By Friday of the fourth week at Grace's, Dean was starting to worry for real. Up until this point in time, he had been able to find logical explanations for everything. Sam's weird-ass psychic bursts, visions, super-freakish power. The whole thing. But Sam's behavior was beginning to get to him on a whole new level now and he could no longer wipe it off on cabin fever or whatever the hell it was that made them go crazy while being cooped up in one place for this long.

It wasn't even noon yet and Sam was uncharacteristically quiet and seemed lost in thought. And despite all his reassurances, Dean couldn't forget about the gouges in the door and that torn chain of the cuffs. Grace hadn't noticed the gouges yet, which Dean thought was a bit odd, but then it might just be that she had noticed, but just hadn't mentioned them.

Dean was once again sitting on the couch, his cast-encased leg resting on the coffee table, while he watched Sam, who was sitting on one of the armchairs across from him, staring into space. "Hey," he said after a while.

Sam didn't react.

"Sam?" he tried again and snapped his fingers to attract his brother's attention. Sam had gone from being just as antsy as Dean to being almost morosely withdrawn over the last week.

He blinked, then focused on Dean. "What?" he asked.

"You're zoning out again. What's up with you?" Grace was somewhere upstairs, vacuuming if the constant hum was anything to go by, and that left them in relative safety to discuss whatever might be on their minds.

The semi-serious look on his brother's face would have spawned hilarity if it wasn't for the fact that Dean was worried about him. Mostly, he tried to tell himself, he was worried about Sam's view on himself right now. Sam seemed convinced that something was wrong with him. "Nothing. Just thinking," Sam said and pursed his lips in a contemplative manner.

"About?" Dean prompted.

Sam focused on him again even though his attention had started drifting. "This damned cast is chafing," he muttered and dropped his gaze to the offending confinement of his arm.

"What do you think mine's doing? Having a party?" Dean asked, reverting back to what he knew best when he felt nervous or concerned. Crack a joke and things were okay. He should have that put on his damned headstone when he died.

"It's too tight," Sam insisted and tried to wiggle a finger under the edge of the cast, but couldn't quite manage.

Dean leaned forward and for the first time registered that the cast did seem too tight. Sam's arm looked a little swollen around the lower edge of it. "That doesn't look good, man," he said. "How's your hand?"

"Numb," Sam growled and started picking at the cast.

"GRACE!" Dean yelled.

Sam gave him a dark look. "She can't do anything about it," he claimed.

"The hell she can. She can get you to the frigging hospital so you can get it checked out," Dean shot back, not in the mood to argue about this. Why the hell Sam hadn't said anything before was beyond him. "GRACE!"

The vacuum turned off upstairs and a moment later Grace came down the stairs. "What?" she asked.

"Sam's cast is too tight," Dean said and nodded toward Sam, who eyed the cast morosely.

"Let me see that," Grace said and hunkered down next to Sam to take a closer look. "That is too tight," she agreed. "I think we'd better swing by the ER and have them take a look at it." She rose again and seemingly hadn't noticed Sam's mood until now. "Does it hurt?"

"No, it's just damned uncomfortable," Sam said, his tone bordering on anger.

Grace nodded. "I can imagine," she said. "Come on. Let's get going."

Sam frowned, then rose. "You think I can get this damned cast off now?" he asked.

"We'll see. It depends on how well your arm has healed," she said, then stopped and eyed Dean. "Will you be okay on your own for a bit?"

Dean gave her a look that dad would have reamed his hide for. "What am I? Five?" he shot back and gave her a smirk to take the edge off both the look and the words.

She rolled her eyes with a light smile and ushered Sam out the door. As soon as the door closed, Dean's smirk vanished. He dug his phone out of the pocket of his sweats, the only type of pants he could wiggle into with that damned cast on, and dialed Bobby's number.

"How much strength does it take to rip through police issue cuffs or gouge a hardwood door?" he asked the second Bobby picked up.

"That's one hell of a question to start the day with, Dean," Bobby said. "I take it you have reason for asking that?"

"Do you know?" Dean insisted rather than elaborating right now.

"It takes a lot, depending on how you do it," Bobby said.

"Like what? Excessive anger? Extraordinary strength? Could someone just rip through the chain of a new set of cuffs because they get mad?" Dean pressed.

"Are you gonna tell me what this is about?" Bobby asked a little sternly.

"Lately Sam has been exhibiting this weird ... supernatural strength. And we're both going up the walls here, being cooped up in this house for over four weeks now," Dean confessed, not happy about verbalizing his present concerns. It somehow made them more real.

"It depends on the circumstances, Dean. Are you telling me that Sam tore through police issue cuffs and gouged a hardwood door?"

"Yeah, pretty much. And without any tools either. Grace has got this front door. Looks like oak. Sammy got a bit pissed at me and put some deep scratches in the surface with his fingernails. How the hell can he do that? It looks like he used a damned crowbar." Dean pushed the fingers of his left hand through his hair. "And he's moody like hell right now. I've never seen him this pissed off before. At least not without dad being around."

Bobby was silent for a moment. "Kid, I don't know what to tell you. Under some circumstances, people are capable of extraordinary stuff. Why Sam can do that without much prompting I don't know. It might be related to his psychic stuff in some way."

"Old Yellow-Eyes is a goner, Bobby. Sam hasn't had a single vision since I put that shell in the demon. Why the hell now?" Dean was at a loss and could talk to nobody but Bobby about this. "Is there something wrong with my brother?"

"Dean, your brother is under a lot of stress right now. He's worried sick about you and that's enough incentive to provoke something like that. Whatever the demon had to do with Sam's abilities, it must have been tapping into something that was already there, which means that under the right circumstances, maybe Sam can tap into it himself, without the prompting of the demon. I wouldn't worry too much about it," Bobby said.

Dean stilled while staring idly into space for a moment. That made sense and it explained things in a way he could live with. "So, potentially, it could get worse because Sam's stressed out about this damned deal?"

"Potentially, yes," Bobby agreed. "But Sam's a smart kid, Dean. Whatever is going on with him, I'm sure he'll be back to normal the moment you guys are back on the road. He may be less of a nomad than you, but he's still used to this kind of life. Might be an idea if you talked it over with him, got to the bottom of it. You know how much Sam likes to talk."

"Yeah, I know," Dean agreed. "Okay, I'll ... consider that," he added. "Thanks Bobby."

The silence following in the wake of that conversation was creepy. Dean just sat there and stared down at the phone in his hand while he tried to will himself to believe that all this crap was because Sam was stressed. But somewhere it didn't ring true. People didn't turn into psychic freaks because they were stressed. Half the world would be in ruins if that were the case. So, whatever old Yellow-Eyes had done to Sam, whatever it was that dad had tried to warn him about, it seemed to be happening and it tore Dean up inside.

When the phone rang, he almost dropped it. "Son of a bitch," he growled and checked the display. It said unknown. He flipped it open and raised it to one ear. "Yeah," he said. The line crackled and he waited. "Hello?" he asked. Static rushed at him, but nothing else. He pulled the phone away from his ear and eyed the display for a second. Then the call cut out. He flipped the phone shut again and sighed. "Wrong number, huh?" he muttered. "Stupid ass. At least have the decency to apologize," he added heatedly and pocketed the phone again.

***

Presentation Medical Center ER
Rolla, ND

He wasn't usually this annoyed with the world. But his hand hurt a bit and his arm felt like a bloated balloon inside the cast. He wanted the damned thing gone before his damned arm came off at the shoulder.

The doctor on call eyed the cast, knocked on it with one knuckle as if to reassure himself that Sam hadn't tried to get out of it or something, then made a contemplative noise and waved a nurse over. "Get an x-ray of this. Let's see how well the bone has healed," he said and left the examination cubicle without another word.

And it annoyed Sam. It was rude, just walking out on people like that. He sneered lightly, then glanced at Grace and instantly felt sorry for his attitude. She hadn't noticed his anger and watched the doctor leave with a slight frown furrowing her brow.

"Some doctors are just so damned full of themselves," she said, made a face and tagged along when the nurse ushered him toward the x-ray room. She waited outside and followed him back to the cubicle once the x-ray was done. The nurse put it up on the light-box and left again. Grace stepped up to it and regarded it for a moment, then turned back to face Sam. "My guess is you'll walk out of here without that cast on your arm," she said.

"You think so?" he asked and glanced up at the x-ray. That would improve his mood ten-fold.

Before Grace could say anything else, the doctor returned. Without a word, he stepped up to the light-box and eyed the x-ray. "Well ... there's really no reason for the cast any more, is there?" he said, his tone almost bored.

Sam glanced at Grace, who was watching the doctor with a frown. "And why's that?" she asked. There was a tightness in her tone Sam hadn't heard there before. His guess was that she didn't like the doctor for some reason.

The doctor turned back to face her. "Are you his mother?" he asked.

"No, his aunt," Grace countered. "Why is there no reason for the cast?" she persisted.

"Because the break has healed," the doctor said. "There's no sign of it."

"Well, then why don't you get this damned thing off him before his hand falls off? It's cutting off his circulation," Grace said, her tone even yet a tad annoyed.

The doctor stared at her, obviously a bit taken aback by her attitude. "Mrs. ..."

"Alden," she said. "And don't give me any bullshit. Just get this damned cast off him. As in now!"

Obviously, the doctor wasn't used to being bossed around. "Excuse me, but ..."

"Every time you open your trap, you're wasting my money," she snapped.

"Uh ... I'll send a nurse over to remove it right away, Mrs. Alden," he said and hurried away.

"Twit," she growled, then turned back to Sam.

"And here I thought I was being grumpy," he said and couldn't help a small smile.

Grace countered it with one of her own. "The best way to deal with airheads like that is to put them in their place," she said. "Besides, you're not grumpy," she added and reached out to rub his shoulder in a reassuring way.

A moment later, the nurse from earlier returned to remove the cast. To get rid of it made a hell of a difference. He flexed his numb fingers and felt the first needles and pins of his revived blood-circulation rippling through his hand, then carefully flexed his elbow. "It feels fine," he stated. The nurse smiled and took off again, leaving Grace to deal with the rest.

"You heal well. Winchester genes. At least they're good for something," she said with a smile on her lips.

"Grace ..." Sam grimaced while the prickling in his hand translated into his arm and crept up over the elbow. "I don't know if you've noticed, but ..."

"Noticed what?" she asked.

"I ... accidentally put some scratches in your front door," he said without looking at her. He didn't know why he hadn't told her before. Normally he owned up to his mistakes and he figured he knew her well enough by now to not be afraid of a verbal overhaul.

"That was you?" she asked and arched an eyebrow. "Those are some pretty hefty scratches." She eyed him for a moment, her expression unreadable.

"Yeah, well, I'm sorry about that. And ... uhm ... I don't know how it happened, really. I was just ..." Damn, but sometimes he really hated his inability to talk when he had to explain himself.

Grace slipped a hand onto his right shoulder and ushered him off the examination bed. "Don't worry about it. It's just wood," she said. "Inanimate objects like that can be replaced and, besides, it gives the door character. A little reminder," she added with a somewhat sad smirk. "Don't think I'm not aware that you two won't stay forever. I know that you are both itching to get back on the road and I don't blame you. I just hope you won't forget your old aunt when the times comes."

Sam grinned sheepishly. "Like we ever could," he said. "We'll stay in touch, of course. You're the only family we have left."

She brushed her fingertips over his cheek, her expression pleased. "Let's get back to Dean before he tears the house down. I get the feeling he's not happy on his own."

"No, he's not," he agreed and rubbed his left arm with his right hand. "If he doesn't get out of that cast soon, you might want to hide Pebble away. I'm not entirely sure he likes that cat."

Grace chuckled. "Because Pebble is using his leg as a scratching post?" she asked and he shrugged lightly, still only using his right shoulder for that. "He'd better pray that the cast stays on a while longer. Pebble doesn't generally distinguish between legs and scratching posts and her claws are amazingly sharp, no matter how often I cut them."

Sam grimaced. "That sounds painful," he said as they stopped by the reception and Grace signed what needed to be signed.

"It generally is," she agreed. "Thanks Trish," she added to the nurse behind the reception counter and nodded toward the door. "Pebble is a cute cat, but very much her own. And she is a cat. She does what she wants to, not what we think she should do."

Again Sam flexed his arm, relieved beyond compare to be out of the damned cast, but a little concerned about the fact that it had apparently gotten too tight. It hadn't been in the beginning. And the fact that his arm had healed up in four weeks was another reason for concern. He balled his hand into a fist, then relaxed his fingers again and stopped next to the four-wheel drive, realizing that he could easily be distracted away from his present concerns. "Can I drive?" he asked.

Grace smirked and handed him the keys. "If you think you're up to it," she said. "She handles a bit like a wild bronco."

Sam slid behind the wheel, adjusted the seat and then just spent a moment staring at the dashboard. "You like high-tech, don't you?" he asked and glanced at Grace.

"Trying to keep up is more like it," she said. "Was John like that? Interested in high-tech?"

Sam returned his attention to the dashboard, then slid the key into the ignition and revved the engine. "No, not really. He could barely figure out how to use a cell phone," he admitted. "But he managed."

"Really?" Graced sounded surprised. "I thought anything with a current would have gotten his heart to beat faster. He loved cars."

"He had a garage before all this happened. He restored old cars," Sam said and wished he remembered that. Dean did, but he never spoke about it. He had mentioned it a few times on rare occasions, but it had usually been slip-ups because he was drunk or in pain.

That little recount made Grace smile. "That sounds like him," she said. "I guess your lives didn't really allow him to take an interest in the more modern things."

"Not really, no," Sam agreed and pulled out of the lot. His left arm was weak, but he could use it and it didn't hurt. He drove slowly, mindful of the slippery roads. "What was he like as a kid? Was he smart?" he asked. Somehow the idea of his father being considered smart was odd to him. Dean had worshiped the ground the man had walked on, but Sam's view of his father would always be a little jaded. If Grace wanted the hero-version of John Winchester, she would have to talk to Dean about him.

"Oh, he was smart in his own way. Not really the bookish type. He was more rough and tumble. The girls liked that. And he was always older than his age. Nobody ever viewed him as my little brother. And mostly because of our freakish relationship with our parents the two of us stuck together like glue. It seems to be a family tradition he passed on to you two," she said. "But he was smart, yeah. He worked things out, never shied away from a challenge. It got him in trouble more times than not, but he knew how to fight. That's why I think becoming a Marine mattered to him. Our father didn't see it that way, though."

"Did he ever land himself in jail for fighting?" Sam asked.

That question made Grace chuckle. "Once. Our father was inclined to leave him there, but I used all my saved-up money to bail him out. He was high as a kite that night, running on adrenaline and whiskey. Two days later he came home and said he was joining the Marines, that he wanted to go to Nam and fight for his country." The smile on her lips faded. "I bet he was a good Marine."

"I'm sure he was," Sam agreed. "He wasn't big on showing emotions, though." Unsure of how she would respond to that, he left it hanging and concentrated on driving instead. The car was a delight to drive and he really liked the very modernized interior.

He felt Grace's eyes on him, but didn't look back. "Was he rough with you boys?" she asked after a moment. There was something in her tone that he couldn't really decipher. It sounded mostly like she was afraid of the answer, afraid she might learn something about her brother she didn't want to know.

"That's one way of putting it. He was ... strict. He had this drill sergeant attitude. I resented him for it, but Dean took to it like a duck to water," Sam said.

"Well ... after what he went through with your mom ..." She sighed. "I would have pecked him for a loving father, you know. Full of support and encouragement. What you're saying sounds more like ... my father. He didn't hit you, did he?"

Sam glanced at her. "No, he didn't," he said and couldn't remember his father ever raising a hand to either of them. Harsh words and morose silence had been his weapon of choice. "Our life wasn't exactly ... easy. He went on a lot of hunts on his own, stayed gone for days at a time. Normal was as far removed from our life as anything could have been." He wanted to shut up about it, didn't want her to get a bad picture of her brother, but he couldn't stop. There were just so many things he'd always wanted to tell someone, but had never been able to share with anyone. "He was never there when it mattered," he went on. "He just ... I know what he did was important, but it was like he was doing all this to avenge mom's death with no regard for us. Like he forgot we were there, that we needed him around. That ..." He stopped talking, didn't know how to go on around the lump rising in his throat.

"That what?" Grace prompted quietly.

"Dean needed him, but he wasn't there for him. I didn't need dad as much because I had Dean. He took care of me. He was there when it mattered. Dad wasn't," Sam said and sighed deeply. "I shouldn't talk about this," he added and sniffed.

"I kinda get the feeling you need to, though," Grace said. "How old were you when he left you alone the first time?"

Sam turned the car into Grace's street and finally pulled it into the garage, turned the engine off and then slumped back in the seat. Grace made no move to get out and just sat there with her hands in her lap, her eyes on the windshield. "I think I was three. Dean was seven. Dad stayed gone for a week. He got hurt, couldn't get in touch with us, but somehow we managed." He glanced at her. "I don't want you to think he was a bad father. He wasn't under the circumstances. But ... we were just alone a lot and I know it made a difference to Dean."

Grace nodded, still staring ahead of herself. "Our father used to belt us if we stepped out of line. Harshly, indifferently. He didn't care. All that mattered to him was obedience and what the neighbors thought. Whatever lessons we learned in life, John and I, we learned for ourselves, from friends and their families. All our parents taught us was to resent them for being cold and withdrawn," she said and finally turned her head to meet his eyes. "Under the circumstances, Sam, I think John did the best he could with what he had."

He rubbed his left arm lightly. "Yeah, I know," he said. "Don't think I didn't ... love my dad. I did. He was just ... hard to love," he said and grimaced, feeling the slow burn of tears rising in his eyes.

Grace grabbed his right hand in her left and smiled vaguely. "I'm sure he loved you. Both of you. And I can't imagine anything other than that he was damned proud of both of you. Hang on to that."

He nodded and cleared his throat, then glanced toward the house. "Don't tell Dean about this, okay? He thinks I whine too much as it is."

That made her chuckle and she briefly tightened her grip on his hand before releasing him. "Don't worry. Your secret's safe with me," she said and got out.

Sam lingered for a moment. He still wanted to tell Grace about the deal, but he also knew Dean would tan his hide if he did. He just felt that she had a right to know. With a sigh, he followed her out of the car and handed her the keys. "You don't have any weights or anything, do you? I could really do with some retraining of my arm."

Grace closed the garage door and they walked up to the front door side by side. "No, I don't think so. But I actually think one of my neighbors might have some. I'll check in with him," she said. "What are you looking for? Hand weights?"

"Yeah, just something I can use to retrain the muscles in my arm. I guess there isn't a gym in town?" he asked.

"Nope, St. John's too small for that sort of thing. There is one in Rolla, of course. You can always borrow the car to go there if you want," she said and smirked when he couldn't hide his excitement at the thought.

"That would be great," he said and followed her inside.

"What the hell took you so long?" Dean called from the living room. "Grace, get that damned cat off my leg," he added, his tone suffering.

Grace glanced at Sam and rolled her eyes and Sam suppressed the need to laugh. He was really beginning to love her.

"I'm coming," Grace said and strode into the living room. "Pebble, get away from there," she said, her tone stern. The cat hissed indignantly and rushed past Sam and up the stairs. "If you keep letting her do that, she'll end up clawing through the damned cast, Dean."

"What would you want me to do, huh? She's like a damned bulldozer," Dean complained. "Honestly, I think that cat's possessed by a demon."

"She is not possessed," Grace countered. "She's just being a cat."

"Beautiful. See, that's why I always wanted a dog instead. Dogs love you. Cats tolerate you," Dean shot back, sounding annoyed.

Sam closed the front door, shrugged out of his jacket and hung it in the hall closet, then stepped through to the living room to save Grace from his brother's wrath.

"That's what I like about cats. They're independent," Grace said.

Dean glanced up at Sam, then frowned. "Where the hell is your cast?" he asked.

"They took it off. The bone's healed," Sam said.

The look in Dean's eyes was downright pained. "What? Aw man, that's not fair," he groaned. "What about me?"

"What about you? Your break was worse than Sam's. And he only had one cracked rib. You have three broken ribs and a busted leg," Grace said. "Stop whining. It's not becoming," she added and patted him on the head like she would pat a dog.

Dean pulled his head away and gave her a glare for her trouble. "I am so going to shoot something soon. You better keep that cat away from me," he warned.

"What are you going to shoot her with?" Grace challenged, leaned down, grabbed his face with both hands and pecked him on the cheek. "Are you hungry?" she asked.

Dean stared at her, obviously completely taken aback by her actions, then blinked rapidly a few times. "Uh ... yeah," he finally managed while Sam was fighting to keep the laughter at bay. He didn't need to save Grace from his brother's wrath. She was quite capable of handling Dean.