's relationship with her. Oh boy.

Sam's face falls. “I'm sorry it seems that way. It's just... we've both been so busy. I don't see you anymore, even when I'm not with Jess, and I miss you, Mish. I love spending time with you. That hasn't changed. You're still my best friend.”

The words cut so deep, even as they make Misha smile, and he doesn't even know how that can be possible. “Well, you don't work on Sundays anymore, right?”

“Yeah. Different shifts this quarter. Jess does though. To her chagrin.”

Which is precisely the point. “So does Vicki. Want to come volunteer at the soup kitchen with me?”

Sam lights up, his eyes twinkling. “Of course, Mish. I'd love to!” Then he frowns. “Does that mean no on lunch or dinner tomorrow, though?”

And Misha knows he's way too far gone on Sam when the hope in his roommate's eyes immediately has him making time. “Lunch. Half past one, most likely. I'll call you.”

But that's all right. Because it makes Sam smile just the way he does with Jess, and that's worth it. In this moment, it's all for him, and he covets nothing. Sam leaps to his feet in his excitement.

“Great! Then I'll see you tomorrow.”

As Sam heads for the sink, he stops to hug Misha and whisper, “Good night,” and it takes all of Misha's effort not to cling on tightly and never let go. These are his: the hair ruffling, the twinkle in olive eyes, the little things about Sam that only he knows — like the Jason Bourne skills. He sighs again as he climbs back up into his bed.

If only he could be happy with just that.

It’s night, and the city seems at once familiar, yet foreign. He’s walking briskly, and the clack of heels on the asphalt sounds overly loud. He gets that prickly feeling on the back of his head again. It feels like he’s being watched. Or followed. Sam turns, but there’s nothing. Still, he grips his bag more tightly as he walks on, picking up the pace. Home. If he can get home…

Something growls behind him, and he turns.

It’s a large dog, wolf-like, fallow brindle with a black mask. He’s not usually afraid of dogs, but this one is different. It looks wild, feral, drooling and poised to attack, and very clearly interested in him.

He runs. It’s not far. It’s not far, and behind him, he hears the dog start running in pursuit. He can make it. It’s just round the corner, a—


The air is knocked from his lungs when the dog pounces, barreling into his back, and he braces his arms as he falls, dropping his bag. The wooden bangle bruises his wrist as he hits the ground, but the asphalt scraping his skin is worse. He doesn’t get much chance to think about that before pain lances through his neck, and he arches up with a shout.

It’s dark. He can’t see a thing, and the pain is gone. Is this— is he..?



Relief floods through him at the lingering scent of nag champa incense. This is their room. It’s just another nightmare.

He buries his face in his hands, trying to slow his heart rate and breathing. Off to the side, he hears Misha land softly on his bare feet. The desk lamp flickers on, flooding the room with its weak yellow light, and then his best friend is beside him, a grounding hand on his shoulder.

“Hey. Sam, you okay?”

He nods, turning to smile wryly at his roommate. “Sorry I woke you.”

Misha shakes his head, sitting down beside him on the bed. “The alarm goes off in an hour anyway. Bad nightmare?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I—” He stiffens as memory comes rushing back, his blood running cold.

He’s seen that wooden bangle before. There’s only one of it in the world.

Misha carved it himself for his mother’s birthday five years ago, and Rebecca’s never removed it since.


He wraps an arm around his best friend’s waist and leans on Misha. It’s just a nightmare, he tells himself, firmly, just a nightmare, is all. “I dreamed that… that I was attacked by a gigantic wild dog.” He can’t bring himself to acknowledge his realization.

Misha cards fingers through his hair soothingly. “Well, I’m sure a dog big enough to overpower you doesn’t exist, so I wouldn’t worry about that,” he offers with a chuckle.

Sam shakes his head, but says nothing. Oh, if only you knew.

When Misha arrives at the soup kitchen with Sam on Sunday morning, he’s informed that they’re shorthanded because two of the regular volunteers couldn’t make it that day, so it’s just as well that Sam came along. Danielle and Jasper are serving, Erin is helping Suraya cook in the back, and the entire place is a mess, because no one’s found a spare moment to clean since they started up. Sam immediately volunteers to clean, since he’s “no good with cooking,” and Misha still feels guilty for impressing the idea upon him by not being subtle enough over Thanksgiving. Still, he heads into the kitchen to take over from Erin, and she’s so relieved to be out of the kitchen’s sweltering heat that she all but runs out to help Sam. Within two hours, everything’s back under control, and it’s like they were never understaffed at all.

Around noon, he hears some commotion outside and peeks out the kitchen door to find Sam standing between a brutish man and a petite woman in line. It’s Gus. Again. Ever foul-tempered, he’s been banned for harassing and starting fights with the other customers many times before. He’s even hit Jasper once, when Jasper enforced the ban and refused to let him in. Even as he watches, Gus takes a swipe at Sam, who leans back to evade it. Jasper walks over to help break up the fight, but then Gus throws another punch, and Sam catches his arm to flip him over, effectively throwing him halfway out the door.

“One month, Gus!” Jasper tells Gus loudly, so everyone can hear. “You’re banned for a month! And if you keep pulling stuff like this, you’re never coming back!”

Gus looks ready to protest, but Sam angles his body in front of Jasper, and Gus beats a hasty retreat. Jasper’s had to restrain Gus before, but he has nothing on Sam’s 6’4” stature or ninja fighting skills.

“Wow.” Danielle whistles appreciatively beside him. “That was pretty badass.”

Misha grins proudly. “Yeah, I’m still convinced he’s a ninja. Or a secret agent. No matter what he says.”

“Hot too.” She sighs as the woman thanks Sam profusely. “Why are all the great guys gay?”

He scowls. “Hey. I’m not. And neither is Sam.”

She blinks, looking from him to Sam and back. “You mean you two aren’t…?”

“I wish,” he wants to say, but Sam and Jasper are chatting companionably on their way back to where he and Danielle are standing, so instead, he says, “Nope. You’re still out of luck though. His girlfriend’s pretty awesome too.”

She snorts. “Of course. Can’t go without completing the saying, can we?”

“Hey,” he protests again. “Am I so terrible, now?”

Danielle laughs. “No. But then, you’re not interested either, are you?”

“Nope,” he agrees, and she swats him on the shoulder, returning to work just as Sam walks over.

“Hey now. Slacking off already?” the sasquatch greets him good-naturedly, like he hadn’t just tossed a grown man out the door.

“Hmph.” Misha fends off an attempt to muss his hair. “Just you try standing back there for a few hours. See if you need a breather. It’s like a hundred degrees by the stove.”

“I was just telling Sam here he needs to come play bouncer more often,” Jasper chimes in.

He and Suraya set this soup kitchen up, and they are the only two permanent staff here. A successful businessman, Jasper earns more than enough to support his family from the rental he collects on his properties, so he and Suraya spend their time here instead of working. He never forgot what it was like growing up on less than a dollar’s worth of food per day sometimes, and the very religious Suraya believes that charity paves the pathway to Paradise.

Misha can relate to Jasper; it’s the same reason he comes here every Sunday instead of working. He wouldn’t be here without people like Jasper and Suraya, and in whatever small way he can, he hopes that he can help someone else through life too. Sam smiles, and Misha longs to fit his lips into those dimples.

“I’d love to,” his roommate agrees easily. “I mean, I have work and class most of the week, of course, but I’ll at least come every Sunday with Misha.”

And once again, Misha finds himself thinking that Sam really needs to stop being so fucking perfect. At this rate, he’s never going to get over him.

“Hey, baby~”

Long fingers slide into Sam’s hair and rub a few circles into his scalp. He looks up from his book with a smile, shutting it. “Jess!” He’s been waiting in this café for her to finish her shift at the pharmacy next door. Truth is he’s not too fond of the place — their specialty is pie. “You want to eat here, or should we head someplace else?”

“Well, I had lunch here, so I was thinking we’d just grab dinner at FloMo on the way up to my room.”

He tucks his book back inside his sling bag. “Sounds good to me.”

“Great. I knew there was a reason I love you, Sam.”

She holds out her hand, and he takes it, rising to exit the café with her. They hold hands all the way back to FloMo, chatting intermittently about their respective days, and it’s nice. Being with Jess puts him at ease. She’s fun to be with, even when they’re just sitting around studying, and she always knows just what to do to make his day better.

They find a table and take turns getting food, and he’s halfway through his roasted potato salad when Jess asks, “So how was your weekend?”

“Well, you know I volunteer with Misha at JS Soup Kitchen every Sunday now, right?”

She nods around a spoonful of curry vegetable soup.

“So get this. Remember the guy I told you I threw out on my first day? Well, he came back the week before last, and it was fine, you know? Jasper said he hadn’t acted up all week too, but then last Sunday, Gus came in obviously drunk.” He runs a hand through his hair. “One minute he was moping in line; the next, he was beating another guy up, and one of the other guys in line fought him off. Jasper and I had to break them up as Misha went to check on the guy he hit first. Gus struggled against my hold on him though, tried to lunge for the first guy again, but ended up kicking Misha in the ribs instead,” and if Sam stabs his fork into his harissa chicken a little more viciously than strictly necessary, Jess doesn’t remark on it. “And oh God, I was so mad, I slammed him to the floor and knocked him out.”

“Wow. Remind me never to piss you off, Sam,” she says with a chuckle, only half-joking, and squeezes his hand as she takes another bite of her eggplant parmesan. “I think that guy needs help, though. Or at the very least, he needs to be somewhere he can’t hurt anyone else. We don’t even know how many people he’s beaten up and harassed outside JS.”

“Yeah.” He smiles wryly. “We called the cops this time. Spent an hour or so taking turns talking to them. Misha, though. I’m pretty sure his ribs were bruised quite badly, but he refused to leave early because we’re understaffed again.”

“Aww…” Jess presses her hand to her chest. “He’s such a sweetheart, isn’t he?”

Sam smiles fondly. “That he is.”

“It’s a pity people don’t stick around. It’s a good cause.” She frowns. “If I weren’t already volunteering at Arbor, I’d help.”

“Hey, healthcare is important too, especially with how expensive it’s getting.”

They finish their food and make their way up to Jess and Lindsay’s room. “Oh, speaking of Misha, you know Vicki snagged his car keys when he crashed at her room last week?” Sam grins. “Apparently, her group was studying llamas for her behavioral ecology elective, and they wanted a pair. Misha, of course, refused to let her put llamas in his car, so she had to wait till he fell asleep to sneak out with his car keys.”

“Oh my God, let me guess.” Jess turns. “They spit or shed all over his car?”

“Worse,” he chuckles. “They shat.”

She snorts, joining him in laughter. “No way. You’re kidding.”

He shakes his head, still laughing too hard to reply, and takes a deep breath to try stifling it. “We spent most of last Friday night cleaning llama feces out of his car, and he was utterly miserable about it.”

Jess nods in sympathy. “Who wouldn’t be? I don’t reckon anyone would like to clean any kind of poop out of their car.”

“That, and he and his mom were once taken in by people who ran a llama farm when they were homeless, and he kept trying to help out because he wanted to earn his keep, so working with llamas reminds him of being homeless as a kid.”

“Oh, man.” She scratches her head with one hand as she unlocks her door with the other.

“I don’t think Vicki ever imagined they’d poop in the car. She felt so bad about the entire ordeal.”

Lindsay’s not in of course; she rarely is.

“Anyway, enough about me.” Sam sits down on Jess’s bed and pulls her close with an arm around her waist. “How was your weekend?”

“Well,” she loops her arms loosely around his neck, “I spent most of the weekend at the pharmacy frustrated by my colleague, Jenna.” Half sitting on his lap, she continues, “We were filling prescriptions, and she would pass me bottles of medication to sort into bags for the customers. Now, I keep telling her to fill them one-by-one, but no, she’ll look at the list and fill every bottle of the same type at once, and that would be fine if she doesn’t get mixed up and end up writing the wrong name on the labels.”

“Uh. Isn’t that dangerous?” Sam runs his fingers through her blond waves.

“Tell me about it! Luckily, I find out when I crosscheck the prescriptions to make sure they’re complete. And we have to put new labels on, which is a total waste, but Jenna just won’t listen.”

“Aren’t we glad you’re there?” He hugs her to him tightly.

“Mm,” she agrees, straddling his lap to accommodate and burying her hands in his hair as they kiss.

He slides his hands up her back, rubbing at tense muscles, and she sighs contentedly, rubbing circles down his scalp to his neck and shifting in closer. She smells good, the lingering perfume of lilies sweetening her natural scent. He trails kisses up her jaw and down her neck, and she tilts her head back, pulling him to lie on the bed with her. She’s so beautiful, looking up at him with such affection, her hair framing her face like a halo, so… pure.

Jess pulls him back down to her, starts undoing the buttons on his shirt, and… it feels inappropriate. Like they’re moving too fast. Heck, he’s even met her parents, and who does that so soon? He doesn’t want to ruin this, but he doesn’t know how to stop without hurting her feelings.

Just then, the door opens.

“You will not beli— Oh.” It’s Lindsay, dressed to the nines and halfway through removing heels that could stab a man.

He hurriedly pulls away and fixes his clothes.

“Oh my God. I’m s—”

“No, no, you’re fine,” he interrupts quickly, seizing his excuse to make for the door. “It’s your room, after all.”

There’s a faint blush to Jess’s cheeks, but she only sits up languidly and says, “I thought you had a date tonight.”

Lindsay’s lips quirk in annoyance. “I did. And I was already waiting at the restaurant when he called to cancel on me because he needs to finish his paper that’s due tomorrow. Talk about lame.”

“Well, isn’t it good that he’s got his priorities straight?”

Sam’s glad Jess is in that camp, but still, “He could have called earlier though. Or written that paper earlier.”

Lindsay snaps her fingers. “Exactly. Thank you, Sam. Jess, this one’s a keeper. Sorry I interrupted.”

“No, no, no,” he reassures her, retreating quickly out the door. “I was just leaving. Jess, I’ll see you on Friday?”

Jess smiles, a little rueful. “Yeah. Good night, babe.”

He shuts the door and heads back, feeling a little guilty. But maybe it’s better this way. Jess is amazing. Sometimes, he can’t even wrap his head around what she sees in him. Maybe that’s the problem — deep down, he still thinks he’s a freak. He really needs to get over this. Dean would have gone for it.

He squares his shoulders, lips thinning, at the thought.

Dean would also leave town the next day.

He sighs, letting himself back in his room. Misha isn’t in, much to his disappointment — probably at rehearsal. Sam stretches, feeling his joints pop, and sits down at his desk. Time to start studying for that midterm.

Misha has barely stepped into the room when his phone rings. He sets his things down quickly and answers it. It’s Sam.

“Hey, Mish, are you back in the room right now?” He sounds hopeful, bordering on desperate.

“Yes, I just got back, actually. What’s up?”

“Oh. Oh great. Um. Could you do me a favor? Please?” Definitely closer to desperate.

Misha grins. “Depends on what it is.”

“On my desk, do you see a paper on discrimination in the education system?”

He heads over to Sam’s desk, and it’s neatly in a folder, right in plain sight where he usually sets his laptop; the cover page reads exactly that, too. “Yes, it’s right in front of me.” He picks it up and heads out the door.

“Oh, thank God,” Sam breathes in relief. “I was so scared I’d dropped it somewhere. So, uh… it’s due at the start of class in fifteen minutes, but if I head back to get it, I’ll never make it to class on time. Is there any way I could convince you to bring it to Hewlett for me?”

His grin turns a little wistful. “What wouldn’t I do for you, Sam? I’m on my way.”

“Oh God. Thank you, Mish. Thank you so much! I really owe you one. It’s worth about a third of my grade.”

He laughs at the sheepish tone and the sheer gratitude in his roommate’s voice. “Don’t be silly. Thanks to you, I’ve got a pair of briefs signed by Candis Cayne, and I can still feel the marker’s imprints on my ass. You don’t owe me anything.”

Sam chuckles. “Let me at least buy you the next issue of Captain America.”

“God, I fucking love you.”

The words were out before he even realized he’d thought them, but he doubts Sam will take them seriously.

Indeed, Sam just plays along with “I know, I know. Right about now, I’d say the feeling is mutual,” laughing, and Misha has to silence a sigh.

He can’t continue this conversation right now.

“Okay. I’ll see you there,” he says, hanging up and pocketing his phone.

Time hasn’t made this easier. Meeting new people hasn’t changed a thing. Sometimes, he’ll manage to distract himself with work and not think about this for days, and then one day, he’ll run into Sam walking out of the shower with only a towel around his waist, long hair dripping rivulets of water onto that well-toned, muscular body, and now he can’t forget he’s seen it, can’t help thinking about how fucking gorgeous Sam is under those hoodies and jeans. He’d never really thought about it before; even though he knows Sam is attractive, that’s not why he loves him. But that time, he’d had to dash into a stall to hide, and that image, even now, is all it takes to have him jerking off on his fucking knees in the shower, because all he can think about is how desperately he wants to map that perfect body with his mouth. He shakes his head to clear it as he jogs towards Hewlett Teaching Center.

It was bad enough wallowing in his unrequited love without adding to his growing sexual frustration.

When he arrives, Sam is waiting anxiously outside, and runs over as soon as he spots him.

“Mish!” Sam throws his arms around Misha in a tight hug. He’s never been so grateful to see his roommate. Happy always, but never quite this grateful. “Thank you so much! You’re a lifesaver.” He lets go and takes the paper, feeling terrible for making Misha run all this way just to deliver a paper he should never have been careless enough to leave behind, but “I have three minutes,” he realizes with a rueful grin as he checks his watch. And because his options are limited, he sheepishly asks, “Want to come up with me?”

He’s inexplicably glad when Misha agrees with a smile. They used to spend more time together, just hanging out or talking, and even then it wasn’t that much, because they were both so busy. Nowadays, even though he sees Misha for morning runs and volunteer work on Sundays, it feels like they don’t really talk anymore. He’s about to ask Misha how the week has been when the other’s phone rings. Misha picks it up as they head up the stairs.

“Hello?” A pause. “Yes. Yes, I am.”

Abruptly, Misha stops dead in his tracks.

The phone slips from his fingers, and Sam scrambles to catch it before it hits the floor. “Misha?” Misha doesn’t answer, just sinks to sit on the steps, so he lifts the phone to his ear. “Hello?”

“Who are you?” the lady asks.

“I’m his best friend,” Sam replies, annoyed. “What did you tell him?”

“Oh. Listen, could you see that he gets back to Boston? I’m calling from the Boston Police Department, and… there’s no easy way to say this, I’m sorry. We need him to identify a body.”

Sam feels his blood run cold. No. NO.

“We believe it may be Rebecca Tippens.”

Sam turned in his paper, but didn’t stay for class. Instead, he led Misha back to their room with an arm around his shoulders and packed for them both. It’s a two-day drive to Boston if they don’t stop, nothing he hasn’t done before, and Misha is in no condition to be driving. It isn’t even until they’re in the car a couple of hours later that Misha snaps out of his stupor, picks up his phone and starts calling.

And calling.

And calling.

And Sam doesn’t know how to tell him that the cops are not wrong too often. That when they are, it’s the kind of thing you call the Winchesters in for, and that’s worse. Misha tries for an hour, then drops the phone in his lap.


Without a thought, Sam pulls up by the side of the highway and turns.

“She’s not picking up.”

That quiet voice cracks, and he pulls Misha into his arms because he doesn’t know what else he can do, just holds him tight as sobs rack his body. This isn’t right. Misha should never have to feel so much pain. But there’s nothing he can do to make this better, so he just runs his hands up and down Misha’s back in an attempt to soothe him, and when his best friend finally passes out in exhaustion, he lays him out on the back seat and buckles back up for a long drive.

When they finally arrive in Boston, Misha insists on heading home first, so they do. They set their things in Misha’s room and try to ignore the obvious signs that no one has been home in days. He lets Misha put it off —“I’m hungry. There’s this organic café I’ve been wanting to try,” “Didn’t you want to see this when you came to visit?”— because he can see how desperately Misha is trying to pretend nothing’s happened, and it’s evening by the time they finally arrive at the station.

Sam doesn’t know which of them is more distraught to see the body — Misha, to find it really is Rebecca, or him, to hear the cause of death. Mauled by what looks like a wolf, only there are no wolves in Boston, so the prevailing theory is a particularly savage wild dog, and they’ve warned the public to be careful. She was attacked from behind, and her heart is missing, and the lacerations on her arms down to the scratched and bloodstained bangle — they all match up exactly to his dream, and he can feel the strength leaving his knees and the bile rising in his throat.

Not a dream. It’s not a dream. And that's no dog.

But then Misha staggers back, and he moves forward instinctively to catch him, to wrap his arms around his best friend tightly, because Misha is shaking as he nods to confirm that it’s her. It’s her. It’s his mother lying in tatters on that surgical table, and he turns Misha around so his face is buried in Sam’s chest, because Misha should never have had to see that —no one should have to see that— and he hates them for making him, hates that niggling voice inside that whispers that he could have tried, should have at least checked, because how could he ever tell Misha he saw it coming and thought it was just a dream?

They do what they must, then he drives Misha home, because he can see how close his best friend is to simply shutting down. He can deal with his guilt later — all that matters now is Misha. He unlocks the door and steps into the empty apartment, imagines he can see the essence of Misha and Rebecca’s memories enmeshed in the very fibers of every drape and handmade piece of furniture, knows there isn’t a single corner in the place that wouldn’t remind Misha of his mother. In time, it will be cherished; now, perhaps, it is too painful.

He turns to find Misha frozen at the threshold, staring blankly in, and he walks back to his side, concerned. He takes the smaller man gently by the shoulders. “Misha?” he calls softly, and blue eyes snap up to focus on him. He can’t discern the flurry of emotions that flash by in them, but then Misha just leans forward to rest his forehead on Sam’s shoulder.

“I’ll need to arrange storage for everything here, too,” he sighs, pulling away to walk past Sam into his home. “Momma paid the rent on this place,” he continues, looking around. “I can’t afford it on top of everything else, and I’ll be at Stanford most of the time.” He picks up the slightly lumpy orange cushion on the couch and smiles sadly as Sam locks the door. “This is the first permanent home we’ve had since the last place we lived in burned down while I was in high school. Mister Higgins let us rent it for a song, so we’ve been able to consistently afford the place.” He sits down and hugs the cushion to him. “This is the first cushion she made here, orange because it’s my favorite. She made the orange curtains in my room too. And uh… She—”

The other chokes on the word, and Sam doesn’t hesitate to sit down beside him and pull him close, to hush him with soothing sounds as he buries his face in Sam’s soft grey hoodie. Sam rubs Misha’s back in a hollow attempt at comfort, and doesn’t murmur “it’s okay,” because it isn’t. Misha has just lost his mother, and now, he’s about to lose his home too. How could anything possibly be okay? Sam can’t help thinking of Dean — maybe it never will be. But “You have me,” he says instead. “You’ll always have me,” so you’ll never be alone.

Misha scoffs into thick cotton. “You mean Jess will always have you,” he corrects hoarsely, and Sam shakes his head.

“That’s different,” he says fiercely, tightening his embrace. “And I’d never put her before you, Mish. You’re no less important to me than she is. I’ll always be here if you need me.”

Misha sags against him with a choked sob then, and just as he had the other day, begins crying in earnest. Sam just runs his hands through soft hair, down a trembling back, and encourages him to “let it all out, Mish. That’s it. Just let go. I’m here, Mish. I’m right here. I’ll always be here.”

And when Misha finally quiets down and falls asleep, Sam carries him into his room to put him to bed. Misha stirs as Sam tucks the blankets around him and catches Sam by the wrist as he turns to leave. “Don’t go,” he whispers, and Sam never could deny those pleading blue eyes, even when they weren’t bloodshot and puffy, so he nods and squeezes in beside Misha on the narrow cot to cocoon his best friend in his arms to sleep.

Sam frowns at the mixture in the pot. He thinks that’s how it’s done. The ingredients seem right, and he’s quite sure he’s followed the steps to the letter, but it doesn’t look quite like how he remembers. He scoops a little with a spoon and tastes it. Hm… It’s in the ballpark, at least. Maybe a bit of simmering would do the trick? He lowers the heat and covers the pot before putting the spoon in the sink.

Just then, the bedroom door bursts open, and Misha comes running out. He turns as his best friend freezes, and Misha's expression goes from afraid to angry to morose in the span of a second.


Oh no.

Maybe Misha thought it was his mother. Maybe this is what she does in the morning, and he's afraid he'll find he's dreaming; maybe he’s afraid Sam will burn down the kitchen after what happened the last time; or maybe he thought Sam was gone too. Sam doesn’t know, but “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he apologizes immediately, flailing because he's upset Misha, and this is the worst time in the world to give Misha more stress. “I just… I thought…”

Misha seems to snap out of it then, and shakes his head. He opens his mouth, closes it again, takes a deep breath, and finally settles for running a hand through his hair and coming into the kitchen. “What are you making?” he asks tiredly.

“Um.” Sam ducks his head, letting his hands fall to his side, and represses the urge to keep apologizing profusely. “Tomato rice soup. It's not turning out quite like I remember, though,” he mumbles sheepishly. Cooking has always been Dean's area. Sam can barely manage a few basics.

But the corners of Misha's mouth quirk up in a small smile, and it's the first smile Sam's seen on him since that awful phone call, so it's okay, he thinks. It's okay even if it's at his expense, if it'll make Misha smile.

“Let me see.” Misha lifts the lid to look in and rinses the spoon in the sink off before trying some. “Hm.”

Then he goes to the fridge and rifles around inside before pulling out two jars. Grabbing a clean spoon, he scoops some green paste out of one jar and drops it into the pot, then empties out the other jar (Sam recognizes it as tomato paste) into the soup. Scooping some broth into the second jar, he screws the lid back on and shakes it, then pours in the mixture as well. When he stirs it, the soup turns a lot redder, flecked with bits of dark green. Misha tastes it and makes a sound of approval before holding out the spoon. Sam leans down to try it, and it's... different. Different but better.

“It's not how I remember, but it's delicious, Mish. Thanks. You keep salvaging my attempts at cooking.”

Misha smiles fondly, and that's twice. Twice after almost five days of moping, and Sam can't help mirroring the expression. Sometimes, in moments like these, he feels such a deep affection for his best friend; he doesn't know how he got by before they met. Dean, his brain supplies, and he's glad Misha turned away to stir the soup again when he did, because the thought makes him sad, and he doesn't want to ruin the moment. He wraps his arms around Misha and rests his chin on his best friend's head as the other tries a few grains of rice, then turns off the stove.

“Sam,” Misha sighs, leaning back into him. “I... I need to get the bowls in the cabinet.”

He chuckles, letting go, and Misha goes to do just that, handing him the bowls, so he can ladle out the soup.

“Why tomato rice soup?” Misha asks as he places a bowl on the table.

“It's one of the few things I can kinda make without burning down your kitchen?”

Sam sits down across from him with his own bowl, and they start on breakfast.

“Let me guess. Your mother used to make it for you when you were sick?”

Sam pauses eating and hesitates to answer, because this is the last conversation he wants to be having with Misha right now. “My brother, actually,” he offers instead, with a sardonic smile.


They continue eating in a silence that stretches on in increasing awkwardness until Sam blurts, “I never knew my mother,” because he can't bear it any longer. “I guess she used to make it for Dean whenever he was sick, though. That's why he made it whenever I was.” He winces as he finishes. Misha is staring at him now, and it feels like he's only made things worse. “W—would you like more soup?” he tries lamely, standing.

Misha blinks. “Sure.” He holds out his empty bowl, and Sam hurriedly takes it to the kitchen to get them seconds, berating himself as he goes. He's usually good with people, but somehow this conversation is going all wrong, and things have never been so awkward with his best friend before.

When he returns, Misha has gone on to staring vacantly at the table. “Mish?” he calls anxiously as he sets the bowls down, and when blue eyes lift to meet his, they're moist. He opens his mouth to start apologizing all over again, but suddenly, Misha smiles.

“Thank you, Sam,” he says, taking Sam's hands in his own.

What? “Misha?”

The tears are falling freely, but Misha makes no effort to wipe them away. “I'm doing this wrong. Momma wouldn't have wanted to see me like this.” He shakes his head. “You reminded me, Sam.”

And Sam can only gape as Misha squeezes his hands.

“I have nearly twenty years to cherish.”

They spend the day making calls, Misha to friends and relatives and Sam for arrangements, and by the time they're done, Misha is stretched out on the couch with his head in Sam's lap, looking completely drained. He seems to be holding up, though —sad and exhausted, but coping, even though giving the news over and over can't be easier than dealing with it in silence— and Sam's glad. He keeps finding new things to admire in his best friend, and sometimes he wonders what someone so amazing even sees in him. He feels awful for not preventing this tragedy, because Misha deserves so much better. He doesn't know what he could have done, but he should have done something, and he doesn't know how to tell Misha, because he's afraid Misha will never speak to him again, and he's not sure he can handle that. So now all he can do is try to be comforting, and hope there'll be some way he can atone.

Just then, his cell phone rings, and he pushes the thoughts away as he answers. It's Jess.

“Hey,” she greets cheerfully. “How's your week been so far?”

“I'm... managing,” is what he settles for. “And yours?”

“Good. It's been a pretty good week so far. So um... What time are you coming tomorrow?”

Shit. That's right. He was supposed to go for lunch with Jess and her family tomorrow. In all the chaos, it had completely slipped his mind. “Oh God, Jess, I am so sorry,” he groans, running a hand through his hair, and Misha tilts his head in question, squeezing his elbow lightly. “I can't make it tomorrow. I'm in Boston right now.”

“Boston?” she repeats, surprised. “What are you doing there suddenly?”

He tenses, glancing down at Misha. “It's um... It's Misha's mom.” Misha closes his eyes and squeezes Sam's wrist, mouthing “it's okay,” and Sam bows his head with a resigned sigh. “She's... She um... She passed away.”

Jess gasps. “Oh. Oh God. Oh no. Is he okay?”

Misha nods, and Sam answers, “Yeah. He's surviving.”

“Thanks to you,” his roommate mouths, and Sam shakes his head, giving Misha's shoulder a brief squeeze.

“Oh wow. I... Tell him I'm so sorry to hear that. I just... This must be hard. It's so sudden. I don't even— God, I'm so sorry. How? What happened?”

That is literally the last thing he wants to talk about, so “I—I don't know,” he lies, burying his face in his hands. “The whole thing sounds kinda crazy,” he adds truthfully. “I don't even know what to think anymore.”

“Huh.” Jess sounds a little shaken, and she takes a deep breath before she speaks again. “So uh... when is... When's the—”

“Tomorrow. We'll be heading back to Stanford on Tuesday, most likely.”

“Okay. Okay. You guys take care, all right? Tell Misha I'd be there if I could get to Boston by tomorrow.”

He leans back, letting his head drop to rest on the thick stack of knitted throws draped over the wooden back. “Thanks, Jess. I'm sorry about lunch. Maybe next week?”

“We'll see. I'll let them know. I'll see you on Tuesday when you get back, okay?”

“Yeah. Really, I’m sorry. Bye.”

“It’s okay. Bye, babe. I love you.”

She hangs up, and he drops the phone onto the couch, suddenly feeling every bit as tired as his best friend looks.

“I'm sorry you'll miss your date,” Misha pipes up quietly, and he sits up.

“God, no. Don't say that, Mish. You wouldn't be my best friend if there's anywhere else I'd be right now.”

Blue eyes slide shut. “Thank you, Sam. I'm glad you're here. There's no one else I'd rather have, no one.

Sam smiles fondly and drags his knuckles lightly through fuzzy stubble; Misha nuzzles into the touch like a cat.

“A kitty not just in the morning, I see,” he teases with a wry smile, in hopes of lightening the mood a bit.

The other punches him lightly in the stomach. “She-llama.”

Misha sticks out his tongue, and Sam can't help chuckling in spite of everything.

“Hey.” An idea suddenly occurred to him.


“Want to go for a run?” Maybe some routine will take Misha's mind off things. Exercise produces endorphins, and Misha loves running.

Misha immediately sits up. “Actually, yes. Let's.”

They change, warm up a bit, and head out, breaking into a brisk jog towards the park. After a few blocks, Misha speeds up, and he matches the pace easily.

“Cheater. Long legs,” Misha gripes breathlessly, speeding up again. “Race you.”

So they run, harder than usual, possibly further than usual, without any particular destination in mind. Whoever's ahead picks the next turn, and they lead each other all over the city. Finally, Misha runs into a park and sprawls back on the grass gracelessly near some lilac bushes. Sam joins him on the ground beneath the evening sun, and they struggle to catch their breath in silence. He reaches for his roommate's hand and pats it.

“So. Since you gave up first,” he breathes with a grin, “I guess that means I win?”

“How dare you, Sam Winchester. You never gave me the red pill. This wasn't a fair contest to begin with.”

Sam gasps a laugh. “Silly Mish. You don't need a red pill. You're the fucking Source.”

Misha snorts a little. “The Overlord of the world, real or otherwise. Kinda has nice ring to it.”

They lie side by side in silence, letting the cool, lilac-scented breeze and the chirping of the birds soothe them, and when he finally feels rested enough, Sam sits up. “Want a drink?” he offers. “I remember passing some stores just now.”

“Oh, you are the best, Sam. What would I do without you? Get me some coconut water if you can find it. Otherwise, any kind of pure fruit juice is fine.”

Sam huffs, reaching out to ruffle Misha's sweat-soaked hair and grinning at how it stays an unruly mess. “All hail the Overlord,” he teases, climbing to his feet and bowing theatrically. “Your wish is my command.”

It's as he's straightening that he sees it. Out of the corner of his eye, half-hidden by the underbrush in the denser wooded section of the park to his left. He'd recognize that dog anywhere — wolf-like, fallow brindle with a black mask, the monster in his nightmare that wasn't just a nightmare. He looks around, making sure he isn't seeing things, and it's really there. His fingers curl into fists at his side in anger. Wild dogs don't go straight for the heart like that and leave most of the body behind. Werewolves do that, but they don't take full canine form. He did his research this morning while Misha was still asleep. It's almost certainly a Skinwalker, and he knows how to kill it. He's not going to wait for Dad or some other hunter. He's not going to let it kill one more person here.

This was supposed to be normal.

Misha's life was supposed to be normal.

And that beast has ruined it forever.

He can't change that, but the least he can do is prevent another tragedy. If Dad has taught him anything, it's to always be prepared for the monster at large. He slips his right hand into his pocket, running his fingers along the weapon, and thinks to tell Misha to wait somewhere safer, but he doesn't know how to explain this. Fortunately, the open area they're in is fairly crowded, so the creature likely won't attack here.

“Watch yourself,” he warns anyway, pretending to head to the shops, so he can circle around, and never taking his eyes off his mark. “I'll be right back.”

Hopefully, Misha won't miss his silver-plated letter opener.

The rest of the year passes in a blur of work, papers and exams. As soon as they got back, Misha and Sam returned to barely seeing each other, but what little Sam does see of Misha allays his worries. They have a corner in their room now where they turned all the knitted throws and handmade cushions and seat pads from Misha's home into a couch of sorts, and sometimes Misha sleeps there instead of in his bed. It's also a nice place to read and study.

Finally done with the week’s reading, Sam’s about to head to bed, when his roommate sits up abruptly with a sharp gasp, hyperventilating. In a flash, he’s by Misha’s bedside.

“Hey. Hey, Misha. Mish, you okay?”

He places a grounding hand on Misha’s knee, and his best friend flinches away from the touch before turning to look at him and sighing. He lets his hand fall to his side.

“Sam.” The word comes out raspy through Misha’s dry throat. The other closes his eyes and swallows before speaking again, running a hand through his hair. “Sam, I’m fine. Sorry.”

He shakes his head, silently chiding himself. “Nightmare?” Misha has been having a lot of those lately.


His own nightmares have grown more frequent, and now he keeps searching the crowd around him for faces he’s seen in them, but he hasn’t found any yet. More often than not, though, he dreams of Misha finding out and leaving, or snapping, or never forgiving him, and he knows Misha isn’t like that —Misha is loyal and strong and doesn’t hold grudges— but Sam can’t help being haunted by the thought. He stamps it down firmly. Misha has buried his face in his hands. Maybe a change of scenery would do them both some good.

“Want to go for a walk?”

Misha turns to him and blinks, but then moves to climb down. “Sure, yes. It might help. Just uh… let me change into something warmer.”

Sam nods, grabbing a mug and pouring some fresh milk into it from their mini fridge before popping the mug in the microwave. By the time Misha is dressed again after shucking his pajamas into the laundry hamper, Sam is stirring a spoon of honey into the milk.

“I thought we were going for a walk.”

“We are.” Sam presses the mug into his hands. “You can drink this while walking.”

Misha sips the warm milk. It’s perfect, just the way he likes it. “Wine is more effective, you know,” he quips with a smile.

“Whenever someone else decides to buy some,” Sam agrees, steering him out with an arm around his shoulders.

They begin slowly circling the nearby compound, strolling along the edge of Lake Lagunita. Even now, really, it’s not much of a lake.

“How are you holding up?” he asks, as Misha pauses to take another sip of milk.

“I’m fine, Sam, I promise,” Misha assures him, leaning a little into his side, and Sam feels a bit relieved. “Just can’t get that image out of my mind.”

Sam knows exactly which he means. “I don’t blame you. Say, are you staying for summer?” he asks, changing the subject.

His effort gets him a wry chuckle. “Where else would I go? I suppose I could visit my dad, but he has his own family now, and three months would simply be intruding, no matter what they say.”

Smooth, Sam. “I mean, uh… So am I. Have you applied for housing?”

“No, but if you’re ready to apply, you can go ahead start the group on Axess and give me the password.”

“Yeah! Yeah, I’ll do it tomorrow.” Well, that’s one thing down. He didn’t really think that Misha would want to stay with anyone else, since Vicki won’t be staying for summer, but the next one… The next one would probably be asking a huge favor. “Err… What about next year?”

Misha halts to drink from his mug again. “You could start the group application for that too.” He resumes walking.

“O—Okay. Um. W—What do you think about a quad?” Very smooth, Sam. Good job.

Misha stops. “A quad? With whom?”

“Um, see, Jess was suggesting we move in together next year, and I like her, and I don’t know how to turn her down, so I was kinda vague, but I think she’s assuming ‘yes,’ but I—I don’t think we’re ready to live together with just the two of us yet,” he blurts in a rush. “I mean, we’ve only been dating for a few months! Isn’t that a bit too soon? And I’ve even met her parents! Do people do that after just a few months?” He flails. “I—I think we’re moving too fast, but now that I’ve kinda, sorta agreed, it’d be awful to change my mind, so—so I was hoping we could try it out in a quad with some friends. You know, like uh… see what it’s like living in close proximity before moving in with each other per se.” His best friend is gaping at him as he finishes his awkward spiel, and Sam wishes he could just… turn invisible at will.

“And you want me to share that quad…?” Misha surmises slowly like he can’t believe his ears. “Wait, wait; quad meaning four, so me and whom?”

Sam scratches his head. “Um. Whomever you want? Maybe Vicki? Has she applied yet?”

Misha closes his eyes and opens them again, still incredulous. “You want me, and Vicki, to be your girlfriend buffer for the year?”

Sam hangs his head, ready to die from embarrassment. “W—well, when you put it that way…”

His best friend runs a hand through his hair. “Sam, l—”

“See, we were planning to apply to one of those co-ops, maybe Columbae or Synergy, because Jess has friends there, and the rooms are nice, plus it’s cheaper than a one-bedroom in EV, but even though we’d be sharing a house with another thirty, forty people, we’d still practically be moving in together, and we’ll be surrounded by her friends, and—and I’d miss you, Mish.” He looks sincerely into blue eyes. “It’s been a great year, and I never thought I’d enjoy living with someone other than Dean so much. And I mean, I’m sure the people I’ll be living with there are going to be great, but it wouldn’t be the same.”

Misha downs the rest of his milk in one long swig and sighs. “I’ll ask Vicki.”

Later that day, Victoria Vantoch opens her door to a very sullen Misha Collins.

“You will n—okay, yes, you will, but I don’t even know what I was thinking!” Misha slips past her to plant himself face down in her bed and groan like he’s dying.

“Okay,” she says slowly, shutting the door. “What monumentally stupid thing have you done this time?”

“—s time?” He lifts his head to glare at her. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that it wouldn’t be the first. Do we want to recount the time you stole my v—”


Vicki crosses her arms. “Well?”

Misha’s response is little more than muffled groaning.

“I’m not inside the pillow.”

Misha rolls over to lie spread-eagled on her bed and stare morosely up at the ceiling. “I said I agreed to move into a co-op with Sam and Jess,” he sighs quietly.

There’s a long pause in which he can hear Vicki silently judging him, then “Wow, you are a masochist.”

He sighs, smothering his face with her pillow. “I just… I couldn’t say no, all right?”

She sits down on the bed beside him. “Let me guess: you had some amazing dream about the two of you together the night before he asked.”

Right before, actually, but that wasn’t the problem, and Misha doesn’t know why color is rising on his face. “That’s not why I said yes.”

“Isn’t it? You’re always like this. You dream of an ideal, and spend the next waking week impulsively doing crazy things towards it. It’s part of what makes you amazing, but anyone else would have learned better from all the trouble it’s gotten you into.”

Misha sits up glumly. “I told you that wasn’t why I said yes.” He runs a hand through his hair. “He… he looked me dead in the eyes and told me he’d miss me, that it wouldn’t be the same, and I felt— still feel exactly the same way—”

“About watching him and Jess make out?” Vicki interjects pointedly, and he glares balefully at her.

“I like living with him, Vick. I’d miss him too. And, like I said, I wasn’t thinking.”

She sighs, patting him on the knee. “He’s taking advantage of your being a complete sucker for him.”

He frowns. “Sam’s not like that.”

“How can anyone possibly be so dense?!” She throws her hands up in frustration, flopping back gracelessly.

He flops back down as well, sighing again. “So. Would you prefer a double or a quad?”

She turns to Look at him. “So that’s why you’re here.”

He properly blushes this time. “Hey, you did say you wanted to live in a co-op before you came here.”

“Not if it means watching you pine for one roommate while he makes out with the other.”

Misha rolls onto his side to turn pleading eyes on her. “C’mon, Vick, you wouldn’t let me endure this alone, would you?”

She shrugs. “You brought this upon yourself. I’m disinclined to be sympathetic.”

“You owe me one,” he reminds her, glowering. “You put fucking llamas in my car, and they fucking pooped.”

Vicki scowls. “That’s low.”

He pouts, whining “But Vicki, you’re the only person I know who can make this whole thing bearable. And we were going to live together until we found out we can’t pick our freshman roommates and we’d have to sell our organs and souls on the black market to afford apartments here anyway.” He tugs beseechingly at her arm. "You can’t do this to me, Vick. I thought I trusted you.”

She groans. No one can deny Misha when he gets like this, no one, and the little shit fucking knows it too. “Fine.” She pulls her arm away to cover her eyes, so she can’t watch the beginning of disaster. “Fine. Give me the goddamned group name and password.”

By the end of Spring Quarter, Misha is so drained, he signs up for a ten-day silent meditative retreat. It was restorative before, and he needs it more than ever now. Sam, naturally, offers to drive him to the retreat and pick him up when it’s over. It’s Misha’s car, of course, but there’s little parking at the retreat, and they have to move into their summer residence while Misha is there, so Sam needs the car in the meantime.

It takes two trips for him to move all their things over to their summer apartment in Hulme. He drapes Misha’s throws over the couch and chairs, just like he remembers they looked back at Rebecca’s apartment, places the cushions on them, rearranges the furniture in the bedroom so it’s more like their old room in Granada, unpacks Misha’s things as much like Misha would himself as he can. He even lights Misha’s nag champa incense in various places, so the whole apartment smells like their old room did, and places Misha’s yoga mat out on the balcony where he bets Misha would want it. This is their home now, even if it’s just for ten weeks, and he doesn’t want Misha to feel any more displaced than he already does, losing his mother and home, having to move for the summer, and then again in the fall.

When he picks Misha up, Misha seems calmer, at peace, and he’s glad. They drive up to Boston to pick up the kitchenware, and Misha introduces him to Darius, a childhood friend, at whose apartment they spend the night. Vicki stops by, and they trade embarrassing stories about Misha before singing along to random songs that Darius plays on the piano as Misha accompanies with the guitar. Seeing how cheered Misha is, Sam suggests that Darius pay them a visit at Stanford soon.

When they finally arrive back at Stanford, Sam can’t help worrying as they head up to the apartment. Maybe it was presumptuous to try to decorate the place just like Misha’s old home. What if it brings back bad memories? But then they’re at the door, and Misha is unlocking it while Sam carries the things they brought, and it’s too late to be thinking about this now. He should have thought of this sooner.

Misha stops short when he flips on the lights, and Sam forgets to breathe.

It’s just a moment, then Misha is setting things down on the counter and helping him unpack the kitchenware into their proper places. He still worries, though — maybe Misha is upset, but doesn’t want to say. He picks up all the bags and boxes they used to store them in the closet for when they move again, thinking he’ll ask or apologize afterwards, but when he returns to the kitchen, Misha is surveying the apartment with a pleased smile, patting the throw on the couch as he passes, and Sam heaves a sigh of relief. He follows Misha into the bedroom and sits down on the bed as Misha continues looking around.

“We can’t loft beds here,” he explains, if only to fill the silence. “And I tried to put your things back the way I remembered they were in our old room. I hope I got it mostly right.”

“Oh, Sam,” Misha sighs. “You assume I’m a homesick maniac with OCD.” He turns, grinning as he steps closer. “But I suppose, since I’m so happy to see all this, you may be right.” He pulls Sam into a hug. “Thank you, Sam. It’s lovely.”

Despite the meditation, despite the distraction of summer classes, Misha can’t help feeling a little down. He misses Momma, and he still has nightmares about why he can’t just pick up the phone and call her anymore. They’ve always been close, and it feels… lonely not being able to talk to her. Sam’s with him a lot, since he only occasionally sees Jess now that she’s back home, and that’s at once great and terrible — oh, he enjoys their time together, but the more time they spend together, the worse it feels every time Jess visits, the more painful is every reminder that Sam’s with someone else. He thought he’d come to terms with that during the retreat, but maybe it was less the leap in self-understanding and more the ten days away from Sam; now that they’re together all the time again, he’s finding he doesn’t feel much differently from before.

It’s his birthday today, and he has no classes on Friday. Sam hasn’t been around all day, probably didn’t even return last night. He knows this since he was going to wake the other up for their morning run earlier, but found his bed empty. He’d go for the run himself, but he just hadn’t been feeling up to it. He sits up and catches sight of a card on his lap. The handwriting on the envelope says it’s from Vicki, so Sam must have been back briefly while he was asleep to take in the mail.

“I have a gift for you, of course,” it reads, “but I know how much you love treasure and scavenger hunts, so you’ll have to find it! Here’s your first clue: ‘Your roommate looks like he uses this place a lot near Canada.’ Don’t worry; you won’t have to leave the Farm. Happy birthday, hun!”

Excitedly, Misha climbs out of bed and changes out of his pajamas. Vicki always knows how to brighten his day.

“Hm.” He takes another look at the clue as he pulls on his shoes. Sam looks like he uses… He thinks of perfect abs and shakes his head to clear the image from his mind. “Gym. The gym.” He heads out to the rack to get his bike. Near Canada though… Oh! Arrillaga. It’s by Maples Pavilion!

Destination decided, he sets off towards Campus Drive. As soon as he walks in, the girl on duty spots him and hurries over. “Here, I was told to give you this if you came.”

It’s another card, and he thanks her, opening it as he leaves. It reads simply, ‘Clue 2: Towering above us, Mr. President?’

Misha grins and heads to Hoover Tower. Again, the receptionist in the lobby hands him another card. This one reads, ‘Clue 3: Find that which you long for in artful bronze arms.’ He shakes his head, smiling wistfully as he gets back on his bike. C’mon, Vick, now that’s just mean. He cycles leisurely around The Oval to the Rodin Sculpture Garden before making his way on foot over to The Kiss. Between the two entwined bronze figures, there’s another card. ‘Clue 4: Once for the fair, now all the vowels; if the mode is mean, we have no variance.’

All the vowels? Once for… Aha, Sequoia! The Stats department, too! He pulls out his cell phone and texts Vicki. ‘Hey. I’m not mean. And how many of these are there?’

The reply arrives as he’s on his way to Sequoia Hall, and he pauses to read it. ‘No more than I am. And wouldn’t you like to know?’

Argh. He stops near Sequoia Hall and heads inside. A boy sitting nearby looks up and hurries over. “I was told to give you this. Happy birthday, by the way.” Another card. He thanks the boy, who promptly returns to his book.

‘Clue 5: I hold the Viking’s weapon flat in my hand.’

He’s getting tired and a little hungry now, so The Axe & Palm is a welcome destination. It’s not very far, but by the time he arrives, it feels like he’s cycled all over campus, and he hasn’t cycled so much since he was a kid delivering newspapers. He contemplates getting a salad as he walks in, but he’s barely sat down when a staff person comes over.

“I was told to give you this when you came, and we’re making your strawberry banana smoothie right now, so I’ll get it for you in a minute. It’s already paid for, so no worries. Can I get you anything else?”

He smiles, shakes his head and thanks her for the card. How thoughtful of Vicki to throw in the drink too. The same girl comes back with the smoothie, but hurries off to attend to other customers. Absently, as he sips the smoothie, he wonders where Sam has been all day, if he’s been with Jess. He can’t help the jealousy that comes with the thought, and he quickly tamps down on it, opening the next clue to distract himself.

‘Clue 6: No matter the water, I am a misnomer.’

No matter the water… Aha! Lake Lag is never much of a lake, no matter the season. Once he’s finished the smoothie, he feels somewhat rested, so he sets off towards Lake Lagunita. The sun is beginning to set, and he wonders where he’ll find the clue. Slowly, he circles the lake, keeping an eye out for anything out of place. He doesn’t have to search for very long. On the Western bank, near the driving range, a short wooden stick has been driven into the ground. A slit cut into the top holds an envelope with his name on it. He takes it and opens it.

This time, there is no card, just a printout of the Monopoly GO square. Nothing else is written on it. He looks around. Well, in its original position, the arrow would have been pointing northeast.

That’s… Wait.

All of a sudden, it hits him like a slap in the face.

“Damn it, Vicki! I’m gonna get you for this!”

It’s dark by the time he reaches Hulme after the wild goose chase around campus. In retrospect, he probably should have checked around the apartment before heading out, but admittedly, that wouldn’t have been much fun. Tiredly, he locks his bike to the rack and heads up, jiggling his keys absently. He wonders if Sam is back yet, if they’ll get to have dinner together for his birthday. The apartment is dark and quiet when he opens the door, and he pushes away his disappointment, reaching for the light switch.

Just then, a light comes on in the living room. It illuminates a painted box.

“Happy birthday to you~” There are six voices singing, six hand puppets in the illuminated box moving in time with the song: a puppy, a tiger, a fairy, a Smurf, Cookie Monster, and a llama.

Oh. OH.

“Happy birthday dear Misha~ Happy birthday to you!”

Bass drops and music starts up as the lights come on, and only Darius would do that, so he’s not surprised to see him there with Erin and Keith, who are now pumping a keg for beer. Vicki comes over to where he’s frozen by the door.

“Here’s your puppet: Kermit the Frog,” she says, pressing it into his hands with a grin. “Happy birthday, hun.”

“Aww…” He puts it on. He’d always wanted one of these, just never quite got around to buying one. “This… This is awesome, Vick.” He hugs her tightly. “Thank you.”

She returns the hug, then lets go and steps aside. “You’re welcome, but it’s not really me you should be thanking.” She inclines her head towards Sam, who is watching with Jess from behind the theater box with a fond smile. “Sam planned this whole thing. I only wrote the clues, bought the puppets, and made the box for the puppet theater. Jess baked the cake and the cookies, Erin made the pasta and salad, Keith bought the beer keg, and Darius brought his sound system. But Sam’s the one who got us all here and went around planting the clues and coaxing people into playing along.”

“S—Saaam…” Their eyes meet across the room, and he wants to go over and kiss the man senseless, but he can’t. He can’t, so he runs over and almost tackles Sam to the floor with the fierce hug. “Thank you,” he mumbles, face buried in Sam’s chest. “This is amazing. Thank you so much, Sam.”

His roommate returns the embrace. “You’re welcome, Mish. It’s good to see you happy. Happy birthday.”

He just clings to Sam because he can’t bring himself to let go, and it isn’t till Jess asks, “So should we cut the cake now or later?” that he realizes how long he’s been holding Sam.

“Later,” he decides, letting go at last. “The pasta smells good.”

Erin makes a great puttanesca, and they finish off the pasta and salad with little difficulty. Darius insists Vicki and Misha demonstrate Appalachian clogging. It’s been a few years since he’s done it, so it ends in utter failure on his part much to everyone’s amusement. They’re less amused when he trips over the keg hose and onto Keith and Erin. Sam helps him up, and he tries to get Sam to try the dance, too.

“No, no, I have two giant left feet. This will end in disaster,” Sam protests, as Misha tugs him over to a bit of free space.

“I’ll vouch for that,” Jess says with a laugh, finishing her cup of beer.

“Then something simpler! C’mon, I’ll teach you! Darius?”

Darius skips to another song, slow and familiar with simple, charming guitar strumming the opening chords.

“Ooh!” Misha runs over to grab his Kermit hand puppet where he left it on the table and puts it on as the song starts. “Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side?” he sings along cheerfully, moving the hand puppet in sync as he twirls back over to Sam’s side. “Rainbows are visions, but only illusions, and rainbows have nothing to hide~” He takes both of Sam’s hands and swings them slowly to the beat, stepping from side to side.

Sam awkwardly tries to follow along and, for the most part, succeeds.

“So we’ve been told, and some choose to believe it.” Switching it up, he pushes Sam a little to step back, then pulls him a step forward, then pushes him back again. “I know they’re wrong; wait and see~” He lifts their arms, one side at a time. “Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection~” He releases one hand to turn under Sam’s arm, “The lovers, the dreamers and me…” and finishes by twirling into a hug with his back to Sam. He cheers. “Now let’s try that again for the next stanza!”

Jess claps her hands, laughing, as they repeat the sequence, and Sam gets a little less uncoordinated now that he knows the steps. Sam ruffles Misha’s hair as they sway along to the bridge, and Misha beams up at him happily, still singing along. He’s glad. He hasn’t seen Misha this cheerful since before Rebecca passed away. When the song ends, everyone claps at the accomplishment.

“Good job, birthday boy!” Jess comes over and tiptoes to peck Sam on the cheek. “And congratulations, baby! Maybe we can teach you more over the next year?”

Sam laughs. “Sure, sure. Don’t get your hopes up too high, though.”

They move on to the cake then. Misha wishes that Momma is happy wherever she is, and that he and Sam will always be together, even if only as friends, and blows out all the candles. It’s a carrot cake covered in cream cheese frosting flavored with a bit of maple syrup, and it’s delicious. The cookies are orange with caramelized ginger bits, and just as amazing. Jess outdid herself on these. Darius brought Twilight Imperium as well, and they play it over dessert. They’re barely halfway through, and Keith is temporarily ahead, by the time eleven o’clock comes around, and Jess announces that she has to head home. Realizing the time, Keith and Erin decide to take off too. Only Vicki and Darius are staying the night before they drive back to Boston in the morning.

They pack up and head downstairs, Sam to walk Jess to her car and Misha to keep Keith and Erin company to theirs. Vicki and Darius tag along with Misha.

“You know,” Vicki says conversationally as they watch Keith and Erin drive off. “I’m beginning to see why you’re so hung up on the guy.”

“Dude, I had no idea that was his girlfriend until they kissed earlier,” Darius chimes in as they begin walking back. “I thought you two were an item.”

Misha sighs. Further down the street, he can see Sam opening the car door for Jess and giving her a goodnight kiss on the cheek. He looks away. “Jess is great, though. Gorgeous, too.”

“That she is,” Darius agrees, still looking on appreciatively. “I was talking to her earlier, and we exchanged AIM screen names so we can keep in touch.”

Vicki frowns. “I can’t decide which would be better: for him to keep his distance or continue being an awesome friend.”

“Maybe some time away would help,” Misha concedes. “At the retreat, ten days alone, I thought I came to terms with this. But as soon as I see him again, all the things I love about him stand out with such clarity, and I realize that nothing has changed. And I missed him. I don’t know that keeping my distance in the long term would make me any happier.”

Jess drives off, and Sam jogs back over to where they’re waiting at the entrance. Misha can’t help smiling as Sam comes to a stop beside him. Sam mirrors the expression, and they all head back up to their unit.

“So how are we doing this?” Darius asks as they enter the apartment, looking at the one couch in the living room.

“Hm.” Misha scratches his head, pensive.

“Well, if we push Misha’s bed and mine together, the three of us could share that, and Vicki can take the couch,” Sam suggests. “Mish has plenty of pillows and blankets to go around.”

Some hours later, Misha has to admit Vicki is right: he is a masochist. Looking from left to right, he wonders how he’ll get any sleep. On his right, Darius is sound asleep on his side, hugging one of Misha’s arms. It’s not the most comfortable position, but Misha will live. Sam on his left, however, is asleep on his stomach, one arm draped around Misha’s waist, and Misha can’t determine whether it’s the weight or the longing that’s keeping him awake. He sighs.

One day, he decides, he’ll get over Sam. Today is not that day.

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