Characters: Gen: Sam and Dean, Joan and Grace
FANDOM: Supernatural/Joan of Arcadia crossover
Rating: PG-13 (maybe R for Dean's sailor mouth)
Disclaimer: Characters and universes are not mine. They are Barbara Hall's and Eric Kripke's. I used this site as a reference and used some of the text. No infringement intended.
Word Count: About 7,500 this part, 20K total
Summary: Sam and Dean have come to stop the something that is killing co-eds in Nebraska, Joan and Grace are right in the line of fire, and God hasn't so much left the building, as he's being a pain in Joan's ass, giving her a mission for her first college spring break that might just save the world.
Author Notes: I'm making time my bend to my will here--well as far as Joan of Arcadia is concerned. For the purposes of this story, Joan and Grace are freshmen in college, making this almost two years since the series ended. I've assumed that the Spiritual Battle storyline that would have been in season three has been fought and won. There are Supernatural spoilers through 4x22, and any and all of the Spn plot stuff will be totally AU once season five starts.
Joan of Arcadia: At the end of the final season, Joan and Co. were getting set up for a big bad spiritual battle, and the agent of the devil was Ryan. For the purposes of this fic, we assume that battle has been fought and won (by Joan and God), but it leaves Joan no stranger to the idea of evil.
Supernatural: Sam got played by Hell. Dean got played by Heaven. Sam let out Lucifer. The Apocalypse started. They are both a little bitter about the whole thing.
She smiled as she typed the last word. Finally, after two years of writing and research, she'd finished it. When it finished printing, she put it neatly into her folder and put the folder safely into her bag. She caught a quick glimpse of herself as she got ready to go. She smoothed down her fly-aways and checked her tee shirt for coffee stains before hastily ramming her feet into her tennies. In a flash, she slung her messenger bag over her shoulder, switched off the light, and left her dorm room.
Tori Amos sung in her ears as she walked across the campus, just starting to buzz with the guests and chatter that the conference was bringing. She turned the corner on the pathway heading toward the Women's Studies building. She saw the light on in the professor's office through the window, and she allowed herself a deep breath to calm her nerves.
She only noticed a slight shift in the wind as she walked inside the breezeway. Was it getting colder? She thought she'd remembered the weatherman saying something about a cold snap, right?
The chatter that came from behind her was now out of sight, and there was nothing but dark shadow and an empty campus before her. She'd never really noticed how many nooks and crannies there were in the breezeway before now--lots of little corners, and she felt unsettled. With another deep breath, she reminded herself that she was almost inside, just up the walk and around the corner now. She was on campus. She was safe.
Did she hear something? She pulled the earbud out of one ear. A faint sound--one she couldn't quite name--was coming from just outside the breezeway. She pulled the other earbud out and slung the chord around the back of her neck. She could still hear the music, all tinny and wrong now. She could hear the soft sound her tennis shoes made on the pavement as she walked through the arched doorway that led to the walk outside. She looked around for the source of the noise, but she only saw the shadows of trees playing with each other on the ground and long bars of light and dark as the campus lights lit and backlit the buildings around her.
She listened again for the sound, but heard nothing except the sound of her own breathing and the high twang of music still coming from her headphones. Seeing nothing, she shrugged her shoulders, putting the earbuds back in her ears.
She turned on her heel to head back to the professor's office, and when she did, she noticed the crunch of something under her tennies. Looking down, she saw white flakes around her feet, and when she bent down to investigate, she noticed the trail of white that followed her from the breezeway. When she touched it, it was a fine powder, almost like confectioner's sugar. She watched as the wind blew it from the path.
She could feel her heart hammering in her chest, and the only thing she wanted was to get inside, to get to the office, to turn in her paper. She stood up quickly and started back, now at a run, but before she quite made it to the path, she felt as though something had hit her in the back, between her shoulder blades. She couldn't move. She couldn't breathe. The last thing she noticed was the taste of copper in her mouth and a red stain spreading quickly across the front of her shirt.
She didn't feel the crack of her knees as they hit the ground, nor the crack of her skull.
-- -- -- --
"So, tell me again why we're not going to the beach like everyone else." Joan fished around in the space behind her car seat for a bag of chips. They were on top of the pile, so she found them easily and began to eat. Through a mouthful she managed to continue, using a Dorito as a pointing apparatus for emphasis. "I mean. First college spring break? Beach. It's just what you're supposed to do."
Annoyed, Grace grabbed at the bag, snatched it away from her and quickly buried it behind Joan's seat. "Can it, Girardi. You can join all the mindless fratboy drones in Cancun next year."
"Whatever. I don't see what is so interesting about Nebraska anyway. Look!" Joan waved her entire arm out of the open window, pointing at their surroundings. "Fields. It's all just. Fields." She wrinkled her nose and made a display of rolling the window up. "And cows."
"Look. You didn't have to come. But this conference is important to me. How often does a college freshman get asked to read a paper on the same bill as Gloria Steinem?"
Joan knew she'd rather spend her time with Grace than with a bunch of strangers in Mexico or Florida or wherever. Grace had spent so much time and energy on the paper, and there was no way she would miss this. Joan smiled and simply replied, "Yeah, yeah," and turned up the radio.
An hour later, the scenery finally began to change. Farms gave way to auto junkyards and pawn shops, and then finally, the interstate widened by a couple lanes, and chain restaurants and mega-stores were on both sides of the freeway. They saw signs for the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and when they exited from the highway, they pulled up to a stop next to an old black car, engine rumbling loud enough that she felt it in her stomach. The driver of the car caught her staring and gave her a huge grin, lighting up his entire face. He was pretty hot. She felt the blush as it crept up to her cheeks. Maybe Nebraska wouldn't be so bad after all, she thought.
-- -- -- --
Grace turned the car into the parking lot of the motel they'd be staying at, just a couple of miles off campus. It was a crappy little place, old and outdated from the outside and even worse inside. They only stayed long enough to check in and drop their stuff off in the room before Grace had to report to the conference big shots on campus, and since the television only had two working channels, Joan decided to tag along.
The campus was alive with activity, peppered by a few students who'd stayed back for whatever reason, but mostly overrun with people obviously there for the conference: Pockets of people with hair that was clean, shirts that were pressed, and turning campus maps while curiously looking at the buildings around them.
"Hey, Girardi! Check that out." Grace hit her on the arm with the back of her hand. Joan winced and rubbed the spot on her arm.
"What! And, ow!" But, the minute Joan looked up, she saw what had captured Grace's attention. There were a hoard of people and police gathered right outside one of the buildings, and an ambulance was sitting in the middle of the lawn and walking paths.
"That looks serious. I wonder what happened," Grace said as they both continued to stare at the scene, but she suddenly stopped to check her watch. "Dammit. I'm gonna be late. I'll meet you here when I'm done. It should only be an hour or so, but I'll text you."
"That's cool," Joan said. "Good luck!"
Grace took a deep breath and smiled. "Thanks." She checked her own map quickly before walking out of sight.
Joan moved closer to the crowd gathered near the ambulance. There was a section marked off with yellow caution tape and a tarp-covered lump right in the middle. Joan tasted something sick in the back of her throat, and though she wanted to turn away, her curiosity was stronger, so she took a few tentative steps forward. A couple of uniformed policemen were taking statements from people, and there were detectives in suits like her dad wears, along with the coroner and paramedics.
She hadn't made it two whole steps over the tape before one of the cops spotted her and began walking her way.
"Sorry, ma'am, but I'm going to have to ask you to step back." He was only a little taller than she was, but stocky and muscled--like a bulldog. His uniform was a little tight across his chest, and his badge caught the sun and twinkled in the daylight. His blond hair was cut short enough that she could see the pink of his scalp through it.
"Oh," Joan said. "Sorry. I... I just..." Her voice trailed off under his gaze, but her eye caught another glimpse of the tarped-over lump and she blurted, "what happened here?" though her voice sounded not much louder than a whisper.
The policeman put a hand on her shoulder, steering her back out of the tape line, removing the tarp from her line of vision. "I can't discuss official police business in this stage of the investigation." He looked at her intensely. "I am glad you're here, Joan."
"God?" Of course it was God. She couldn't even go on a fake spring break vacation in peace. That just figured.
"I am," he said.
"Well, I'm glad someone's glad I'm here. I think I should be in Mexico, you know--soaking in the sun and partying on the beach, instead of stuck here in the middle of the land of corn and cows and, apparently, death."
He did not smile. "It's good that you are here for Grace. Friends are more important than exotic spring break locations. I'm proud of you, Joan."
She let herself smile a little at that. "You are?"
"Of course. You are doing well in school, and you have been a good friend to Grace. It's wonderful to see you living up to your potential."
"Don't forget about your schoolwork, Joan. Even on vacation. You have that paper coming up for your history class."
"Leave it to you to take all the fun out of spring break."
"Not all of it. It's important to read up for your paper while you're here--they've got a great library. Grace will be busy, and you'll have a little extra time." He seemed to take in the look of complete disappointment in her face before he smiled a little. "But, it's also important to rest. I made an entire day for it, if you'll recall... though you're usually doing your homework for Monday then." He did smile in earnest this time. "It's good to meet new people in a new place. You don't have to be on a beach for that. I hear spring break is a great time to meet people."
"Wait a minute," Joan said, trying to fill in the blanks. She still wished he would just come out and say what he meant. He still spoke mostly in riddle. "Are you talking about boys? Are you saying you want me to meet... guys?"
"God is telling me to meet guys?" She needed to make extra sure she'd heard him right.
"Yes." The radio at his belt began making noise, and he unclipped it. "And get ready for that paper," he said, already making his way back toward the scene, waving as he went.
Joan threw up her hands in frustration. "Meet guys and research. Great."
-- -- -- --
Dean stepped out of the car, stretching deeply as Sam got out on the other side, the door squeaking a little as it shut. They'd been on the road since yesterday morning, and Dean was ready for a nap and a shower, but as he saw the crowd of people at the crime scene, he knew all of that would probably have to wait. He and Sam had come from Mississippi, where Castiel had sent them to try and stop the angels and demons there from wiping out a whole town of people in the middle of their giant pissing contest.
He was getting pretty damn tired of the whole thing--the apocalypse was nothing like he thought. He'd envisioned hell on earth and fire and desolation, but for the most part it was the same ol' crap they'd been dealing with for years. But now he had to deal with the fucking angels and their fucking strategy, of which he was a key player but the last to know any damn thing.
They managed to hold off Lucifer and his demons there in Mississippi, but both he and Sam were a little worse for wear because of it. He rubbed at the bandage around his ribs, thinking it was about time for some more Advil. Damn the angels, and damn their war, and damn Sam for making it all harder--if he would have just listened to him instead of that demon bitch, they might not be here now. But really, Dean knew he should just damn himself for not being able to just walk away from the whole fucking thing. He was so tired.
They walked together down the path on campus, sun bright in his eyes.
"Any idea what we got here," he asked Sam, not quite looking him.
"Not exactly, but it sounds like a haunting." Sam replied, rifling through a small stack of papers from a file folder. "Don't know much more than what Bobby already told us. This is the third death here in two weeks. Each victim attacked from behind."
"How do we know it's not just some asshole frat kid who's had too many Red Bulls?"
"Well, all of the victims were completely surrounded by salt. All of the victims died on campus, but there are no witnesses."
"Hmm," Dean said, furrowing his brow as he and Sam got close enough to the scene to actually find out some information. He still wasn't convinced. This sounded like it could be regular ol' crazy-person-with-a-knife kind of deal. But, the salt--that was definitely weird. "Think it might be a hunter? Rings of salt, Sam? No spirit would do that."
"I don't know. Why would hunters be after normal college kids? None of these girls seemed to be into anything strange--no occult or witchcraft that I can tell from the file, and Bobby was pretty sure it was a spirit when I talked to him."
Dean thought about all they owed Bobby--all he had done for them. Apparently he had a friend in town that he owed a favor, and checking this out was the least they could do.
They hadn't had a chance to put on their FBI monkey suits, so they were both still wearing jeans and tee shirts. Sam pulled two press passes out of his back pocket and handed one to Dean. Then he retrieved a reporter's notepad from the waistband of his jeans and pulled the pen from the spiral that ran across the top.
"Aw, man. They don't tell reporters shit." Dean scowled as he looped the pass around his neck.
"Better than nothing. If we'd taken the time to change, they'd have cleared the scene. We need to try and get a look at the body."
Dean groaned, counting at least a dozen cops and detectives and on-scene forensic types. "We're not gettin' past these guys. We might as well get some shut eye and break into the morgue tonight."
"C'mon, Dean. We'll try this, and if it doesn't work, then we can break into the morgue."
Dean looked around for a female officer. He found one, a pretty redhead, snapping pictures. He stepped across the tape closest to her. It only took her a second to notice him, and she immediately dropped the camera to her side and told Dean, stern-faced, that he needed to get behind the tape.
"Law enforcement personnel only, sir," she said.
Looking into her eyes, Dean donned his very best aw-shucks grin. "Sorry, ma'am," he said. The grin never left his face. "I'm workin' on a story for the Omaha World Herald, and my editor will have my balls if I don't come back with something." He tried his hardest to look like a harmless lackey, just needing one little favor.
Her face remained stoic for a minute. He grinned at her again. He knew he was in when he saw her blush and look down, trying to break eye contact or hide the smile she was starting to show, or both. She looked back at him and sighed. "All right. But no pictures. You have two minutes."
"Thank you so much. You have no idea how much you've saved my life."
She shook her head, pulling her camera back up to her face. She returned to taking pictures.
When he knelt down, the salt was the first thing he noticed. He pinched a few of the granules in his fingers--it was super fine--almost like a powder. He lifted his fingers to his lips, just to make sure. It was salt, and it obviously used to be in almost a complete outline around the body. Some of it had gotten shifted in the investigation--he could see footprints and snags in the pattern where the body had been jostled or the tarp had disturbed it, but it was fine enough that even where the top layer had gone, it settled into the pores of the concrete--pattern still noticeable.
No spirit could have gotten through that much salt--at least no spirit that he'd ever heard of. No hunter would use salt that fine--everyone he knew used rock salt. He sighed deeply, lifting the tarp a little more to see the wound that had killed the girl. It was obviously done with a blade of some sort. There was a single wound in her back that had pierced a lung and caused a lot of bleeding. Dean scrunched his face. He didn't know who or what had done this, but now he really wanted to find out.
"Sir," the red-headed police officer said, pulling him from his investigation. He'd felt like he just got started. He fought the urge to verbally swear. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave now. I hope you got enough for your article."
"Thanks," Dean said. He winked at her before ambling back over the yellow tape toward Sam. Sam was talking to some other police workers, quickly scribbling notes on his little reporter pad. When Sam saw him coming, he dismissed the people he was talking to with a smile and a nod of his head.
"Well," Sam said. "What'd you see?"
"Well, this is definitely weird. Body is surrounded by salt, but not a normal protective ring. It's almost like a pattern--solid outline surrounding the body. And the salt is finer than anything I've ever seen. I still don't know what kind of spirit could get through it, though."
Sam looked thoughtful for a minute.
"What about you?" Dean asked. "What did you get?"
They began walking toward the car as Sam talked. "Not much, really. Just that the victim's name was Ashley Gibson. No murder weapon found, no fingerprints, no evidence at all. She was a grad student here, and she had been scheduled to be one of the main presenters for the conference that they've got going on this week."
"Yeah. Women's Studies. The campus is on spring break. Apparently Gloria Steinem is scheduled to speak in a few days. It's kind of a big deal."
"Fantastic," Dean said with a sigh as he climbed behind the wheel of the Impala. "I guess that rules out fraternizing with the co-eds this week. All the hot chicks are in Cancun. Now there's just a buncha feminist, vegan, tree-huggers with hairy pits. No, thank you."
Sam let out a little chuckle, settling in and closing the passenger door. "Next time, I guess, Lancelot."
-- -- -- --
"It smells funny in here," Joan said as she dug her iPod out of her bag. The motel was done in avocado green and what used to maybe be some shade of orange, but had since faded to something that probably wasn't even a color at all.
"Yeah," Grace said. "Like someone barfed nachos or something."
Joan made a face. "Gross."
"You wanna get outta here for a little while? I was thinking..." She held up two shiny plastic cards.
"You didn't," Joan said, smile lighting her face. She skipped over to Grace and grabbed one of the cards. She looked at it closely and jumped up and down. "You did! You got 'em! How much do I owe you?"
"Not a thing, Girardi. You came all the way out here. I could at least get you a decent fake ID."
Joan squealed and hugged her. Grace remained still and straight. "Hugging?" she asked, smirking. "Really?"
Joan ignored her, spinning around and dancing. "And I'm supposed to meet guys! This is perfect!" she said.
"What?" Grace asked, looking at her funny.
"I mean. We. We're supposed to meet guys--it's spring break."
"Right," Grace said, cautiously. "Whatever. I just want a drink."
They found a little bar not far from the motel. It was, what Joan was learning, a typical campus bar, similar to the ones she'd gone to to see her friends' band play back home--smokey and small with sticky floors and dirty tables, loud music and cheap drinks. She knew she should probably be a little grossed out, but she had an amaretto sour in her hand, and she felt oddly free.
Grace grumbled about the music, but mostly told Joan about the conference and how she was honored and nervous. Apparently, she'd be giving her presentation in a couple of days along with several other underclassmen from all over the country, but the top five would present again and get published in some sort of big deal journal.
Joan never really expected she and Grace to even go to the same college, but it had just worked out that way. Adam had gone down to University of Texas to do art stuff on a full scholarship, and Joan was happy for him. He deserved something good after all that had happened. Spiritual warfare was hard, as Joan learned last year, but in the end Ryan (or whoever he really was) had finally left town, and things seemed to be okay. Adam had caught the brunt of the whole thing at the time, so it was good that he could go somewhere far away and just start over. She missed him though, and she still compared every new guy she met to him in some way. They never really measured up.
As they were talking, two guys came over to their table. Both were really cute. She was liking this mission more and more.
"Hi," one of them said. He was tall with a smile that she remembered. He was the guy from the black car. She had a hard time looking at him without openly gaping--he was maybe the hottest guy she'd ever seen in real life--sparkling green eyes and lashes that were not even fair for a guy to have, the kind of fit frame that comes from hard work, not a gym. "I'm Alex Lifeson, and this is Neil Peart."
Joan smiled and held out her hand, but the look Grace shot her made her take it back. Grace snorted at the guy. "She's too young for you, dude," she said coolly, staring directly at him.
If it were possible, his grin grew even wider. Usually guys ran away screaming when Grace was around, and Joan couldn't help but be a little impressed that he didn't. He just kept on, "We're reporters doing a story on the recent deaths on campus. Was wondering if either of you knew Ashley Gibson?"
The words no and sorry were on the tip of Joan's tongue when Grace spoke. "Ashely Gibson?"
The taller one--Neil said, "You knew her?" He had a softness in his voice and in his posture that reminded Joan of Adam. He was taller and broader than Alex, now that she really looked, but he seemed to actually take up less space. It was weird. Like Alex, he was also in incredibly shape. She fleetingly wondered if they did those insane competitions where really strong people pulled ten cars or an airplane or something.
Grace shook her head. "No. Not really, but I knew of her. She's had some articles published in some of the journals I read."
"Are you here for the conference, then?" Neil asked.
"Yeah," she said. "We go to school back east--just here for the week. Ashley was supposed to be a presenter." Grace looked down at the table, fiddled with a ratty cardboard coaster.
Neil gave her a minute, looking at her calmly. Something in his demeanor felt easy and familiar. "Thank you for your time," he said.
Joan smiled at him, and she noticed that Grace was smiling a little, too.
"So you ladies are part of the conference, huh?" Alex asked. "Giving a presentation on bra burning?"
Alex flinched, and a small grunt escaped his lips. Joan suspected Neil had just kicked him.
She gave a small laugh and said, "Oh, no. Grace is presenting. But not me. I like my bras just fine."
"What's your paper about?" Neil asked, looking at Grace with genuine interest.
"This place needs more Zeppelin," Alex said and strolled off in the direction of the jukebox. Joan sat back and appreciated the view while Grace began telling Neil about her paper.
After a few minutes, Joan began getting restless. She loved Grace, but she'd already heard about the paper. "I'm gonna get another round. You guys want?"
"Sure," Grace said absently as she gestured emphatically at Neil while ranting about double standards in Supreme Court Justice confirmation hearings. Joan walked up to the bar and waited for the guy to finish ringing up the girls a few feet down. She was still stoked about actually buying drinks. This spring break wasn't turning out so bad.
"And what can I get for you," the bartender asked when he walked up to her.
"Amaretto sour, vodka tonic, and two Budweisers," Joan said.
"Make one of those an El Sol, if you got it," Alex said as he slipped onto the stool next to her and laid a twenty down on the bar.
"Thanks," Joan said as the bartender went off to get the beers.
"No problem," he said with a grin that crinkled the corner of his eyes. Joan felt her stomach flip a little.
"Here you go," the bartender said as he set the drinks down and took the money. "You should drink some water, Joan."
Joan rolled her eyes and headed toward the table with her and Grace's drinks.
"The bartender has the hots for you," Alex teased.
"What? Um, no."
"Bartender remembers the name, means he wants to get in your pants."
Joan shook her head. That was wrong on so many levels. She laughed, "Believe me. Not the case."
"Whatever you say," Alex said with a wink.
-- -- -- --
Sam and Dean had talked to every person in the bar, but almost all of them were from out of town. Same story--they knew of Ashley, but they didn't know her. They were going to have to find out more about her--talk to a roommate or find someone on campus who knew her personally. When they got back to the hotel, Dean collapsed, fully clothed onto his bed. He was snoring in minutes. They hadn't slept in a bed for days.
Sam stretched out on his bed, legs crossed, fingers laced behind his head, and he stared at the avocado and rust patterns of the peeling wall paper. He decided that a good hot shower might be the thing that would help, but even after being scrubbed and clean and back under the covers, sleep would not come. He hadn't slept well since Maryland.
Every time he closed his eyes, all he saw was a blood pattern on a stone floor and a pillar of light so bright it hurt his eyes, the reminder of what he'd done, how badly he'd let himself get played. Over and over in the quiet, all he can ever think about is what he did, all the ways he fucked up, and the guilt of it felt to him like an actual weight, tangible and heavy, crushing his chest, cracking his ribs, collapsing his lungs so that he has a hard time breathing.
He slept fitfully for a couple of hours, and when he woke up, it was still mostly dark. He tossed and turned for a while before the restlessness would not let him lie down any longer. As quietly as he could, he gathered his jeans from the floor and pulled them on, grabbing a jacket on his way out the door. Outside, the pale promise of dawn lurked in the east, and the chill of the early morning made him draw his jacket a little tighter. He walked a few blocks before finding a donut shop, and he ordered two large coffees and half a dozen chocolate glazed.
He walked slowly back to the motel, focusing his mind on the details of the case, what it could possibly be that was killing these kids. Nothing so far had added up.
When he rounded the corner that led to their room, he noticed a girl kicking the hell out of the Coke machine. She was using every ounce of strength in her small frame. As he got closer, he recognized her as one of the people they'd talked to last night--one of the people who didn't know Ashley Gibson. He had to pass right by her, and he smiled at her the way you smile to strangers in passing.
But, she said, "Neil, right?"
Sam raised a coffee-leaden hand, plastic bag with the donut box dangling from his wrist. "Mornin'."
"What are you doing here?" The breeze picked up a little, blowing long strands of brown hair into her face, pinking her cheeks. She wrapped her scarf a little more closely around her neck, tucked her hair behind her ears.
"Went for breakfast. D--Alex and I are staying here." He shuffled his feet a little, but the lie came easily. "The paper doesn't give us the best per-diem."
"Tell me about it. This place is a hole." Her face screwed up into the most animated display of exasperation and disgust. Then she put a hand on her hip and leaned forward a little, talking a little more softly. "Does your room smell like barfed nachos? 'Cause ours does."
He had to chuckle a little. "No--ours is more eau de gym locker than nacho. I didn't get your name last night."
"Oh, it's Joan. I'm Joan."
"Nice to meet you then, Joan. That machine steal your boyfriend or something?"
Joan sighed. "No. Just my dollar." She kicked it again. "If I don't get a soda soon, this sucker is going down."
"Here," Sam said, handing over his coffees, setting the box of donuts down by his feet. "Let me see if I can help. What do you want?"
Joan shook her head a little. "Uh... Coke?"
"Right," Sam said, pressing the button for the Coke. He held it down and gave the machine a little shake and a firm shove in that spot that usually worked for him. He was no stranger to crappy motel Coke machines. A second later, he heard the tell tale thump of the bottle falling down.
"Thanks," Joan said, handing the coffees back over and grabbing the Coke from the bottom. She met his eyes and said, "Thanks, Neil."
"Don't mention it." The corner of his mouth twitched upward just barely as she walked away, scarf trailing behind her.
-- -- -- --
Fifteen minutes earlier, Joan had gone into the motel lobby demanding her money back. The night-shift worker had been gathering her things to leave, but she had known Joan's name, looked directly into her eyes, and told her to try again. She also told her to get started on her research this morning while Grace was busy and chided her for not drinking enough water. Joan had rolled her eyes, made a snippy comeback, but in the end, she decided to try the machine again.
-- -- -- --
Sam's phone vibrated in his pocket as he sat at a computer terminal in the main campus library. It was Dean. He'd been to talk to the girl's roommate. They found out she was set to get her masters degree in a couple of months, that she had been hand-picked to go to Harvard for a doctorate program, that she loved Tori Amos and eggplant parmigiana. She didn't have any enemies, didn't ascribe to any sort of religion, didn't like to dance. The roommate hadn't noticed any cold-spots or black ooze or anything else out of the ordinary before she died.
"I don't know, Dean," Sam said. "Maybe this is just a regular ol' murder."
"Well, you keep finding out what you can over in geekland. See what you can dig up on the other girls who were killed. I'll meet you there in a few minutes. Then we can go get some lunch. I'm starved."
"Way ahead of you. See you soon." Sam turned his attention back to the screen in front of him. He'd managed to hack his way into the university's system, and he was already looking at the information for the other two dead girls. They were also very bright--a 3.8 and 4.0 respectively, and they both also had papers they were submitting to the conference. He knew this had to be the main connection, but he still couldn't find out anything without knowing who or what was doing the actual killing.
When Dean turned up, he told him what he'd found. They printed off some information they thought they'd like to keep around and made their way toward the library door. On their way, Sam ran directly into someone carrying a stack of books taller than her head.
The books tumbled to the ground, and she said, "Crap!" with as much force and gusto as could be fit into that one small word.
"I'm so sorry," he said, bending down to help her. He began to stack the books on a nearby table.
She was mumbling to herself as she gathered books back into a stack on a nearby table, saying, "Spring break. Should be on the friggin' beach, but nooooooo no no no, I'm stuck here carrying a bazillion books and--" she stopped muttering when she finally looked up. "Neil?" Her long hair had fallen into her face, and she was brushing it away, tucking it behind her ears.
"Hi again, Joan. We have to stop meeting like this." He couldn't keep the little smirk from his lips. Dean gave him a pointed look, raising his eyebrows. He mouthed the word "jailbait." Sam gathered two books and set them with the others. He was trying his hardest to get his very best shut-the-hell-up-and-let-me-handle-this look on his face. "You remember Joan from the bar last night, don't you, Alex?"
"Uh, yeah. Sure."
"She and her friend are also staying at the same place we are."
Joan's face had gone a funny sort of slack before she shook her head a little. "God," she said. Then she rolled her eyes and muttered, "Great."
"Huh?" Dean replied.
Joan stammered a little. "Sorry. Just. I'm supposed to... I mean... I think that... Do you -- I mean... Do you guys need any... help? With anything?"
Dean was looking at her like she'd lost her mind, and Sam wrinkled his brow--not sure what to think. They needed help finding out who was killing these girls, but he doubted she would be much help there.
"Nevermind," she said, waving her hands dismissively. "I've got to do some research on a paper I've got coming up for my history class."
Sam pulled the book off the top--Indigenous Tribes of the Great Plains. "That's no way to spend spring break," Sam said.
"Believe me," Joan said, grabbing the book and waving it around for emphasis. "I know." She tossed the book back down on the table, grabbed her bag and about five other books, and made her way as best she could to the other side of the library.
"She's a weird chick," Dean said after she was out of ear shot.
"Yeah," Sam said, but something about her was intriguing--like there was more to her than what he could see. He looked in the direction that she'd gone off, weird feeling in his gut telling him that there was something almost special about her.
"So, what did you find out?" Dean asked, grabbing the file folder from Sam's hand as he took a seat. Sam grabbed it back with a sigh, but he sat down, too.
"Well," he said, opening the folder. He spread out the pages on the table in front of them. "There were two other victims. Both killed on campus, right?" Sam pointed to the information sheets on the other two girls.
"Yeah, Bobby told us this already."
"Right, but both of them were also slotted to be presenters at the conference. The first victim, Jeanie Wilson, was actually heading up the on-campus committee to get the conference rooms ready. She died the night that they started setting everything up."
"Okay, so the disturbance and moving to get stuff ready might anger a restless spirit. But, we still don't know who this bastard was."
"I say we talk to Jeanie's roommates. See what we can find out. Maybe she's our connection."
"But after lunch, right?"
As they started to get up, a little old woman came by with a cart of books easily three times her size. She had a chin-length blonde bob and was wearing a boxy light blue cardigan that came straight out of the Mrs. Doubtfire collection. She looked at them both sternly behind thick glasses, giving her the appearance of an owl.
"You boys just gonna leave that book on the table?" Her voice was a lot stronger that her frail looking frame indicated, and she suddenly did not look like the kind of lady you'd want to mess with. Sam felt a little like he'd been scolded by his grandmother for not using a coaster on her coffee table--embarrassed that he'd done something so thoughtless.
"Uh," Dean said, looking for all the world like he'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar ten minutes before supper. "No, ma'am," he continued without even a trace of sarcasm. He set it carefully on the cart.
"What a good boy," she said. She smiled gently, patting him on the shoulder as she made her way over to the next stack, wheel of the cart squeaking the whole way.
-- -- -- --
Joan yawned. Her late night and early morning were starting to catch up with her, and she wondered exactly how much of this assignment she was supposed to do this week. She was looking blindly through one of her books, trying to find anything pertinent before lobbing her frustrated head down directly into the crease of its spine. She lifted her head and brought it down again, pages sticking a little to her forehead. She did it again.
"Head up, Joan," came a voice from beside her. Joan quickly raised her head. Ah, God. Of course. She was in the same sweet old lady form that she took in the bookstore sometimes. She looked so small behind the huge book cart she was pushing. She wondered why Little Old Lady God almost always came to her when she was around books. "You've done a lot of work on your paper today. I'm proud of you."
"Yeah, well," Joan said, too tired to quip.
"I think you might be done here for today," God said, picking up a book from her cart and placing it in its spot on the stacks. "I've always liked libraries, you know. Something about all this knowledge, all these stories, here for anyone to have. And, somewhere along the way, someone had an idea for organization that almost every library uses. One person's idea is still alive and well in these stacks, helping people find what they need. Truly amazing." She turned her focus once again on Joan, saying, "I've still got some other work I would like for you to do."
"I thought I was doing what you wanted," Joan said with a little whine. "What else can I do?"
"Meeting people isn't always enough. Sometimes you need to look beyond the surface; people aren't exactly who they appear to be at first. That's all you need to know for right now. Also--be careful tonight, and make sure that you and Grace try to stay off campus."
"Why?" Joan asked.
God looked at her with something that almost resembled worry, brow knitting together as the corners of her mouth turned down.
Joan gasped. "Is there going to be another murder? Grace said that the whole conference is a little nervous about all that."
"It's just best if you just try to keep away from campus tonight, " she said, absently picking up one of the books Joan hadn't opened yet. "Also, you need to get this book to those nice boys you met. This is very important."
"Why?" Joan asked again. She was not surprised that the only answer she got was God pulling her glasses down on her nose, so she could look at Joan from above the rims.
Joan rolled her eyes a little. "I know, I know. Do as you ask." She took the book. "Fine," she snipped, setting the book with her things.
God smiled at her and put the rest of the books from Joan's table on the cart. "You'll want to get those index cards in order before you leave. It would be a shame to lose all that hard work to poor organization." She gave a little wave as she walked away, pushing the cart in front of her.
-- -- -- --
Dean was looking forward to a nap before they headed out to campus that night to see what they could get from the EMF reader. He was getting tired of this hunt. He didn't like how useless it was making him feel. Lately, he had enjoyed the business of hunting ghosts, when they had the time to do it. These hunts were more of a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am kind of gig; dig up the bones, little salt, little lighter fluid, book of matches, and woosh! No more ghost. Progress. A battle won. It made him feel like there was something he could actually do. Cases like this gave him and Sam something to talk about, something that they understood how to fight.
But this? They were usually packing the Impala by now, heading out of town, not just sitting around with their thumbs up their asses with no real leads. The other chick's roommates also told them all about what a great girl their friend was, but again--no odd sounds, no cold rooms, no ooze, no scratching in the walls. They were spinning their wheels here, and this case had just started to feel like more like the apocalyptic bullshit they'd gotten stuck in--more of not knowing what the fuck they were really up against. His bones itched to fight something he could see, to burn something and make it go away.
As he and Sam made their way back to their motel room, that Joan girl was waiting for them--sitting on the ground in front of their door, knees up, reading a book.
"Joan?" Sam asked. "Is everything okay?"
"What? Oh, yeah," she said, standing. "I'm supposed to give this to you." She held out the book she'd been reading. Sam took it, reading the title out loud, "Legends of the Great Plains Tribes?"
"Why are you giving this to us?" Dean was starting to feel a little uneasy around this girl. Something about her was definitely off. And he didn't like that Sam seemed to get that smitten puppy look around her. He had the worst taste in chicks lately.
Joan was quiet for a minute, looking like she was trying to find the words. "Um," she finally said. "I just--needed to give that to you." She held out her hands in front of her, urging Sam not to give it back. "Just. Keep it, okay? I mean--until you're done with it. Then return it. I can't imagine the lecture I'll get if you, like, really keep it." At that, she walked off toward her own room, and he and Sam went inside.
-- -- -- --