Note: This story contains spoilers through to the early part of Season 5, though most don't turn up till later chapters.

Chapter 1

Dean had walked for miles, it felt like, but he knew it couldn't really have been that far. He was sore all over, but his left side hurt worst of all. He hugged his ribs and kept going doggedly, though. He had to get further away. He passed another car pfarked on the street and sighed. He was short for twelve, not tall enough to drive a car, even if he did know how to start one without keys. He'd thought about hitching a lift, but it was late – or early – and no one was around. Not even that yellow-eyed guy. Dean looked around nervously. He hoped the yellow-eyed guy hadn't come back.

He needed to go . . . where? Someone would be waiting for him, and he needed to find them, if only he could remember.

He stayed to the edges of the pools of light cast by the streetlights. He wanted to have the option of choosing who to approach, so he needed to stay unseen as long as he could. Not that there seemed to be anybody to be seen by in any of these warehouses. He was getting tired, and the pain in his side made it harder to walk. Finally, he saw a street up ahead that actually seemed to have some traffic on it. He tried to speed up, but he couldn't keep it up long without seeing little flashy lights in his eyes. He wasn't sure if they were real or if it was in his head, so he just kept going.

By the time he reached the thoroughfare, he was past the ability to make decisions. He saw a lighted window and made for it mindlessly. Inside he saw a woman's face. Her eyes went wide, and then he lost his balance and fell over.

Footsteps came near, and he started to try and push himself away.

"Call 911," said a female voice. She sounded upset. Dean wanted to tell her everything was okay now, but he seemed to be floating in his head. Hands reached out and carefully lifted him from the ground. "My God, George, his left side is all blood."

Dean looked up at the face of the man who held him. He was black, and Dean didn't think he knew him. "Where's my dad?" he asked weakly.

The dark eyes dropped to his, worry and concern in them. "I don't know. What's your name?"

"Dean," he said.

"Dean what?"

The question had too many answers in Dean's head. "Dean," he repeated, knowing that one for certain.

"All right, Dean. You're safe now, and we'll find your dad."

Safe. He felt safe. His eyes fluttered closed, and he found he couldn't open them again.

***

Sam Winchester hated school anymore. He and his dad never stayed anywhere long enough for him to get to know anyone. Everyone else always had friends and shared history, and told jokes that made sense to them but not to him. He loved the learning, he could never get enough of that. He just wished he didn't have to put up with the other kids.

He shouldered his pack and walked out of the school building. The bullies that waited in the park around the corner for their prey had learned that he wasn't to be messed with. That was one legacy of being his father's son that he could live with. As he strode past the park, he could hear the sounds of a fight going on. He glanced over casually to see what was up.

Three of the meanest bastards had all ganged up on Dean Hunter, a guy from Sam's PE class. He was kind of a pretty boy, but he acted all tough. Sam had seen him the day before defending one of the geekier kids from Tom Carpenter, the ringleader of the jackasses who were now shoving him around.

Sam started to turn away. Dad always emphasized keeping a low profile. As he walked on, he heard a grunted comment from Dean. "Takes real men to go three on one!" This was followed by the distinct sound of air whooshing out after a gut punch. Sam winced. He knew how that hurt. He slowed again and turned around, walking backwards now that the trees shielded him from the group a little.

"We're going to teach you to interfere, Hunter."

"I already know how, thanks," Dean gasped. Tom's eyes narrowed and the other two guys grabbed Dean by the arms as Tom prepared to punch Dean square in the face.

Sam couldn't help himself. He was running into the fight before he knew what he'd done. As Tom Carpenter drew his arm back, Sam caught him a wicked blow to the gut. Tom doubled over, and one of the guys holding Dean let go and grabbed for Sam. He heard his dad's voice in his head. "If you ever can't avoid a fight at school, Sam, remember, don't fight to kill." Sam dodged the hand and swept the guy's legs out from under him. Dean had somehow gotten away from the boy who'd been holding him, and the two of them were going at it. Sam started to go help him, but the guy he'd downed tripped him. He rolled to his feet and came up facing Tom.

"You little twerp!" Tom growled. Sam dodged the blow Tom aimed for his head easily, but the guy he'd knocked over had gotten up. He came up behind Sam and grabbed him around the arms, trying to immobilize him. Tom grinned and pushed his sleeves back up. Sam figured that he could ease up on the brakes a little when he was facing two kids who were four years older than him. He brought the heel of his heavy boot down hard on the foot of the guy holding him, but the guy just started swearing and hung on tighter. Tom grabbed his shoulder and Sam knew he was getting hit, but then Dean came out of nowhere and tackled Tom to the ground. Sam slid his arm backwards between his body and the bully's. He couldn't hit the guy, he wouldn't be able to get any force behind it, but he could grab. The guy let out a strangled shriek and let go once Sam had a grip on his junk. Sam gave his wrist a sharp twist before he let go, and the guy stumbled backwards, clutching himself.

Dean and Tom were sort of wrestling on the ground. Tom bulked bigger than Dean, but it looked like a standoff. Sam shook his head. Dean was enthusiastic, no doubt, but his technique was crappy. Dean shoved Tom away, scrambled to his feet and grinned down at his opponent, clearly ready for more.

"Tom, let's go!" called one of his buddies. Sam turned and saw that Dean had given the one guy a black eye, and his recent attacker was still cradling his crotch. Sam looked over at Tom and gave him a wicked grin. Tom shoved at him, but Sam just sidestepped and put out a foot to trip him. Without looking back, Tom scrambled up and all three of them left the park.

Dean was breathing pretty hard. Sam picked up his backpack, which he'd tossed aside automatically on his way into the fight. He turned back towards Dean, who was bent over, hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. Sam wasn't sure what to say. He really expected Dean to be pissed at him for getting involved at all. Older guys usually were.

Dean looked up with a faint and bloody grin. "Thanks for the help, kid," he said, "but you shouldn't have gotten involved. Now they'll be after your ass, too."

"My name is Sam, not kid," Sam said, irritated by the response. "And no, they won't."

"What makes you think that, Sammy-boy?"

The nickname brought up memories for Sam that he ruthlessly suppressed. "Because I've already gone a couple rounds with Tom Carpenter, and he didn't like the way his face looked after," he said truculently.

Dean blinked at him. "You're the one who screwed up his face?" Sam shrugged. "Well, aren't you a tough little squirt!"

"I'm not that little," Sam retorted. "Catch ya later." He turned away, annoyed with the older boy.

"Sure," Dean said. "See you at school, Sammy."

Sam hitched his backpack higher and didn't turn around.

***

Dean rubbed at his lips and found the cut spot with a hiss. Getting rescued by someone only a little more than half his height was kind of embarrassing. On the other hand, Tom, Joe and Larry wouldn't be talking about it much either. And it was no wonder that Tom hadn't said boo about how his face had gotten bloodied. He snorted. That Sammy was one tough little kid.

He reached Lou's and went inside. "Hey, Dean," Lou said. "Go work on the Citation."

"Sure." Dean took off his jacket and pulled on his coverall and went out to work on the little car. It belonged to Sharon Wright, one of the teachers at school. She was no more than twenty-five, had the body of a centerfold, and a sweet face. How any guy was supposed to concentrate in her class, he wasn't sure. He'd had her for Math last year, and his grades had been a total joke.

"Who've you been fighting with?" Lou asked after awhile.

"Guess," Dean said sourly. Lou was a great guy to work for. Good hours, good pay, and he understood what was really going on in this town better than most.

"That Carpenter boy thinks he owns the town," Lou said irritably.

"He's got two football trophies," Dean said. "I think that's what that means."

Lou rolled his eyes. "You should hear his dad go on about it at Rosie's."

Dean looked up, grinning and wiping his hands. "I'd rather not, thanks. I hear enough about him at school." He gestured towards the car. "Turn her over for me, would you?"

The Citation finished, he went on to Mr. Reid's Suburban. Around nine, Lou said, "You've got school tomorrow, kid, get on home."

"Another ten minutes and I've got this one running," Dean said.

"I've heard that a time or two from you," Lou replied. "Go home. It will still be here tomorrow."

Dean sighed, but he knew when Lou had made his mind up. "See you tomorrow at four, then," he said, closing the hood on the Suburban.

Dean left the garage, but he didn't go home. It wasn't like Louise and Jake cared what he did, so long as he didn't endanger the checks they got from the state. And, all in all, it was better to stay out of Jake's reach as much as possible.

He considered going by Mary Beth's, but it was a school night and her father had a shotgun. Lou's was towards the edge of town, so Dean wandered out into the woods that surrounded them. It was chilly, but it beat going home. He couldn't wait to get out of this one-horse town. Then he'd figure out who he was and where he came from. All he knew for sure was that his first name was Dean, he had a family out there somewhere – unless something had happened to them in the meantime – and the things that most people didn't believe in, like ghosts and werewolves, were real. He reached up to his neck and pulled the cord of his amulet out, fingering the only link to his past that he had left. It was weird looking, like a head out of a mythology textbook, so he kept it under his shirt, but he never took it off. Every time the cord started to wear out, he found a new one.

He tucked it back into his shirt and kept walking. These woods were supposed to be haunted, but he'd never seen any sign of it. The kids told wildly varying stories about the ghosts, embroidered to freak people out and get girls to scream. Chain rattling, moaning spirits who turned your hair stark white upon seeing them. One guy had talked about zombies. Another kid said there was something in there that killed people. Dean figured it was all nonsense. Yeah, ghosts existed, but not every stupid ghost story was real.

He saw a flicker of white up ahead, and he stopped moving. His hand went into his jacket pocket to touch the little baggy of salt he kept on him. The few friends he had thought he was just obsessive about making sure his fries were salted just right, but one of the weirder things he remembered was that ghosts and some of the other nasty things that went bump in the night didn't much like salt.

Curiosity warred with common sense, and curiosity won. He kept going deeper into the woods in the direction of the white flicker. It stayed beyond his sight, just barely, for a long way. Then he came around a tree, face to face with a girl. She looked to be about his age, with chubby cheeks and an impish smile. Her eyes were pale blue, her hair was blond, and she was wearing a dress with short sleeves and some kind of lace collar.

"Hi," she said. "Looking for me?"

"Sort of, I guess," Dean replied, wondering if there was a house nearby. He wasn't sure exactly where he was at this point.

She turned away and went around another tree, then peered out at him. "Want to give me a kiss?" she asked coquettishly.

Dean was intrigued. "Sure," he said, but he didn't take his hand out of his pocket. She smiled and beckoned to him with her finger. He walked over and put a hand on her arm. It felt incredibly cold. "You must be freezing." He took his jacket off and wrapped it around her shoulders. "Where do you live?"

"Robin Road," she replied, and Dean shook his head. "How'd you get out here in the woods, then? I mean, why?"

"Aren't you going to kiss me?" she asked, leaning back against a tree, looking up at him from under her eyelashes.

"Why not?" he said. "Then I'll walk you home." He put his hands on either side of her head on the tree trunk and leaned close. Just before their lips touched, he caught a weird expression on her face, almost predatory, and he flinched back involuntarily.

"What?" she asked. "Am I not pretty enough for you?" Abruptly, the attractive face puffed out and turned blue. He noticed a weird, bruised ring around her neck that hadn't been there before, and he took several steps back. She came towards him, and he scrabbled in his pocket for the salt. Opening the baggy, he flung it at her and she vanished. Dean turned around and took off running in the direction he'd come from, and he didn't stop till he'd reached the house.

He slipped in through his bedroom window and stripped down to his boxers. Evidently, he'd been wrong to dismiss the ghost stories, though that was nothing like anything he'd heard from his peers. Maybe he should ask Lou.

His heart still racing, he closed his window and locked it, then lay down in bed. After a moment he realized that he was being stupid. He got up, pulled on his robe, and went into the kitchen, moving as quietly as he could. He got the salt canister out of the cupboard and refilled his baggy. At that point, he noticed that he was hungry despite the scare, so he put the salt in the pocket of his robe and made himself a sandwich.

He was just putting his plate in the sink when he heard it. The door to their bedroom creaked. Dean tried to hurry so he could avoid Jake, but it was Louise who came into the kitchen. She glowered at him. "Where the hell have you been?" she shispered. Dean knew what that meant. Jake was passed out. Louise wouldn't risk waking him any more than Dean would.

"Around," Dean said, partly because he wouldn't give her the correct time of day, and partly because he knew it pissed her off.

"I am responsible for what you get up to, boy," she said. "What crap have you been pulling at this time of night?"

Dean rolled his eyes and left the kitchen. She didn't follow him. She wasn't above picking at him, but she didn't really care what he'd been up to. She knew the score. He was a month away from freedom, and he wasn't risking that for anything. For a minor misunderstanding with the law just about a year back, he'd been sentenced to a year's probation, and the court had released him back to foster care on the understanding that he stayed put until he was of age. If he wandered off, he served the rest of his term in juvie. The birthday selected for him by the great state of Georgia was three weeks off, and he wasn't taking any chances.

He hit the sack, and for the first time in ages, he dreamed of the yellow-eyed man who had tortured him and screwed up his memories.

***

Sam woke up when a weight depressed the springs of his bed and made him start to roll off. He glanced quickly at the alarm clock. Twenty minutes till it went off. He looked up at his dad sleepily. "Yes sir?"

"Didn't mean to wake you early, tiger," John said. "But I have to be going."

Sam sat up, shaking off the vestiges of sleep. "A job?" he asked. His father nodded. "Can I come?"

"I told you, sixteen. That's still three years off."

"Just under two and a half," Sam corrected automatically.

John rolled his eyes and tousled Sam's hair. "I'm going to be gone at least a week. You can manage that, right?"

Sam nodded confidently, though he hated being left alone. That was when he missed his brother the most, when he was stuck alone in some hole in the wall and there was no one to talk to. Or fight with. Or anything. "I'll be fine, Dad," he said.

"Good boy," John replied. "I left the money in the usual spot. See you in a week." He got off the bed and a minute later, Sam heard the front door open and close. He got up, switched off the alarm, and started getting ready for school. Dad had left kind of a mess in the kitchenette, so Sam cleaned it up and made his own breakfast.

How he felt about staying alone was kind of weird. After he turned eleven, Dad had finally let him come along on his travels again, and that had made him feel great, right up until he got set up in a motel room and watched Dad drive away to hunt. He hadn't realized how much more he would miss Dean during the days he spent on his own.

First period was Algebra with Miss Wright. He filed into the classroom with the other kids, glad that there were one or two other boys who were shorter than him. He passed for a really short fourteen with his classmates because mentioning that he'd skipped a grade always caused problems. He sat down in his assigned seat and tried not to let the fact that Miss Wright was wearing one of those see-through shirts over a tank top distract him from his book.

English next, then PE, then lunch. Sam went through his day without impacting on anyone much. He saw Dean between fourth and fifth periods, chatting up Mary Beth Hanson, showing off his battle wounds. Sam snorted. Somehow he doubted that Dean was mentioning the help he'd gotten from the 'tough little squirt.' It wouldn't be real impressive.

History, usually one of his favorite subjects, was hard to listen to with Mr. Walker teaching. He droned like a fly, buzzing on and on about names and dates and battles. Instead of listening, Sam tended to just read the book. He hadn't used this one before. One thing about jumping states every two or three weeks, he did get to see a lot of different textbooks.

When the day was over, he trudged back toward the apartment. All he had to look forward to this evening was his workout and homework, and whatever crap was on TV. He sighed. As he passed the park, a bunch of guys emerged from it and surrounded him. Evidently Tom hadn't taken yesterday's whipping well at all. Sam looked around at the taller boys who were herding him off the street and into the park.

"You need to learn your place, little boy," Tom said.

"Right," Sam said. He turned around and chose his target. Skip Martin. He wasn't the weakest of the bunch, but he was the weakest that gave Sam a straight shot to his route home. He turned back around to face Tom. "King of my little kingdom," he said with a cocky grin, and then he whirled, knocked Skip to the ground and took off. The other thing he was good at – that Dad had insisted he get good at – was running. He peeked over his shoulder after a block and saw that none of them was chasing him. They were clustered in a group, laughing. Sam slowed to a walk and rolled his eyes.

***

Thursday was done, Dean thought as he left the school. Just one more day till the weekend. Not that weekends were anything to brag about in little Fort William, Georgia. Still, it meant no school, and there was nothing wrong with that.

He glanced at his watch. He had twenty minutes before he had to get to Lou's. Mr. Walker had held him back after class last period and lectured him about his grades, so he was running a little late. He really hoped the jackasses weren't hanging out at the park again. Just as he turned the corner, he heard a startled shout, and he jogged forward to see Sammy burst out of a circle of seven guys, right over the top of Skip Martin. The others clustered together and started laughing, like they'd pulled some major feat, and Dean thought they were idiots. He was glad to see Sammy wasn't just tough, he was smart. No point in sticking around when you couldn't win.

The posse didn't seem interested in him, fortunately, because he wasn't sure he had the ability to escape. Maybe he should catch Sammy some time after school and see if the kid could teach him some tricks.

Lou was working on paperwork when Dean got there. "Finish up that Suburban, would you? Then we can work together on the Mustang."

Dean's eyes widened. "You mean Mr. Carpenter's Mustang?" he asked reverently. He might not like the man, but that car was a thing of beauty.

"The very same," Lou said. "Hurry on up. You said ten minutes last night, as I recall."

Dean nodded and hastened out to the Suburban. It took him no time at all to get her up and running, and then he feasted his eyes on the red convertible '67 Mustang. It wasn't quite mint, Carpenter had put a CD player in and had the seats redone, but the engine was almost perfect.

It didn't really take two of them to do an oil change, but the pleasure of handling such fine machinery was one of the reasons Dean loved this job. While they waited for the oil to drain, he turned to Lou. "Hey, you know the kids are always saying that the woods off to the southeast are haunted. You put any stock in that?"

Lou turned to look at him. "Those crazy stories the kids tell are nonsense, Dean. You know that."

"Yeah, the stories they tell are. I don't buy that there's a masked guy with a chainsaw in there hacking people up."

Lou's eyes widened. "Is that what they're saying now?"

Dean shrugged. "One of the wilder stories, yeah, but those kinds of things usually come from somewhere."

Lou gave him a sidelong look. "There is something, a tragedy, it happened a long time ago. People don't like to hear it talked about."

"I won't say a word," Dean said.

"Just stay out of those woods this time of year," Lou replied.

"Well, thing is, I kind of already went in," Dean said, and Lou turned to stare at him. "Last night. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to."

"Did you . . . see anything?" Lou asked in a low voice.

Dean decided to play it cool. He shrugged. "I saw something, but I'm not sure what."

"Well, don't you go back out there. Most of the time we don't have much trouble with kids going out into the woods in December, but every so often the boys do it on a dare. And when that happens, at least one of them dies."

Dean blinked. "Really?" He looked back at the car. "But what happened, all those years ago? What's doing it?"

Lou shook his head. "It was close on fifty years back," he said. "I was seven or eight when it happened. The war had been over a few years, as I recall. Nancy was seventeen. She babysat me a time or two when my parents went out for a movie or something." Lou paused, lost in thought.

"But, what happened?" Dean asked.

Lou grimaced. "She killed herself," he said. "Hung herself in the woods. They're private property, you know, belong to the Owens family."

Dean shook his head. "I didn't know that."

"My mother said it was a Judgment." Dean clearly heard the capital letter in the way Lou said the word. "Zachary Owens was a young stud back then –"

"Him?" Dean exclaimed incredulously.

"Years and gravity do terrible things to a man's body," Lou said with a grin. "Yeah, he was a hell of a looker back then, and he played games with the girls in town whenever he got the chance. I don't know this for fact, but my mother said Nancy was one of them. She'd . . . someone had certainly . . . after the autopsy it came out that she was pregnant, and hanging herself on that land looks mighty like a statement, wouldn't you say?"

Dean nodded. "What did she look like?" he asked.

"Oh, she was pretty," Lou said with a faraway look. "Blond hair, blue eyes, always could be counted on for fun when she looked after me."

"So then, out in the woods nowadays . . ."

"People see her out there, always this time of year, I guess because that's when she did it. And boys die, always boys who've played around some."

The phone rang, and Lou walked swiftly away. Dean went down on his knees to check if the old girl had stopped draining.

***

When Sam got to school the next day, he noticed that people were staring at him. Not everyone, but a lot of people. He got into the bunch of kids clustered around Miss Wright's door, and one of his classmates, Danny, tapped him on the shoulder. Sam turned, not sure what to expect. "I hear you should try out for the track team," Danny said. From the way he and the other kids laughed, Sam knew it wasn't a compliment. Trust a bunch of asswipes like that to spread the story about him running.

Sam shrugged and turned away, ignoring the sniggers. He wouldn't be here long enough for it to matter. He just needed to avoid any fights that might cause the principal to call his dad, since his dad wasn't around to call.

The day continued like that. Kids that hadn't had any slot to peg him under apparently decided on coward, and Sam ground his teeth. Lunchtime rolled around, and Sam reminded himself that it was Friday. Two days of no school – which also meant two days of nothing to do. Maybe when Dad came back after this job, they could move on.

He went down to the snack bar outside the cafeteria. There were a couple of tables in a square there. It was crowded, like always, and he got in line. A murmur of anticipation went up, and he looked around to see what was causing it. When he saw Tom Carpenter and a couple of his asswipe friends, he realized that everyone was expecting some big confrontation.

He turned his back on them, and Tom grabbed the back of his shirt and turned him around. "See, I told you he was a coward!" he crowed. "Running away like a little girl."

Sam itched to put him on the ground, but it was one thing to fight in the park after school. Fighting on campus during lunch was another. If someone called his dad, they were in deep shit. He glowered impotently up at Tom, but he didn't do anything.

"Huh," said a voice from the other side of the square. "From where I stood, it looked like you were the coward, Carpenter." Sam looked up and saw Dean leaning casually against one of the tables, his arm around Mary Beth Hanson's shoulders.

"You stay out of this, Hunter," Tom snarled.

"Because, where I come from, when seven hulking football players gang up on a kid his size, it doesn't make them brave."

"He ran."

Dean snorted. "Hell, I'd have run in the same situation." He stood up straight, dropping his arm from Mary Beth's shoulders. "So would you, if anyone could be found who was that much bigger than you." He gestured, and Sam watched eyes widen as the kids around him took in the size difference between him and Tom.

Sam grabbed Tom's wrist and pushed hard on the pressure point with his thumb, and a second later, Tom's hand popped open. Sam got out of reach, the kids behind him getting out of his way, like they were preparing for a fight. He so did not need this. Much as he appreciated the back up, he did not need to get into a brawl at school.

"You don't know shit, Hunter," Tom said.

"I know you, Larry and Joe tried to beat the crap of out me on Wednesday, and you were doing a pretty good job of it till Sammy there showed up." Sam turned his head and stared at him, a little startled by that level of honesty. Mary Beth didn't seem at all surprised. She grinned at him.

"I'm going to get you, Hunter," Tom growled, and he and his friends left the area as Dean let out a sarcastic 'ooo' sound.

Sam faded back and left by a different route. As he went, he heard someone ask, "What do you mean?"

"Sammy there took –" Dean broke off. "Where did he go? Anyway, Sammy –"

Sam went to his science class where Mr. Rudzik could always be counted on to hang out during lunch. The teacher looked up and gave him a little wave when he entered, and Sam found a seat at one of the tables. Pulling out the copy of Romeo & Juliet he'd gotten in English that morning, he started reading.

No one had ever stood up for him like that, not since . . . he gulped . . . not since Dean – his Dean – had gone missing. His Dean had even called him Sammy. It felt really good, but it also felt dangerous. He had to be able to stand on his own, because Dean was gone, and he wasn't coming back. At least that's what Dad said. Bobby had done every scrying spell he knew how to do, looking first for a live kid, and then for a corpse. Sam wasn't supposed to know about the second search, but he'd sat against the wall outside the library and listened to them talking. Nothing had turned up, and his father had asked Bobby what the scrying spell would do if Dean had gotten eaten. Bobby didn't say anything for a long time, and Sam had wondered if he'd shrugged or something.

Once again, Sam turned over the things that could have eaten his brother in his head. Werewolves left bodies behind, so it couldn't be that. It might have been a wendigo, they took the whole person and ate them slowly. He controlled a shudder. Or a rugaru. Or a ghoul, but there were no Dean sightings in Butte that summer, and no sign of ghouls. Sam had made a special study through Bobby's books, looking for things that ate people and left nothing to scry for. He wanted to know what it was, so he could find it and kill it.

Other kids started filing in, and Sam pulled his attention away from thoughts of his long missing brother and focused on the board.