Fanfic: Fake Identity
Author: borgmama1of5
Summary: When the show started, Sam hadn't hunted since he was 18, but he and Dean slipped into their routine use of aliases like it was old hat. But when did Sam learn how to do that?
A/N: Much love to sandymg as my beta but more importantly, as my nag. She knew there was more than a drabble here and insisted I flesh it out.

Fake Identity

Sam absolutely hated when they talked about him like he wasn't here. Sam "The Invisible" Winchester. Or maybe Sam "The Deaf" Winchester. Didn't matter that Dad was growling at Dean in his quietest growl, there was no place in the stupid 'suite' he couldn't hear them.

"No, Dean, he's not ready."

"C'mon, Dad, I went with you when I was a lot younger."

"Yeah, well you knew how to follow orders …"

"Give Sammy a chance, he won't mess up."

His success wouldn't even be measured by 'he'd do a good job' — it was that he wouldn't screw up. Nice vote of confidence, Dean. Although Sam really couldn't be angry with Dean right now. His brother was on some pretty strong pain pills and Sam had to give him credit for presenting any kind of a coherent argument to Dad. And it was Sam's fault Dean was hurt.

"Sam."

"Fuck off" probably wasn't the brightest response and he sure wasn't saying "Yes, sir" His mouth settled on "Yeah?"

John's glare told Sam that his dad had two thoughts wanting to be verbalized as well. But John chose the less inflammatory words undoubtedly because the job had precedence over reaming Sam out for his bad attitude.

"I've got to talk to the survivor at the hospital to see if I can get more information on what this thing is, and Dean's out of commission. For these kinds of interviews it works better if there are two people. Do you think you can act like a grown-up long enough to help?"

Act like a grown-up … Son-of-a-bitch, Dad made him so mad! Sam realized he had involuntarily clenched his fists, knew that John had seen it. Deep breath, he repeated to himself. He's baiting you on purpose.

"I can do the job." It came out surly but not quite insolent.

"Mmm." John stared back at him, then turned and went to his duffle bag. "Give me one of your school IDs, one where you look the oldest. Not with the hair in your eyes."

Sam rifled through the dozen or so picture IDs, settling on the one from Markham High School, two towns ago. He looked pretty serious in that picture — grim, actually — the picture had been taken after Sam was pulled out of Bloomfield High where he'd been on the honors track and actually made friends. But hey, Dad had a job three states over and he couldn't leave his boys to finish anything important like a semester.

John finessed the photo from the high school ID with a razor blade and then worked his magic with the laminating supplies.

"Here."

"So who are you, Sammy?" Dean had been quiet till now.

Sam took a look. "Louis McMaster. State Police."

"You'll make a great 'good cop' Sammy. Just bat your eyes at the girl and she'll tell you everything. Use the 'state cop' shit from my bag." Dean's smirk was off just enough to tell Sam he was still in a lot of pain from the broken ribs. Sam half-heartedly gave him the finger before rummaging through Dean's stuff for the appropriate clothes. Dean would never think that Sam let him down. Dean would say that it was a good thing Sam hadn't been there or Sam might've gotten hurt.

"Hey, Sam." Dean's hiss was meant for Sam only. Sam stepped over to his brother's bed. Dean looked like shit, purple-red bruises from his left temple to his jaw. Sam knew Dean's whole left side was similarly decorated from going over the second floor banister to a concrete floor.

"All you gotta do is ask a question and wait 'em out …Give 'em your puppy dog look and they'll spill everything. You don't have to talk much at all, got it?"

"Yeah, Dean. Don't worry, it's no big deal." Okay, maybe it was, and Dean knew it, too … No, it'd be just like playing the school principals and the motel clerks and every other authority figure the Winchester family mind-gamed. Just this time Sam would get to play-act the authority figure.

On the way to the hospital John reviewed for Sam what he had on the case so far. Teenage babysitter, creepy phone calls, dead two-year-old. That explained why Dad was taking the job so seriously — not that he didn't take every job like it was end-of-the-world serious, but dead kids, that disturbed all the Winchesters the most. Sam would do this right for the sake of the kid. Although Sam didn't see exactly why Dad thought this was in their line of business. "…got that Sammy?"

"It's Sam, not Sammy." Christ, I'm fucking 16 … He stopped himself from going there. Focus on the job. This was the first time Dad was letting him do the information-gathering in person, under an alias, and Sam needed to not be a teenager right now. Suddenly he was nervous. Anyone would take one look at him and know that he wasn't even legal age, much less a cop … How did Dean do it? Always talking, spinning stories, if one line didn't work he'd just move to the next one, didn't seem to care if it made sense as long as Dean could keep the target under the spell of his voice. And Dean's advice to him was to keep quiet?

***

The nurse at the floor desk didn't even look at the IDs they held out. "Room 414." First hurdle. Almost disappointingly easy … don't jinx it, Sam.

Okay, here was the second hurdle. The babysitter wasn't alone. From the way the woman was hovering, it was the girl's mother.

"Frank Harper, with the state police, ma'am." Dad held his ID out for the woman to see, and Sam did likewise.

"Louis McMaster," he nodded seriously.

"The police were here again yesterday and my daughter told them everything."

"Just a few more questions, Mrs. Caldwell."

"I don't see why Evie has to talk about this again," she said in a quiet but tight voice.

"We'll keep it brief." Sam attempted calm reassurance with his words. Drawing attention to himself was a mistake, as Mrs. Caldwell looked at him for the first time.

"You look awfully young for an officer," she challenged.

Sam responded even as he felt his dad tense. "My dad says I'll appreciate those comments in another ten years." He offered a restrained grin. "Just good genes. I'm gonna get carded till I'm fifty."

The woman smiled slightly, Sam felt his dad relax a tiny bit, and Sam, with another polite nod to the mother, stepped over to the side of the hospital bed.

"Hello, Evie." Crap, she was just a few years younger than he was, a petite girl swimming in the blue floral hospital gown, lost in the covers. The white bandage on her forehead contrasted vividly with her dark skin and corn-rowed hair. Her right arm was wrapped in gauze from wrist to shoulder and there was another bandage on her forehead. But it was the look in her eyes that made Sam's stomach tense — they were eyes that had seen something horrible, something a kid her age shouldn't have had to see.

"I'm sorry to have to ask you to do this again, Evie, but can you tell me exactly what happened?" Sam made his voice gentle, and focused on the girl's face, wishing he could take away the fear and pain.

As Evie told her confused story, Sam realized why his dad thought it was one of their cases. Evie had put the little boy she was babysitting to bed upstairs and was watching T.V. when the phone rang. Only instead of a voice, there was, "… crazy laughing. Scary sick laughing. And I hung up and the phone rang again and it was the same thing." Sam was vaguely aware of his dad talking with the mother, as the girl trembled. Sam instinctively reached over and took hold of the hand Evie was twisting in the blanket.

"And he called again and I said I was going to call 911, and then the phone wouldn't work, and then there was a dog barking upstairs, but the Gardners don't have a dog, and then I went upstairs and Dylan was…was…" Evie's face crumpled into silent sobs.

"I'm so sorry." What else could he say? "Go on, Evie …"

"There was a man with a…" She stopped, swallowed, tried to finish. "He had a knife and he was … standing by Dylan's crib and … he turned and looked at me and then he … he cut me and I screamed …"

Her voice rose shrilly with the last words. But Sam needed her to continue. "Then what happened, Evie?"

Tears were running down the girl's dark cheeks. "I heard the dog barking again and the man, he … disappeared. And I looked in Dylan's crib and … and he was … he was …"

"He was what, Evie?" Sam asked softly.

"He was … it was like he was all bit up, like a dog had bit his face and his neck and his arms …" She was sobbing too hard to continue. Sam pulled a tissue from the bedside table with his free hand.

But there were still questions. "Dylan was bitten, not cut with the knife?"

The teen could barely get the anguished words out. "He was chewed up!"

Sam waited for Evie to come back from the edge of hysteria. When he thought she could talk again, he asked, "Before all this happened. Did you sense anything wrong? Did you feel any unusual cold spots in the house, other odd noises or vibrations?" Evie started to shake her head no, then stopped.

"In Dylan's room, it was cold … er."

"The dog barking … what kind of dog did it sound like? A little dog, or a big one?"

"It … it sounded like a … big dog, like a … guard dog, maybe …" Without conscious thought Sam sat on the edge of the hospital bed and wrapped his arms around the shaking girl.

"Shh, shh, it's all right …" The words Dean always used to soothe his upset little brother. Only it really wasn't all right … "We're gonna take care of it, Evie, make sure it doesn't hurt anybody else. I promise."

"I think you should leave now!" Mrs. Caldwell's voice was close behind him, ignoring his dad's question to her.

"I'll take care of it, Evie," Sam said softly as he relinquished his hold on her. She might not have heard over her tears.

"I think we're done here." Sam looked directly at his dad who gave a slight nod. "I'm sorry we had to ask Evie about this again, Mrs. Caldwell, but it really was necessary." Now Sam could see the mother's fear for her daughter, her helplessness at not being able to make the bad go away. Sam wanted to reassure her as he had Evie that he and his dad would fix it, but knew that he couldn't tell her, there was nothing about this Mrs. Caldwell would understand.

Back in the car he summarized Evie's story for his dad.

"We're going to have to see the boy's family." John's voice was flat. Sam winced, he did so not want to have to be there for that. Interrogating the babysitter had been painful enough.

"If you drop me at the library I could see if there's anything in the area history…"

"Not dressed like a state trooper, Sam." His father conveyed annoyance without changing his tone of voice. But Sam was still struggling with the residue of his conversation with Evie and for once didn't respond to the prod. He stared out the side window of the Impala instead, seeing the girl's haunted eyes.

***

John stopped in front of a neat two story brick house. Obviously newly built, the front yard just waiting for landscapers to solidify its upper-middle-class aspirations. The houses to the west were still under construction, the entire area radiated that new-development aura.

"Come on. You have the EMF reader?"

Sam nodded.

"If the parents will talk with me you can check the upstairs."

"Okay, Dad." Sam knew he shouldn't be relieved to be assigned the recon but he really didn't want to face the parents of a dead baby.

"Mr. Gardner? I'm Officer Harper, this is Officer McMaster. I'm very sorry to disturb you, but we have a few additional questions concerning your son."

Sam held out his ID with his dad. Sam couldn't imagine surviving grief like that crossing Mr. Gardner's face at the mention of his child.

"Please, can we talk out here? My wife can't take any more."

"I'm sorry but we might have to talk to your wife, and we'll have to see the nursery again, but we can certainly start here first."

Shit, Sam was going to have to watch his dad question the father. And then Sam realized his dad was looking at him to start. What? Sam pulled out his notebook and pencil to cover the moment's delay while grasping for how to begin.

"Can you give me the timeline for what happened that night, sir?"

"Is this really necessary? I've gone over this so many times already." The man's voice was thick from the attempt at control.

Sam gave him his most understanding look. "I can't begin to understand how hard this is for you, Mr. Gardner. But please. It's important."

That terrible loss flashed across the man's face again. "Angela and I went out to dinner around six o'clock. Evie came about a half hour before that. She's babysat for us before, in the old place. We got a call from the police, on my wife's cell, about 8:30 …" The man's voice trailed off, tears began to pool in his eyes. Instinct made Sam gently put his hand on the man's arm.

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Gardner. We need to know as much as we can so we can stop this from happening to any other family." Sam truly meant it. He didn't want this much hurt to destroy anyone else's life. Then something the man had said registered.

"You said Evie babysat at your old place? How long have you lived here?"

"We moved in five weeks ago. It was the first night we went out since we moved … it was our anniversary." The grieving man made no effort to stop the tears running down his cheeks now.

"Since you moved in, did you notice anything … strange … about the house?"

"Strange?"

"Flickering lights, cold spots, odd smells or noises?"

"No, nothing like that."

His dad finally spoke up. "Could we see the nursery, Mr. Gardner?" The man nodded. "While Officer McMaster checks that, I'll need to speak to your wife. I'll try to keep it short."

Mr. Gardner clearly did not want to inflict another interrogation on his wife, but 'Officer Harper' was patently not going to back down. Sam watched his father project an implacable matter-of-fact presence and the husband lowered his head and motioned them in.

"The nursery's at the top of the stairs. Angela's in the kitchen."

There was nothing suspicious in the nursery — in fact there was nothing in the nursery at all, no crib, no toys, no remnants that this had been a little boy's room other than the wallpaper with cartoon trains and cars on the wall. Four days and all traces of little Dylan were erased. What would he do, Sam wondered, if something happened to Dad, or … to Dean — would it be easier to erase all trace of them, make it like they'd never existed -– or better to keep everything the same, like they were still around and could come back at any moment?

God, he couldn't handle this, thinking of Dean or Dad not coming back … His secret terror ever since he really understood what it was his father did. The panic that Dean's "Don't worry, Sammy, nothing's gonna happen" hadn't been able to banish ever since Dean started going on hunts with Dad. And this week's fiasco hadn't helped…

He had to get out of here.

There was a dog barking furiously nearby. Back on the first floor Sam realized it had been barking for several minutes. He found John and the Gardners in the kitchen, Mrs. Gardner sobbing brokenly, Mr. Gardner asking John to leave while trying to console his wife.

"I'm sorry." His dad's voice was gruff, Sam realized he was having a hard time watching this, too.

"Just two things," Sam said quickly. "Do you know what phone Evie answered, and whose dog is barking?"

"The phone is in the living room next to the sofa. And the dog, I don't know who it belongs to. Only a couple other families have moved in yet and none of them have a dog."

"We'll just look at the phone and then we'll leave. Again, we're very sorry."

The EMF meter gave a tiny crackle when held to the phone, but there was nothing in the rest of the room. By the time they were back outside, the barking had stopped.

Sam wanted know how his dad could do this, talk to devastated people over and over, but he didn't know how to ask the question.

"What did you find upstairs?" John was all business, of course.

"Nothing more on the EMF than how it reacted to the telephone. But everything connected to the little boy is gone, the room's been emptied out."

That's what was bothering him, Sam realized.

"Easier to get rid of everything, sometimes." There was something in his dad's voice that Sam couldn't identify. But John kept going. "Why did you ask about the dog?"

"I'm not sure exactly, but Evie said a dog was barking … and that it looked like Dylan had been attacked by one. I don't see how that ties in with the phone call she got, though."

"I'm going to take you back to the motel, you check on Dean. Then I'll drive around the area for a bit and see if there are any dogs."

"If Dean's okay, I'll hop a bus to the library and look for background."

"Yeah, you do that."

The T.V. was on but from his glassy eyes Sam doubted Dean had any clue what he'd been watching. Sam hated seeing Dean vulnerable, slumped in on himself, abnormally still. As Sam took off the uniform shirt, Dean hit the mute button and spoke.

"How'd it go?"

"How do you do it?" Shit, that wasn't what he'd meant to say.

"Do what?"

"Talk to all the victims, make 'em go through it again."

Expecting a smartass answer, Sam was surprised at the seriousness with which Dean replied.

"It sucks. Especially when it involves a kid. I'm sorry that you had to go, Sammy. But Dad can't do these kinds of interviews alone. And I couldn't pass myself off as a cop right now looking like this."

"Why not?" Sam finished buttoning his flannel shirt and studied his brother's discolored face. He knew Dean would understand his question was about Dad.

"He … can't handle them."

"What do you mean?" Sam grabbed the empty glass on Dean's nightstand and went to fill it with cold water.

"He … he doesn't do well around their parents. It makes him think of things … Aw, dammit, Sam, you should be able to figure out why he can't deal with it."

Sam held the glass of water as he stared at Dean, trying to puzzle out what his brother meant from the look in his eyes.

"Oh." He sat the glass down abruptly. Him. Mom. The nursery fire he didn't remember but could never forget all the same. "Oh," he said again. What more was there he could say?

Change the subject. "Dude, you want something to eat? Or need any more pills?"

"Yeah, pass me the bottle." Given Dean's usual reluctance to admit to needing medication, he must really be hurting. They had some Vicodin for a change, and Dean was past the 24-hour no-meds rule for the concussion.

"You should probably have some food with them." He handed Dean a granola bar from his backpack. To Dean's grimace he responded, "It's got chocolate chips. I'm going to the library, what do you want me to bring back?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Bacon cheeseburger with fries." Piss-poor attempt to make up for letting Dean down, but Dean grinned lopsidedly at him and shouted "Don't forget the pie," as he walked out.

Sam indulged himself in guilt for the entire bus ride. Dad had wanted Sam to go on the poltergeist hunt but when Sam had protested about missing his extra-credit computer lab class Dean had smoothly intervened before the verbal melee between Sam and John climbed to shouting level, telling their dad that they'd be fine without Sam on such a routine hunt.

"And besides, geekboy might learn something useful about hacking passwords or something, right, Sammy?"

"This is a legitimate class, Dean," he'd huffed. Only to come back to the motel and find it hadn't been an innocuous case after all, and Dean had been lucky to end up with only a concussion, broken ribs, and bruises. A lot of bruises. And of course, Dad saying it was Sam's fault Dean got hurt.

And of course Dean defended him. " 'S not Sam's fault, Dad, I shoulda ducked." Sam cringed. He'd have felt better if Dean had been mad at him, too.

Sam returned from the library in the late afternoon. John was there.

"Where've you been?"

Sam handed his brother the bag with a greasy burger — Dean had to have a cast-iron stomach to eat that crap — and fired a different question back at his dad.

"Did you find a dog? Or hear it again?"

"Didn't see one, heard it again but couldn't find where it was. How do you think it's connected?"

That Dad wasn't questioning why he thought it was important startled Sam. He was momentarily disoriented, he'd been prepared to fight for the point.

"Okay. You know the urban legend about the killer in the house with a girl, and the cops find the family dog choking with fingers in his mouth?"

Not bothering to swallow his mouthful of food, Dean interjected, "That one's a myth, like the Hookman."

"No, Dean, not completely. At least not here. In 1962, there were a series of murders of teenage girls. Some of them were babysitting, some of them were just home by themselves. The cops caught the guy finally. They caught him because that night the babysitter had brought her family's dog with her. And the dog bit off two of the guy's fingers and cornered him in a closet."

There was silence in the room for a moment, broken when Dean muttered, "Well I'll be damned."

"So how do you put that with this case?" Why couldn't Dad acknowledge he'd done a good job researching this? It had been like a jigsaw puzzle to put the clues in the old records together, this part of the town's history had been hidden under a lot of obtuse references. Nothing that the Chamber of Commerce wanted in the tourist brochures.

"The murderer, Edwin Jenkins, died in prison in 1994. He was cremated."

His dad frowned. "Dead end, then."

"Maybe not." Sam hadn't given up when he'd hit that spot. He just needed to convince his dad to follow his leap.

"Okay, the house where the little boy died, it's new construction, right?" John nodded. "The babysitter who survived in 1962 — she lived on that block at the time."

Dean was trying to follow Sam's thought process. "So the girl almost got murdered there?"

"No, she was babysitting across town. But she'd brought the family dog with her that night. And the dog bit the murderer's fingers off."

Sam could tell from the twist of his dad's lips that he wasn't buying it. "What the hell are you trying to get at, Sam?"

"I think the dog's ghost is the connection."

"That's ridiculous."

"Why do you say that?"

"Are you seriously suggesting we need to salt-and-burn a dog's remains, boy?"

Evie's scared face … Mr. Gardner's grief … Sam knew getting angry wouldn't convince his dad, but he needed to get retribution for them. "Dammit, Dad, if Dean said to go after a dog's ghost you'd listen!"

"Just leave me out of this," Dean muttered to Sam.

"Your brother'd have more sense than to suggest it. I guess I'll have to follow up on the police records on my own."

"Dammit, Dad …"

"I am tired of listening to your attitude, Sam! If you had put the job and your family first, Dean would've had back-up and not gotten hurt!" John slammed his fist on the table. "I'm going to the police station. You stay here with your brother. You," now John barked at Dean, "Explain to your brother about the importance of following orders, and respect!" With that John stormed out of the room, the force of the door behind him rattling the windows.

"Nice one, Sammy. Why do you always have to fight with Dad?" Dean rubbed his forehead like it ached, though whether from the concussion or the yelling was up for debate.

"I'm right about this, Dean." Sam was right about a lot of things his dad refused to hear.

"Sam …"

He wasn't going to argue with his brother. He knew what he needed to keep investigating on his own and threw everything in his backpack in a few minutes. Dean watched him, a frown on his face.

"What are you doing, Sammy?"

"It's Sam and I'm taking care of the problem!" Sam knew his brother didn't deserve the vitriol Sam was directing at him but he couldn't stand to think of another family being hurt because Dad wouldn't listen to him.

Dean tried one more time, "Sam …" and he started to get up from the bed, wincing.

"Dean. Look, dude, you're still messed up. I'm just gonna go talk to the woman who survived back then, okay? I'll be back before Dad. And you can tell him you gave me the 'just say yessir!' lecture, okay? Just let me handle this."

It was a dead giveaway that Dean was not himself that he didn't offer any argument. "Just be careful, okay?"

"Yeah, Dean. You get some rest."

***

Sam stopped in front of the screened-in porch and went over what he was going to say again. Mrs. Melanie Grossman. Sam was sure she wasn't going to be wanting to rehash a horror from over thirty years ago, but he needed more information. He could do this, he told himself, it wouldn't require nearly as much acting as being a state trooper.

The door opened as far as the inside chain allowed. "Yes?"

"Mrs. Grossman, my name is Sam Simmons. I'm a reporter with the Williamsburg Tribune, and I'm doing an article about a series of crimes that happened in the past. I'd like to talk to you about what happened in 1962." He made his voice soft, striving for an empathetic connection. He kept his eyes on her face, watched as it tightened.

"I really don't have anything to talk about to you." She started to shut the door.

"Please, Mrs. Grossman." Sam put all the intensity of what Dean called his 'puppy-dog eyes' into the look he gave her. The closing of the door stopped. "Are you aware of what happened here four days ago? To Dylan Gardner?"

Wrong thing to say. Mrs. Grossman flinched, shut the door, and Sam heard the deadbolt thud.

Shit. Too direct. But he had to get her to tell him about the dog. Sam bit his lip, then rang the door bell again.

"Go away, I don't want to talk to you!" came through the door.

Sam put every bit of earnestness into his voice that he had. "Please, Mrs. Grossman. I know this is hard for you but it could save someone else. You want to help, I know you don't want anyone else to have to go through what you did." He held his breath. The door cracked open ever so slightly.

"How can something that happened to me over thirty years ago make a difference now?"

"It's hard to explain, but if you'd just let me ask you a few questions?"

Score one for sincerity, Sam thought as the woman undid the chain. Wonder if Dean could have charmed his way in? And Dad? Dad would have just glowered until she was intimidated …

The middle-aged woman sat uneasily on the edge of the navy blue couch, plainly finding his presence disturbing. Sam eased his conscience over her distress by reiterating to both of them that she was helping to prevent another attack.

"I just need you to tell me exactly what happened the night Edwin Jenkins attacked you."

Ninety minutes later Sam left the distraught woman shredding tissues in her living room having just relived the most horrifying night of her life. Because he needed her to do it.

He stopped at the end of the block, mulling his choices. Easiest — smartest — thing to do would be to go back to the motel, give the intel to Dad and let him decide what to do next. Except Sam wasn't sure his dad would get past his annoyance with Sam to see the facts and what they led to.

So he could go back to the Gardners' neighborhood right now and look around for remains …heck, he had, always had, salt in his backpack, he'd grabbed the EMF meter when he'd left Dean, maybe he could just take care of the thing right away on his own. Then his Dad would have to acknowledge Sam could pull his own weight on their team …

Yeah, to the Gardners. He could have walked the distance if necessary, but as long as there was a bus coming anyway, he might as well hop on.

Sitting in the back of the wheezing city bus Sam considered what Mrs. Grossman had told him about the attack. More specifically, he focused on what she had said about Candy, the family's Doberman, who she'd brought with on the babysitting job because of the other murders.

There'd been several creepy phone calls, the phone went dead, and then the dog had gone crazy, barking and tearing through the house and there'd been a man yelling and cursing and Melanie had run out of the house to the neighbor's. The police had found a man hiding in the hall closet, the Doberman keeping him there.

And Mrs. Grossman confirmed that yes, Candy had bitten the intruder repeatedly — had bitten off the man's index and middle fingers on one hand — and had been stabbed in return. The family's beloved dog had died two days later from her injuries, a hero for saving the lives of Melanie and the little girl she was watching that night. And Candy had been buried in the family's backyard which was now part of the housing development where the Gardners lived.

It all fit, Sam thought. The construction must have disturbed the dog's grave. A basic salt-and-burn should take care of it. And he was going to do it right now.

Only a handful of the houses were occupied, most of them at the east end of the development. The Gardner's house had one light on in the kitchen. Based on what he'd researched and what Mrs. Grossman had told him, her old house would have been about three doors west of the Gardners, on the opposite side of the street, where the buildings were still mostly unfinished. Sam started searching through the backyards with the EMF meter.

He hit pay dirt in the second yard, the buzzing pulse of the EMF guiding him to an unremarkable patch of churned up dirt and construction debris. He didn't have a shovel in his backpack but it was a moment's work to liberate one from the equipment shed and begin to excavate the dog's bones.

Unfortunately, it was not going to be as easy as he'd hoped. He'd dug a couple feet down when it dawned on Sam that there was not going to be a coffin to find, instead the bones were scattered loosely throughout the dirt.

Shit.

The growl was his only warning, and it was barely enough that he could swing the shovel around reflexively. Slashing the Doberman shape with the steel slowed it only an instant but Sam was using the momentum to reach the bag of rock salt near his feet. He screamed as teeth punctured his thigh but kept moving even as he fell, spilling salt from the open sack onto the ghost. The release of the death grip on his leg hurt as bad as being bitten, and Sam fought the wave of red haze that threatened to overcome him as the dog started to dissipate — and then it was reforming as the corrupt form of a man wielding a knife, plunging it toward Sam's face.

Sam threw up one arm and the blade bit like fire into his forearm but he still had the salt in his other hand and flung it out again. The man vanished with sick laughter and Sam knew when it reappeared he was a goner. Shudders of pain shook his body, made his breath catch.

Mist was solidifying again. Man or dog this time didn't matter. Sam was gonna die here alone.

From the weight of the bag there was enough salt left to repulse the spirit a final time and Sam held it ready. It was coming back in the man shape again, but hanging back, cackling and wordlessly trying to taunt Sam into wasting his last bit of protection. He wanted to curl into a ball from the agony but forced himself to keep his eyes on the predator as it started to circle around.

One second's thought, and Sam saw a chance. If there was enough left … He tipped the bag toward the ground and awkwardly but quickly began to trail the salt in a circle around himself. The ghost reacted slowly enough that Sam had three-fourths of the circle done before it realized what he was doing. Transferring the bag to his wounded arm to finish it, Sam bit his lip, drawing blood, fighting to stay conscious. The salt completed the circle — just barely — as the creature morphed back to hound, but for all its ferocity it could not reach him.

The ghost-dog circled, furious at being thwarted. Sam, shuddering with pain and fear, pulled himself into as small a target as he could. Everything he could think of to defend himself was in his backpack outside the circle. As was his cell phone. He pressed the heel of his palm against the rip in his thigh, knowing that if he passed out he would collapse out of his protection. The frenzied barking felt like a physical attack, spittle flying across the salt line, maddened eyes level with his…

"Is someone out here?"

No!

"Go back! Don't come here!" Sam's warning cry was drowned out by the deafening noise of the Doberman as it pivoted and charged at the new voice. Even as the dog was turning, Sam struggled to his feet and lunged over the salt, his world narrowed to the front pocket on his pack that held his phone. He thumbed the speed dial as a terrified "Oh my god!" came from across the yard.

"Sa…"

"Across the street three houses down from the Gardners! Shotgun! Hurry!"

Dropping the phone Sam reached in another pocket and pulled out a six-inch iron blade. The barking stopped abruptly but instead of silence Sam could hear "No! Stop! Nooo!" the last cry cutting off in a horrible gurgle.

He stumbled across the yard and past the corner of the house to see the ghost back in man-form stabbing over and over into the body lying before it.

"Stop!"

Its knife lifted for another thrust, and Sam hurled himself at the shape. His blade pierced the shape and it vanished.

There was a moan at his feet. Daring a quick look Sam felt sick at the mangled body of Mr. Gardner. Blood was pooling from bites and cuts over his whole body but Sam could only stand over the injured man waiting for the ghost man or dog to reappear.

It took longer to reapparate from the touch of iron but only by moments – as a man this time – and Sam lashed out to dissolve it. The dog shape appeared again, but this time just out of reach and Sam almost fell as he swung at it. More growling and Sam started cursing back just to keep himself standing. Sam knew he couldn't fight it off much longer. And Mr. Gardner was no longer making any noise.

The Doberman leaped, knocked Sam to the ground, and locked its jaws around his left wrist.

"Unh!"

Sam stabbed blindly and it vanished only to rematerialize over Mr. Gardner.

"No!" He started to roll but fire raced up his arm when he tried to push off from it.

"Sam! Down!"

He dropped and the shotgun report echoed as the ghost vanished again.

Dad was there … and Dean? Sam choked back a sob of pain and relief.

"Cover us, Dean!" Dad was kneeling over him. "Where are you hurt? Can you stand?"

"Arm 'n leg. I … think." Sam answered the questions lasered at him. "Mr. Gardner …"

His dad turned away to check the body.

"He's gone. Grab the backpack, Dean. We have to get out of here."

With John's arm around his back Sam got to his feet just as Dean let loose with another blast from the sawed-off. Then they were all in the Impala as the wail of police sirens filled the night.

***

"That's the last of the Vicodin, Dean."

"I know, Sam needs it, I'm fine." Pills were put on his tongue, water held up to his mouth so he could swallow.

Sam wavered in and out of consciousness as his dad cleaned and stitched the dog bites and knife wound. Sam was aware of Dean sitting on the edge of the bed, one hand on Sam's shoulder, the other handing Dad the supplies. With half-open eyes Sam saw the unbruised side of Dean's face looked almost gray and Sam didn't think it was from the crappy motel lighting. Dean shouldn't have been out there. Guilt for making Dean come look for him collided with the burn of antiseptic in the punctures and Sam bit his lip to avoid whimpering. Each time Sam flinched or grimaced his brother murmured softly, " 'S okay, Sammy."

Bandaging finished, Dean pulled a blanket over Sam. Now that it was over, he couldn't control the shaking.

"What the hell were you trying to do, Sam?"

Sam couldn't meet his father's eyes. Mr. Gardner was dead. Because of him. Because he thought he could handle the job on his own. His silence went unheard by his dad.

"You're damn lucky Dean figured you'd be near the Gardners and we were almost there when you called! Dammit, Sam, you think this is just a game? You could have been killed strutting in there alone! Every lesson I've taught you, and you tear off to prove you don't need to listen?"

Sam took the blistering rebuke without attempting to defend or explain himself. He was wondering how Mrs. Gardner was going survive her husband's death. Would she erase all trace of him from her own personal haunted house, too? Maybe she'd abandon it completely, or burn it down? Sam couldn't erase the image of the mutilated man from his brain.

"Dad." Dean hadn't moved from his side, only addressed Dad with the one sharply quiet word.

Their dad went silent.

"I'll stay with him, make sure he doesn't run a fever." Dean didn't quite say 'you go to bed' but John must have gotten the message, for he said huskily, "Okay, Dean. But I'll take over in a couple hours, I don't want you relapsing. Probably better for you to sit with him first." From the sound of the sigh Sam knew without opening his eyes that his dad was wiping his hand across his jaw. "You did good knowing where he went. You gotta take care of yourself, too, Dean. We're gonna have a nasty job getting rid of this thing and I need you in as good a shape as possible."

"Sam was right about it being the dog, and the old babysitter's house."

"Yeah, he was. But that doesn't excuse stupidity."

"Dad …"

"Yeah, okay, I'll take over in a couple hours."

Once John was in the other room, Dean shifted to lean back against the wall at the head of the bed, carefully putting his legs on the mattress alongside Sam. His hand never left Sam's shoulder during the entire maneuver.

"Dean?"

"Whatcha need, Sammy?"

"I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"It's my fault Mr. Gardner got killed. And my fault you got hurt the other day 'cause I wasn't there. I'm sorry…"

"Sam." There was a command in Dean's voice that ordered Sam to believe him. "A fucking ghost killed that dude. Not you. And you being there wouldn't have made a damn bit of difference to the poltergeist when it threw the dresser at me." Dean smirked, "Sucker turned me into Wile E. Coyote." Dean turned serious again. "Not your fault. None of it. So quit thinking it is."

Sam couldn't say anything.

"You hearing me, Sammy?"

"Yeah, Dean, but…"

"Not sayin' it was brilliant to go off and try the salt 'n' burn on your own. Takes a lotta practice to do 'em alone. But don't you blame yourself for what happened, you hear me?"

"Yeah, Dean."

A salivating Doberman featured prominently in Sam's narcotic-influenced nightmare. Chunks of flesh were wedged in its needle-pointed teeth. Blood spattered Sam as the dog lunged past him to sink its jaws into the neck of the helpless man on the ground. Sam moaned, tried to push the dog from Gardner's throat, a red-hot poker circling his wrist. The man changed, became little Evie being brutalized by the ghost-man thrusting his knife into her tiny body even as she shielded the little boy in her arms. She screamed, "Help me!" Pain sliced Sam's arm and thigh as he tried to fight it off, but the ghost was stronger, faster.

"Shh. 'S all right, Sammy. I'm here."

"Is he running a fever?"

"Nah, don't think so, just bad dreams."

"I'll take over, you get some rest."

" 'S okay, Dad, I got 'im."

"I'll sit with him, Dean. You go to bed, I mean it."

It was too hard to open his eyes, but Sam could feel Dean gingerly shifting his legs off the bed. Sam's shoulder felt exposed when Dean took his hand away. He heard his brother's muffled groan as he stood – Dean jarred the mattress as he staggered. Dad's swift step.

"Easy." Two sets of footsteps shuffled to the other bed, springs creaked, another stifled "Unh."

A kitchen chair softly scraped the floor, a solid body settled on it. A rough palm brushed aside Sam's bangs to rest on his forehead. "Good," was breathed into the silence. As the hand withdrew, Sam weakly groped to connect with it.

"I'm here, son." Calloused warmth covered his hand. Sam fell back into restless sleep.

***

The salt-and-burn was a real bitch.

John had them wait two days, telling them he was coming up with a plan and neither Dean nor Sam was physically able to help him yet, anyway.

Sam watched the news, sick to his stomach, as the reporters talked about the tragedy of the wild dog attacks on Mrs. Gardner's son and husband. He stared at the T.V., hands clenched, dreading to hear of another incident. Dad figured the ghost would lay low for a couple days as long as nothing provoked or enticed it, but there was no guarantee of that, Sam knew. However forty-eight hours passed and then another half-day and nothing more on the news. Still, it was a little easier to breathe when Dad said it was time to finish the job.

No fast way to do it – they were going to have to collect all the scattered bones before burning them. First step was making a salt circle that encompassed the entire yard where the family had buried their heroic pet all those years ago. Then, because neither Dean nor Sam was fit to wield a shovel, John did the digging. Dean circled the perimeter waiting for the ghost to show up, armed with a five foot iron spike. Quieter than using the shotgun, and because it was likely going to take all night, better to not alarm the neighborhood and get the cops called.

Sam was stationed with his dad, shifting through the dirt and piling the bones.

"It'll show when we start disturbing the grave," John said, "Every time we get a decent collection we'll salt and burn it and when the mother doesn't come back we'll know we got it all." He didn't go into the odds of them finding all the pieces in one night. Or of them getting all the bones ever. It was going to work because it had to. Because John Winchester said so, Sam thought. And it was funny that his dad's certainty wasn't pissing him off, like it did the rest of the time. Sam wanted him to be right this time.

It was quiet for the first thirty minutes or so, then the frenzied barking started. Dean and John had decided that Dean shouldn't worry about taking the ghost out unless it looked like it was going to breach the salt line or a civilian got involved. Still, listening to the dog's fury sent shivers down Sam's spine, and he could swear his gashes from the animal's teeth throbbed in time with its ferocious agitation.

"Hold the light still!" John ordered. He had taken a break from shoveling to help Sam pick out bones. If you took the supernatural out of the picture, Sam thought, this could be an archeologist's adventure, reconstructing history from bones. Yeah, an archeologist could concoct an interesting story finding human finger bones inside the animal.

"Aw, shut up, Lassie!" The barking abruptly stopped. Dean had obviously decided enough with the noise.

John resumed digging, Sam kept sifting, the barking started up again, stopped short after a few minutes.

The night dragged on. Twice Dean signaled that a police car was coming through, and they all ducked into the closest unfinished house. Sam set the first batch of bones on fire. They all watched as the ghost dog rippled, but it didn't vanish, so after wiping his forehead with a bandana from his pocket, John resumed digging.

After two more fires still hadn't kept the ghost from coming back, Sam asked, "What if we just pour gasoline in the hole you've made and say, in a big circle around it and see what happens?"

"Worth a try, we're not getting anywhere. Tell your brother to be ready to go, the cops are bound to check out a big fire. If it doesn't work we'll have to come back tomorrow night."

The gasoline ignited with a 'whoosh' and the still-barking dog flamed out.

"I think we got it, Dad!" Dean yelled, waited a few minutes to be sure and then stepped across the salt line to go to the Impala, Sam three steps behind him, John still further away.

"Dean!"

Still blazing, the spirit, now a man, plunged his knife into Dean before either brother could react.

"No!"

Dean fell like a stone. Sam ripped the iron blade from his belt, flung himself over his brother and thrust the knife through the ghost which dissolved, reappeared, and suddenly imploded in a last fiery burst.

"Dean!" John swiftly checked the wound on Dean's upper back. The dark stain on his shirt was already bigger than Sam's palm.

"Nuh …"

"Help me get him to the car."

Sam eased his arm around Dean, grabbed the duffle, and with John on Dean's other side they supported him to the backseat.

"Keep pressure on it." John handed Sam a towel.

Dean's steady mantra of "Sonuvabitch" during the ride back to the motel was weirdly reassuring, even though the towel was saturated with blood by the time John pulled the Impala into its space. Sam felt guilty that he had taken the last of the good pain meds but then became too busy as Dad's assistant to fret further. Thankfully, it was a clean puncture, the knife had not been twisted.

As John irrigated and stitched Dean's wound, Sam asked, "What happened, Dad? We thought it was gone."

"Was a fragment still unburned. Didn't see it until Dean was out of the circle."

"Do you think we got all of it?"

"Pretty sure from that last flame-out. I'll check tomorrow, though."

Halfway through the patch-up Dean sunk into stoic mode. John finished the last suture, and Sam helped him ease Dean into bed. Sam frowned at the little grunts of pain as his brother tried, not very successfully, to find a way to lay that didn't hurt either his back or his ribs, which had surely been abused as Dean swung the iron staff all night.

Sam thought about Mrs. Gardner. He wanted to ask his dad if he thought she'd be all right, but knew his dad wouldn't offer meaningless reassurances. Because how could she be? She would think that her son and her husband were victims of a bizarre animal attack. Would it make any difference if she knew what had really killed them? How would he survive if something happened to Dean? Or to Dad?

His stomach knotted as he deliberated. Dean had gotten hurt again … This time he had been there and it had mattered. But did he want to spend the rest of his life watching his brother's back? What about what he wanted to do – go to school, have a girlfriend, live in one place for more than a month … If only his brother could see that they could have a different life, a better life, leave Dad to hunt alone …

Sam finally fell into fitful sleep. He was walking through the Gardners' house, looking for Dean, but all the rooms were empty … someone was crying, and he went back through the rooms, checking all the closets … he opened the closet in the little boy's empty room and there was a … puppy, a little black and brown puppy, whimpering. Sam picked it up and it looked at him with jewel green eyes … and suddenly it was the Doberman twisting violently in his arms, snapping at his face … he dropped it and ran from the room, slamming the door behind him, about to race down the stairs and out into the yard when from behind the door he heard Evie screaming for help and he hesitated just a moment, then went back in the room … Evie cowered, cornered by the beast, Sam pulled it away from her but the door rippled and vanished and there were only walls, no way out, the dog tore at his arms, aiming for his throat … he shoved it off with all his strength, seized Evie's arms, and threw himself out the second-floor window, Evie cradled to his chest … he was falling …

Sam sat up with a gasp. Immediately his eyes went to the shape in Dean's bed. His heart was pounding so hard it took him a minute to hear the rise and fall of his brother's breathing, the normal smooth rhythm interrupted with tiny catches of pain.

Slowly Sam laid down on his side, facing Dean. Why did they do this?

His cell phone alarm startled him awake. It was morning – Sam didn't think he'd fall asleep again but obviously he had. Without more dreams, thankfully. Recalling the … nightmare … made him think of Evie. He wondered if she was back home, and okay? Or as okay as she could ever be now.

He'd skipped two days of school recovering from the ghost attack, but he was determined to go back today. Two days' work wouldn't be too hard to catch up on. Sam dressed quietly, not wanting to disturb Dean. When he came out of the bathroom he heard water filling the

pot in the kitchenette and knew his Dad was making coffee.

"G'morning."

"Heading to school today?"

"Yessir."

"Mmm. Just keep in mind the authorities will be poking around the Gardners' area. I'm not sure how clean we left it last night with Dean … I'm gonna check it this morning, but any clever cop connects it with us, we might have to haul out in a hurry. Understand?"

What was there to say? "Yessir."

Sam nearly tripped over Dean's duffle as he was getting his backpack set for school, then stood motionless at the idea that came to him. John couldn't see him, so Sam knelt and pulled what he needed from Dean's bag. A quick flip through his wallet confirmed he still had the I.D. There would be enough time after school, even if they did pull out today.

***

Mrs. Caldwell answered the door. Sam had his identification out in case the mother didn't remember him, but she did. Not specifically his name, but him.

"Yes, officer?"

For a moment it felt like play-acting, but he firmly pushed his sixteen-year-old self down and addressed the woman as the authority she saw him to be.

"May I see your daughter for a moment, Mrs. Caldwell?"

"She doesn't … I really don't want her to have to talk about this anymore, it's very upsetting."

"She doesn't have to … I won't ask her any questions, I just wanted to see how she's doing."

Hesitation, but she opened the door. "She's in the kitchen."

Sam shook his head as the mother made to follow him. "Do you think I could see her alone, for just a moment? Please."

Reluctantly she stopped and waved him on. Evie was doodling on a piece of notebook paper.

"Evie?" She looked up uncertainly. "I'm Officer McMaster, I saw you in the hospital?"

"Oh." She began to twist her pencil nervously.

"I just wanted to see how you were."

The beads in her braids clinked as she turned her head away from him. Sam lightly pulled out the chair next to her and sat.

"I just wanted to tell you … I thought you should know …" Oh god, had this been a dumb idea! But he was here, he would finish. "Look, Evie, I know what happened in the Gardners' house was awful, something you shouldn't have ever had to have happen. Terrible things … happen sometimes, and it's not right, but … what I wanted you to know is that it's gone, taken care of. I can't explain how but I want you to know that … thing … isn't going to hurt anybody else, ever again. Not you, not anyone. Okay?"

The pencil stilled. Sam held his breath, wondering if this visit had done any good.

Without looking at him, the girl whispered, "Okay." He waited but there was no other acknowledgement, so he got up to leave. He rested a hand on the slender shoulder. "There was nothing you could have done, don't blame yourself, Evie."

He walked past the anxious mother, stopped. "Evie's safe now. At least from that … animal. I hope she'll be all right."

Mrs. Caldwell's eyes went to the kitchen when Sam said her daughter's name, and she barely nodded at Sam's somewhat cryptic words, but she didn't move and Sam let himself out.

A few blocks' walk, a quick change to shed the uniform, and one more thing. He dialed Mrs. Grossman.

"Mrs. Grossman? This is Sam Simmons, you talked to me a few days ago … yes … I just wanted to tell you that, um, that because of what you told me, some … authorities … fixed … the problem, and I just wanted you to know that, because of your help, no one else will ever get hurt like that again. No, I really can't explain… no, but I thought you should know that what you did made a difference … No, I won't be contacting you again. Thank you."

He held the phone open after Mrs. Grossman hung up. He'd had a thought to talk to Mrs. Gardner, too, but he knew now he wasn't going to do it. There was nothing he could say to her.

Wanting to believe, yet not sure he'd made any difference, Sam headed back to this month's 'home' for however much longer that would last.