So throw me a rope
To hold me in place
Show me a clock
For counting my days down
Cause everything's easier when you're beside me
Come back and find me
Cause I feel alone.
-- KT Tunstall
Sam's in college. It's been two years, now; long enough that Dean doesn't wake up every morning and wonder where Sam's gotten to so early.
Unfortunately, it's not nearly long enough for Dean to stop waking up in the middle of the night to check if he's come back.
"Missouri's been wrong before."
Bobby tells Dean this, glances toward him in the cab of the truck, his face barely visible in the gloom. Dean turns his eyes to the darkness beside the highway, streetlights whipping by in flashes of light.
"You want to take that chance?" Dean asks, over the music.
A radio station out of Gearhart has been playing a country-music whine for the last 20 miles along Highway 101, but at least it's not the coffee-house whine that followed them through Portland. Bobby focuses on the pavement like he's actually listening to this shit. He clears his throat.
"Worth my life, or at least a punch in the face, if your father finds out where I'm taking you."
Who he's taking Dean to. That's the real issue.
Dean rolls his head against the headrest, just looks at Bobby.
Bobby shifts, expression even sulkier, if that's possible. "I'm not some waitress you're trying to coax out back, boy. That look doesn't work on me. Never has."
He's lying, of course. The look's always worked. On everyone Dean's ever met since he was fourteen years old, but the guilt he feels at using it on Bobby still makes him take a hard breath. He grunts an apology.
"I know something's wrong,' Dean says, finally, low and certain, back to counting streetlights. A sign flashes by. 53 miles to go between him and Sam.
'I know it,' he says again. 'Sam hates Seattle.'
Trolls are bad news. That's a given; anyone who was ever five years old with a storybook knows the space under bridges is suspect, even if you're not a billygoat. Missouri saw this one clear as crystal; clear enough to call Dean in the early hours before the sun came up, since she didn't have Sam's number anymore.
Dean doesn't have Sam's number anymore, either. Not the new one. New number, new school, new life, but that didn't stop the bad things from finding him, even if his own brother couldn't.
A troll. A bridge. A night in Seattle and if Dean left right away, talked Bobby into giving him a ride while his father slept in the other room, he could make it in time.
There was never a question of what Dean would do.
Except the Aurora Avenue Bridge runs over 36th street, which is closed for repairs two blocks in either direction, so Bobby can't drive the truck up to the place Missouri saw in her vision. He has to look for parking in Fremont, where some kind of street party is taking place, spilling out of every bar and bookstore and gallery in a crush of crazy, so Dean just jumps out at the corner with Bobby shouting after him to wait.
Dean isn't going to wait. Sam's up that hill, past that apartment building with the canted awning, somewhere in the gloom under the bridge. Possibly with a hungry, murderous troll, but that part doesn't matter to Dean anymore. Sam.
He hears Sam before he sees him; big, goofy laugh that Sam hasn't made before, at least not when Dean's been there to hear it. There's a softer laugh in answer, throaty and joyful.
Sam isn't alone. A group of kids around Sam's age stand drinking from plastic cups; one girl standing right up next to Sam. The light from Aurora Street gleams off her blond hair when Sam leans his face into the mass of it. Something inside Dean twists, a painful dig beneath his ribs.
So, not a troll. Demon, possibly. Witch? Vampire... she kisses Sam. Very sweet. Hand against the back of his head, too gentle for any malicious intent. She looks tiny when Sam encloses her in his arms.
Possibly just a girl, then.
Dean forgets to keep watch. To keep to the shadows.
She sees him over Sam's shoulder and that indulgent, happy expression is gone like a door slamming shut.
"Sam," she says. Urgent. Hands closing on his shoulders. "Sam. There's someone here."
Sam turns, pushes the girl behind him -- he's still fast, Dean will give him that, but there's no weapon anywhere in evidence so if Dean were... a troll, say... Sam and this blond girl would be snack cakes.
"Dean...?" The light falls on Sam's face, now, and Dean just boggles for a minute before answering. Leaner. Wider jaw. A grown up's face, over new bulk that fits his height -- for a minute Dean's not sure he's got the right person.
"Hey, Sam." His throat is gritty, suddenly. His eyes, too.
Sam looks down at the blond girl. "Can you wait over there with Red and Elise for a minute, Jess? It's no big deal -- I kinda know this guy."
Kinda. Dean crosses his arms.
The girl -- Jess -- studies Dean; troubled, now. Not scared. "You know him...?"
"It's cool. I just need a minute."
She nods, moves off to join the other couple a little farther off, but she doesn't want to go, it's obvious. Dean watches her. Sam watches Dean. Rage in his eyes.
"Do I want to know?" Sam asks. No welcome there. Dean tries not to look for it.
"Yeah, calm down, Sam. I'm not here to break up your after party. Missouri said you were in trouble."
Sam's expression is unreadable.
"Here. Tonight," Dean adds, uncomfortable. "A troll."
"You mean like that one?" Sam sweeps a hand toward the slag pile of concrete beneath the bridge, dim in the darkness; the one Dean didn't see because he was looking at Sam. He studies it now.
"Well, damn." Dean's at a loss. The thing sprawls the width of the bridge, VW bug clutched in hand, woeful expression on its face. Completely inanimate. "I don't understand... why would Missouri...?" Sam makes a sound like a snort, dismissive and fed up, and it puts Dean on the defensive. "What are you doing in Seattle, anyway, Sammy?"
"What am I --" he sputters. "How is that the question of the moment? I'm not the one sulking in the dark --"
"Why aren't you at school?" It's easier to fire questions he has a prayer of wanting the answer to, instead of the ones that might kill him.
Are you happy now? Are you ever coming back?
"We came up here for break, Dean." Said like Sam needs all the patience he can find just to talk to Dean. "Red's from Queen Anne. Best parties are in Fremont. No mystery."
"Red?" Dean smirks.
"Oh." Dean glances over to the group laughing by the sidewalk. They pretend to ignore the two of them, but they aren't really doing a good job. Not the blond. Dean can feel her watching them both. Worried.
"Who is she?" Dean asks, soft.
"No." Sam's voice is flat. "Just... no. I'm not discussing her with you."
And maybe Sam doesn't understand that Dean isn't about to object to this girl. Maybe Dean can't blame Sam for thinking that; not when it was Dean's bed Sam crawled out of that last morning before he left for good, Dean's arms that he gripped hard enough to bruise before Dean pushed him away, pushed him toward the bus.
Sam turns to the group, to the girl, and for one nauseating second, Dean thinks he's simply going to walk away.
"Hey. Go back to the bar, you guys," Sam says. Light. Casual. "I'm right behind you."
"Buy enough for all of us," a male voice says, but he's joking, Dean can tell. The blond looks back once, but whatever she sees in Sam's face reassures her. They head down the street.
Sam whips back to face him. "You don't get to ask questions anymore,' Sam says, his expression harsh. "You made your decision."
And he'd make it again. He'd send Sam away, a thousand times, to somewhere safe --
There's another movement in the shadows. Not the kids on the sidewalk who have walked farther down the street, leaving them alone for now; this is faster, coming at them out of the dark. Nothing benign moves that quickly.
"Sam," Dean says in warning, swift and urgent. And Sam, no matter how far he's moved away from where he started, still remembers where he came from. He spins without thought, avoiding a nasty blade that catches the light. A hard blow to the guy's arm and the knife skitters off. Dean takes him low and Sam goes high and it's over in seconds, the kid landing only one punch to Sam's jaw before he's left gasping on his knees.
Human. Young, like Sam, with glazed, wild eyes now that the darkness has bled away. The kid staggers up and makes a pathetic feint at Dean, before turning to run off.
Sam starts to follow, but Dean stops him with a hard grip on his shoulder. "Let him go. Bobby and I will handle him later."
"What the fuck was that about?" Sam pants, wiping his lip with the back of his hand. "Mugger?"
"Black eyes," Dean says, watching the shadows to make sure he isn't coming back. "Didn't you see? Demon." He pauses. "Friend of yours?"
Sam pushes a hard finger into Dean's chest. "He followed you here. You. This stuff doesn't happen to me when you're not around. Demons are your thing. Not mine. Not anymore."
Dean really hopes Sam is right about that. Somehow, he doubts it.
"Wake up, Sam," Dean says, out of patience. "Missouri saw the troll and the bridge and you in danger... this was gonna happen no matter what. You might have died if I didn't haul my ass up here to warn you. Or blondie might have died. You think of that?" Dean is angry now, puts his hands on Sam's shoulders, steps into his space and God, it wasn't supposed to go like this.
Sam steps back like Dean's burning him, face crumpling. He shoves Dean's hands away.
"Just -- just go back where you came from, okay? Just leave." He shakes his head like his own words hurt him. "I don't want you anymore."
But maybe not. The thought is like a gut shot. Above it all, Dean wanted him safe. If safe means Sam isn't his anymore, then... then Dean will have to live with that.
"Okay, Sam." It takes something vital out of him to say it. Dean turns away.
Sam's hands close over his arms, jerking him around into the sweet press of Sam's mouth, hard and desperate, thick with the taste of salt and blood.
"You can't come find me again," Sam says, in a too ragged voice. "You can't -" It's a litany against Dean's skin, in the drag of teeth up the tendon in his neck. Sam's arms enclose him so tightly, Dean can barely speak.
"I won't," Dean chokes. "I'll leave you alone."
He's lying, of course. Hands clenched hard in the fabric of Sam's shirt tell the truth, but Bobby is on his way up the hill and Sam's new life is on the way down, heading back to the party. Dean lets go just seconds before Sam pushes him away. Sam wipes his eyes as he leaves. He doesn't look back.
Dean feels side-swiped, like he fought a troll for real. He staggers backward, leans against the concrete.
Bobby finds him like that a few minutes later, sitting on the troll's knuckle. Bobby takes off his cap and looks him over, before joining Dean on his perch.
"I'm going to have words with that woman," Bobby says, voice a growl. "Was Sam even here?"
"Nope," Dean says, looking down the hill. He takes a breath. "But we've got a demon to track. Weapons in the truck?"
Bobby scowls. "Hell. Too bad it wasn't a troll."