The first steps of Sam's plan are easy. He buys clothes for Ben at a thrift store so nothing will look too new. Shoes, socks and underwear are acquired at Wal-mart. He's three states away from Wyoming before he lets Ben stay in the seat as they stop for gas, four when Ben comes inside and picks out the snacks he wants and five states away the first time the boy sits in a diner for breakfast.
On the road they work on the cover story together, running over the details until Sam almost believes it himself.
"What's your name?"
"Benjamin Matthew Winchester."
"Where are your parents?"
"Mom's name was Leila and she died when I was little. My dad was Dean; he was a fireman. Everybody says I look like him." He's learning just the right emphasis to put on the words, how to fish for sympathy without seeming to.
"Who am I?"
Ben grins, one of his rare genuine expressions of happiness. "You're Sam Winchester, my uncle. You've taken care of me for three years. You just got a new job in New York, and we're driving there to live, but we're taking our time to see the country before we get cooped up in the big city."
"Good job," Sam says, and hopes Dean would have approved of the fiction.
After a week of running, Sam relaxes their pace. They cruise the south, spending a few days here, almost a week there. Ben's smart, and he approaches everything Sam wants him to learn with equal enthusiasm. He can understand books targeted for young adults but goes through all the library books for younger children to make sure he has the cultural references.
He watches bad martial arts movies and complains about the combat tactics. Monster movies, even the edited-for-television versions they show on network TV, get Ben so worked up that Sam's worried. "He's letting the Nomlies kill him!" He'll shout in protest. "A jammed gun still makes a good club!" He'll stand and pace and walk up to the screen and grip his own shoulders until there are bruises, like he's trying to will the characters to not be stupid. Even after Sam's turned the channel, it takes a while before Ben calms down again.
Sam gets really good at reading the TV guide, learns that any sort of alien or special effect is a Nomlie. When he asks Ben about it he hears horror stories of children that aren't perfect being taken away, drained, killed, dissected. And then handed over the the monsters. If he was in any other business, he probably wouldn't believe a word of it.
He pages through dad's journals, searching for any reference to Nomlies or Wyoming or kids with bar-codes, but there's nothing. He starts a new page, writing down the bits and pieces he can glean from Ben's stories.
Ben has a notebook too, and his own pen, but Sam doesn't think he writes in it. He makes sure the boy has his own things--a duffle-bag for his clothes, a small pocket knife. He has a Velcro-closing wallet with Dean's photo inside, along with one of Sam and Ben that they get from a machine in a mall, and forty dollars hidden under the flap in case of emergencies. He takes an interest in the stars, and Sam picks up a book on astronomy from a used book store.
Ben's most prized possession though, is the Virgin Mary medallion that Sam gave him in that first hotel room. He has a faith in her, calls her "The Blue Lady." In Wilmington, they go to a Catholic church together and Ben watches the service with wide eyes. Sam's not sure what he thought of it.
"How do they make her strong?" Is his only question.
"They believe in her."
Ben's quiet for the rest of that day, but by the next he's his usual inquisitive self, and Sam doesn't think about it again.
North Florida is nice this time of year. Sam tries to expose Ben to normal kids when he can. A little boy in a park runs up during a split-second that Sam's not paying attention and pops Ben on the chest with a bright "Tag! You're it!"
"Shit," says Sam.
The boy looks up at Ben from where he ends up on the ground, too shocked to cry. Ben drops his arm and takes a step back, looking to Sam for some sort of guidance.
"Time to go," he says, and puts the fallen child back on his feet. After a wobble, he stays standing up. A concerned-looking mother is hurrying over. "Sorry!" Sam calls out as he reaches for Ben's hand. "Just a little rough-housing."
So maybe not a family with kids, Sam decides on the way back to the truck.
"Why didn't he fight back?" Ben asks, because Sam's always encouraged him to be curious.
"He's not trained to, I guess."
Ben looks back to where the woman is fussing over the boy. "She must not love him very much."
"She hopes he'll never have to fight."
Ben's incredulous look says exactly what he thinks of that idea.
The next day, Sam starts training again. Not weapons or hand-to-hand, but crunches, push-ups, running. Ben joins him without being told or even asked to. Some part of Sam is happy to have quiet foot-falls beside his on the isolated woodland paths they run. At first, he sets an easy pace, a short run. Despite taking two steps for every one of Sam's, Ben keeps up. Out of curiosity, Sam pushes it one day, making it into a hard cross-country run through hill country.
There's not a word of protest from his small shadow. When he stops, he's breathing harder than Ben is.
He's not sure how he feels about that.
Sam has stopped reading the newspaper. He doesn't even plug the laptop in at the motels. He hasn't had a prophetic dream in months. The universe proves its sense of humor by throwing a monster into his path when he's doing everything he knows to avoid a hunt.
One bright spring afternoon they pull into a rough motel in Robbinsville North Carolina. It's the sort used mostly by long-distance hikers on the Appalachian Trail when they're in need of a real bed and a hot shower before another week in the woods.
There are more cars in the parking lot than there are rooms in the place, but curiosity pulls Sam in anyway.
The news at the office is that the cars are for the search party; a pair of hikers is missing, another one disappeared the month before.
It's the last night of the full moon. Sam can't let a werewolf that's killing people run loose. He doesn't feel safe keeping Ben here for a whole month. He might attract attention if he leaves and comes back in four weeks, especially if there's another killing.
In the end he does the one thing he promised himself he wouldn't do.
"Stay here," he tells Ben as night falls. "I'll be back before sunrise."
Ben nods, serious as an undertaker. "Yes, Sam."
And god, he hates what comes next, the words that'll make Ben doubt that promise, but if something does happen to him while fighting a damn werewolf, he can't leave Ben for child services.
He opens his phone and puts it in Ben's hand, shows him how to scroll down the names. "This is Bobby's number. If I'm not back by noon, call him and tell him you're Dean's son. Tell him what happened to me."
He feels like a first-class asshole when Ben nods. His "Yes, Sam," is the most subdued ever.
The search parties have packed up for the day and there's nobody in the parking lot when Sam fetches the pistol with silver bullets and the machete with a silver-edged blade out of the locked box that's on the back of the truck. It's about three steps between the back-side of the parking lot and the moonlit forest.
There are two ways to hunt werewolves. The first is to spend months figuring out who in the town is a shifter. Follow them when they make themselves scarce before sundown on a night of the full moon. Wait for the change (not because there's a weakness there; it's just easier to kill something that doesn't look like a person), and then make a move.
Sam only has time for the second method. The keen edge of the machete cuts a shallow line through his skin as he draws his forearm over it. The breeze will carry the scent. The wolf will do the rest. All he has to do is be ready when it shows up and not die.
With all of his senses open and alert, Sam moves through the woods, looking for a perfect spot to wait, and he really hopes it doesn't take its sweet time; he'd like to fight while his adrenaline is flowing and not aching cold after sitting up for six hours in the middle of nowhere.
He finds an empty campsite. It's just a flat space with a rock-circled fire-pit in the middle, but the trees are thin enough overhead that the moonlight shining down makes the dewy grass polished-steel bright. There's a grunt and a shuffle off to the side, and he turns, eyes searching for the broad-shouldered form of the werewolf.
A shape disengages from the tree-line--humanoid, but nine feet tall and lanky and twisted, and fuck, not a shifter at all. He fires three rounds into the center-mass as he turns to run. God-damn forest-troll. His father's voice is echoing in his head use feeding patterns to figure out what something is, never to eliminate something else. He's an idiot for jumping to conclusions. Two kills does not a pattern make.
The monster closes the space between them in two steps, and his massive fist hits Sam like a cannonball. He hits the rocky ground in a boneless sprawl, trying to gather his scattered wits. Run, roll, get the fuck out of there, his brain's screaming, but somehow gravity is really strong right here, and he can barely turn over to see the thing lumbering over to him.
As evil shit goes, it's definitely on the ugly end of the spectrum with its big blunt teeth, grey-green skin and knobby joints. It draws its hand up again, and Sam has no doubt it'll smash his brains out this time, then pull him apart at the joints and drag him back to its cave to eat later.
The troll's right eye explodes and it lets out a hideous howl. Gunshot. That was a gunshot, right before... The wound closes. The beast blinks once and the eye is back, healed, regenerated. There's a steady Crack! Crack! Crack! And each time the troll jerks as it's hit. Each shot comes from shorter range.
Moving takes everything Sam has, but he rolls over and gets a knee under himself. Ben's stalking across the clearing, the GLOCK 29 from the truck in his small hands. He doesn't have the body mass to absorb the 10mm's kick, but he rides it like a pro, pulling his aim back down after each shot, lining it back up on his target before firing again. It's almost surreal, the way he moves like a miniature SWAT member in his X-Men pajama pants and blue t-shirt. His body's turned to provide his enemy with a smaller target, his steps crossing sideways as he advances.
"Run," Sam rasps out, but his voice is barely over a whisper. All the air's been knocked out of him and he hasn't caught his breath again. The pistol only holds ten shots, and they're nothing the troll can't regenerate from while it's in the dark.
He's counting the bullets in his head. Seven, eight, nine. The beast makes an anguished noise. The hits may not stick, but it's gotta hurt, having your eyes shot out like that. It turns and runs. Ben puts the last round into the base of its skull. The misshapen head flops around on the too-long neck but it doesn't really slow down. And then Ben's moving too, dropping the gun and snatching up Sam's fallen machete.
That won't stop it either, not at night, and it only has to get one good hit in to splatter Ben's little body like a tomato.
"Ben!" The kid is sprinting at the troll's back and Sam does his best impersonation of his father he can manage with only half a lung's worth of air. "Stop!"
Ben stops short, tumbles, rolls back to his feet. The troll is deep in the woods by then. Ben crouches and moves back to where Sam's sprawled, his bare feet silent on the leaves beneath him. The fire of the hunt is in his eyes. He looks like a boy, but he isn't.
The only thing a wolf-cub can grow up to be is a wolf. In that moment, Sam sees that the only thing Ben can grow up to be is a hunter.
And then Ben's at his side, reverently touching his face. "Sam," he says, his voice full of confusion and no little awe. "Sam, you can't hunt Nomlies by yourself. They'll hurt you."
Sam nods and pushes himself to his knees. Ben helps him the rest of the way to his feet, then looks in the direction that the troll left in, eager to track it down. "No," Sam warns. "Those shots will bring people. Grab the gun and let's get back to the motel. We need the iron shot out of the truck, lighter fluid too. We'll have to wait until morning so the sun will keep it from regenerating on us."
"Yes, Sam," and there's no questioning of his orders, just an eager acceptance. The list of all there is to teach Ben starts running through Sam's head as they move off of the trail before the locals catch sight of them.
Ben's shoulder is warm under his hand, and it's been a long time since Sam had somebody to lean on.