The following day
Grace Alden's house
St. John, ND

Moving Dean turned out to be a hell of a lot easier than Sam had thought, because his brother basically slept through the whole thing. It was only upon arrival that he learned that Grace had asked Jane to knock him out with a sedative. His injuries would be painful enough without him having to experience the jostle of being moved.

Once he was settled in the downstairs bedroom and the paramedics had left again, Grace showed Sam around the house and suggested that he take the second bedroom upstairs.

"No offence, but I'd rather stay with Dean," he said. "If you don't mind, that is."

"No, of course not," she said. "The room is set up for two anyway. Not that I have that many visitors, but I have some friends who come to see me on occasion, and it's nice to have somewhere to put them without having to rearrange the entire house." She led the way into the living room and waved at the comfortable-looking couch. "Are you hungry?"

"A bit," he admitted.

Grace smirked. "Hospital food sucks, doesn't it?" she asked. "Sandwich okay?"

"Fine," he said and eased himself onto the couch with a strained effort. His chest was sore like hell and he basically felt like every muscle in his body had been stretched to the breaking point.

The moment he had settled down and Grace had disappeared into the kitchen, a big ginger cat strolled lazily into the room and stopped dead when it caught sight of him. Its green eyes regarded him for a moment, then the cat jumped lightly up on the coffee table and stopped in front of him again. It settled down, wrapped its long, fluffy tail around its feet and just stared at him.

Sam had nothing against cats in general, but this one disturbed him on some level just by the way it stared at him. He sighed and glanced toward the hallway and the kitchen beyond, then focused on the cat again, which was still watching him. "What?" he asked it.

The cat blinked, then narrowed its eyes a little and tilted its head to the right.

"I see you've met Pebble," Grace said and eyed her cat for a moment. "Get off the damned table, critter," she added.

The cat glanced at her and then started licking one paw like it couldn't care less about what Grace had just said.

"She's very much a cat, that one," Grace said and stepped into the living room.

Without any due haste, but with a glance sideways in Grace's direction, Pebble rose and sauntered to the other end of the coffee table, where she jumped to the floor and made her way over to the far window to jump up on the window sill to watch the world outside.

"She's ... uh ... pretty," Sam said, not sure what the right wording for a cat was.

Grace chuckled. "The fact alone that she's out and got this close to you is flattering. She normally doesn't like other people. Half the time I don't even think she likes me," she said. "She tolerates me because I feed her."

Sam sent the cat a frown, which the animal ignored. "Why would you want an animal that doesn't care about you?" he asked and returned his attention to Grace.

She smirked. "Oh, she does. She just doesn't want to admit it," she said and sent the big ginger cat an affectionate look. "Anyway ... those sandwiches," she added and left the living room again.

Somewhat worn out, Sam sank back into the soft upholstery, leaned his head back against the back of the couch and closed his eyes. He was tired and just wanted to rest his eyes a bit.

***

When Grace stepped back into the living room fifteen minutes later with a tray in her hands, she stopped short when realizing that Sam was asleep. "Should have known," she muttered with a smile and glanced down at the sandwiches for a moment. "Ah well. They'll keep," she added quietly and returned the tray to the kitchen.

She wrapped the sandwiches up and put them in the fridge, then returned to the living room, grabbed the afghan hanging over the back of the couch and covered Sam with it. Then she turned back toward the guestroom. The door was ajar and she figured she might as well just check up on his brother while she was at it.

Dean was as deeply asleep as his brother, which left her with little else to do than loiter around her own house. A quick glance out the window showed her it was snowing again. "Blast," she muttered under her breath and turned to leave the guest room again, only to be stopped when something started ringing. Dean wouldn't respond to it because he was still drugged, but Sam might potentially be roused by the insistent ringing and Grace really didn't think it was such a good idea. The kid needed his rest just as much as his brother did.

With a frown furrowing her brow, she grabbed the leather jacket, the only piece of clothing Dean had left at this point, and dug into the pockets until she found the phone. She eyed the display for a moment, then sent a glance into the living room where Sam was still asleep, and shrugged. Whoever was calling them had a right to know they were okay. So she picked up.

"Sam? What the hell took you so long?" a voice demanded at the other end.

Grace just stood there for a second. "Uhm ... this isn't Sam," she said. "My name's Grace Alden. Sam and Dean are staying with me right now," she added.

This caused a brief patch of silence at the other end. "Uh ... okay. Is Sam around?" the man asked.

"Well ... yes, but he's sleeping," Grace said. "Can I give him a message?"

"Sleeping? In the middle of the day?" the man asked and he sounded somewhat dubious.

Grace assumed that whoever this man was, he also had a right to know that the boys were hurt. "Well, yes. They've had an ... accident," she said and frowned at that particular wording. She wasn't really sure 'accident' was an appropriate word in this case. "Or rather ... truth be told, they've gotten themselves in trouble. Dean has a broken leg and broken ribs and Sam has a broken arm and broken ribs too," she added.

That was again answered by a patch of silence. "How bad are they?" the man asked. He sounded concerned.

"Well, Sam is up and moving, but can't do much with that arm. He broke his humerus. Dean has a concussion and his right tibia is broken. And the second toe on his left foot, too," Grace said. "May I ask who I'm talking to?"

"Bobby Singer," he introduced himself. "Are they in the hospital?"

"No, they're staying with me," Grace said. "Are you a relative of theirs?"

"Kinda," Bobby replied hesitantly. "Do you want me to come up there and pick them up? It might take me a few days to get there, though. The snow's coming down thick here and I'm guessing it's no better where you are."

Another glance out the window made her grimace. "It coming down heavy here," she agreed. "They'll be fine here with me for a bit and I really don't think it would do Dean any favors to have to ride in a car for a few days in his condition. He's not even marginally coherent yet. I think it might be too risky to chance ..." She trailed of. "Where would you be coming from?"

"Fort Pierre in South Dakota," Bobby replied. "And yeah, you're probably right, Mrs. Alden. I can reimburse you for any expenses if you'd like."

"No, that's okay," she said automatically.

"Can you tell me what happened to them?" Bobby asked. He sounded oddly cautious.

"Well, from what I understand they were investigating what happened to this boy who was found up here a month ago, all beaten up. And ... they ran into whoever did that to this boy. At least that's what Sam told me," she said.

"You know what, I won't take up more of your time here. Just ask Sam to call me when he wakes up. He can fill me in on the details," Bobby said. "And thanks for taking care of them."

"Oh, you're welcome. It's nice to have a little company and they seem like nice boys. Well ... Sam does. I really have no impression of Dean yet, to be honest," she countered and couldn't help a smile.

"They're both good boys," Bobby confirmed. "Dean gets a tad stubborn at times. Best thing is to ignore it, especially when he's sick."

"I'll keep that in mind," Grace promised. "Thank you. I'll have Sam call you when he wakes up then."

"Right," Bobby said. "Bye for now." With that, he hung up.

Grace switched the phone off again and eyed it for a second. "He sounded nice," she muttered, put the phone down on top of the leather jacket and returned to the living room. She grabbed her book and made herself comfortable in the big armchair at the far end of the room. There wasn't much else she could do right now.

***

The first thing he was consciously aware of was the silence. He felt achy and tired and generally like he had been wacked over the head with a block of cement a few times. Mindful of how painful light could be when his head felt like that, he cracked his eyelids open and realized that the room he was in was only dimly lit. It took his eyes a moment to focus and he took a moment to try and grasp where he was.

The ceiling above him was white. Big surprise there. Careful not to overdo it, he trailed his gaze over the ceiling to the wall, which had the color of melted chocolate ice cream. There was a picture frame on the wall with a photo of a sunset in it. The door next to the frame was open and he could make out a hallway and what looked like a living room beyond. And he could see Sam asleep on the couch, which put his instant worries to rest before they had even begun. So, they were in someone's house. But it wasn't a house he was familiar with.

He became aware of someone moving and tried to focus past the couch out there. A woman – Grace? – walked slowly toward the doorway from the other end of the living room. "I see you're awake," she said quietly.

He just eyed her, not really sure he could brave the ordeal of having to speak right now.

"How are you feeling?" she asked and settled down on the edge of the bed.

"Don't know," he muttered, drew in a deep breath and flinched. "Ow."

"You might wanna hold off on the deep breathing right now. You've got broken ribs," she said, stating the obvious in an oddly familiar way.

"Grace, right?" he asked, appalled at how slurred his words were.

"That's right. I'm glad you remember. That means you're getting better," she said. She had an achingly familiar smile.

"'m thirsty." It really was the thing that was foremost on his mind right now; getting something to drink.

"I'll get you something," she said and rose again. She disappeared for a moment, then came back with a glass and a pitcher. She managed to set both things down before Dean made a very half-hearted attempt at sitting up. He basically knew it was a bad idea the very second he even thought about it, but he didn't really reflect on it until his chest erupted in an inferno of pain. Gasping, his arms trembling with the effort of keeping himself even a little elevated, he at the same time was afraid to let go and drop back on the bed because it might aggravate the red-hot fire poker pain in his chest.

"Easy," Grace soothed and grabbed him in just the right way to allow him to settle back down without straining anything.

"Son of a bitch," he rasped and wrapped both arms over his chest and the bandage covering his damaged ribs.

"Will you be okay or do you need something for the pain?" Grace asked while eying him closely.

He closed his eyes and focused every ounce of willpower on subduing the pain. He'd had enough of drugs. "I'll be fine," he finally managed and started breathing a little more easily again.

Grace reached down and brought something up on a cord. "It's an adjustable bed. Makes it easier for you," she said with a smile and pressed a button that raised the head of the bed. Then she handed him the remote.

Dean took it, even though his arm felt like lead and movement strained muscles that were sore beyond reason. "Thanks," he muttered.

She poured him a glass of water and held it out to him. He eyed it for a second, then raised his right hand to grab it, already knowing that he wouldn't be able to hold onto it. His fingers tingled and even the remote for the bed felt heavier than it had any right to.

Apparently, though, Grace could either read minds or just knew when people couldn't fend for themselves. When he dropped his hand before grabbing the glass, she set it back on the night stand and left the room for a second only to return with a tray and a straw. The tray was one of those bed trays with legs, which she placed over his lap. Then she put the glass on it and dropped the straw into the glass. "Better?" she asked.

Dean eyed the glass for a moment, then glanced up at her. "Yeah," he said. It annoyed the crap out of him already that he felt so weak. "How long have I been out?" he asked, then grabbed the straw and leaned forward a little bit to get a drink of water.

"A few days," Grace said. "How's your head?"

"Feels like an overripe melon about to crack wide open, to be honest," he said between sips, then leaned back again. "How's Sam?"

"Better than you," she said. "But not a hundred percent either. He has a mild concussion, but short of tying him to the bed, I don't think I can get him to lie down." She glanced over one shoulder into the living room.

Dean couldn't help a weak grin at that. Before he could make any further comment, though, the doorbell rang.

"Excuse me," Grace said and left the room. A second later, he heard the door open. "Clark. What a surprise. What are you doing here?"

"Gotta talk to you, Gracie. Can I come in?"

Dean frowned lightly and made a face when that hurt his brow. Who the hell was Clark? He thought he remembered someone called that, but he couldn't really place the guy.

"Sure. Come on in," Grace said. The door clicked shut again. "What's up?"

"The doc at the hospital took these cuffs off the kid," Clark said.

Dean shifted a little. Despite the pounding headache and the fact that he felt he had cotton in his right ear and everything else just plain hurt, this sounded a tad worrisome.

"So?" Grace asked.

"The chain was torn apart, Grace," Clark said. "These are police issue cuffs and they're new. Or were new, anyway. No one is able to tear these apart."

"Metal fatigue," Grace suggested.

"Police issue cuffs are thoroughly checked before sold, Grace. There's no such thing as metal fatigue in these things," Clark insisted, a little annoyed now. "The other pair were hacked apart, probably with an axe."

In his mind's eye, Dean had a brief flash of Sam swinging an axe at him. He blinked and tried to place it, but it didn't make much sense. His mind was still pretty muddled.

"But these ... were torn apart. Like wet tissue paper," Clark continued. "All I want is for you to be careful. I don't think that kid's right somehow."

Grace remained silent for a moment and that worried Dean. "There have been countless reports on people performing extraordinary feats to save loved ones, Clark. And I've rarely seen anyone as concerned about his brother as Sam is. Whatever caused this ... I'm sure there's a plausible explanation for it. And, you know, some things don't need an explanation."

Clark sighed audibly. "I just want you to be careful, Grace. You know nothing about these two. Do you even know their last names?"

"No, and it doesn't matter," Grace declared. "They're good boys. Period."

"Don't be so naive, Grace. As I told you before, for all we know they could be escaped convicts or something. Hell, they could be mass murders. I would really prefer it if you'd left them in the hospital. Taking total strangers into your house is never a good idea," Clark persisted.

Dean gritted his teeth and shifted a little again. His right leg had started to throb uncomfortably and his breathing was a little labored. If this Clark guy kept this up, Grace would probably change her mind and kick them to the curb. And that was not good news. Dean was fully aware that his own condition coupled with Sam's broken arm – he did have a broken arm, didn't he? Or was that something he had imagined? – would put them in a pretty tough spot.

"Listen to me and listen good, okay?" Grace said, her tone suddenly tense like hell. It sounded mostly like she was getting angry. "I have not spent twenty-odd years as a paramedic without being a good judge of character. If I was even vaguely unsure about these two, I wouldn't have taken them in. The fact remains, though, that they're pretty much screwed on their own and the closest help is about three days away from here in this messed-up weather. At least. I know what I'm doing, Clark. And I do not need a snot-nosed brat like you to try and sway me, okay?"

Clark obviously didn't have a comeback to that one and Dean smirked tightly. He liked Grace a lot right now.

"I know you worry, but you don't have to. I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself," Grace added, her tone a little softer now.

She would have done well in the military, Dean figured.

"Grace, come on," Clark tried.

"Shut it," she warned. "I appreciate the warning and I will be careful. But I firmly believe there's nothing to worry about. So don't you go and do something stupid. You hear me?" She had a very familiar undercurrent in her tone. She sounded extremely bossy right now. "You're not too big for a thrashing yet," she finished and Dean could just imagine how this guy was going red in the face.

"Nice, Grace," Clark huffed. "I'm not your son, you know. And I am the sheriff."

Grace chuckled. "That doesn't give you the authority to boss me around, junior. So why don't you go back to your job. I'm sure you have more important issues to worry about than how I'm faring."

"Fine. But don't say I didn't warn you," Clark grumbled. He sounded like a miffed five-year-old right now.

"I wouldn't dream of it. Have a nice day, Clarky," Grace said and opened the door again.

"Keep your phone close," Clark suggested and then the door clicked shut.

"Kids," she muttered. A moment later, she stepped back into the guestroom. "I take it you heard that?"

Dean eyed her for a moment and blinked to focus his eyes. "Yeah. Hard not to," he agreed.

"True," she agreed. "Clark's okay. He's just a bit ... officious." She folded her arms over her chest and eyed him closely. "Do I have anything to worry about?"

He couldn't help a faint snort. "I can't even move without causing myself pain. I'd say you're pretty safe," he said.

Grace smiled. "I thought so." She certainly didn't seem worried at all.

"Hey." Sam turned up in the doorway, looking pretty much smooshed. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I've been run over by a steamroller," Dean said and grimaced while the dull throb from his leg became more pronounced. "Twice," he amended.

"You look the part too," Grace said. "I think you should go back to sleep. You look about ready to drop." She took the tray away and placed the glass on the night stand next to the bed. "Don't keep him too long," she said to Sam and left the room.

"You heard that conversation?" Sam asked and sent a brief glance out the door, then pushed it shut behind him.

"Yeah," Dean agreed. He used the remote to lower the head of the bed again, which took some of the pressure of his aching chest. "Care to explain that one to me?"

"I can't," Sam said. "I just ... pulled and it came apart."

Dean closed his eyes. He was too damned bushed to focus on this right now. "Yeah," he muttered, already drifting off.

***

Sam withdrew to let his brother sleep while fighting the surge of discomfort that had overcome him at the mention of those damned cuffs. He wanted to believe Grace's version of it, wanted nothing more than to chalk it down to metal fatigue, but he wasn't sure. He was uncertain about what exactly had happened, how exactly it was that he could pull the chain of police issue cuffs apart like so much wet tissue paper and how the hell he could kill three men despite his injuries.

He returned to the couch and leaned back carefully, his left arm cradled against his chest in the sling. So far, he had figured that his lack of response to killing those guys had been because of his concern for Dean and his own injuries, but he still felt nothing. And it worried him. Granted, they had been scum bags and after seeing that corpse in the cabin he believed they deserved to die, but he still felt like he should feel some small measure of remorse for taking three lives.

"Sam?"

Involuntarily, he jerked and that in turn sent a ripple of pain through his battered chest. He sucked in a breath and bent his back a little in a protective gesture.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to ..." Grace trailed off with a smile on her lips. "Haven't we been here before?" she asked. "I'll try not to sneak around so much."

He gingerly rubbed the sore spot where the broken rib was and managed a half-hearted smile. "It's your house. You can sneak around as much as you like," he said.

"I don't want to tell you what to do, Sam, but you look like death warmed over. May I suggest that you take a page out of your brother's book and lie down for a bit?" She eyed him and Sam was once again struck by how familiar she looked. He had the feeling like he'd met her before, somewhere else, but he couldn't remember where. There was something about her mannerisms that stuck out, but he couldn't quite put a finger on it just yet.

"Have you ever been to California?" he asked, ignoring her suggestion.

She arched an eyebrow. "California? No. Why?" she countered.

He shook his head lightly and began to realize that maybe she had a point. He did feel overtly tired right now. "I just have the feeling like I've seen you somewhere before," he said and leaned forward to get up. Sudden vertigo almost spilled him off the couch and only Grace's quick reaction stopped that rather disgraceful fall.

"Easy," she said. "You can lie here if you want," she added.

He drew in a couple of deep breaths, then slowly raised his head and squinted at her. "I think I need a bed," he muttered.

Grace held onto his arm when he got up and it shocked him a little that he felt so weak all of a sudden. She released his arm for a second only to grab it again when he swayed dangerously. "I think you do, too. And not just for a few hours, Sam. You have a concussion too. And broken bones. And the after-effects of hypothermia aren't doing you any favors either." She slipped an arm around his back and hauled his right arm over her shoulders. "Lean on me," she suggested.

The feeling that overcame him at her words was something he had to clamp down on immediately to spare himself the disgrace of tearing up. How many times hadn't he been hurt over the years? And dad had only grumbled platitudes while Dean made fun to try and lighten the mood. Nobody had ever said 'lean on me' to him. It was an oddly emotional sentence that raised a lump in his throat and it made him think of his mother and how he wished he'd known her, wished he could remember her, because he was sure she would have been like this; comforting and ... well ... motherly.

Grace guided him into the guestroom and over to the bed closest to the window. He sank down on it and couldn't meet her eyes for a moment. Then he gave her what probably passed for an embarrassed little smile. "Thanks," he muttered.

"You're welcome," she said. "Get some rest," she added, turned and left the room. She pulled the door shut behind her, giving them some privacy.

Sam just sat there for a moment and stared ahead of himself, then he glanced at Dean, who was sleeping deeply. He hardly knew Grace and as such could not make any earth shattering decisions about her one way or another, but he suddenly found himself wishing that they never had to leave here. It was a ridiculous wish, of course. As soon as they were able to fend for themselves, they would have to leave. It wouldn't pay to involve Grace any further than she already was.

"Sap," he muttered to himself, carefully toed his shoes off and stretched out on the bed. It was just about the most comfortable bed he'd ever had the privilege of lying on, he realized. The mattress adapted to him and he let out a heartfelt sigh. He figured he was being such a sap right now because he was actually dead tired and in a fair amount of pain too.

With that on his mind, he drifted off.