Sam was walking his bike home. The bike was a prop, really; a kid with a bike looked normal and looking normal was important. Sam was still short for fourteen, so even if most of the older teenagers were too cool for bikes anymore, he was still fine.
It was even more important to look normal if you were following a girl. She was blonde, familiar-looking, and she had smiled at Sam earlier, back by the library. Wearing a bike helmet in the library looked weird, but not too weird, especially if Sam pretended he was in a bit of a rush. But mostly, Sam only looked like he fit in outdoors, like this: a kid in a helmet, just walking his bike down the quiet afternoon street.
Maybe that gave him the courage to go up to the girl. It could be now or never.
"Hi, I'm Sam," he said. His current last name was Schroeder, but that wasn't important.
"I'm Amy," she said back, looking right at him.
And like her name was a key, Sam remembered her. They'd been years younger then, eight maybe? Going to school in Colorado. Sam couldn't help smiling. "We just moved here," he said, echoing his words from way back then, "and I don't know anybody. But I've seen you a lot at the library the past few days."
She nodded, giving him a private smile back. "I haven't been here long enough to be able to introduce you to all the other kids," she said. She'd only presaged his family's brief stay in Colorado by a few weeks. "We only moved here last spring," she continued now, "and I haven't made friends yet."
"That's fine," Sam said. He wasn't all that interested in the other kids, even less so now than when he'd been eight. "We could hang out, though," he observed casually, as though it had only just crossed his mind.
She hesitated, but then her serious face broke into a bigger, more lasting smile. "Want to see where the park is, Sam?"
Sam mentally sighed with relief, because it would still be outdoors, but more importantly, because she really seemed to want to spend time around him.
"Perfect," he grinned.
He got home late, and Dad and Dean had been feeding each other's worry until they looked fit to burst if Sam so much as put a toe out of line.
"Where have you been? It's been seven hours since school let out!" Dad said, as soon as he walked in.
Sam hadn't quite realized it had been that long. Sure, it was dark out, and had been for a while now; but Sam was tired of feeling guilty for wanting to live his own life. "At the park," he said coolly, not caring if he made Dad mad.
"At the park?" Dean asked incredulously. "We're sitting here wondering if someone found out about you, or you got hurt, listening to police scanners and wondering if we need to start calling the hospitals, or even if Hunters had caught you, and it's fine because you had nothing better to do than sitting by yourself at the park?"
"I wasn't by myself," Sam protested, stung, before he thought better of it. He took his helmet off, glancing at the shut door and covered windows, like always. His hair was pressed flat around the two curving, ribbed horns sweeping back from his forehead. They were still sore from growing so much this past summer, and then from wearing the bike helmet for so long. Dean had carved out a lot of the hard foam lining of the helmet, so that it would sit naturally on Sam's head. It wouldn't protect him much from a car hitting his bike, but that was the least of the dangers Sam was in, and that his family had to spend so much worry on.
"You were with people at the park? A group?" Dad pressed.
"No," Sam admitted. "Just one. A friend."
Dad sighed. "Don't make me drag this out of you, Sam, c'mon, buddy. This isn't any more fun for me than it is for you."
Sam pressed his lips tighter. "A girl, okay?" He muttered, barely audibly, before dumping his stuff on the floor and booking to the room he shared with Dean. It was a craphole apartment, like pretty much every place Sam remembered, but their bedroom had a door that shut, and Sam shut it.
He heard Dean and Dad conferring out in the living room, still sounding taken aback that Sam could have talked to a girl. It was almost insulting, really, Sam considered.
Later, after Dad left for work, Sam wasn't surprised that Dean knocked on the door, wanting to talk.
"Hey, Sam. Mind if I come in?"
"I guess." Sam would end up talking, because Dean wanted him to, and because he always did. Was it too much to ask that Sam got to have a normal crush on a girl for five minutes?
Dean came in, and sat on Sam's bed. Sam was sprawled crossways on top of the covers, sulking.
"So. This girl. She hot?" Dean asked, nudging Sam with his foot.
Sam sighed gustily. "We were friends back in third grade. And yes, she's pretty."
"No kidding? Was that Kentucky or Illinois?"
"Colorado," Sam rolled his eyes. "She and her mom move almost as much as us."
Dean tensed up at that, wary and worried again. "That could be bad, Sammy. You know we can't be too careful. What if her mom's a hunter?"
"I'm not stupid," Sam protested. "I know to watch out for those dickbags."
Dean laughed and carefully ruffled Sam's hair between the horns. "I know you do," he reassured. "All hunters are dickbags, every one of 'em, and we don't have anything to do with them."
Sam giggled. "Except Bobby," he reminded Dean.
"Except Bobby," Dean agreed. "Bobby's the only exception."
"Tell me again how we met Bobby, Dean?"
"You've heard it just as many times as I have."
"But you can tell it just like Bobby does," Sam wheedled.
"All right, fine," Dean said.
Bobby heard the sound of an older muscle car in trouble, running rough, before he saw it. It was a shiny black Impala, couple decades from new but not a speck of rust: someone knew how to take care of her. But it juddered and died in a not entirely intentional way, as it came to a stop in Bobby's front yard.
A tall, haggard man got out. Bobby could see a couple kids in the back seat, but they waited, eyes on the man, instead of piling out right away.
The stranger's eyes flicked up to the Singer Salvage sign and back to Bobby. "You Singer?"
He nodded. "Bobby," he said, extending a hand to shake.
"I'm John," the man said, shaking it. "You got an exhaust manifold?"
Bobby nodded, unsurprised. Chevy had made good cars, but the manifolds were another story. "Probably a few that'd work. Might have an aftermarket if you want it."
John looked tempted, like Bobby'd put a good steak dinner in front of him, but shook his head. "Stock'll do."
Bobby understood: it was cheaper to get the same part that had come on the car, even if it would probably fail again, eventually. But John's clothes were worn and battered, and folks who had other options mostly didn't bring their kids with them to the junkyard.
So Bobby just nodded. He glanced at the waiting Chevy, and some impulse made him say, "If you trust your kids, they're welcome to get out and run around. Gonna take me a bit, and young'uns need to move."
John again looked torn, this time between thankfulness and…apprehension, maybe? There was something there, Bobby thought, more than worry about tetanus. But John turned and called out, "Dean. C'mon out, it's okay."
The door opened immediately, and Bobby got his first good look at the kids.
The older looked maybe six or seven, the younger no more than two. They clung to each other uncertainly and stared at Bobby unabashedly.
The elder—Dean—nervously straightened the younger's blue headband. Seemed everybody was wearing headbands these days, Bobby thought. Well, he'd seen worse fads.
Half an hour later, when Bobby came out of his office with John following behind him, the kids were running and shrieking and roughhousing . The older boy was chasing the little one and hug-tackling him to the ground. Bobby watched as they flumped down in the dust, Dean making sure he wound up on the bottom, the toddler laughing nonstop. The headband was askew.
The boys were covered with dirt, and at first Bobby thought that it was just two strange lumps of mud stuck to the little one's forehead. But they were too symmetrical, and the wrong color.
Bobby reacted like the hunter he was. He charged forward and grabbed the little creature that looked like a horned two-year-old. "Get away from him," he yelled. "Get back!"
Bobby put his body between the six-year-old and his father, and whatever demon-thing he held, knowing it could be anything, could attack now it knew he’d seen it wasn't human.
The tiny boy he was holding just looked confused, though. He hadn't changed into something with too many teeth or attacked. Yet.
The big man behind him had frozen when Bobby picked up the monster. They both knew Bobby could snap his neck before John could reach him.
"Please," John said. "That's my son. Please."
"Sammy! Sammy!" Dean was yelling. "Don't hurt my brother, Mister! He didn't do anything!"
Bobby wasn't sure what to do. A few seconds ago it had seemed so clear that the boy wasn't human, was a threat that had to be taken out: but the way they were reacting wasn't right. "He hasn't done anything?" He asked. "What does he eat?"
John looked bewildered by the question, but Dean was too young to think it was strange. "He eats Cheerios an' orange juice an' sandwiches and apples and cheeseburgers! And, and ice cream! And…"
Bobby sighed. "That's enough," he said. "He doesn't eat people, or parts of people?"
Dean screwed up his face, thinking hard. "He ate my boogers once, but that was 'cause I fed them to him."
"Dean!" John protested. Then, "Mr. Singer. Bobby. He's just a child." He was tense and vibrating with an obvious need to react, but keeping his voice level and reasonable like Bobby had a gun to his head. He reached out his hands, appealing.
"Can you let Sammy down now?" Dean asked.
Bobby thought. The kid sure seemed harmless. Clearly, the brother and dad had known about the horns for some time, which meant if he had had the horns for a while and still hadn't turned into a ravening beast, he might not. For a while.
On the other hand, Bobby could hear Rufus' voice in his ear: he probably gonna turn bad one day, soon or late. Never saw an unnatural critter that weren't more evil than anyone had a right to be. Better for everybody, you nip this monster in the bud, afore he kill somebody else's child down the road.
Rufus would probably be right. But Bobby'd only been hunting a couple years, and he wasn't hard enough to look at all the eyes staring at him: the boy in his arms starting to pout, the pleading father and anxious brother, and make that choice.
"You better be careful showin' those horns around," he finally said gruffly. "Lotta hunters ain't picky what they hunt." He gently set Sammy down, but he took only a step or two before Dean had darted forward and scooped him up. A second later John had them both in his arms.
John had started looking extremely awkward as soon as Bobby mentioned hunters. "Well, actually," he coughed. He glanced out at the road. Far off in the distance, a dust cloud was visible behind a large truck. It looked a lot like Rufus' truck.
"I'd better go," John said. His kids were still clinging to each other and him, and he rearranged them with the comfort of practice until he had one in each arm, squeezing them tight as they hugged him.
Bobby sighed. Of course there were hunters on their tail already. But it didn't change anything. He still wasn't going to kill the kid. "Drive around back of the house," he said. "There's a track that'll keep you out of sight from the front for a good ways. I'll hold them off you as long as I can."
John's eyes glistened as he nodded. "Thank you," he said. "I can't ever thank you enough. I won't forget this."
He piled the kids into the front seat, got behind the wheel, and took off just slowly enough not to leave divots in the yard. Bobby watched him until he was out of sight, then turned to face the truck, steadily drawing nearer to his yard. With any luck, they hadn't seen John's car as it left, since it was lower to the ground and hadn't been kicking up so much dust. South Dakota was so flat it was easy to see things for miles off; the track behind the house mostly took advantage of the house itself to keep hidden. It went in a straight line away from the house while the main road went in a straight line towards it. The topography helped a little but there weren't many trees around these parts.
It was about twenty minutes before Rufus and Pastor Jim, a hunter they both knew, were piling out into Bobby's front yard.
"Bobby, heya!" Rufus said. "Listen, guy with two little kids in a 60s Chevy. Seen 'em?"
Bobby rubbed his chin. "Can't say I have," he said.
But Rufus and Pastor Jim were sharp hunters, and they'd been doing it a lot longer than Bobby. They exchanged glances and Jim pressed, "You sure about that, son? One of those kids the guy’s protecting has got the devil's own horns on him."
"That so?" Bobby met Jim’s eyes. "And what's this kid done?"
"It don't work that way," Rufus said, blunt as ever. "Who knows what he'll grow up to be. But he clearly ain't human, and that means he's evil, no two ways about it."
"I ain't signed on to killing babies outta some fear of what might be," Bobby said. "I see anything you oughtta know, you'll hear about it. Meantime, chili's on the stove and I got beer in the fridge; you're welcome to it."
"Bobby, you think we like what we have to do here?" Jim argued. "It's a damn shame, but hunters can't afford to take chances with monsters, even young ones. I could tell you a dozen stories with a dozen tragic ends, all from letting those wolf pups live instead of rooting them out."
Bobby folded his arms. "I'll let you know if there's anything to know," he repeated.
Rufus sighed. "Pray we don't all live to regret your cussed stubbornness, Bobby Singer. You got any Johnny Walker Blue in there, or do I gotta die of thirst?"
"I always got a bottle for you, Rufus," Bobby said, relaxing. Sammy and his family were safe. He'd see that these hunters, at least, stayed off his trail, at least until he actually put a foot wrong.
Sam knew he had to be a model citizen, or the hunters would be on him. He'd always known, it seemed. They might be on him anyway, just if he attracted attention; but if he ever hurt anyone, the protection Bobby had argued for him, to give him time to grow up, would be gone.
"I want to go to school," he said to Dean, still sitting on his bed. Dean was eighteen now and thrilled to be done with school, but Sam wasn't Dean.
"Dad's been getting books for you," Dean said. "And figuring out how to enroll you in correspondence courses, and he and Bobby are gonna be your teachers, and I'll help, too. You'll get a better education than any stupid school around here could give you."
"It won't be the same," Sam cried. "I won't make friends, or get to do anything else cool, ever!"
Dean sighed. "You're such a drama queen. Maybe you can get a role in a play. They'll costume up your horns and have you play the monster."
Sam ignored him; it didn’t deserve a response. Instead, he asked, "Dean, I have a plan, but I can't do it by myself. Will you help me?"
"Anything I can do for you, always, you know that, little brother."
"Promise, Dean? Even if you don't like it?"
Dean looked suspicious. "What, exactly, am I not gonna like here, Sam?"
"It doesn't matter," Sam argued. "Promise, or I won't tell you and I'll do it myself. It's really important," he added coaxingly. "Maybe the most important thing of my life."
Dean gave in, as he always did when Sam really wanted something. "Fine, I promise. Just don't make me regret this, ok?"
"I regret promising so, so much," Dean hissed at Sam. Sam was lying on the plastic-covered kitchen table. Dean had an entire tray of surgical instruments; thoughtfully laid out by Sam. They always kept a first aid kit well stocked enough for a small country, because it would be so dangerous to bring Sam to a hospital, and Dean and John both had picked up as much informal medical training as they could. Dean wasn’t sure where Sam had picked up the enormous and vicious-looking bone saw, though.
"I'm not spending the rest of my life as a freak," Sam said stubbornly. "Whether you help or not, these stupid horns are coming off, even if I have to go stick my head on a sawmill."
"Shut up," Dean said. "Take your goddamn anesthetic before I change my mind."
Sam smiled, brilliant as daylight, and downed his pills and water. He lay back down on the table. "This is gonna be awesome."
It was not awesome. Three days later, Sam could barely get out of bed; he'd been writhing in pain and fever, unable to sleep. His dad had been horrified when he got home the first evening, and along with Dean had barely left Sam's bedside since.
On the third day, John had unwrapped the bandages around Sam's head to change them, and then paused. "Hmm," he said.
"Hmm? What does 'hmm' mean?" Sam asked anxiously.
John sighed, and put the bandages aside. "It means you're not bleeding anymore, and I don't think you'll have to worry about it now. The wounds have closed over."
Dean was standing nearby, looking grim and guilty.
"But that's good, right?" Sam was confused. "Dad? It's good that I'm healing so fast, right?"
"They've closed over with new horn growth, Sam," his dad said gently. "I wish you'd asked me before you and Dean did this. I did once take you to a hospital, you know, when you were a baby and the horns first started growing."
"You never told me! What did the doctors say?" Sam looked over at Dean. Dean hadn't seemed to know about this, before.
"Said it was unusual," John said. "But that they should be easy enough to remove. Got a sterile wipe and snipped off those tiny baby buds right there in the emergency room. You screamed bloody murder, bled like a stuck pig, and in two days it looked like he hadn't done anything at all. That was when the doctor got really concerned, started talking tests and specialists and all sorts of crap. But I knew then, it wasn't going to be that easy. Something unnatural had done something to you when it killed your mother, and it wasn't something the doctors were going to be able to fix."
Sam swallowed, mouth dry. "So what you're saying is, they're going to grow back?"
Dean flinched, but just hung his head even more without saying anything.
"I'm afraid so,” John said. “I'm sorry, son."
"No. No!" Sam flung back the covers and staggered up onto his feet. He fell, but shook John and Dean off when they rushed forward to help.
Dean's guilty look shifted to worried. "Sam? Are you okay?"
"Just leave me alone!" Sam shouted at them both. "I'm a freak, you'd be better off without me, I just ruin your lives trying to take care of me, and it's never going to get better!"
He stumbled towards the door, shoving Dean aside, who was still looking stunned and hurt.
"I'm sorry," Sam said, feeling guilty. But not so guilty that he could stay there and face them any longer. He grabbed a cowboy hat from the wall, jammed it on his head regardless of the fresh wave of pain this brought from his horn stumps, and blindly staggered out the door.
"Sam?" Amy opened her front door, puzzled. "What's up? Are you okay?"
"Hi, Amy!" Sam managed to smile at her, somehow. "I was hoping maybe I could hang out with you for a while?"
"Sure," she said, glancing nervously behind her into the house. "My mom's not here, she's not supposed to be back until tonight. As long as you're gone before she gets home, I think you can stay."
"Thanks," Sam said, letting the gratitude he felt show on his face. He slipped inside when she widened the door for him. "I couldn't stand being cooped up with my dad any longer," he confessed.
"Have a seat," she said, waving at the sofa. "Want a soda or anything?" She hovered between Sam and the kitchen, still nervous.
"No thanks," Sam said. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything you were doing?"
"No, no," she said. "Just a book report. We could watch a movie, if you want?"
Sam considered. Usually he liked movies, and it might even offer him a chance to put an arm around Amy while they watched. That would be really nice, he thought. But on the other hand, his head still felt like it was being sawn open, so the lights and noise of a movie would probably suck. "No," he decided reluctantly. "I kind of have a headache, or I'd love to."
"You should take that hat off," she said promptly, coming to sit next to him on the couch. "It probably isn't making your head feel any better." She reached out towards his forehead.
Sam flinched, badly. Dammit. Usually he was smoother with all the lies he had to tell. "That's kind of why," he improvised. "My brother glued it to my head 'cause he's a jerk."
She hesitated. "Sam," she said slowly. "I remember why you had to leave town, back in Colorado Springs. You don't have to lie to me, you know."
His gaze jerked up to her, more shocked than he could remember being in a long, long time. He could barely even remember which time it had been, what slip-up had caused the Winchesters to have to pack up and leave yet another town…
"Jackson White pulled your beret off in front of the whole class," she filled in for him. "And you had little horns underneath. I wanted to tell you I'd still be your friend then, only you ran out and we never saw you again."
Sam winced, remembering. He couldn't believe he'd forgotten that: most times they had to run weren't because of something nearly that dramatic, usually just someone poking around too much, getting too close. He looked up at Amy again, hardly daring to hope … she looked back at him, steadily, accepting him like no one except his family and Bobby had ever offered to before.
Sam reached up. Holding his breath, he took the hat off. His horn stubs were already ridged and beginning to grow out from his forehead again. They were a dark, shiny black, he knew without having to look, and the skin around them felt red and inflamed after Dean's surgery.
Amy took the hat out of his hands and dropped it over the back of the couch. Then she took his face in her hands. "It's okay," she told him, firmly enough he maybe almost half believed her. "Sam."
And then she was moving in even closer, and her lips puckered up and her hands tilted his face towards hers, and Sam had about two seconds to realize they were going to kiss, and at the very last instant he closed the distance himself and kissed her instead of waiting.
It was his first kiss ever, and hers, too, she said, smiling at him. They had time for a second and third and fourth, too, and Sam got to put his arm around her and cuddle even without a movie as an excuse, as they talked.
She told him she didn't think her mom was a good person. Sam had known that they moved a lot, but not why. He didn't ask for details now, either. The world was full of people who weren't very good people; Sam knew that better than most. He told her how his dad wanted to homeschool him from now on, because his horns had grown too big to hide over the summer, and how he'd talked Dean into cutting them off, only it wasn't going to be good enough, because they were always going to grow back.
They talked so late that it was dark before they knew it, and suddenly there was the sound of a key in the lock. Amy went pale.
"My mom," she gasped. "Quick, hide!" She shoved him into the closet.
The closet door closed on Sam barely in time, as the front door opened and Amy turned to greet her mom. "Hi, what's…"
"No time," the woman snapped. "There's hunters right behind me, we need to go. Now."
"Ok," Amy said, sounding alarmed. "I'll grab my bag."
"What's that?" Her mom suddenly said, sharp. Her footsteps moved swiftly across the room. With a sick feeling, Sam suddenly realized that his cowboy hat was still lying on the floor, in plain view of where Amy's mom was standing. "You had somebody over here?" She sounded soft and dangerous.
And then the closet door was flying open, and Sam was face to face with her. His hands had flown up instinctively to cover his forehead, uselessly attempting to hide his horn stubs even now. She jerked one of his wrists down.
"Amy? What is this?" Her tone shifted from angry to kind of baffled.
"Please Mom, he's my friend! Please don't hurt him, he won't tell the hunters anything, they'd try to kill him too! I'm sorry. I'm sorry, but can we talk about this later and just run now? Please?" She begged, desperate for Sam.
"I won't get in your way or slow you down, ma'am," Sam added, seeing murder warring with hesitation in her eyes. "I can follow orders. Just don't leave me for them to find." He didn't know who the hunters were, but most would kill him on sight and even those that Bobby had talked into restraint when he was little wouldn't be forgiving if they found him in the house of something they were actively hunting. Even if Bobby himself came through that door, he'd have to talk really fast to keep whoever was with him from stringing Sam from the ceiling.
Amy's mom seemed to come to a decision. "You, boy, with me. Amy, grab our bags. Don't argue! I'm giving him a chance." She jerked on his wrist until he stumbled out of the closet after her. Amy gave him a stricken look and flew up the stairs.
Sam followed the terrifying woman into the kitchen. She pointed to the fridge. "Get the jars out."
Sam had no idea what could be important about jars, but he knew better than to argue now, so he opened the fridge door.
There were jars of brains in the refrigerator.
Sam threw a terrified glance at the woman hovering behind him. She was watching him with a narrow-eyed predator's stare. Waiting to see which way he would jump.
He'd better not step wrong now, then. Sam closed his eyes just for an instant, screwed up his breath, and reached into the fridge. He collected up the three jars with their gruesome evidence, and put them in the plastic grocery bag that the woman held out for them. He let his breath out and met her eyes. "Anything else?"
She looked at him for a beat. She didn't smile, but she didn't look like she was about to murder him anymore, either. "You can call me Liz," she said reluctantly.
Amy came skidding back into the room, two big backpacks over her arms, and the moment was over.
"Get in the car," Liz snapped to both of them. Sam scooped up his hat on the way past the couch and then they were gone, on the road, Sioux Falls falling away behind them in the rear-view mirror.
Three days brought them to Arizona, dusty and dry with late-summer heat still shimmering in the distance, any direction Sam looked. His horns had grown steadily and painfully the entire time, curving back along the top of his head. The cowboy hat didn't sit well anymore and Sam kept his hood up—he'd worn hoodies his entire life in case he needed extra cover—and stayed out of sight unless it was dark. Luckily, no one thought anything of car windows being blocked with sun-shields this far south.
Amy's mom finally dropped Sam and Amy in a motel room and told them to stay put until she got back. It was late night, or technically early morning, when she headed out on her own. If it had been his Dad, Sam would've assumed that he was going out for money or to see if they'd be safe to continue.
But the last of the pickled brains had been eaten yesterday. Sam had an awful feeling he knew what Liz was going after. And Amy was refusing to meet his eyes.
Could he use the room phone to call his dad? Call Bobby? Would Amy try and stop him if he did, or would she tell Liz when she got back?
Sam knew Liz didn't care much for him. She wouldn't tolerate Sam trying to let anyone, even his family, know where he was or who he was with. Probably not even that he was alive; in a certain cold logic that Sam understood even if he didn't agree with, they were safest from discovery if his family had no clue at all what happened to him.
Amy might understand. But, of course, Amy had to care about her mom, not just Sam, and her mom just wanted to protect Amy. Sam understood that. He didn't want to make Amy choose, even if he didn't care much for Liz.
He wouldn't try to use the phone. At least not until he was alone.
Amy let out a shaky exhale. They hadn't really talked much, too aware of Liz overhearing them to be comfortable. "God, Sam, I'm so sorry. You didn't ask for any of this." She looked miserable.
Sam shrugged, awkwardly. "I know—neither did you, though."
"I don't want to grow up like her," Amy burst out. "I know—I know we're monsters, but it doesn't have to be like this. She doesn't even care when she kills people, and she says I'll have to learn to be like that too, be hard like her, but Sam, there's got to be a different way. I…I…" and suddenly she was crying, and Sam pulled her into a hug and rocked her.
He was dry-eyed, like the circumstances of his life had changed too fast for his emotions to keep up with him. He had no idea if he'd ever see Dad and Dean again. He could die tonight when Liz came home and decided she wanted to eat his pituitary gland more than she wanted to keep Amy happy, he could die tomorrow when the hunters chasing Liz caught up and found him consorting with the enemy, he could die next week when someone called CPS and they found his horns and word got out and then a mob tore him to pieces with kitchen knives.
But it was like there was too much danger for him to process or worry about, so instead he focused on Amy, who was crying now because she was worrying about him. Dean and his dad would be worried about him right now too, but they'd worried about him his entire life and there wasn't anything he could do about it anyway. They weren't here and Amy was. Sam held her, and made little shushing noises, and after a few minutes she trailed off into sniffles and got her feet to bear her weight again.
"What are we going to do, though?" She asked. "If you want to run away, back to your family, I'll help you. But we'll have to be really careful, because if she catches you running away, she'll kill you."
Sam wasn't really surprised to hear it, or he shouldn't have been, but it still made a little jolt shiver through his stomach. "What about you?” he asked. “Would you run away with me?"
"I don't know," she said. "Your family might not help me. They might even turn me over to the hunters."
"They wouldn't!" Sam protested.
"I'm really a monster, Sam, not like you. You just look different, but I actually eat pituitary glands. And anyway, if the hunters gave them a choice, if they had to in order to protect you?"
Sam looked away. He didn't want to admit she was right. "So what, then?" he said. "You'll stay here with her? Or go off on your own?"
"I don't know," she said again. "Either way would suck."
"Yeah. Understatement," Sam said.
"Yeah. Would you go off on your own, do you think?" she asked curiously.
"Maybe," Sam sighed. "I know Dad and Dean mean well, but they can get to be a bit much. Sometimes I just want to get out from under them and breathe, you know? Live my own life." He gave a short laugh. "Guess I'm sorta there."
He looked around at the motel walls, white with a couple soulless motel-chain pictures. He wanted to scream and tear them up, and he wanted to be back in the latest tiny, shabby apartment with Dean cooking macaroni and hot dogs and Dad sorting through home-school curriculums. Nothing was what he wanted.
Except that almost as if thinking of them had summoned it, he heard something deep and familiar rumbling and purring in his bones. He jerked his head up towards the window, and then darted over to see. It couldn't be!
Rolling slowly through the dark, quiet parking lot was a shiny black muscle car, every line and corner of her as familiar to Sam as his father's face. Sam flipped up his hood and tore out the door, barely hearing Amy's startled reaction behind him.
He flew out the door and Dean met him halfway across the pavement, clutching him into a hug so tight it knocked the air from his lungs. That was okay; he didn't need to breathe as long as Dean was holding him. He buried his face in Dean's shoulder and hugged him back, shaking and fighting back tears. He heard the Impala door open and close, and his father's voice call, "Sam."
Sam lifted his head. His dad looked like he hadn't slept at all for the past three days. He was haggard with worry and still the best thing Sam could imagine seeing right then. "Dad," he managed. Dean let him go after one more good squeeze, and a few steps later he was wrapped up in his father's arms, leather and motor oil scents tickling his emotions.
"I'm sorry for making you worry," he muttered, turning to include Dean in the apology.
But Dean wasn't moving, because Liz had a knife at his throat.
Where had she come from? Sam figured she must have been coming back to the motel room from her hunt, and found them standing around in the open like idiots who'd never heard of danger. Dammit. More importantly, what could they do now? How were they going to get Dean out of danger?
"Don't try anything," Liz warned them, knuckles tight on the knife. "I've had all the trouble I can take already, what with those assholes from Sioux Falls catching up to us and screwing up my kill tonight, and now this. So here's how this is going to go. You're going to tie each other up, and I'm going to leave you for the hunters to deal with while Amy and I leave town."
Her eyes were glittering hungrily, and Sam didn't believe for an instant she was planning to let Dean go. Dean was going to be her next meal whether Sam and John obeyed her or not. She backed up towards the motel door, away from the Impala, Sam and John, dragging Dean with her. Dean twisted, protesting, but she dug the point of her blade into his skin and he subsided. "Well, coming? Move, or I bleed him some more!"
Sam started forward, heart sinking as she laughed. Once they were inside, without even the scant protection of being public that the parking lot had, there'd be nothing stopping her from killing Dean, and most likely John, too. Sam she probably really did mean to leave to delay the hunters; she'd hope to salvage her relationship with Amy eventually, and even Liz knew Amy wouldn't forgive her killing Sam. But his family was fair game.
And then Liz stopped moving, voice choking off mid-laugh. Amy, face very pale and very rigid, had darted in behind her, and in her hand was a little silver knife. The knife was covered with blood.
Liz swayed, looking shocked. The knife she was holding against Dean's throat loosened, and Dean swatted it away and jumped out of her hold. She toppled over onto the pavement and lay still.
Amy looked up at them. "I'm sorry for all of this. Really."
"Amy," Sam called. He wanted to go to her, reassure her it would be alright, but his dad had a tight grip on his arm holding him back. Sam looked up at him. John wasn't looking at Amy; he was looking at an old beat-up truck just pulling into the parking lot.
Dean saw it too, and said out loud, "Crap. Bobby and Rufus. They couldn't have gotten here a minute ago?" he complained, rubbing at the blood on his neck.
Amy looked too, and flinched with her whole body, suddenly looking small and afraid. "They'll kill me," she said with certainty. "I have to run." And she turned and darted away, along the front of the building, but the pickup roared up alongside her before she could round the corner, and Rufus leaped out and tackled her to the ground.
John, Sam, and Dean had all run up by the time Bobby got out and came around the truck, and they all started talking at once. "Hold on…"
"Just wait a minute, now, Bobby…"
"Please don't kill her," Sam begged. "She didn't do anything wrong, please."
"As though you've got the standing right now to be asking for anything!" Bobby said, turning on him. "Making your daddy chase you halfway across the country, not knowing if you were alive or dead!"
"It ain't as simple as whether she's done anything, boy," Rufus said, pulling himself and Amy both to their feet. "It's about what she will do if we let her live. She can't live without people dying for it. It's a crap hand, but there it is."
"Yes, I can," Amy said, surprising them all. "I've thought about it a lot. It doesn't have to be like my mom did it. Yes, I need pituitary glands to live, but they don't have to be fresh. I could get everything I needed from a big hospital, from people that are already dead, or a medical dissection lab at a university, or funeral homes or anywhere. Maybe even get a job at a place like that one day, so I wouldn't even have to break in. My mom—" she glanced over at the slumped body behind them, then went doggedly on—"she just didn't care enough to work that way. She was evil, and I'd die before I turned into her." She stopped, panting with emotion, looking at each of their faces in turn, but mostly looking at Sam.
Sam couldn't take his eyes off her. She was standing tall despite Rufus's hand holding her shoulder in place, and it seemed like he'd never seen someone so magnificently declaring themselves in his life. He was used to being told, all his life, he would only ever be able to trust family, and he knew he was lucky to have the family he did; he wouldn't give Dean up for the world, or his Dad or Bobby either. But he wanted this girl to be someone he never had to let go of, either, now, too. He wanted to trust her with his life; he wanted to make her family.
But Bobby and Rufus were still holding silver knives. Sam watched them exchange glances, and then they looked at John.
"She saved Dean's life," John said quietly. "She didn't have to do a damned thing, but if she hadn't, he'd'a been dead before you got here. And she did it knowing it was going to put her at a lot of risk. I know I owe her more than I can repay."
"Dammit," Bobby sighed, tossing the knife back into the truck. "You damn Winchesters are going to be the death of me, sooner or later. Rufus?"
"Don't make me regret this," he groaned. "And that goes double for you, devil-boy. Consider yourself damn lucky you're not bleeding out right now for all the trouble you got yourself into. Hobnobbing with monsters," he grumbled. "Never any good comes of it, not in all the hunter lore, and likely as not to end in tears if not blood."
"Well, you could say that about life in general, couldn't you?" Dean asked cheekily, now that everyone had started to breathe again.
"Nobody asked you your opinion, whelp," Rufus said. Bobby smacked the back of Dean's head, lightly. Rufus let go of Amy and stuffed his knife into a sheath. "You get a pass, this time only. I find you on a body trail ever again, it's your life."
"Now git," Bobby added, and Amy gulped and nodded, cast Sam one last wild look, and ran.
She disappeared around the building, towards what little town there was out here, and after Bobby and Rufus spent a little more time telling Sam to stick with his family and he'd better not pull any stunts like this again, ever, they collected Liz's corpse, which was already looking disturbingly squishy, got back in their truck, and pulled out, back to Sioux Falls, or wherever frustrated hunters went for down time and to burn human-looking remains.
"You got any stuff in there?" Dean asked Sam, jerking his chin at the motel Sam had come running out of.
"No," Sam said. The cowboy hat was useless to him unless Dean sawed off his horns again, but he wouldn't: the pain and recovery time wasn't worth a day or two of not wearing the stupid bike helmet. It was only Amy’s stuff in there, and Sam didn’t know if she’d risk coming back for it or not, but he didn’t want to risk making her feel unsafe if she did.
He could leave a note, but what could he possibly say she didn't already know? A note wasn't going to change anything.
"Okay," said Dean. "So, you ready to head out? Back to Sioux Falls?"
"No," said Sam, thoughtfully. "It's not that I'm not glad to see you," he added. "But could I have a little bit of time to think before we go? Please? I'll stay in sight the whole time." He gestured to the wide open land across the road from the motel. It was empty desert, dotted with small brush. The sun was just starting to come up.
Dean exchanged glances with John. They'd been on the road for days and mostly wanted to put as much distance as they could between themselves and this bloody parking lot.
"Tell you what," John said. "There's a gas station and diner down the road a mile, and the desert will still be there. That good enough?"
Sam nodded gratefully. He got in the car with them, and then got out at the diner without having said a word. Dean leaned after him, said, "Hey," and tossed Sam's old bike helmet from before all this started at him. Sam caught it and nodded, but didn't put it on. It was still early enough there weren't people around, and although the sky was rapidly getting lighter, it was still twilight enough that his hood didn't look too weird, especially from a distance.
He started walking away from the car, away from everything, out into the desert where he would be alone.
He didn't want to spend his whole life alone. Everything that had just happened seemed like the best chance he would ever have at finding someone else who liked him and accepted him, horns and all, and it hadn't been good enough; he would almost certainly never see Amy again. He couldn't imagine finding anyone else who would ever want to be with him, besides the family who was already stuck with him just because he'd grown up with them.
His family wouldn't leave him, and he wouldn't leave them; they'd probably still be living with each other when they were middle-aged. They'd do their best to homeschool him, and bring him books and movies and tell him stories about what it was like to be part of the world, part of a community and fellowship of humans, but he'd never be part of it himself.
He looked back at the car; it looked small in the distance. There were vultures wheeling in the sky, but no people anywhere near. Sam shook the hood off his head and let the growing sunlight bathe his head. He could feel it starting to warm his hair and the dark surface of his horns picked up even more heat.
When was the last time he'd been able to just be outside without his head covered like this? Before they'd come to Sioux Falls, they'd stayed all summer in a remote cabin while Sam's horns grew with his normal teenage growth spurt. He wasn't done growing yet, and probably neither were they. But in spite of his worries about the future, he'd been able to run around outdoors almost as much as he wanted to.
Sam wanted it all; he wanted to be free to not have to hide, but he wanted people around that he didn't have to hide from. He wanted the family he had and he wanted the possibility of starting a new family, having new people he could get to know instead of abandoning everyone who got close enough to ask questions. He wanted a normal life. Was that so much to ask?
Apparently. Everyone was always saying you couldn't have everything you wanted in life. Maybe Sam was asking for too much; maybe he should settle like Dad and Dean wanted him to, stop wanting more than he had and count himself lucky that he did have people who loved him and protected him and supported him. He was luckier than a lot of people who didn't have that much. Amy didn't have anybody now, and she'd have to figure out how to live all by herself, because no one else thought she should exist.
If Sam was so lucky, why did he hurt so much?
Dean watched Sam walking away from them, shoulders slumped. He could guess a lot of what was going through his little brother's head right now. He didn't really feel right about it all himself. Of course it was good that they'd gotten Sam back, safe and sound. Dean and his dad had both been imagining Sam meeting all sorts of awful fates, ever since Sam hadn't come home three days ago and Bobby showed up on a hunt.
So why weren't they celebrating?
Someone pulled up to the darkened diner, unlocked the side door and went in. The lights came on and, a minute later, the open sign flickered to life.
John got out of the car and waited for Dean; they headed for the diner.
"Dad?" Dean asked. "Can I go look for Sam's girlfriend? Amy?"
Dad stopped walking. "You know finding her would be the least difficult part about it?"
"Yeah. I know. But I think it's the right thing to do, Dad."
He considered this and sighed. "Dammit. Can't argue with you. She's got a place with us, if she wants it."
"Thanks." Dean blew out a breath and veered off from the entrance to the diner. "I'll meet up with you and Sam back here," he called, already loping back down the road they'd just driven away from the motel on.
Dean's timing was awesome, he figured. He got to the motel just in time to see Amy slipping out the door with a stuffed backpack she hadn't had before. She didn't see him right away, and he pondered following her, waiting for a chance to trap her so she couldn't run off instead of listening.
No. Screw it, that wasn't how he was going to start this off. "Amy!" he called, waving overenthusiastically.
She jumped about a foot. Dean tried to look as harmless as possible. She backed up a few steps, but didn't run. Yet.
"Hey. I just wanted to talk," Dean said, holding up his hands.
"Is Sam ok?" she asked.
"He's moping around like someone killed his bunny rabbit, but he's fine," Dean said. "It's just… well, I guess he'd be more, um, fine if you weren't gone. I mean, I don't know if you have any place you were planning on going, but I'm just saying, you could stay with us. If you wanted. And even if you didn't, maybe we could give you a ride."
Dean realized he was babbling and cut himself off; he felt more awkward than he could describe, standing there asking someone he didn't know at all to make a major life decision on his say-so. She looked expressionless, standing there by herself; he couldn't tell if she wanted to hear anything he was saying or not.
She didn't smile, but she nodded. "I…thank you. No, I don't have anywhere in particular. Um…did Sam say anything about this? What about your dad?"
Dean waved a hand, relieved. "Sammy doesn't know I'm here. Like I said, he was moping. Dad's fine with it."
"Ok," she said.
"Just that? Ok?" Dean half-laughed.
She looked at him, quizzical. "Which way?"
"Man, I see why Sammy gets along with you," Dean shook his head. "You're both way too serious. We're back at the diner, c'mon, this way."
If she'd been any other kid, he'd have slung an arm around her neck and tugged her around, but she was still keeping a careful distance between them, and her body language said she held herself apart from the world. That was ok, for now. There was going to be plenty of time to get comfortable around each other, if this went well.
Sam finally started walking back after the sun was well up and his stomach started to complain about how long it'd been since he'd eaten. He settled the old bike helmet back on his head; the horns fit perfectly into the grooves Dean had carved, which meant they'd fully regrown now, only a week after Dean had cut them down to his scalp. He was stuck with them for good.
He was stuck with his family, too. It was too risky for anyone else to find out; Sam knew perfectly well how much devil imagery involved horns. He'd read up extensively on the subject when he was eleven. So either people would think he was evil and fear him, or they'd think he was evil and be excited by it, which was so much worse. And as Sam got older, he'd look less and less like a harmless cute kid, which meant he couldn't afford to mess up and accidentally let people see them, as had happened occasionally through the years. Plus he always, always loathed the panicked moving and getting whole new identities that followed those slip-ups.
But, even if he sometimes felt stuck, he couldn't imagine not having his family on his side to deal with all this. They didn't deserve to have their lives ruined by Sam, but they never complained. And he'd almost lost them forever by getting swept up with Liz, a monster. He shuddered to think if his last words to them had been the angry ones he left with.
He got back to the Impala and the diner. He swapped into a clean shirt from the car and, spotting Dean and Dad at a window table, picked up his pace to get inside, hunger eclipsing his other emotions for the moment.
There was a third person at the table he hadn't been able to see from outside, a slight figure with long blond hair. Sam's breath caught. He daren't hope…
They all turned towards him, hearing the bells on the door, and Dean said, grinning, "Sammy, look who's gonna stay with us!"
"What?" Sam said blankly.
"If it's ok," Amy corrected. "Maybe."
Sam started to smile. "Ok? It's more than ok. I can't believe this!" He turned to his dad.
"How much would it suck if life was boring, right?" John said, cracking a smile. The joke was so unexpected Sam actually laughed, Dean joining in.
"We can do this, Sam. We want to give it a shot, anyway."
"Thanks," Sam said, eyes shining, joining them in the space left open. "You're the best. I can't believe this is actually turning out like this."
"I can't believe you guys are being so nice to me," Amy said, reserved and cautious as always, but her voice was trembling a little. "I'm not going to let you down. I thought only my mom would ever accept me."
"Yeah," said Sam. "I know the feeling."
"Whatever, guys, stop it before I have to vomit instead of eat," Dean said. "Hey, Amy, do you like eating cow brains, too? 'Cause I know this chick whose dad's a butcher, I could hook you up…"
"Dean!" Sam and John both protested.
"What? It's just a question!" Dean looked baffled by their response.
"I don't know," Amy said gravely. "What do they taste like?"
"I think you'll fit in fine," John said, grinning. Sam reached over and held her hand, feeling weird about it but also like he wanted to bottle this moment and keep it forever.
Of course, he had to let go a minute later to strangle Dean who was making fake gagging noises, but life was never quite perfect, was it?
"Hey, Sam!" Amy came running into the living room from the front door. "Look what I found at the library!"
Sam looked up from studying, interested. He seldom went to the library anymore, but Amy was usually good at picking out things he'd be interested in.
"My yoga teacher was talking about kundalini, and I started looking stuff up. Did you know there's a whole community of Sikh converts, living in New Mexico?"
"I don't understand," Sam complained, smiling. "Explain it to me some more?"
"Sikhs wear turbans. Have you ever thought about wearing a turban to hide your horns?
"It wouldn't look normal enough, I'm obviously not Middle Eastern or Indian," Sam said automatically. Of course he'd thought about it.
"But there's thousands of people, Americans, all races, who've converted to Sikhism, living in the same city, and Sam—they all have to wear turbans in public. All the time!"
Sam stared at her. It sounded too good to be true. "Are you kidding me?"
Amy dragged half a dozen books out of her backpack and plopped them down on Sam's study table. "I wouldn't kid, Sam. I'm not saying it's for sure, but they're not crazy, from what I could tell. I think it's worth looking at, don't you?"
Sam grabbed the top book. The cover had people wearing thick turbans on their heads; thick enough, he knew, to hide his horns. He could look normal if everyone dressed like that.
He flipped open the book. He had a lot of reading up to do.