Author's Note: I'm lost for words, no seriously, the reviews and messages have been inspiring and motivating and I cherish them all. So, to everyone who has taken the time to send me feedback, THANK YOU.

My amazing beta, Supernaturaldh, has been my rock and whip throughout this story.

Chapter 12

Frank watched as the teenager fell to the floor, a crimson stain spreading along the side of his shirt. He gave the teen a quick nudge with his foot, just to make sure he was down for the count. He couldn't help the smile that spread across his face as the older boy just flopped limply against his foot, head rolling on his neck with the momentum. Damn knife in the guts was only a down payment on what the older kid deserved, but that pleasure would have to wait.

He stepped towards the boy, his boy. His knife, now stained red, held in front of him with menacing intent. God, he didn't want to hurt the boy, not too much, not yet.

"You'll keep your trap shut, you hear me boy?" He reached out and grabbed the kid by the wrist, yanking him closer.

The kid barely resisted, his pitiful whimpers and trembling body in stark contrast to the fight he'd put up earlier.

He revelled in the feeling of the boy's body clutched tightly against his own, each small shudder reverberating through his own flesh. He felt his chest swell and his body flood with warmth. It was invigorating.

"You underestimated me boy. Came to claim what's mine." He brought the knife up until the blade rested against the boy's neck. He traced the small cut he'd inflicted the night before that hadn't even had a chance to heal. It was like a branding, his personal mark on the boy for all the world to see. He moved his other hand to the boy's neck, dipping his fingertip in the thin line of blood before bringing the digit to his lips, eagerly licking off the deep red blood. "So sweet boy, so goddamn sweet," he muttered twirling the finger in his mouth.

One final suck and he set his finger free. He didn't have time now, not for this. Not for what he wanted. He reached into his pocket and retrieved his cell, punching the buttons to redial the last number he'd called. He tapped his foot impatiently as he waited for his friend to answer. "Come on Griff, come on, pick up the goddamn phone." He muttered, breathing a sigh of relief when he heard the familiar voice pick up.

"'Bout goddamn time." He grumbled into the phone. "Pick me up out front, couple of minutes," he demanded, hoping his friend was parked just up the road as he'd directed. He had a wide network of friends, contacts with similar interests, spread across the country, but Griff lived just one town over. He and Griff went back many years, a strong friendship forged over shared secrets. He knew he could rely on the other man to come to his assistance.

He started dragging the boy towards the door, pressing the blade closer each time the kid tried to squirm out of his grasp. The attempts to escape were feeble really, lacking strength; and nothing more than a token resistance.

"You been forgetting who you belong to boy." Frank whispered in Sam's ear as they stepped past Dean. "Maybe I should finish him off; teach him a lesson for touching what don't belong to him." Frank nudged Dean with his foot.

"No, please." Sam whispered, looking back at his brother lying in a puddle of blood on the floor.

"Don't tempt me boy. If you know what's good for you, you'll keep ya mouth shut and come along quietly. We understand each other boy?" Frank paused, one hand on the door knob, giving the boy a harsh shake as he waited for a response.

Sam nodded. "Yes," he whispered.

Frank leaned down until his lips were touching the boy's ear. "'Cause don't think I won't do it kid. Don't think it won't bring me some joy, to cut him up real good. One wrong step boy and I'll come back here, find him, and carve him up real good. So you listen up. We leave this room nice and quiet, and you'll do what I tell ya. We got an understanding boy?"

"Yes." Sam muttered meekly, willing to do whatever the man asked if it meant he'd leave Dean alone. He wanted to fight back, wanted to kill the man for hurting his big brother, but he knew he wouldn't win. The room was undulating and he felt cold and dizzy. He concentrated instead on just standing. On walking. Walking further away from Dean and hoping he was giving his brother a chance. A chance, he wasn't going to get.

"One wrong move boy, and I'll slit ya throat too, don't think I won't. And when I'm finished with ya, I'll come back here 'nd finish what I started." Frank laughed, low and deep near Sam's ear, his blade resting against Sam's throat as he opened the door and pushed him abruptly out of the room.


John paused as a small sound caught his attention, turning to look out the window and back towards the motel room.

"Son of a bitch." He cursed, pulling his gun from his waistband without taking his eyes off the scene unfolding in front of him.

He'd seen enough. His son was being dragged like a damn hostage, with a knife at his throat, Sam's fear so palpable John swore he could feel it from here. Worse still, where the hell was Dean? He knew his eldest wouldn't be standing idly by watching his brother being taken, and the implications of that sent a shaft of fear down his spine. Teeth clenching with determination, he pushed the fear aside, letting his barely constrained anger vie for top position. How dare this man threaten his family!

"John?" Pastor Jim questioned, gripping his friend on his bicep to hold him back. "Don't think it's a good idea to go out there guns blazing."

"The bastard has my son, and God only knows…" John spat, knuckles white where he gripped his gun.

Jim slid his own gun out from where it was tucked at the crook of his back. "Ain't gonna do Dean or Sammy any good if you tip our hand. Damn pervert's just as likely to use that knife as not. Give me a couple of minutes. I'll go out back, swing around the side and cover him from behind."

"Can't let him get away Jim." John stated, making his intent clear. Didn't matter that this pervert was just a man, he'd not be escaping unpunished. He'd be damn lucky to escape with his life, John thought, itching to get his hands on him, beat him senseless and wrap his hands tightly around the sick bastard's neck.

Jim knew exactly how his friend was feeling. "We'll stop him. Just give me two minutes to get into position, then I'll follow your lead."

John gave a quick nod. "Two minutes."

John didn't need to turn around to know his friend was already hurrying away.


Instinctively, Sam wanted to fight against the strong arm wrapped around his chest. He wanted to lower his head and bite into the fleshy arm until he was released. But the man's other hand, holding the knife across his throat, remained taut, and he was forced to hold his head high, raising his chin away from the sting of the blade. He was trapped.

Maybe it was a good thing. As the crazy man led him away from the motel room, Sam was relieved to put the distance between them and his brother. He couldn't forget the threat the man had made; to carve his brother up, and if going along with him prevented that, then that was what Sam would do. These were his mistakes and Dean didn't deserve to suffer.

So he moved his feet, concentrating on breathing, putting one foot in front of the other, staying upright and not stumbling. He could feel the pull of the stitches across his abdomen, but resisted the need to double over; knowing the blade at his throat would show him no leniency. If he faltered, he would be signing his own death warrant, he was sure of that.


Frank held the boy clutched closely against his chest, using him like a shield. They made slow progress, the kid's feet barely reaching the ground as he was dragged, scrambling to find purchase.

Frank took careful measured steps forwards, distancing himself and the boy from the motel room. It was pathetic really, the whimpering sounds the boy was making as his small body trembled and shook. It made him want to shake the kid harder, give him something to cry about. Instead, he dug his fingers into the boy's arm, deep and bruising, until he heard the small yelp of pain.

"Stop ya snivelling and move ya goddamn feet boy." He pushed the boy forward with a bit more force, only his tight grip preventing the kid from sprawling onto the gravel. "You got no more chances with me boy, this is it. You ruin it now, and I'll finish ya, don't think for one minute that I won't. Ya just one step away boy, from feeling this here knife slitting ya pretty little neck, clean through, it'll be just like slicing through soft butter."

Sam couldn't stop the trembling. He tried. He willed his body to stay still, to stay standing. But still the shivers raced across his skin causing his limbs to shake. It was all he could do to remain upright in the man's hold. One slip, one stumble, and he knew that blade under his chin would slice straight through and he didn't need the man's words to remember that fact. He didn't want to die.


Frank heard the crunch of gravel behind him and turned quickly, swivelling the boy with him. Instinctively his grip tightened on the knife, and the boy gave a small yelp as the blade sliced into tender flesh.

He faced the direction of his opponent, one of the men he'd watched earlier, trying to take him by surprise from behind. The gravel had been his undoing though, every crunch of the small rocks distinctive in the silence.

"Come any closer and I'll slit his throat." Frank yelled. "I swear I'll do it."

John stopped his pursuit. "Just let him go."

Frank kept moving, dragging the boy with him, until he reached the edge of the road. Already he could hear the sound of a car coming in their direction, and damn, he hoped it was his friend. Otherwise he was screwed, he thought, watching the man slowly advancing, matching him step for step.

"One more step and I'll do it!" Frank yelled, pushing the blade of the knife up and under the boy's chin until the kid's head tilted back under the pressure.

John stopped again, seeing Pastor Jim holding position at the edge of the parking lot, gun aimed and ready. Problem was, Sam was in the line of fire, held like a shield, and any shot taken by either of them risked hitting his son. He raised his own gun, and aimed at the man. It was all he could do – wait for an opening, any opportunity for taking a safe shot. Whatever happened, this pervert wasn't taking his son.


The car came to an abrupt stop beside Frank, gravel spinning under tires as the brakes were hit hard, driver leaning out the open window.

"What the hell Frank! I thought I told ya to leave the goddamn boy behind." Griff yelled out the window at his friend.

Frank dragged the boy towards the rear of the car. "Help me get him into the trunk."

Griff looked at the armed man standing in the middle of the parking lot, watching them, and he sunk down lower in his seat. "Christ almighty, this wasn't part of the deal, Frank. Ditch the damn kid or we'll have half the state chasing our tails."

"For Christ's sake Griff, stop your snivelling. Kid's our insurance policy. Now open the goddamn trunk." Frank demanded.

Griff watched as another armed man appeared, stepping out onto the road and pointing his gun straight at him. "Fuck you Frank." Griff yelled out the window, already deciding that he was way in over his head on this one. "I ain't taking the kid. This shit wasn't part of the deal."

Frank looked around, seeing the two armed men creeping slowly closer. The kid was like a dead weight as he dragged him back around the side of the car to the passenger door, putting the vehicle between himself and the armed men. He ducked instinctively as the first shot was fired, the bullet penetrating the side of the car. He yanked open the rear door, already feeling the car starting to move as Griff hit the accelerator. No goddamn way was Griff driving off and leaving him here, the spineless coward. He pushed the boy away and threw himself into the moving car, body sprawling across the back seat and legs hanging out the open door. His arms felt bereft, empty, but it was either him or the boy.


Sam felt the sudden release as his body was thrust towards the ground. His body cried out in agony and he tried to throw out his hands to break the impact. He felt the air leave his body as he hit the road, head meeting uncompromising asphalt.

He lay still on his stomach as he tried to catch his breath. He could hear the sounds of yelling and gunshots, but he couldn't move. His body was heavy, like a great weight was resting on top of him, keeping him plastered against the road. He let his eyes slip closed and welcomed unconsciousness.


John shoved his gun into his waistband as he sprinted the short distance across the parking lot to his son. He was sure that at least one of his shots had found its mark, but the car didn't slow down as it weaved its way down the road and away from the motel.

"Go check on Dean." He yelled to his friend, watching as Jim did an about turn and raced back towards the motel room.

He dropped down to his knees beside his son, reaching out to rest his hand on Sam's neck. He felt the beat of his pulse and let out a sigh of relief, unaware up until that point that he'd even been holding his breath. He pulled his hand away, his fingers stained with blood.

"Hey Sammy, can you hear me? You're safe now son, I got you, you're safe now." He ran his hands down his son's body, checking for further injuries before rolling him onto his back.

Sam's breaths were raspy and labored, and no amount of coaxing could entice his son to rouse. Scooping his arms under Sam, John lifted his son into his arms, cradling him against his chest, and strode back towards the motel room.


Pastor Jim held the phone receiver in one hand, keeping downward pressure on Dean's side with the other. He spoke quickly, short curt words conveying the necessary information. He dismissed the operator's instructions to stay on the line, tossing the phone to the floor and concentrating instead on stopping the flow of blood.

Dean was deathly pale, lying in a spreading pool of crimson. He kept the pressure on the wound, firm and steady, praying the ambulance would reach them in time.


John held his head in his hands, forehead carved with worry lines and body bowed with exhaustion. The last day felt as if it had been the longest twenty four hours of his life. Police and doctors had vied for his attention, demanding information and answers, when all he'd really wanted was to be with his sons.

He shifted in the hard plastic chair, trying to find a comfortable position, finally giving up and rising to his feet. His body was a mass of kinks and knots and he stretched, hoping to relieve a few of the aches and pains that racked his body. He looked down at his boys, both lying pale and still in their adjacent hospital beds, realising the insignificance of his own discomfort. Dean had nearly bled out back in the motel room, needing surgery to repair the stab wound in his side. It had been close, too close, he thought, knowing that for a while there it had been touch and go. He'd nearly lost his eldest son. And Sammy…he cast his eyes over to his youngest, taking in the bruises on his face, thinking of the hidden bandages, but knowing that Sam's injuries were more than just physical.

"John," why don't you go 'nd grab a few hours sleep. I'll watch the boys, call you if anything changes." Jim spoke quietly from his chair next to Sam's bed.

John shook his head. "No," he answered simply, dismissing the idea without giving it any thought. He wasn't leaving his boys.

"How 'bout some more coffee, then?" Jim asked, knowing he needed it himself just to keep awake.

"Sounds good. Black, extra strong." John smiled at his friend.

Jim chuckled as he pushed himself to his feet. "One cup of extra strong hospital sludge coming right up."

John watched his friend leave the room and let the mask on his emotions slip.


Days past, John was finally given the all clear to remove both boys from the hospital. Dean had been chaffing at the bit to get out of the sterile room, but Sam had remained sullen and withdrawn and try as he might, John wasn't able to reach him.

John looked down at the business card that had been handed to him along with the boys' release papers. A damn shrink? Like some stranger could know his son better than him. He crumpled the card up and tossed it in the bin.

"You boys ready to make a move?" John asked, entering the hospital room pushing a wheel chair.

Sam nodded.

"Damn straight." Dean replied, levering himself off the bed.

"Dean!" Pastor Jim chastised, following John in with a second wheel chair.

"Sorry." Dean muttered, leaning on his father, needing his help just to move from the bed to the chair. He was feeling ridiculously weak and even the smallest of moves caused him pain.

Jim pushed the chair towards Sam's bed, waiting for the youngest Winchester to make a move. "Your chariot awaits." Jim announced as he reached out to help Sam into the chair. Sam flinched away from the touch, breath quickening irrationally until he took a few forced deep breaths and swallowed down his fear. He met Jim's concerned eyes, reaching out and taking the offered help as he was eased off the bed and into the chair.

It was like a procession of the wounded as each boy was wheeled down the corridor and out of the hospital. John just wanted to get away from this town. Wanted to put some distance between them and the memories this town carried. Some down time at Pastor Jim's was what they needed. Time together. Time to heal.

John settled his sons into the back seat of the Impala and closed the doors. He glanced down at the newly replaced tire and felt his anger spike. He couldn't help the way his eyes swept around the parking lot and down the road, scanning faces and cars. Looking. Searching.


Sam leant his head against the cool window of the Impala, relishing being in the familiar space. He watched as the scenery sped by - as they put miles between themselves and the motel. He looked at the back of his father's head in the front seat, glancing in the rear-view mirror and catching his father's eye.

"You both okay back there Sammy?" John asked.

Sam looked at Dean, sleeping slumped against the other door. "Yes sir," he murmured.

He wanted to ask his dad what had happened. His thoughts were muddled and his recollection hazy. He wanted to know all the details, but he was afraid of the answers. He turned his eyes to look out the window again. Was the man out there somewhere, he wondered, feeling his skin crawl at the fragmented memory.

He bit his lip, looking in the rear-view mirror again. "Dad?" He whispered.

"Yeah, what is it son?" John asked, meeting Sam's eyes again.

"The man, the motel manager, what …where?" Sam stuttered, hoping his dad would know what he was asking without him having to voice the question. He held his breath as he watched his father in the mirror, waiting for an answer.

"Dead." John replied simply, noting the way the tension eased from Sam's slender frame at the blunt response. John pulled his gaze away from the mirror. "He's dead son."


John settled his boys into the spare room at Pastor Jim's, both sons exhausted after the short drive. Seeing the lines of pain on Sam and Dean's faces, he knew staying with his friend until the boys were up to travelling again was the right thing to do.

"You boys need anything?" John asked, looking between the two.

"No." Dean answered, Sam merely shaking his head.

Jim walked into the room and looked at the boys lying in the twin beds. It felt good to have the boys staying with him again; he just wished that the circumstances could have been better. Still, could have been worse, he reminded himself, counting his blessings.

"All settled?" He asked with a smile, pleased to hear words of affirmation from both boys.

Jim pulled his hand out from behind his back, showing the brightly wrapped parcel he'd been hiding. Walking over to Sam's bed, he perched on the edge, handing the parcel over to the youngest Winchester. "Now, I know it's been a few days since you birthday, but I was hanging on to this to give you when you visited again. Happy Birthday Sammy."

Sam held the gift, turning the wrapped parcel over in his hands.

"Well go on, open it." Jim prompted.

Sam tore the paper away, revealing a book written by one of his favorite authors. He'd been coveting the novel in local bookstores for months but had never had the money to buy it. "How did you know?" He whispered, running his hand over the hard cover.

"Saw you looking at it in the bookstore last time you were here. Pretty obvious you wanted that book Sam. Bought it when you weren't looking and put it aside. Was hoping you hadn't read it yet, but from your reaction I take it that I'm pretty safe on that account." Jim chuckled.

"No. I mean, how'd you know it was my birthday?" Sam looked at the Pastor with questioning eyes as he held the book in his lap.

"Date's up here." Jim grinned and tapped the side of his head with his finger. His smile faded as he watched a couple of tears roll down Sam's face. "Hey, no need for tears Sam." He leaned across and wiped them away with his fingers.

"I just thought… I just thought that no one remembered." Sam clutched the book to his chest. "Thank you. I love it."

"You're welcome Sam." Jim ruffled Sam's hair as he rose from the edge of the bed. "You boys try and get some rest while me and you dad fix us all something to eat."

Jim fixed his eyes on John as he stood, hoping the other man would follow his hint and follow him from the room. He wanted to tear into his friend, to remind him of how much he had; of how blessed he was. Of how easy it was to lose everything.


Sam leaned back against the pillows, holding the book tight, never wanting to let it go. Maybe his dad and Dean hadn't remembered, but it didn't seem to matter as much right now, because he hadn't been forgotten, not completely.

John's eyes darted between Jim's retreating back and Sam. New guilt washed over him and he felt about two inches tall as his failures mounted, one on top of another.

"I didn't forget Sammy, you know that. I just didn't realise the date and all." John looked at his son, waiting for some sort of reaction.

"You know we wouldn't forget Sam, not on purpose anyway." Dean piped in, the words feeling hollow because really there was no excuse. He felt like about the worst brother in the world right now. Not only had he let that pervert take Sam again, right out from under him, but he'd forgotten his little brother's birthday.

"It doesn't matter, really." Sam looked between his father and brother, a weak smile plastered on his face. He could see the guilt on their faces and wanted to shout at them for forgetting. He wanted them to know how angry it made him, how sad, but instead he held his emotions in. Hunting came first, before everything, he knew that. Nothing he could say would change that and the sooner he accepted things the way they were the easier things would be. He just needed to try harder, be better – maybe then they'd see him.

"I'm tired." Sam whispered, closing his eyes.

"Sleep well." John spoke softly to both boys, turning towards the door. He knew he still had to face Pastor Jim's wrath – and over more than just Sam's birthday. He paused at the door, looking down at both his sons. They'd been through so much. Not just in the last few days, but for most of their short lives. Like everything else they had endured, they would get through this, together. They were Winchesters after all, and there were just some things they didn't speak about. It wasn't healthy, it wasn't normal, but it was the Winchester way.


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