Sam blinked his eyes open to a sound he couldn't immediately identify. Once open, his eyes remained unfocused and his vision blurry. Squinting, he could make out furniture that decorated a bedroom and hazily concluded the strange noise was the popping and crackling of a fire. He wasn't fond of fire, in his world, fire represented death. His mom and his girlfriend had died in one, his father had been laid to rest with one and the number of times he'd needed to save his brother from further harm or death by lighting one were too numerous to count.

He shifted his weight carefully, lifting his right arm and pulling his left ankle towards his right knee. He was on his back, in a bed and he wasn't tied to it. He was warm, mostly comfortable and for the time being, safe in a bedroom where nothing around him was even remotely familiar. He took a moment to decide how he felt. No apparent pain, fingers and toes responded, cast was intact, all teeth accounted for, so….he was good. Well, maybe not, his head…ow, he winced with a muffled hiss.

"Mom! Mom! He's awake." called a young female voice. He heard a muted voice respond, heard people moving about the room and then a woman appeared on the right side of his bed. She didn't appear threatening but Sam tensed, curling his left hand into a fist.

"Do not be afraid, we mean you no harm." the woman said gently. "Can you talk to us?" she stood next to the bed, out of arms reach distance, hands holding a mug. She didn't step closer or reach out to him. "You can relax; no one here will hurt you. My name is Penny, this is my daughter Elizabeth, we call her Lizzie. Can you tell me your name?"

Sam licked his lips, his tongue felt swollen and he frowned, attention diverted. He knew it wasn't really swollen, it and his mouth lacked moisture and his eyes strayed to the mug in her hands. Confused and disoriented, he had no idea where he was, who these people were, or how he'd come to be with them. He may not know what happened, but he sure has hell knew to keep his mouth shut, say nothing, admit nothing. It wasn't just his life he had to protect.

"Yes, I imagine you are thirsty, would you like some water?" she still didn't move. "You can have tea if you prefer."

"Where am I?" his throat was scratchy, making his voice rough. He tried to swallow; his mouth dry but the action didn't produce the needed saliva.

"My son found you." she shifted her weight to her other foot, but didn't move closer. "Out in the forest."

"Found me where?" his eyes went back to the mug she held and when she took a cautious step forward he forced his hand to relax. The last thing he wanted was to scare her. "The…forest? The woods?" he frowned, not making the connection that forest and woods were basically the same.

"Near the stream, do you remember?"

Sam said nothing, he remembered being out in the woods, knew why he was there but he wasn't ready to share that information with these people until he knew more about them. If he'd learned anything in his life, it was being cautious around strangers. He didn't trust easily. He wasn't as paranoid as Dean but he knew not everything was always as it appeared to be. Better careful and safe then reckless and stupid.

Huh, odd, his head hurt. OW! He rubbed his forehead, concentrating on forcing the pain to subside. Damn!

"We thought you might have been hiking, but you weren't dressed for the woods. You had nothing with you, not even water."

"How long have I been here?" he sensed she judged he meant her no harm and she carefully knelt beside the bed and slipped one hand under his head for support while he raised it to sip at the water. He didn't dare move his head any more, the edges of his vision were black and the headache promised to get worse. He took a moment to wonder why she was leery of him. That didn't make any sense; it was as if she was hesitant to come near him.

"Two days." she was saying as he forced himself to take small sips and not gulp the water. "You haven't woken up or been coherent until now…." she continued to make small talk as he took his time drinking the water but he paid her no attention, mind wandering. Better to think of anything else other than the pain in his head he was having trouble keeping at bay.

Two hours, he'd been missing only two hours. Well good, that was a relief, least one thing was in his favor, the passage of time between him and Dean had to exceed eight hours before one had to check in with the other. He'd told Dean he was going to the library and soon Dean would be wondering where he was; if for no other reason than Sam was supposed to bring back dinner.

A hungry Dean was a cranky Dean; Sam swore the man had a chemical imbalance that was regulated by food. Sam had taken to carrying what he called emergency snacks with him to feed Dean when it was near feeding time and they weren't anywhere near a restaurant. He allowed himself a small grin at that last thought, making a mental note never to use that phrase around Dean.

Good, he had a couple of hours to sleep off this fucking headache and then he'd address where he was and how to get back to Dean. There was no way he was going to call his brother to come get him. He had no idea who this woman was or what she might want in return. Bringing Dean into this situation was not going to happen. He sipped more water, thinking maybe some tea would be nice; he was so thirsty it was like it'd been days, not hours since he'd last had something to drink.

Wait, days? Had she said…..she'd definitely said….Oh, he shit, he was fucked.

Penny's first words punched him in the gut and he choked, snorting water out his nose and jerking so violently he startled Penny into dropping his head back to the pillow and backing away from him. Nausea flooded him, causing to him to groan, palm of his hand pressing against his forehead as he swallowed convulsively in a desperate attempt not to vomit.

"Are you ok?" she asked worriedly. "Too much water? Do you feel sick?"

"Days! Did you say two days?" he pulled himself into a sitting position, headache forgotten, and eyes wide in panic. "I've been here for TWO days? You're not serious? Oh God." he felt himself sway as the room suddenly grew brighter, the fire having made its way out of the fireplace and across the room to his bed. Its heat made him break out in a heavy sweat and he gasped for breath, the flames sucking the oxygen from the immediate air around him.

"Take it easy, you need to lie back down." Penny pushed at his shoulders, gently forcing him down onto his back. "That's it, you can't be doing that, your body has been through quite a trauma, and needs time to recover. Lizzie, sweetie run along and find Daddy, tell him our patient is awake."

"I've been here two days?" Sam groaned. ""Oh god." his hands pushed his hair off his face. "No, no, no, no, no, noooo."

"You had no I.D. on you, no cell, we mentioned the words police and hospital and you freaked out. Paul, my husband seemed to think you were…well, that you might be trying to avoid the authorities and we can understand that. He went into town to see what he could find out, but there were no reports of missing people matching your description. It's almost as if no one is missing you." she chattered on. "Maybe you're just passing through on your way somewhere…"

"Wait!" he wiped the sweat from his un-casted palm on the bed sheets. "No I.D.? You looked for my I.D.? Why would you….I mean, don't you know who…..?"

"Penny! What the hell are you doing, you daft woman? Back the hell away from him!" the barked command caused Sam to jump. "Jimmie, get your mother away from the bed. Damn you Penny, we had an agreement! You weren't supposed to come into this room unless Jimmie or I were with you. And what the hell was Lizzie doing anywhere near him?"

"Paul, calm down, you're scaring him." Penny scolded. "He's confused enough; he doesn't need you yakking at him like an angry old bear, good heavens."

Sam was staring with wide eyes at the angry man standing in the doorway, at a loss what to think. They didn't know who he was and if they didn't know who he was, why was he here?

"You've seen the size of him Pen, ain't an ounce of fat anywhere on him, that's all hardened muscle. Sometimes I swear you ain't got the sense of a damn goat and let me tell you, a more stupid creature can't be found on a farm."

"I sent Lizzie for you as soon as she told me he was awake and before you blow yet another blood vessel, she was in the doorway, not the room."

"Penny, we are not going to argue about this. He has been combative and aggressive since we dragged his ass in the house." Paul placed himself between the bed and his family. "You were told to stay away from him."

"More like restless and resisting when we talked about calling the police or taking him to the hospital." she corrected. "He was peaceful enough when we left him alone."

"Oh really? When was that? When he was yelling and hollering and arguing with himself? When he was muttering about killing demons and monsters? When he was threatening anyone who came near him?"

"Lizzie, go make him some tea, splash of brandy won't hurt, okay?" Penny sent her daughter off, she knew nothing would budge her husband or son from the room so didn't even try. "He was unconscious Paul; he didn't know what he was doing or what he was saying. That knock on his head likely addled his brains and I'm sure he woke with one heck of a headache. He's awake, but hasn't said much, I was just telling him you had gone into town but no one has reported him missing."

"No one would." Sam muttered. He glared at the fireplace; the flames flickered and danced, taunting him, threatening to once again rush at him. He knew the fire had nothing to do with him nearly passing out, that it had never actually left the fireplace but it was easier to blame it for his weakness than to admit his body was trying to tell him it wasn't going to stand for any further abuse.

Dear Jesus, but Dean had to be freaking out. Sam knew damn well what he'd be thinking. He would have gone from annoyance to anger to fear to panic. He'd run through his head, every single time Sam had disappeared on him or left him. He'd analyze and scrutinize every scenario that could have happened. He'd search and trace and track and hunt, leaving no stone unturned. He may not have filed a missing persons report but he would have gone to the police with some story to try to find Sam. He would have gone to every clinic and hospital within fifty miles. He'd drink himself sick, convinced a demon had captured Sam or a past enemy or by someone associated with the two men Sam had sworn to take revenge on. Whatever, he would be looking for his brother and pity on whoever he found had taken him.

Sam didn't know what to do. Training and his upbringing dictated he remain silent and share no information until he completely understood the situation. His human nature wanted to seek out what was familiar, which normally would be home but in his case was…Dean. His instinct was to protect not only himself, but Dean as well. His desire was to give these people Dean's number and have them call him.

He wanted to put Dean at ease, wanted to let him know he hadn't run away, hadn't left him, wanted him to know Sam was ok, and wanted him to come get him. What he didn't want to do was put Dean in danger. With a demonic price on his brother's head, he didn't dare trust easily. He didn't even know if he were in any danger himself. It didn't appear these people knew who he was but he couldn't think clearly enough to make any decisions.

"My wife is a sap for a sob story and our son brings home every stray, wounded creature he comes across out in the woods. Be it a bird or a squirrel or a possum or an unconscious man." Paul crossed his arms over his massive chest and stared down at Sam. "You got anything to say?"

Sam was by no means a small man. He rarely had to look up at anyone when standing but Paul had a couple of inches on him and at least fifty pounds. Sam would not be doing anything to piss this man off. Jimmie looked in his early twenties and while as tall as his father, he wasn't as big - yet. Sam had no wish to tangle with either of them.

"He drags you home and she's gottta nurse you back to health so now that you're awake, how about you start talking. You got a name?"

"I do."

"Care to share it?"

"No." maybe his situation was exactly what it appeared. He'd been out in the woods, been knocked unconscious and found by save-a-stray Jimmie. Or maybe these people knew exactly who he was and wanted something from him.

"We've been taking care of you for two days. You owe your life to my son and your well-being to my wife. She convinced me to let you stay despite my gut feeling that you were trouble."

"Now Paul, stop."

"No one is missing him Penny."

"Someone is." she shook her head. "He belongs to someone." she insisted.

"If you'd give me a phone, there's someone I can call." Sam spoke up quietly. "I assure you,someone is turning the town upside down looking for me."

"Would that be Dean? Just who is he anyway? He's who you kept calling for." Paul asked, watching Sam's face intently for a reaction. Sam hid it well, Paul nearly missed it, would have if he hadn't known how to read people who had something to hide. Fear, confusion, mistrust, anger, Paul thought. The man in the bed didn't trust them or the situation he found himself in. "That's what I thought. Who the hell are you? I don't need trouble knocking on my door. I will haul your ass to the nearest park bench and leave it there."

Sam had expected a threat but that was hardly the one he saw coming.

"Excuse me?" hearing Dean's name come from the man's mouth startled him. How had he known about Dean? Would they gain Sam's trust and lure him into falsely believing they had his best interests at heart? Was this all a trick? Would they ask for Dean's number? Call him to come get Sam and set a trap? Dean would come, of that there was no doubt.

Whether he believed Sam left on his own or had proof Sam had been taken wouldn't matter, Dean would come for him. It wouldn't matter if Dean were angry, or upset, it wouldn't matter if he later chose to kick Sam's ass himself, if someone, anyone called him with news Sam had been hurt, Dean would respond, nothing would stop him from coming.

"Jimmie found you and brought you home, but gotta wonder why you were out there for him to find. Heard in town an interesting story, been a string of robberies lately, men were named, two arrests were made, evidence just appeared and here you are, wanting nothing to do with the cops. Coincidence? I think not. So, fine, you don't want to go to a hospital or call the cops, I'll take you someplace where you can make it to wherever you need to go on your own."

"So, what is this? Use me to get to Dean? Is that the plan?"

"Paul, stop that nonsense, he is in no condition to go anywhere." Penny scolded. "We were giving you a week and if you didn't wake up or show signs of being coherent when you did, we were taking you to the hospital." she told Sam with a smile then glared at her husband. "If he in any way helped the police find those men we owe him more than gratitude, we owe him our help, protection and loyalty."

"If." Paul countered. "Whatever he did or didn't do, I doubt it was legal or he wouldn't be hiding from the cops. He's awake; we've done our duty, pack him a sandwich and send him on his way."

"I think that best." Sam said. "I can't be found here, my….um, the people in my life tend to ask questions later, if you know what I mean."

"Actually, I don't." Paul stated. "Why don't you make me understand? You say someone is looking for you, yet no one has reported you missing."

"They can't, I don't…" he stopped. He doesn't what? Technically exist? "They've gone to the police, they've been all over town, I can't explain it."

"Seems there's a lot you can't explain. I have to tell you, I didn't want my wife alone with you so I spent a lot of time in this room. You sure do have some vivid nightmares, or maybe they're memories. You are damn protective of whoever this Dean is, you call for Bobby when you need help, Ruby betrayed you, angels are dicks, you're sorry Jess had to die, sorry so many people have died, people you couldn't save."

Paul waited but Sam didn't say a word so he continued.

"You sure have a lot you're sorry for, huh? You're sorry for not saving him, sorry for not listening to him, sorry for what happened, sorry for causing him all this trouble, sorry for putting him through this. And the threats? I'd hate to be on your bad side. Seems you know your way around weapons, hand guns, sawed-off shot guns, knives, machetes and apparently you are quite fond of silver."

Paul paused again, was met with more silence.

"There were times I swore you were awake, your eyes were open and you'd stare right at me and then threaten to, cut off my head, shoot me through the heart with a silver bullet, stab me with Ruby's knife, shoot me with the colt, and oh yeah, find my rotting carcass and salt and burn my dusty bones." Paul placed his hands on his hips, glowering down at Sam. "Dean be careful, Dean watch out, Dean behind you, Dean over there. You promised to kill anyone who hurt him, you're not going to let anyone take him away from you again and anyone who wants him is going to have to go through you to get him."

"Please. It's complicated. I don't mean any of you any harm. It's best if I just go. Take me to that park bench, all I need is a phone, I just need to make one call." man, the fire had come back to dance along his arms, causing him to flush and break out in yet another sweat. "Do…you have a phone?" he licked sweat from his upper lip.

"No land-line and no cell reception out here. If you give us the number of someone to call, Paul will drive into town and place the call." Penny shot her husband a dark look. "Won't you Paul?"

"You don't understand." Sam whispered, licking his lips, willing the overwhelming dizziness to subside. "Please…"

"You've been all but unconscious for two days. We managed to get sips of water or tea past your lips, but not nearly enough and you've had no food. We were able to tend your injuries, there are no major ones save to the blow to the back of your head. You didn't split your head open, but there might have been internal swelling or even bleeding, we don't know. If you like, we can take you to a hospital."

"No." Sam said quickly. "No, but I can't stay here. I appreciate all that you did for me and if there is ever a way I can repay you for all you've done, all you've got it. But….."

"Who is Dean?" Paul asked. "Is he who is looking for you? What will he do if he finds you here?"

"I don't know. It's hard to say, it'd be best if I called him though. He's kinda…..um…..if I've been missing for two days, he's…..." he found it hard to concentrate. "Just…trust me, he'll find me and it'd be best if he didn't have to." he closed his eyes, mentally gathering his strength and preparing his body to obey him when he sat up.

"Well, you can't just leave." Penny said firmly. "Sit up, go ahead, and try it. I guarantee you, you will pass out. You're damn lucky you're young and strong and so healthy or you'd probably still be unconscious. Heck, if you weren't in such good physical condition, we would have taken you straight to the hospital. You were unconscious quite a while, and you are weaker than you realize, give it a day or two and we'll see how you're feeling. You try moving around now; you're likely to put yourself into a coma. You need to be careful with that head injury. What you need to do is go to a hospital. Either you stay here or you allow us to take you to one, we certainly are not dumping you to fend for yourself on a park bench."

Sam cursed her tendency to chatter on, her voice was soft but his head didn't want to tolerate any noise. He tried to focus, tried to form a complete, lucid thought but his stomach was fighting his head and it would be a race to see which one won. Would he throw up or pass out?

"Despite all your ranting and raving, you never actually tried to hurt us." Paul said. "You calmed down easily enough and responded to Penny's voice. You've got some nasty scars on you and while you never tried to throw a punch, you fisted that hand of yours constantly. It was the verbal threats that made me scared to let Penny near you. I don't wish you ill; I just want to protect my family."

"I would never hurt…I mean….only…" he winced. "God I….could explain…..but you….never believe me. A lot of … doesn't make sense….but it would if you…" he looked between the three faces who stared at him in open curiosity. His body was betraying him, the blasted fire was mocking him and the three people with him were strangers who offered no security. He tried to convince himself that he didn't feel lost, or alone, or scared but failed dismally.

He could do this, he would go with Paul to the park and from there he would find a way to contact Dean. He would pull himself together, avoid the police and get himself out of whatever mess he'd gotten himself into. "Dean is my brother." he blurted out. Admitting who Dean was probably a huge mistake and would certainly confirm his own identity if these people had any interest in the brothers whatsoever.

Paul showed no reaction, didn't flinch, didn't even blink.

For once in his life, he was going to take a chance and trust his gut feeling these people meant him no harm. Trust that they truly had no idea who he was and had no hidden agenda to use him to get Dean. He didn't want to remain here with strangers whose intentions may or may not be good, he wanted to go home.

"Where can we reach him?" Penny asked gently. "Is there anyone else?" she waited. "You give me a number and we will call him. Your name might help me convince him you're ok." she coaxed.

"Sam." all the while he'd been awake, he'd been feeling worse, hot, dizzy, and nauseous. He'd managed to sit up once but hadn't really tried to move since and he wasn't giving much hope that he could get up now. He hadn't forgotten his reaction when he'd sat up. "I'll go with you. It's best he hears from me where I am and why. He won't understand who you are…or why you have me…or how I came to be here. He's not good with…..um….people."

"No!" Penny cried. "Sam, I don't think that's a good…"

Sam didn't even manage to lift his shoulders from the mattress, he cleared his head from the pillow, pulled his legs towards the side of the bed and the fire made a leering smiley face at him then his world went black.

Penny threw a helpless look in the direction of her husband. Paul shrugged, running a hand through his hair. He was still somewhat unsure about the injured man lying in his son's room but felt a bit better since he'd been able to talk to him.

Lizzie popped in with the mug of tea. "Oh, he fell back to sleep already?" she pouted. "Do we know who he is?"

"Said his name was Sam." Paul said. "Pen? Hospital now?"

"He'll be all right, his body just needs to rest." Penny said. "If he doesn't give us a number to call the next time he wakes up, then we will take him to the hospital and say we found him out in the forest."

"I don't like this Pen, he's hiding something, running from someone and I don't want to get involved. Either he gives us the number of someone to come get him, or we set him loose, you got me?"

"Yes." Penny nodded. "Go on Paul, he's going to sleep for a while, probably until morning, he should be feeling better when he wakes up."

He didn't.

He spent the following day awash in misery. Since gaining consciousness, his head and his belly warred with one another. He spent his waking moments, sipping water or tea, vomiting into a bowl Penny held for him then passing out. Somewhere in his muddled brain, he knew something was wrong. He saw Penny every time he opened his eyes. He knew her name yet couldn't recall how he knew her. He knew he was at her house, but didn't know why or where that was or why Dean had left him with strangers.

Anytime he heard or sensed a presence in the room, he assumed it was Dean and called out as though it were. Every time he did so, Penny asked him for Dean's phone number. Sometimes Sam would begin to say it, other times, he completely shut her out. He never asked her where Dean was and calmed when she shushed him. Paul tried several times to talk her into taking Sam to the hospital but whenever they talked about it in front of him, he became so agitated they caved and agreed to wait.

"Any more of that phone number?" Paul asked. It'd been four days now and Sam was no closer to being cooperative than he had been since the day he'd woken up then passed out when he'd tried to get out of bed.

"Same six numbers, he never says the last four." Penny rubbed her temple wearily. "I give up Paul, I do, he can't keep going like this. He hasn't eaten anything since he's been here. Water and tea isn't going to sustain him, not a man of his size. Not only that, but his family must be going insane. I don't care that he wasn't reported missing. Someone is missing him. Can you imagine what his brother must be feeling? They have no idea what's happened to him and they must want him back."

"Don't much seem like it. He's no longer ranting and threatening you, is he?"

"No, just sleeps. The lump on his head has subsided. I'm sure he has, or had a concussion, and he probably should see a doctor. You and Jimmie can take him in."

"No." Sam muttered. "No…not safe….no doctor…..no hospital."

"Sam? Can you hear me?" Penny called softly. "Sam?"

"Dean?"

"No, no, not yet, he's…."

"Sam?" Paul barked, he didn't want to threaten the man, but perhaps he would respond to a voice of authority. "What is your brother's phone number? You have to tell me Sam, so I can all him to come get you. He has to be worried sick about you." he saw Sam tense, waited for his eyes to focus on him. "Sam, your brother doesn't know where you are, give me his phone number."

"Dean?" tears welled. "I…want to go home." he cringed as the fire snapped, god, but he hated fire.

"His number Sam." Paul repeated the six numbers Sam had given them so far. "Come on Sam, think how your brother feels, what he's thinking. He doesn't know what happened to you, let me call him."

"No." Sam whispered. "Not…using me to…get….him. I can't….won't…let you…..hurt him again."

Penny thumbed the single tear that spilled over, cupping his cheek. "Sam, if you won't tell us how to reach Dean, we'll have to take you to the hospital."

"It's…not…safe…there." he pulled away from her touch. "Not…for….me or…Dean." his eyes swept the room. "Promised…I prom-mised him, no hunting hu…hu-mans…I didn't….I'll… kept my word. I did, didn't kill anyone." he swallowed, gulping. "I won't…let you…..hurt him."

"We're not going to hurt him Sam. He has nothing to fear from us. If you want to see your brother, you need to give me his number." Paul said. "Don't you want to see him? His number Sam, what is it? Give me the last four numbers."

Sam was silent, staring into the fire. He had no knowledge of the passage of time, all he knew was he'd yet to see Dean or hear his voice. No one had tried to hurt him or scare him but Sam felt afraid and alone. He heard Paul recite Dean's number a third time and his resolve crumbled, his tongue formed the final four numbers and his mouth spit them out.

***000***

"Jodi? What you got for me?" Bobby kept an eye on the motel room door as he spoke on his cell. "The police in this town won't tell me anything." he was sitting on a picnic table between the cars and the motel. "Gimme something."

"String of robberies happened over a two-week period, how long were the boys in town Bobby?" Jodi was saying as Rufus took a seat across from Bobby and held out a beer. Bobby stared at it for several seconds then took the bottle, nodding his thanks. "Guess it doesn't matter. Two men were arrested for the crimes and there's enough legal evidence to make a case. Wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you Bobby?"

"Not me, no, but I bet I know who does." Bobby muttered, eyes narrowing on the motel room door. Did Dean have any idea what Sam had been up to?

"Seems these two men have often been in trouble with the law before, petty crimes, nothing not worth going to prison over for twenty-five years." she continued. "This time though, they had illegal weapons, robbed a bank and took a hostage, though no one died. Any of this ringing your bell Bobby?"

"Twenty-five years, huh?" had Dean allowed Sam to do this? He'd have to have known Sam had something planned, was he part of it? Or did he just suspect and had decided to ignore it, give Sam this bit of peace, allow him to have some justice instead of standing aside and letting the world spit in his brothers face.

"Minimum, so tell me again how kind and understanding Sam is."

"Now Jodi, you don't know that he had anything to do with this." Bobby argued.

"Bobby Singer, don't you dare! How much are you willing to bet those men are the same two who jumped Dean?"

"I ain't got a problem with that."

"They didn't do what they are accused of and you know it! Sam set them up!"

"Sam made a promise not to kill anyone, he never promised not to exact revenge."

"By setting someone up to go to prison for life? Sam committed those robberies Bobby; you know damn well he did."

"No one was hurt."

"Where did he get those weapons? No, don't answer that. Did he do this alone or did Dean help him? No, don't answer that either. Just remind me never to piss him off."

"Jodi, he would never hurt just anyone. He doesn't…just decide to do these things. Those men had it coming; they messed with the wrong man. God only knows what all they've done and got away with. They were working with a demon Jodi that makes them far from innocent. Anyway, they have anyone who would have gone after Sam?"

"Doesn't appear so, they're in county lock up. Dean can't go near them, but you or Rufus can come up with some plot to get in to see them." Jodi sighed. She was a law official, she should turn Sam in and set the two innocent men free. Well, innocent of these crimes anyway. "I don't want to know anymore Bobby, not about what Sam did or how he went about doing it, but if you need me in any way, you call me."

"Thanks Jodi, yeah, I'll let you know when we have him back." he hung up and caught the stare from Rufus. "Don't say it." Bobby warned. "Do not say it."

"He's vanished Bobby. Three of the best hunters in the world can't find a trace of him. No one has called with demands. We've been through psychic connections, summoning rituals and have tortured every level of demon we know about, nothing. He's gone."

"Shut up."

"I'm just sayin' maybe he don't want to be found."

"No one can hide that good Rufus, he would have left a trail. Maybe he's good enough to hide from the police, good enough to disappear from the public world, but not from Dean."

"Then where is he? No bodies have turned up. He didn't have the money to fly anywhere, you know all his credit card aliases, none were used. He split Bobby; he has the means, the knowledge, the ability and the opportunity to create a whole new life. It's no secret he wanted out of this life, let's face it, you said it yourself, he ain't been the same since he lost his brother couple years back."

"Rufus, we have a past, a history and 'cause of that, that and the fact you don't know the boys, I'm not gonna throw a punch at you and let your little speech go like I never heard it. Yeah, Sam has a rep for running but he didn't run this time. He was here for a reason, he didn't run, he was taken and by god, we will find him."

"Taken by who? Why? Revenge? A demon to cash in on the price on Dean's head? We'd know about it. No one is going to grab him and not rub Dean's face in it. Someone would have called by now."

"Rufus, I'm only gonna say this once - that kid did not leave his brother of his own free will. He wouldn't do that. He was batshit over Dean being hurt and he wouldn't've left him. The fact he made a promise to Dean tells me he didn't run off." Bobby stared his old friend down. "They keep their promises."

Dean remained sprawled on his back in bed. He was supposed to be sleeping, and he'd managed a twenty-minute nap, waking up to hear the muffled voices of Bobby and Rufus outside. He supposed he should appreciate the fact they had gone outside to argue, but he didn't care. No amount of silence was going to enable him to sleep any better. He laced his fingers together behind his head and stared up at the ceiling.

Sam was missing, gone without a trace and wherever he was, someone or something was keeping him from returning. Yeah sure, thoughts of what could have happened had played out across his mind. He knew how it felt to wake up and find Sam missing from his bed. He knew what it felt like to have Sam disappear from a diner right in front of him. He knew what it felt like to find no trace of Sam in a parking lot. And he sure as hell knew what it felt like to have Sam go out for dinner and not come back.

There'd been a time Dean would have believed Sam had cut and run, but not now, not anymore. He didn't believe for one minute Sam had left him. He'd admit, the night Sam had not come back; he'd thought perhaps the kid gone off on his own for some stupid reason: an attempt to protect Dean, a lead to follow from the attack on them at the warehouse. The feeling that curled around his belly and through-out his gut was constant, it hadn't let up or gone away since the morning he'd been unable to reach Sam on his cell and admitted Sam wasn't coming back - he was missing.

If Sam had been in an accident or hurt, he would have shown up at a hospital. The police would have been called had a John Doe been brought in. Either way, Dean would know if his brother was somewhere in a hospital. No dead bodies, unidentified or not, had shown up within a hundred miles. Jodi had even contacted the FBI, nothing. The three of them had searched the immediate woods behind the library, to search deeper and further would require outside help.

The police admitted there were canyons and ravines a person could fall into and not be found. Sam could have fallen, been hurt, waited….time could have run out, or be running out….Dean squeezed his eyes shut, digging the heels of his palms against the closed lids.

Sitting up, he made the decision he should have made two days ago. One way or another, dead or alive, he wanted his brother back and if that meant enlisting volunteers and the fire department to organize a search party, risk revealing their true identity to the authorities who thought them dead, well, he would find a way to deal with that.

Dean opened the door and stepped outside, rubbing at his sleep-heavy eyes. Bobby muttered a curse; he'd been hoping Dean would sleep awhile, not half an hour. He gave Rufus a look, silently ordering him not to talk that nonsense in front of Dean. Rufus nodded, lips pressed together in disapproval.

"Thought you were gonna try to get some sleep." Bobby heaved a sigh. "You look like crap."

"We have to search the woods behind the library."

"We have."

"Then we go further, deeper…"

"Dean, it's a forest, Minnesota's the land of 10000 lakes, there are hundreds of hunting cabins and vacation homes out there. We'll never find them all and those woods are full of cliffs and ravines, we'd get lost, we'd have to hire help to search those woods." Bobby tried to reason with him but could tell by the look directed his way he wasn't going to have any luck.

"Then we hire help." Dean snapped. "There's no other place he could be."

"It's been five days." Rufus began, falling silent at the look to cross Dean's face.

"I don't care! I will find him Rufus, whatever it takes, I will bring him home, one way or another."

"He's right." Bobby said. "It's time to take the next step, go get a shower, I'll go to the police station and ask for their help in organizing a search party."

Dean heard his cell ringing from the motel room and went back into the room to retrieve it. Rufus and Bobby exchanged a look. Dean expected the call to be from Jodi or Bobby's friend Luke so he didn't look at the display before sliding the phone open and putting it to his ear.

"Talk to me." he said tiredly. Silence greeted him. "Hello? Look, don't play with me."

"I'm looking for Dean."

"Dean who?" his grip on the phone tightened.

"I don't have a last name. I'm trying to find a man named Dean who has a brother named Sam."

"Who the hell are you?" he walked to the door and snapped his fingers to gain the two older hunters attention. "How did you get this number?"

"My name is Paul. I'm…..I'm calling about Sam." Paul continued. Silence, he heard the sharp intake of breath and then utter silence. "Hello? Are you still there?"

"What do you know about Sam?" Dean barked. He managed to keep his voice steady, kept his temper with difficulty. He didn't believe the man in any way. Whoever had taken Sam wouldn't be bothered with small talk. They would tauntingly make their demands known. "What's his last name?"

"He never gave me his last name…..."

"Sure Dude, whatever." Dean blew him off. "Look buddy, stop wasting my time…..just tell me what the hell you want?"

"Your brother Sam went missing five days ago, he was last seen at the library in the same town you are in now. You haven't heard from him since. He claims you're looking for him but the police have no missing person…."

"Who is this?" his voice went deep with barely controlled fury. They hadn't shared that information with anyone, not even the police. "How the hell do I know you have him?"

Paul swallowed hard. The voice had turned sinister, it sent shivers down his spine and he was a man not easily intimidated. The owner of the voice on the other end of the phone was not a man he wished to make an enemy.

"Who the hell are you?" Dean demanded.

"Sam gave me this number…..told me to call…Are you…is this….Dean?"

"My brother wouldn't wait five days to call me. He wouldn't willingly stay away from me, he wouldn't do this…..wouldn't give my number to anyone, so who the hell are you and what have you done to him?"

"He was unconscious for two days, he had - has a head injury."

"Uh-huh, sure, ok look, let's cut the shit. Say I believe you have him, what's it gonna cost me to get him back? He may have agreed to let you live, but I won't make that mistake."

"We're not looking for a reward." Paul was beginning to get angry. "What the hell is the matter with the two of you? He didn't agree to let me live and who the hell are you to threaten me?"

"Rew—what the…..?" Dean stuttered. "Unconscious for two days, why wait five days to call me?"

"He hasn't been coherent since he passed out three days ago trying to get out of bed so he could call you. It's taken us this long to get your phone number outta him. He's got some issues, let me tell you, man scares the hell outta me."

"Describe him." Dean demanded.

"Big guy, tall, muscled, hazel eyes, brown hair, rather unkempt, tattoo of a sun design left side of his chest."

"Scar on his knees?" Dean asked, letting the flicker of hope flare.

"No, both arms, wrists, shoulder."

"So, head injury, why not take him to a hospital? Why keep him?"

"Because he freaked out when we mentioned taking him to a hospital. I have my own reasons for staying away from cops; I respect a man's desire to do the same."

Dean was silent, Bobby was there, taking him by the elbow and guiding him to the bed, alarmed by the sudden lack of color in his face. Paul waited for Dean to speak, thinking maybe he'd gotten through to the man or at least battered at his defenses.

"The scar on his left bicep, from a burn, right?" Dean had to clear his throat, emotion making his throat thick.

"Knife or something sharp, scar is from stitches."

"What do you want?" Dean asked tightly. "The knife? The colt? My head?"

"We don't want anything from you and I have no idea what you are talking about. If you want, you can meet us at the hospital. My son found him out in the woods on Tuesday, he woke up briefly Thursday, was able to talk to us somewhat but passed out and has been more or less senseless since then. My wife has taken care of him, the swelling and the lump on the back of his head have subsided but he should go to the hospital, get checked out. I think we finally got through to him when his choices where to give up your number or be taken to the hospital."

"The woods where?" Dean choked out.

"Behind the town library, 'bout five miles back."

"Let me talk to him."

"There's no phone or cell reception at the cabin. I'm in town in front of the Kozy Korner diner, you meet me here and I will take you to him."

"So, I just have to trust you, is that it?"

"You both have some serious trust issues. I can't make you trust me, I can't make you meet me, if you don't, my son and I will be taking him to Memorial Hospital, and you can go find him there in two hours or so."

"I'll meet you in ten minutes." it didn't give him much time to make a plan with Bobby and Rufus but he wasn't about to chance passing up this opportunity. "And he'd better be ok." he hung up and filled in Bobby and Rufus.

"I dunno Dean." Bobby said doubtfully. "Seems awfully easy, know what I mean? A good Samaritan just happens to find him unconscious in the woods, takes him home, keeps him for five days, tries to nurse him back to health and then out of the blue calls you to come get him? Just doesn't ring true, a normal person would have called the police or taken him to a hospital. And where is his cell? He never leaves it behind. They would have been able to take it and call you the day they found him."

"Demons have tried every other possible way to get to us." Dean reasoned. "Possession, kidnapping, torture, maybe they are taking the 'I'm-a-friend-you-can-trust-me' route now."

"Or maybe this is all just weird enough to be true." Rufus said.

"Keep your phone on, we'll track its GPS, go in prepared, you take salt, holy water and go in packin' heat. Ask no questions, take no prisoners, if these people have your brother, spare them no pity." Bobby advised. "But, be careful you don't go shootin' innocent people, case this is a cruel twist of fate and happens to be the truth."

***000***

It was Sam's reaction that first alerted Penny to the sound of approaching vehicles. One minute he was sleeping quietly and the next his eyes were wide open and staring out the window, not in hate at the fireplace. She didn't recognize the throaty growl of the car crunching its way up their gravel driveway but obviously Sam did.

"Dean?" his head rolled on the pillow, pulling his knees up until his feet were flat on the mattress. "Dean."

"Whoa, hey there big guy, where do you think you're going?" Penny gently held him down by his shoulders. He didn't resist, staying put, but tense, poised to bolt upright and leap from the bed. She didn't know how she knew that, she just did. "Just relax Sam, take it easy ok?" she went to the window and pulled the curtain aside. A large, older style black car came to a stop behind her husband's jeep.

She watched the man she assumed was Dean climb from the driver's seat. She reached several conclusions before the man reached the steps of the porch. This man was either in his late 20's or early 30's, didn't look happy and carried himself with an air that sent out vibes of danger and ruthlessness.

The man she'd been taking care of for five days was kind, gentle and sensitive. If the man climbing her porch steps was indeed his brother, those traits did not run in the family. She shuddered, recalling some of Sam's mindless ranting over the last several days. She understood why Sam had thought it best he be the one Dean heard from first. Indeed, the man opening her door would shoot first and ask questions later, if at all. She didn't doubt for one minute that Dean would hesitate to kill to get his brother back.

Sam coughed, pulling her attention away from the window. He was sitting up; his weight supported with one hand on the mattress, the other was pushing back the blankets. She moved back to his side to stop him from getting up. "Shush, you're ok. Give him a minute, ok? He'll be right in."

Sam blinked, pushing her hand from his shoulder, and moving his legs to the edge of the mattress. He looked towards the window, muttering about the car. He didn't fight her but he didn't submit to her gentle persuasion like he had before either.

"Sam, no…hey, stay in bed, he will come to you….you can't get up…. Sam….." she sensed someone's presence in the doorway and looked over, breath hitching. Dean was even more intimidating up close.

Sam stilled, staring up at the man in the door. Tears welled as he chewed his bottom lip; even unshaven with sunken eyes and messed hair, Sam recognized his brother. There was no mistaking the emotion and relief reflected in those exhausted green eyes. Neither moved, neither said anything, just stared at one another.

"Hey there, Sammy." Dean said, voice husky, eyes suspiciously wet.

"Dean."

"How you doing kiddo?"

"I'm…sorry." Sam whispered. "God, I'm so sorry."

"You outta be." Dean stepped into the room, approaching the bed slowly and sitting down next to Sam. "You gotta stop doin' this to me." Sam reached out and Dean grasped his arm, hand on Sam's wrist, allowing Sam to return the same hold. "What'd you go and do? Hmm, hurt yourself?"

Penny watched Dean's fingers search for a pulse, thumb caressing one of the scars on Sam's wrist. He reached for Sam's jaw with his other hand, holding his head still, looking intently into first one eye, then the other. He let his chin go to search out the stronger pulse along his throat. Sam was docile, allowing the touch, relaxed and at ease in a way he hadn't been since they'd brought him home.

"So? You ok?" Dean eased a hand behind the nape of Sam's neck, fingers carefully combing through his hair for the lump that had turned his life upside down and torn it apart. "God Sammy." he read the weariness in the younger man's eyes, knew what the lines at the corners and the dark circles beneath them represented. Recognized that the color of his face and his inability to focus both eyes along with dry lips and a swollen tongue as well as the fact Sam hadn't tried to get up he wasn't in that great of shape. "The shit going through my mind. I even went to the police…Christ kid…you just disappeared on me."

"I..wanna..go…home." Sam swallowed. "Please? Will..you…take me…home?" his weight shifted. Dean felt him tensing, gathering his strength, knew he was going to try and get up. Dean debated on whether or not to let him. If he did, and Sam was able to get up without passing out or throwing up, he could pack the kid into the car and get the hell outta here.

"Yeah, sure." Dean played with the fingers on the casted arm. Color was good, responded to the pain of a pinch, caused Sam no pain when Dean lifted the arm then squeezed his fingers. "Gimme a few minutes, ok? I, um wanna talk to…..your lady friend here."

"You're not..leaving…. me here, right?" his voice rose slightly. "I'm..sorry, I didn't mean…I didn't leave you Dean, I didn't…..I wouldn't do that, believe me….."

"Kid, I ain't letting you outta my sight." Dean cleared his throat. "How you feeling? Huh?"

"Not so good."

"Yeah, kinda got that." Dean ran a hand through his hair, dragging his fingers over his face to rub at his jaw. "You ever scare me like this again Sammy…Jesus man, I was freaking out."

"I didn't kill anyone." he murmured. "I didn't, I swear to you, I kept my promise." Dean felt Sam's grip tighten painfully and before he could utter a word of protest, Sam used the leverage to swing his feet to the floor and stand. Sam didn't make a sound, his face drained of color, sweat beaded on his forehead and lip and Dean eased him down onto his back as he passed out. Guess that answered the question whether he should get up.

"I know you did." Dean turned to address Penny. "He hasn't eaten anything for you, has he?"

"Takes sips of water, sometimes some tea, that's it." she spoke hesitatingly. "How did you know?"

"He's pretty weak. He thinks you'll either drug or poison him."

"All his refusal did was make him weaker." she backed away from him, wondering where Paul was. "We tried to get him to eat but he refused and too much water made him sick."

"Yeah." Dean rubbed a hand over his face. "Shit."

"Um, Mom?"

Penny looked up to see her son standing in the doorway, hands up in surrender, a shot-gun pressed against his head, just behind his ear. Her daughter was frozen in fear in the arms of a black man whose hand was clasped securely over her mouth. Both of her kids had a wet face and neither man holding her children hostage appeared the least bit friendly. Both ignored her and looked to Dean for direction.

"What are you doing?" she cried, leaping to her feet. "LET THEM GO this instant!" Dean got to his feet to block her advance on Bobby and Rufus.

"Holy water." Bobby said to Dean. "No reaction."

"Shot gun?" Dean asked. Penny had stopped and was watching him nervously. He hadn't made a move to grab her but she didn't doubt for one second he would if she persisted on reaching either of her kids.

"Salt." Rufus replied. "Loaded pistol though."

"With silver?"

"Yup." Rufus confirmed. "If needed." he jerked his head towards the girl in his arms. "You be needing a knife?"

"Dean, they're kids, she can't be more than twelve." Bobby said quietly. "You want me to go cutting her?"

"What?" Penny screeched. "Don't you dare!" Sam's words came back to her. "We mean Sam no harm, nor you, please, let them go. Don't hurt them. Paul! Paul!"

"He won't be coming." Rufus said calmly. "Dean? What we lookin' at here?"

"What did you do to him? We don't want any trouble!" she lunged forward, straight into the arm Dean had thrown out to stop her. "Don't you hurt them! My god, what is wrong with you people?"

Dean's expression didn't lessen, his gaze traveled back to the bed and he eyed his brother. Sam wasn't tied up or tied down nor were there any signs that he had been. There were no bruises or cuts or abrasions on his face or neck. He wore a clean shirt, the bed sheets were fresh, his hair washed if uncombed and he was clean-shaven. He may not have gotten out of bed since he'd been there yet someone had taken care of him – good care. He hadn't been neglected, abused or mistreated and he hadn't appeared panicked or scared when he'd recognized Dean.

"Let them go." he moved away from Penny. "We don't want any trouble, we just want Sam."

"You can have him." Penny pulled her daughter close. "We never had any intention of keeping him. Did they hurt you?" she held her daughters face.

"No." Lizzie sent Rufus an indignant look only a twelve-year-old could pull off. "They took Daddy."

"Locked him in your shed, didn't even knock him out." Rufus quipped. "Or tie him up, wanted to…" he backed up at the murderous look in the woman's eyes. "I'll..um..just go let him out."

"Be careful." Bobby warned. "Doubt he took kindly to being locked up and won't be too happy we threatened his family." he turned to Penny. "We didn't come here to hurt anyone, the gun is loaded with rock salt, we just didn't know what to expect, didn't know what we were walking into."

"You have some nerve." she hissed. "How dare you come into my home and threaten my children?"

"We didn't know who or what you were. We didn't know why you had taken Sam. We didn't know what you wanted."

"We didn't take Sam, we found him. We didn't want anything and what the hell do you mean, what we were?" now that her kids were out of harm's way, anger was fast replacing fear. "Again with salt and silver, again with the threats, if you dare to start sprouting off about Ruby's knife or the colt or salting and burning bones, I swear I will brain you with the closest hard object I can lay my hands on!"

"How do you know about any of that?" Bobby asked quizzically.

"Sam talks a lot in his sleep." she huffed. "None of it makes any sense, that knock on his head really addled his brains, or so we thought." she added seeing the look Dean and Bobby exchanged.

"Kid good to go?" Bobby asked, deciding it was best to end the conversation now before it got complicated. "Need help carrying him?"

"He, um…shit Bobby, I'd rather not move him yet." Dean admitted reluctantly. "We put him in the car now, he's gonna be sick on the ride to the hospital. I don't wanna put him through that, you know? Best if he woke up on his own, Would be different if….well….he's not in any danger here….know what I mean?"

"We can't stay here Dean." Bobby shook his head. "We'll take our chances in the car."

"You know him best, but he should see a doctor." Penny spoke up. "One day, give him one day. Since you're here, he might eat. Some food, decent amount of water and he'll be a little stronger."

"He'll see a doctor." Dean said sharply, sinking into the chair next to the bed. His legs were rubber and suddenly, standing was too much to bear. He thought he'd feel relief upon sight of his brother, would feel better. But no, hell, what had he been thinking? He felt as tense and stressed and emotionally sick as he had when he hadn't known where Sam was or what had happened to him.

Ok, so they had Sam. Now what? How he had gotten to where he was, was still unexplained. Who were these people? How did they come to have Sam? They claimed to have found him unconscious out in the woods. Ok, but why was Sam in the woods in the first place? How had he been knocked out? Who had he been running from? Where was that person now and why hadn't they come after Sam anytime during these last five days? How serious was the head injury? Was Sam's weakness and current physical state merely a result of a week without food and sufficient water?

Or was there an underlying problem due to the blow to the head? Should Dean risk moving him while unconscious or should he wait until Sam woke up and Dean was able to question him further to determine his condition? He didn't want to, but if it meant Sam's life, Dean would call 911 and get an ambulance to take him to the hospital if Sam's condition warranted such action.

"Dean, I think we should go now." Bobby argued. "We can pull over and let him ride out any nausea or pain, the hospital is only, like forty-five minutes away."

Dean was quiet, still arguing with himself over what he should do.

"No one is going anywhere until I get some answers." Paul came charging into the room. Rufus followed and shrugged sheepishly at the twin looks from Dean and Bobby. "Who the hell are you people? Talk about paranoid, suspicious people, my god! Everyone sit down, someone appoint a spokesman and start talking."

"Just when was it we lost control?" Bobby asked Rufus. Neither was too worried about Paul. He'd had the opportunity to hurt Sam over the last week and Dean upon meeting him at the diner, they didn't expect any physical violence from him now. If they were proven wrong, well, they both had loaded pistols. Silver bullets would easily kill a human.

"What's wrong with the kid anyway? Looks kinda pale Bobby, he sick or something? Dean ain't freaking out too much, so kid can't be all that bad." Rufus approached the bed and peered down with a squint. "Boy looks sickly."

"Tried to sit up." Dean sat forward, elbows on his knees. "Guess, I outta thank you for taking care of him. Sorry about bursting in on you like we did."

"He's not going anywhere until he wakes up." Penny said. "Why don't you tell us who you are? I have to admit, some of the things he's said while unconscious has made me mighty curious. Some answers will help pass the time until he wakes up. Just no guns and no more threats of cutting my children with knives."

"WHAT?" Paul roared, stepping forward and causing both Bobby and Rufus to draw on him.

"Hey." Dean held a hand up. "Stand down."

"Put those guns away." Penny chided. "I'll make some sandwiches." Penny pushed Lizzie from the room. One would think a twelve-year-old girl would be scared, hysterical even, to have three scary looking men barge into her home and threaten her with knives and guns after throwing water in her face but no, not Lizzie. "Let's go little miss." she meant to have everyone join her in the kitchen but something told her none of the three men would be budging from Sam's side anytime soon.

***000***

Sam didn't want to wake up. He was tired, so tired of being thirsty and hungry yet reluctant to swallow anything because he was too tired to vomit anymore. His throat was raw from the constant retching and his stomach cramped at the thought of expunging more of its unwanted contents.

He was hot - again. He was always hot, had to be the damned fire. He hated opening his eyes to the taunting, evil laughing face made of flame that danced across the room and lunged at him, mocking his inability to move away from it. It played with him, morphing into smiley faces: evil ones, frowning ones, sad ones, sadistically happy ones, crying ones, ones with a bullet in the forehead - always a damn smiley face.

He rolled his head on the pillow until a hand pressed against his forehead, stilling his movement. That was different; Penny always supported his head with her hand just behind his right ear. Only one person ever held him still by a palm to his forehead. His eyes snapped open and instantly welled with unshed tears as he stared up at the worried face with green eyes and freckles that only appeared when its owner was upset, worried or scared shitless. He reached out to fist the jaw so close to his own.

"Fire." Sam croaked. He didn't have to say more, Dean would understand.

"Yeah, sure Sammy, takin' care of it." Dean murmured quietly. A cup was held to his mouth and Sam took the straw between his teeth. He knew to take small sips, knew he was to take them until the straw was taken away. He was afraid to close his eyes, afraid this was only another dream, but no, the fire hissed and sizzled and then, was no more. "Don't fight it Sammy, I'm not going anywhere, I'll be right here."

Sam stayed awake until the cup was taken away then let his eyes close and drifted off. Penny looked to Dean for an answer over the doused fire.

"He doesn't like fire." Dean shrugged. "It probably made his nightmares more frequent."

"So, you're saying he might not have been so restless if there hadn't been one lit in this room the entire time he's been here?" Penny shook her head. "I'm sorry."

"You didn't know." Dean said. "What kind of soup do you have? See if we can get him to eat."

Once it was agreed upon the brothers weren't in any danger from Penny and her family, Bobby and Rufus decided it was time to leave. Dean would stay another day until Sam woke up and then they'd leave for the hospital where, if needed, Bobby would return to meet them.

More than anything Dean wanted answers. He knew without a doubt Sam hadn't gone hunting with the intent to kill the two men who had jumped him a month ago. Sam had made him a promise not to do so and he wouldn't have broken his word, of that Dean was absolutely sure. He knew Sam hadn't take off for reasons unknown or just to get away like he had in the past. They were past that.

"Dean?" Sam called softly. "You awake?"

"Thought you were asleep." Dean frowned at him; tossing the magazine he was reading and swinging his feet off the bed to the floor. "How you feeling?"

"Um, better, I think."

"Look at me." Dean moved over to sit on the bed. Sam nudged at his hip with his cast in a failed attempt to get him to move back. "Eyes are clear, and hey, focused, can you follow my finger?"

"How long you been here?"

"Got here night before last, didn't think it'd take you this long to wake up." Sam ducked away from the look his brother laid upon him. He felt enough guilt for what he had put Dean through with his sudden, unexplained disappearance. He knew Dean thought demons were involved or that Sam had disregarded his earlier promise and gone off on his own to hunt the two men responsible for Dean's capture and injuries.

"Hey Dean, I just want you to know…despite how it looked, or what you might have thought, I didn't leave you, I wouldn't just leave. I know it's happened before; sometimes it was my fault, other times, not so much, you know? Like when I was taken or possessed, but not anymore, I wouldn't do that."

"I know. And just like any other time, I will always look for you, you know that, right? One way or another, I will find you, doesn't matter what I think, or what doubts cross my mind."

"He never once doubted you'd come for him." Penny stepped away from the door. "What would you call it? Faith?

Loyalty? Belief? He said you would find him."

Sam looked over at the door. "Hi Penny."

She blinked in surprise; Sam had never called her by name before. She'd been surprised a lot the past two days. Sam had slept peacefully and deeply. Whether it was Dean's presence or the lack of the fire, she didn't know. He also willingly swallowed the soup and kept it down. He'd drunk water or hot tea or juice or ginger ale or whatever, when offered. He'd even taken some Tylenol when Dean had deemed it safe to give him some.

"Good to see you awake, can I get you anything?"

"Um, something to drink, maybe? Thanks."

"Feel sick?" Dean asked, Sam shook his head. "Wanna try to sit up?"

"Guess. You mad?"

"No." Dean was ready to lend a hand but Sam was able to sit up and recline back against the headboard without assistance. "If you're up to it though, I'd like some answers. Who did this to you?"

"No one." he lowered his eyes. "I….I…..um, fell."

"You fell?" Dean repeated. "You fell? Fell from what? You seriously expect me to believe you…fell?"

"The leaves were wet and I was trying to be quiet…."

"So, no one hit you over the head? No one was chasing you? You didn't get into a fight with someone? You just fell?"

"Yeah, I, uh….see…you…didn't…listen….and…" he stammered into silence at the look on Dean's face.

"Me? Are you suggesting this was my fault?" his eyes went wide. "How the hell could this be my fault?"

"I told you I needed new boots." though his voice was strong, the words slurred. "The sole is loose on the left one, and….."

He had, Dean recalled, and he also recalled blowing him off. "You saying you tripped over your own two feet? You fell, hit your head, knocked yourself out and have been laid up with strangers for five - no - seven days now because I didn't buy you new boots!"

"Concussion." Sam nodded. "Kinda didn't know where I was or who these people were or if I could trust them. I thought maybe, you know, with the price on your head, they were using me to, um, get to you."

"What the hell were you thinking?" Dean got to his feet to pace. "Do you have any idea what you've put me through? Out of every possible scenario I laid awake at night thinking about, every possible one Sam, this…this sure has hell wasn't one of them! It never crossed my mind you would do something so stupid as to walk five miles into the woods without first telling me, telling someone! God, I can't believe you!"

"I don't think I was." Sam muttered. "Thinking, that is. Sorry."

"You're always sorry!" Dean took a second to gather himself. "So, first thing, we buy you new boots." he couldn't stop the grin that stole across his face. "What the hell were you doing out in the woods anyway? And where's your cell?"

"I wanted to see…well….the evidence was out here…and….the arrests were made here."

"Sam, what did you do?" Dean held a hand up. "Oh, Sammy…you didn't."

"Did what I promised. Didn't kill anyone or let them get away with it. I warned them to let you go Dean, they didn't. They got what they deserved. Since you…since you were…." Sam said sleepily with a yawn. "Anyway, left the cell at the library, didn't want it to give me away, you know?"

"No, I don't know. Gonna put a tracking anklet on you. No more solo acts, you got me?"

"Got you." his eyes rolled but he struggled to bring them back into focus. "Guess we're gonna be leaving now?"

"Oh, yeah, but go ahead and sleep it off, then we're going straight to the hospital."

"It's been days Dean, I think I'm good."

"Sure." Dean ignored him. "You've got a couple of hours before we leave. I'll call Bobby while you sleep."

Several hours later, Sam said good-bye to his host family and supported by Paul, followed his brother out to the car.

"Nuh-uh." Dean was behind him and his hand snaked out and slammed the passenger door of the Impala closed. "Backseat." he reached around Sam and pulled the back door open. "Get in."

"What?" Sam was being held up by Paul, Jimmie close on his other side. "Dean!"

"Much as I love my car Sammy, she has her faults." Dean stood aside. "No shoulder seatbelt, ain't risking your head meeting the windshield, now get in the back seat."

"I'm not three." Sam pouted but offered no real protest. He wasn't feeling too good and it would be easier to lay down in the backseat. He shook Paul's hand, then Jimmie's. He'd hugged Penny and Lizzie good-bye in the cabin. They'd all been surprisingly accepting of Sam and Dean's life story, taking both brothers cell phone numbers. Who knew when one might need help?

"Hey Dean." Sam said from his prone position on the backseat. He'd tried laying on his back, but he felt better with his head hanging off the edge of the seat so that meant being mostly on his stomach.

"What Sammy?"

"Will you promise me something?"

"Haven't we had enough of promises? I know you kept your word to me, and we're gonna talk about that, but…"

"We ever get a house, a home; promise me there will be no fireplaces, please?"

Now that was a promise Dean could keep. An odd one sure, but one what was completely doable. After the scare he'd had this last week, he'd offer Sam his promise on anything the kid asked for.

"Sure Sammy, hospital, new boots and no fireplaces in our future home."

Sam let his eyes close. For the first time in nearly a month, all was right in his world. The scent of the Impalas leather filled his nostrils, the voice coming from the front seat was familiar and comforting and the purr of the engine a lullaby to his ears.

Dean felt more content then he had in a long time. Sam was going to be ok; he just wanted a doctor to verify his own diagnosis. One could never be too careful with head injuries, but if Sam hadn't bled out or suffered a stroke or lapsed into a coma by now, Dean was pretty damn sure he wasn't going to.

More than that though, was the knowledge Sam had kept his promise. He hadn't blatantly lied to Dean's face and gone off on his own and done what he wanted. Sam had gotten what he wanted and did so in a way that gave Dean his own way as well. For the first time in months, Dean actually felt that Sam was, well, Sam again. Whatever waited for them in the future would be met and dealt with by the two of them, together.

***END***