1. Reaching out
The darkness clinging to every night was almost taunting, like a creature preparing itself for an attack. But Dean knew better. It was just a painful reminder that he was alone, darkness was just a part of it.
Sometimes dreams were worse than dealing with the worst possible supernatural occurrences. There was no control, only a dark power gripping from within reaching for his fear.
When he was in control there was nothing that could bring out fear in him, but sometimes while hunting there was a darkened dread of something else. The thought of not being there when it mattered, the creeping fear for the people he was prepared to do anything for.
Hunting had turned into something else, something that had to be done – as if something was missing. Ever since Sam left for Stanford, everything seemed to have crashed. His dad worked on his own, unless he was in need of Dean's help. Dean, himself, had learned how to work on his own too. It wasn't a difficulty, he knew how to do it, what needed to be done – and that was that. But no hunt could stop him from driving to Stanford every now and then, just like his dad. To make sure Sam was alright, that he was safe. Really, it was all that mattered.
Dean had always tried to hold his family together, after everything, or at least that was what he thought he'd done. Now, it turned out that Sam had in fact been the one gluing all the pieces together. Holding them together. Without Sam, their family would fall into pieces.
Anger was never a part of the equation, it had been at first when he realized just how determined Sam was. A part of Dean just wanted him to be happy, but most of all it was the stark fear that he wouldn't be there to protect him like he had always been.
They had been trained by their dad, learned how to defend themselves not just against a supernatural attack but any attack. Sam could take care of himself, but Dean had always had something like an inborn protective instinct when it came to his little brother.
It was the phone.
The sound reached him through the intensity of his dream, cutting through his sleep. Rubbing his eyes with one hand, eyes adjusting to the dark, he reached for his phone. Before he got to it, his gaze found the alarm clock. He could easily make out the numbers glowing in the dark, 3 AM.
Who the hell would call him at two? Dean knew his dad had just got back from his latest hunt, he had talked to him earlier after all, so it couldn't be him.
"Hello," he grunted.
Sam's voice was breathless, turning into almost just a whisper. There was a desperation there, something that made his protective big brother instincts spring into full action. Hearing his voice, almost as if in pain didn't do anything to lessen his worries.
Something was wrong, it didn't take a genius to figure that out.
"Sammy?" Dean strained to hear what he was saying. "What's wrong?" By the sound of it, Sam sounded lost, like he didn't know where to go. Much like the way he had been standing next to his bed as a six year old, asking him to make the monsters go away.
"I... I didn't know who else to call."
An icy chill of panic clenched itself around Dean's gut, twisting and drawing out cold fear. Just the thought of his baby brother lying somewhere; cold, alone and scared was almost killing him. "It's okay."
Dean wanted to know what could possibly have made his brother so upset. "What happened, Sam?" He was already scrambling out of bed, all thought of sleep long forgotten.
Silence filled the other line.
A moment later, Sam's gasping vibrated in his ear. "Sammy?" he pressed. "Are you okay?"
"Can you just g-get here?" Sam asked, in a voice that tugged at Dean's heartstrings. Of course he would get there. He'd do whatever his baby brother asked him to, but he also needed to know what had caused him this amount of distress. Or who.
"Alright, I don't know what is going on. But I will drive there, okay?" Dean was moving, worming his way into his jeans, grabbing his jacket. "You'll have to give me the directions."
Sam told him the fastest way to get there in a rush, making the words come out blurry. "Thanks."
"You better tell me what the hell is going on when I get there." He paused, hands searching for his car keys. "You hear me, Sammy?"
"Maybe," Sam said, and Dean didn't fail to notice the relief in his brother's voice. It wouldn't have bothered him at any other time. But it sure as hell did now.
"I don't do maybes man, you're telling me."
"Just get here, Dean."
The call was cut.
"Sam?" Dean yelled into the phone. "Sammy!" He removed the phone from his ear, looking at it.
Two hours earlier
"Like you got nothing better to do?" Mike arched an eyebrow. "Dude, this is the grand opening. We can't just..."
"Miss it..." Sam Winchester finished for him. "I heard you before, man." He looked up from the text book he was determined to stay focused on.
"Sam, you ace like everything."
"That's not why." Sam sighed, closing his book. "Okay, where is this thing? Is it even remotely close?" A shadow of doubt crossed his face, but it passed by in a second.
Studying wasn't the real reason he wasn't hell bent on going to the opening of the newest bar where Mike knew the bartender. It had nothing to do with acing a test, but it had everything to do with loosing control. Getting drunk meant loosing control, it meant dropping his guard.
It was almost exactly one year since he had left his family, cutting himself off from hunting. Stanford was both nothing and everything he thought it would be. There were the classes, the people he met, everything was just shining... normal. It was what he wanted, to get away from the supernatural, to surround himself in a safe normal world.
And yet, Sam got the feeling like he didn't really fit in there. Sometimes he would feel as if he was putting on someone else's smile, laughing at all the right jokes – never letting his guard down. Because if he did, everyone would know it was fake. They would see the kind of freak he really was. Pretending to be the person everyone expected him to be.
There wasn't anybody to talk to, well not really. Something was just missing. There were times when he was among other people, and he'd never felt so alone. Like he was disappearing even though he was standing right there. It was those moments that made him wonder if he'd done the right thing, leaving behind his family in the hope of finding something that didn't have anything to do with supernatural occurrences or weirdness.
Sam would sometimes let his mind wander to where his dad and brother were. There had even been moments where Sam had considered going back, even if just to see them. At first nothing had been easy and he'd wanted to tell Dean that he couldn't do it anymore. But he didn't, he never asked him to come and get him, even if sometimes it was exactly what he wanted.
He tried to remember that last conversation he'd had with them, that day when he'd left for Stanford. But when it came down to it he would push all those memories away. Sam didn't want to remember because it hurt more than pretending to be something he knew he wasn't.
Forty minutes later they entered the bar. Lights were flashing from the ceiling, almost blinding them. Apparently this bar had turned into some kind of club. The drinks were even glowing in various colors. It was nothing like he'd ever seen.
It was located in the opposite direction of the Stanford campus, slightly out of town. As far as Sam could tell, there was definitely something of a college night going on.
"That girl is totally checking you out." Mike's distant voice broke through Sam's train of thoughts. When his gaze searched the room, swinging to the girl in question, he realized she was naturally beautiful. And she was looking in their direction.
"It's not me she's looking at," Sam said.
"Oh come on, it is too!" Mike glanced at Sam before turning to his drink. "Go over there and ask her for a dance. I'm gonna go out for a breather."
Sam shifted in his bar stool. "Alright."
"I'll be back in a few."
Staring at his friend's retreating back Sam got out of his seat, turning around to look for the girl in the green dress. Either his eyes were betraying him or she had disappeared, when Sam scanned the place he couldn't see her anywhere.
Every thought disappeared when he heard something that sounded like a shout. Maybe it was because he was close to the door, but even through the loud volume of the bar he knew it was coming from Mike.
Without looking back Sam left the now crowded bar, walking towards the source of the sounds he thought he'd heard. Once he stepped out into the cold air, the sounds only grew louder.
A bit further away from where Sam was currently standing, Mike was holding his own – fighting a guy twice his size.
Sam hesitated, contemplating whether he should give him a hand when he noticed he didn't need to. The guy was already on the ground, apparently knocked out and bleeding.
Slowly turning around, Mike faced Sam. "That was fast."
"What the hell was that?"
"This guy," Mike pointed to the guy lying on the ground, "wanted to mug me."
As Sam began to really take in the surroundings for the first time, he realized that it didn't bear any resemblance to any of the places where students usually hung out. Even if it wasn't near the campus area, this looked more like a murky alley that belonged somewhere else.
"Looks like he failed," Sam acknowledged.
Mike smirked. "Yeah." He glanced at Sam. "What happened to that girl?"
Sam thought before he answered. The fact that his dorm mate could fight like that was something of a surprise. "No idea," he answered. "One moment she was there, and then I couldn't see her. But I heard screaming from outside." Sam eyed the guy now lying unconscious on the ground. "But it looks like you've got it covered..."
Before he knew what was happening, Sam felt something connect with his head painfully.
Blinking rapidly from where he was lying, Sam could distinguish three men standing in front of him. But he couldn't see his dorm mate until he stumbled into a standing position. A fourth person came into his line of vision, and it was obvious to him that he had been the one taking Mike down.
These people were apparently not your average muggers, which didn't make matters easier. Considering his options, he didn't get very far. It wasn't the fact that he couldn't put up a good fight. He could. It was the fact that he hadn't been needing his fighting skills at Stanford.
But when he felt strong arms grabbing him, holding back his arms, he kicked out his legs. Hard.
"What do you want?" he gritted out.
Another man appeared in front of him, but it was too dark to see his face, but Sam could hear the mocking laughter coming from his mouth.
"Your little friend over there killed my friend," the man behind him told him in a harsh whisper. "Let's just say," Sam doubled over when he felt the punch to his stomach, "this is revenge."
Sam struggled against the crushing grip. "Mike didn't kill anyone. Your little friend mugged him."
Sam's eye exploded in pain, as a fist came swinging connecting with his face. He would have fallen down if there wasn't someone holding him up. "He's not dead, alright!" Sam said breathlessly. "Go see for yourself."
A boot was coming for his gut, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. "You got guts, kid." To his associate he muttered, "Go check on him." Through the haze of pain Sam could see that there were a total of four men surrounding him. Mike was still lying on the ground and Sam thought he could see blood coming from his mouth.
"You're going to pay for this..." The man who had disappeared to check on the younger guy returned. Sam tried to read his face for any sign of what was going on. There wasn't anything there.
He'd seen it with his own eyes, the guy had just been unconscious. If anything it looked as if someone had done more damage to his dorm mate than he'd done to the guy that had tried mugging him.
Sam continued to struggle against the viselike grip, kicking his legs out, but it was all for nothing. "I haven't done anything. Mike didn't kill your friend." It felt like a mantra, something he had trying to get across, even though he knew it would never work.
"You're going to pay for what you did," was all the man in front of him said. His voice was bitter, and Sam knew he would never be able to talk his way out of this mess.
They were dragging him somewhere, off his feet, but Sam couldn't make out where they were. The vision on his right eye was returning but slowly.
The first thing he noticed was that Mike was no longer in his line of vision, the second thing was that the little alcohol he had poured into his body had weakened his agility.
The men were advancing on him now, and the next thing Sam could see through his blurry vision was a flurry of fists connecting painfully with his skin. It felt as if his skin was being pierced through with invisible fire, burning his skin.
"Don't do anything stupid, kid," the man in the center sneered, as Sam tried to kick his leg harder trying to break free. The man wore a ski mask, which was weird. It was too dark to see anything anyway, so why bother. Really.
In the dim street lights he could see the blade of a knife shimmer.
Sam knew Mike hadn't killed anyone, he could feel it. But he couldn't see Mike anymore, he didn't even know whether he was dead or alive. He still couldn't figure out who these people were, it was just his luck that he'd been at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sam knew that Mike hadn't done anything except warding off a mugging attempt, and yet Sam tried to bite down the scream, when the knife went through his shoulder. It hovered over his stomach before ripping his clothes, layer by layer.
He was going to die, he knew it, and no one would be able to stop it.
The last thing Sam remembered was how the sharp edge pierced his left side, nearly cutting off his breathing. Feeling the wetness soaking his ripped clothes, and hearing the harsh sound of laughter, Sam fell when there was nothing to hold him up anymore.
Then everything turned black.