The world didn't so much snap as ooze into focus and he couldn't for the life of him remember the last time he'd woken up so slowly. Everything flowed like molasses and it took him a moment to realize that he was alone in the big bed.

That, on the other hand, raised his awareness level to one hundred percent in a split second flat and he pushed up on his elbows and sent a look around the elaborate bedroom. There was no sign of Michelle until he focused on the pillow next to him and the crumbled piece of paper he had one hand on.

Not yet willing to jump to any conclusions, he sat up, picked up the piece of paper and eyed the neat handwriting.

Think I forgot to tell you that I have to be at work by nine. Didn't want to wake you. Kitchen's fully stocked if you choose to stay. Hope to see you tonight.


For a long moment he just sat there and stared at the words without really grasping the extent of this. Then he arched an eyebrow and finally smirked to himself. "Damage repaired," he muttered under his breath, pushed the sheets aside and got up. He had a very posh apartment to himself all day and one hot nurse coming back later in the day.

After a shower he inspected the kitchen, found the coffee and started the machine, then opened the fridge and nearly took a step back. "Holy crap," he muttered. Fully stocked was no lie, he mused quietly.

His anticipation of maybe spending a quiet day in these surroundings was suddenly and harshly undermined when he suddenly remembered his brother. "Shit," he muttered and glanced at his watch. By now, Sam had to think he was dead or worse. Foregoing breakfast until he'd had a chance to ease his obviously anxious sibling's mind, he returned to the bedroom, dug his phone out of his pocket and dialed Sam's number.


Anxious wasn't the key here. Pissed like hell was if Sam's tone was anything to go by. "Hey. Sorry I didn't call, but things got interesting and ..."

"Spare me the fucking details! I've called you a dozen times. Do you have any idea what time it is?"

Dean pulled the phone away from his ear for a second, drew in a deep breath and held it. Getting angry with Sam right now would accomplish nothing. Besides, Sam had every right to be pissed off. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? Time kinda got away from me here and ..."

"And nothing!" Sam cut him off, his tone so incensed that Dean felt the need to just hang up on him until he'd cooled down. "Two people got killed last night while you were getting laid. You think that's good news?"

Dean blinked. "A troll?"

"What do you think?" Sam growled.

"You didn't try to go after it by yourself, did you?" Maybe that was why he was so pissed? He'd gone after it and failed?

"Contrary to what you like to believe, Dean, I'm no idiot. I know I can't take a troll alone. I watched the news at six. I've tried to call you about ten times since," Sam shot back, the anger thick and heavy in his voice.

"Would you just calm down, Sam? If they were dead at six, there would have been nothing we could have done anyway. You know trolls only come out after dark," Dean said, lending his tone the necessary steeliness that would make Sam stop blowing up at him. "And I have never thought you were an idiot, by the way."

"Sometimes I wonder," Sam snapped heatedly. "When are you coming back? Or shouldn't I expect to see you today?"

Dean scrubbed a hand over his lips. "I'll be there in an hour. Just chill out, man," he said, then hung up. Sam would probably have cooled down by the time he got there and Dean had no particular need to get into this again. "Here's hoping," he muttered and got dressed. He wasn't going to leave until he'd had coffee, but everything else ... well, they would have to go out for some breakfast once he reached the motel. Another quick glance at his watch made him grimace. Scratch that. That would be lunch, since it was eleven thirty already.

That left him with the dilemma of not having any way to reach Michelle. He didn't have her number. If he just left, she would probably think he'd blown her off and that was that. And he so did not want that to happen. Not after last night. Not ... He stopped himself, just stood there and stared ahead of himself while the smell of fresh good coffee wafted around him and the feel of the deep plush carpet beneath his bare feet made him lose touch with reality for a bit. What the hell was he going to do? How the hell was he going to handle this? He wanted to see her again. Hell, when push came to shove, he wanted to stick around here. There was obviously enough for them to do here with trolls continuously coming out of the woodwork like that. So, how would Sam relate to that?

Then it hit him. She had called him a couple of times. She had called Sam. They both had her number. "Stupid," he muttered and wondered when the hell he'd lost his ability to think straight. He scrolled through the incoming calls, found her number and added it to his contacts, then dialed the number.

"Michelle Eden."

Ouch. She didn't have his number in her contacts, didn't recognize it, which wasn't good news. "Hey. It's me." Yeah, real smooth. He felt like slapping his brow. "I woke up and you were gone."

A brief pause answered him where he could hear the background noise of the hospital. "Hey you," she replied and her tone had changed radically from slightly harrowed, slightly off center, to a downright purr. Okay, maybe she just hadn't checked the display? "Sorry about that. I just didn't want to wake you."

"Hey, no harm done. Can't remember the last time I slept in like this," he said, lending his tone the necessary lilt toward debonaire to make most women go weak in the knees. "I was just ... Sam's got something for us to do and ... well, I didn't want to skip out on you without a word."

"You could have left me a note," she said. "On my pillow."

He pursed his lips in contemplation. "Uhm ... yeah, I could have. Didn't think of that, really. Anyway, I gotta take off, but I'd like to see you again." Some part of him moaned at the thought that she might mention last night's near miss.

"I'd like that," she purred and her voice dropped a note toward throaty, which sent a shudder of delight up his spine. Damn, she had one hell of an influence on him.

A little confused by his own response to her, he propped one shoulder against the doorframe to the bedroom and eyed the bed. "Yeah?" He smirked. "I bet you would."

"This time, I think we should skip all the meet-and-greet stuff and just get down to business."

He blinked, then frowned. "Hey, that's my line," he scoffed jokingly. "So, I'll call you as soon as I know what's what and ... well, you can always call me too."

"I'll stay in touch. Listen, I gotta go. It's crazy busy here today."

"Sure. I'll call you later," he agreed, briefly hesitated, then cut the connection. For a long moment all he did was stand there, the painted wood of the doorframe digging into his shoulder, his eyes locked on the bed. This wasn't an issue of being satisfied with his performance or just the general union. There was more here, something different. But he would be damned if he knew what that was.

With a sigh, he pushed away, got his stuff together, got his boots on and left the apartment behind. He needed to get back to that dingy motel room and face his undoubtably annoyed brother.


Comfort Suites
Blaine, MN

Sam wasn't really mad. It wasn't so much that. Dean had pulled stunts like this before, staying away all night, dragging his feet coming back. And the snapping and yelling hadn't really been about that either. Not really. Not if he was honest with himself. He just felt a little bit abandoned, a little bit left behind. Simple as that. It was stupid, it was childish, and he wondered if Dean had felt the same way when he had taken off for Stanford. That had of course been a totally different thing.

It hadn't really struck Sam back then how Dean might have felt about the whole thing until he was well under way. And no matter how bad he had felt about it, he knew then and he knew now that he wouldn't have turned back. It had been a matter of principle. If it had been only Dean, things would have been different. He would have been able to talk to his brother, to straighten things out, make him back off. But dad? No, dad had been a different issue altogether, one he hadn't wanted to deal with, hadn't known how to deal with. Dad's attitude back then had always been 'I'm right, you're wrong. Deal with it.' There had been no discussing it, no what-do-you-think, no let's-talk-it-over and Sam had resented it. As much as he had struggled with the fear of what was happening to dad when he had been away – specifically after he'd found out what dad did for a living – that was as much as he had resented him when he was there, barking orders, being unreasonable.

And it had struck him since that his reaction to dad had been based as much on his own resentment of being pushed around as it had been based on the fact that Dean never bit back. Sure, he had stood up to dad on occasion, had told the old man to back down when he felt he was being too harsh on Sam. And Sam could recall at least ten times when Dean had taken the blame for something he had done so dad wouldn't yell at Sam and instead took his disappointment out on Dean. But the majority of Dean's involvement had been simply that he didn't like the yelling and wanted it to stop. He had been equally pissed at both of them.

So had Dean actually liked the life they had been living or had it been a front because he had been so dead set on pleasing dad? To this day, Sam wasn't sure. But he had the feeling that somewhere, deep down, Dean wanted normal just as much as he did.

His quiet contemplations were cut short when the door opened and Dean stepped in. His big brother eyed him for a moment, the scrutiny evident, then shut the door almost quietly behind him. "How's the mood?"

Sam grimaced. "Fine," he said. "Sorry I snapped. I just ... got worried when you didn't call back."

Dean's expression was kinda hard to read right then. "Well, you can stop worrying now, 'cause I'm fine."

It wasn't normal, this docile behavior. And it hit Sam right there and then that Dean's reactions had been docile ever since he'd met Michelle. Well, apart from the nearly frantic pacing in the beginning. "Yeah, I can see that," he agreed. "So ... I take it you got lucky last night?"

With a nonchalant shrug, Dean tossed his jacket on the bed. "Yeah, I guess you could say that." And that was it. No elaborate descriptions of what they had done to each other, no lewd smirks. Just ... that.

"Well, I guess we're gonna stick around here for a bit longer. These trolls are harder to get rid of than weeds. Unless you wanna go?" It was a test, a quietly hopeful test. If they stayed, this new version of his brother might become easier to swallow because he would get used to a more docile, more 'adult' version of Dean, but it also meant ...

"Nah, we can stay a bit longer." Dean settled down on the footend of his bed and just sat there for a moment. "So ... these trolls, huh?"

"Yeah, trolls," Sam agreed. "Look ... I kinda get that you're ... I mean, Michelle is very ..." He stopped while he tried to figure out what he was going to say. Then he focused directly on his brother. "Why don't we find an apartment in town?"

Dean blinked and met his gaze dead on. "What?"

"Well ... we're not close to that cemetery here. And you've got the only car. And ... well ... if you're gonna ditch me again like you did last night ... do you have any idea how long it took me to get back out here? And how damned difficult it has become to swipe a halfway decent car?" Sam stopped before he got carried away and wondered why he was getting so worked up about all of this. Something told him that it had nothing to do with Dean, but he was currently at a loss to understand what exactly it was about.

"Okay, random," Dean said and eyed him closely for a moment. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Make a commitment for once in your life, Dean," he blurted out. "To something other than me and dad."

"What?" Dean looked like one big question mark right now. "I have no idea what you're going on about, Sam. You got something weird to drink last night? What are we talking about here?"

He considered it for a moment, then shrugged halfheartedly. "I don't know. I think if we're gonna stick around, we might as well get closer to the events. And why stay in a motel? We have much more privacy if we find an apartment somewhere."

"Okay, I get that. But ... just out of sheer curiosity here ... how are we going to pay for a place like that? In case you hadn't noticed, credit card scams are getting harder by the day. There aren't enough people and companies around any more to make it work efficiently. I'm gonna have to start hustling some serious pool to scrape up the kind of cash we need to pay for an apartment." Dean paused, looked like he was considering options, then shook his head. "Sam, unless you know something I don't ..."

"There are a lot of empty places in town, Dean. I've checked. And they're renting them out dirt cheap. We may have to settle for something less posh, but then again ... when have we ever done anything else?" Sam continued for him. "Look, I know it's risky, but ... honestly? ... I'm getting tired of living like a damned nomad. And we've got a steady supply of trolls here from what I can tell."

"And then what? When they run out? When there's no reason for us to stick around?" Dean queried. His tone belied his words, though. He sounded almost hopeful, like he expected Sam to tell him something that would make this okay.

"Then we can move on. But why not get a place of our own until then? It would beat living here, wouldn't it?" Sam tried, hoping he was convincing his brother.

Dean sent a glance around the room, then focused on Sam again, a slight frown furrowing his brow. "I guess anything would beat living here, yeah," he agreed. "Still ... I don't see how we're gonna pay for that."

Sam had thought about it on and off, had considered other options to doing what they did. "Well ... there's always a job." In essence, he knew what Dean's response to that would be. But for the time being his brother just stared at him.

"I'm hungry," Dean said, rose and grabbed his jacket. "Come on. Let's go get some grub." That said, he turned around and left the room.

Sam just sat there for a moment, then sighed lightly and rose. For some reason Dean opposed 'honest' work like others might oppose stealing. "Upside down world," Sam muttered, grabbed his own jacket and followed Dean to the car. What else could he do? He would have to get back into this discussion at a later point. Right now, he had the feeling that pushing Dean might not be the best option and he realized that he actually liked this more docile version of his brother.


The diner

The idea festered. He couldn't describe it any other way. Sam had said it and now he considered it. An apartment? The closest they'd ever come to being stationary had been the jobs that took more than a few days to solve. The longest had been a couple of months somewhere out East and dad had been gone most of the time. The apartment had been crap, but it had been as close to a home as anything Dean could consciously remember. The house before the demon was like a dream half remembered, fleeting at best.

Throughout lunch Sam kept going on about the trolls and about Michelle and something about someone named Isabel, but Dean wasn't really paying attention.


The sharp tone to Sam's voice made him look up from pushing a cube of sugar around on the now empty plate in front of him. "What?"

"Are you even aware I'm here?" Sam's tone was somewhat hurt. He knew that tone, had heard it countless times growing up.

"Yeah, of course I am," he tried, well aware that Sam was going to question him about what he had said so far and he wouldn't be able to answer that.

Sam's expression made him frown, though. It wasn't the usual bitch-face. He looked like he was stuck somewhere between concern and confusion. "Man, you've got it bad, don't you?"

That made him pay more attention. "Got what bad?" It was entirely possibly that Sam knew something about trolls at this point that he didn't, something that might be bad news.

With a snort, Sam leaned back on his chair and a kind of helpless little smile slipped over his lips. "And you don't even know it," he added and shook his head in obvious wonder. "Man, this is twisted. I never thought I'd see the day."

"See what day? What the hell are you talking about?" Dean demanded, not sure he liked where this was going.

The somehow calculating look that slid into his brother's eyes was not very becoming. "What exactly do you feel for her?"

Dean blinked. "Her?" he asked. "Her who?"

"Michelle, of course. You've been out with her six times now. That's excessive for you. And considering that you claim you got lucky last night ..."

"I didn't 'claim' that," Dean cut him off. "What the hell are you going on about? I like her. What's the big deal? I'm gonna keep seeing her until we leave here and that's that." Biggest issue with that part was that he didn't want it to be that way and a part of his subconscious mind was beginning to balk and clamor for attention. "Why don't you just mind your own business, huh?" he snapped, not really sure why he was getting so worked up about it.

Sam raised both hands in mock surrender. "Sure, fine. Have it your way. But you're hit and that's as far as it goes."

"I am not 'hit', whatever the hell that means anyway," Dean countered sharply and tried his damndest to outstare Sam for a moment. Then he huffed. "You got something to say, Sam? Why don't you just spit it out, huh? Stop beating around the bush."

The challenge was given some serious consideration for a moment. Then Sam leaned forward again, propped his elbows on the table top and folded his hands. "You're in love with her."

It was a simple statement, but it was also the weirdest thing Sam had ever said to him. At first he couldn't think of a single thing to say to that while that part of his subconscious mind clamoring for attention got even louder. "What are you talking about? That's ridiculous. I hardly know her."

"Doesn't matter, man," Sam claimed with a light shrug. "I have never seen you like this around a woman before. You are completely off center. There's no other explanation. You've fallen for her and you've fallen hard. Was it the same with Cassie?"

Cassie? Now why the hell would his brother bring her up? "What ..." He stopped himself, shook his head and leaned back in his chair. "Cassie has nothing to do with this, Sam. Michelle is just ... another woman. We're having fun. End of story. She's not expecting more and I'm not ..."

"You can't even say it," Sam said and there was a flicker of glee in his tone. "You can't even tell me to my face that you're not smitten, that you're not somehow hoping for more."

"Shut up, Sam," Dean snapped and folded his arms defensively over his chest. "You have no idea what you're talking about here."

"Oh, I don't, do I?" Sam chuckled. Evidently, this whole thing was funny to him. "You, of all people." He shook his head, a smirk on his lips. "I honestly never thought I'd see the day."

"You're not seeing anything, bitch. Whatever you think you're seeing, you're deluded," Dean growled. "Now, quit it. I've been thinking about this apartment-business." Anything to shut Sam up about Michelle.

"We're not done with this," Sam said and arched an eyebrow suggestively. "And yeah, an apartment in town would get you closer to Michelle. Within reach."

"Shut up about that already. What the hell is it with you anyway? You're more stubborn than a damned mule." The arrival of the waitress made him stop talking and he gave her a look that made her decide to go elsewhere before he focused on his brother again. "I'm happy you're getting such a kick out of this, Sam," he added angrily, rose and left the diner behind.


Sam had to admit to himself that he was taken aback by Dean's response. He had expected some kind of backlash, yes, but nothing near as strong as this and it both surprised and bothered him.

He paid for their brunch, then hurried outside, in part convinced that Dean would have taken off without him, leaving him stranded. But again Dean's reaction was different than what Sam expected, because his brother was just standing there, leaning against his car, a dark look in his eyes and his gaze locked on the ground in front of his feet.

Sam stopped a few feet from him and eyed him for a moment, once more reminding himself that he needed to get a hold of a heavier jacket than the one he was wearing. Even with his t-shirt, shirt and hoody, it was still chilly enough to make him shiver lightly. "I didn't know you felt so strongly about this, Dean," he tried when Dean made no move to acknowledge him.

"This topic is off limits," Dean countered evenly, pushed away from the car and opened the driver side door.

Pushing his luck at this point would be a very bad thing, so Sam decided not to pursue this right now. "Okay, so ... about that apartment. Maybe we could go take a look at what's out there? As you said, trolls don't come out until nightfall. We've got the whole day ahead of us."

"Right. Let's check that out," Dean agreed a little sourly and got in the car.

Sam sighed. He had really pushed some buttons that didn't need pushing right now and for the next few hours, he figured he'd better not get anywhere near the topic of Michelle unless Dean made the first move. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't have thought that would happen, but right now he wasn't too sure. He slid onto the passenger side seat and glanced at Dean, who wasn't looking at him at all.

The rest of the day they spent hunting for an apartment and even Sam was close to giving up on the idea by the time darkness started to descend on Minneapolis. Curiously enough, Dean had at no point uttered any complaint about their present endeavor or suggested at any point that they should quit looking.

That, however, did not mean that his brother had no complaints at all, because their lack of progress frustrated Dean almost as much as it frustrated Sam. "Too expensive, too much security wanted, too little space, too much space. What the hell does it take to find a decent place in this damned city?" Dean's first complaint was one that Sam could only relate to.

"I don't know. Looks like they're not that eager to rent places out after all, doesn't it?" Sam said and shrugged lightly. "Maybe we should just forget about it."

"No, we're not forgetting about it. This is ridiculous. There has to be a way to secure an apartment without too many questions asked. The population of this country has been halved. There has to be a surplus of apartments they can't get rid of. So why is this so damned difficult?"

"Dean, it's not worth the effort," Sam tried.

"Shut up. If it's the last thing I do, we're getting an apartment," Dean snapped and strode out of this latest apartment block they had visited.

Once more, Sam just stood there and considered how to handle his obviously very volatile brother. He was fairly certain that Dean's at present fairly unstable state of mind was caused by what he had stated earlier. But he had yet to get Dean to admit to it and that one was the tricky part.

Unsure of what path to take next, Sam decided to just go along with whatever Dean had in mind right now, and followed his brother outside to where he was waiting by the car. "So ... we forget about the troll and hunt for apartments instead?"

"No, we go bag ourselves a troll now. I need to kill something right now and I prefer it to be a troll," Dean said. "Let's move like we got a purpose."

Sam frowned. "Aliens, right?" he asked and got in the car.

Dean gave him a tight grin. "After all these years, you're finally catching on," he said, revved the engine and pulled out.