I'm so HAPPY to be writing again (non-thesis writing, that is). It feels like forever since I last posted! For some reason my mind is only working on pre-season at the moment, so this fic has nothing to do with what's happening in the show at the moment! So this is a spoiler-free zone. Unless you haven't seen Something Wicked, which... um... no comment.

The title of this one is taken from the album Seventeen Days by 3 Doors Down.

Disclaimer: Nope, not mine. Although Christmas isn't too far away... 8-)


There was someone in the sanctuary.

I'd left the doors unlocked, as usual. Not because I didn't know what was out there; most pastors are not the rose-coloured-spectacle-wearing ingénues that people imagine, and I'd seen even more evil than the average man of God.

I'd seen more evil than the average man, come to think of it.

I knew what was out there, and I knew what could come in. But I also knew what needed to come in, and I wasn't going to deny safety to someone who might need it, especially not on a night like this one, with the rain that had been drenching us all day and the wind that worried at that loose beam over the gallery.

That same rain and wind had me enjoying the fire in my study and the rare opportunity to sit quietly beside it. I'd had meetings every night so far this week – a maintenance sub-committee meeting about the loose gallery beam on Monday, marriage counselling on Tuesday, mediating in the long-standing disagreement between Mrs. Jones and Mrs. De Soto about the new crèche decor on Wednesday – and, as much as I loved my parishioners, it was wonderful not to have to talk to anyone. There was also that book Clarence had sent me over a month ago that I hadn't had a chance to read yet.

And then just as I'd settled, book in hand, fire at feet and old Mrs. Sterley's delicious beef soup on the little table beside me, the church door banged.

The draught from the open door had blown out the candles. I pulled the doors shut, and turned back to the sanctuary, and then stopped.

There was someone there.

In the dim light trickling through stained glass windows, I could see very little. The tops of pews created weirdly elongated shapes on the aisle carpet; at the front the bulk of the altar was distorted, in the way that darkness alters the old and familiar. There was nothing to be seen that shouldn't have been there, and there was no sound other than my own breathing over the groan of the wind outside.

But there was definitely someone there.

I'd been a pastor for forty years; I'd been a hunter for even longer. The instincts that raised the hackles on the back of one's neck, that warned one when something was watching... they worked as well in a darkened church as in a forest or a dilapidated haunted house, and I knew with that extra sense that I wasn't alone.


There were deep shadows where the light didn't penetrate. I shifted along the wall towards the light switch.

There was no answer, but in the pause as my hand found the switch, I heard a rustle. Near me.

Right beside me.

My fingers pressed harder than I'd intended.

Suddenly warmed by the glow of overhead lights, the church was comfortable and familiar again. Altar... pews... candles... organ... everything as usual –

Except for the man in a huddled heap on the floor at my feet.

For all I'd suspected his presence it was still startling to see someone there. For a moment I didn't move, my heart beating a little faster than is acceptable in a hunter. And then he shifted, with a soft groan, and for the first time I saw his face.

Not a man. A boy.

His face was thinner, more angular than I remembered, but the thick dark hair drooping across his forehead and obscuring his features was only too familiar.

"Good heavens." It was the strongest exclamation I permitted myself. "Sam Winchester!"

I'd not seen Sam – or John or Dean, for that matter – for close on two years, but any pleasure I might have felt at the unexpected reunion was overpowered by the nature of it. He was soaked through, hair in sodden rat-tails trailing over a dirty face and shabby clothes clinging wetly.

"Sam, what are you doing here?" My knees complained as I crouched down beside him. "Where –" A gasp swallowed the rest of what I'd intended to say.

It wasn't dirt.

Bruises created angry purple-black shadows, swelling one eye shut and distorting the lines of cheek and jaw into stark asymmetry. Blood still leaked sluggishly from a split lip. Up close, I could see how tremors shuddered through him. And how the shallow breaths hitched with every involuntary shiver; I'd cracked ribs myself on numerous occasions, and didn't doubt there were more bruises under that drenched sweater.

"Sam – child, what happened?" I was not unused to seeing certain of my friends in a less than healthy condition. I'd patched Sam's father up several times, and even, once, his brother. But I'd never seen Sam like this.

"Sam?" His lack of response alarmed me.

Almost as much as his lack of family.

Dean had been Sam's self-appointed bodyguard for almost as long as I could remember: since, in fact, that night when their mother had died and small Dean had carried smaller Sammy away from the fire. I'd never seen Sam like this, because Dean was always between him and the threat. But Dean wasn't with him now, and had obviously not protected him – been able to protect him – from whatever had done this.

And that quite probably meant that Dean was in even worse shape than his brother.

"Sam, where's Dean? Where's your father?"

Whether it was the mention of his family I wasn't sure, but those questions seemed to rouse him. His head turned a little in the direction of my voice, and his eyes – or the one that wasn't swollen shut – opened, peering dazedly up at me.

"P-pastor Jim..."

I knew a moment's relief that he'd recognised me. In the state he was in, a concussion wouldn't have been unexpected.

"Yes, it's me. What happened, Sam? Where's your father –" I broke off, startled at Sam's reaction. His breath caught, a response that was not due to the pain of cracked ribs, and one hand fumbled for my arm, fingers hooking onto the sleeve.

"P-pastor Jim...you... you have to... please..." His gaze flitted from my face to the shadows, behind and above, and then back. "P-please..." His grip tightened, twisting the fabric almost painfully. I could feel the soft irregular vibration of trembling fingers against my arm.

It was the trembling that decided me. I didn't know what had happened, where John and Dean were, and Sam's behaviour so far was more than concerning. I didn't doubt that the two older Winchesters were in trouble. Trapped, possibly, or too badly hurt to move; for John Winchester, a man who'd hunted with injuries that would have put most ordinary people in hospital, "too badly hurt to move" was not a scenario I liked.

But right now I had an injured and probably hypothermic teenager huddled on the floor of my church, and as much as John and Dean might require my help, Sam's need was more immediate.

"Come, Sam, let's get you cleaned up and into bed –"

"B-but... but what if... he m-might..." He swallowed, words stuttering out between shaky breaths. " P-pastor Jim, please... p-please don't... d-don't let him..."

"Alright. Alright, Sam. It's going to be fine. I'll sort it out, I promise." It was foolish to make a promise that I knew I had no guarantee of being able to keep, but at that moment Sam's need for reassurance was greater than mine for a clear conscience. "But we need to get you fixed up first, alright? Then you can tell me what happened, and we can organise help for Dean and your father." I put my hand over the shivering one gripping my sleeve, and patted it briefly before gently prising it loose.

Sam blinked at me, a look that was almost confusion flickering momentarily across the battered face.

"Dean..." he murmured. His fingers flexed a little. "Dean... Pastor Jim... n-need to..."

"I know, and I will sort it out, Sam, but you need to let me help you first." I slid my arm under his shoulders as I spoke, easing him into a sitting position. "Come on... there you go..." My arm shifted involuntarily to take his weight as he slumped heavily against me.

"P-pastor Jim..." It was pain I was hearing in the thickly slurred words. "M-my... hurts..." His head rolled against my shoulder.


His face was turned down. A trickle of water slithered coldly over the front of my shirt from where dripping strands of hair pressed against my neck. He didn't answer.

"Sam?" I slid my free hand under his chin, tilting his head up gently. But I'd felt the change in the way he leant against me, the sudden boneless sag, and I wasn't surprised when I saw that his eyes were shut again.

Even in unconsciousness he was shivering. Tucked against me, the chilled body leached warmth from mine; I could feel the damp from sodden clothes soaking through the heavy sweater I was wearing. I needed to get him warm, out of those wet clothes, into bed.

My back was not going to approve of this; unconscious bodies, even those of too-thin teenage boys, are heavy and awkward. I shifted his weight more securely against me, hooking my other arm under his knees. And then his arm slithered limply from where he'd curled it around his middle, and thoughts of my disapproving back fled my mind.

Rainwater had darkened the gray of his sweatshirt. But the heavier darkness of his right sleeve was not the result of water, and it wasn't water that was staining the pale beige carpet with flecks of scarlet.


I'd been right about my back.

Sam had grown considerably from the chubby little boy he'd once been. He'd also got thinner, but the elongated arms and legs that flopped loosely more than compensated for the loss of baby fat. There seemed nothing left of that sunny child in this tall young man sprawled supine on my guest room bed.

He hadn't come round since I'd brought him up here, although the soft periodic groans had warned me that he was feeling the pain of movement. He was still shivering, despite the pyjamas – the warmest I owned – that had replaced his drenched clothes.

I'd been right about the bruises, too.

It was his arm, though, that was my chief concern. When I'd seen the blood, on his sleeve and in a broad swathe across his waist where he'd cradled his arm, my first nightmare conclusion had been a torn artery. The uncontrollable shivering, the incoherence, the unconsciousness... I'd attributed them to the cold, but the blood gave them an altogether more sinister significance. I'd even seriously considered taking Sam to our local hospital, which in Winchester terms is very much a last resort.

Now, with the mess of sticky half-dried blood cleaned away, I could see the damage clearly. Easily three inches long, the gash was torn obliquely across the inside of the forearm, deep into the muscle.

But it had somehow complete missed any major blood vessels.

It was ugly, the area around it swollen and reddened with incipient infection. It was obvious Sam had come by this injury several hours previously. I had no idea whether he'd spent the intervening time trying to escape his attacker, or trying to find help; that he would never have survived if the artery had been sliced was certain.

I thought at that moment about Dean, about old eyes in the young face of a boy who'd been forced to grow up too quickly, to shoulder burdens too heavy for many adults, and I wondered a little sadly if it might have been easier for him if he'd been able to accept that he wasn't the only one watching out for Sammy.

It was too late to stitch the wound. The bleeding had almost stopped, anyway, now that Sam was out of the rain and it had had time to clot; even when I cleaned it carefully, there was very little seeping. I dressed it and tucked Sam's arm under the bedclothes, pulling them more snugly around him.

The damp dark head turned a little on the pillow.

"Dean..." There was pain in the drowsy murmur, and weariness; but it was mostly just the tone of a child secure in the knowledge that he is safe. Drifting somewhere between unconsciousness and sleep, Sam was likely aware of little other than that he'd been hurt, and someone was taking care of him. Beyond conscious thought, instinctively, it was Dean he called for, Dean he associated with safety.

And as soon as I spoke I was going to shatter that sense of security. Because Dean wasn't here, and it was only his half-conscious dreams that had lulled Sam into forgetting what had really happened.

His left hand groped its way free of the blankets.


More awareness this time. Fingers flexed, reaching vaguely, and the sleeve of the too-big pyjamas slid back to expose the narrow wrist.

And the raw welt that encircled it.

It was that, oddly enough, that made it easier for me to wake Sam. I'd seen similar markings many times; the wounds left by ropes or handcuffs, abrading the skin as the prisoner struggled to free himself. It matched the scored flesh on Sam's right wrist. Something – someone – had trapped him, had used a knife on him; Sam had managed to escape, but it was more than likely that the rest of his family was still captive, and as much as I wanted to let him rest, it was John and Dean who needed help now.


Both eyebrows lifted, as if trying to drag stubborn eyelids up with them. His eyes moved, lashes flickering, and opened reluctantly.

"De –" Then he stiffened, and his gaze flicked to me, as sudden awareness slammed him back to reality. "Pastor Jim."

"How're you feeling?"

He blinked.

"I... I'm okay..." His voice was hoarse, I noticed now, as if he'd been coughing.

Or screaming.

"Sam, I don't want to push you, but can you tell me what happened? Where are Dean and your father?"

He blinked again, hard, and turned his head away. I saw his throat bob as he swallowed.

"I... uh... Dean is... Dean..." He sucked in a shaky breath. "Dean went on a hunt."

"Dean went on a hunt? And your father?"

I caught a glimpse of green-blue eyes wide with misery. Sam's lower lip trembled once, before he clamped his teeth down on it. He didn't answer.

"Sam, child..." There was serious trouble here. "Sam, what happened? What did this to you?"

His fingers scrabbled on the blanket, clenching around a fistful, then smoothing it out. His nose wrinkled, lip curling and cheeks bunching. I could remember, from years previously, a button nose and cherub mouth crumpling in exactly the same way as toddler Sammy fought valiantly against tears.

"It was... it..." There was fear mixed in with the distress, and I remembered the incoherent panic when I'd found him. He was calmer now, more aware, but the horror seemed only to have strengthened.

"P-pastor Jim, it... it was Dad..."


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