Keep Away

Author's note: Strangely I do not own Supernatural, the characters, the car, or anything to do with it other than the last 6 seasons on DVD. I am an avid Sammy-girl however, and it has inspired me to write my first story in this fandom. Please excuse any errors in canon to my own ignorance and any spelling or grammar errors to lack of attention in class…it has been very long time ago.

Author's note 2: This is set pre-series. I see Sam as being around 14 or 15. He hasn't quite reached the ready to bolt stage, but he is at daggers drawn with John for the most part. Dean is, as always, 'awesome'.

Author's note 3: I am not a person that uses profanity much, but I have realized as I write that in our current society it is a common and accepted practice in many places, especially on TV. As such, so that the story is closer to the true character of the show I have allowed the characters to voice their thoughts in a slightly more "raw" manner than would be acceptable in polite company. If you are offended by such words please cover your ears when reading.

Prolog-

Bobby Singer rolled over in his bed as he swam up from the depths of sleep, not realizing for several moments just what it was that had woken him. It finally dawned on him that the sound he heard, and that woken him, was one of his phones. In fact, by the ring tone he was pretty sure it was his private line which he gave out to few people, most of them hunters. He rolled over and looked at the clock, 2:00am. That meant he had been asleep for a grand total of 2 hours. He dragged his tired body out of bed and down the stairs, surprised that the phone was still ringing. Most of the hunters he knew had the patience of a gnat, and would have hung up and called back on another line after about three rings no matter what time it was, whoever this was just seemed to be hanging in. He stumbled into the kitchen, swearing at the dogs that were sprawled across the doorway. "Don't know why I let the mutts guilt me into letting them come inside." He groused at himself "it's still above zero out there right now if you don't count wind chill." He sank into a chair at his desk and reached for the still ringing phone with a yawn.

"Yeah, Singer." He growled into the phone as he held it to his ear. This better be good. There was silence for a moment, and he was about to slam it back down when he heard what could only be an intake of breath and a voice that made him sit up in his chair like he had been hooked up to a live wire.

"Uncle Bobby? I need some help."

Four hours after he had been woken from a sound sleep Bobby Singer was pulling his old truck into the greyhound bus station parking lot in Fort Laramie, Wyoming. He had pushed the old truck hard over frozen and snowy roads to make it that fast, but at least the weather had the cops out of sight. He was just in time as he saw a bus pulling into the station. The standard above the driver read "Cheyenne-Fort Laramie-Hot Springs" And he knew it was the right bus. He parked as well as he could in the snow packed but otherwise vacant lot and piled out of the truck. As he moved toward the station he put his hand into his pocket and checked that the pistol that he had there, filled with silver bullets and salt rounds was easily accessible. In the other pocket was a flask filled with holy water. He wasn't sure which he might be using, if either.

He pushed into the station, a large echoing building filled with long benches. A bum slept on one against the back wall and another man, probably the station keeper was obviously dozing behind the ticket counter. He jerked awake at the sound of the door and rubbed at his eyes. He looked at bobby.

"You here to meet the Cheyenne bus?" He asked after a glance at the clock. Bobby nodded and the clerk jerked his head toward a door at the back of the station. "They'll be comin' in that way. Driver will unload any baggage and since there aren't any passengers to board will just go on. You'll have to stay inside the building. Insurance you know." Bobby nodded and went in the indicated direction. He kept a wary eye on the bum, but he didn't move or give any indication that he was even awake. The glass was frosted with ice and he could only make out some movement from the other side and the glare of lights. Finally he saw someone approaching the door. He wrapped a hand around his pistol. The door swung open and a thin figure weighed down with a duffle bag slid into the station. The figure was wearing a coat that was much to thin for the weather, and too small for his lengthening torso. Even the short walk from the bus to the doors had caused the figure to start shivering. Dark eyes scanned the station and came to rest on Bobby. No joy showed in them as the young man trudged across the worn linoleum to stand in front of him. The old hunter noticed that one of the boy's hands was in his left pocket. As the young man came to halt they spoke at the same time.

"Christo!" Neither set of eyes turned black, ruling out possession, and Bobby sighed in relief, releasing the pistol.

As the boy realized what happened he barked out a small laugh, but the mirth was quickly gone. He offered his hand and Bobby shook it firmly, studying the boy he had not seen for almost four months. Unbelievably the boy had gained at least another inch, and Bobby would be willing to bet that the boy was probably now literally seeing eye-to-eye with his older brother. If the size of the boy's hands were any indication he wasn't done growing yet either. The boy looked around the station, his eyes taking in the two men and the emptiness of the room. He looked back at Bobby.

"Sorry you had to come all this way. I could have taken the bus closer. I had enough to get to White River." He said apologetically, looking up through his long chestnut bangs. Bobby was sure that the length of that hair was the source of much argument with John Winchester. He shrugged and reached for the boy's duffle, only having to struggle with him a little to get him to release the bag.

"The I-90 was mostly plowed. You can make surprisingly good time with no traffic and no cops out. And busses are easy to track, seemed like that was of some concern. Let's get out of here." He led the way out of the station and to his truck, the boy moving on his heels. They climbed into the truck and he cranked the engine, turning up the heat as he saw the boy shivering again. He pulled out of the lot and started out of town, headed not back to the I-90, but instead south east toward the highway that would take them into Nebraska and the I-80 headed east. There'd be more traffic, but less snow, and if you wanted to make good time that was the way to go. They'd head south again at Omaha, headed toward Witchita. He had had four hours to plan, and he thought he was pretty well set, but he needed to get the whole story from Sam. He pulled into a Denny's parking lot and looked over at Sam.

"When'd you last eat?" he asked. The boy shrugged. "That ain't no answer. " Sam looked at him from beneath his bangs and seemed to be considering the question.

"We got some sandwiches yesterday around five. Dean was going to get something after the hunt, but…" He broke off with another shrug. Obviously that hadn't happened. Twelve hours was too long for a teenager to go without food in Bobby's opinion, and he knew for a fact that John Winchesters boys both could eat the whole leg off a cow at one sitting when they put their mind to it. He slapped Sam's knee.

"Let's go fuel up and you can tell me the whole story. We've jumped into the deep end, might as well know why." The boy nodded and they slogged through the snow into the diner. After ordering more food than Bobby could have eaten in two or three sittings they were alone in the quiet diner as the waitress returned to the morning paper she was reading near the register. Bobby took a slug of coffee and leaned back in the booth. "You want to tell me why I'm effectively committing a felony?" he said. He was after all planning on transporting a minor across state lines without the consent of his parent.

Sam took a drink of his hot chocolate, leaving a faint chocolate mustache on his upper lip that suddenly underlined just how young he still was, despite the new height. He leaned forward on his arms and ducked his head, hiding his face from view.

"It all started in Oregon, almost two months ago. There was a full coven of witches…"

Chapter 1-

The '67 Impala growled down I-5, the interstate that spanned the entire west coast of the US. Over the last two days the big black car, following an equally black GMC truck, had passed through most of California and a good portion of Oregon. The scenery had changed from the sun baked desert of Southern California to the lush green rain swept valleys of Oregon. There had even been some snow coming over the final pass into Oregon. The big black car thumped with the sounds of its driver's favorite "mullet rock", and while the driver guided the car the passenger was trying to read a thick book that he was balancing on his lap along with the "big gulp" soda that he had gotten at the last fuel stop in Roseburg. The cracked and crumbling cover of the book was spread wide as he flipped through yellowed pages. His longish chestnut colored hair hid his face as he struggled to make out the faded words in the late afternoon light. It was already raining and the day was almost gone so there was little light to be had. He finally abandoned the effort and closed the book carefully trying not to damage it anymore.

"Well Geek Boy?" The driver asked with a look toward the passenger. "You figure out what's what yet?"

"Dean, the name is Sam. How many times do I have to tell you? Not Sammy, Samantha, Geek Boy, etc, etc, etc. Sam. It's three letters; even your hormone soaked brain should be able to retain that." The passenger said with a huff and a flash of his patented bitch face from under his long bangs. Behind the wheel his brother grinned and stretched as best he could. His outstretched hand fell on the passenger's head and ruffled the curls as the younger boy tried to evade the hand without success. Finally he knocked away the hand and shuffled as far as he could to the right, scrunching against the door. "Knock it off, Jerk."

"Oh you love it bitch." Dean Winchester said with another grin. "You been readin' that old book for like ever. Didn't even see your lips moving on the hard words, you get anything out of it?" he asked. Dean was constantly, though silently, amazed at the way his brother could locate and absorb knowledge. He'd pick his little bro over any researcher out there, even ones three and four times his age. Bet none of them were reading Latin at 10 and Ancient Sumerian at 13. In the last several years Sam had become the head researcher for the family business. The fact that the family business was finding and killing of supernatural beings was beside the point. Werewolves, zombies, revenants, ghouls, goblins, ghosts, poltergeist, spirits, demi-gods, you name it, they killed it. All across the US they moved from place to place hunting those things that went bump in the night and in the day too.

Now they were on their way to Salem, Oregon to look into something that had caught their father's attention. John Winchester was the commanding office of their little band and he found the jobs that they would take. He was traveling a hundred yards ahead of them in the big black truck he had bought for himself after he had given the Impala to Dean on his 18th birthday just over a year and six months previously. The Winchesters scanned the newspapers and relied on word of mouth from a large but underground network of Hunters to find their jobs. The public at large scoffed at the existence of monsters, but the Winchesters knew differently. In fact they themselves had been touched by the supernatural. On the night of Sam's 6 month birthday his and Dean's mother, John's wife, Mary, had been killed in a mysterious and brutal fashion. John had seen her, pinned to the ceiling, her stomach slit open, as she had burst into flames. John and the two boys had escaped the house, but their lives had changed dramatically in that moment, and now they hunted.

"I think it's a coven of witches casting spells. The last death as it was described in the paper sound like the result of the Abicio Curse. It takes at least a full coven to perform it and requires a blood sacrifice to fuel it. I bet they'll be finding someone dead with their heart and eyes cut out soon."

"Lovely. There's something to look forward to. I hate witches. Can't kill 'em because they're human and can't leave 'em alone cause they're killin' other people. I say fuck it and give 'em an eye for an eye." Dean said, turning on the lights as the last of the daylight seemed to fade rapidly as the already cloud- hidden sun dropped behind the Cascade Mountains to the west.

"That's what they say they're doing" Sam argued. "They claim that they only send curses to those that offend the coven."

"Well yeah, I can see how the, what was she, a Sunday school teacher, could have pissed off the local witches coven. And what was the other one, a TV production manager? What did she do, take the Charmed off the air? Course that would make me a bit upset too."

"That's cause you got the hots for Alyssa Milano." Sam said settling back into his seat now that the danger of getting his hair mussed had passed. He looked out the window at the encroaching darkness. He had spent his whole life on the road, going from one job to the next, and while others might it find it tiresome to always be traveling, the Impala was Sam's home and it offered a strange comfort, even while he longed for the normal settled life he saw others enjoy.

"Hey, she's one hot chick." His brother said with a leer. Sam rolled his eyes. As far as Dean was concerned all a girl needed was to be breathing, and susceptible to the Dean Winchester charm to be "hot". He didn't know anyone who got as many girls as his brother did. Whatever that charm was hadn't seemed to make it into Sam's genes as girls just looked at him and giggled; so much for the appeal of brains over brawn.

Up ahead the turn indicator of the black truck showed that they had reached the turn off for the hotel they would be staying at for the time that they were here. Sam was aware that his father hadn't planned to be here long enough to enroll Sam in any of the local schools and he mourned the time that he was missing from his studies. He would be so far behind when they finally did make it somewhere for more than a week. He still had his books from the last place they had been, having left under cover of night before he could turn them back in, or even say goodbye to the friends he had made. Not that an unusual an occurrence in his young life. He had lost count of the friends made and lost. They pulled into the parking area of the motel behind the black truck and watched as John headed into the office to get them a room. Dean was pounding out the beat to Crazy Train on the steering wheel pausing only long enough to reach over and crank the music higher. Sam slid down in the seat and sighed.

Chapter 2-

Sam stopped as the waitress came to the table with their order. The next several minutes were spent in eating then Bobby sat back and watched as Sam continued to vacuum up more food than any one person should eat in one sitting. Finally the boy finished and downed the last of his milk. He looked over at the older hunter.

"Thanks Bobby." He said with a small smile.

"Ain't nothing, kid. Can't have you passin' out from hunger. Your brother would have my hide. Course it ain't like he isn't going to be out for it anyway when he finds out about this." Sam sank back against the booth seat and his face saddened.

"He's not too fond of me right now anyway. Maybe you won't be in too much trouble. They'll probably both feel better with me gone anyway. Not like I'm any kind of hunter." Bobby snorted.

"You're the best kind of hunter." He stated firmly. Sam eyed him in confusion. "You use your head and your heart, not just your gun or your knife. That's not something a lot of hunters out there can claim, including your daddy and brother most of the time."

"Bad things have to be killed." Sam said, trying to sound convincing, but instead just sounding like a recording. And he probably was. He had been told that since he was 9 and had learned about what was really out there. Unfortunately for him, Bobby knew that the kid saw something beyond the hunting, and longed for it like a dying man in the desert longed for water.

"Yeah, they do, but not necessarily by you." He knew he was speaking blasphemy as far as John Winchester was concerned, and probably Dean too, but he really felt for the kid. He had never known anything different.

The boy shrugged again. With a quick glance to make sure the waitress was still far away the boy started again.

"I was right about the witches." He said with a jut of his chin. "It was a full coven. Thirteen people from the town. Most of them were teenagers or in their twenties, just looking for something different I guess. The two really bad ones were this husband and wife. They were in charge, and they were the ones that picked out the targets for the curse and the sacrifice." Sam frowned. "I think that they were really old, not like they looked it or anything, but they felt really evil, like more than you could get in one lifetime." He shuddered. Bobby was reminded that while Sam might not be a hunter at heart, he did have some of the best instincts about all things supernatural that the older hunter had seen in his years. The boy shook off the memory and continued.

"Most of them were easy to scare off, you know dad. He scared off six of them before the others even knew about it. Then they started fighting back. One of them almost stuck a knife in Dean, but he saw it in time and shot him first. Didn't kill him, but he was out of commission. Dad got into a fight with two others, they got busted up pretty bad and they ran off somewhere. I knocked out one and that just left the two real bad ones. They were trying to find the rest, to do the ritual I guess and target us, but they couldn't and the male one, he and dad met up at this old house that they had been living in. Dad tried to get him to tell us where the altar was, but he wouldn't. He tried to cast a spell, I think he was going to turn Dean into a toad, but Dad shot him. It killed him.

"After that we sacked the place looking for some evidence where the altar was. I found some maps of the area, but there were two places marked on them. It was almost midnight and Dad wanted to make sure that we got the altar before the remaining witch could start some spell, even if she didn't have the coven to help her. He didn't want to split up, but he didn't have a choice with two different places. He thought the one to the north was most likely, and thought it would be best if two of us went there and the other went to the one in the south. He sent Dean south and we went north." The boy stopped with a frown, and Bobby suspected that the decision had not gone over well with the boy, and probably not with Dean either who was notoriously difficult when it came to being separated from his little brother. The only way it would happen was if John made it an order, and even then Dean would have not been happy. Of course Bobby suspected that Sam had not been so reticent in expressing his dislike of the plan. Having stood up to an angry John Winchester himself several times now, the older hunter had an appreciation for anyone else who could do it, and especially when that someone was 15. The boy had grit.

"When we got to the site it was obvious that we had the right place. There were….they'd been killing animals too, for their rituals. There were piles all over. Dad tried to call Dean, but his cell was out of range or something. We went in and she managed to catch us. I remember thinking she was going to kill us right there, but then it got worse…I woke up inside the building where they had been doing the rituals. I was tied up. She had dad lying on the altar, his shirt was off and as I woke up she was draining some of his blood into a bowl. He was like unconscious or something and he didn't move. I thought..." the boy bit his lip and Bobby had to smile to himself. No matter how much they fought he knew that the Winchesters were bound by a deep and abiding love.

"She took the bowl over to a brazier and put the bowl over it she started dropping in herbs and things and chanting, in Latin, Latin Vulgaris, not classical, but I understood it. I listened as close as I could and tried to memorize it. I wrote it down later, so I can show you. You know that I'm really good at Latin, right Uncle Bobby." The boy seemed almost desperate for Bobby to agree, and the hunter suspected that Sam's desperation stemmed from disbelief from those most important in his world, John and Dean.

"I know hunters that have been doing this for more years then you been alive who don't speak it as well as you son or read it either. Tell me what she said, English this time, it's still too early for me to conjugate Latin verbs, especially in Vulgaris." Bobby was aware of the Latin dialect deemed Latin Vulgaris, but since few books were written in it he had not gotten very familiar with it. The boy closed his eyes and started talking.

Chapter 3-

"I beg thee my dark master,

so that my vengeance is the faster.

In the cycle thrice

the hunter pays the price.

The scion spare

must have a care.

Then he must decide,

between death and patricide.

No cure to be found,

by my blood this curse is bound."

The woman picked up a knife and started to move it toward her wrist. When she was stopped by the sound of a gun cocking behind her and a voice yelled out.

"Put the knife down, bitch!" It was Dean, standing in the doorway. Sam could see Dean from where he was lying on the ground, and knew that Dean could see their dad laying on the altar unmoving, and what conclusions he might draw. He started to call out but as he drew breath, the witch, ignoring Dean's implied threat moved the knife toward her wrist, evidently planning on finishing the ritual. Dean's gun fired and the woman was pushed forward over the brazier. Sam thought it was going to be all right, expecting the woman to fall. She did drop the knife but she didn't fall. He knew Dean's aim would have been good. He almost screamed as he saw the woman ignoring the pain she must have been in from not only the bullet wound but also from the no doubt scorching heat of the brazier against her hands. As he watched, unable to move, she leaned forward and coughed into the bowl. Blood sprayed out of her mouth and into the mixture in the bowl. She had completed the ritual. Sam swore that he saw a wave of power flash out from the bowl, washing over his father on the altar. He didn't think Dean had seen it as he was maneuvering around to get between the witch and John. Evidently happy with her actions, despite dying, her dark eyes met Sam's and she smiled. It was a fierce looking smile of satisfaction, her teeth covered in blood.

""I will have my vengeance, child." She reached a hand toward Sam, "I will..." a second shot echoed through the room and with no further words she fell and lay still. Dean leaned over John, but looked toward Sam even as he reached for their father's pulse.

"You okay, Sammy?" he called. "The Wicked Witch of the West didn't hurt you did she?" Before Sam could answer John moaned and moved his head from side to side as if waking up. Dean stopped reaching for the pulse point and patted at his father's stubbled cheek. "Wakey, Wakey, dad, I can't do all the work here." He said. He watched while John's eyes opened and his dark eyes focused.

"Dean?What?"

"Witchie-poo got the drop on the two of you. Lucky I got your text before I made it to the other site. I turned around and showed up just in the nick of time, like usual." Dean said cockily. He patted his dad's chest and sauntered toward Sam. John rolled his head to see where his son was going. He caught sight of Sam on the floor.

"Sammy, are you all right?"

Sam nodded. He sat up and Dean used his boot knife to cut the ropes that bound his hands and arms. Sam stumbled to his feet and over to the Altar. He picked up his dad's wrist and put his hand over the small cut that was still bleeding sluggishly. John looked down at it in surprise, not even having felt it.

"Are you okay dad?" Sam asked, curious if his dad had felt anything from the ritual. He was still working out what the woman had said in some form of Latin, but he was pretty sure it wasn't good. Sam saw his dad's shirt lying near his feet and he picked it up. He let go of the wound and tore one of the sleeves off, using it as a bandage.

"I feel okay, what the hell happened there?"

"She cut you, put some of your blood into the bowl for her ritual. I think she finished it before she died. She was chanting in some form of Latin."

"I shot her before she could finish, Sammy." Dean said assuredly. Sam shook his head.

'" don't think so Dean. She bled into the bowl and I saw...something happen, like a wave that went over dad."

"A wave, Sammy?" Dean said with a smile. "I was right here dude and there wasn't any wave. After I shot her she was pointing at you and making threats, and that was it. You don't feel anything do you, dad." he asked. John shook his head.

"I don't feel anything except the cut. Looks like Dean is right kiddo. She didn't finish. Now let's find our stuff and get her corpse and this altar burned. Might as well take down the whole house. Sammy and I'll salt the corpse. Dean you go up and start a fire upstairs. You know what to look for."

Sam watched as his brother headed upstairs with a nod and his father headed toward the pile of their stuff that was in the corner. His eyes went to the body of the witch. He wasn't wrong, he knew it.

Chapter 4-

Bobby sat back in the booth, finishing his coffee as the boy's story came to a halt. He could hear the frustration in the words as his family had disregarded his account of what had happened. He pondered what he had heard as the waitress dropped off the check. He jerked his head toward the door and they silently left after paying the bill. Sam climbed into the passenger seat and buckled in. He looked over at Bobby as the hunter started the truck.

"Do you believe me?"

Bobby could tell by the kid's face eyes that he really didn't expect to be believed. That Bobby would turn the truck around and take him back to his family. He considered his answer. Finally he looked over at the kid.

"Yeah, I believe ya. I think you heard what you said you did, and saw what you said you saw. But you said this happened almost two months ago, why are we here now? " he knew it must have hurt the kid not to be believed, but there was no way the kid was going to runaway for that, and if he would he'd have done it sooner, and he wouldn't have called Bobby for help to do it. He could see the gratitude in the boy's hazel eyes.

"I knew what I heard, but Dad and Dean...well they still think I'm a kid, that I was mistaken. They wouldn't listen. Dad finally said he didn't want to hear about it anymore. Made me run laps around the field near the place we were staying south of Cheyenne every time I brought it up." Bobby had to hide a smile as he thought about just about how many times the boy must have gone around that field. Sam Winchester gave new meaning to the word persistent when he knew he was right. Bobby steered the truck out of the lot and headed toward the highway. No need to just sit there burning gas while they could be making time toward Omaha.

"After the first two weeks I started to think maybe they were right." Sam said distractedly, staring out the window at the darkness. "Then dad got a lead on a restless spirit in a small town about 20 miles out of Cheyenne. We went in on Saturday, did some research and by Sunday we were pretty sure who it was. But the guy had been cremated so there had to be something holding him to the place where he was haunting. The family that lived there had ran off after their young niece was killed supposedly falling down the stairs. The family had said that couldn't be as the child had been terribly afraid of heights and would never have gone upstairs to begin with. We broke in and started searching. Dean was searching the basement, dad had the main floor and I had upstairs. Dean found a diary in an old trunk in the basement it talked about leaving some hair to his lover in this locket. The spirit tried to attack him when he opened the trunk but he shot it with the salt and kept digging through the trunk til he found the locket. Once he salted and burned it the spirit went up in flames like usual. I didn't hear the shot so I was still looking around. Dean said later that Dad went down when he heard the blast, but once Dean had it in hand he came back up to get me. I never heard him come up so I was finishing the last room and once I was done I started to go back down. I was on the top step and I...felt someone shove me between the shoulder blades. I turned as I fell and Dad was standing there, his hands still stretched out." Sam stopped and gulped. He turned his head away as Bobby saw him blinking rapidly.

"He wasn't tryin' to catch me Uncle Bobby!" It was a cry from a child that had lost faith in the only thing he had. "Dean...Dean had come up to see what was keepin' us and he caught me, teased me about tripping on my own feet. He thought dad had been trying to catch me. Dad just blinked, and looked confused for a second then he agreed that he was trying to catch me. He apologized for not being able to get me. Like I didn't know it was him...like HE didn't know it was him. I didn't know what to do...I ...I just let it go, told myself I was wrong." The boy wiped at his cheek, trying to keep the tears that were streaming down his face from being seen. Bobby gave the kid his pride and didn't take his eyes off the road.

"So that was two weeks ago?" Bobby asked. Sam nodded. "Did it happen again?" Sam nodded again, but sat there in silence. Bobby allowed him the moment. It was a long way to Omaha and Witchita. They had traveled almost twenty miles before the boys soft voice started again.

" A few days later there was a zombie attack down in Laramie. I...tried to beg off, told dad I had a test the next day, but that never works anyway so I went along. Dad had an idea about who was running the zombies and we went to this old Catholic church. There was a keeper's hut behind the church on the edge of the cemetery. Some guy was squatting there. He'd found some books somewhere, wanted to know if they were real. He tried out one of the spells and it worked, woke up one of the bodies in the potter's field section of the cemetery, unhallowed ground. He seemed pretty calm about being caught, didn't protest when we burned his books. I don't think he understood until it was too late that it meant that he was a target now, just like the rest of us. They came in quick, trying to get at him, and we... shot them down as they came. I had a rifle. Dad said I would be better at the long shots. He and Dean were taking care of the ones that were closer." The boy stopped and took a ragged breath.

"There were a lot of them 19 or twenty. And we only had one window and the door for shooting. Finally dad decided we needed to go out, take care of the ones that were down. Chop off their heads and burn them. Dean wanted me to stay with the guy, to keep him there, but dad said he wanted us all to go out, that I needed to learn.

I was salting one of the zombies, it was off to the side. Dean was doing the kerosene, dad was supposed to be setting them on fire. I finished the salting and was going to call Dean but when I turned around there was another zombie coming right at me, about five feet away. And dad was standing behind him, just standing there, watching. He had his gun in his hand but he didn't do anything. I had set my rifle against a tree while I salted the body so I made a break for it. The zombie...it was quick and it grabbed me. I couldn't break free and dad...he just stood there and watched. I had my boot knife so I got it out and swung at its neck. It was trying to eat my arm and it didn't seem to notice me cutting it at all, but I finally got in a lucky shot to its spinal column. Its hands stopped working and it dropped me. I got the rifle and shot it till it dropped. I could hear Dean yelling from the other side of the cemetery, but dad he just turned and walked away like it was nothing. By the time Dean found me I had salted the other zombie. He was pouring kerosene on it when dad came back. It was like he hadn't even been there, hadn't seen, hadn't almost let it...he...he put his arm around my shoulder and told me I did a good job. I realized that he didn't even remember it. He would have let it kill me!" The boy was staring out the window at the growing light of morning, and not even bothering now with the tears.

"I made sure I wasn't alone with him after that. It wasn't too hard since he went on a hunt for a week. When he came back I thought maybe it would be okay, but then we went out for target practice. Dean begged off, said he had met a girl, big surprise. And dad let him go! Every time I try to get out of it because of studying I get nothing but Dean gets to go so he can get laid. It isn't fair." There was the petulant teen part that had been missing. Bobby forbore to mention that Dean was already an expert marksman, and that even good shots needed to keep in practice. Sam seemed to sense that he wasn't going to get much sympathy for the target practice and continued.

"We went out to the local range. It was the middle of the week and there were only a few people around. We had the rifles and our handguns. Dad set up some bottles and cans and there was a target to use for the rifle. He had me work through the whole bunch with the handgun and then told me to reset the cans for the rifle out by the target. I set them up and I was getting ready to walk back when I tripped on a rock. As I fell I heard a rifle shot and a bullet went into the target right where my head would have been if I didn't trip. I looked back and Dad was standing there with his rifle pointed at me. I saw him taking aim. Then one of the other guys yelled something, he must have seen the first shot and Dad turned to talk to him. I don't know what he said to the guy to make him go away, but he did. After that Dad told me to pack it up and we went back to the house. He apologized, said that he hadn't meant to fire, that he had been checking the sights and the rifle just seemed to fire on its own. He said he thought there was something wrong with the trigger. He seemed really puzzled, like he didn't remember aiming at me afterward.

"That was when I knew I had to do something. I tried to talk to Dean about it, but he just said that it was an accident and that I was making a big deal out of nothing. I told him about the other things too, the zombie and the stairs, but he said I was imagining things, that I let the witch scare me and that I was just looking at false patterns in the data to prove my hypothesis." Bobby looked over at the boy with a raised eyebrow.

"Your brother said something about 'false patterns in the data'?" He asked incredulously. That gained him the first real grin he had seen from the boy. He shook his head.

"No, he said 'pulling things out of my ass to match the witch's shit.'" He said with a near giggle. Bobby could not hold back the laugh as he could hear Dean saying that. After several minutes the laughter faded naturally. He allowed the silence to fill the cab. He could remember a time when the young boy next to him would fill any given moment with questions about anything and everything. An endless curiosity and a zest for life had been one of the things that had endeared him to Bobby all those years ago when he had first met John's sons. This quiet, introspective, and he suspected sometimes sullen, teen was a stranger. However, he didn't believe that this was some fanciful turn of mind or childish construct.

Bobby had dealt with a lot of curses over the years he had been hunting. They ranged in severity from minor inconvenience to fatal. There had been that one in Maine that had left the victim without any hair on his or her body. Practically the whole freaking town had ended up bald as a egg before he had located the frustrated geek witch that had set the curse. A burnt altar and books later and everyone was soon scratching at stubble. Of course for every one of those there was another like in that little burg outside of Seattle. People started dying by drowning, even if they never went near the water. Their lungs just filled up with water and they died. The witch there had been after men that had spurned her advances. The fact that she was one ugly woman hadn't mattered to her. As smart as she was ugly, it had taken Bobby almost a week to track her to her lair so to speak, and deal with her altar. She had screamed at him and tried to attack him with a knife and he had shot her in the knee. It hadn't stopped her from still trying, and he had been forced to kill her. Probably just as well. Once the witches turned to killing people they weren't going to be stopped by a simple altar burning, and Bobby knew of more than one that had sold their soul to the devil to gain even more power after being burned out by a hunter. At that point they were little better than demons themselves, and were fair game to any hunter that could locate them.

The problem with this instance was that the witch was already dead. She had sealed the curse with her last breath, almost literally, and that meant that nothing they could do would terminate the curse before the time ran out on it, as far as he knew. He turned to question Sam again about the curse when he noticed that the left arm of Sam's jacket was darker than the rest of the material. He was way too familiar with that particular effect and jerked the wheel to the side and slammed on the breaks. The car behind him honked furiously as they passed and he returned the gesture that the driver made as it passed. Sam was looking at him in puzzlement. He reached for the boy's arm and pulled his hand away when he felt the wetness of the material. He looked at his hand, and as he had expected saw the red of blood.

"Holy hell, kid, why didn't you tell me you were wounded?" He snapped. The boy shrugged.

"Thought I had it bound up pretty good. Didn't even know it was bleeding again. Sorry." Bobby huffed and reached behind the seat for the first aid kit he kept there. It was a lot better stocked than most, but it wasn't his surgical kit. That was in the back storage box.

"Get that jacket off and let me take a look at it ya idjit. I may not be as picky about my ride as your brother, but I don't want you bleeding all over my seats either." Sam shrugged out of the jacket and dropped it on the floor boards. He then peeled off the layers of shirts he was wearing to reveal a thin chest with ribs that were just a little too prominent for Bobby's liking. "Don't those two ever feed you, boy?" he grumbled as he started removing the blood soaked bandage on the boy's bicep. Sam shrugged again.

"Haven't been too hungry since..." he shrugged once more. Bobby scowled as he revealed the source of the blood. There was a three inch slice across the arm, a slice caused by a knife. It wasn't deep, but it still probably hurt like hell. It looked to be about 8 hours old. He thought he could use a few butterfly bandages to close it up for now.

"What happened here?" Bobby asked.. "and if you shrug at me one more time I'll pop you one in the head, wounded or not." Sam grinned a little and then settled back with a sigh as Bobby started working on the wound.

"Last night I went to bed at around 11. At the place we're staying Dean and I had separate rooms. It was...kinda nice to have my own space...but I missed Dean being there. I didn't really sleep well with him not nearby." He admitted shamefacedly. Bobby hid a grin at the boy's embarrassment. He guessed after spending years with his brother in the next bed, and sometime the same one, would kind of make it hard to sleep alone. "I kept waking up all the time, like I expected Dean to be snoring in the next bed, or stumbling in from some party. This time when I woke up dad was there, standing over my bed. There weren't any curtains and the light from the street light made it easy to see. He...had a knife. I rolled to the side, but I wasn't quick enough. I got off the other side of the bed and got my gun off the nightstand. I pointed it at him as he stood there with the knife. We just stood there, looking at each other. He didn't seem to care that I knew he had just tried to kill me. He just turned and went out of my room like nothing had happened. I heard him go back into his room and shut the door. Dean was asleep, never even woke up. I fixed up my arm and thought about it. He isn't going to quite trying. Dad'll keep trying to kill me until he succeeds or I...I can't, won't, do what she wanted, Uncle Bobby. The curse..."

"I understand, son. We'll work this out." Bobby soothed.

"But the witch is dead. We can't reverse the curse without her and that means..."

"I know what it means, kid. It means that we have work to do. There is more than one way to skin a cat or break a curse, and we'll figure it out. If all else fails we'll wait it out."

"Wait it out? But that means another month! Away from Dean, away from dad!" The boy said, distressed. Bobby patted the boy's leg and indicated that he pull his shirts back on.

"We'll try to break the curse first, but we need to keep you away from John. He's not in control of this...you know that right?" He looked sharply at the boy. Sam was silent as he finished doing up his shirt. He glanced at the blood soaked coat but evidently decided to leave it on the floor. He met Bobby's eyes then looked away. "Sam?"

"I have to wonder. What if it was Dean?" Bobby didn't understand and Sam must have seen it in his face. "If Dean had been there instead of me and she'd cast her spell the same way. Would he be tryin' so hard to kill him?" Bobby's heart hurt for the uncertainty he heard in the young voice. He grabbed the boy's chin and pulled his face around.

"You listen to me boy. You know that your daddy and I don't always see eye to eye, in fact more often than not I'm tempted to take my shotgun to his stubborn ass, but if I know one thing about John Winchester it's that he loves his boys, both of you. He may show it differently, may treat you different, but that doesn't mean he loves you any less." He could see the desperate desire to believe him in the boy's eyes, and finally Sam nodded. Bobby nodded back and slid back over behind the wheel. "You might want to catch some shut-eye. We got a long way to go and I ain't the best of conversationalists." Sam nodded and huddled down closing his eyes. Bobby was sure that he hadn't slept since he had woken to find his father standing over him with a knife, and he had said he hadn't been sleeping well for the month before that. He turned the radio on, keeping it low, and steered the truck back onto the road. He needed to make some more plans.

Chapter 5-

Dean Winchester hadn't been sleeping well for the last month. If asked he would say that the mattress on the double bed was too lumpy and hard, but to himself he could admit that it was because his brother wasn't in the same room. This wasn't the first time that they'd had rooms to themselves, two bedrooms were almost always cheaper than three, but it was the first time in almost five years that Dean could remember. As pissy and prissy his little brother could be lately he missed the little shit being in the bed next to his. He missed the familiar cadence of his breathing, and god he was such a girl sometimes, not that he would admit that to anyone.

He stretched out his body, feeling pleasantly languid. Looking over at the clock he could see that it was just after 8 am. His dad must be getting mellow if he'd let Dean sleep this late. Dad was usually up by 6 am at the latest and anxious to be about the next hunt or at the least get in some training. He rolled over and was thinking about trying for another hour when a heavy fist pounded on his door.

"Breakfast." His dad announced through the door. Dean could hear him doing the same at Sam's door, and assumed that his little brother was also taking advantage of the late start. That was good. The kid had been looking tired lately, and hadn't been eating much. Dean was starting to worry a little, especially after that little drama with the accident at the rifle range. He didn't know what was going through that freaky head, thinking that dad had intentionally shot at him. Dean had never heard of a rifle misfiring like that, but if dad said it had, then that's what happened. As to the other wild claims, about the zombie and the stairs, well, Sam had a hell of an imagination. Dean knew that as much as the two fought, his dad would rather cut off his arm with a rusty knife than harm a hair on Sam's shaggy head.

Dean rolled out of bed and slipped on his jeans and a t shirt. He left off his boots for now and headed to the kitchen. He hoped that his dad had gotten those pancakes again from the diner down the way. Even super picky Sammy had been eating those with gusto. He could taste them now, with a bout a gallon of maple syrup and a couple pounds of bacon, yum. He padded down the hallway, pausing only to pound on the door to Sam's room again.

"Hurry up Sammy or I'm eating everything!" He yelled out. He stopped off in the bathroom and did the necessary things before shuffling into the kitchen. His father was unpacking several bags, and Dean was happy to see that it was pancakes. He grabbed the syrup out of the cabinet and got down some plates. He then grabbed three forks out of the drawer. Prepared for the meal, he sat down and began filling his plate. He was three bites in before he realized that Sam hadn't made an appearance. He looked at his dad who was glancing toward the hallway too. He sighed and stuffed another forkful in his mouth getting to his feet.

"Come on Sammy. The pancakes are getting cold. You know you like that bacon with the maple syrup." He coaxed as he headed back down the hall. He pounded twice on the door and then warned his brother. "You better not be doing the nasty in there Sammy cause I'm comin' in and I don't want to be scared for life." With that warning he opened the door and found...nothing. His brother was not in the twin bed. Dean pushed further into the small room and looked over at the desk. Maybe geekboy had nodded off over his books again.

No shaggy-haired geek was slumped over the scared desk, and it wasn't like there was anywhere else he could be. Dean looked at the window. It wasn't the type that opened, but even so there was a line of salt across the sill, unbroken. Dean spun around as if Sammy was going to jump out from under the bed and yell 'boo', but the room was still empty. He rushed out of the room and went down the hall to the front of the house, to the small living room. The seedy couch was empty as was the worn wing chair next to it. Where the hell? He turned back to the kitchen.

"Here's not here, dad!" He said as he burst into the room heading toward the back door. Maybe the kid was out back in the yard. He checked the salt line instinctively and saw that it was unbroken. The chain was off the lock, and that made him hope that his brother had simply slipped outside to enjoy the morning. He was weird that way. But a quick look out over the overgrow yard showed no brother, and the snow, which must have started falling after he got in last night looked undisturbed. He went back inside. John was on his feet watching him.

"What do you mean he's not here?" he growled.

"I mean I can't find him anywhere. Unless he's hiding in your room he's not in the house." Dean poked his head into the room his dad was using, just to be sure, but still nothing.

"The chain was on the front door when I went out about 45 minutes ago. I checked the salt lines and nothing was unbroken." John said. He reached for his cell and hit one of his speed dials. Dean could tell that the line was ringing and from the look on his father's face it must have gone to voice mail. That was confirmed when the older man snapped into the phone. "Sam where the hell are you? Call me back. Now!" He hung up the phone and looked around. "Where would he have gone? Does he have some friends here?" Dean shook his head.

"No one he's talked about. The kids have been kind of stand offish. They know he's smarter than they are and he's better at PE and that's got most of them pissed off at the new kid. The few he's mentioned have been nothing more than study-buddies for class projects." Dean said. It was his business to know what was going on with his brother. He looked at his father. "You two arguing again last night?" He had been out with Marcia, or was it Maria, till almost midnight. His father and brother had been in bed by the time he had rolled in. He had locked the doors himself, doing a final check on the salt lines before he turned in. If there had been another blow-up maybe Sammy had gone out to run off the angst before school. While he had done it before he had always left a note. Dean went back into Sam's room looking for a note, he looked at the desk, but saw nothing but Sam's notebooks and school books neatly stacked. He looked at the nightstand and was about to turn away when he saw something that made him stop and stare.

He reached out a suddenly shaking hand and pulled the blankets down from where they had been pulled up over the pillow. The small spot on the pillow case that had caught his attention was forgotten as he saw the huge spot of what could only be blood about where his brother would have been lying. The blood was splattered across the bed toward the other side and he rounded the bed and could see blood on the floor. What the hell?

"Dad!" He yelled, unable to take his eyes off the blood. His brother's blood. John appeared in the doorway.

"Did you find..." John caught sight of the blood stains and stopped. "What the hell happened to him? There has to be something. Nothing could have gotten in. The wards are all in place." He slammed his fist into the wall in frustration. Dean was still staring at the bed. Looking closer he could see where something sharp had pierced the sheet and mattress, a knife, a large one. Something was tickling at the back of his brain-the back door. He looked at his father.

"Did you open the back door?" He asked urgently. John scowled at him and shook his head. Dean closed his eyes for a moment then walked over to the closet, opening the door. He sighed again. Sam's duffle was missing, as were all of his clothes. The only things that remained in the closet were a ragged pair of tennis shoes with more holes than shoe and a shirt that Dean recognized as his own. Sam had borrowed it last week when laundry day had been put off longer then usual. "He left. He packed his things and left." he said in a monotone voice. John pushed him aside and looked into the closet himself, taking in the absence of any of Sam's sparse belongings.

"He went to bed around eleven. I was up till almost midnight, sitting in the kitchen. He had to be here til at least then." John said practically. Dean nodded, his mind swirling with the implications.

'The door was locked when I checked it at 12:30. I went to bed right after that and it had just barely started snowing. There's no footprints in the back, he must have left not long after I went in."

"Why, why would he run away?" John asked. He went back to the kitchen and started pulling on the boots he had removed after bringing in breakfast. Dean followed along, scooping up his own boots from beside the back door.

"You didn't answer my question, were you and Sammy fighting again?" He asked as he pulled on his boots. His voice was expressionless, and he did not look at his father as he asked the question. John stopped tying his laces and looked at his eldest son.

"What are you implying Dean?" He asked roughly. "Your brother has been avoiding me like the plague lately. We haven't had a chance to argue." No, he didn't always get on with his youngest, in fact in the last few years it had been something of a running battle with the boy to get him to toe the Winchester party line. Always with the questions, always with the need to know why, always with the desire for 'normal', whatever that was. The boy didn't understand that this was their normal. He knew that the kid wanted his respect and approval, even if it was deep down somewhere hidden under the teenage angst and anger. And, he was more than aware that he sometimes wounded his baby boy emotionally when they fought. But he would rather have him emotionally scared and alive than the alternative. But all that aside, he would never, ever, physically hurt his boy, either of his boys. He would have thought that Dean at least would know that. Had he failed so very much as a father? Dean finished tying his boots then sat there staring at the floor for several moments.

"He told me that he didn't think that the rifle thing was an accident, dad. You worked on that rifle after the fact, what was wrong with it?" He finally said looking up to meet his father's eyes. John blinked in surprise then frowned.

"I took it apart, but I couldn't find anything. It was some kind of freak misfire." He said assuredly. He certainly hadn't been shooting at his son! Dean didn't look away.

"He also said that when we took on those zombies that you almost let the last one get him, that he would have died if he hadn't gotten in a lucky cut with his knife. He said you just stood there and watched it try to eat his ass. What about that?" John surged to his feet.

"What the hell Dean? I don't like your tone. Are you saying that I'm trying to kill your brother?" he growled, towering over his son. Dean rose to his feet too and faced John off with no sign of being intimidated. He tried to think back to the zombie incident, but truth be told he couldn't pin down exactly where he had been when the zombie had grabbed Sam. He must have been lighting some of the other zombies, but he didn't really remember. It didn't matter anyway, he would never have left his son to be killed. "I was burning the other bodies. Whatever Sam saw it must have been his imagination, something his mind made up during the adrenaline surge. You know I would never let something get him."

"And the staircase, back in that old house, you were there at the top of the stairs when Sam fell. That just a coincidence too, dad?"

"I told you Dean!" John almost yelled. "I was trying to grab him, He must have tripped, and I was too late to get him, that's all."

"And the witch's curse dad? Is that a co-incidence? Some bitch witch throws a curse that says you're going to try to kill Sammy and suddenly he's the most accident prone kid on the planet? I don't think so. And now my little brother is missing and there's blood all over his bed. What would you think in my place?" John had to take a couple of deep breaths as his anger rose.

"You were there Dean. You said she didn't complete the ritual. So now are you saying she did? Did you hear the curse? Did you understand what she said? You have years more training than Sammy. Who are you going to believe, your brother or your own eyes?' Dean was quiet for a moment, remembering what had happened that night almost two months ago. He ran the sequence back through his mind.

Driving up to the old rickety house he had been afraid for his father and brother, especially so after he saw the rotting piles of dead animals. John didn't call for help often, and when he did it meant that something was about to hit the fan, hard. He had busted down the front door with his boot, and went in gun ready. Nothing on the first or second floor, and he had turned his attention to the basement. He had smelled the candles as soon as he opened the door, and saw the flickering lights from below. He could hear someone speaking, but could not make out the words. He crept down the stairs, and had to stifle a gasp as he saw his father lying shirtless on the altar. He couldn't see Sammy from where he was, but he had to be here somewhere, he had to be.

John wasn't moving, and Dean had felt his heart stop. He then saw the witch, hunched over the little fire thing and chanting in something that both did and didn't sound like Latin. She seemed to be building toward a crescendo, her knife going toward her own wrist, and with an instinct that had been honed into him nearly all his life, he sensed that he had to put a stop to this now. He yelled something at her, he couldn't remember what now, but she didn't stop. He aimed and fired in an instant, knowing his bullet would take her in the right lung. It wasn't a fatal shot if she got help, but he really wasn't worried about that right now, not given the bodies piled up outside and his father unmoving on the altar, not to mention the little brother he still couldn't see. The woman was thrown forward over the small fire and she clutched at the metal sides to keep her feet, despite the heat. But most importantly she dropped the knife. As she fell forward Dean could see his brother, cocooned in ropes tied up on the floor across the room, watching everything with wide frightened eyes and mouth opened to yell. The woman said something he couldn't hear, obviously addressing Sammy, and she stretched out a hand toward the younger boy. He wasn't sure what she could do without her altar and brews, but he wasn't taking any chances and he shot her again, this time going for the kill.

He hadn't seen anything to indicate that the ritual had been completed, but then what had he been expecting, Lights and music? His dad had certainly not appear to be cursed, not even remembering anything after she had taken them. There had been the cut on his arm, the one that Sammy took care of and that he said had resulted from the witch getting a sample for her ritual. He thought about how sure Sammy had been about the words of the ritual and about how he said that the witch had spit blood into the pot. He thought about how his little brother was scary smart when it came to learning obscure languages, and knew how sensitive he was to things supernatural. Maybe, just maybe he should have given the whole story a little more credence at the time. So what was the answer to his father's question? Did he believe his own eyes or his little brother, and what had happened to send his brother out into the night leaving blood all over his bed? He looked at his father.

"I'm going to go with Sammy on this one dad. He may be a trouble magnet when it comes to the supernatural, but these things haven't all been supernatural. It seems like he's had some help being in trouble lately. Maybe I should be taking a look at your knives."

"My knives? You think that I'd hurt him? Where the hell do you come off..." Dean pulled the gun out of his waistband that he had placed there when he had dressed and pointed it between his father's eyes.

"Where is your Arkansas toothpick, the big knife you keep in your duffle?" He asked. John's eyes shot fire at him, and Dean could see his struggle to keep his temper. He'd worry about that later, now he needed to figure out what had happened to his brother. John got a grip on his anger and jerked his head toward his room.

"Like you say, it's in my duffle, where it's been since we got here. I haven't touched it since we came. You want to look at it, fine, then maybe we can try to find your brother and stop this foolishness." Ignoring the gun in Dean's hand he stomped toward his room and pushed inside. He grabbed his duffle and dragged it onto the bed. He plunged a hand inside as Dean came into the doorway and dragged out the huge knife still inside its sheath. Looking up and meeting his son's eyes he pulled off the sheath without looking at it and held out the knife. "See, now can we get..." He saw the blood running out of Dean's face as his son's eyes locked on the knife. Puzzled, he looked down to see what had caused such a severe response and it felt as if someone had shoved a knife the same size through his stomach. The knife was covered in dried blood, blood that had to be from his youngest son!

Chapter 6-

Sam managed to sleep in the truck for almost five hours. A measure of his exhaustion Bobby was sure. He had kept himself busy planning out what to do next and going over what he knew about curses in his mind. It was not going to be easy he knew. First they had to confirm that the curse existed. Despite the evidence that the kid had provided, and his obviously real belief in it, they would have to have other proof to satisfy John. Dean was probably another matter. Bobby was pretty sure that he'd burned his bridge there as soon as he had agreed to meet Sam rather than call his brother. They were pulling into the outskirts of Omaha when Sam stirred. He rubbed at his eyes and looked around.

"Good timin' kid. We're pulling over for gas and some food. I also got to make a few phone calls." Sam nodded, and Bobby decided that he just needed to get it over with. "Don't take this wrong kiddo, but we need more info on this curse. Your daddy isn't going to believe anything but firm proof, and we can't break it if we don't know everything. I got a friend, a physic like Missouri Mosely is. She can read you and see the whole thing like it was happening now, get the details we need. Your Daddy has used her before. He'll believe her when she says it's so, if it comes down to that. I'd take you to Missouri herself, but she's back east somewhere tending to her sister."

"Like he won't believe ME." Sam whispered. Bobby sighed. He had been afraid of that, that the boy would take it that way. He pulled into a gas station and turned off the truck. He leaned forward onto the wheel and looked over at Sam.

"Look Sam, I'm the last person that should be giving anyone advice about how to deal with your father. I know that he hurt you when he refused to listen to you about the curse, probably more so then when he tried to kill you."

"At least I knew he couldn't control that." Sam said, and Bobby was glad that the kid at least believed that.

"He wants you to hunt but he doesn't really believe that you can do it, he thinks you're too soft, that you listen to your heart too much." Bobby said. He had had this same discussion with Dean when the young hunter had complained about the fights between his father and brother. "He wants to change you."

"He wants another Dean." Sam said sadly. His eyes met Bobby's as his chin came up. "I can't be Dean, sometimes it's hard enough being Sam. I'll never be the hunter he thinks I should be, I know that. I can live with that, I can't live with him not believing in me." he sat up, his spine straightening. "I'll do whatever you think is best." He declared, and in that moment Bobby thought Sam was even more his father's son than he usually was. If only John could see it. He nodded.

"Let's fuel up the truck, find a decent place to eat and make those calls. Tilda lives in a little burg outside Witchita. She'd kill me if we just dropped in with no notice. Also I want to get a hold of Caleb and Joshua. You can bet that once your family misses you they'll start making calls when they can't find you around Cheyenne."

"What about Pastor Jim?' Sam asked as he got out and started unscrewing the gas cap. Bobby climbed out and leaned on the bed. He grimaced.

"Well, that's a good question. Your daddy will probably call me first, my place is closer, and then he'll call Jim since he knows that you get on well with him. Then I figure he'll try Caleb and Joshua even if they can only keep an eye out for you while they're hunting. Normally I would call Jim first, tell him your story, but ah..." Sam was watching him with wide eyes that seemed to see into his soul. "Damn it kid, I don't feel like listenin' to Jim give me a lecture on what I should have done when you called and he doesn't exactly approve of Tilda."

Sam raised an eyebrow and Bobby sighed.

"Being a psychic isn't exactly a well paying job, if you have any morals at all that is, also it doesn't pay to call attention to yourself when there are hunters who will kill anything that even smacks of the supernatural, including psychics. Tilda she...supplements her income in a way that Jim...disapproves of." He stopped, not really wanting to come right out and say it. After all the kid was only 15. Sam was looking at him with a puzzled expression on his face.

"Well how bad could it be?" He asked, "I mean it's not like she's a prostitute or something." Bobby felt his face scrunch up despite his determination for it not to. Sam's eyes got big.

"Well, more of a call girl." Bobby admitted. "She kinda specializes." he was so not going to get into specifics with the kid.

"And my DAD is going to believe the word of a psychic hooker?" Sam asked incredulously. A man at the next pump looked over at them with a shocked expression. Bobby shushed the kid and started in to pay for the gas as Sam finished fueling.

"Shut it ya idjit." He hissed as he went by. "Don't need CPS on our ass too." Sam looked shame-faced and climbed back up into the truck. Bobby paid and they drove down the road to a diner that looked clean and had a number of cars in the lot. It never paid to go into a place when you were the only one there. That way lay food poisoning. They ordered from a familiar menu and once the waitress had left Bobby pulled out his cell and placed his first call. Tilda was free in the early evening, and would be waiting for them. He then got on with Caleb Reeves who was hunting a wendigo in Idaho. Luck had it that Joshua was with him. Bobby was glad that Sam went to use the bathroom while he talked with Caleb. Josh was sleeping as they were taking turns keeping watch on their camp.

"John just blew the kid off when he said the witch finished the curse, huh imagine that. I assume Deuce went along with his daddy like usual?" Caleb said when Bobby gave him a short version of what was going on. He loved John's kids like they were younger brothers, and had never been shy about voicing his displeasure at John's indoctrination of the boys into hunting the Winchester way.

"Yeah, Dean didn't see what Sam saw, and you know how he is when his daddy talks."

"The oracle speaks!" Caleb agreed. He was often frustrated by Dean's hero worship of his father, but he wasn't prepared to lose his friendship by saying too much about it outright. "So Sammy is all right? John didn't hurt him too bad?"

"Cut on the arm is the worst physically. Mentally..."

"I hear you. The kid is probably bummed out that John wouldn't listen and feels guilty that he couldn't stop it somehow. Course I wouldn't want to be in your shoes either once Deuce figures out where the kid ran to."

"Well that's what I'm calling you for idjit. When John starts calling around I'm going to be incommunicado, and Jim won't know anything. That means you and Josh will be next on the call list. I want you to tell John that I'm hunting a manitou up on the Sioux reservation. No phone service away from the town, gonna be gone for a few weeks at least. That should buy us some time if we can't break the curse."

"John will tear up the countryside to get his boy back, you know that. And don't even get me started on Dean. They'll know someone is helping him once they realize he's dropped off the radar and doesn't contact any of us."

'Yeah well, then the game begins. Hopefully we won't need the time. Once Tilda takes a look see at the ritual, we'll go to Biggins."

"That asshat? Really?" Caleb hated Biggins with a passion, would refuse to hunt with him under any circumstances.

"Asshat or not, he's the best man with curses. If it can be broke he'll know how. He owes me several after that fiasco in Dallas. I'll be calling in a few markers. Can I count on you to throw John off our trail?"

"Of course. Another day and we should have this 'digo taken care of. Actually you're lucky you got through service has been spotty. We must have picked a good patch by accident when we set up camp. I'll let Josh know what's going on, and you can count on us to run interference."

By the time Sam got back the food had come. They ate as Bobby quietly laid out his plan. Sam nodded in agreement, not too surprised that Caleb and Josh would cover for them. He thought of them as older brothers, or young uncles. If they had a set place like Bobby did he might have gone to one of them had they been closer.

After they ate they got back on the road, hitting the interstate south for Witchita.

Four hours later and six ignored calls on Bobby's cell they were rolling into the suburb of Witchita where Tilda made her home. Bobby guided his truck through the heavy rush hour traffic as people flowed back to the bedroom community from the city to the south, and finally pulled the old truck into a parking garage below a high rise apartment building. There was a security man at the elevator and he eyed their jeans and flannel shirts skeptically even though Sam had changed out his bloodied shirts back at the diner. Thankfully a call up to Tilda had gained them entrance and they rode up in the elevator.

The doors opened to a wide corridor lined with an expensive looking carpet. Tables with fresh flowers were spaced along the length of the hall and three doors led off into apartments. Even Sam, whose experience with the richer things in life was limited to movies and TV shows could see that this was no inexpensive flop house like he was used to living in. The padding under the carpet was thick and the door that Bobby led them to had an elaborate stained glass insert. Bobby pushed the doorbell and they waited for the answer. Sam wasn't sure what he had expected the woman to look like. Probably like the scantily clad women that walked the dark streets in the many towns that they had been in. He had known what their business was for a long time. He wasn't stupid after all. In fact a lot of the motels that they stayed in were the sort of cheap dives that were the main business place of hookers and pimps. One of the first baby sitters he could recall, outside of Dean, had been a working girl named Carla who dad had paid to watch Sam when he had to take Dean to the hospital in the middle of the day with appendicitis. Sam had been recovering from the chicken pox, and going to the hospital with his family had been out of the question. He could not really see the allure of having sex with someone who made a business of it, but he knew that there were others not so picky. He wasn't really sure what the difference between a prostitute and a call girl was, but he was pretty sure that if this was a call girl he might just prefer the prostitute.

The woman who answered the door stood probably 6 foot tall, not counting the stiletto heels she was wearing, and had to weigh in at around 300 lbs at least. She was a formidable sight. She was dressed in what Sam knew was called a peignoir wrapped loosely over what appeared to be a satin teddy. The fancy robe did little to cover the bounty of the woman's body. Her breasts were larger than Sam had ever seen, and appeared to be unsupported by a bra. Her thighs were huge, as were her calves. Strangely her face seemed thin, and she was pretty in a way. Long dark hair cascaded around her face in a profusion of curls. Her nails were painted a dark red and the open toed shoes she wore showed that her toe nails matched. Sam would have stood there staring with his mouth hanging open but the woman reached out a long arm and dragged Bobby to her, cradling his head against her breast as she hugged him. Sam had to hide a smile as Bobby seemed to be blushing as he struggled out of her embrace. Bobby introduced Sam to the woman and he swiftly offered his hand, afraid that he would get a hug like Bobby. She invited him in.

Sam noticed the signs of someone who knew about the supernatural immediately. Runes were carved into the door frame, made to look like decoration. He was willing to bet that there was a line of salt under the carpet at the door. The rest of the room was amazing. A huge TV was against one wall along with more stereo equipment than he had ever seen outside an electronics store. A large couch, leather he was sure, faced a fireplace that had a fire blazing away. Sam could see a big kitchen off to one side with stainless steel appliances and granite counters and another room that appeared to be a bedroom with what seemed to be a four poster bed large enough for three or four. Tilda indicated that they should sit and they did. She dropped into one of a set of leather recliners and looked at Bobby.

"You were pretty vague on the phone about what you wanted Bobby. What is it that I can do for you and your handsome young friend?" She asked winking at Sam and smiling at the blush that Sam could not stop from coloring his cheeks. He hid under his bangs, peeking out when he thought she wasn't looking. Bobby rolled his eyes and shook his head at her and started on the story. She listened with a frown.

"I have yet to meet a more stubborn man than John Winchester once he gets something set in his mind." She said shaking her head. "He knows that I'm legit, he'll believe what I say, but what then?"

"If the curse its there we try to break it, If we can't break it, we wait it out. 'Three cycles' that has to be 90 days, three full moons, that's how witches work. We just have to keep Sam and John apart for the rest of the time."

"If the curse has a compulsion component to it that won't be easy." Tilda said. "John will be compelled to find and kill Sam here. He'll justify it to himself any way he has to, but it will be the curse working. The closer you get to the end of the curse the harder he'll try. Not sure even John Winchester has enough willpower to out do a curse." Bobby nodded his agreement.

"Yeah, it ain't gonna be pretty if we can't break it. Now, it looks like you have another…..appointment after this so why don't we get to it?" Tilda nodded and motioned Sam toward the table in her dining room. It was a huge round pedestal table draped with a silk cloth. Sam recognized the 'decorations' on the silk as being ancient writing. He looked them over and then turned a disbelieving look at Tilda who smiled at him in delight, evidently picking up that he knew what the words were.

"Aren't you just a kick in the pants?" She said and petted his hair. He forced himself not to flinch, unused to a woman's affectionate touch. "Ain't but a few other hunters ever figured out what those are. Jim Murphy almost swallowed his tongue when he saw it." She added with a smirk. She gestured Sam to a chair and sat down next to him, ignoring Bobby's puzzled look. She held out her hand. "Put her there, Lover." Sam stared at her with wide eyes. What kind of woman had Sumerian sex poetry on a tablecloth? Her smile gentled. "Don't worry. I only chase big boys, you're safe with me." He smiled and put his right hand in hers. He expected her to read his palm, but instead she simply wrapped his hand in hers and shut her eyes. After a moment she started humming something under her breath that Sam could not quite make out. He looked at Bobby who was sitting in a chair across the big table.

"That's how she goes, kid. Just hold still and let her work." The older hunter said. Sam nodded and tried to relax. His eyes wondered again toward open door to the bedroom and this time he noticed that there were leather straps hooked to the large headboard posts. He could also see I-bolts were screwed into the wall over the bed. His jaw dropped open. Bobby followed his eyes toward the open door and smiled. "Bet your brother hasn't told you much about those particular birds and bees huh?" he asked. Sam shook his head and settled back in his chair. Even on the pay per view that they had pirated in various motels there hadn't been anything like this. He was beginning to suspect that Dean did a little more censoring than he had known about.

Without opening her eyes Tilda picked up a pencil that was laying near her other hand and started writing in the notebook that had been lying underneath it. She didn't open her eyes. She wrote for almost 10 minutes. It was almost five minutes later then that when the humming stopped and another minute before Tilda opened her eyes and looked at Sam. She gave him a sad look and released his hand with a pat.

"The curse is there, and it has compulsion. I watched the ritual as Sam saw it, and she did complete it." She said to Bobby. She tore off the pages she had filled up and handed them to Bobby who folded them into his pocket. She looked back at Sam. "I don't have the forward looking gift. I only see the past and the present and I have a deep sight to see the connections that are between us all. Those we love are connected to us on many levels. When those connections are severed either intentionally or just through the passing of time they can wither and you drift apart. The connection you have with your father is poisoned. If the curse can be broken, or if you both can survive the next month, the connection will survive intact."

Sam was happy to hear that despite what had happened, and what might happen in the next month that this thing would not completely tear his family apart. He could not bear the thought of this witch's revenge leaving him with no father, and a brother who would have been torn between them. If Sam was honest with himself, and he tried to be, he was pretty sure which choice Dean would make. As much as Dean loved him, he loved John too, idolized him in fact, and hunting was his life. It wasn't as if the two of them could go on the road in the Impala hunting together, and truth be told Sam didn't want to hunt, he wanted….so many things, and none of them involved moving from town to town, state to state, hunting all things supernatural. Over the last two years he had been having a growing feeling that if he ever wanted anything different from his life that it was going to be something that he would have to do on his own, something that his family wouldn't approve of. He would have to wait until he was an adult, at least in the eyes of the law, and make his own way. No matter how he imagine it, no matter what he thought about saying or doing, he could not imagine a way to get what he wanted without losing his family in one way or another. He was still working on steeling himself for that time, and he was so very glad that those connections he had to his family would not be severed so much earlier than necessary.

He looked at Bobby.

"Now what do we do?" He asked.

"I know a guy, Biggins. He specializes in curses. If it can be broke he'll know how to do it. He's in Santa Fe. We'll head out for there in the morning." Bobby answered.

"Biggins, that asshat?" Tilda said with a sneer. "I'd rather have the whole vice squad over for cocktails."

"Yeah well, I ain't going to see him for his winning personality. There isn't anyone else west of Salem, Mass that knows as much as he does about curses. We don't have much of a choice." Bobby looked toward the bedroom with a bit of a smirk. "I guess Sam and me will go and find a motel room, since you'll be having no room for guests tonight." Tilda graced him with a lascivious smile with a sidelong look at Sam who was watching them with interested eyes.

"Well you know that my policy is always the more the merrier, Robert." She said as Bobby finished off the last of his coffee. The drink made a reappearance as Bobby spit it across the table. Sam pulled away from the spray with a look of disgust. Tilda smiled wider as Bobby hacked and coughed. "But then Sam is a bit young for the...festivities." She winked at Sam who was looking at her with a smile on his face. Bobby surged to his feet and started toward the door.

"Come on, kid. Both your daddy and your brother will kill me if they find out you were here while Tilda was...working." He said. He looked at the still smirking woman. "Thanks Tilda. Put it on Winchester's tab, will ya." He slung the door open, but was stopped from exiting by the man standing there with his fist raised in preparation for knocking. Bobby's jaw dropped open, and his eyes bulged. Sam, who had been following the older hunter toward the door, peeked around the bulkier man to see what had stopped their progress. His jaw dropped open too. He was getting one hell of an education today. Dean would be SO jealous.

Standing in the doorway was a skinny man who stood a hair under Sam's own 5' 10". He was dressed from head to toe in rubber. Skin tight and black, it was shiny like a pair of patent leather shoes. A hood covered his hair leaving only his face, thin with a small mustache, exposed. He looked mildly upset when he saw Bobby but as soon as Tilda moved into sight he smiled.

"Come in, sugar. My friends here were just leaving. I'm all set up for your...session." She said. Sam turned his big eyes toward her and she smiled at him again. Bobby reached back and grabbed Sam by the arm.

"We're outta here." He growled and dragged the young man behind him down the hall. Sam tried to keep his feet moving forward as he kept looking back over his shoulder. The skinny man had dropped to his knees and was kissing Tilda's toes. Wow!

Chapter 7-

The big knife dropped from John's hand, burying its tip in the wooden floor. It barely missed John's booted foot. He didn't notice. The dropping of the knife seemed to galvanize Dean. He drove forward, forgetting the gun in his hand and plowed into his father, driving him against the wall.

"What the hell did you do to my brother?" he demanded with his arm across John's throat. For his part, John did not so much as lift a hand to prevent his son from pinning him against the wall. He was trying to reconcile his mind to reality. His knife had his son's blood on it, and his baby boy was missing. He managed to focus on Dean's rage filled face.

"I don't know." He finally managed to say. "I don't know. God help me..." it was a plea to a deity that he had stopped believing in almost 16 years ago.

"Well you better hope he's okay, old man." Dean gritted out. "If he...If...We need to find him. Now." He backed off from his father and without another glance in his direction headed toward the living room and his cell phone in his jacket pocket.

Dean pulled it out and hit speed dial button 2. He listened as it rang, begging under his breath for his brother to pick up. He was about to hang up and dial again before the voice mail kicked in when he heard the ring tone of his brother's phone. It seemed to be coming down the hallway toward him. He looked over in astonishment as his father appeared holding Sam's phone.

"It was under his bed. I heard it ringing." He said. Dean hit the cancel button on his phone and stared at the phone for a moment. Finally he reached out and took it from his father's hand. He clutched it so hard that he thought for a moment that it would buckle under the pressure. Finally he flipped it open and scrolled through the calls list. Then he went through the dialed calls. With a muttered swear word he stuffed it in his pocket.

"He hasn't called anyone in the last four days, and the last calls in were all from me. So that means that he didn't call anyone to come and get him, which means the little bitch is out there in the friggin' snow and cold with no protection."

"Who would he have called Dean? Who would have believed the kid..." Dean cut his father off.

"Everybody dad!" Dean practically yelled. "Everyone we know, who knows Sam, would have believed what he said. They know that he's a freaking genius, they would have listened to what he said, what went on, and they would have believed him...like we didn't, like I didn't." He dropped his head. "I let you talk me out of it. You said there wasn't anything to it, and I listened. Damn it I just...blew off my little brother because the big bad John Winchester knew best. Damn I hate it when the little bitch is right." Dean was hearing his little brother accuse him of blindly hero worshiping their father. It was an accusation which usually didn't bother Dean much, after all their father was the best hunter out there, but now he was seeing the other side, the side Sam had been seeing for years.

"Dean..." John started but his son ignored him and pulled out his own phone, scrolling through the numbers. Bobby Singer was closest. If Sam was heading out on his own then the salvage yard would be a logical choice. He tried to ignore the thought of his little brother trying to get there in the cold and snow as he listened to the phone ring. Finally voice mail kicked in and he left an urgent message for the hunter to call him. He hung up and looked for the next number. Pastor Jim was further away, but Sam had always had an affinity for the man, maybe he would go there instead. He couldn't have reached Jim's yet, even if he could have flown, but he could at least be on the look out. The phone was picked up on the third ring.

"Pastor Murphy." Came the pastor's deep voice. Dean had always viewed the pastor's "day job" with a little skepticism, most of which was a result of his father's contempt for religion, but he had to admit that the man knew his supernatural beings, and he was tough as nails for all of his gentle words.

"Pastor Jim, Its Dean Winchester." He said.

"Dean, are you Winchesters in the area? I thought you were further west enjoying the winter in Cheyenne."

"Yeah, nothing like freezing your ass off while you're trying to kill the next fugly thing, pastor." Dean said, then quickly moved to the reason for his call. "Have you heard from Sammy lately, Pastor?" He asked. Maybe Sam had called form a land-line somewhere.

"Samuel? Why no, not lately. I think I last talked to him while you were here in August. Why? You all arguing over the Latin again? You might as well just tell your father that Sam is right. I haven't had such a good student of Latin in all my years." The pastor said cheerfully. Dean sighed. Damn it, why couldn't he catch a break here?

"Pastor, Sammy...Sam has disappeared."

'What! When did this happen?" Murphy asked.

"He was here in Cheyenne until at least 12 last night. He...he snuck out of the house sometime after that. We don't know where he might have gone."

"But why? What would move Samuel to do such a thing. I know that he and your father often fight but to run away..." Murphy was deeply puzzled. He had counseled the youngest Winchester many times in the last years about his ongoing battles with John. While he knew it was only a matter of time before the young man spread his formidable wings and flew the nest, an eventuality which he knew was inevitable and which the young man's family ignored firmly, there had never been any mention of running away. Samuel was made of stubborn stuff, possibly even more than his sire, and he was not one to run in the face of John's disapproval or his temper. In fact on more than one occasion he had seen the boy fight John to a standstill. The immovable object meeting the irresistible force.

"Dad...Dad's been trying to kill him." Dean said baldly.

"What! Dean, what is going on out there? Has John been compromised? Do you need help?" Murphy said, jumping to his feet and opening the desk drawer to pull out his pistol. He was already planning on how he could get to the airport and catch a flight to Wyoming. He needed to call Bobby Singer too, he was closer, he should be able to get there in several hours. And then there was Caleb and Joshua, they were in Idaho after that Wendigo, but the last report was that they were almost done. He stopped his movement as Dean spoke again.

"It's not possession, it's a curse." the middle Winchester said. Murphy could hear the worry in the young man's voice. He listened as Dean went over what had been happening.

"What did the witch say exactly?" Was his first question when Dean wound down. Of course the witch was ultimately to blame for this, however he could see the effect of John's pull on his older son. Normally if Sam spoke then Dean listened, only the sound of John's voice would have overwhelmed that brotherly devotion.

The silence from the other end of the line spoke volumes. "Dean?"

"I don't know all right!" Dean snapped. "I didn't freaking listen when he told us. I didn't listen then and I didn't listen later when dad tried to push him down the friggin' stairs. I didn't listen when our dad tried to shoot him, and I didn't fucking listen when he tried to stab my brother while he was sleeping in his bed twenty feet away from me. And because I didn't Sammy is out there somewhere alone!" Murphy was silent for several minutes after the outburst, but he didn't chastise the boy for his language. Finally he had to ask the question that had risen in his mind.

"Dean...you said there was blood. Could your father, unknowingly, have..." he started, but Dean cut him off.

"No!" He yelled. Then he spoke more softly. "No. Sammy left on his own. The door was unlocked, and...I would know if...I'd just know." Murphy had to take that as final. He nodded to himself.

"How's your father taking all this?" He asked. Knowing John, not well. Aside from the loss of control, the attempts to kill his own son because of a curse, there was the added insult of being wrong. John didn't do that well. Dean grunted.

"Here, you talk to him. I have a little brother to find." There was the sound of the phone being handed off. Then John Winchester's voice came over the line.

"Yeah." Oh yes, Murphy thought, this is not going to be good.

"John, I know how you must be feeling..."

"Oh, so you've recently tried to kill your son several times and don't remember it at all? And you've had your wounded baby boy wander off into the freezing ass night because he's less afraid of freezing to death than staying in the house with you?' That's happened to you too?" John snarled. Murphy stifled a sigh. Definitely not good.

"John I'll be there on the next flight. If you are being affected by this curse, which you evidently are, you can't be left alone with Samuel and Dean can not be with you 24/7. When you find Samuel we'll have to work something out. He'll know what the witch said. At least without a complete sacrifice there should be some limit on the length of this curse. You could have listened to him just this once John." He couldn't help the gentle admonishment. He expected the usual explosion of Winchester rationalization, but instead all he heard was a deep sigh.

"Yeah, I get that." He finally heard John say. Another sigh, and he heard a door slam in the background. "I have to go, Jim. I need to make some calls, check with the bus stations and hospitals. Given the circumstances I don't think that me going out looking for Sam is a very good idea. Call when you get here and I'll come pick you up at the airport." With that he hung up and Jim Murphy was left holding his phone listening to the dial tone, and wondering if this would be the final blow which tore the Winchester family apart.

Dean cruised down yet another road in his ever expanding grid search of the city of Cheyenne. He had tried all the usual places, school, library, bus stations, etc. He had even stopped at the local shelters, finding them full to the brim on this cold winter day, but no one had seen Sam. He had flashed the only picture he had of the boy, two years old now and not capturing the newest burst of growth that his younger brother had gone through. How hard could it be to find a skinny, long-haired teenager in this town? It wasn't like he blended in. But he had to be somewhere, and Dean was determined to find him. His father had called about three hours back to say that he had called the local hospitals and police stations but no one matching Sam's description had been brought in. He had also called the bus station and pretended to be a policeman and asked to speak to the early morning ticket seller. He had gone to the man's house with his fake badge and roused him from his bed. After a forceful interrogation John had determined that if Sam had gotten on a bus that he had had someone else buy his ticket. Dean shuddered to think about where else his father had gone, using the badge to gain entrance to the morgue and checking for any John Does that had been brought in that morning. As the day wore on Dean became more and more sure that Sam had left town, and that meant it was going to be that much harder to find him. But he would find him. Winchester's didn't give up, and more importantly Dean didn't give up on Sam. His cell phone went off and he picked it up, glancing at the screen, hoping without really expecting it that it might be Sam calling. It was Joshua. He had left a voice mail for him ages ago.

"Bout time you called." He growled into the phone. He wasn't in a very good mood right now, and while he might need the other hunters help, he wasn't cutting anyone any slack.

"Well gee, Peaches, if I had known you were so anxious to talk I would have called sooner. I forget, when exactly did we get married?" Josh drawled sarcastically. Dean couldn't keep the grin from forming at his friend's humor.

"You couldn't get someone that looks like me on your best day. But I'm sure you'll make some blind old woman a wonderful husband some day. Maybe you can be a better boy-toy than you are a pool player."

"Hey, I told you that was because I broke my pinkie man, you can't shoot well with a broke pinkie."

"Yeah, that's why Caleb always has to hustle the money when you two work together, your delicate little pinkie. How'd you break that, tea sipping accident?"

"I'm gonna show you where you can put that tea set princess," Josh threatened before his voice became serious. "Your message said that the little bit has flown the coop. You found him yet?"

"No, I think he's got out of town. Tried to leave a message for Bobby, he's closest, but I don't get any answer. Pastor Jim is on his way out here to help look and in case we do find him. I can't risk leaving him alone with dad…" He broke off, even after all these hours it still hurt to know that his father had been trying to kill his brother, and he had known nothing about it. How desperate must his brother have been; one family member out to kill him and the other willfully ignoring his warnings, ignoring his cries for help to the one person that should have been listening.

"What do you know about the curse?"

"Jack shit." Dean said honestly. "I know Sammy said that the witch bled into the bowl of stuff. I don't know what else was there and she was talking some bastardized form of Latin. Sammy understood it, but I got nothing. Then when he tried to tell us about it we, I, blew him off. We don't know how long it's got to run and we don't know all the particulars. The only one that does is Sammy." There was silence from Joshua's end for several moments.

"You need to stop and take a few breaths, Dean. The little bit is smarter than most of us put together. He proved that by gettin' out of Dodge. You need to stop blamin' yourself and start thinkin' like your little brother. What would he do? Where would he go? He knows you and your dad would be looking, do you really think he's go somewhere you would think of right off the top of your head? Besides that Bobby is huntin' a manitu up on the Sioux rez. You can check his place, but if I was Sam I would avoid any of the regular haunts." At his end of the line Joshua nodded as Caleb gave him a thumbs up. That should put the Winchesters off the trail for a little bit.

"Easier said than done, dude. He's been gone for over half a day now. If he's on a bus or hitching he could be hundreds of miles away and getting further all the time. I don't know how much money he has, or what kind of weapons he has. Does he even have salt? There are so many things out there Joshua."

"I know man. You have to believe that Sam can take care of himself. Caleb and I will come down when we're done here and see what we can do to help. We'll do some thinkin' and see if we can get into your brother's freaky head. Don't you and John go running off after Sam without letting us know."

"All right. You'll call if you hear anything from Sammy, right?" Dean asked.

"You know it. If Sam calls us we'll let you know." Since he hadn't spoken to Sam at all, only Bobby, and since that didn't seem likely to change, the hunter wasn't strictly lying. Also the Winchesters didn't need to know that they were finished with the hunt. That gave them some time to maneuver and help out Bobby.

Dean hung up, feeling slightly better knowing that their friends would help. He turned the next corner, heading back the other way. He didn't believe that Sam was still here, but he wasn't going to stop looking.

Chapter 8-

Sam sat on the bed in the hotel room that Bobby had rented. He had helped the older hunter put down the salt lines and had sketched the sigils onto the door frame that he had learned many years ago. They had gotten something to eat and were now getting a little sleep before they headed toward Santa Fe. They were now south of Witchita as Bobby had wanted to get well clear of Tilda's place just in case. They had gotten some dinner and Bobby was making a few calls to make sure that John and Dean were not on their tails. Sam had now been away from his family for over 20 hours. It seemed like days.

Bobby closed his phone and laid back on his bed with a sigh. It had been a long day and he wasn't used to doing so much driving all at once anymore. He usually stuck pretty close to home, or else flew into the nearest place and found a car. He rolled his head to the side and looked at Sam where he sat on the other bed. The boy was looking deep in thought, and it did not seem to be a pleasant trip. He needed a distraction, however the TV got piss poor reception and there weren't any books in the place. That left talking. Not Bobby's best thing, especially with an overly bright teenager. He wracked his brain for something to say. Finally something came to mind.

"Hey kid, what was that thing with Tilda earlier? You know, with her tablecloth?"

"The symbols on the cloth, they were Sumerian. All of them had to do with uh...sex."

"She had Sumerian porn for a table cloth?" No wonder Jim Murphy wouldn't set foot in her apartment again.

"Well it's kind of a poem, almost a prayer, for you know...enlargement and...sustainability. It's kind of crude."

"And you learned about this where?" He knew Murphy hadn't been pushing Sumerian porn on the boy, and Dean and John wouldn't know anything past the bare minimum needed for killing things, so that left self-study. Sam was giving him a dimpled grin.

"You can find out quite a bit of things on the internet now Bobby. A lot of universities are starting to put their libraries online. When we go to the public library a lot of them have hook ups."

"Internet, ha! Just another flash in the pan. Give it another coupla years and they'll be on to the next big thing. Al Gore's probably working on it now. Look at where the eight track went, and now the cassette tape is going the same way what with all those fancy CD things." Bobby huffed. Kids and the newest tech. "You better not let your dad catch you polishing up your Sumerian, if you know what I mean." They shared a laugh, and Sam relaxed enough to lay back against the pillows. He was very tired, but while his body craved more sleep his brain was going a million miles an hour. He missed Dean terribly, and he missed his dad too, even if they did fight more often than not. Was this what it was going to be like when he went to collage? He didn't know how he was going to stand it. He could hear Bobby's breathing evening out on the other bed as the older hunter relaxed into sleep, and he tried to match his breathing as he sometimes did with Dean. It didn't really work. He closed his eyes and prayed to whoever was listening that the guy they were going to see could lift the curse.

Eight hours later they were two hours south and west of Witchita headed for Santa Fe. Bobby had slept for about five hours and then they had hit the road and had made a stop for breakfast somewhere in northern Oklahoma. They were now rocketing across the Oklahoma panhandle. Sam missed the roar of the Impala's engine. The growl of the big Ford that Bobby was driving wasn't even close. He hadn't been able to sleep at the hotel, just laying there listening to the traffic going by and the people coming and going in the other rooms. He had thought that being on the road would help him sleep, he was used to traveling, however the oddness of the vehicle was proving difficult for him. He looked over at Bobby.

"Uncle Bobby, aren't you afraid that Dad is going to be pissed at you about this?" He asked. John Winchester's wrath was not to be taken lightly, and he could hold a grudge. Bobby snorted.

"I've been pissing off your daddy since about 5 minutes after we met back when you were just a little bitty thing hiding behind Dean's legs. Don't think this is going to make much difference. Even your stubborn jack ass of a dad is going to have to admit that you staying there would not have been a good idea. Now your brother, he's the one I'm worried about. That boy is gonna skin me alive."

"Maybe we should let them know where I am?" Sam said. He really just wanted to talk to Dean, to let him know he was all right. But Bobby was shaking his head.

"I thought about that kiddo, but if the curse has compulsion that means that John will try to get to you, wherever you are. If we let him know where we're going he'll try to get there, and I don't know about you, but I don't want to think about what that man could do if someone got in his way, like say your brother." Sam paled.

"You think he'd hurt Dean?"

"Maybe not intentionally, but to get away and get to you he wouldn't be thinking right, and he might do things he wouldn't normally do. Caleb said that Jim was on his way to Cheyenne. That means that that he'll be able to help your brother ride herd on your dad. Josh and Caleb are going to meet us after we see Biggins. Which is just as well as Reeves and Biggins are just as likely to start a cat fight as look at each other. The two are such girls that I fully expect hair pulling and bitch-slapping more than punching and cursing." Sam knew that Bobby was trying to make him feel better about not being able to contact his family. He knew that Bobby was right, that he needed to stay completely off his father's radar, but damn it he hated this, and it had only been two days.

"What's up between Caleb and this Biggins guy?" He asked, willing to divert himself from his dreary thoughts.

"Oh they were on a hunt a few years ago, your daddy was with 'em too, now that I think about it. They were after a pack of werewolves down in Texas. One of the werewolves was a witch that had been turned by one of the pack, and she was using her magic to make it easier for the rest to feed. Practically had people walking into the den of their own free will, so to speak. Anyway Biggins, bein' the expert on witches was supposed to take care of her while the other two took out the rest of the pack. Turns out Biggins got lost on his way to her house and missed her by about five minutes. She showed up just as Caleb and your daddy were killin' off the last of her pack. She had a melt down, pulls out this powder and blows it all over Caleb, being as how he's the closest one, and then tried to kill him your daddy. Biggins finally shows up, and thinking that he's helpin', kills the witch. So there she is dead, and Caleb is cursed and they haven't got a clue how to reverse it cause there isn't any of the powder left and Biggins had burned her books before he left her house."

"What was the curse?" Bobby grinned.

"She must have been hard up for a curse powder or something, it being the spur of the moment and all, so it wasn't exactly what you might call life threatening. It seemed that for a month after that our boy Caleb was persona non-grata with the ladies. Didn't matter if they were 1 or 100 or anywhere in between. He couldn't get the time of day out of them. It was like he had an "ax-murdering rapist" sign on his forehead. He couldn't get served in bars if there was a woman bartender, couldn't get anything in a diner, hell even at fast food places if there was a girl at the register he was out of luck. Needless to say his love life took a dive for that month. Think by the end of it he was ready to take on just about any woman that would look at him. We didn't see nor hear form him for almost a week after it wore off." Sam laughed as he thought about Caleb being celibate for a month. The young hunter was the only one he knew who was even worse than Dean when it came to women. He wondered idly what his brother would have done in such a circumstance, and he couldn't help the giggle that slipped out. Bobby looked over at him with a smile, wondering what had caused it. Sam smiled at him, dimples and all.

"I was just thinking about what if it had been Dean with dad that day. He would have been hell to live with." Bobby laughed again, knowing what Sam meant.

"Yeah, I think your daddy knew that and was very happy he hadn't taken the kid with him. As it was he refused to work with Biggins again, and the story got around. Now there ain't anyone that will go out with him, so he mostly does research except for the few easy jobs he can find. You know, young witches that don't really know what they're doin' and don't have a pact with the devil or a demon yet. In fact he ran into something you might find interesting…" Bobby shared the story of Biggins' last "big hunt" with Sam as they sped along, glad that he could distract the boy for awhile.

Five hours later they were in Santa Fe. Bobby pulled over at a gas station and fuel up the truck as he contemplated the snow on the ground. Biggins' place was outside of town up a private road that was never going to be plowed by the county. His truck had four wheel drive, but he hadn't put on the snow tires yet. In Sioux Falls if it wasn't over two feet it wasn't really snow and it hadn't gotten to that point yet this year. This was barely over a foot, if that. He decided that they'd be all right. As he was waiting for the fueling to finish his cell phone went off and he pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the screen. A Winchester again, this time John. Caleb had said that they had passed on the manitou story to Dean, but evidently the two weren't sharing intel. He suspected that when Dean had figured out why his brother had run off that things had gotten a little ugly. He started to put the phone up when it rang again. This time it was Joshua. He accepted the call and put it to his ear as he watched Sam come out of the quick mart holding a bottle of water and an apple He shook his head as he grunted a greeting to the other hunter. What kind of kid got an apple and some water at a mini-mart? Dean certainly didn't. His attention was drawn back to the phone as Joshua's urgent voice came over the line.

"Heads up Bobby, the cat is well and truly out of the bag."

"What do you mean?"

"John and Dean, they're better than we all thought I guess. Dean managed to get a hold of the driver of the bus that Sam took out of Cheyenne. Seems the guy does the same route every freakin' day. Dean practically ran the bus off the road and interrogated the guy. He remembered Sammy getting on in Cheyenne and getting off in Fort Laramie. He was the only one and it was too weird for him not to notice a teenager traveling alone at that time of night. Once Dean had that he went to Fort Laramie and rattled a few cages, and John made some phone calls. Seems that the place across the street from the bus station has been getting broken into. They say it's because of the transients that stay in the station so they have a camera that covers the whole street and part of the bus station parking lot. John flashed a badge and got a copy of their tape from that night. Caught your good side old man."

"Well, crap. And I thought we were good because the station wasn't set up with cameras. What is this world coming to? No privacy anywhere. Next thing you know they're gonna have cameras in the street watching everything."

"Yeah, what's a guy to do when he wants to pick up a teenage runaway without anyone knowing about it." Josh kidded then went serious. "You should have been able to hear the yelling from down there. I think John made up a few new curse words, and Dean he just got quieter."

"Crap." Sam was standing nearby now, listening to his side of the conversation and he held his hand over the phone to speak to him. "Your brother and dad have found out that I picked you up in Fort Laramie. Needless to say they are not happy. That also means they'll be looking, and they know the people that I know. We gotta move faster." Sam nodded and got in the truck, his face pinched with anxiety. Bobby finished the fueling and went back to Joshua. "We're on our way to Biggins' now, should be there in about ten minutes. I'll light a fire under his ass and meet you two in Flagstaff. You still got those contacts on the reservation out there?"

"Yeah, 'the thanks of a grateful nation' and all that. Have an open invite to hole up there anytime. That coyote god was a pain in the ass to them for a long time before I knocked him off."

"Yeah, but did you tell them that the coyote god thing is particular to an area, that there are others out there like at the Zuni Reservation to the south, and even probably others there in the Navajo lands?" Bobby asked as he climbed in the truck.

"What they don't know don't get me in no trouble. We'll see you at the truck stop at the north east end of Flagstaff, that is if I can get Caleb to put his friggin' foot down on the gas pedal. You'd think he was 80 the way he drives. Don't know why he bothered to get a turbo on this thing since he never goes fast enough for it to kick in." Bobby heard a very bad word from the other hunter in the back ground and a laugh from Joshua. He hung up and started his truck. They had to get to Biggins.

Twenty minutes later Bobby was pounding his fist against the rough-hewn door of Biggins' place. It was a stucco building in the Spanish fashion set on a small hill. They had crawled up the unplowed road, slipping and sliding a little, but had finally made it, with Bobby cursing every minute that passed. His phone had been ringing at five minute intervals since they left the gas station, and he was beginning to think that Sam had had the right idea ditching his. So far he had four calls from Jim, ten from John, and so many from Dean that he had stopped counting. He could see Sam wanting to answer each time it rang, but the boy didn't move. Now things were going to get really tough if they couldn't break this damn curse. He finally heard someone yelling for him to knock it off and he pounded again just for effect. The door was jerked open and he found himself face to face with Andrew Biggins.

"Singer! What the fuck you want?" The man growled. He was dressed in tattered jeans and a slightly dirty wife beater t-shirt. The shirt didn't quite cover the belly that drooped over the waistband of the jeans. The shaggy black hair and ragged stubble on the man's face added to the general look of dissolution.

"Well ain't you a sight for sore eyes, Andy." Bobby said, pushing into the house, he noted Sam following him in, though he stayed behind him. As he turned from looking at the boy he saw that Biggins was dragging a .45 from behind his back, and he started to reach for his own weapon when he heard the distinctive click of a hammer being drawn back from his right. Out of the corner of his eye he could see a stainless steel Taurus PT-92 9mm pointed directly between Biggins' eyes. Everyone froze. Finally Biggins spoke.

"You be careful with that there now boy, it ain't no toy. You take that hammer off real slow or someone is likely to get hurt." He said condescendingly. "Why don't you give that to someone who knows what to do with it." He held out his empty hand toward Sam. The boy didn't move. Bobby snorted.

"Let me introduce you to John Winchester's youngest. You figure out if he knows what to do with it or not." Biggins paled slightly.

"This is one of Winchester's brats? Hell, according to Reeves those kids cut their teeth on a .45." Sam shook his head.

"It was a Beretta 9 mil and it was unloaded. If Caleb hadn't left it lying around I probably wouldn't have tried to chew on it." Bobby laughed.

"All right, now that we have all had a chance to calm the hell down, let's approach this like civilized people, even if it's a stretch for some of us." He looked at Biggins who was now holding his gun at his side. The ex-hunter shrugged and stuffed the gun back in his waistband.

"All right, I'll play nice if Winchester Jr. here will. What da ya say kid?' Sam glanced at Bobby out of the corner of his eye, the gun unwavering. When Bobby nodded he put the gun back in the small of his back. Bobby hadn't even known the kid had the gun. Trust a Winchester to always be armed. He wondered how many other weapons the boy had.

Biggins waved them toward the next room which seemed to be a dining room. The table was set for two, and as they entered the room a woman dressed in an old housecoat shuffled out of the kitchen with a pot held in her hands with potholders. She didn't seem phased by the presence of two strange men in her dining room. Instead she just set down the pot and started dishing up two bowls of what appeared to be stew. Biggins sat down at the table and started eating. Bobby saw Sam grimace as the man started talking with his mouth full.

"You want some stew? The old lady here is quite the cook." the woman didn't even acknowledge Biggins 'praise', she just started eating her stew. Both Bobby and Sam shook their heads. "Well your loss. Now that we've been civilized, what the hell do you want?"

Bobby explained what had gone on, giving as much detail as Sam could remember. He then got out the papers that Tilda had written for them and handed it over. Biggins smoothed out the papers and sat there reading as he ate. Finally he finished eating and pushed back from the table picking up the papers and tapping one part of the second page.

"Oh this is a doozy. Winchester has got himself deep in the shit this time, and you with him kid." he said cheerfully. He picked at his teeth with a dirty fingernail. "Would have liked to know what else was in the bowl, but I have a pretty good idea anyway. Seen something like this before. It's called the Ultionem persequens, the 'Vengeance Pursued' curse, and it's sealed by blood from both the pursuer, the witch, and the pursued, Winchester. It's meant to exact revenge by making the cursed bring about his own doom so to speak. He or she kills a loved one or is killed trying. One way or the other the witch gets to enjoy the pain. Usually they are around to do so, but not this time, and there in lays the problem." Biggins seemed to be enjoying the attention he was getting and stretched. Bobby rolled his eyes at the antics and moved his hand in a rolling motion. Biggins grunted "How many times has he tried to kill you kid?" He asked Sam directly. Sam stared at him for a moment then answered.

"Four times."

"Only four times in 2 months? Trust a stubborn bastard like Winchester to fight off the compulsion so long." Sam's jaw was set and his eyes narrowed, and Bobby figured he better move this along before the Winchester temper made its appearance.

"We ain't got all day. You know that like as not John is on our trail, and it isn't just to get his boy back in the family fold. Is the curse breakable or not?'

"Way to ruin my fun, Singer." Biggins said bitterly. He tossed the papers dramatically onto the table top. The woman, Bobby supposed she was Biggins' wife, rose and took her bowl into the kitchen. She did not come back out. Biggins ignored her. "Fine. Without knowing exactly what was in the bowl and with out the witch's grim- moiré we're out of luck. Even if we had it I'm not sure it could be reversed since the blood was mixed. Theoretically if we could have done a reversal with her blood and Winchester's, but almost 2 months out it ain't gonna happen even if she hadn't burned with the place. The only other option to break it would be a full on demon pleasing sacrifice. Don't imagine you all want to go there."

"So we can't break it? You don't know any way?" Sam demanded. When Biggins just shook his head and spread his hands Sam turned to Bobby. "This guy is an asshat just like everyone said. Let's just go." Biggins was on his feet before Sam finished. Bobby was pretty sure he heard a laugh from the kitchen.

"Now look here kid..." He started. Sam met his glare with a scowl and glare of his own, chin set in that stubborn fashion that Bobby had first seen in the toddler and which had spoken of an uncompromising character. Sam had been raised by two men with forceful personalities, and to become his own person he had been forced to learn to stand up to them. Once you had stood up to John Winchester, everyone else was a snap. Sam was not intimidated. Bobby pushed between them.

"That's enough. If there's no more that you have to add?" He asked Biggins. The man shook his head.

"Can't pull a solution out of my ass you know. There's rules to this stuff, even for Winchesters." The last was added with bitterness. Bobby knew that Biggins resented John's success and his friendship with other hunters. Winchester was everything Biggins imagined himself to be. The fact that John had enough influence in the community to get Biggins blackballed probably didn't help either.

"Fine. We'll leave you to your after dinner brandy then." Bobby said snidely. He looked over his shoulder at Sam, who he noticed for the first time was actually eye to eye with him in size, even if the boy was thin as a rail, and jerked his chin toward the door. Sam kept his glare on Biggins for a moment until Bobby turned a little more his way. Then with a huff he headed out the door. Bobby turned back to Biggins.

"You know if you weren't such a friggin asshole some of the hunters might just work with you. Now you've managed to piss off the next generation, congratulations."

"Yeah well you all keep comin' around anyway don't you?" Biggins said smugly. Bobby harrumphed.

"One of these days someone's gonna know more than you do about these things, then you'll be completely out of the loop. As it is half of the hunters I know would rather be turned into a frog than ask you something anyway. We're going, but I have to warn you, John Winchester and his oldest boy are going to be looking for us. It would be in your best interest to maybe take a vacation or something unless you want a drop in visit of a nastier kind." Biggins looked concerned for a moment as Bobby headed toward the door then his sneer returned.

"I ain't afraid of Winchester and his spawn. Let 'em come. I'll be sure to point 'em in your direction old man."

"Why you think I didn't mention where we're going, idjit? I trust you about as far as I could throw you." Bobby asked as he went out the door, slamming it behind him. He really needed to find another expert on curses. Maybe he should just start reading up on all this stuff himself. He always had room for more books.

Sam was sitting in the truck, waiting for him, Bobby was oddly touched to see the gun was back in Sam's hand, though kept low and out of sight, just in case. He really wasn't all that used to working with another hunter, and hadn't really expected the back up from the boy. Guess he had underestimated the kid, and the effectiveness of John Winchester's training. You never left a hunting partner hanging. He slid into the truck and looked over at Sam as he slid the gun back in his waistband. How did the boy keep his pants up on his skinny frame with that heavy ass gun pushed in his waistband?

The boy's face was a study in sadness as he settled back against the cushion, and Bobby felt bad for the kid. It was going to be a very long month, and he was sure that it was not going to be very comfortable for any of them. He leaned forward and started the truck, mostly so he wouldn't have to look at the agony in the blue-green eyes.

"I'm sorry kid." He said simply as he started down the hill. They had a long drive to Flagstaff.

Chapter 9-

Dean Winchester was at a standstill. He didn't know what to do. They now knew that Sam was with Bobby, wherever they had gone. They had gotten a hold of the guy in Sioux Falls that Bobby usually had look out for the yard and his dogs while he was gone and had confirmed that the hunter was still out of town, and had told the man that he would be gone for 'awhile', so they didn't need to go there. The problem that Dean was having was that he didn't know if he should go on looking for Sam or not. He knew Bobby well enough to know that the older hunter would do everything in his power to make sure that Sam was safe, even from his own father. He also knew that if this curse ended up being anything like what Sam had said then their dad was probably going to be trying to find Sammy for another reason all together whether he'd admit it or not, and that was Dean's dilemma. Should he find Sammy and join Bobby in keeping Sam safe from his dad, or should he stay with John and try his best to keep John away from Sam? Could he do so? As much as his older brother instincts said to go to Sam, his hunter instincts said that he needed to be here with John. Between him and Pastor Jim they should be able to keep an eye on his dad.

"I can practically hear the wheels turning from here, Dean. Do you want to share your thoughts?" Jim Murphy said from where he sat at the small table in the kitchen of the house the Winchesters had been staying in. It was not in any way fancy, but it was better than most of the places where John kept his boys. "A burden shared is a burden halved."

"What a bunch of sh...crap. A burden shared is just that, a burden. My 'burden' is that I have to choose between going to my brother or staying with my dad and try to keep him from trying to find and kill my brother." Dean said bluntly. They had always moderated their language and attitude around Jim in consideration of his calling, but he wasn't up to the sweetness and light right now. Jim ignored the attitude however and was nodding.

"I understand Dean, and I know how very hard this is for you. Once we can get more information on the curse we'll have a better idea about what kind of timeline we're looking at and exactly what we can expect. They curse may even be able to be broken.

"And how are we going to find that out? Sammy is the only one that was there that heard it and understood it, and it's been almost two months since then. It's not like he's going to remember every detail, he's a genius, but he doesn't have one of those Italic memories or something."

"It's 'eidetic' memory, Dean. And no, he won't remember everything, but he at least knows the words to the curse and that could give many clues. Witches tend to use similar curses, and there are even some standard ones if you will, which we can look up. Once we know that we can find out if it's reversible. Also, there are ways to get more information. We just have to go to the right people. I wish Missouri were not on the East coast, if we could get Sam to her she could read him and probably get some more detail. As it is..."

"As it is, Bobby would take him to Tilda." John said from where he stood in the kitchen doorway. Dean turned to look at his father. He didn't look any different than he usually did, though his eyes seemed to be darker. He was also quieter too. Dean wasn't sure exactly what was going on in his dad's head, but it had always been a dark and dangerous place anyway, so maybe being cursed to kill your youngest son was hardly a blip on the John Winchester radar. Jim Murphy was scowling.

"That woman. John..." He began. John waved him off.

"You don't like her, I know, but Singer does, and that means that he will take Sam there to get the information on the curse. He obviously believed Sam was right about the curse right out of the gate." his voice became a little strained at that, and Dean could see that the fact that his son had been forced to turn to another for help, and had received it without question, hurt. John shook it off. "She still has the same apartment outside Witchita. They could have been there several hours after they left Fort Laramie. I have her number in my journal." He turned and left the room, obviously going after his journal. He came back and sat at the table. He opened it and leafed through until he found the page he was looking for. He took out his cell phone and dialed the number. He put the phone on speaker and set it in the middle of the table so they all could hear. Dean sat down at the table, and had a sudden thought that this was a close as he had been to his father since they had found out that John had tried to kill Sam. In a way John had lost both his sons, and Dean could almost feel sorry for his father, if he still wasn't so very mad at him and at himself. The phone was finally picked up.

"You better have a damn good reason for getting me up at this hour." Said a female voice at the other end of the line with a yawn. Dean looked at the clock. It was just before three in the afternoon. He raised an eyebrow. Jim Murphy shook his head.

"Tilda, its John Winchester."

"Oh, John, I wondered if you would call or show up in person. I was looking forward to meeting that eldest boy of yours. He sounds like a peach." The owner of the voice, Tilda Dean supposed, sounded more awake.

"I take it you've already met my youngest then?" There was a soft laugh.

"Yes and boy do you breed them sweet, John. That boy is a scrumptious little mouthful. I'm surprised you aren't beating the teenage girls off him with a stick. When Bobby brought him to me..."

"Robert Singer brought that boy to your...your..."

"Apartment is the word that you are looking for Pastor. And it's nice to hear from you too. Long time no see. Still rocking the studly beard? Bet that turns on the parishioners"

"Still no shame in your profession I see. What was Robert thinking bringing that child into that place? It's bad enough that he must see what lurks in the darkness. Why must he also be exposed to the evils that lurk in the hearts of man too?"

"What you call sin I call a job pastor. But corrupting John's baby boy wasn't what he called about was it John?" Winchester flashed a look at Murphy who had looked to be warming up to argue the point some more, and the pastor sank back in his chair with a huff.

"You did a reading on Sam? What did you learn?"

"I learned a lot of things, John, regarding more than the curse. But as you know I am the soul of discretion. Luckily, your Sam wanted you to know about the curse, so I can share with you what I saw. Obviously I could only see things as the boy saw them, so I have limited knowledge of the contents of the bowl. He did see a bundle of nettles and some wolfs bane. I'm glad the boy knew what they were, otherwise all I could have said was that there were some green things. Then she took some of your blood, John, and went to the fire. She spoke the curse in what Sam says was some form of Latin. He understood it, don't make any mistake about that. He was confident in his translation, and so am I." She repeated the words of the curse and there was silence on the Winchester's end. "Are you still there?" Jim Murphy was the only one able to speak. Both John and Dean were contemplating what the curse revealed. Another month, they had another month to wait, another month to worry.

"We're still here."

"Bobby said I should let you know, if you called or came, that now that they had the information on the curse they were going to try to break it. I hope that they do, John. That boy loves you, and he'll never raise a hand to you, even to save his own life. It's a compulsive curse. You won't be able to fight it, haven't been able to so far. You need to let your friends help you, let them help your boy. Don't be a stubborn ass." John didn't say anything, so Dean decided to join the conversation.

"Do you know where they went?"

"Oooh, you would be Dean. I saw you in Sam's memories. You are quite the stud muffin. You can drop by my den of iniquity any old time. I mean you're an adult and all so Pastor Jim there can't say I'm corrupting you. And if Sam's memories are true then you might do a bit of corrupting yourself."

'Well I'm always up for a bit of …." Dean caught Pastor Murphy's disapproving look and cleared his throat. "Did Bobby say where they were going?"

"Yes, and since it's been more than 24 hours I can even tell you. He mentioned that asshat Biggins." Dean's forehead wrinkled. He hadn't heard of any Biggins in the hunter network. Of course there were people that his dad refused to let him deal with, and even more that he never mentioned to begin with, this Biggins might be one of those. He looked at John and he was scowling.

"Why the hell would Singer go to him? He's a foul up."

"Yeah, but he knows his curses evidently. Bobby felt he would be the best one to look over the curse and say if it can be broken, or at least he's the closest one." Tilda explained. John huffed and reached for the phone.

"Thanks for your help, Tilda. Put it on my tab." He said

"That's what Bobby said too." She signed off with a laugh at John's cursing. Jim Murphy gave a sigh and leaned forward.

"Biggins is outside Santa Fe still isn't he?" he asked. John nodded. Dean stood up and clapped his hands together.

"Great, then let's call him." Both of the other men were shaking their heads even as he was reaching for his father's phone. "What?"

"Doesn't have a phone, he lives in a canyon outside Santa Fe. No cell coverage and he was too cheap to run in a phone line when he bought the place from some old timer." John explained moving to get to his feet. "We'll have to go there."

"Sammy might be there. Maybe I should go alone." Dean suggested. Murphy shook his head.

"I don't think that would be best Dean. If there is a way to break this John will most certainly have to be there, also, and I'm sorry to say this so bluntly John, but we need to keep an eye on your father. Now that we know for sure that the curse is compulsive and that time is running short on it we have to keep your father with us at all times. Otherwise we'll be looking for both of them." John was standing near the door, staring down at his feet as Jim and Dean spoke. He raised his head and looked at Dean. His face was stoic, but his eyes showed that he was bleeding out inside. Dean wavered...and broke.

"Fine, but let's get on the road. I'll drive." He said gruffly and headed toward the door, brushing by his father without meeting his eyes. This was going to be one long ass drive.

Chapter 10-

Sam put down the book he had been reading and looked around. He was leaning against the side of a house, a traditional hogan actually, located on the Navajo Reservation in southern Utah. The hogan was located almost 20 miles from the nearest town, a small community of just over 80 people. The owner of this particular hogan was Nascha "Nate" Chee. The hogan was made of logs and had six sides. The roof was asphalt shingles. The door, facing east in the Navajo tradition, was wooden, and opened up into the one large room that made up the home. In the center was a stove made of an old 55 gallon oil drum, all cooking and heating were done with it. Several beds, little more than cots made from rough wood and rope with thin mattresses over them were on one side of the room and a sitting area was on the other. In another section a work table and cabinet stood with herbs hanging from the rafters. Nate Chee was a medicine man. He was often called upon by the local people to do 'sings', ceremonies that made up much of the spiritual life of the traditional Navajo. He also healed with the herbs and stood guardian to his tribe against the things that came in the darkness.

In his own right Chee was as much a hunter as Bobby or his father was, only he limited himself to the things that hunted the lands of his tribe. Since few other things would dare to venture onto the land of the Dine, that narrowing of focus had been sufficient for many years. However several years previously a coyote god from another tribe had made its way onto the reservation lands. The people that had once believed in it had all disappeared, absorbed into the surrounding tribes or into the general American public. No one believed in him anymore, and so he was slightly put out. He had created havoc on the reservation and when none of the traditional ways of dealing with Navajo Coyote worked Chee had called for help. Joshua Barnes had been the one that answered the call. He had managed to figure out what Coyote was and had dealt with him. This had earned him the thanks of the tribe, and was why Sam was now spending his time watching the clouds scud across the wide Utah sky, blown by a cold wind that he was protected from by the bulk of the house. He was sitting on a tarp to keep the cold and wet from the ground from seeping into his pants and allowing him to spend some time outside, something he desperately needed after over a week trapped inside by a early snowstorm.

He and Bobby had met up with Caleb and Joshua in Flagstaff. They had paused at the truck stop to get some food, and compare notes. Caleb and Josh had just heard from Dean that the three men were on their way to see Biggins about the curse on a tip from Tilda. Sam was both worried and strangely happy about the news. Worried of course because his father was more than likely to try to kill him if they should come together, and strangely happy because even though they couldn't be together, at least Dean and his father were closer to him. He had sat quietly as the three older men had made plans. It irked him slightly that no one was bothering to ask him what he thought they should do, but he guessed that as one of the cursed he really didn't have much choice. He knew that as hard as Dean and Pastor Jim might try, they would be little match for a determined John Winchester. He had little hope that as the time drew closer and closer to the end of the curse that John would not get away from his keepers and try to find him. And if he did...

They had finished eating and then headed off toward the south-east tip of Utah, part of the vast Navajo reservation. They had driven through the night and had arrived in the small town in time for lunch. They had met Nate Chee in the local diner, and Josh had told the old man what had happened, and what he was hoping they could do. That turned out to be leaving Sam in Chee's care for the foreseeable future, possibly as long as until the curse was done. Bobby, Joshua, and Caleb were going to go and start leaving some false trails so that if, or as they acknowledged, when, John broke loose from his keepers he would have too many trails to follow to be able to find Sam in time. Joshua had never been to Chee's place, had no idea where it even was from here and the others knew even less. There was no way they could give away Sam's location even by mistake. Chee had asked for more information on the curse and had shaken his head at the information. He had commiserated with Sam on his hard choice and praised his courage in making the split with his family.

Chee was old, probably somewhere in his late 70's, and you could see every year in the lines of his face. He had agreed to take Sam in, but had explained that he lived very simply, in much the same way as his ancestors had, and that the boy would probably be bored. No TV, no computer, little radio reception, and no phones or electricity. The three men had been somewhat shocked by the sparseness of the proposed hideaway, and after a quick consultation; to Sam's surprise they had actually asked his opinion, the three older hunters had left it up to Sam if he thought he could stand it, offering to figure out something else if he thought it was going to be too much. He knew that his friends were risking a lot to make sure he was safe, and he could not ask them to put themselves even more at risk by having to stay on the run with him just so he could watch another Gilligan's Island rerun or catch the newest music on the radio. He did ask if there was a library nearby, and Chee had helpfully taken him there before they had gone out to his place.

He had said goodbye to his friends there on the street of the small town, thanking them all for everything they had done, and that they were continuing to do. He had shaken Caleb and Joshua's hands and then hesitantly gave Bobby a quick hug. He had colored a little when he had heard Caleb stifle a snicker and make a reference to 'chick flicks', but Bobby had given him a firm squeeze and a pat on the shoulder. Then he had stood beside Chee's old truck and watched as the last of his connections to his family had driven off into the early high desert evening. An hour later he was setting his duffle and the pile of books he had gotten onto the cot that Chee had said was to be his. The old man had showed him around the place, pointing out the separate outhouse and shower room. He had been very proud to point out the solar water heater that fed hot water to the shower and to the house. The water came from a large tank that was filled by a windmill that ran a pump in a deep well. In a coral near the house was a small herd of sheep, two horses, a donkey, and three goats. The goats provided milk, the sheep wool, the horses transportation, and, according to Chee, the donkey provided security.

It seemed that the donkey would fight off any coyote, the dog kind, not the mischievous god kind, that dared to come in after the goats or sheep. Since coyotes were the main predator in the area that worked out well. Chee also had three dogs that made sure that any passing mountain lions or bob cats, known to occasionally drop down from the nearby hills, kept clear. The donkey and the dogs were all gentle to people however and Sam enjoyed helping with the feeding. Though he could have done without the near blizzard they had just gone through.

Another thing he had found enjoyable had been talking with the old man. As medicine man Chee was knowledgeable in herb lore and in the supernatural creatures particular to the Navajo territory. During the storm he had shared many of the Navajo stories with him and taught him some of the language. He had also generously shared his books. He was gone now, doing a birth blessing at a home near the town. He had asked Sam along, but had not pushed when Sam had declined. That was something else Sam liked about the man, he didn't push.

Sam got to his feet and put his book inside the hogan. He wondered toward the corral, stopping to scratch the donkey between the eyes and feed him a piece of carrot that he had learned to keep in his pocket. The horses were more stand-offish, but as soon as they saw the donkey eating they came to get their portion. The sheep and goats were currently out of the pens being tended by a few of the dogs. To his amazement Chee left it to the canines to manage the herd, and evidently it paid off as he had lost only one or two animals in all the years he had been doing it.

He wondered further from the hogan toward the stock water trough at the base of the windmill. He felt safe enough wondering around here as Chee had assured him that the land was blessed and sacred, and that only those things particular to the Navajo, and nothing of the dark, would dare walk this land. Even the strange Coyote god that Joshua had helped destroy had not been able to breach this place.

From the trough, which was situated on the top of a hill, he could look out over a small valley. The little town was at the other end, hidden beyond the horizon. He could see the road criss-crossing the valley floor as it followed the natural flow of the land. He liked that about the reservation, so much had been done to keep things in harmony with the land, even something as common as a dirt road. Here on the hill the wind was hitting him full force, and he pulled the jacket a little tighter around him. He wished he had a phone. He would have liked to call Bobby to find out what was going on. As contented as he was here, he wished he was with his family. He wished that his dad wasn't cursed. He would even happily hunt something, well maybe not happily, but still.

Sam moved away from the trough, moving along the edge of the hill. He knew that Chee's land ended somewhere over this direction, becoming tribal land. The old man had said that he should see the pile of stones that marked the corner of the land and that held several charms and hex bags. Sam spotted the small cairn of rocks and went toward it. There was not really anything to see over here. The land was much the same all around, sparse vegetation and sandy soil. No trees broke up the vista except in small localized areas that Chee said housed seasonal springs.

Sam was turning to go back to the hogan when he realized that there was a man standing on the other side of the cairn. He was positive that he had not been there seconds ago. That was not a good sign. Sam backed away, making sure that he was on the right side of the line. He reached behind his back and pulled out his 9 mil. He cocked it and pointed it at the man, thing, whatever it was. The man was short and thin with an oily look about him.

"What do you want?" he asked it, ready to run. He suspected that his bullets, regular loads, would not be of much use, but if it was something wearing a human form then it might at least hurt it for a moment if he had to fire.

"Now Sam don't be that way." the other said with a smile. "I've simply come to see you, make sure that you're well. And it appears that you are...how disappointing." Sam frowned and the thing laughed, its eyes turning black. Sam took another step back. It was a demon!

"WHAT do you want?" He said again. It obviously couldn't come on the blessed land, but that didn't mean it couldn't do something. Demons were clever like that.

"Sam, Sam, Sam. You need to get with the program. There are only three weeks left on the curse that my oh so loyal minion cast on your father. Had the woman remembered her fealty to me before her desire for revenge for that rabble she called a coven then the sacrifice would have been much more...immediate. However what is done is done, and she is learning her lesson in a far better place I assure you. With her gone someone has to be sure that the curse does its job and as always 'if you want a job done right...'" He held his hands out in a 'what can you do?' gesture.

"My dad doesn't know where I am. In three weeks the curse is over and you can't do anything about that. Why don't you just go and do...what ever it is you do."

"This is what I do Sam. I offer power, limited power its true, but power none the less, in exchange for a soul. Now one of the things that includes is a certain amount of...protection. If I let hunters like you and your family just do away with my debtors, and that means that I get fewer new recruits, not to mention the nasty clean up like this instance. I'm afraid that I'm going to have to make an example of your father. Tragically that means that you have to die. Or, you can get more...proactive and make the first move, Kill your dad before he kills you. No one would blame you after all you gave him four chances. I have to tell you Sam, if you make us do this the hard way there is no way to guarantee that some innocent bystanders don't get in the way, say that brother of yours, or your friend Singer that helped you get away." Sam had let the gun drop as the Demon talked, but as it finished he raised it again and fired four shots at the thing. The human body staggered back under the power of the bullets.

"You can go back to whatever part of hell you crawled out of. I'm not killing my dad, and I'm not going to let him kill me either." With that he turned and started back toward the hogan at a run. He heard the demon calling after him.

"I'll be sure to tell your father you gave me a warm welcome, Sam. I'll be dropping in on him next!"

Sam had known that the bullets wouldn't do anything to the demon. However he couldn't stop the impulse to shut the creature up, especially when it mentioned Dean in such a threatening way. He knew that the thing was not lying when it said that it was going to visit his father next, and he was sure that one of the topics of conversation would be exactly where he was. He had little doubt that as the effects of the curse worsened that anyone who got in the way of his father would end up hurt, possibly even dead. He could not let that happen, not to their friends, not to Dean. He had to go.

He ran back to the hogan and inside. He rushed to his bed and pulled the duffle out from underneath it. He started pushing the few things that he had taken out back inside it. He paused to reload his clip from one of the box of bullets that he had brought with him. This time he used rounds with holy water. It wouldn't kill a demon, but it would hurt it. He had just finished zipping up his duffle when he heard the door open. He grabbed the gun off the bed where he had left it, spinning to bring it to bear. However as soon as he saw who was there he lowered the weapon. It was Chee. The old man, unfazed by having a gun pointed at him in his own home, was studying Sam and his duffle.

"So, the time has come for you to leave? I felt the presence of the darkness, what did it do?"

"It was a demon. It was on the edge of your property and it talked to me. It's going to tell dad where I am. It's mad because we killed the witch. Said it made him look bad if he let us get away with it, and that he's going to help the curse along. He threatened our friends, my brother. I have to go." Sam said. He expected Chee to object, but instead the old man nodded. He walked over to his work bench and opened a small wooden box that was there. He pulled out two things and came to stand in front of Sam.

"I could feel the darkness building, but could not tell from where it came or when it would come. The things that kept it from this place will have no effect on your father. I knew that the time would come when you must run or kill, and I knew which you would choose. You would not risk another to save your own life, nor would you take your father's life to save your own. When I was young you were considered a man when you killed your first enemy or when you took responsibility for those around you and acted to protect them." He held out a leather cord from which hung a leather bag. Sam took it from him, hardly believing that the man was evidently not only going to let him go without an argument, but was going to offer help. He looked from the bag to the old man.

"This will make you invisible to any who seek you. Even the yeii, the demon, can not see you with this on. It will not last for more than a month, but that is long enough. Take it and hide yourself from him so that he can not help your father find you." Sam nodded his understanding and put the loop of leather over his head, settling the bag under his shirt. The next thing the old man held out was a roll of cash. Sam could see that the outside bill was a twenty. It was almost two inches across. He shook his head.

"I can't take your money." He said appalled at the thought. The old man smiled.

"This is not money I have earned. This is money that comes from the bilagaana, the white government. They give me this for my old age, but I have all that I need. You will take this and live, Sam Winchester. You will have a difficult path in your life, a path that will lead you into the deepest darkness but will come to the greatest of all light. A path that sometimes you will be forced to walk alone, without that which you hold most dear, but that part will be returned to you. You will suffer great loss and you will sacrifice more than a man should be asked to give. But you must always remember that in the end you will not be alone, there will always be another to walk the path with you. Few are allowed such a companion is this life. You will never be alone."

Many years later, as he threw the first shovel full of dirt on his brother's casket Sam would remember those words and he would bitterly laugh at how he had believed them. A year later he would think of them again as he watched the rising of the greatest darkness the world had ever known, and even later in his life he would be preparing to dive into the pit with Lucifer trapped in his body, and he would look at his brother, and know that the old man had been right. Throughout his life he had never been truly alone. Dean had always been there, in his heart if not at his side, and he was indeed so very fortunate to have had such a companion.

The fifteen year old Sam reluctantly took the roll of money and stuffed it into his jeans pocket. He picked up his duffle. The old man nodded to him and started toward the door.

"Come I will take you to the bus station. I am sure that you can figure out a way to leave a false trail. You are clever like Coyote. Use it to your advantage. Be where they do not expect you to be."

Sam took one last look around the hogan, sorry now to be leaving the quiet sanctuary. He had a feeling that things were not going to be really fun over the next three weeks. It was going to be a battle if wits between him and his dad and this game of keep away was one he had to win.

Chapter 11

Dean was about to pull his hair out. He felt an almost overwhelming urge to find something, anything, supernatural and literally beat it to death with his bare hands. It was that or he was going to shoot someone. As it was he had a number of candidates.

The first one was that Asshat, Biggins, down in Santa Fe. Why someone hadn't put a bullet in that man's head years ago was a complete mystery to Dean. They had gotten to the man's house just after noon to find him still in bed, hung-over. The man's wife had let them into the house and gone to get Biggins. They had heard him bitching her out from the shoddy living room. Finally after almost fifteen minutes the man had shuffled in dressed in flannel pajama pants and a dirty wife-beater t-shirt. He had slumped onto the couch and yelled for the woman to bring him coffee. He hadn't offered any to anyone else, not that Dean was offended. He wouldn't even take a piece of gum in this place. Biggins had surveyed the three of them blearily from blood shot eyes and finally focused on John.

"Got yourself in a deep shit this time didn't you Winchester? Should have tried harder to kill that brat of yours. Would have been a lot more convenient for everyone." Dean had almost gone after the man at that, but Jim had grabbed his arm in a steel grip. For his part John had simply stood staring at the other man until he had nervously looked away and lit a cigarette. Jim had tired of the silence and asked the question they were all here to have answered.

"Can the curse be broken?" Biggins shook his head.

"Naw, not without a demonic ritual, sacrifice and all. Told Singer and the kid so when they were here. Hope you folks take the news a little better than they did. Don't need to have more than one Winchester in my face in any given week." Dean took that to mean that Sam had found this man almost as charming as he did. He felt his heart sink a little further at that news. It had been a slim hope, but a hope none the less. That meant that now the real decision came down to did he try to find Sam on his own and act as protection against his father, or did he stay with John and try to keep him from going after Sam. Both ideas had good and bad points.

John had simply turned around and left the house. Jim had asked a few more questions, clarifying some things about the curse, but it was all static to Dean as he watched his father walk out to the Impala and stand next to it with his head hanging. He was brought back to the conversation when he heard Biggins address him.

"You Winchester's other brat?" Dean turned narrowed eyes on the man, feeling Jim stiffen beside him as if ready to grab him again.

"Yeah. What's it to you?" Biggins met his hostility with a grin, evidently thinking that Murphy was going to be able to stop Dean from any violence.

"Just wondering. Looks like you're going to be an only child soon. Don't figure that skinny-assed kid is going to be any match for your daddy, even with Singer helpin' him. Of course he could surprise me and actually take out the old man then you'd be an orphan. Sucks to be you, don't it?"

Jim's grab at his arm had been a second too late, and if John had not come back to find out what was taking so long Dean's hands would have been around Biggins' throat and squeezing. As it was it took both older hunters to drag him out of the room, and he had left a blue streak of curse words behind as they had done so. Biggins had followed them to the door and cheerfully waved as John had forcefully pushed Dean into the back seat of the Impala and gotten in with him with Jim taking the wheel. It had been almost five minutes before Dean could calm down enough to make a coherent speech regarding what he was going to do to the man if they ever saw him again.

The next person on his hit parade was Bobby Singer. A week after he had helped Sam disappear he had shown up at the motel where Dean, John and Jim were staying. He had simply knocked on the door. When Jim had opened it he had stood there, his chin up, waiting. Dean had been forced to sit on his hands to keep them from going to the pistol that was lying on the nightstand nearby. In contrast John had risen from the table where he had been sitting and moved to the door. He nudged Jim aside and held out his hand to Bobby.

"Thank you, for getting him somewhere safe." He had simply. Bobby had stared at him for a moment and then slowly reached to shake hands. Jim had indicated that he should come in and Bobby had come in moving until he stood at the foot of the bed where Dean was sitting, rigid, his hands tucked under his thighs as he fought for control. It hadn't been Bobby's fault, and deep inside Dean was grateful that his brother had somewhere to turn, but still…As he looked up he could see by the look in Bobby's eyes that the older hunter knew what he was thinking, and had braced himself for whatever was to come. He stood, his hands falling to his side, fisting without him really thinking about it.

"Before you hit me, I have something for you, from Sam. He wanted you to have it. Said I should tell you it wasn't some long emo letter, so don't be afraid to open it." Bobby pulled an envelope out of his pocket. Sam had given it to him in Utah, having written it on the way there. The boy had known that he would eventually go to his family.

The hunter watched as Dean's eyes locked onto the envelope like a thirsty man in the desert eyeing a canteen of water. One of the clenched fists rose, and Bobby forced himself not to step back. But instead of hitting him the fist unclenched and the fingers grasped the envelope and took it from his hand. The younger man sank back down on the bed and sat there simply looking at the letter for a moment then he tore it open. Pulling the letter from it he unfolded it and tilted it toward the light from the lamp on the nightstand. Bobby retreated to the table where the other two men had reseated themselves. All of them were watching Dean.

Dean had to will his hands not to shake as he took the letter out of the envelope. What would his little brother have written? Was it a scorching indictment of the brother who would not listen to him when he was in mortal danger? Was it accusations of blind hero worship? Was it a wish that he never have to see Dean again? Dean tilted the letter to the light, and found that he had to blink several times to focus his eyes on the words written there in his little brother's precise handwriting, always the neat little princess.

"Dean,

I now that you are probably blaming yourself for all this somehow. Stop. It is not your fault, and it's not dad's fault either so don't blame him. If you have to blame anyone blame me for not making you both listen to me. I hope you know that in the future I won't be letting you both off so easy, so be ready.

I know this isn't going to be easy on any of us, and while I won't miss the hunting I will miss you and dad, even the arguing with dad part. You probably won't miss that. As hard as that is going to be, I have to ask you to do something even harder, and I know it is not fair. You already have so much that you have had to do in your life, watching over me being the biggest, and watching over dad being the second.

Now I have to ask you to do what I am sure you won't want to do. PLEASE STAY WITH DAD. I know that you really want to come to me, and I really want you to, but we have to think about dad too. If he finds me it's going to be me or him, and if you are there I don't want you to have to choose. If you stay with him and keep him away from me then we can just call this a vacation.

It's only a month Dean. 30 days, even less by the time you get this. I'll be okay. You'll be okay, and so will dad. That's what's important.

I'll sign off before I get all chick- flicky. Give Bobby a break would you? And I don't mean a broken nose. Give dad my love.

Your little brother,

Sammy"

By the time he had finished Dean's breathing was unsteady, and he found himself blinking more than he usually did. Damn allergies. He reread the letter, and then carefully folded it and put it back in the envelope. He stood and walked over to his duffle. He slid the envelope into the inside pocket and zipped it closed. He knew he would want to read that again in the days to come. He turned to look at the other hunters.

"Well, what are we all sitting here for? Surely there's something out there that we need to kill." He said. They might as well keep busy.

They had gone back to hunting as a group. There had been a spirit in a small Nevada casino at the state line, a werewolf in Colorado and a rawhead in Kansas. It had kept them all busy, and their minds off the one that was missing. Well, at least the conscious part of their minds were and that led to the last person on Dean's list. John Winchester.

Once they had returned to hunting Dean, Jim, and Bobby had agreed that John would never be left alone. He rode with Dean in the Impala, leaving his truck with an acquaintance in Colorado. Jim and Bobby used Bobby's Ford. They took double rooms, usually with connecting doors. Dean had been surprised the first time they had stopped at a motel to have Bobby insist on checking the bathroom window for size, and to have his father nodding in agreement instead of yelling in anger. At least the conscious part of John's mind was on board.

Unfortunately there were other forces at work. Dean had caught his father trying to leave the room twice late at night when he evidently thought Dean was too deeply asleep to hear. When caught he had simply returned to his bed, and the next morning he had no memory of the attempt. Jim had caught John on the phone three times, and each time after he hung up he could not, or would not, Dean wasn't sure which, tell them who he was talking to. Dean knew his dad had a wide circle of informants around the country, and he suspected that he was using them to try to track Sam.

Two days after Bobby had shown up and they had decided to go back to hunting Bobby had gotten a call. He had excused himself from the booth at the diner they were eating at and had gone outside. They could see him through the large window, talking on his phone. It hadn't taken much guessing that he had received bad news when they had seen him stop his pacing and seemingly listen hard. He had started obviously yelling into the phone, his face reddening. Dean had thought for minute that they were going to have to either call an ambulance when Bobby popped a vein, or explain things to the cops when the diner management called them about the insane guy in the parking lot. It was a pretty near thing when Bobby had slammed his phone closed then threw it for distance into the nearby river.

He had stood in the middle of the parking lot for several minutes, his back to the windows, breathing hard. He then turned on his heel and marched back inside. He slid back into the booth and pushed his nearly full plate aside. He put his elbows on the table and rubbed at his stubbled face with one hand.

"What is it Robert?" Jim inquired. Dean was pretty sure he knew the subject of the phone call even if not the particulars, and suddenly his burger lost its appeal. He put it back on the plate and pushed it away.

"That was Joshua. We had set up a weekly call to check on Sam at…well the place he was staying. He got a hold of the person Sam was staying with and he told Josh that Sam was in the wind."

"What! I thought he was safe there. Dad's here, why would Sam leave a safe place?" If someone had dared to hurt his brother he would kill them, human or not. He glared at the other diners who were staring at their table.

"Cool your jets, Dean." Bobby had growled. "He was safe there, the operative word being 'was'. It seems he had a visit from a demon."

"A demon? Not…" John said sitting up straighter. His food had been pushed aside too.

"No, not that one. It seems your witch had made a friend. Sold her soul to a demon for power, but kind of forgot about it when she wanted to get vengeance on you. When she got killed making the curse it kind of pissed off her lien holder so to speak. In return he means to see that the curse runs it course the way she meant it to. Said he'd make sure that John found Sam where he was hiding and that anyone who got in the way would die, he mentioned you especially Dean. You can guess what kind of buttons that pushed with your brother."

"He wouldn't allow that." Jim had said confident in his reading of Sam's character. The boy would not allow anyone to be hurt on his behalf. Admirable, but he boy was only fifteen!

"Yeah, and that meant he couldn't stay where he was. He decided to go, and the guy he was staying with just let him do it. Put him on a bus, doesn't even know where it was going."

"What about the demon?" John asked quietly.

"It hasn't come back. The man Sam was staying with says that he's warded, that he gave the kid a…talisman that will keep anyone from finding him, even the demon. It's not permanent, but it should be working for now." John sat forward staring hard at Bobby.

"What is Sam going to do now? He's fifteen for Christ's sake. He can't be on his own for three freaking weeks with no where to go. Does he even have any money, salt, weapons, anything?" Bobby snorted.

"I know he has at least one gun." He told them about Biggins. Dean had been unable to hold back a fond smile. Sammy might not like to hunt, but the kid had moxie.

"We need to trust that Sam can find a way to survive the next three weeks. And that he can stay hidden. We know he's smart enough." Jim said reassuringly. The others reluctantly nodded but he could see they were not convinced. He too was uneasy with Sam being on his own, but it might just be for the best if he was not safe where Bobby had put him. "I think that while our first instinct is to rush to Samuel's aid we have to remember that we are dealing with a demon. Obviously it wants John to find Sam. If we go and find him then there is a chance that we will lead the demon to him, and play into its hands. As I said we need to trust Samuel; trust that he can take care of himself. What do you say?" Bobby was the first to nod. John sat back in the seat and closed his eyes. He nodded. Jim turned his gaze to Dean.

The younger hunter was sitting back against the seat looking out the window. It would have appeared that he hadn't even been listening if the hand that rested on the table was not fisted and shaking ever so slightly. Dean was staring at the Impala as if he wanted to just run out there and jump into it and go in search of his brother, leaving everything else behind. As the others watched his hand moved off the table and to the inside pocket of his leather jacket. From where he sat Jim could see the fingers touch an envelope which was there. They did not close around it, but instead just ghosted across the outside. Finally the hand dropped back to Dean's lap and he turned his head to meet Jim's eyes.

"I trust Sam." That was all he said. He slid out of the booth, ignoring the rest of his meal. "I'll be in the car." The older men watched him walk out to the Impala and slide behind the wheel. Jim signaled for the check and some to go containers. No need to waste the food. They all filed out of the diner.

Ten days after Sam had dropped off the radar John Winchester had disappeared in the middle of a hunt. They had been going after a malicious water spirit in Nebraska. They were in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, but it was a popular camping spot and five people had disappeared over the last four months. Research had shown that in the last thirty years there had been a cycle of disappearances every five years. Local legend had it that an Indian medicine man had cursed the town that had once stood upstream along the river that fed into the lake. The nearby mine had poisoned the water downstream concentrating in the lake from which the tribe took their water. The children of the tribe had all died, and the rest of the village was wiped out in retaliation after they had sought vengeance for their poisoned children. Their working theory was that since the town was no longer there that the sprite had simply moved to where the nearest people were so that it could continue to have its vengeance.

The ritual to rid the lake of its evil inhabitant had required that the four hunters split up and that they pour the potion that they had brewed up into the lake from each of the four compass points at exactly the same time. John had been assigned to the side furthest from the vehicles. They had tramped off and once they reached their assigned point they each fired a shot. When the final shot was heard they all waited exactly 30 seconds and poured.

The result had been spectacular. The spirit had reared up out in the middle of the lake, the water geysering up almost fifty feet in the air. The thing had shrieked loud enough to burst ear drums, but the potion had done its job and it had slowly faded out of existence leaving a serene lake. As agreed the hunters then headed back to the vehicles. They had waited for John, who was obviously going to be last in for almost half an hour. After that they knew something was wrong. The lake was not that big, and it had only taken John 25 minutes to get to his spot earlier moving quickly on the well established hiking trails that ringed the lake. Bobby had stayed at the cars as Jim and Dean had headed toward the far shore. They had not been forced to go all the way though as they ran into a couple who were looking for help. They had been camping at one of the remote camp grounds on the other side of the lake when they had first heard shots and then a commotion in the water. They had rushed to the shore to see what was going on, but had been too late to see what it was. They had gone back to their camp site to find that their SUV was missing. They still had their keys, but evidently someone had broken in and hotwired the vehicle.

John Winchester was gone.

Chapter 12-

It had been three weeks since Sam had left what passed for the current Winchester home and just under two weeks since he had fled from Southern Utah. He had taken the bus south into Arizona and had hitchhiked out to California with a nice family on their way to Disneyland. It had been a bittersweet trip as he watched the family interact and could not help but compare to his own. His desire for his long-lost mother, his father, and Dean was an ache that would not be soothed. He had bid them goodbye in Anaheim and took a bus north into Oregon. Just south of Portland he had hitched another ride that didn't work out so well, but it had gotten him east into Idaho with only a few bruises and four less bullets in his Taurus.

The guy that had tried to "show him what he was missing" would be trying to figure out how to get medical care for a bullet in his knee, and explain the bullet in his radiator and two of his tires. The fact that he was in the snow covered middle of nowhere trying to figure it out was not Sam's responsibility. Sam had slogged down the road away from the man and had been lucky enough to catch a ride with one of the plows that was working the interstate. He had been passed like a potato from one driver to the next as he moved out of their zones and had made it to the border with Montana.

Another bus and he was back in Cheyenne, standing outside the house that had been their base here. As he had expected his father and brother had abandoned the place when they went after him. It had not been the best of places before they got there, and they had all made some repairs to make it livable. His dad had made arrangements to have the place for two months, and he suspected that neither of his family members had bothered to let the owner know they were gone. Since the old man who owned it lived in Florida he wasn't exactly going to be dropping by, and wouldn't be trying to rent it for at least another few weeks. The power would probably be off, Dean was supposed to pay the bill, and he wasn't good about that at the best of times, but the water would still be on. Warm it would not be, but it would be shelter. It would have been nice if the place had a fireplace, but no such luck.

He had set himself up as best he could with the money he still had from Mr. Chee. He had bought a camp stove and fuel and a sleeping bag along with some other used camping gear from the local Goodwill. He had a light fueled by the same stuff that the stove ran on and a small transistor radio that picked up the local stations pretty well. He had also invested in a new, to him, winter coat, some used but serviceable snow boots and some gloves. Thus set up he had been reasonably comfortable in his hidey hole. The house was at the edge of town and was isolated from the neighbors who were all older folks who did not get out much so no questions were asked about him being alone.

He had been taking advantage of the local conditions to make a little money to keep himself in food and fuel. He was shoveling the driveways of the neighbors, and had found a local market that was willing to pay him to deliver groceries to their customers who didn't want to venture out in the cold. He got used to not feeling his toes and fingers. Now he could see why his dad usually concentrated his hunting further south at this time of year. He spent his extra daylight hours at the library, warm and happy among the books. He was missing school, and had in fact had to tell the librarian that he was home schooled. As he spent his days reading she seemed to buy it and he had escaped the local truant officer's notice. He tried to make sure that he was moving in the direction his last classes had been going, and he hoped this would not set him back on his plans.

It was a mixed blessing. He was keeping busy, and keeping himself fed and sheltered, but he was alone. He wondered where his family was and if his father had managed to slip away from the others yet. He just had to hope that he had managed to make himself scarce enough that he could stay hidden for another week. He had figured it out down to the minute when exactly he could go back to them, and he was counting the days.

He had finished his odd jobs for the day and the sun was setting. Tomorrow was Sunday and the grocery store would be closed as would the library. He was planning on going down to the truck stop on the interstate and paying for a hot shower, something he did every couple of days. Cold sponge baths were not fun. He settled into the nest he had made in the bedroom that had been Dean's before. It somehow made his brother seem closer, and the room had only one small window that he had blocked up with some plywood to hold in what heat he could. He had made his nest of sorts on top of the mattress on the bad, keeping him off the cold floor and making a warm place to read and sleep. He had to limit his reading to save fuel, but he was able to read for a few hours after the sun set and he would listen to the radio to pass the time until he fell asleep.

He didn't know how long he had been asleep when the dream started. He knew it was a dream instantly because he was warm, in fact it was hot. He was in an empty room with bare white walls and no windows. There wasn't even a door. How had he gotten in here anyway? His logical mind asked. "It's a dream dork brain." His more sarcastic brain said in a voice that sounded shockingly like Dean's. He looked around, trying to figure out exactly what was going on, but other than the heat it was simply what it appeared to be, a big white box. He stood there for what seemed like a long time, waiting for something to happen, but there was nothing. Finally he shrugged and went and sat down with his back against the wall. This is the dullest dream I've ever had he thought. Just as he completed that thought he looked up and almost jumped out of his dream skin as he saw a man standing in front of him.

In an instant he recognized the demon that had come to him in Utah. He rolled to the side, coming up in a crouch, knowing that he had little chance against a demon hand to hand, but he was not going to go down with out a fight, he was a Winchester after all. The demon had turned as he rolled and it stood there looking at him, arms crossed on its chest and shaking its head in a patronizing manner.

"Chill out, kid." The demon smirked at him. It waved its hand to indicate the room around them. "I'm not here to hurt you, can't in fact, not really. As you can no doubt see I've had to come to you on the dream plane since you have managed to very effectively hide yourself in the waking world. Don't suppose you'd like to tell me how you did that would you?" Sam stood up to his full height.

"Why are you doing this?"

"You wouldn't come out to play. That's very disappointing. Here your father is looking so hard for you, and you've hidden yourself away, kudos for that by the way. I expected him to find you quickly once I pried him away from your friends." Sam frowned at the knowledge that his father was actively hunting for him now. He would have to be more cautious about being out. He could not afford to be seen by someone that might tell John. The demon saw the frown and smiled wider.

"Oh now don't be that way. I'm sure your father will make it quick. You won't suffer. Though I would rather that you did, you understand. This has taken up time I could be using for other things. A demon's work is never done you know."

"Why are you here? Did you do all this just to tell me my dad is hunting me? Great You've brought me the news. Now get outta my head." Sam said, channeling his brother.

"You know Sam I am not feeling the gratitude here. Surely you were wondering when daddy was going to show up and do the deed? I'm sure you haven't been sleeping well, and it can't be any fun being out there all alone without your brother. I'm sure your just dying to get back to your family."

"Funny. Get out of my head."

"No, I don't think so. You see Sam I'm crying foul. You have taken the fun out of my game by hiding too well. I'm going to have to insist that you...unhide yourself, immediately."

"And why do you think I'm going to do anything that you want?"

"Because if you don't I'll kill everyone that you have ever loved. I'll start with your father and then your brother and then I'll kill every hunter you have ever met." The demon's eyes were black and his smile was pure evil. Sam hid the tremor that ran through him as he clinched his jaw and glared at the demon. The son-of-a-bitch was going to blackmail him into revealing himself by threatening his family and friends. And it was going to work, damn it. He huffed in frustration, knowing there was not really anything he could do to stop the demon. The others were hunters, experienced with hunting things like this, but they were not used to being hunted, and that made a lot of difference. And he was sure the demon was not going to let them know he was coming. He had to protect his family, all of them. Course that didn't mean he couldn't be pissy about it.

"Fine. If you're such a poor sport that you can't win playing by the rules, I'll make it easy for you. Bet the other demons are all laughing at you since you let a mere human teenager get one over on you. Sucks to be you too, don't it?" He drawled. The demon's smile disappeared.

"Make yourself visible Sam. I'll even be a 'good-sport' and give you 12 hours. After that I kill one of your family or friends every hour that you are incommunicado. Don't keep me waiting." With that the demon disappeared, and the walls of the room burst into flame. The heat became unbearable for a second, then Sam was sitting up in his bed, the sleeping bag falling away to allow the cold air of the house to cool his sweating body. He made an effort to calm his breathing as the dream ran through his head. Well shit.

An hour later he was done packing his gear. He didn't have all that much he was taking with him. The sleeping bag had an outer bag that he could sling like a backpack, and that way he could always sleep rough if he had too. The little stove fit in his duffle and so did the light with some fuel. While he had packed he had been thinking. He was sure as soon as he took off the hex bag that the demon would be sending John after him. The demon hadn't said he couldn't evade his father just that he had to make himself visible. He doubted that the demon would be keeping company with John and directing his every step. Even a cursed John Winchester wasn't going to let a demon slide by without exorcising his ass.

Sam had thought of and discarded several ideas. Everything he seemed to come up with just ended up with him getting caught, or with him having to choose between being killed or killing his father. He thought about heading off into the woods. And playing hide and seek for a week, but he doubted that he would make it even one day. John was an expert in tracking in the wilderness. Sam could not count the days they had spent in the woods hunting evil things and learning from their father. No, the woods were not going to do.

He had also considered and discarded the idea of a small town. While it would be easy to spot John when he came into town, it would be equally easy for John to find him. Sam would stick out like a sore thumb in a small community where everyone knew everyone.

He also couldn't go to any of his friends'. As it was he was sure that if John was hunting him then Dean and the rest were hunting John. That meant that John would be in stealth mode himself, and also that he would go through anyone that got in the way between him and Sam. He would not do that, he would not put anyone else in the line of fire to save himself. That meant he had to be somewhere he could disappear and stay away from John and the rest.

As far as he could tell that left one option, he needed the anonymity of a big city, one where he could blend in with the crowds. One where no one paid attention to what their neighbors were up to or bothered to tell anyone about it. No one would notice one more street kid.

The nearest big city was Denver. It wasn't exactly the big apple, and it wasn't Chicago or LA, but it should do. Sam could count on one hand the number of times they had done hunts in big cities since he had started hunting with his family. Before that he could not remember many really large cities. His dad did not like them, had said that while there were evil things there that the evil humans by far outnumbered them, and he was not willing to expose his boys to it. He left those hunts to the other hunters. That meant that his father would be at a disadvantage, and Sam needed him as off balance as he could get.

Denver was only 100 miles away, but it was only a little after midnight now. Sam had good reason to know that there were no buses headed south at this time of night, and also he needed to hold on to what monies he had to keep himself in food for the next week. He would not be able to work since that would mean being in the same place all the time. That would get him killed quickly. He had to be able to move around. The bus thing was a stumbling block. He had just under eleven hours to reveal himself. He could wait until just after 7am and get the bus south. That meant he would be arriving in Denver just about the time he needed to 'de-cloak'. That did not give him much time to make a plan for where he would go and what he would do. He wanted to be able to scope out the places he could hide, have a plan before he had to run. He did not know where his dad was now, but he knew how fast his dad could move when motivated and he had to be ready.

Having decided where to go and that he needed to be there ASAP Sam left the house for what he knew would be the last time. He needed a way to Denver, now. He thought about the places he had been in the last weeks. One of the things he remembered seeing was a 1965 mustang parked in an empty lot with a 'for sale' sign in the window. It was not in very good shape on the outside. It needed new paint, a lot of body work, a new passenger rear window and a completely new back seat, but the front seats were mostly intact. The tires, while old still had a reasonable amount of tread and Sam knew the engine would turn over as he had seen a man showing it to another man just three days before. It wasn't the Impala, but it would do.

He made his way through the quiet snowy streets until he came to the mustang. He looked around and made sure there was no one out. It was a commercial area and there was no one moving about. All the stores were dark. Luckily a nearby streetlight gave him just enough light to pop the door. He threw his stuff into the passenger seat and leaned in to pull out the ignition wires. He remembered what Dean had told him about hot wiring a car, had practiced on one of Bobby's old beaters at the salvage yard one time that they had stayed. He couldn't stop the smile when the engine turned over. He hastily climbed inside and pulled the door closed. He cautiously looked up and down the street again before putting it into gear. He was off.

Chapter 13

Dean pulled the Impala into the only available parking spot at the diner on the outskirts of Denver. He had been through the city several times in the course of their lives on the road, but he could not recall ever having a hunt here. It looked like that was about to change. If Joshua was right, and the man was one hell of a tracker, maybe even as good as his dad, then John was here somewhere, and that probably meant that Sammy was here as well. The little bitch had been completely off the radar for almost three weeks now. In 28 hours and 38 minutes the curse would be over. Dean was counting the minutes, hell the seconds.

Since John had disappeared he and the others had spent every waking moment hunting him down. They had been one step behind the ex-marine the whole way. It had given Dean new appreciation for just how skilled his old man was. But he was also cursing that skill. They were desperately trying to find John before he found Sam. Dean didn't even want to think about what might happen in that event. He didn't know if Sam would even try to protect himself.

Joshua and Caleb had been here for a day already. They had been closest to finding John while Dean, Bobby and Jim had been trying to track Sam. Josh and Caleb had been checking the shelters displaying pictures of John and Sam. They had had a few hits on John's picture, and Josh had said that he had a feeling that while no one would admit to knowing Sam that a few had seen the kid too. John had been seen looking in the shelters and in the streets. The men that had seemed to have known Sam's picture had been street people.

The hunters were meeting up at the diner to talk strategy. They had more questions than answers. They were pretty sure that the demon had been helping John out. Joshua had said that people who he had talked to about John had said that the man was making leaps of intuition that just didn't make sense, like his coming here to Denver. The last they had heard before he turned up here John had been in Idaho. The man that had tipped him off to something strange up there had met up with John at a local diner. He had shown John an article about the incident in question and John had seemed interested. The tipster had gone to use the toilet and came back to find a stranger sitting in the booth across from John, leaning across the table talking seriously to the hunter. When he had approached the other man had turned to him and he was willing to swear that for a moment the man's eyes were completely black. He had turned away to sit at the counter, but when he had sat down and looked back at the table the other man was gone and John had been getting up. He had gone over and offered to get John an interview with the guy in the article, but the hunter had brushed him off, saying he knew where he needed to go. He had left the diner and headed off without another word.

So the demon was making sure the curse would be fulfilled, or was trying his best. Evidently Sammy was making it hard on the bastard, both of them. Good for him. Dean walked into the diner and saw his friends in a big corner booth. He walked over, barely glancing at the twenty year old waitress who eyed him up. He hadn't even been interested since his brother disappeared. Leave it to his little brother to mess up his love life. He slid into the booth next to Jim. The others all greeted him.

"What do you got?" He asked Josh. The big hunter shrugged.

"Best I can come up with is that they are both here. John is on the street looking, asking everyone if they've seen Sam. Best thing Sam has going for him is that John is being his usual friendly self. I'm not sure these people would turn over Hitler to him. Sam on the other hand seems to have become the darling of the street folk. As far as I can make out since no one will talk is that he got here about a week ago. How he managed to become Little Orphan Annie in that time I don't know."

"Those damn puppy dog eyes." Bobby said. "He turns those eyes on you ya know you're gonna give him what he wants."

"Yeah well they aren't gonna work on dad if he gets to him before we do. Now do we have anything that helps us?" Dean asked brusquely. He was tired of being nice. Jim tssked at him and he rolled his eyes. "Come on! Here we are five mighty hunters and we can't so much as find two more hunters one of whom is a teen age kid in a city that neither is familiar with. Why is that exactly?"

"I actually have a theory about that." Caleb put in. The others turned their attention to the dark haired hunter. "I think it's the demon. Just like he's helping John, I think he's hurting us. Just when we get a lead the tip plays out. Just when we think we've got one or the other the trail goes cold. I think he's been messing with us since John left."

"That makes sense." Bobby said with a nod. "I've had people who were the most reliable informants for years suddenly couldn't get me a fact to save their lives. What do we do about it? We have to be able to rely on what we hear or we'll be going in circles while John closes in on Sam." Caleb pulled four amulets out of his pocket and laid them on the table.

"Friend of mine helped me with these. They'll keep the demon from affecting us. They've also got a kind of bubble of protection that will include anyone within a ten to twelve foot radius. He can still hurt us if he shows up, but he can't put the whammy on us any more at a distance." He slid one to each of the others and they all put them on under their shirts. Almost as soon as the amulet settled over Josh's head his phone rang. The big hunter answered. The conversation was short and Josh slammed the phone shut and started pushing Caleb out of the booth.

"I got a sighting on John. Abandoned industrial park on the south side of town, there's six buildings and they are a common hang out for some of the street gangs and street people. There's a good possibility that Sam is there." Jim threw some money onto the table and the four men filed out of the diner and to their cars. Jim and Bobby were in one and Caleb was riding with Josh. Joshua led out followed by Dean and Bobby brought up the rear. They weren't obeying many of the traffic rules.

It took almost an hour to get to the industrial park with Dean cursing all the way. The park had been surrounded by a chain link fence and a formidable gate. However from the road where they were stopped at the gate they could see several cuts in the fence. They could also see a truck parked near one of the holes. It didn't take much to figure out that it was John's current mode of transport.

They piled out of the cars and armed themselves. The selection was varied. They weren't sure who they would be dealing with. Would the demon make an appearance? Joshua's contact had mentioned gangs. They might not appreciate armed men moving in on their territory. Dean pulled out a new rifle he had picked up from one of their arms dealers in Nevada. It was a tranquilizer gun. He had four darts loaded with some pretty potent knock out drug. He would be damned it he was going to loose either of them and if that meant tranqing his father's ass for the next 27 hours so be it.

They decided that instead of splitting up that they would search the buildings one by one. It would be slower but they wouldn't miss anything that way and no one would be open to attack. They started at the buildings closest to the openings, but after only a few minutes they knew it was empty. The second yielded a few homeless people, but no Winchesters. In the third they hit the gang hang out and they barely managed to retreat back out. Strangely the gang members had simply shown their weapons, but made no move against them, nor did they follow them out, weird.

Two more buildings and more homeless had them all frustrated. Dean was ready to shoot just about anyone who tried to get in their way. They were approaching the last building, Dean in the lead, when Jim jumped forward and grabbed his arm. Dean almost shook him off until the pastor pointed to what he had seen. Above the door was drawn a perfect devils trap. Jim then pointed to the nearest window. There was a trap there too. Without saying anything Caleb split off in one direction and Joshua in the other. In a minute or so they were both back.

"Devils traps on all the windows and doors, even on the vents on the roof." Joshua reported.

"It's gotta be Sam. Dad didn't have time and no one else is here to do it. He's warded the place against the demon. He can't go in without being trapped."

"Yeah, but you can bet John went in." Bobby said. Jim nodded.

"Sam is keeping his fight on one front. He knew that if the demon came in he'd have to fight both John and the demon." Dean was tired of talking. His brother and father were in in there and he was going in. He unlimbered the tranq gun checking to be sure there were two darts loaded.

"You got enough juice in that thing?" Caleb asked.

"Deacon said this would put a horse down."

"Well your daddy is usually a stubborn ass so that should work out just fine." Bobby snarked. He had his gun out and looked at the others. "Let's get this done. If Sam finishes it all alone we'll look real bad." They headed into the building in a single file, Dean in the lead. He had the tranq gun ready.

It was dark inside, lit only by the light coming through the grimy windows. The building was still home to a large amount of machinery, very large ones. There were paths between them, but you had to duck under conveyor belts every now and then as you moved through the buildings. The hunters spread out into two different paths that ran the same direction. They occasionally lost sight of each other, but they soon were back to being in eye contact. They had worked their way about halfway through the building, finding nothing when a shot sounded from ahead of them. It sounded like a forty five. Dean took off like a jack rabbit, and the others all cursed and took off after him. But even Caleb, the youngest of them, was unable to keep up.

Dean ran ahead of the others with no thought for anything but his brother. It was hard to tell exactly where the shot had come from, but he knew he was heading in the right direction. A second shot sounded, closer now, and he ducked under another conveyor belt and kept moving. He caught sight of movement ahead and stopped to bring the tranquilizer rifle up to his shoulder. He briefly saw what had to be his father pass between two machines, obviously tracking something, or someone, but he could not get a bead on him before he was behind something else. He ran forward again. He could hear the others coming behind him.

Suddenly he couldn't hear anything as the machines all around him sprang into life and the main lights came on. The noise was deafening, and it was impossible to focus on anything as everything seemed to be moving. Ah...the 'Terminator' maneuver. Evidently his little brother had been paying attention to the end of that classic, it would be hard for John to find him in this mess, though Dean hoped there was no giant press out there for Sammy to crawl through. Sammy was doing his part, now it was up to his awesome big brother to capture their particular 'terminator'.

That became a lot less likely as an arm that felt like steel wrapped around his throat. He was dragged back against a familiar chest, and he felt an all too familiar round metal object push into his temple. The tranquilizer rifle was striped off his arm and tossed off into the distance. He stumbled as he was dragged backward until he and his father were against a wall. He was dragged along until they came to what had to be the main breaker panel. The gun briefly left his temple and the machines stopped. The gun was swiftly replaced at his temple as the four other hunters broke from cover to surround the two of them, guns all pointed at John. This was so not working out the way Dean had planned. From behind him he heard his father speak.

"You all just put the weapons down and step back." He growled. There was no trace of recognition in that voice. It was the same one Dean heard when John was addressing some fugly supernatural thing. This was not John Winchester, father. It was all John Winchester, hunter, and Sam was his prey.

Dean started to shake his head but that stopped when he was given a sharp rap with the barrel of the gun. It caused him to sag back against his father a little and he felt the arm tighten around his throat. He tried to pry it loose, but his head was now whirling with pain and he couldn't break the steel grip.

The other hunters had obviously come to the conclusion that he had, and they put down the weapons and stepped back. Jim stayed a little closer than the others and he tried to talk to John.

"John, I know that you do not want to hurt your son, either of them. You are working under the effect of a curse. Do not let the witch and the demon win. You have to fight this, John."

"I don't know what the hell you are talking about. I want you all out of here, now. You're in my way." John pressed the barrel harder against Dean's head, but the others didn't move.

"Damn it, dad..." He started to say but the arm tightened again.

"Shut up." John raised his voice so that it echoed through the building. "I get what I want and I let him go. You know what that is. I know you have a weapon. I want that on the floor in front of me, now."

Silence answered him, and Dean wondered if Sam had already left the building. If that was so he did not see this ending well. He started moving one of his hands toward his hide out knife. He didn't want to have to use it, but if that was his only option...His hand paused when a voice rang out from somewhere nearby.

"Let him go and I'll come to you." Dean almost sagged in relief. It had been almost a whole month since he had heard his little brother's voice, and he had never been so happy to hear it. But once the joy had passed his anxiety level ratcheted up and his hand started toward the knife again.

"You come and I'll let him go." John countered. Dean had his hand on the knife now and he ever so slowly started pulling it out of the sheath.

"I'll give you my weapon as a show of good faith. You let him walk out of here and I'll come to you and let you do what you want."

"How do I know you won't run again?"

"I won't. You know that once I give my word I mean it. You know that about me dad, just think about it." That seemed to stop John. Dean wondered just how much his father was fighting the curse. But he couldn't count on his father being able to stop. He started to bring the knife up to his father's arm when Sam spoke again.

"You look tired Dean, like you need to lie down." Dean blinked and then got it. He brought the knife up again and dragged the razor sharp blade down his fathers arm. John flinched and his arm loosened. Dean had planned to try to take his father out, with emphasis on the word try, but now he dropped to the floor. He had to trust that his brother wanted him down for some good reason. As soon as he dropped out of the way he rolled over and away from John. He happened to turn over just in time to see the dart hit his father in the chest.

"Good shot Sammy!"

He was expecting his father to drop, but other than staggering a little the drug seemed to have little effect. In fact John was lifting his pistol toward Dean. Dean was bracing himself for the bullet that he knew was coming his way. Another dart hit John. His father staggered again and started to slump down the wall, eyes glazing. But the stubborn bastard was still trying to raise his gun. Dean knew Sam was out of darts, the rifle only held two at a time and the rest were in his jacket pocket. And he was afraid that one of the others would get their weapon back and shoot his father. Dean surged to his feet and powered into his father, slamming him to the floor. John's pistol went flying.

John was nothing if not resourceful in a fight, even with a double load of tranquilizer in him. He instantly moved to counteract Dean's hold. The younger man grunted as John's elbow took him in the solar plexus. Damn that hurt. They rolled across the floor and he could hear the others yelling at him. He tried to lock down his father's arms, noticing almost off handedly that the old man was slower than normal, like when they sparred and he assumed that was the drug affecting him. He was concentrating on trying to keep his father's thumb from gauging his eye out so he didn't see his other hand pull a knife from a hidden sheath. He didn't see it rising over his back. The other hunters did and started to rush forward from where they had been getting their pistols, but they were almost ten feet away and John's hand was falling quicker than they could cross the distance.

Then a hand was grabbing John's wrist and with a practiced move twisting it to make the knife drop. Seemingly as if the act of losing his last weapon had been the final blow John went limp beneath Dean. The young hunter rolled off his father, cautiously watching him to be sure he wasn't just playing possum. John didn't move and his eye were closed, body limp. The tranquilizers had kicked in, big time. Dean looked around to see his rescuer. Sammy.

He felt like he was seeing his brother for the first time, it had been so long. The kid looked to have grown another inch, and Dean was uncomfortably aware that at this rate his 'little' brother was soon going to outgrow him. The kid's already slim frame was hidden under an unfamiliar jacket that had seen better days. It was dirty and it hung on Sam's frame like a little boy wearing his father's clothes. Sam's face was thinner than it had been, and there were dark circles under his eyes, showing Dean that he had not been the only Winchester losing sleep. The black circles were matched by a mottled bruising which covered the left side of Sam's face and there was a barely scabbed over cut at his hairline and another on his lip. But the emo, dark eyes were the same, and they were looking at him with a dawning joy that was he was sure was echoed in his own. He took the two steps that separated them and wrapped his arms around his brother.

Dean felt Sam's arms close around his back in an almost desperate hug. It wasn't like the Winchester men hugged on a regular basis. In fact he couldn't remember the last time he had held his brother in his arms like this. Probably since Sam had hit puberty. And their father, while they knew he loved them, hadn't been physically demonstrative at the best of times, much less in the last few years as Sam's hormones had kicked in. A pat on the back, some ruffled hair, maybe an arm across the shoulders if you did well at target practice, but that was it. Now, Dean reveled in the feeling of his brother close to him again. He had missed him so much, even the bitch-face. He finally felt Sam's arms start to loosen and he pushed back, putting his hands on Sam's shoulders and grabbing a handful of Sam's jacket as if to make sure his brother wasn't going to disappear. He shook him a little, not really happy with how light he felt.

"'Bout damn time you showed up Sammy. I was getting tired of having to do all the work." He quipped. Sam grinned at him, a giddy toothy grin.

"It seems like I was the one that did the work. At least I didn't get caught and have to be rescued like a damsel in distress."

"I'll show you who's a damsel, Samantha..." he started to say only to have Jim interrupt.

"I know you boys have a lot of time to make up, but this is not the best place to do that. I believe that those gang members are going to be along some time to see what we're doing here, and we need to get John secured. There's still 26 hours on the clock. We need to be sure he can't get loose." Sam was shaking his head.

"We can't leave here. The demon will know. He'll come and try to make the curse come true. I fixed this place. He can't get in."

"What about the gang. We can't fight back against them. They're human."

"We don't have to worry about them. I fixed it with them that they should just leave me alone and not come in here. They'll keep the homeless people away from the building too."

"You 'fixed it' it with a street gang?" Dean growled. "What the hell did you have to do to 'fix it' Sammy?" He was well aware that gangs didn't do anything out of the goodness of their heart. What had they taken from his little brother in exchange for leaving him, them, alone? Sam looked over at John where he lay unmoving and then back at his big brother.

"You need to chill out dude. And we need to get dad into the place I made for him. There's no way he's getting out even if he wakes up."

"What did you do Sam?" Bobby asked. The others were all gathered around, though they were all watching John and their surroundings too, hunter instincts.

"This was a sausage making plant. They had some really big refrigerators to put the stuff in before it shipped. All the refrigerant is gone, they took it out but there are some big rooms that have no windows and a heavy duty door that you can lock. I found one with a vent that I can fit in that leads to the next room, but which dad would never make it through. I was going to lure him in and then crawl out the vent and lock the door behind him. I figure we can still use the room. I have a sleeping bag in there for him and some food. And we better bind up that knife wound. It doesn't look like it needs stitches."

Dean felt his heart swell with pride as he listened to his brother talk about how he had planned to deal with their dad. The kid really was a genius. What other fifteen year old kid could have planned this out so well? Of course what other fifteen year old would have had to?

After a quick consult among the older hunters they decided that this was as good a place as any to let the curse run out. The demon couldn't get in and John couldn't get out. Perfect. The main problem was going to be staying comfortable while they waited. Although, being hunters, they were used to less than favorable conditions. They had all stayed in places that were worse than this. Bobby had some gear in his truck, and the Impala was stocked as always, as was Joshua's truck. They would bring in what they could to make it livable. Sam put in that he had set up in the nearby office. There was no heat, and no lights, but it was cleaner than out here on the manufacturing floor, there was even carpeting, and the nearby bathroom had water. This building had been the last one shut down in the complex, only a month before, and had not yet fallen victim to the degradation that the other buildings had undergone.

They dragged John into the old refrigerator, and after they looked it over the older hunters had to admit that it was a good prison. They put John in the sleeping bag that Sam had there and after checking his pulse and breathing and taking care of the cut on his arm they drew lots to see who would stay with him. They didn't want to leave him alone in case he had a bad reaction to the tranquilizer. Caleb, who had lost sat down against the far wall near the door and pulled a paperback book and a flashlight out his pocket. At the strange looks from the others he shrugged.

"Sometimes it gets kinda boring waiting for something to happen when you're staking things out alone, gotta have something to pass the time. You learn to be ready Bring me one of the battery powered lights would you, and one of the sleeping bags, this floor is hard." Dean snorted.

"Dude, it better not be a romance novel." Caleb scowled, but they all noticed that he kind of hid the book behind his leg until they went out and closed the door. They had arranged a particular series of knocks if he wanted out, so that should John wake up violent Caleb could summon help.

Sam suggested that he should go out with whoever went for the supplies. He wanted to be sure that the gang knew that these new and obviously dangerous men, were with him, and were thus safe. It was something that had all of them wondering what exactly had gone on with Sam and the gang, but it would have to wait. It would be dark soon and demons were not the only thing to worry about here.

It was decided that Jim would stay here on watch while Bobby, Josh, and Dean, who was not being separated from his brother again, went out with Sam to the cars.

They set out, heading straight back. Sam told them that they could move the cars into the complex, and nearer the building they were staying in, as it would give them a better chance of not being stripped down to the wheels. Sam showed them how the gang had rigged the heavy fence across the road so that while it appeared to be locked it could be easily moved out of the way.

Sam climbed in with Dean, and it felt so very right to have him there as they led the way into the complex. Sam pointed to an area right outside one of the doors and Dean pulled the car up by the building. Sam said with them parked here the gang would leave it alone and since the homeless wouldn't steal anything on the gang's turf it should be safe. Dean shook his head as Bobby and Joshua started hauling things inside.

"You gotta tell me what's going on with this gang Sam. What are they some weird group from 'West Side Story'?" Sam smiled and shook his head.

"I don't think these guys have a dance off when they go out to break some heads. It looks like they can get pretty nasty. I didn't realize how much gang activity there is here, you don't hear about it like you do in New York or Chicago or L.A. I'll tell you about it later."

"Oh I don't think there's going to be a later for you, Sam. I must say that I am sadly disappointed. John Winchester just did not live up to his press. I fully expected you to be dead by now, not getting ready for a sleep over." The demon waved a hand at the camping gear Dean had pulled out from the trunk of the Impala. Dean pulled out his pistol and aimed it at the demon, seeing Sam do the same out of the corner of his eye. "Tsk tsk tsk, so hostile Dean. And here I've left you alone through all of this. That is gratitude for you."

"Sure, I have a thank you gift for you." Dean said and started to fire at the demon, but with a wave of his hand the demon threw them both against the building.

"You Winchesters are just a prickly bunch." It looked at the devil traps over the doors and windows. "and very unwelcoming. I get the feeling that you don't want me here, makes me feel unloved." Dean cursed at it, squirming in the invisible hold. Where the hell were the others?

"I guess that I'm going to have to kill you myself Sam. I was really hoping to have the curse fulfilled, but I am assuming from the generally jovial state of mind that you've managed to neutralize your father somehow. Shame that. Now I'll have to get my hands dirty. Don't think that I won't take that out on my not so favorite acolyte. Perhaps another round with the chief torturer, I'm sure he can think of something appropriate. Of course now I get a two for one deal, and Winchester looses both his precious sons." He closed his hand and suddenly Dean couldn't breath. Beside him he could hear Sam also trying without to draw in a breath. Spots were dancing in front of his eyes when he heard a shotgun in the distance and a voice chanting in Latin.

The demon staggered back, screeching at the pain of the salt round that Bobby had shot into his chest. It screeched again as the second round hit it. Jim was chanting the exorcism with the familiarity of someone who had used it often, as he had. The meat suit the demon was wearing had taken too much damage to run, and in the face of being forcefully returned to hell the demon made the only decision it could. The body's head flew back and black smoke poured from the mouth, dissipating into the gathering darkness. Sam and Dean dropped to the ground where they both lay gasping in a lung-full of air.

"Can't leave you two alone for a minute." Bobby groused as he came over and helped Sam to his feet. Jim was doing the same to Dean.

"Yeah, well you know how it is when you're popular, always with the fans and paparazzi." Dean said. He looked over at Sam. The red color was fading from his face as he continued to fill his lungs as deeply as he could, "Looks like Sammy really knows how to draw the right crowd."

"I learned it all from my big brother."

"You don't need to thank me now, Sammy. That's what an awesome big brother does." Dean staggered to his brother's side where he was leaning against the wall, and slumped next to him, shoulders brushing. "Why don't you fellows take the rest of the stuff in and Sammy and me will stay out here and cover your rear."

"Ya ain't getting' out of carrying your share of stuff too, ya idjit. If you want to sleep warm tonight then pack it in yourself. Otherwise we don't want to be kept up by your teeth chattering. Jim here needs his beauty sleep, a lot of it."

"I wouldn't talk if I were you Robert. There isn't enough time in the world to help that ugly mug of yours."

The laughter they shared let off a lot of the tension that had been with them since this all began. It was highly unlikely that the demon would come back now, and it couldn't come in the building in any event. They could see the end now. It was an incredible relief. Dean and Sam pushed away from the wall and picked up the gear. Despite his protest Bobby helped them haul in the last of their stuff. The door was pulled closed and Sam led them to the office. Josh was waiting.

"What did you all do, go down to the local stop and rob for some snack foods?"

"Just had a visit from that demon. Somehow we managed to fight him off without you." Bobby said as he dumped one of the packs onto the floor. "Speaking of food what are we gonna do about that? Somehow I don't think the pizza delivery guy is gonna come in here." Sam pointed toward some bags against the wall.

"I have some supplies. It's not gonna be a feast, but we won't starve between now and tomorrow morning. Maybe we can get something then...something at a diner or somewhere?" All the hunters could hear the wistfulness in the words, and each promised himself that Sam was going to have the biggest and best breakfast they could find.

It turned out that Sam had set himself up pretty well. The hunters all recognized John's influence on the set up of the small camp area. It was in a protected corner with the supplies placed neatly out of the way. An empty desk had been tipped over and made a third wall, offering even more protection. A small camp stove sat near an unrolled sleeping bag and a small lantern was sat next to the head of the sleeping bag. The only thing wrong with it was that it had been Sam alone here, for who knew how long...Dean needed some answers.

"How long you been here, Sammy? You have all the comforts of home. You didn't just get here yesterday did you?" Sam started to answer but Jim held up a hand.

"Before you tell the story that I know we all what to hear, why don't we get our camp set up. That way we can be as comfortable as possible while we listen. I know we all have questions that we want answered. We also need to get Caleb a sleeping bag so he can be more comfortable, and a light. We need to work out a rotation too, to watch John through the night."

There was some grumbling from Dean and Josh, but they set about getting everything set up and soon they were sitting around the small camp stove which was heating some water to make some of the instant hot chocolate that Sam had. Joshua had had some MRE in his bag and Sam's canned food hoard had yielded some Spam, which had been fried over the stove, and some white bread. The odd meal had been eaten, with a portion going in to Caleb and they were now ready to hear what Sam had been doing for the last three weeks. Sam wasn't sure where to start and Joshua made a suggestion.

"Start at Chee's place. The demon came to you there?" Sam nodded and described Chee's place and what had happened there with the demon. Dean asked about Chee and they all listened as Sammy talked about the medicine man and what he did. Dean could tell that his brother had liked the man, and was thankful that for at least some part of their time apart he had been with someone who cared for him, even if he was still pissed at the guy for letting Sam go.

They all listened as Sam detailed his trip from Utah. Dean was pretty sure that they were not getting the full story, but he vowed that sometime in the near future he would get it out of him. All of them were surprised to know where Sam had been hiding out. They certainly had not thought to look there. Sam had blushed in pleasure when Jim and Bobby had congratulated him on the slick move.

Everyone became grimmer when Sam described how the demon had come to him in his dream, how he had threatened them all unless Sam revealed himself. Sam told them about working out the best place to be, and they had all nodded, agreeing with the kid's logic. Dean had to laugh when Sam told about hot wiring the mustang. He thumped his brother on his back.

"Good to know you were paying attention when I showed you runt."

"It was Bobby that taught me how to hotwire Dean. All you could do was turn the radio on."

"I tell you that was a fluke, Sammy. It was some foreign car that was wired backward or something."

The mustang had gotten Sam to Denver, barely. He had left it parked on the edge of town at a truck stop. He had hitched a ride further into town. It turned out that the road in had led right past the industrial park, and the truck driver he had hitched with had used to pick up there. He had told Sam about how they had just shut down the final part of it, mostly because of the declining neighborhood. He had said that the homeless were moving in despite the fences and that there were gangs moving in from the nearby neighborhoods. He'd heard that the police wouldn't even go in there anymore.

Sam had gotten out not far from the industrial park and had walked back in that direction. It sounded like a place he could use. He had scouted the place quickly, and had figured out which buildings were being used for what. The last building closed still had the alarm on it. He had bypassed that and went in to take a look around. It had been perfect. The plan had come together pretty quickly from there, and he had left the complex to get some supplies and to take off the hex bag that Chee had given him. He didn't want to lead John there too quickly.

He had been there several days before the gang had showed up in the other building. Evidently they moved around their territory as the spirit moved them, staying in one place or the other for several days and then moving on. It threw off the police and their various enemies among the other gangs. Sam had quietly observed them, staying out of sight and it had been quiet for a day. He had met some of the homeless who lived in the other buildings, and he had shared what little he had with them. He was on the last of the money from Chee and his odd jobs, but it had allowed him to get some food for some of the homeless and a few pieces of clothing to help in the cold of winter. The homeless had helped him in return by keeping an ear out for anyone looking for him, and had let him know when John had arrived in town.

Sam had been working on his plan, working out the particulars, doing the devils traps on the outside, and he was ready, or at least he thought he was. He had gone out one last time to get some food on the third evening, planning to stay at the complex and wait for John from then on, rather than risk being caught outside. He had gotten to the store and got his food and was going back just after dark when he passed a dead end alley. There was a car parked in it with the lights on, pointing down the alley into the dead end. At first Sam had simply kept walking, but then he heard a cut off scream. It had been a woman, and she had been terrified. Sam had put his groceries down and gotten out his gun. He had crept down the alley, somewhat sure that anyone in front of the car would be blinded by the lights and he could get close without being seen. He had succeeded in getting even with the front bumper and he had indeed been able to see without being seen. What he had seen had made him angry.

A young woman, probably not much younger than himself had been pressed up against the brick wall by two young men. They had been dressed in what Sam recognized were the gang colors for a gang that had been trying to move in on the local one's turf. He suspected that the girl must be connected to the local gang somehow and this was some sort of announcement of war. Sam eased the hammer back on the gun.

He had managed to get the two to back off, after convincing them he was serious by shooting one in the hand when he went for the 9 mil in the back of his pants. He had had the girl take their guns and knives and would have gotten her away then if a third guy hadn't snuck up behind him with a two by four. That is what had caused the bruising and cuts on his face. He had gone down hard, but managed to keep his gun. He had hit the guy with the two by four hard in the knee, breaking or dislocating it, as he rolled across the ground. He had only just managed to get his gun on the one remaining healthy guy before that kid had wrestled his weapon away from the girl. He had had the girl tie them up using some clothesline that had been in the car, and gagged them with the bandanas they wore. They had left them there in the alley. Sam had turned out the lights on the car and turned off the engine. It was so dark in there that he doubted anyone would see them there. There was a possibility that they wouldn't be found till the morning.

Questioning the girl he had found out that she had been coming home from school when the guys had grabbed her. They had wanted to make an 'example' of her, and she had been prepared to be raped and probably murdered. Sam had picked up his bags and offered to walk the girl home. She had accepted, though she said that now that they were this close that no one would dare bother her. That had confirmed Sam's guess from earlier, but he had said nothing, simply taking her to the address she provided and making sure she got inside okay. He had seen a man looking out the window at him as he turned to walk away, but hadn't thought much of it until the next day when the gang was once again in the other building. He had told the homeless guys around to let John know approximately where he was next time he came around asking, and he knew it was going to be soon. His face had hurt like the devil, and he desperately wanted some ice. He had thought about going out and getting some of the snow that was still in place in some of the shadowy portions of the complex. He had gone out with a plastic bag to collect some and had stood up from filling the bag to find himself surrounded by gang members.

He had his gun, but there were at least twelve of them that he could see, and probably more that he couldn't. He was trying to think of what he could do when one of the older members of the gang stepped forward.

"You're the dude that helped my sister last night when the Dragon's got a hold of her." It hadn't been a question so Sam nodded. "Thanks, she's my little sister and if anything would have happened to her it would have killed my ma."

"Uh, yeah, sure. You're welcome."

"What you doin' here?" Sam contemplated exactly what he should say, and decided on a portion of the truth.

"Someone is looking for me. He's going to be here soon, and I needed the right place to meet him"

"This dude a cop?"

"No, he's not a cop. He's...he's just a man. I have to meet him."

"You done me a favor. We can make sure that this dude leaves you alone, permanently if you know what I mean."

"No!" Sam had been terrified at the suggestion. As scared as he was at facing his father, he was even more frightened that someone else, either these men or the other hunters, would hurt or kill John to keep him from getting to Sam. "Please. If you think you owe me anything then please, just let me handle this my way. If this man, if anyone, comes looking for me, just let them come in." He had waited several tense moments before the guy had nodded.

"All right. We'll leave the man be. Can't make no promises if the heat comes in though."

"I told you. The man that's coming isn't a cop. None of the men that might come are."

"Why you painting all them weird things on the building? You with some gang, tagging our turf? This some sort of initiation?"

"It's...kind of hard to explain. I'm not with any gang, at least not one like you mean. The other men will be coming to help me. They won't be here long if they come, but they will be armed and they will be dangerous. I'll be gone in three days, gone or...well you won't have to worry about it."

"This dude is coming to do you then? Why don't you let us take him out? We done it before."

"I don't want him hurt. I told you it's complicated. Just...If I give you a phone number will you call it if...if he does kill me. It's my brother, Dean, and I don't want him to not know what happened to me. He'll come when you call, and there won't be any trouble with the police."

The gang leader had agreed. And hence the reason that there had been no problem earlier when they had gone into the other building. All of the hunters were grateful for the boy's negotiating. Josh shook his head.

"Kid you got both the best and the worst luck I have ever seen in a person. I mean you get stuck as part of a curse, but manage to survive four attempts on your life. You run and get help. You get found in the place you're hiding, you run again and do pretty good until you get blackmailed by the demon. Then you come here, find a perfect place for a trap to catch your daddy, stop a rape and murder, get whacked upside the head with a two by four and end up with the leader of the local gang in your debt. On top of that when your daddy does catch up to you we are on his tail and you get to use the tranq gun we brought to bring him down peaceable like. Really, anyone else would have been dead two months ago, if not several times on the way here. You should be proud kiddo, and I know your dad will be when he comes out of this." Sam looked at Josh with obvious doubt on his face.

"I'm the reason he's been tranqed and stuck in a refrigerator. He's gonna love that. And he quit being proud of me a long time ago." Dean almost dropped his chocolate.

"That's not true Sammy. He's proud of you." His brother shook his head.

"No he's not Dean. He's proud of you, me he tolerates because I'm his son." Sam held up his hand as all of them started to protest. "I'm not saying he doesn't love me, even after all of this. I know he does in his own way. But I'm not what he expects in a son, and it's hard for him to be proud of what I'm good at. He tries, but…it's hard for him. And the things that he is proud of me for, I don't want to do." The four older men could only look at the young man in silence. It was a simple truth, and they all knew it. As much as they would like to point at an example of John's pride in his youngest son, none of them could think of an example that didn't involve hunting. Sam had made no bones about how he felt about hunting. They shared an uncomfortable look amongst themselves as Sam sat with his head down, his long bangs, even longer than usual now, hiding his face. Dean, who was sitting next to his brother leaned over so that their shoulders touched.

"I'm proud of you, Sammy."

"Me too."

"And me."

"I am too, Samuel."

The shy smile that Sam flashed them all was reward enough. Josh pushed himself up.

"Well if we've all had enough of the chick flick moments I think I'll go give Caleb a break. He's gonna want to hear what happened too. And he gets bitchy if left alone too long." Dean leaned over to watch Josh go, once the man was at the door he yelled out after him.

"Maybe you can borrow his romance novel. Bet you could use some pointers." He snickered when Josh flipped him off as he disappeared around the doorway. Sam laughed too, at Jim's disapproving look and leaned back against Dean's shoulder. Dean reveled in the feeling of his little brother beside him once again. Now it was only a matter of time, and with Sammy back, and their dad contained, he had all he needed.

Chapter 14-

The next day things had settled into a pattern. The four older hunters were on the rotation to sit with John in the fridge. He had finally fought his way through the double dose of tranquilizer and had come too almost 16 hours after he had gone down. He had not been a happy camper, literally. When he had first shown signs of waking they had tied his hands to some of the fittings inside the fridge. It had been awkward with him lying down in the sleeping bag, but it had kept him from trying to physically attack whoever was in the room with him. It didn't stop his verbal abuse however. Josh, Caleb, and Bobby had been impressed by the breadth of his vocabulary. Jim had been scandalized by the same. He had spent the few hours that he had been on duty lecturing John on the importance of good language and reading to him from a book that he had brought. Joshua, who had the two hours after Jim swore that the tirade had picked up a notch after that.

It been decided that John would not appreciate having either of his sons see him like this, and so while Sam was obviously a bad choice to sit with him anyway, Dean had also dodged the duty. He didn't mind that at all really as sitting in a windowless room with a furious John Winchester was not his idea of a fun time.

Dean, Bobby and Caleb had taken Sam out to breakfast that morning, and watched as the kid ate a truly amazing amount of food. It was a good thing that they were at a buffet. Even Dean could not have eaten that much in one sitting. Sam had finally sat back with a satisfied sigh and drank a cup of coffee, patting his bulging stomach.

"Good god kid, did you get a tape worm while you were hiding out?" Bobby said in awe. He was ignoring the scowling manager who was watching their table. If they didn't mean 'all you can eat' then they shouldn't advertise it.

"It's been awhile since I had something that didn't come in a can. Fresh food is expensive."

"Yeah well I hope you don't keep eating like that. John will have to sell Deuce here to keep up with the food bill, and Lord knows he won't get much for him."

"At least I could hustle for some money to help out unlike some who couldn't sink a ball to save their lives." Dean pointed out.

"Hey, hitting a ball into a hole with a stick is not my thing. I like something more intellectual like poker…" That had led to a lot of bragging about who was best at poker, and the purchase of a deck of cards on the way back to the plant. Several games into the tournament it had been a surprise to all of them when Sam had come out on top in most of the games. The kid was up almost a hundred dollars and Dean had begged a loan from Joshua to stay in the game since they were playing table stakes. It was even more impressive that Sam had started out with his remaining five bucks as a stake.

As the time got closer and closer to the end of the curse Sam had become less able to focus on the game and he had sat out the next round. The others had complained, wanting a chance to win their money back, but Sam had shaken his head and retreated to his sleeping bag. Jim was in with John, and it had been decided that he was the best choice for the job of facing down what would no doubt be an embarrassed and angry John Winchester at the end of the curse. Jim had known him the longest of the hunters, and had worked with him when the grief of losing his wife and having to make a new life with two young boys had been fresh and sharp.

Sam was sitting with his head down, eyes on his watch as the second hand crept around the face. It seemed time was slowing down the closer it got. He was incredibly nervous. How would his father react? He didn't know what to expect, and he wasn't sure how he would react to his dad's reaction. And then there was Dean to consider. He knew his brother idolized their father, and as much as that sometimes rankled, he could not be the cause of Dean's loss of faith in his hero. His brother had sacrificed so many things on the altar of John Winchester's obsession, and Sam would not be the cause of any more sacrifice. What would Dean expect of Sam in this situation?

Sam was very aware that his dad was not the only stubborn ass in the Winchester family. Like the saying went 'It Takes Two to Tango', and he was always right there when it came time to 'dance' with his dad. He really didn't enjoy arguing, well not the way he and his father argued anyway. But he couldn't be like Dean. He couldn't take everything that John Winchester said as gospel. He wanted to know not just John Winchester's version of the truth, he wanted the whole truth, wanted to know WHY something was what it was, and if that made him wrong in his father's eyes, well then back to the arguing. Also, he didn't want to hunt for a living. It wasn't in him to compromise on that, and he wasn't going to pretend, that just seemed dishonest. Whatever the effect of this curse was going to be it couldn't be much worse than the constant arguments that his relationship with his dad had been for the last two years. But that thought rankled at Sam. It seemed that if he let this thing break them apart more than they already were then that witch would win, and he could not have that, would not have that.

That fact decided, Sam straightened where he sat and watched as the last seconds ticked away on the curse. He almost expected some kind of trumpet sounding, or fireworks going off, the silence that greeted that last tick was somewhat anticlimactic. He looked toward the office door. Should he go out there, or would his father come here? How long would it take for the effects to wear off? What would….

Sam's questioning thoughts were interrupted by the sound of knocking on the refrigerator door. They had found out that pounding with the butt of a gun made a good amount of racket that could be easily heard from the office. Evidently something had happened. It was too coincidental for it to just be Pastor Jim needing a break. Sam exchanged looks with Dean, and Caleb did the same with Josh, but no one moved. Finally Bobby cursed and levered himself up off the floor, muttering about 'idjits' as he limped out the door trying to get the kink out of his legs and back from sitting on the floor.

The rest of them sat in silence as they listened to the sounds of Bobby dragging the big door open. They could hear voices, but not make out who was speaking or what they said. There was a scrapping sound and then a loud clang as the door was closed again, and then silence. Sam was getting ready to jump to his feet and go see what was going on when a tall and scraggly bearded figure appeared in the door. Bloodshot eyes scanned the room, falling on the young man sitting on the sleeping bag across the room. Firm, even steps took him across the room, and the man ignored the others that rose to their feet as he entered the room. He was finally standing near the sleeping bag, but he stopped five feet away, and watched as the young man got to his feet. He glanced briefly at the other young man who came up on his left, his off side he noted with approval, nodding briefly, but then turned his attention back to the younger man that rose to his feet.

The bloodshot eyes took in the bruised and battered face, the dark circles under the eyes, and the too skinny form not hidden by the baggy layers of shirts. A bitter sadness filled the dark eyes that were now locked with an almost matching pair that surprisingly seemed to be almost on a level with his own. A slightly shaking hand reached tentatively forward as if to cup a bruised cheek, but not wanting to invade personal space it paused short of the goal. With a courage that brought tears to the aching eyes the younger man stepped forward and deliberately placed his face against the hand, bending his head into it when it caressed the blue and black bruised flesh. When that seemed ok the hand slipped back behind the shaggy head and pulled lightly. There was only the barest hint of resistance then the young man practically threw himself against the broad chest of his father, clinging to the back of his jacket with desperate shaking hands. The older man gently wrapped both arms around the slim form and with eyes closed dropped his cheek on top of the shaggy head that was tucked against his neck. Solace was given and taken in silence.

Sam reveled in the feeling of his father's arms around him. It had been so long since he had gotten a genuine hug from his dad. Winchesters did not do girly hugs. On the few occasions in his recent memory when his father had expressed his love physically it had been one arm around his shoulders or a gentle punch in the arm. But this, this was the father he remembered from his childhood, the daddy that could wrap him in his arms and keep all of the dark things that haunted his dreams at bay. When had he become too old for this? Had it been when he read the first page of his father's journal? The first time he dared to question? When had that happened? He didn't know how long the hug would have gone on if Dean hadn't cleared his throat from nearby. Both Sam and John turned to look at Dean.

"If you girls are done, I'd like to get out of this dump and get a decent place to sleep for the night, and maybe some pizza."

John reached out an arm and dragged Dean forward into a group hug which the young man did not try too hard to resist. After a few seconds though John let both boys go and stepped back. He blinked his eyes rapidly clearing the moisture there.

"I…" he had to clear his throat before he could continue. He was parched and hungry as hell. "I could use some pizza, and maybe a case or two of beer." He looked around at the improvised camp and the office. "Where the hell are we?"

Jim and Bobby had come behind John and were grinning like fools, as were Caleb and Joshua. Jim stepped forward.

"We're in an old sausage plant, in Denver, John. What do you remember?"

"Last I can recall before I woke up in the refrigerator with you is going on a hunt for a water sprite. I remember pouring my herbs in the water, and then I was here." He looked around again. "The curse is over?" Everyone nodded. "Then it's been almost three weeks?" More nodding. "Shit." He rubbed a hand over his face, feeling the length of his beard.

"That about sums it up Johnny." Bobby said. He went and started rolling up his sleeping bag. "I second Dean's motion. If I have to sleep on this floor one more night, or sit on this floor any more I'm going to need either a bottle of Jack and some muscle relaxants or some chiropractic help." The other men started cleaning up too except for Jim who went to stand by John.

"I know you have a lot of questions," the pastor looked over at where Sam and Dean were playing tug of war with a duffle bag. He was amazed at the change in the feeling of the room. "And some talking to do, but it can all wait until everyone is fed and washed and comfortable. I believe you probably have some things you need to say to your boys without a bunch of old hunters standing around. And I have to admit that like Robert I am getting past the age where spending anytime on the floor is a hardship."

"Try it while you're tied to a pipe and then talk to me." John watched as the improvised camp was swiftly packed up. His eyes never strayed far from his boys, especially Sam. Even now he was starting to remember parts of the last several weeks, talking to his various contacts around the US, following leads as he searched for his son, no, not his son. He could remember that the only thing he was searching for was a target, a faceless thing that he had to kill. He closed his eyes for a moment as the anger and dismay he had first felt when he realized what he had gotten his family into with the hunt for the witch and her coven almost overwhelmed him again. Evil things had to die, he was committed to that, but not at the expense of his sons, never at that cost.

Finally everything was packed and they started hauling it out to the vehicles. John helped with some of Sam's stuff as the boy looked almost as tired as he felt. He got a small smile of appreciation from his boy, and it made his heart ache. Between the smile and the earlier hug John knew that his baby boy was already well on his way to forgiving his old man for the last three months. Unfortunately he was also aware that none of them would ever forget. Jim was right. He had a lot to talk to his son about. But that was later. He looked around at the men as they were getting ready to split up to their various vehicles.

"Why is it that I seem to remember a bunch of Latin about philosophers and kings and something about a Scottish laird ripping a bodice?" He asked. He was amused to see Caleb's cheeks redden. Jim patted the younger hunter's back.

"Well, I would have kept reading Caleb's book to you, but he refused to give it up. All I had was Plato's republic in the Latin, so I read that to keep myself occupied. You're probably lucky that Bobby didn't have something along or you could probably overhaul a '62 Nova in your sleep."

"Oh that would be sweet!" Dean said enthusiastically. Then he patted the Impala's hood. "Not that I'd give up my baby but those Novas were classics."

"I'll have you know that I read other things besides car repair manuals. I've read Plato, in Latin." Bobby huffed. "And anyway, at least I didn't have porn in my bag like Joshua. Evidently he needed something that had a lot of pictures." Joshua shot Bobby a glare, and shot a nervous glance at Jim. The pastor was looking at him with mild disapproval.

"What? I'm a grown man. It's not like I was sharing it with Sammy here."

"Yeah well you weren't sharing with me either, dude, and I'm an adult. See if I hook you up with any more of my…" Dean clamped his mouth shut as he noticed Jim's raised eyebrow. He shot the pastor an innocent smile. "Shouldn't we be getting out of here? That pizza is calling my name, after a hot shower that is. By the way dad, you get first go at the shower, you're more than a little ripe."

"You ain't exactly a delicate flower yourself there, Dean, and don't think we aren't going to have another discussion regarding your reading material choices." Dean's face scrunched up in a fair imitation of his brother's bitch-face at the thought as he slid behind the wheel of the Impala, John climbed in beside him and Sam got in the back. Dean started the big black car and pulled out in the lead, happy to be seeing the last of the complex. He knew there would be uncomfortable discussions in the hours and days to come, but for now his family was back in his baby, back where he could watch over and care for them, back where they would always be, together.

All was right with his world.

The End

Author's note again: Yes, I know you want to eavesdrop on the discussion between Sam and John. I too would love to hear that, but the muse says 'NO'. Rather than draw this out in an unsatisfying manner, which is what happens when I try to force it, I have chosen to leave that conversation to your imagination.