Pairing: Gen | Rating: G | Wordcount: 725
A/N: Written for the OhSam-spnlittlebro CelebratingSam challenge. Thanks to sammythankyou for the beta!
The smell. It's what gets him every time. Linen and leather and dust. Books like this would sit on a shelf, unchanging and uncaring whether they were read or not, a legacy in black and white.
He had walked through the narrow bookshop, trailing his fingers along the bindings, a small absent smile on his face. Dean left for the motel earlier; bigger cities like San Francisco always put his brother on edge. Bumping elbows with people on the street, Dean would look over his shoulder, scanning for a threat in the unknown faces. But Sam loved it, the anonymity of the crowd. He could slide right into it, fading into the tourists and the business people. No need for badges or false names because no one cared who you were in a city this size.
The waning sunlight of the summer had been lighting up the shop windows as they finished their interviews, and it had made him restless. Too bright to head to the motel, too early for dinner, Sam had walked the streets instead, hands stuffed in his suit pant pockets, the breeze off the Bay ruffling his hair, cool even in June.
This tiny bookstore, tucked back into an alley between a dive bar and a coffee roasting shop, was familiar. Palo Alto was only an hour away, and when he first moved to California, Sam would take the train north up the Peninsula. Friday nights, he would run out of school work and start to fill up on raw memories, so Saturday mornings, he would explore the City.
The same old man manned the register up front, his head bent over a biography of Kafka. Sam gave him a nod, which was received with nothing more than a quick flickering glance. He wound his way through the stacks of books - Historical, Literature, Poetry, Folklore. A title on banshees caught his attention. He might pick that one up on his way out.
His feet dragged to a full stop in front of Classics. A small mint-green paperback was wedged inexplicably between Ovid and Pindar, probably shelved by the old man in a rush to get back to the existential anxiety of Kafka. Sam pulled it slowly from the shelf and his smile widened.
“The Ancient Tradition of Geometric Problems”.
Jess rolled her eyes at the title when she saw it sitting on their coffee table. She was smart, had to be to get into Stanford, but she liked her classes to be more grounded - the feel of chalk and charcoal under her fingers, the play of light and shadow - not ruminations on ancient math and science.
She lifted her beer bottle, that cute little wrinkle between her eyes. “Incommensurable magnitudes? Really? C’mon, Sam, it’s Friday night.”
This book didn't have the same layer of dust as the others, a new addition of an old title. He cracked the spine with reverence and leaned in, nostrils flaring a little at the smell of fresh ink and newly cut paper, so heady that he slumped against the bookcase. This edition was pristine while his own copy from that class years ago had been covered in highlighter pen and scrawled notes for conversations with Professor Singh, who appreciated Sam’s enthusiasm during Thursday afternoon office hours.
He slid to the floor to sit cross-legged, lost among the piles of books and his nostalgia. It burned in his chest, and flipping through the pages brought back all the small things Stanford had given him, a brief reprieve from monsters and death, an indulgence of discourse. But only too brief.
“Need any help?” the old man said. His frail figure towered over Sam on the floor, specter-like, and Sam sat up, embarrassed to be caught buried so deep in his own thoughts.
He wiped at his eyes. “Uh, no. I'm fine.”
Sam tossed the books on the motel’s dinette table, and removed his jacket as Dean stepped over to hand him a cold beer. His brother took a sip as he scattered the book titles out on the table.
“Banshees. Always a classic.” Dean flipped the first book to the side and then held up the thin mint green one, a smirk on his face.
“Ancient science? You're such a nerd. C’mon, Sam, it’s Friday night. Live a little.”
He smiled back, his heart settling for the first time that night in familiarity. “What? Haven’t I ever told you about incommensurable magnitudes? It’s fascinating stuff--”.