Part III

Dean doesn't call the next day, or the day after that. It's not really all that strange, Sam tells himself by the time breakfast rolls around on the third day. They're all trying to stay under the radar, and maybe Dean is just trying not to draw too much attention to them by calling too often.

It's strangely easy to fit into this household, Sam finds, even if it feels a little surreal. Dean would already have made about a dozen jokes about Stepford and white picket fences, but Sam likes it. If he's honest with himself, he thinks Dean might actually like it too. It's nice to sleep in a room that's actually meant for him, on a bed that hasn't been slept on by dozens of other people beforehand. His sheets smell of fabric softener instead of bleach, and he doesn't feel as though he has to keep his shoes on all the time so as not to pick up something off a filthy carpet or a damaged floor. Mary even gave him some hand-me-downs from one of her sons, and the clothes are a better fit and better quality than anything he's used to having. Mostly, though, it's nice to have a routine that doesn't involve research into monsters and training until his muscles are screaming and his head is spinning from the exertion. All that's expected of him is for him to eat his vegetables and help with the dishes, and to make his bed in the mornings.

On second thought, Dean would probably hate it.

Mary insists that Sam stay on the sofa for most of the day, in front of the television and with a pile of books so he doesn't get bored.

"I don't want you to feel as though we're locking you up in your room," she jokes lightly, setting down a pitcher of water and a glass on a tray on the coffee table and letting her hand linger on his shoulder for a just a fraction of a second. Sam resolutely doesn't think about how nice it feels. "Daytime television isn't great, but you can put in a videotape if you want. I've got some errands to run but I'll be home in the afternoon. If there's anything, Alan's number at work is on the fridge. I don't want you to hesitate to call him, okay Sam?"

Sam resists the urge to fidget under her earnest gaze. "Yeah, okay."

"I mean it."

He forces a smile. "I'll be fine."

"I know you will. This is just in case."

The television doesn't hold his interest for long, and Mary and Alan, for all their many other qualities, are clearly not fans of the same sorts of movies as his family. He shifts on the sofa, which is just a bit too short to let him lie down comfortably with his leg stretched out in its cast, and thinks longingly of the copy of Die Hard that's likely still at the bottom of Dean's duffel bag. Donnie and Lorraine are in school and will be until three o'clock, and the whole house feels unnaturally quiet without anyone else in it. He flips through a couple of novels, but they don't succeed in capturing his attention any better than the television, and he dozes on and off for the better part of the morning until he ends up staring at the very clean ceiling of the Williams' living room.

It's hot outside, even though the air conditioning in the house makes it all but unnoticeable, and he wonders what Dean is doing, if he found an air-conditioned bar to hang out in, somewhere to hustle pool or find a game of poker, or if he's doing research for Dad in some dusty, sweltering library somewhere. Sam shouldn't call him, he knows that. Anyway, the likelihood of Dean's being home at this hour in a cramped apartment that has only a couple of crappy electric fans is pretty slim. Dad would have taken the cell phone with him, but Sam knows better than to try to call on that too. The Williams will definitely notice a long-distance charge on their phone bill. After trying unsuccessfully not to worry for another twenty minutes or so he gives it up as a bad job.

Sam is pleasantly surprised when he's able to sit up without feeling dizzy and without his head hurting at all. When it was obvious that using the old wooden underarm crutches was hurting his ribs, Mary arranged to have them replaced with metallic ones that clip around his forearms. It makes it easier to get around at least, especially now that he's no longer feeling quite so weak and overall crappy. He makes his way into the kitchen, carefully balanced on his crutches, barefoot in order to avoid slipping on the linoleum, then leans up against the counter next to where the phone is mounted on the wall. It's one of those new phones with a big greyish-green display screen, state-of-the-art, nothing Sam has ever had the opportunity to use. Some of the places he and his family have stayed in still have rotary dial phones. He tries the number for the apartment, tries to ignore the way his stomach twists when there's no answer. He doesn't bother with Dad's cell phone number, hits '0' and tells the operator he wants to make a collect call.

Pastor Jim never refuses to take Sam's calls, and the last time he called collect was when both Dad and Dean were injured on a hunt four years ago and he was too damned short to drive the Impala back to the motel. Sam figures this might not be all that different.


He didn't realize how tense he was until he hears Pastor Jim's voice on the other end of the line and nearly bursts into tears. He's done enough crying for the past couple of weeks to last a lifetime, though, so he swallows hard. "Hi, Pastor Jim. I'm sorry to call like this, but I, uh... have you heard from my dad?"

"Not for a few days. What's happening? Has he not checked in with you and Dean?"

Sam swallows again. "He didn't tell you what happened? That CPS wants to take me away?"

There's a sharp intake of breath. "What? No. No, he didn't tell me. I would never have told him about the hunt if he had. Where are you, Sam? Tell me what's happening."

It's a surprisingly short story to tell, for all that it feels like it's been an eternity since things were the way they were supposed to be. Sam feels out of breath when he's done, though, wrung out like an overused dishcloth. "What was he hunting?"


"No, Pastor Jim," he interrupts. "I can't —I need to know if something happened. Dean must have gone after him. What was the hunt?"

"It sounded like a straightforward enough haunting just outside Ashland," Pastor Jim says, and Sam can hear paper rustling as though he's rifling through his notes. "He said he though it might take a day or two at most from the sound of it. Look, Sam, I want you to stay put, all right? Let me call Bobby Singer and see if he has any news. You haven't heard from Dean in three days, you said?"

"Almost. He called once when I couldn't answer the phone, but there hasn't been anything since then."

"And you're sure they're not just lying low? Researching under assumed identities, maybe?"

"Dean would've found a way to call. The hearing with the judge is in a few days, and Dad has to be there or they'll put me in foster care permanently." Sam picks at the edge of the counter, not quite daring to voice aloud the tiny, treacherous thought that maybe his father left on purpose. Pastor Jim, however, appears to be able to read minds.

"Your father would never let that happen. I'm going to make some calls, find someone to check up on your brother and father, make sure they're all right and give them a lift back into town if they need one. Give me your number, and I will call you back as soon as I have any news, all right?"

"Yeah, okay. Thanks, Pastor Jim."

"Anytime, Sam," comes the gentle reply. "You know that."

The news, or rather the lack thereof after that is not encouraging. Mary doesn't seem to think it particularly odd that a friend of the family is calling for Sam when Pastor Jim does call back in the evening, just hands the phone to Sam and politely ushers Donnie and Lorraine out of the kitchen so that he can talk privately, for which he's grateful. Unfortunately, Pastor Jim doesn't have anything at all useful to tell Sam. No one has heard from either John or Dean in days, in some cases weeks.

Mary is hovering in the doorway when Sam hangs up the phone. "Is everything all right, Sam?"

Sam realizes he's been chewing the side of his thumb throughout the call, and that it's bleeding slightly as a result. He shoves his hand out of sight hastily. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just a little, uh, worried about the hearing, so Pastor Jim promised Dean he'd talk to me." It's only a half-lie.

"Did it help?" She's smiling at him, but her expression is a little sad nonetheless, as though she already suspects the answer and knows it won't be a good one. Maybe, Sam thinks, she's seen this sort of thing happen too many times already. He shrugs.

"A bit, I guess. Not really."

"So what's got you worried?"

He fidgets, picks at the side of the counter again. "I want to stay with my dad and my brother." He bites down on his tongue before he can betray himself any further, before all his worries that Dad decided he was too much work and simply bailed, dragging Dean with him, boil to the surface.

She seems to get it, though. "I know they want you too. Your brother sounded worried when he called, I'm surprised he hasn't been back in touch."

Shit. Sam licks his lips. "I, uh, he called while you were gone and I talked to him. I'm sorry, I should have told you, I didn't think you'd mind."

His stomach roils at the delighted look on her face. "Of course I don't mind, sweetie. I'm so glad you two got the chance to talk. I didn't come in here to give you the third degree. Donnie complained about how we don't have any 'cool' movies," she crooks her fingers to make quotation marks. "So we've rented a movie at his request. I'm going to put Lorraine to bed, because I think she's a bit too young even for Batman and Robin, but you're welcome to join us. Have you seen it?"

Sam shakes his head. Between school and training and hunting, it's not like he ever has time to go to the movies. He remembers Dean going to see it and not thinking much of it, but then Dean probably had his hand up Debbie Petersen's shirt at the time, so his judgement can't be trusted.

Donnie is unreasonably excited about watching the movie. "My Dad was going to take me last summer," he tells Alan, while Mary sets up the VCR. "We didn't go, but he promised he was gonna to take me to the movies on our next visit. I wanna see the Mask of Zorro, and he said we could get popcorn and soda and he's gonna take me for ice cream after."

Sam picks an armchair off to the side, eases himself into it, leg stretched out so he can rest the heel of his cast on the floor. Alan looks up from where he's been listening pretty attentively to Donnie —Sam wonders if anyone ever paid attention to the kid before now, and if that's why Donnie never shuts up anymore— and immediately gets up to drag over a footrest.

"Keep your leg up," he says kindly. "It'll be more comfortable that way."

"Um, thanks," Sam squirms until Alan moves back to sit next to Donnie.

If he were home he'd be sharing the couch with Dean, making a point of obnoxiously shoving both his feet into his brother's lap while Dean rolled his eyes and put up with it so he could keep his leg stretched. The Williamses obviously don't believe in microwave popcorn, either, but Mary has sliced a couple of apples and put them in a bowl along with a bunch of grapes for snacking. It's a little surreal, but it's nice, too, Sam finds, relaxing into the chair in spite of himself. He feels bad already about what he's planning —these people obviously want him around, want him to feel at home and taken care of— but all this is doing is reminding him of how his real family aren't here, how it all feels wrong.

By the time the movie's over Donnie is asleep, listing against Alan's shoulder, and Sam is feeling none-too-awake himself. He drags himself to his feet, almost tripping over his crutches, while Alan simply gathers Donnie into his arms and carries him to bed, wishing Sam a good night over his shoulder. He and Mary are still making a point of leaving Sam his space, and so he makes his way to bed by himself, folding his clothes and setting them on the chair. He stretches out his full length on the bed with nothing to hinder him, and finds himself wishing that Dean was here, complaining about his taking up too much room with his oversized limbs, and poking him in the kidneys with his elbow.

It's almost impossible to sleep in an empty bed.

Sam gets up early the next day, long before anyone else in the house is up. It doesn't take long to pack up his belongings and make sure everything is safely stowed in his duffel bag. He stares at his schoolbooks for a few minutes, tempted to pack them as well, but it's going to be hard enough going without all that extra weight, and school is going to be out for the summer really soon anyway. There's no point in taking them with him, he's just going to have to start over next year, that's all. He shoves the bag under his bed, makes sure that the room doesn't look as though he's just stripped it of everything he owns. He's been keeping it very tidy anyway, so he doesn't think it shows.

Breakfast is a quiet affair usually. Donnie isn't much of a morning person, and Lorraine is busy telling Mary all about the field trip her class is taking to the zoo today and how great it's going to be and how much she's looking forward to seeing the elephant they have there. Sam keeps his head ducked down, has second helpings of whatever Mary puts in front of him, and tries not to feel bad at the happy expression it puts on her face.

"It's nice to see you eating like a normal teenager," she jokes gently. "Feel free to help yourself to anything out of the fridge, so long as it's not what I'm going to cook for tonight's dinner, okay? No limits on snacks in this house. Donnie," she turns on the kid before he can open his mouth, "that does not mean open season on the cookies. Healthy snacks only."

Donnie sulks, and Sam just nods quickly before she can turn her attention back to him. Alan shepherds Donnie and Lorraine to the car shortly after breakfast, rounding up lunches and backpacks and Lorraine's permission slip. Mary waits until they're gone and then starts her usual routine of setting up the sofa for him.

"You sure you'll be all right on your own again?" she asks.

"Yes, ma'am —Mary," he amends, and is rewarded with yet another smile that makes his stomach clench with guilt. "Do you think I can go back to school next Monday? I'm feeling better, and I don't want to flunk out."

"If you're feeling up to it, then I don't see why not. But from what Audrey has told me you don't have to worry about that. Even if you missed a few weeks of school, you have a perfect grade point average, it won't take you long to make it up, and you're certainly not going to flunk out."

He makes himself nod and smile. "Okay."

She strokes his head once, picks up her purse, and heads for the door. "I'll be back this afternoon, you know where the emergency numbers are."

Then she's gone and Sam is alone. He sits very straight on the sofa, waiting, watching the clock. When fifteen minutes have gone by and he's quite sure she's not coming back for something she might have forgotten, he gets up. He's got a little money of his own, but it's not going to be enough, so he slips into the Williams' bedroom, heart hammering painfully against his ribs. He's going to pay every cent back, he promises himself as he pulls open the top dresser drawer and takes out the envelope of 'emergency cash' that Mary and Alan keep there. He's pretty sure they think he doesn't know about it, that none of the kids do, but he hasn't been John Winchester's son all these years for nothing. There's more than enough to get where he needs to go. He takes a piece of notepaper from the pad by the telephone, pays attention to his handwriting as he pens a hasty thank-you note, complete with promise to repay the money he's taking. They're not going to believe him, of course, but he can't just leave without saying a word. They're good people, he thinks, stomach twisting, but he can't stay.

He retrieves his duffel, shortens the strap until it's strapped tightly to his back so that it won't bump against his leg or his crutches. It's not very comfortable, but it'll work. He's early enough that no one looks at him twice when he makes his way onto the nearest city bus, then transfers onto the bus that will take him to the apartment where he was living with Dean. It's easier to get up the stairs now than when he first came with Audrey, but he's still sweating by the time he gets to the top and picks the lock with some of Mary's hairpins. The place has been stripped almost bare, but Sam knows where to look, finds a bunch of newspaper clippings and notes scribbled in Dean's handwriting in the kitchen trash can. He pockets them immediately without looking at them, makes his way laboriously back down the stairs and hops the next bus, inquiring politely of the driver which bus route will take him to the main bus station, feeling sweat beginning to collect under his arms and at the small of his back.

No one notices him on the city bus this time around either, and he only gets a cursory questioning from the bored-looking woman behind the counter at the bus station about whether he's travelling with a legal adult.

"No, ma'am, but I'm fifteen now, and I do this a lot. My mom dropped me off so I can go see my dad. It's his turn to have me," he says earnestly, and he sees her expression soften into pity.

"Your daddy waiting for you at the other end?"

"Yes, ma'am. I have to call and tell him what time I'm getting there as soon as I get my ticket."

"All right, then. You going to need help on the bus?" she asks, looking at the cast on his leg.

"No, it's okay, I got it. Thanks anyway," Sam carefully peels a few bills out of his wallet and lays them in front of her, collects his tickets and his change, and makes his way to the bus.

Sam spends a tense few moments waiting in line for the bus, trying to look for all the world like just another bored teenager going on a trip he doesn't feel like taking. His palms are sweaty against the grips of the crutches, though, his heart beating just a shade too fast as he worries that Mary or Alan might have come home early and found him gone. The last thing he needs is for them to come looking for him or alert the police before he's safely out of town. Nothing happens, though, and he's able to climb aboard the bus without incident —although the high, narrow steps are something of a challenge. The driver grabs his duffel bag for him and stows it on the luggage rack, and Sam flashes him a grateful smile before wedging himself into the seat by the window.

It's a few hours to Ashland, plenty of time to look through all the newspaper clippings and notes that Dean left behind. He resolutely ignores the few mildly curious looks he attracts, settles in for the ride with his reading material, the scenery whipping by him out of the corner of his eye. By the time the first sign for Ashland goes by he thinks he's figured out the research Dad and then Dean must have done on the haunting. There's a picture of a farmhouse and a middle-aged couple standing in front of it above an article recounting a murder-suicide. It's the kind of story with which Sam has become depressingly familiar: wife cheats on man, man catches wife in bed with lover, man shoots wife and lover where they lie and buries their bodies in the root cellar before turning his twelve-gauge on himself. Sam rubs his eyes, suddenly tired. One day, he promises himself, this isn't going to be his life anymore. Right now, though, Dad and Dean are facing this on their own, and something must have gone wrong or he'd have heard from them by now. Or he'd have heard from Dean, at least.

Sam gets helped off the bus by another man who simply puts a hand under his elbow to keep him from falling when he notices him hunched over against the cramping pain in his limbs and ribs from being seated in the same position for so long. "You got someone meeting you, son?"

"Yessir." The reply comes automatically to his lips. He's not John Winchester's son for nothing. "He might be running a few minutes late, but he should be here any minute now. Thanks for the help."

The man frowns a little. "You want me to stay until your ride gets here? You don't want to have to walk to wherever you're going, not in this heat and on crutches to boot."

He ducks his head with a quick shake. "That's nice of you, but I'm fine, really. I'm sure he'll be here really soon. Thanks anyway," he adds with a smile as the man takes his leave.

As soon as he's relatively sure the coast is clear, he sets off from the bus station and locates the nearest phone booth. He checks the names and locations of all the motels in town, narrows it down to three and pulls out a quarter. "Yes, hello," he says as authoritatively as he can manage when the phone picks up, "what room number is Mr. Cruickshank staying in?" He keeps his fingers crossed that Dad hasn't changed identities yet. He's pretty sure he hasn't —the Cruickshank card should last at least another few weeks if not longer.

There's a pause, a rustling of paper, and the sound of gum cracking. "Room fifteen. You want me to put you through?"

He can't believe his luck. "Yes, please."

"I don't think he's in, for what it's worth. His partner came looking for him and I ain't seen them in a couple of days. They're still paid up until day after tomorrow, though."

The phone rings endlessly, until eventually Sam just gives up and hangs up the receiver. The motel isn't too far ―less than ten blocks― so he sets out determinedly, tightening the strap of his duffel bag again. It's sweltering in the early afternoon sun, and he wishes he'd thought to buy a bottle of water that he could refill later at the tap in the motel bathroom, but it's too late for that. He sets out determinedly, tightening the strap of his duffel bag again. It's sweltering in the early afternoon sun, and he wishes he'd thought to buy a bottle of water that he could refill later at the tap in the motel bathroom, but it's too late for that. The strap chafes at his chest even through his shirt, and Sam figures that it's probably going to leave a mark that will linger for days. By the time he reaches the motel he's completely drenched in sweat, his bangs sticking to his forehead. The rooms are separate from the check-in counter, which makes it ludicrously easy to break into the room. Dean would be proud, he thinks with a grin. Of course, Dad would complain he was too slow and point out that Dean would have been able to do it in half the time when he was Sam's age. He sighs, the grin fading, but the door is swinging open and letting him into the room where, blissfully, the air conditioning appears to be working, if intermittently.

There's no time to take advantage of the air conditioning, let alone the shower, which he's desperate to try, cast or no cast. Instead he drops his bag on the floor, rolling his shoulders to get rid of the stiffness in his back and shoulders, immediately starts looking around for clues to where Dad and Dean might have gotten to. Both their belongings are there, but it looks like Dad is the only one who bothered to settle in —Dean's duffel is on the floor by the double bed, looking like it hasn't been touched. Dad's journal is lying on the table, which makes sense. Sam knows he won't bring it with him to the actual haunting, in case it gets damaged. He keeps all his notes in it, everything he knows about the supernatural, and it would be a huge loss for him. The upside for Sam is that he can look through everything there is on this latest hunt, including the complete address of the farm in the picture.

Of course, even armed with all this knowledge, that still leaves the problem of getting there. It's not like the farmhouse is in the middle of town. Even a ten-minute drive is way too far for Sam to get to on foot, even if he wasn't on crutches. He sits down at the rickety motel table and lets his head drop onto his folded arms for a few minutes while he tries to figure this out. Every minute that passes is another minute Dad and Dean are in danger —or dead, a traitorous voice at the back of his mind tells him before he can make it shut up— and he needs to man up and think of something fast. Finally he pushes himself upright, sticks his head under the tap in the bathroom long enough to dampen his hair and drink until he's no longer thirsty, and starts putting a plan together.

It's simple enough to switch from his duffel to his backpack. Dad hasn't left much behind, other than his journal and his clothes. Everything Sam might need to help on a hunt is in the trunk of the Impala, which is where Dad and Dean are, at the farmhouse. He spotted a gas station on his way here, and that's where he heads next, ignoring how sore his hands are getting from all the unaccustomed moving around with his crutches. The cashier, an older guy in a greasy shirt and overalls, doesn't so much as spare him a glance until he comes up to the cash and puts down a map of the country to purchase.

"Excuse me," he keeps his tone polite, "would you happen to know where this address is?"

The cashier leans over the counter to look at the address he's recopied onto a fresh piece of notepaper, then nods. "That's the old Hickory place. About two miles out. What you want with that place, son?"

"I have to get out there today," Sam ventures carefully. It's a lesson Dad taught them early and often: start with the simplest version of the truth that won't get you into trouble. The more lies you start with, the more you have to keep straight later on. "Do you know anyone who might be able to give me a ride that far?"

The cashier gives him a dark look, glancing up as the door chimes to let in another customer. "Boy, I don't know what sort of mischief you're up to, but you kids should know well enough by now to steer clear of that place! It's all sorts of dangerous."

Sam shakes his head. Time to lie, it seems. He gives the cashier his best possible wide-eyed look. "Oh, no sir, that's not it. My dad's out there, you see, making a formal survey of the property for the government. It's just," he drops his eyes, makes a point of fiddling with his paper as if he's embarrassed. "He was supposed to pick me up from the bus station an hour ago, and he still hasn't come. He, uh... sometimes he loses track of the time when he's working."

"That so?" Already the cashier's expression is turning a little more sympathetic.

"Yessir. I figure if I can just get out there, I can wait in the car until he's finished. Otherwise, he might forget he was supposed to pick me up today and I'll get stranded. If it were like normal I could just walk, but..." he glances down meaningfully at his cast and crutches.

"That the Hickory place?" someone asks from over his shoulder. Sam starts a little, then turns to find another older man only slightly less greasy-looking than the cashier. "I'm heading past that way myself. Your daddy the one with the nice-looking car I saw earlier?"

Hope flutters wildly in Sam's chest. "That's the one. A black Impala, he's really proud of her. Did all the work himself."

The man extends his hand for Sam to shake. "Name's Jefferson. You give me a minute to settle up here, and I'll give you a lift."

"Thank you, sir, I really appreciate it."

Jefferson tips his hat. "Always happy to help a fellow traveller in need, son."

Jefferson turns out to be a silent travelling companion, for which Sam is grateful, because his head is filled to the brim with swirling thoughts about the case and just what he'll find when he finally gets there. Sam's willing to bet good money that the vengeful spirit is the guy who committed the murders, but it can't be that simple, or Dad would have just salted and burned the remains and that would have been that. That means that something out of the puzzle was missing, probably some human remains inside the house. He sits quietly in the shotgun seat of Jefferson's truck, hands in his lap, trying to work it out.

"We're here," Jefferson's voice jolts him out of his thoughts. "You going to be okay on your own, son?"

The Impala is parked up by the front of the farmhouse, gleaming in the afternoon sun, and his heart performs a strange little flip at the sight, relief flooding through him.

He nods. "I'll be fine," he says, voice a little thick. "That's my dad's car." He opens the truck door, slides to the ground and arranges his crutches under him. "Thank you very much. I can't really pay you back, but..."

"Never you mind that. You just take care, you hear?"

"Yessir. Thank you."

The truck takes off in a cloud of dust, and Sam hurries along the uneven dirt road that leads to the farmhouse, going as fast as he can and heedless of the bumps and holes now that he's so close to his goal. He's out of breath, his back and ribs aching by the time he gets to the front door and tries the handle, and if his shirt hadn't been soaked through before it definitely would be by now. The door is locked from the inside with a deadbolt, won't budge an inch when he tries jostling it with his shoulder. He hammers on the door, arms sore from the effort of getting around on his crutches all day.

"Dad? Dean? Are you in there?"

There's no answer, but he doesn't know where else they would be except in the house. There's no way to see in the top floor, but there are windows on the ground floor and that's a start. When he gets to the third window all the way around on the other side of the house he finally catches sight of Dean, sitting with his back to the far wall, eyes shut, and his heart soars with joy. Dean looks terrible, coagulated blood coating one side of his face, having obviously sheeted from a cut in his forehead, and he looks like he's cradling one arm against his chest. The angle is awkward enough that Sam can't see everything, but he spots what looks like a salt ring on the floor at Dean's feet, which means that, whatever else happened, the spirit is still loose in the house and still presents a grave enough threat that Dean had to resort to extreme measures to protect himself. He tries to push open the window, but it's stuck fast. Frustrated, he rattles it in its frame, and Dean's eyes fly open.


Sam can't hear him through the glass, but the word is clear. He grins, keeps working at the window even as he sees Dean lean to the side just out of sight. A moment later Dean shifts aside and their Dad takes his place, dishevelled and unshaven, the side of his face badly bruised. He looks shocked, as though Sam is the last person he ever expected to see, and Sam has to fight off the fleeting thought that maybe Dad was counting on never seeing him again. He raps on the window instead.

"Dad! I can't get in!"

His Dad says something, but Sam can't make it out. They're too far from the window for sound to get through, and he's not quite good enough at reading lips to be able to tell what he's saying. Dean, however, gets it right away and mouths one word at him: lock-down.

Sam nods to show he's understood. That makes perfect sense: the spirit has them on lock-down, making sure nothing and no one gets in or out of the place. It's rare, but sometimes when angry spirits are extra-powerful they can manage it. Knowing his father and brother, they'll have scoured the place from top to bottom, which means that the spirit's remains aren't in the house at all, but somewhere else. He backs away from the window, trying to work out a plan. The notes in Dad's journal made it clear the guy was cremated, as were his two victims, so that means there have to be remains elsewhere in the house, like hair or something, a keepsake that's tying the spirit in place. Except that doesn't make sense, because both Dad and Dean are inside, and they would have searched the placed from top to bottom, gone through it with a fine-toothed comb once they realized they couldn't get out. That means that, whatever it is, it's nowhere in the house they can get to.

He's missing something, that's for sure. Time to regroup. Normally he'd be doing that with Dad and Dean, letting them take the lead on this, but that's impossible now. They're relying on him to figure this out, and if he's right then they've both been trapped in there for days, which means time isn't on his side. He makes his way back to the car, stumbling a bit on the uneven ground, the sun beating down on the back of his head and neck, and prays that they at least left the trunk unlocked. They did, much to his relief. He leans on the bumper, taking refuge in what little shade the open trunk has to offer, and methodically begins going through the contents and packing essentials into his back-pack so he can carry them and still have the use of his hands for his crutches –a flashlight, salt, a container of lighter fluid, a packet of matches, and a baggie full of herbs for smudging just for the hell of it. There's holy water in the trunk too, and after a moment's hesitation Sam figures he's better safe than sorry. He doesn't actually know what you'd use holy water on, but if Dad keeps it in the trunk then it must serve some useful purpose.

Sam tugs the newly weighted-down backpack onto his shoulders, starts making his way counter-clockwise around the house, the opposite way from when he was trying to find his father and brother. He hasn't gone much further than rounding the first corner when he spots the large wooden doors in the ground leading into what looks like a root cellar or maybe a storm shelter, and that's when things start clicking into place. The remains have to be down there, he tells himself, there's no other explanation, especially if there's no access to the cellar from inside the house. It would have been hard for the owner of the house to drag two bodies down there, but then again it wouldn't be the first time –people who perpetrate murder-suicides aren't exactly known for their straight thinking.

He feels oddly vindicated when one of the heavy doors opens after a fair bit of tugging on his part. It's incredibly awkward trying to balance on one leg and haul open the door, even when he abandons both his crutches to get a two-handed grip on the door handle and Sam ends up landing on his ass on the hard-packed earth with a painful jolt. He grits his teeth, braces himself against the wall of the house in order to get back to his feet, then feels his stomach bottom out as he peers into the darkness below. The steps leading into the dank cellar are quite possibly the narrowest, most rickety things he's ever laid eyes on. There's no time to hesitate, though, so he simply sits on the lip of the door frame, clutches his crutches clumsily to his chest and slides down the steps one by one on his ass. It's undignified, but it's better than falling down the stairs and hurting himself worse than he already is.

It's pitch-black at the bottom beyond the small patch illuminated by the open door, so Sam pulls the flashlight out of his pack and switches it on, sweeping the sickly beam around and trying to get his bearings. It's like any number of other dank, dark cellars he's been in before, lined with mouldering wooden shelves with old, dusty canning jars. One of these days, Sam promises himself, he's going to find a farmhouse where nice, normal people live and ask to see their root cellar, just to see what a cellar is supposed to look like when it's part of a normal, living household. This one smells of decay and death, the scent threatening to suffocate him, and he's tempted to pull his t-shirt over his nose and mouth, except that it would probably end up impeding his movements even more.

Sam shuffles forward slowly on his crutches, unable to see much more than a foot or so in front of him in the yellowish beam of light. As careful as he is, he pitches forward when his left crutch suddenly comes to rest on thin air rather than the dirt floor of the cellar, and he has to twist painfully in order to sprawl on his side next to what turns out to be the remains of a very large hole dug in the ground. It's where the farmer buried his victims, Sam realizes, bile rising to flood his mouth. There's a faint coppery tint to the air here, from old blood he imagines. The wife and her lover must have bled to death in the hole where the guy must have planned to bury them forever.

He's trying to get back to his feet when he suddenly sees his breath plume in front of his face, barely has time to roll to the side before the spirit lunges at him, its hands plunging into the earth where he was lying a moment before. It's not the farmer, that much he sees right off once he gets himself righted, scooting away along the floor and fumbling with his pack —it's not the man from the photo he saw. He shoves his hand into his pack, pulls off the lid from the container of salt and tosses a handful at the spirit before it can come for him again. It disappears with a snarl of rage, and he takes advantage of the few moments' of peace this will afford him to crawl back toward the hole in the floor, dragging his pack with him.

It has to be the dead lover. There's no other dead male in this household, and it would make sense, if he was buried in this hole for a while. There's probably a lot of blood down there, Sam reasons, enough to qualify as human remains. Or maybe he's tied to something about the woman, it's hard to tell, but Sam is willing to bet that it's in this really sorry excuse for a grave, so he unceremoniously dumps all the salt in his canister into the hole, trying to spread it around as much as possible. His ribs aren't exactly happy with the treatment they're receiving, but with one arm wrapped firmly around his middle it's bearable. He grabs the lighter fluid, ends up splashing a fair bit of it over his sleeve before he aims it properly, hoping to God that it's saturating the remains properly.

The flashlight is long gone, not that it was much use to begin with, and it takes far too long to locate the matches in the outside pocket of his pack. Just long enough, in fact, for the spirit to re-materialize and snap Sam's head back with a blow that he isn't sure hasn't severed his spinal cord. He wriggles his hands and the toes that aren't in a cast, decides he hurts way too much to be paralysed, and his left hand closes around the matchbook. Thank God. Another blow sends him rolling across the floor, his crutches flying in the opposite direction, and he cries out when his bad leg cracks painfully against the wall.

The hole is right there. "Come on, you bastard!" He grits his teeth, pulls himself back across the floor by his elbows and using his good leg to push himself faster, ignoring the screaming pain in his leg and ribs, the matchbook still clenched in his hand. It takes one more try —and another solid hit from the murdered Lothario, who apparently lost all ability to distinguish between his victims once he was dead— before he's able to light a match, setting the whole matchbook ablaze in the process. It's not like he has the luxury of subtlety at this point, is his last thought before something cold and impossibly hard connects with the side of his head, and he loses his already-tenuous grip on consciousness.

He doesn't know how long it's been when he finally feels himself beginning to rouse. His whole body is sore, not helped by the fact that someone is patting his cheeks. He moans quietly, tries to shift away from the intrusion, but the hands are insistent.

"That's it, Sammy, wake up for me now," Dean's voice cuts through the last of the fog, and he opens his eyes to find himself outside, blinking painfully in the afternoon sunlight. Dean beams at him, making the dried blood on the side of his face crack and flake off.

Sam turns his head, still feeling a little dizzy, feeling something soft cradling the back of his skull, but he can't figure out what it is because he can see both of Dean's hands. Everything is a little too bright. "Dean? You okay? Where's Dad?"

"Right here, kiddo," his father says from just behind him, making him start. "How are you feeling?" Dad's hands shift a little under his head, probing for injuries, and as he moves Sam's nose is suddenly filled with the scent of leather and gunpowder, the oil Dad uses to keep the Impala running. His eyes sting and he blinks hard.

"I'm okay," Sam says, and he thinks it's not a lie. "Banged up some, but I'm okay. What happened?"

Dean's smile shifts to a grin. "You toasted the spirit all by yourself, is what happened! How'd you know it was in the root cellar? Both Dad and me were sure it had to be in the bedroom where that sick SOB did himself in."

Sam struggles to sit up, and to his surprise it's his father who pulls him upright and directly into a hug. He doesn't remember the last time his father voluntarily hugged either of them, and so for a second he just lets himself bask, gropes blindly with one hand until his fingers brush against Dean's arm and tugs on his sleeve. Dean snorts, mutters something about him being a girl, but he tentatively moves closer until Dad just reaches over and hauls him into the hug too. It's awkward and more than a little uncomfortable —Sam's leg is twisted at a painful angle, and Dean's elbow is digging into his ribs— but for the first time in weeks he feels absolutely, unconditionally safe. Can't imagine how he ever thought Dad might not want him back. Finally, though, he pulls away to look his father in the eye.

"Dad, I had to run away from the foster home. They're going to look for me —I took money because I didn't know another way to get here, but—"

Dad smooths his hair back from his face. "Don't worry about it, Sammy, we'll figure that out later, I promise. You think you can get up if we help you?"

"It's not their fault," Sam protests, ignoring Dean's attempt to get him to stand up. "And I promised I'd pay them back."

"We will," Dad assures him, getting to his feet and pulling Sam up with him, steadying him when he wobbles a little, trying to balance on his good leg.

Dean picks up Sam's crutches from the ground, and if he notices the change he doesn't say anything. To Sam's surprise he doesn't hand them over, just takes Sam's other arm alongside Dad in order to help him to the car. When Sam glances at his father, he finds him smiling.

"All right, let's get you both home."