Chapter 1

"See you tomorrow, looser!"

Sam sensed the wad of paper coming at him, but didn't try to dodge. It hit him on the side of the head then fell to the bus floor and rolled under one of the seats.

"You, Matthews, knock it off! Don't make me go back there!" Mr. Dools turned back around and sent Sam a pitying glance, pulling on the lever to open the bus door. "Sorry about that, kid."

"It's no big deal, Mr. Dools. I'm used to it." Sam gave him a smile he didn't feel and hurried down the bus's steps.

For two years Cory Matthews had decided Sam was his to pick on. For two years Sam had tried to figure out why, and was no closer to an answer now than he'd been then. He would have asked Dean about it, except he knew only too well that rather than explain, his brother would take it upon himself to give the kid a lesson and get him off Sam's back. If that was all there was to it, Sam could have taken care of it on his own when it started. He knew he could take Cory down in three seconds – but that wasn't the point. He wanted to understand. He wanted to know what it was about him that Cory didn't like, why he felt the need to pick on him. If he could somehow comprehend this, maybe he could change and fit in better.

Dean didn't care about any of that, what people thought or liked about him if anything. But then again his brother could make friends in two minutes flat.

Sam sighed kicking rocks off the shoulder as he followed the worn two-lane country road to their house.

In another week it wouldn't matter. He knew he'd already passed all his classes and that graduating was a mere formality. He was just counting the time until they turned him loose. Soon Cory Matthews would be nothing but a bothersome memory.

He stopped at the pebbled driveway to the Winchester home.

He snorted. Home – that was an overstatement. The one story house was only a temporary staying point, one their father chaffed at constantly -- as if having a place to call their own was somehow more of an impediment than a convenience. Hell, half the kids from school had lived in the same town and the same house all their lives! And his father balked at staying in the same place for two lousy years?

Of course this was all Sam's fault. He was the one wanting to go to school, he was the one who needed stability, a place to call theirs, at least according to Dean.

On the one hand Sam was very grateful for it, so maybe in some ways Dean was right. By staying here, he now had a couple of people he could actually call friends and whom he'd known for more than a week or two. Not just acquaintances you had fun with for a while, but people you could have relationships with, of whom you could say you actually knew their favorite color or food about.

But on the other hand, he sometimes resented it like hell. Every time their father complained about the distance he'd have to travel to a job, or how long it took to get back, the contortions he had to go through to make sure the rent and bills were paid with cash rather than the credit cards he scammed, so as not to create any flags – every single one of these was a criticism against the one he felt had forced this situation on him – Sam.

Dean insisted their father meant nothing by it, that he was just blowing off steam, but Sam knew better. He could tell by the way his father looked at him, by how he picked on every thing he did. Nothing was ever good enough. Nothing! As if wanting to be brought up like everybody else was bad!

But just like Cory Matthews, all this too would soon be but a bothersome memory.

He stepped over to the mailbox and checked to see if they got anything that day. The box was empty. Luckily for him, Dean didn't bother to check for the mail knowing he would. And his father, his father wasn't around enough to normally bother. This worked just fine for Sam.

There'd been a lot of mail going back and forth in the last few months he didn't want either of them to see. Dean wouldn't actually care about it one way or the other, but if he knew, Sam ran the risk his brother might inadvertently let something slip to their father, and that would not do.

With only a slight twinge of guilt, he closed the box.

He wasn't doing anything wrong -- far from it. He just wasn't sure his father would understand. And the last thing Sam wanted was another of his deeply disappointed looks. He'd had enough of those already to last him a lifetime. Only his father would accuse someone of failing the family for preferring to play soccer with friends instead of going out into the woods and learning how to shoot game with a bow. It had really come home during the last couple of years how truly twisted his father's priorities were. Heaven forbid you even dare to suggest it though.

The old rusting Ford his father scrounged up sometime back so they'd have a way to get around when he was gone wasn't in the driveway, so Dean wasn't home yet. Maybe Sam would get a chance to fill out a couple of more scholarship applications before his brother got back. While Councilor Davis' advice about going ahead and applying to everything he could think of was working out, he'd had to stagger the mailings, only sending out a few here and there, so there wouldn't be a major drain on the house fund for anyone to get suspicious about.

The ones he could fill out on the Internet he'd done from the library. The best thing was that on most of the forms, they assumed a parent's consent. It's not like anyone in their right mind wouldn't want their kid to get a scholarship and go to college – out in the normal world anyway. Plus the amount of questions on taxes, filings, and other stuff they asked, you couldn't really fake the info, so you had to get it from the parent. Again, only in a normal family. Sam had been the one filing bogus tax returns for the Winchesters for the last three years. His father had been more than happy for him and Dean to learn to forge his signature, too. More mundane things he could ditch on them to take care of that wouldn't drain away his father's attention from the ever-present hunt.

Sam didn't like all the sneaking around, but he hadn't been able to figure out any other way to do it. He'd prayed hard and often for alternatives, but nothing had come. Heck, the one time he'd approached the subject of college with his father a year ago, the man almost bust a vein and glowered at him for three days afterward. He hadn't left Sam any choice -- because he sure as hell wasn't staying here. Not to be ordered about for the rest of his life, and kept in the dark, like Dean. There was more to living than just hunting evil.

As he came close to the porch, Sam noticed some tracks on the grass off to the side of the house that hadn't been there that morning. With sudden settling dread, he ignored the front and followed the tracks around to the back of the house. Parked under a makeshift awning was the Impala. Their father was home. He was early. Sam hadn't expected him back for at least another couple of days.


He wondered if Dean knew he was coming and hadn't told him. A little warning would have been nice. Not that it really would make any difference in the end, but still…

Sam hefted his backpack a little higher on his shoulder and went back to the front. He stood indecisively before the steps, considering whether to avoid a meeting, hiking back the couple of miles to the library and calling Dean from there to get him to pick him up later, or just going inside and getting things over with.

Hell, he had as much right to be here as their father did. And it was his turn to cook anyway. Swell.

He might as well check the lay of the land and then decide if it would be better to bail. Sam sent up a quick prayer then rose up the steps to the porch, feeling like a condemned man walking the green mile. He didn't understand why he and his father didn't get along any more than he understood why Cory Matthews picked on him. And he'd been working on this problem for a lot longer than that of his schoolmate.

Sam pulled open the screen, flinching as it gave its usual screeching scream. He pushed the door in and slipped inside, making sure to ease the screen back into position rather than have it slam against the frame.

The living room with the beat up TV and second hand couch was empty. Sam put his backpack down, sighing with relief, the meeting put off for yet another few precious moments. That was when he noticed a wide shape fill in the doorway into the kitchen.

"Samuel Winchester, we need to have some words."

Spotting the dark look on his father's face and the open letter in his hand, Sam felt his stomach drop.