Man's Best Friend

Summary- Fresh out of Hell, Sam ponders what was truly real in his past life. This was started before the season premiere for season six so it is definitely AU. Beta'd by sendintheclowns, Floralia and Princess_schez.

In February of this year I lost my 17 year old cat and since then, four of my close friends have lost their dogs. Like me, each had to say goodbye to a companion that had been there for them and with them for years. It is hard to say goodbye and this story is dedicated to my friends, and their furry companions, they had to say goodbye to. I miss you, kitty!

-0-

Sam sat alone sunning himself on a park bench in a small city in the mid-west. He was still in shock after being released from the pit with no memory of leaving, and, thank God, with little memory of being there. It was just a fuzzy feeling of unrest.

He had found himself outside of Lisa's house watching his brother with his new family. Sam had assumed that God had plucked him from the pit and knew that Sam's first concern would be his brother.

If it was God, he was right. Once Sam was satisfied that Dean was happy and where he needed to be, Sam had moved on.

Using the skills that came as second nature to him, Sam, had pick-pocketed enough money to hustle himself more cash. With that he picked up some clothes at a second hand store and weapons at a pawn shop. Right now he was hitchhiking, but soon he would steal himself a clunker car until he could purchase something better.

Sam knew that he needed to find a purpose, that wandering around the United States like a bum wasn't doing him any good, but for the moment it was what he had to do. He had to get his bearings, to sort things out in his head.

This was the first time that he had really been on his own. Before, when he was at Stanford, he knew that he had family watching over him even if it was at a distance. When Dean died and went to hell, Sam knew he had Bobby out there. This time, no one knew he was back and while that was what Sam wanted, it was a bit disconcerting to be totally alone. Part of him wanted to reach out to Bobby or Dean but he'd had enough of being a burden to the two men he cared about most. No, it was better to cut ties and be alone.

Alone. Sam was alone for the first time and in some ways it did feel good after Lucifer's revelation that Sam's life had always been shadowed by demons. That had hit Sam very hard, the knowledge that every part of his life had been manipulated by demons. His favorite teachers and even his prom date, all demons.

In fact, it made him sick to even relive his memories of the past because he didn't know which ones were real or which ones were manipulated moments – all with the plan of preparing Sam to move away from his family and be Lucifer's vessel.

Barking caught his attention. A beautiful blond was playing Frisbee with her white German Sheppard and the sight made Sam smile. It took him back to a memory that might have been manipulated but still held happiness for him.

-0-

A seventeen year old Sam was mad as hell and trying to reel in his emotions. He had worked hard at the local diner trying to save up money so that he could attend honors camp that summer. Sam had the grades and knew that he would qualify for the scholarship to go, but even with the scholarship there were going to be fees.

He would get to stay at the local college's dorms for the two weeks during summer break for free and take free college prep classes. The cost came in for food and other activities that were associated with the camp. Sam had begged to get a job at Al's diner and had put in lots of hours and still managed to keep his grades up with his prize in mind.

It was all going according to plan until he had to ask his dad if he could go. He knew that John wouldn't be thrilled but he really was thrown by how upset his dad had gotten when he asked.

John was in the area working on some sort of top secret plan to track an elusive supernatural entity. He told Sam and Dean that they would be in the area for the last two months of school and most of the summer.

Sam had been ecstatic about being able to set down temporary roots, but Dean, not so much. His big brother didn't care for the small town they were stuck in and was upset that John wasn't including him in on the latest hunt/project.

In Sam's mind, with them stuck there, why would his father care if he used his free time taking classes, especially ones that were paid for? Boy, had he been wrong. Just mentioning the words college prep had made John come unglued.

Sam hadn't really understood just how much John opposed his youngest son thinking about furthering his studies until that moment. He was told that he needed to stop daydreaming about silly civilian careers and a life that wasn't going to happen. He was a Winchester and was going to become a full time hunter once school was done just like his brother.

Sam had lashed back, and all that had earned him was a two week grounding. One that was basically going to be a lock down. His father had stormed out of the place to do whatever he was going to do and had left Dean in charge of the prisoner.

Once Sam had calmed down enough to talk, he had begged Dean to let him go and work his last shift at Al's Diner. Mr. Tanner was expecting him and it wasn't fair for him to be short handed because John was being unreasonable. Dean reluctantly relented, saying that it would be nice for him to be able to tie up some loose ends himself if he was going to be stuck babysitting for the next two weeks.

That was why Sam was standing in front of Al's Diner trying to get his emotions under control before facing his boss. Mr. Tanner had been nothing but supportive and nice. He knew that the elder man would understand Sam's disappointment even if his own family didn't.

Sam opened the door to the diner and found it empty, not a surprising fact. It was a Friday, but it was in-between that after school crowd and the dinner rush that would happen later that night. Mr. Tanner was wiping the bar as Sam entered.

"So Sam, you packed and ready to head out tomorrow?" Mr. Tanner gave Sam a big smile as he stopped cleaning, waiting for Sam's response.

Sam took a calming breath, determined not to lose his composure in front of his caring boss. "No, my dad doesn't approve. I told him today and I guess I waited to ask at the last minute because deep down I knew he would say no. It was nice living in a fantasy world for a bit."

Mr. Tanner's smile fell as he heard Sam's response and his expression turned to confusion. "Why would you father deny you such an honor? I mean, I get that some people can't afford that sort of thing but you worked hard to earn the money so that shouldn't be an issue. What happened, Sam?"

Sam approached the bar and spun one of the stools around as he spoke. "My dad doesn't want me entertaining ideas of college. I need to go into the family business."

He could hear Mr. Tanner sigh. "I get it. You said your dad was a bounty hunter? Probably pays well, but he's seen too much of the bad side of human nature. It's made him not trust others and he is afraid to let you get soft by going to college. My dad was the same; he wanted me to go into the military so that I could be a man. Thing is Sam, in a year you'll be eighteen and able to make your own decisions. He needs to realize that."

Sam looked up at Mr. Tanner, grateful that the elder man understood his situation. "So how did you change your father's mind about the military?"

Mr. Tanner quirked an eyebrow. "I didn't, Sam. The summer before my senior year of high school, I had enough of his crap and I just took off. I needed time away to think and to decide what I wanted to do. I ended up here and I met Mrs. Tanner, Susan. Her parents owned this business and I worked here and I thought, hey, I like being around people. I could do this- so I went home to a not so happy family but I had a plan."

Sam stared at him wide-eyed. "What sort of plan?"

Mr. Tanner gave Sam a wink as he continued. "I finished high school and took as many business oriented classes as I could. I worked hard at the local lumber yard and saved every penny, and when I graduated I went to the local community college and got my degree in business. The whole time I kept in touch with Susan, and then when I was done with college I moved here and became partners with her father in this business until he retired."

Sam nodded thoughtfully. "And your father?"

Mr. Tanner's expression turned serious. "He kicked me out when I told him of my plans. I had to do everything on my own but about two years later he showed up here on the door step and admitted that he had been wrong- and when he died last year we were on good terms."

Sam pondered what had been said before speaking. "So do you regret any of your decisions?"

Mr. Tanner smiled. "Nope. Not at all, it all worked out. Sometimes, Sam, you've got to make your own way in life or it's not your life. I know you love your father but sounds like you could use some space yourself. Maybe just go to this camp."

"No sir, he would come get me. In fact, for the next two weeks I'm grounded and my brother will be watching me 24-7, so I'm stuck here." Sam replied wistfully.

"Sam, I can't believe I'm about to say this but... what if you leave right here and right now? Marvin is here unloading the last of my food supplies. He could give you a ride to Flagstaff where the distributor's warehouse is located. A road trip could do you some good, get away. You could leave a note for your brother here and in two weeks just head back here with Marvin."

Sam took a deep breath and slowly let it out. A road trip, just him and time to think about the future without training, studying Latin and the other trappings of the hunting world. He had saved up for a two week break and so he would have the money.

"I don't have a change of clothes or anything packed." Sam sputtered out, shocked that he was even contemplating the crazy idea.

"True, but you could hit a second hand store in Flagstaff. Marvin lives in the area, I'm sure he could hook you up. I trust him, he's a good guy." Mr. Tanner gave Sam a reassuring smile.

Mr. Tanner was right, Marvin was really nice. He was a middle aged man who bragged about his two boys that had made it to college.

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but can we ask him if it is alright?" Sam blurted out quickly.

He knew that if he put much thought into this he would back out and somehow that felt like he would be giving up. He needed to get out and make a stand. Dean would understand, and his dad would probably ground him for a year but it would be worth it to be free for just a little while.

Marvin had been very agreeable and said that he could set Sam up nicely. He had an elderly aunt that rented out a furnished trailer behind her house and at the moment it was vacant. Marvin was sure that she would let Sam stay there. As for clothes, Marvin said it wouldn't be a problem to hit the Salvation Army in Flagstaff, it should have everything he needed.

Armed with a plan, Sam went to the bank and withdrew his savings, left a quickly scribbled note for his brother with Mr. Tanner, and then he boarded Marvin's Peter-built, bound for Flagstaff.

Dean,

I'm going to be gone for two weeks. I need some space. Things are so out of control for me right now, and I feel like a prisoner. A friend is taking me with him to visit a relative. This person is trustworthy and I will be fine. I have my savings so try not to worry about me. I'll be back in exactly two weeks.

Sorry to do this to you, I know Dad will be pissed but I just need this.

Sam

-0-

Mr. Tanner watched Sam, leave nodding at the kid and then saluting Marvin before turning back to the diner. It had worked; he had gotten the kid to leave the nest. When Sam came in telling him that the college camp had failed to get him away Mr. Tanner had been glad he had a backup plan set up with 'Marvin'.

Once the truck was out of sight Mr. Tanner headed to the back of the kitchen and then left his host, hopeful that Azazel would reward him for a job well done. He had caused a riff in the family and it was such a big one, they might never recover.

-0-

Dean had just spent some quality time with Donna Parks and was heading to Al's Diner for some dinner when he heard the sirens. Quickening his steps, he began to run as he realized that the police cruiser was heading to Al's.

Dean pushed his way to the front and watched as Mr. Tanner was being loaded into the back of an ambulance. He tried to make his way to the elder man when a police officer stopped him.

"Whoa kid, are you related to Mr. Tanner?"

"No, but my brother works here, he should be here. Is he okay? What happened?" Dean frantically started scanning the crowd for his gangly brother.

"Son, Mr. Tanner is pretty severely beat up and suffering from a head injury. We think this was a robbery gone wrong. Mr. Tanner was found alone; maybe we should have you come down to the station to get more information on your brother."

Dean wanted to pull away and run inside to make sure Sam wasn't there or look for clues, but he knew that he wouldn't be able to so reluctantly he went with the officer.

-0-

After an hour downtown, they started questioning people around Al's Diner. No-one had noticed anything unusual. The bank had been the biggest clue. The cashier had seen Sam that day about twenty minutes before Mr. Tanner was found. Sam had been acting nervous and had withdrawn all of his savings.

The cops had a theory that the robber or robbers hadn't been able to get the register open and had made Sam go to the bank to withdraw his money while they held Mr. Tanner hostage. Once they had the money they had taken Sam as their hostage.

Dean was sick with worry and guilt. He shouldn't have let Sam go to work that day but the temptation of spending one last romp with Donna had driven him to make the wrong choice, and now Sam was paying for it.

John was out of communication range so that left it to Dean to find Sam. If only he knew where to start.

-0-

Sam felt like he had hit the jackpot. Marvin had stopped off at the local thrift store just as they were closing and two of the older ladies there quickly set up Sam with some clothes. They weren't the best but Sam was used to that. They would work. Once he had clothes they were back on the road.

Marvin turned his truck in and then took Sam out to meet his Aunt Molly, who immediately told Sam that he was to call her Aunt Molly too. She was a kind sort who did have a furnished trailer that she was all too happy to rent to Sam. It wasn't pretty but it was clean and that was more than Sam could say for some of the dumps his family had been stuck in.

Aunt Molly had told Sam that using her laundry facilities came with the rent of a hundred dollars for the two weeks. She was happy to feed him supper too, if he didn't mind helping her out with a few chores. Sam had quickly agreed and once he had his stuff put away he helped Aunt Molly fix dinner, and afterwards he helped her clean up and feed her dogs.

She had five large dogs but with the amount of land she had it wasn't really that bad. One of the dogs had taken a particular liking to Sam and when he tried to go in for the night, Bonesy wanted to follow him inside. Aunt Molly laughed from her back door as she watched Sam try to reason with the large dog.

"Sam, if you want to, Bonesy can stay inside with you. I have house trained all the dogs and do keep them in when it is cold out. It's your call though." With that, Aunt Molly winked and closed her back door.

Sam grinned. He had always wanted a pet and it seemed that for the next two weeks he would get just that. Sam opened the door wide and let the big dog in. It had been a long day but one full of fun and adventure so the bed looked good to Sam. He quickly changed into some sweats and crawled under the covers and relented when his new pal wanted to join him.

Sam was happy but he did feel some guilt. He had acted recklessly and Dean was probably paying the price right now with Dad and soon it would be his turn. Exhaustion was trumping the mind full of guilt and soon he and Bonesy were fast asleep.

-0-

Dean had finally gotten a hold of his dad, who had shouted and then gotten real quiet on the phone, promising to be home as soon as possible.

In the meantime, Dean continued to question people in town. Mr. Tanner was still in a coma and it ate at Dean that he was no closer to finding Sam than when this all started.

-0-

It had almost been two weeks in Flagstaff and Sam was having a blast. There was a bus stop that wasn't far from Aunt Molly's home and every morning Sam took it into town where he hit every museum and place of interest. It was so cool being able to do what he wanted each day with no one to answer too.

Aunt Molly always fixed him breakfast and sometimes dinner, but mostly Sam lived on junk food and loved every minute of it. Pizza and Funyuns were his staple. Life was pretty awesome, the only thing that would have made it better was having Dean here with him.

He wished that his family was like other families and had regular vacations because to Sam – he was on a vacation. A vacation from chores, training and the family business.

Sam knew there would be hell to pay in the end but he also knew he had proven a very important point to himself. There was life outside of hunting and he was more than capable of surviving on his own.

John had instilled a fear if he went to college he wouldn't be able to make it on his own. There were too many bad things out there in the world and Sam would be helpless stuck in a college dorm.

In Sam's eyes, he was safer than most people, and they made it just fine not knowing about salting doors and putting up protection. The last two weeks had proven that if Sam did venture on his own he would be just fine.

There were two days left for him to enjoy his freedom, and then one year left with the father that was holding him back, and then he would be really free. For now, he intended to enjoy his last two days with Bonesy and Aunt Molly.

-0-

Dean had finally gotten a lead on his brother and he was beyond happy. An illegal that worked at the warehouse across from Al's Diner had very reluctantly told Dean that he saw Sam get into a supply truck that stopped at Al's about thirty minutes before the robbery had happened.

The thought that Sam might have run away instead of been kidnapped made him want to spit nails, but he would get over the anger if it meant that Sam was safe and sound. He had researched the name of the company and where the truck's warehouse was located- Flagstaff.

Once he had that, Dean had called the warehouse offices and found out that a Marvin Hall drove the truck that delivered to Al's Diner. Marvin was on a run but was expected back that evening.

That was all Dean needed to know; he was packing up and getting ready to head to Flagstaff as John pulled up.

Dean could tell his dad was ready to lay into him, but what he wasn't expecting was the punch to the face he received as John reached him. Dean reeled a bit and took a deep breath, expecting his dad to take another hit or to verbally assault him. When neither came, he looked up at his dad.

John was red with anger, with his fists balled up at his sides. Dean figured that his father wasn't sure what to do- which made Dean uneasy but he knew his dad needed to know the newest facts in his brother's disappearance.

"Got a lead on Sam, was getting packed to go." Dean blurted out as he headed to the driver's side door.

Silence followed the statement but his father did open the passenger door and get inside the car. Dean started the Impala up and took off for Flagstaff.

After a few moments of silence John spoke. "What did you find out?"

Dean sighed. "I have information that Sam might have hitched a ride on a supply truck to Flagstaff. I'm thinking he run away."

John hit the dashboard. "Son-of- a -bitch! What was he thinking? God-damn it, I'll never understand him Dean. Why the hell would he do that? Doesn't he know we would be worried sick- not to mention that he is out there all alone with no protection. He didn't take anything with him did he?"

"No sir."

Dean took a calming breath. It was good to have the anger aimed elsewhere- it allowed him to breathe again. He shared his dad's anger with Sam but hoped that the long drive to Flagstaff would help calm his dad down. As much as he hated what Sam had done, Dean could understand that Sam wanted to get away from his dad. John certainly didn't have a grasp on understanding his youngest in the slightest.

-0-

A trip to the warehouse had been fruitful. Marvin had told them that Sam had indeed taken a ride with him to Flagstaff and was staying with his Aunt Molly. He had shared that Sam needed a break and wanted a two week vacation, but had left a note that he would be back in two weeks. Marvin had insisted the kid was fine and in a couple of days he would have been home safe and sound.

Dean had walked away as John had a private talk with Marvin on taking a minor with him without parental consent. He didn't want to witness what was said or done, though he did share his father's frustration and anger towards Marvin.

John seemed a lot calmer when he approached the car with Aunt Molly's address.

"Dean, this Aunt Molly is elderly and had no clue that Marvin and Sam had schemed behind our backs on this so be very respectful to her. We will deal with Sam and his mistakes once we leave her property, understand me?"

"Yes sir." Dean was happy to hear that they were done confronting the strangers involved in this, he just hoped for Sam's sake that the kid would be at least remorseful when they found him.

"Also Dean, evidently Sam left a note with Mr. Tanner and that note must have gotten lost in the robbery. That does not absolve Sam in any way but I thought you might want to know."

Dean sagged a bit. It was so unlike his brother to totally run off like that. There was relief, but at the same time he was still very upset. Sam knew better.

-0-

Sam sat outside on the ground playing with Bonesy. He'd toss the ball, and every time the dog brought it back. It was nice to have someone that enjoyed his company and cared for him unconditionally. It really made him want to keep Bonesy, in fact, Aunt Molly had offered but he knew better than to even think about keeping his new friend. There was no room for any kind of pet in a hunter's life.

His time here in Flagstaff was coming to a close and he would soon have to face reality, but Sam knew he would treasure his time away. That made what was to come when he got back home more tolerable.

Bonesy had just made it back with the ball when Sam heard a familiar rumbling. It took him by surprise. The Impala was here. His family was here.

It was then that the clarity of what he had done hit him. The feelings and thoughts slammed into him like a freight train. It was in that moment that he realized he must have been under some sort of compulsion.

Compulsion was something that Sam had dealt with a few years earlier on a hunt for a witch and he had hoped to never lose control like this again. God, what had he done?

Running off and leaving Dean with just a note! John had to be ready to spit nails. It amazed Sam that it took them this long to find him.

Shit. He sat on the ground, rubbing Bonesy's coat, watching as his family pulled up the long drive. Sam knew that he was in for it, but the fact that he felt he was under a compulsion would be an out.

It would be, but the minute that Sam told John what had happened, if his father believed him – that would lead to an intense hunt to find what had done this to Sam and more importantly, it would prove to John and Dean that Sam wasn't safe alone.

Kiss college goodbye Sam, if you say a word.

No, it would be better to take the heat. It would be better to look like he disobeyed an order than to look weak.

Sam hugged Bonesy and said his goodbye, and then stood up ready to face his family and his punishment.

-0-

Dean was shocked at how calm Sam was as John laid into him- verbally and physically. The kid took the punishment like a man and for that Dean was proud.

He was proud but still angry. Sam had committed such a selfish act and hung Dean out to dry without any thought. That was hard to swallow considering all the times that Dean had covered for Sam. It really hurt.

Later that night, Dean heard a tap on his door, a very apologetic looking Sam was peering in. "Dean?"

"Sam, you need to be asleep, crack ass of dawn will be soon and you will need all your rest to do the training exercises Dad has in store for you." Dean grumbled out.

Sam nodded from the doorway. "Yeah I know but I couldn't sleep until I told you how sorry I was. I mean- I get that you are mad and I don't expect you to forgive me but... I just wanted you to know that I'm sorry. I needed to get away and that really clouded my judgment. I was selfish and didn't think about you at all in taking the actions that I did. For that I am sorry and I want you to know that I won't do that again."

Dean sighed. "Jesus Sam, it's not like you'll be able to do that again. Dad has you on lock down."

Sam smiled. "That is true."

Dean smirked. "I will enjoy watching you suffer – and I'm still mad but I get it- I do. Give me some time and things will be cool with us again. I just need to process everything."

"Thanks Dean. You're probably the only one on the planet that half-way understands me, and I appreciate that."

"It's because you are a freak," Dean replied back with a smirk.

Sam huffed and rolled his eyes. "Night Dean."

" Night Sam ."

-0-

Reliving his happy memories of his time with Bonesy brought back with sickening clarity just how much Sam's life had been manipulated. He had forgotten the feelings of compulsion during that time in his life but that was the nature of a compulsion.

Sam wished that he could now explain to Dean that while his time on his own with the dog was a happy memory, it was a manipulated memory; one that the demons had arranged. Hell, maybe someday he would share with Dean … no strike that he was on his own now and he needed to let his memories stay in the past where they belonged.

A Frisbee landed at Sam's feet and the big white German Sheppard rushed up to him. Sam patted the dog on the head and gave the Frisbee to the slobbering dog. Her owner yelled thanks and Sam nodded as the large dog ran back to her owner.

Sam sighed. Maybe his time with Bonesy was a manipulated memory, but Sam didn't care. He didn't have too many good memories and that was definitely one of them. The dog was the innocent in the whole scheme, just like Sam, and he took comfort in the knowledge that Bonesy loved had him for him – unconditionally. That was something that the demons could never take away.

End

A/N: Thanks for reading. I want to thank sendintheclowns, Floralia and Princess_schez for their beta work and support. I would also like to thank Princess_schez for the wonderful story banner, that I will post with the story at Supernaturalville.