Child Endangerment. Adult themes. Some language.

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Sam peeked warily over the top of his covers. Dean was fast asleep, light snores stirring the sheet he'd pulled over his head.

Keeping a careful eye on his brother, Sam eased out of bed and crept to the bathroom. Then, pulling the door shut, he pulled off his pajamas to reveal jeans and t-shirt underneath.

Holding his breath, he looked out the bathroom door. Still quiet. A wide nervous grin on his fine-boned face, he tiptoed past his brother's bed, hooking his sneakers and jacket from where he'd left them and slid silently out the front door.

Halfway down the stairs, he stopped to pull on his shoes. He could hear a mad hissing from down below and he urgently waved his cohort to silence. Even drunk, Dean had ears like a freaking bat.

Then, with one more quick look at the dark window of their motel room, Sam ran lightly down the stairs and into the night.

Gah! Dean groaned. His mouth felt like a sewer - too many beers the night before - too many cigarettes - too much tongue -

He grinned smugly to himself. Strike that last. No such thing as too much tongue.

Moving slowly, he kicked off the covers and stretched, setting off a cascade of crackling pops, and then levered himself into a sitting position.

"Hey, Sammy, up and at 'em."

Big silence.

"Sam?" He flicked a glance toward the other bed - empty - and then toward the bathroom. The door was open and it was dark inside.

Kid must have gone to school already. Dean yawned and then hauled himself out of bed.

Shower. Coffee.

Then, later, he'd give that sweet little Corinne a call, see if she could come out and play. Heh.

The motel's meager hot water supply exhausted, Dean stepped out of the shower, shaking water from his sandy hair. He dried himself, mouth twisting a little at the threadbare towels, pulled on jeans and a t-shirt, and then wandered into their room's little kitchen.

It was fairly clean, none of Sam's usual breakfast disaster lying around. He poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot he'd started before his shower, sneered at the empty box of Lucky Charms still lying around from yesterday, and slouched onto the room's little couch, staring into space.

After a time, the hairs on the back of his neck started a nervous tickle. Dean stared around the room, trying to track down the reason for his sudden uneasiness.

No breakfast mess. His own unmade bed. Sam's. His brother's book bag by the front door . . . What, book bag?

It's Saturday!

So where the hell is Sam?

Jumping up from the couch, he retrieved his cell phone from his bedside table and dialed Sam's cell. Almost immediately, a phone started ringing somewhere in the room and he searched for it, cursing, until he dug it out from under Sam's pillow.

Dean huffed out an angry breath. Damn kid never remembered to take it with him!

There was a quiet knock at the door. With one long step he crossed the worn carpet to the door, flinging it open. "Damn it, Sam -!"

Oops. Not Sam. Instead, a woman of about forty - graying blond hair, faded blue eyes and a seen-better-days house dress - staring back at him with some alarm.

"Mr. Cade." She looked hesitantly past him into the shabby room. "Is Sam here?"

Ah. Joey's mom. The two of them lived downstairs. Sam and her son had been hanging out together for the last few weeks.

Dean shook his head, impatient, wanting her to leave so he could find and kick Sam's butt. "No ma'am, I'm sorry, he's not here."

She chewed nervously on her lower lip. "Oh." Ill at ease with the angry-eyed young man, she went on haltingly. "I'm looking for Joey. I was hoping he'd be with Sam."

Dean's eyes sharpened, paying attention now.

"I've called all his other friends and they haven't seen him," she rushed on. "I thought maybe Sam had seen him. I probably shouldn't be worrying, it's just -"

Dean interrupted her. "Sam was gone when I woke up this morning."

"Oh, they're probably together then," she said, relieved. "If they're together, it's okay. Two boys together. I just wish Joey'd told me he'd be going out so early."

"How early?"

"Well, I woke up at six and he was already gone."

Dean looked at his watch. Ten a.m. They'd been gone four hours, probably more. Sam would never stay out this long without telling Dean. Never.

"I'll find them," he said to the woman curtly. Closing the door in her startled face, he grabbed his jacket and car keys, left a quickly scribbled note - call me! - on the kitchen table near Sam's cell and went out to find his brother.

Dean checked the park. He checked the schools, the movie theatres, the arcades, the hospitals. And at last, God help him, he checked the morgue.

As the hours passed, increasingly more frantic, he drove further out, into the suburbs, and then back again into the Evanston's city proper - endless swooping circles, searching for Sam's slim build and dark shaggy hair among crowds of laughing kids - a sick, hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Pulling over on a side street, for the hundredth time he called Sam's cell, on the off chance he'd gone home and simply missed the note on the kitchen table.

No answer. Straight to voice mail. He closed the phone and drew in a shaky breath. "Sam. Where are you?"

He knew he should call his father, but just the thought of that call sent a sharp stab of fear and pain through him.

John Winchester would go ballistic. Furious that Dean had waited this long to call; angry at Sam for breaking the rules; freaking berserk that his eldest had let this happen. Dean almost letting the strega get his baby brother those many years ago was nothing compared to this.

And John would be right. This was his fault. Sam was a kid. He couldn't judge what was safe and what wasn't. Dean knew and still, he'd ignored the rules. He'd let his brother hang out with Joey, let him walk to school with the kid instead of driving him there.

Hell, he'd even let Sam stay over one night at Joey's. Sure, he'd just wanted the kid to have some fun, get a taste of normal before his life was totally consumed by the hunt, but that was no excuse.

He had to find his brother. Had to. The problem was, he had no idea where to look.

When he went back to the motel, Sam wasn't there.

The cops were.

Joey's mom, wild-eyed and frantic, rushed to the Impala, followed by two uniformed officers. She peered hopefully into the car, but seeing only Dean, dissolved into wild, frightened sobs.

One of the officers drew her away, patting her gently on the shoulder. The other officer waited until Dean got out of the car. "Dean Cade?"

Tight-lipped, Dean nodded.

"Mrs. Adrian has reported her son missing. She says your brother is missing, too?"

"I've been out looking for them," Dean confirmed tautly. "I don't know Joey very well, but this isn't like Sam. He usually sticks pretty close to home."

The officer nodded. "I'm sure everything's okay," he said reassuringly, "but we should probably keep an eye out for them. Do you have a picture of Sam?"

Dean shook his head. "Nothing recent." He gave the officer a description of his brother, which the man jotted down in his notebook.

"And he's how old?"

"Twelve." Dean's breath caught and he looked away, biting his lip.

"I'm going to need to speak with your parents," the officer said matter-of-factly.

"It's just our Dad," Dean said. "He's out of town until next week."

"You'd better call him."

There was an undercurrent to the man's voice that Dean didn't entirely understand, something the man wasn't sharing. Two missing kids, yeah, freaking bad, but something more was going on here, something that had Dean's alarms going off even more than they already had been.

"What aren't you saying?" he asked suspiciously.

The officer dropped his eyes for a split second and Dean's stomach dropped right along with them.

He took a step closer. "What aren't you telling me?"

The officer looked over at his partner, who'd seated Joey's mom on the stairs. She was weeping into her hands, the policeman speaking soothingly to her.

"We've had a few kids go missing over the last year," the man finally said in a low voice.

Dean was silent for a long moment, digesting the implications of that. "Did you find them?"

The officer shook his head.

Dean had to force his next question out. "No bodies?"

"Not a damned thing."

Seeing Dean's shaken face, the cop said, "Listen, just because your brother's missing doesn't mean something's happened to him. You know kids. The two of them will probably drag their asses back here any minute, wondering what all the fuss is about."

Dean nodded mechanically, knowing that the man was just trying to help, but also knowing that he was completely full of shit. Sam wasn't just any kid. He wouldn't stay out this long, no matter what. He'd call, or come home. If he were able to.

He walked back to the Impala and pulled out his cell phone. He couldn't put it off any longer. It was time to call Dad.

The room was small and dark. The two boys had searched the room, but it was empty, except for a bucket in the corner, which neither of them could bring themselves to use. There was a window, but it was too high to reach, even when Joey stood on Sam's shoulders.

Sam was furious with himself. Whatever happened to them here, it was his damned fault. He'd been so damned stupid! Whatever happened now, he deserved it. But not Joey. He was just a kid, and that was a built-in excuse for being stupid enough to get caught up in whatever the hell this was.

Sam didn't have that excuse. He hadn't been a kid in a long time. He'd known the rules, the risks - ignored them both - and now the two of them were neck-deep in shit and sinking fast.

Joey had cried himself to sleep hours ago. He lay now on the floor in a corner of the room, curled into a tight, frightened little ball. Looking down at his friend's tear-stained face, Sam's breath hitched and he fought back the fear threatening to overwhelm him.

He had to stay strong. If they were going to get out of here, if he was ever going to see Dean again, and Dad, it was all up to him.