"Go back! Go back the other way!"

Dean scrambled to move through the foliage, pushing through the branches that threatened to catch him. If his dad was shouting, giving away their position, then they were already compromised and in more danger by sitting still and being silent.

From above him, he could hear the screeches of the wendigo. The thing was rank and foul, and worse yet, faster than both him and Dad put together.

Man was he glad they'd left Sam out of this one. Sam was at home right now, probably doing his homework. That was good. For someone so young, he was pretty nerdy about the homework, but that was okay. That distracted him from the monsters that were suddenly very real.

It'd been a year since Dean had let slip what really happened in the world, how very real monsters were. Sam freaked whenever Dad told him about going out and fighting them, but Dean didn't get it. If Sam was so scared, then shouldn't he be happier if Dad was taking care of the monsters?

He was nine; Dean figured it was still okay for him to be afraid. At least he wasn't really having nightmares anymore.

Of course, if he ever saw the wendigo on their tails, Dean wouldn't get a good night's sleep ever.

Suddenly the shrieking stopped. Dean didn't stop with it, but kept going, through the brush and down the incline. He just had to trust that his dad would follow behind him.

He wished Sam had that type of trust in their dad.

A howl rose, louder than it should've been given the approximated distance, and Dean turned at that. The hairs on the back of his neck rose, and he knew he was making a rookie mistake, but that howl didn't sound pained. It sounded angry. And hungry.

"Dad?! Dean shouted into the woods. Only the breeze answered him, and the rustling that sounded like something was coming closer.

Dean's eyes widened, and he turned to run, gasping as he ran into something much much bigger than he was.

When Dean and Dad had left that morning, Sam had been leaving for school. Dad had given him a .45 to protect himself with, and Dean had given him a promise. "We'll be back tomorrow, I swear Sammy."

So when Sam got home, he locked himself in and made himself mac and cheese. Just like Dean had shown him how to do. Then it had been homework, then bed.

The next morning, they still weren't home. Sam told himself it wasn't anything, and they'd be fine. He got dressed and made himself lunch, and walked all the way to school.

He ran all the way home, knowing by now at least that there'd be a black car in the driveway, and Dean and Dad would be inside, safe and sound from the monsters that lurked in the dark.

No car. No lights on inside. Sam stopped short in front of the house. It was just him.

He locked himself in again, and made himself peanut butter and jelly for dinner. He didn't really taste it; his mind was more set on Dean and Dad. Who weren't home.

He dreamed of a creature with long claws and a horrible howl that night, and when he woke up shrieking, there was no Dean to take care of him. No Dad to come in and soothe him, call him baby boy and hold him tight.

He woke up late, almost too late, and then he was running out the door without his lunch, in the same clothes he'd worn yesterday. He slid into his seat, panting slightly. Mr. Haveral gave him a look of confusion. "Is there a problem, Sam?" he asked.

Sam shook his head. "No sir," he replied. "Just didn't wake up on time."

Several of the kids giggled. Sam didn't care. His heart was racing, but it wasn't from the run. Where were Dean and Dad?

He wound up having to eat the cafeteria food with the last two dollars Dean had given him. When he turned to find a seat, he found Mr. Haveral speaking with the principal, Mrs. Broer. They were watching him, and Sam quickly turned away and found a seat on the other side of the room.

When he got home, there was a car in the driveway. It wasn't Dad's, though. This one was blue, and a lot newer. Two men in black suits were standing on the curb, and a woman in a gray dress was with them. Sam froze on the sidewalk, then slowly turned to the right, like he hadn't seen them. Like that wasn't his house they were in front of.

Unfortunately, the woman in the gray dress saw him. "Sam? Are you Samuel Winchester?"

Sam stopped and glanced over her, his heart racing again to the point where he thought he was going to throw up. "Don't be afraid," she said softly. "My name is Doris. We just wanted to talk to you, that's all. We're from the government, sweetie."

Oh god. "I-I'm sorry, I'm not allowed to talk to strangers," Sam stuttered, trying to see if he could maybe make it to their neighbor's yard. "You should talk to my dad." He knew how to vault over the locked fence, and then he could just keep on running, find Dean and Dad, and not look back..

"Your dad's not here, sugar," she said sweetly, but she looked mean now. Sam was definitely running away. "And from what your teachers and neighbors have told us, he hasn't been here for awhile. How long have you been on your own?"

Sam bolted. He heard footsteps behind him, but he was almost at the gate, and he'd be fine-

Arms grabbed him and pulled him back, pinning his arms behind him. "I didn't want to do this the hard way," Doris said, and when Sam turned and looked at her, he saw a nametag underneath her hair he hadn't seen before. Doris M. was printed above the title Social Services.

Oh god.

They had him in the car before he realized what was going on, and by then it was too late. Dad and Dean were going to come home and he wasn't going to be there..

Where were they?

"Do you want something to drink?"

Sam looked up at Doris, before shaking his head. They'd placed him in one of the rooms down at the CPS headquarters. It was a nice room, with a bed and books to read next to it, and two chairs, one of which he was sitting in. No windows, though, and the door was locked. He knew; he'd tried already.

Doris sighed, and Sam looked up at her curiously. She didn't look sweet anymore, which was good. That whole routine hadn't been worth her acting. Now, though, she looked really upset.

Sam wasn't sure that was a good thing.

"Sweetie, I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this. Your dad, he..he was in an accident."

Sam's world stopped. ".Dean?" he whispered.

Doris frowned. "No, sweetie. Your dad is..John, right?"

Sam shook his head, then kept shaking it. "Dean. Dean," he whimpered. Dean wouldn't leave him. Dean was the one who would protect him from monsters and the world when it got too scary.

"Is Dean part of your family?" Doris looked even sadder now. "Your father was on the road, we think, and then..well, we're not exactly sure what happened. But we found his wallet near the car, and his license, and not much els-honey, where are you going? Sam, you need to sit down."

Sam couldn't sit anymore. He couldn't sit and listen to her tell him that Dean and Dad weren't coming back, that they were-

The last thing he saw was the floor suddenly coming up to greet him.

"Damn cops."

"Yeah, I know," Dean muttered. He felt down his sides, checked to see that he had everything. When he heard his dad curse beside him, he winced. "Something missing?"

"My wallet," Dad said darkly, and Dean swallowed. That had all the real information in it. Not to mention tons of phony credit cards. Who knew where he'd dropped it.


At least the wendigo was dead, though, and it wasn't going to bother anyone else. Dean was just glad it had been his dad he'd run into, and not that thing.

"Get a move on; we're already more than late," Dad said, and Dean couldn't have agreed more. They were supposed to have been home yesterday morning, and they'd spent most of the day getting out of the woods. Then, when they'd gotten to the road, they'd found the car missing. Impounded, because it had stayed in a tow away zone for too long.

They hadn't meant to take that long.

At least they had the car back, and there hadn't been a charge, thanks to the wild story Dad had come up with. He knew how to weave some whoppers, Dean had to give him that.

But now it was almost sundown, two days after he'd told Sam they'd be home. He was just as anxious to get home as Dad was. Enough was enough, and Sam was probably going out of his mind with worry.

When they finally pulled in at a quarter to nine, however, the lights weren't on. "What the hell?" Dad growled, and Dean felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. Sam should've been home by now.

"Sam?" he called as they entered. No lights, no school books, nothing. It was as if Sam had just disappeared. He hadn't taken any clothes with him; he was just..gone.

The sinking feeling intensified.

"Go talk to the neighbors, see if they saw Sam," Dad ordered, and Dean nodded. "I'll keep checking the house, see if something got past the salt."

Dean was out the door before he'd finished his sentence. They'd find Sam, and then things would be okay again. They had to find Sam.

They just had to.

Mrs. Shorburn looked just as mean as her name sounded. "You're upstairs with the older boys," she snapped, turning towards the stairs. "With me, please."

Sam slowly walked behind her. He could run; that would be easy. He could make it out and far away from this stupid place. Foster home. Kids who didn't have families anymore.

He closed his eyes tight.

"Move on, keep a move on," Mrs. Shorburn told him, and he opened his eyes to follow her up the grand staircase.

It split off near the top; right and left. Mrs. Shorburn went left. On the other side, he could see small girlish faces peeking out through the doors. Up another small flight of stairs, no more than seven steps, and then they moved in the direction of the front door. On his right, Sam could see multiple doors leading to rooms full of beds. He counted five doors before she turned to him and pointed him into the sixth. "There's a bed in the back made up for you," she said shortly, before heading back downstairs.

There was no one around. Sure, a couple of kids, and a bossy lady, but he could handle that. No problem. He could run away.

There was no one to run to, though. Not anymore.

He trudged into the room and sat down on the edge of the bed, like he had a year ago. When Dean had told him about monsters, but that he'd take care of him. He wouldn't let anything bad happen to him.

He curled up and faced the blank wall and let tears fill his eyes.

Dean had never seen Dad so mad. Never. "Sam's okay though, right?" Dean asked from the passenger's seat. He was growing up, finally thirteen; he got to sit in the front now.

He didn't care right then, though. Not with Sam in the hands of the CPS.

Child Protective Services. Dean shuddered.

Dad tightened his grip on the wheel. "Sam's physically just fine; they won't starve him or beat him. But they're not family, and they're sure as hell not helping him. They don't really care about him; he's just another number. It's hard to care when they deal with a lot of kids."

"But other kids are worse off than he is," Dean argued. "So why take him?"

Dad shrugged. "I heard mention of teachers. And then, when the neighbors said they'd been called, they answered honestly, that we hadn't been seen for a couple of days. Multiple witnesses means an easy fix for them."

At least they knew now where they were going. Almost midnight, but neither of them was going to sleep until Sam was back in the car with them.

They'd packed up as soon as they'd heard what was going on. Then, it had been a simple manner of finding out where the Foster home was.

Dean clenched his fists. Foster home. God. He wanted to punch someone; he had no idea how his dad was reigning it in.

Maybe he wasn't so much pulling it in as he was saving it. Yeah. That'd be cool.

Because Dean had promised Sam that he'd keep him safe. From nightmares, from monsters, from everything. But apparently, he couldn't protect him from people.

"We're here," Dad said shortly, stopping the car right in front of the doors. "You get in, you get your brother, and we get out of here. Understood?"

"Yes sir," Dean said, hurrying out of the car. He wanted to stay and watch Dad lay into them. Oh man did he want to. But he wasn't going to leave Sam in there a moment longer than he had to. They'd taken him away, locked him up in a Foster home, after they'd told him-

Told him that Dad and him were dead.

The woman who answered Dad's harsh pounding looked startled, then annoyed. "Sir, we do not open until eight in the morning, please come back then t-"

Dad just pushed right past her. Several men stepped out of the doors, and Dad turned on them, glaring at them. "I want my son," he said, his voice dangerously low. "Where is he?"

"What right do you have-" the woman tried again, but Dad cut her off.

"What right do you have in taking my son? His name is Sam Winchester: where is he?"

"He'd be upstairs sleeping with the boys right now," the woman said, pointing to the hallway above them on the left, and that was all Dean needed. He ran for the stairs, taking them two at a time, ignoring the protests behind him. He flew up the second set of stairs, then glanced in each door he passed. "Sammy?" he called into the first door. Faces that were maybe three or four blinked at him sleepily. Dean passed them on, flying past two more doors. "Sammy?" he tried again. Five doors, six doors, seven-


Dean slammed to a halt at the whisper, and darted back to the door he'd just passed. At the end of the row of beds filled with sleeping boys was a figure with his back to the headboard, who was very much not asleep. Dean hurried inside, flying past the beds until he reached the last one, where Sam was waiting for him.

Sam had tears in his eyes that were rolling down his face, and that was enough. Dean took his hand and pulled him up, straight into him, and Sam latched onto him like he was the second coming. Dean held him tight for a quick second, then led him out. "C'mon; we're leaving."

The woman was still protesting as they made their way down the stairs, but Sam wouldn't let go of him. "You have no right to take him!" the woman shouted when she saw Sam. Sam slid back to hide behind Dean, and Dean glared at the woman, putting his arm out to shield Sam from her.

"You had no right to take him in the first place," Dean hissed. "He's my brother."

"Sam, you don't have to go with these people," the woman started, but Sam shook his head.

"I'm not staying," he whispered. "I want to go home."

Then Dad was moving, scooping Sam up in his arms even though Sam was really too big for it, but Sam clutched back at him, and then they were outside in the quiet evening air. "Dean, front," Dad ordered, and Dean slid in, only to be handed Sam the minute he was in. Sam whimpered and latched onto him as Dad shut the door and moved around to the driver's side.

"They told me you were-were dead-"

"And I told you that I'd be back," Dean said into Sam's hair. "I promised you, dude. And I keep my promises. Besides, we're not gonna let some creature take us out."

Sam turned his head up at that. "She..she told me it had been a car accident," he whispered, confused.

Dean blinked. "What? A car accident?"

Sam nodded so hard Dean was afraid his head was going to fly off. "Car accident, and all they found was Dad's wallet."

So..Sam hadn't been afraid of the monster getting them? What the heck?

When Sam clutched at his jacket, though, Dean finally understood. It had nothing to do with the creatures or the things that went bump in the night. Sam wasn't really scared of those. The only thing Sam was scared of was Dad and Dean not coming home, of dying somewhere and Sam never seeing them again.

Like what had happened here.

Dad was in the car by then. "You're gonna be just fine, Sam," he said softly, reaching out to brush Sam's hair away from his face. Then he was turning back the road, looking much more relaxed.

Sam shifted in Dean's arms, and then he pulled out something small and black. "They let me keep it," he said, handing it to their dad. "You might want it back."

Dad smiled at the sight of the wallet and tucked it into his pocket. "Thanks, bud. You did good."

Sam smiled slightly and turned his face into Dean's chest. He was asleep in minutes.

Dean sat and thought. Sam had figured the biggest thing out before him: monsters weren't the only things to be afraid of. There were worse things out there, like dying in a car accident or being taken away by social services.

Dean glared out the windshield. Fine. If they wanted to play it that way, then Dean would treat them with the same wariness he treated monsters and creatures of the night. They could be just as bad as the monsters in the dark.

And Dean sure as heck wasn't letting them near Sam again. At least monsters were supposed to be bad. People weren't. People were supposed to be..well, people. People he just didn't get.