Summary: A conflicted Sam leaves for Stanford and along the way he bumps into a supernatural entity from his past and he needs Dean's help. How will this sudden change of events impact the future? (AU, pre-series) Belated Birthday fic for Skag Trendy!

A/N: I'm almost a month late with birthday fic for my good friend, Skag Trendy – I hope you'll forgive my tardiness and accept this late offering! While writing this story I recruited my usual cast to help – Floralia on beta, Faye Dartmouth to help plug plot holes and BlueEyedDemonLiz and Gidgetgal9 with a final read through and last minute advice. I took what all of these talented ladies contributed and then went around and messed with the story so all mistakes are most definitely mine.

By The Pricking Of My Thumbs

If you go, stay gone.

Sam wished he could scrub the words from his mind but they lingered on, reverberating around and around. Instead he scrubbed at his face with his hands, trying to keep the tears threatening to fall in check.

He was sitting in the Greyhound bus station, watching the clock slowly tick off the time. His whole future was ahead of him – a full ride scholarship at Stanford to be precise – but right now the only thing on his mind was his family.

His father and brother who didn't think he could hack it away from them.

You're place is here with us, Sam. You're not safe out there.

His dad never did have any faith in him, but what truly hurt was Dean's attitude. The big brother he worshipped. His hero. The one person Sam thought would always be on his side.

Only Dean wasn't. His brother had let him walk out the door.

Sam's eyes kept drifting to the clock. He'd left Dean a message telling him what time the bus was departing. Maybe his big brother would show up. Wish him luck.

Who was Sam kidding? Dean wouldn't go against their dad. As Dean was Sam's hero, John Winchester was Dean's. Sam had better get used to being on his own.

An overhead page declared his bus was boarding now. A small but diverse bunch of people straggled into line, stowing luggage in the outside compartment before lurching up the steps, disappearing into the large, gray vehicle. Sam held his two bags close to him – one had his clothing and the other his books. And the knife Dean had given him for his birthday. That's all he was taking and he refused to part with his meager belongings. Especially the knife. The Klaww of Death as Dean called it. The curved blade was wicked looking, and sharp as hell.

Casting his eyes around Sam acknowledged to himself that Dean wasn't going to show up at the last minute to see him off. Sighing deeply, Sam mounted the stairs and made his way toward the back of the bus.

Settling heavily into a seat, Sam tried to work up some enthusiasm over the trip. But his mind kept spiraling back to his family. Twisted and unyielding. Both his thoughts and his family.

After the spectacular blow-out with his dad over attending Stanford, Sam had taken John Winchester's words to heart and gotten out. Out of the ratty house they'd been staying in, out of Madison, and, apparently, out of the family.

He couldn't say he was surprised at the outcome of his spilling his big news when it came to his dad, but it was every bit as hard as he'd expected. John Winchester had gone from loud threats to icy calm as he realized Sam wasn't going to budge and he ordered Sam out. Dean had stayed on the sidelines, refusing to meet Sam's eyes as he first dashed to the room they shared to throw some of his things in a bag, and then darted through the living room to hit the front door almost at a full sprint.

His dad's reaction he had predicted; Dean's had been a surprise and an unwelcome one at that.

He'd known Dean didn't want him to leave but his brother's lack of support, lack of response, even lack of eye contact, had left his lungs empty and grasping for air.

His depressing memories were interrupted by the high pitched voice of the elderly lady standing next to him. "I say, you look like a nice young man. Could you please put my bag in the overhead compartment? I have arthritic joints and…"

Tuning out the blue-haired lady's reasons for asking him for help, Sam tried to smile, failed miserably, and instead stood up to take the bag she held out with resignation. She settled herself in the seat across from Sam and continued to chatter as the Greyhound bus wound its way down the Madison beltline.

Wanting to just turn his brain off for a while, Sam managed to stow the huge bag in the overhead compartment. Rehashing things over and over weren't going to change them. His dad had been right about one thing – Sam had made this decision and now he had to live it.

There were only six passengers on the bus bound for Chicago and it was so quiet, Sam could hear the bus driver bite out a soft 'damn it.' That was the only warning Sam had before the bus jolted and slid.

Sam scrambled to hang on to something but he was standing in the aisle, unprotected.

When the bus went airborne, Sam only had a moment to hope his dad and Dean would eventually forgive him, and then everything was up in the air – bus, luggage, passengers – and Sam couldn't think anymore.




Something crashed into the area between Sam's shoulder blades and his vision darkened.

He took a deep breath in anticipation of the pain he knew was coming.

Instead numbness greeted him.

Sam collapsed gratefully into it as the moaning metal and shrieking passengers wailed in his ears.

His consciousness fled before the bus came to an awkward stop on its back, wheels spinning into the gray, rainy sky.

"Here's one!"

Sam jolted into awareness as a loud male voice screeched into his ear. He lifted his hand to push the hair out of his face. At least he tried to. Nothing happened.

"Just relax, son. We'll have you out of here in a jiffy."

Opening his mouth to ask what happened, he abruptly shut it. Maybe a hunt had gone pear-shaped. Maybe Dean and his dad were hurt.

He couldn't keep his mouth shut at the thought and a broken whisper emerged from his lips. "D'n."

The loud voice was back, booming next to his ear. It made his head dizzy. "I need a backboard and c-collar! And we might have to intubate so bring the supplies. Is he the last one?"

Another voice barked in return. "They're still looking for the driver. More help is on the way. Jesus, look at this kid."

Sam heard a moan in response. Was that…was he the one moaning? Dizziness continued to hammer at Sam and the pressure in his head made him feel faint. "Shut it, Frank. He's awake, at least he was a moment ago. Let's just get him out of here and let the docs at the hospital figure it out."

Gentle hands, at odds with the obnoxious voices, touched his face.

Pressure coalesced into sharp pain and it spiked into the top of his head, shooting down his neck, ending in a strange tingling sensation that made Sam want to shiver.

Instead he passed out.

"Easy, young man. I'm a doctor. Can you tell me your name?"

Sam wanted to know if his dad and Dean were okay. He didn't remember what had happened but he knew Dean at least would be by his side if he was hurt. Unless he couldn't. Unless something had happened to him.

"De'n…" he managed to breathe out, desperate to make the doctor understand him.

His eyes struggled to open and he found a dark haired man looming over him. He blinked as his vision wavered, the man's face replaced with a bright light.

Cold, clammy skin, not really a hand, clenched each side of Sam's face, holding his mouth open.

"It is you! The only one who ever got away. This time I will not let you go, mi ëmbël bir."

Sam was moving, completely disoriented and at the mercy of the doctor, thing, hovering over him.

Nausea curled in the pit of his stomach as he was dragged off the flat surface and arranged on another. His limbs refused to move and the doctor – swarthy complexion and black hair, not a creature – seemed to realize his predicament. "Just relax, child. I will take good care of you."

He didn't want to give in but his eyes drooped and the buzzing in his ears rose to a crescendo.

Help me, Dean. Please.


If you go, stay gone.

Dean bolted upright on the couch, his breathing loud in his ears. It was just a nightmare. He'd fallen asleep on the couch, exhausted from lack of sleep and too much drink, and had a bad dream. The worst kind of dream.

"Hey, Sammy, grab me…"

His words trailed off as his brain completely woke up; Sam was gone. His nightmare had come true.

Dean didn't know who he should be angrier with – his dad for ordering Sam out or Sam for picking this one time to listen to their dad's orders.

His dad totally had a point. If Sam left, then Dean couldn't look out for him, take care of him. And that had always been his primary objective. As much as Dean loved to hunt with his dad, he needed to watch out for Sammy. It was what he did, like eating or breathing.

But when Sam hit fifteen or so, he'd changed. He no longer looked at Dean like he hung the moon and he no longer took their dad's word as gospel. Sam, the kid who would do anything to please, suddenly wanted nothing to do with his family or hunting.

It had been a bitter pill to swallow and Dean had told himself the kid would grow out of it, it was just a phase, and he'd eventually take to hunting like he was supposed to. Sam would be wingman to Dean's gunner.

Instead Sam had applied to Stanford and with his scary smart brain, he'd been awarded a full ride scholarship.

Sitting around feeling sorry for himself wasn't going to fix the problem. He grabbed his cell and saw a message was waiting for him.

Dean, it's Sam. I'm at the Greyhound station and my bus leaves at six. I know that's early for you, but I thought you might, you know, stop by. I don't want to leave things between us this way. Okay, that's it. If I don't see you, stay safe. I'll try you when I get to California.

The message had barely finished playing before Dean dialed his brother's number. It was going on Noon and he wished he'd left Jack, or Jose, or whatever he'd swallowed down like it was going out of style alone last night, but he'd been angry and lonely and wanted to blow off steam. Sam had banged out of the house and his dad had followed suit a short time later, leaving Dean to hold down the fort. Again.

We're sorry, the number you have dialed is currently out of order.

Dean consoled himself with the knowledge Sam knew his number and would try again. The brothers talked to each other every day, without fail.

Even though he'd missed Sam's call, missed seeing him off, Sam had to know Dean wanted to hear from him, know he was okay.

Although when Sam had left, hustling out of the house like there was a fire, Dean had kept his face averted. He wanted to punch his brother. He wanted to throw his arms around him and make him stay. He couldn't make himself do either and that made him want to cry.

He'd be damned if he let Sam see his tears. The little shit wanted to go to college, let him see what it felt like to be on his own. Only Dean was the one missing the kid and Sam was probably having a great time.

Dean snatched up the remote from the coffee table and clicked the TV on. "…I'm currently standing next to the place where a Greyhound bus, bound first for Chicago and then Palm Springs, lost control on the slick surface and careened over this ravine. All but one of the passengers has been accounted for and rescue crews continue their grim search. The survivors are being transported to UW Hospital. Back to you, Mark."

"Thank you for that report, Susan. Now let's check in with Hattie and find out if this rain, which appears to have been a factor in the bus rollover, is going to let up."

Dean stared from the tall, blond reporter, her neck stretching out of her trench coat like a giraffe, to the short blond haired anchor whose eyes seemed to jut out in opposite directions. They both looked like a couple of aliens.

And then it hit Dean like a sledgehammer between the eyes. Sam was taking a Greyhound bus out west. He could have been on this bus. Maybe his cell phone had been smashed to smithereens.

Dean splashed water on his face before yanking on his jacket and grabbing his keys – he needed to get to UW Hospital and see if Sam was there. He had a bad feeling about this.



Sam woke up in a panic, his brother's name on his lips.

His head hurt and his hands and feet were numb. So was his backside.

He sat up and his hands cradled his aching head.

At least that's what happened in Sam's mind.

His body had other ideas. It refused to move.

"Relax young man, you've been injured in an accident. I'm going to make you feel better."

Sam struggled to lift his eyes and they at least obeyed him. A dark haired man peered down at him. His expression was kind. And then a bright light consumed the man and Sam closed his eyes, flinching.

Pressure on his jaw became the paramount pain, replacing the throb at the back of his head.

And then Sam slowly slid toward the light.



Dean's inner voice was screaming for his brother. He knew deep down something bad had happened to the kid.

The ride seemed to take forever but Dean finally pulled into the parking lot. He'd been trying to figure out the best angle to get information and finally decided on that of distraught family member. That's pretty much what he'd been reduced to, standing around and wringing his hands. If Sam hadn't been on the bus then Dean was going to kill him for putting him through this stress; if Sam had been on the bus then Dean was going to kill him for putting himself in danger like that.

Sam was pretty much screwed either way but Dean knew the first thing he'd do was hug the stuffing out of the kid when he saw him. The yelling and retribution would come later.

He practically pushed a guy about his age out of the way in his rush to get to the admissions clerk but he didn't break stride. "Excuse me, I'm looking for my brother and I have reason to believe he was on the Greyhound bus that crashed."

The girl at the desk looked to be about Sammy's age and Dean would have felt bad for stressing her out if he wasn't already so stressed himself. She pretty much cringed at his question but then seemed to pull herself together. "And what's your brother's name?"

Without batting an eyelash, Dean barked out the information. "Sam Winchester, he's 18 years of age, date of birth is May 2, 1983."

The girl consulted a list and then raised her face to Dean regretfully. "I'm sorry, he's not on the list. But let me call Dr. Simms' secretary, Mandy. She might be able to help you."

After a terse conversation on the phone, the clerk gave him directions to the third floor where Mandy would meet him. The elevator was taking too long so Dean dashed up the stairwell. A part of him wanted Sam to be here so Dean could take care of him but he also hoped Sam was already headed out west, safe and sound.

Bursting out onto the floor, Dean blinked against the bright fluorescent lighting. "Excuse me, are you here for information regarding the Greyhound accident?"

The woman was a couple of inches shorter than Dean and had a statuesque figure which complimented her auburn hair and killer green eyes. She was the kind of woman Dean would normally have tried to get to know better but right now he had one thing on his brain...find Sammy.

Dean shook hands with the woman, his smile at half its wattage. "I'm Dean Winchester. My brother Sam might have been on that bus. I keep trying his cell but I get a message saying the phone is out of order. I know he was heading west so I'm afraid..."

The woman flipped her long hair over her shoulder in a practiced move and gave Dean an admiring look. "I'm Mandy by the way. Have you contacted the Greyhound Bus Terminal?" At Dean's head shake to the negative, she continued on, "Okay, then can you give me a description of your brother?"

Hands shaking at the thought Sam was injured so badly he couldn't tell anyone his name, Dean tucked them into his jacket pockets. "Let's see, he's about this tall," Dean pulled his hand quickly back out and held it a couple of inches above his own height, "and he likes to wear lots of layers so he'll look more muscular than he really is."

The fingers of that hand rifled through his own hair as he continued his description, "He's got brown floppy hair, it's always in his eyes. Oh, and his eyes...the color depends on what he's wearing. Sometimes they look brown, sometimes blue-green. I guess you'd call them hazel. And they're really big...he does the best puppy dog face ever..."

Mandy was looking at him like he was a candidate for the psych ward so he stopped with his description. The kid hadn't even been gone a day and Dean realized he missed him like he'd miss an amputated limb.

The auburn-haired beauty guided him to a chair next to the elevator. "Please have a seat, I'm going to call down to ER and see what I can find out for you."

Dean nervously bounced his foot on his knee, watching the second-hand crawl around the clock on the wall across from him. After five minutes, the elevator dinged and Dean jumped to his feet, hoping the person arriving on the floor could take him to Sam.

A nervous looking man, hair silvering at the temples, moved past Dean and headed down a hallway without making eye contact.

Letting out a huff of air, Dean headed toward Mandy's office. She at least was a pretty distraction. As he approached her door, he heard her say, "What do you mean they lost him? It's not like he could just get up in his condition and run away…no, the brother is up on this floor…and the police are interviewing the paramedics in the ER now? Uh huh, I'll see what I can do..."

When Dean had heard the words 'lost him,' he'd thought Sam had died. His heart beat painfully in his chest and he became lightheaded. But the rest of the conversation penetrated and he realized someone, most likely Sammy, was missing.

Missing, not dead.

He tore for the staircase and headed for the ground floor where he remembered seeing signs for the ER. When he skidded out of the stairwell door, he took a moment to get his bearings.

He spotted the sign for the ER at the same time two men in light blue uniforms, accompanied by a cop in dark blue, headed Dean's way. He started preparing a cover story by rote in his head and then realized they weren't headed toward him at all, they were just walking by.

The sandy-haired cop with the thin mustache was talking. "If you think of anything, anything at all, you call us. Since it's not likely he wandered off on his own, we need to find him before something worse than a bus accident happens to him."

Startled at the words, Dean missed the response from the other two guys. He knew in his heart his kid brother was hurt and missing.

His vision blurred. Dean needed to focus. He couldn't help Sam if he panicked.

Following the two men, one tall and thin with blond hair and the other shorter, rounder and balding, Dean realized they were paramedics. He'd seen the uniform before. On Candy, a part time paramedic. Although she filled out the shirt much better than these two yahoos.

He lengthened his stride until he was right behind the two men. "Excuse me, I'm Detective Schenker, are you the two paramedics who responded to the bus accident?"

The two men halted in their tracks and turned, shoulders drooping with fatigue. Baldy replied, "We already told everything we know to Lutz just now. Can't you talk to him?"

Forging ahead, Dean threw the tired men a cocky grin. "I'm sorry, this will only take a moment and it may save a life."

The tall guy grimaced but nodded his head in agreement. Paramedics…saving lives…Dean knew which buttons to push. Baldy sighed but started to spill what he knew. "We were the last paramedics to respond and there were just two victims, according to survivor reports, unaccounted for. We went into the bus and found the kid – tall, thin and suffering from a head injury and probable fractured neck so we put him in a c-collar, secured him to the backboard and moved him to the gurney."

Tall guy found his voice which proved a timely distraction. Dean was having trouble wrapping his head around the head injury and probable fractured neck. "They found the driver, he'd been thrown clear of the vehicle, and they called us over. I didn't want to leave the kid, I wanted to get the IV going, but the driver was in a bad way. One minute. I was only gone one freaking minute. When I returned, the kid was gone. And he was totally messed up from the accident, there's no way he left under his own power."

Both men, eyes bloodshot, stared at Dean. He realized they were waiting for his next question.

Totally messed up from the accident. Head injury. Probable fractured neck.

Dean needed to pull himself together. Think. Sam was depending on him. "Were there any suspicious people hanging around the scene?"

Baldy found that question funny and snorted. "There were the usual looky-loos around but they didn't get too close, there was still a question as to whether the bus would catch fire. There was that one doctor who showed up. What's his name, Frank? You know, the one all of the chicks dig?"

Tall guy wrinkled his nose. "Johnson? He's a jerk. Don't know why the chicks dig him. Oh, and Hydeker showed up, too. He's cool."

The walkie talkie on Baldy's belt squawked. "Sorry, we've got a call."

Dean let the two men go.

He needed to find Johnson and Hydeker and maybe some of the other survivors. Someone had to know something about Sammy.


Sam's nose curled in disgust. He could smell the thing – a mix between dead leaves and fresh blood – and he was pissed off that he couldn't move. No matter how much he tried, his limbs wouldn't work. Not even a twitch. The pain in his head was the only thing that convinced him he was still alive. Surely if he were dead he wouldn't feel this bad.

"Hello, young man. Still not able to move yet?" The thing's voice was low and raspy and it actually made a tut-tut noise, baiting Sam. "I have waited a long time and I am delighted you have decided to stay a while."

The thing didn't use contractions and Sam found that creepy. Almost as creepy as waking up in the dark, unable to move. Sam's mind was a blank. He couldn't remember what had happened and that was driving him crazy, almost as much as the pervasive numbness below his neck.

Sam tried to take inventory of the thing but he only had a sense of something tall and shrouded. He couldn't get a clear look at the face but for some reason this thing reminded him of a witch, the kind The Brothers Grimm would have written about. The left sleeve lifted and a clawed appendage came into view.

Something clammy touched his face and Sam tried to rear back but his body failed him. "Stop, you will only tire yourself if you keep on." Something locked on to his face, squeezing his mouth open, holding his head in place. "Your father and brother left you unprotected once and I almost had you then. You were such a sweet morsel, ripe for the taking. I cannot believe my good fortune in finding you again. And you are still as tasty as you were before. Yet more powerful."

The pressure increased on his face, pulling Sam's thoughts away from what the witch-thing was saying. He'd almost fallen victim to this thing before? He didn't remember it and didn't think he believed the thing. His dad and brother would have told him if something like that had happened.

Steady pressure ceded to pain and when light flared in his eyes, Sam quit his bid to remain conscious.


Dean's nose curled up in disapproval as he thought of the way Johnson put the moves on some nurse. All pearly white teeth and bleach blond hair. No subtlety. Dean had expected more from the doctor. He had to agree with the paramedics – Johnson was a jerk.

Hydeker was proving to be more elusive. Dean stopped at the nurse's station and asked the exhausted looking blond on duty if she knew Hydeker's whereabouts. Tiredly flipping her long braid over a shoulder she frowned. "He's at the Children's Hospital trying to help those poor children."

Poor children. Huh, this was the first Dean had heard anything about children. "I'm here to do a story on the doctor and how he's trying to help. Could you tell me what you're impressions are of the situation?"

Dean had no idea what he was talking about but the blond looked the sympathetic type, like she wanted to do good. With the right motivation she'd spill her guts to Dean. Apparently implying that he was doing a story was enough motivation. "It appears to be a virus that runs through all of the children in a family, leaving the adults alone. It's scary stuff. But Dr. Hydeker is the premiere pediatrician in the area and he's been working with the infection control specialists."

The phone rang interrupting their conversation and Dean thanked the nurse before heading for the exit. His mind was churning over the nurse's words. A virus that runs through all of the children in a family, leaving the adults alone. That phrase tickled his memory.

The shtriga.

According to his dad's research, a shtriga was as an Albanian witch, the type that liked to drain the spiritus vitae, or life essence, mainly from children. The act of feeding left the children with a weakened immune system so that they were vulnerable to illnesses like pneumonia. An interesting note – shtrigas liked to work their way through the siblings in a family.

A virus that runs through all of the children in a family, leaving the adults alone.

How did Dean know so much about shtrigas? He'd met one once. The one time Dean hadn't taken his duties seriously and Sam had almost forked his life over to the supernatural life sucker.

Fort Douglas. Dean would never forget that shitty motel or the arcade next door or the way Sammy had looked, light glowing softly as some thing tried to suck the life out of him. Fortunately their dad had returned early from his hunt, scaring off the creature. Scaring, but not killing. And it had pulled up stakes and disappeared.

What if a shtriga was in the area? The very same shtriga which had almost sucked Sammy dry all those years ago? John Winchester had never looked at Dean the same way again after that incident. He no longer felt like the trusted son. It was Dean's fault the bitch had gotten away. And since it only fed every fifteen to twenty years, he'd never had the chance to redeem himself.

First things first. He needed to find Sam. Then he'd follow up on the shtriga lead.

He thought about going to Children's Hospital and interviewing Dr. Hydeker. It was already early evening and there was a chance the good doctor was already at home. Dean had found the doctor's address in the phone book when he'd been doing background on both the doctors the paramedics had mentioned. He aimed the Impala toward the ritzy side of town, intent on finding Hydeker's house. He didn't expect to find anything on this paragon of virtue but he knew enough to chase down all leads. He couldn't take shortcuts and hope to find his brother.

Dean whistled as he passed the address, electing to move a couple of houses down before parking. He pulled in behind a powder blue convertible mustang and hoped the Chevy would blend in. Although power blue? Why do that to such a fine looking vehicle.

Reaching into the bag on the floor of the passenger seat, Dean loaded his spare colt with consecrated rounds. He had the shtriga on his mind now and like any good boy scout, he wanted to be prepared.

Okay, so Dean had never been a boy scout but knowing the motto had to count for something.

Walking down the sidewalk like he belonged, Dean walked past Hydeker's house and then darted between houses on his way to the back door. Glancing in the windows as he roamed, the lights were off and he didn't see movement. Studying the brick exterior, Dean also didn't see any sign of an alarm system. Weird but not unheard of. It's not like it would have kept Dean out anyway but he liked to keep his skills sharp and enjoyed a good challenge.

Instead he picked the backdoor lock and found himself inside a spacious kitchen with nothing out of place. Not even a dirty coffee cup in the sink. This guy put Felix Unger to shame.

Dean made short work of the floor. The oversize living room, the four bedrooms, the stereo system Dean would give his eye teeth for. This guy had serious money. But nothing seemed out of place.


It sounded like someone was moaning. And it was coming from downstairs.

Hoping he wasn't about to break in on some freaky sexcapades, Dean opened the basement door and stalked softly down the dark stairs.

A bright light glowed to his right and Dean squinted his eyes to get a good look at the cause.

A dark shrouded thing was holding something. Someone. A body, hands clamped to the face forcing the mouth wide open. And the light…it poured from the body into the thing.



That's what Dean was seeing. A shtriga at work. The only time the damn things could be killed.

Withdrawing the gun with the consecrated rounds, Dean held it just like his dad had trained him to and he squeezed off round after round.

What were the chances that Dean would finally come face to face with the creature from long ago now, while he was looking for Sammy? Not very high but Dean had always been lucky when it came to the hunt.

The glowing light abruptly cut off and there was a crash. The basement was plunged into complete darkness and Dean fumbled for his maglight. The small light bobbed along the wall until Dean found a lightswitch. He practically screamed with relief when the basement was once again bathed in light, this time from the fluorescent units hanging from the ceiling.

The shtriga was lying on its back, face hidden in the folds of cloth swaddling its head. Dean pumped more rounds into its face and watched in satisfaction as the thing began to steam and hiss and then disappeared from sight.

Up until now, Dean had been so involved with finishing the hunt that he hadn't focused on the victim at all. He rushed across the basement and saw a lanky body with brown hair lying face down on the carpet.

Could it be?

He flipped the body over and instantly tears filled his eyes.

It was Sammy. Pale and bruised but breathing.

He tugged his brother into his arms, cradling the back of his head with one hand and his upper back with the other.

Sam didn't try to pull away or do anything. He just hung limply in Dean's arms. But Dean could feel the steady in and out of his brother's chest moving air.

It had been close, but Dean had found Sam. He'd get his brother's injuries seen to and then they could be a family again. Just like before.


Sam hurt all over and was reluctant to open his eyes. The last thing he remembered was the witch-thing leaning over him, grasping his jaw.

Lots of light.


Inability to move.

Something was beeping in his ear. It sounded like…a monitor. Like in the hospital. His eyes sprang open and he found a white ceiling overhead.

No witch.

No pain.

His racing heart began to slow and the monitor did likewise.

A hand rested on his cheek and Sam wanted to flinch away but he couldn't make his body listen. "Easy, Sam. I'm not going to leave your side. Just rest. I'll watch out for you."

Dean's voice. Dean was here. Dean would take care of him.

But Sam was in the hospital and hospitals had doctors and a doctor had been the witch or maybe the witch had been a doctor.

It was too confusing and Sam let himself drift.

The important thing was that Dean was with him.


Dean was sore from sitting in the god-awful chair. But he'd promised Sam he would stay at his side and he meant it.

The ICU was equipped with a toilet so at least Dean was covered there. He just needed to make sure the curtains were pulled otherwise some poor nurse was going to get an eyeful.

He almost chuckled at the thought but Sam's condition kept his humor in check. The kid still had a long way to go.

The paramedics had been right – a concussion and fractured neck. And his spine was fucked up.

Sam was showing all of the hallmarks of a concussion between his confusion and inability to focus. Although he really wasn't awake very often. That was a good thing because when he slept, he didn't move around much which was good for his neck and spine. The neck that had sustained a compression fracture and the poor kid's spine was swollen. The doctors likened it to a stinger in football, only a long lasting one. At least it looked like Sam wouldn't need surgery to correct it. Steroids were reducing the swelling and Dean was thankful for that. The paralysis had scared the crap out of Dean but apparently was only temporary.

Dean still had a hard time believing Sam would be okay. When Sam was awake, he talked about lights and numb arms and legs; the light had been taken care of courtesy of the consecrated rounds and the numbness was supposed to subside. At least that's what the doctor said and Dean was putting all of his faith in him – not because he trusted the guy so much but because he didn't have any other choice. Sam had to get better.

No one talked about Hydeker or why he'd kidnapped Sam, Dean especially. He'd taken care of the supernatural monster and gotten his brother back. The only thing missing was their dad and Dean had left him a couple of messages. As soon as his dad got them, Dean knew he'd head back.

Nothing was more important than Sammy.


Being confined to the bed was getting on Sam's nerves. It's not that he had much energy to move around but if he did, it would have been nice to do so without Dean coming down on him like a ton of bricks.

He had to hand it to his brother, he'd been glued to Sam's side since he'd woken up groggy and hurting in the ICU and Sam wasn't sure he could ever pay Dean back for taking care of him like that.

Or dusting the shtriga, as Dean called it, freeing Sam in the process.

That's why Sam couldn't believe it when Dean started hassling him. "You never should have gotten on that bus, Sammy."

Sam flinched as if struck. He tried to modulate his voice, keep it on an even keel, but he was incredibly hurt. "What did you just say?"

His brother straightened the sheet that didn't need straightening, flattening it beneath his hand. Dean wouldn't look him in the eye, instead scowling down at the sheet. "You heard me. You wouldn't be in this mess if you'd stayed with your family. This is exactly what Dad was trying to tell you but you wouldn't listen…"

Closing his eyes, Sam attempted to tune Dean out. So getting in a bus accident and then kidnapped by a shtriga was his fault and if he'd just stayed put, like a trained dog, Sam never would have been hurt or needed saving.

Although according to the shtriga – not that Sam was necessarily buying its line of bull – Sam had almost been drained as a young boy; he'd been left alone and the shtriga had found the set up too tempting. If their dad, who let's face it shouldn't have left two young boys alone in the first place, hadn't charged in at that exact moment then Sam would have been shtriga food, sucked dry and left to die.

But his dad and Dean always knew what was good for Sam. Right.

His dad who loved him so much that he was somewhere in Minnesota, doing something so important that he couldn't even bother returning Dean's calls. Sam knew he should have been hurt by his dad's actions but after a lifetime of being around the man, it really didn't surprise him. But for some reason it did surprise Dean. He couldn't hurt on his own account but he did on his brother's. Or at least he had until Dean started giving him shit, acting as their dad's mouthpiece.

Thinking about his family left Sam feeling flattened, like the worn cotton sheet under Dean's smothering hand.

He only wanted to go to school. Four years, that's all he'd asked for. What kind of family tells a kid just out of high school that going to college is a waste of time?

Sam was naive for having thought his family would believe in him. To them he was just a big failure, too dumb to look after himself. Too slow and stupid to make it in the hunt without them to watch his ass. Incapable of taking care of himself away from them, out in what passed for the normal world. Always in need of protection.

Numbness spread through Sam's chest and for once it had nothing to do with his spinal injury or the shtriga's attack.