Sam woke up with what he could only describe as hunger pangs and realized that he hadn't actually eaten the day before. Pain, nausea and the whole moving his brother to this house thing had stripped him of any conscious thought of food and his dreams had been riddled with the craving and search for sustenance without being able to find it.

With an effort, he pushed himself up while favoring his right side and his left arm. The house was dark, silent, and he felt like an intruder, but his hunger would not be denied. He knew he was treading on thin ice if he didn't eat soon. One day he could forego food, but not two. He got off the bed and sent a brief glance down himself. He generally didn't have any other clothing than what he was wearing, which was hospital garb, and he had no idea where the Impala was and no way of getting back to the motel for his clothes. The only thing they'd brought with them to this place were his jeans, which had disappeared after their arrival, and Dean's leather jacket. The soft-soled hospital shoes he had been given would do in a pinch, but he couldn't really go for any long walks in any of this.

Still tired, he patted over to the door in his socks and pulled it open. The living room was dark and silent too, but bathed in the eerie moonlight reflecting of the snow cover outside. He didn't want to wake Grace up by turning on lights, so he made his way to the kitchen in the dark. He closed the door to the kitchen behind him and flipped a switch. The overhead lights came on and he squinted briefly in the suddenly blinding brilliance of it and cursed that he hadn't considered the adverse effect this would have on his head.

"Dammit," he muttered and switched the light off again. There was another switch below that one and he tried that, which turned on much more tolerable lights, namely light panels under the overhead cupboards. "That's better," he muttered and glanced around the kitchen. It was nice and big, with a round table in the middle with four chairs around it. The floor was covered in amber tiles and the rest of the kitchen matched the floor, even the fridge. He walked over to it and pulled the door open without really knowing what to expect. The fridge was about halfway full of all sorts of stuff and most of it looked healthy. He couldn't help a brief smirk. Dean wasn't going to approve. There wasn't a bit of junk food in sight.

His gaze settled on the covered plate with sandwiches and he decided to go for the food that had been meant for him in the first place. His stomach growled in anticipation when he took the plate over to the table, then returned to the fridge for a bottle of water, before settling down to eat.

Grace had left him three sandwiches, but he only ate one. He figured Dean would probably be hungry whenever he decided to rejoin the land of the living, so he covered the plate again, grabbed another bottle of water and headed back toward the guestroom after switching the light off again.

He pushed the door shut behind him, then put the plate down on the night stand next to Dean's bed. Something prompted him to glace toward the footend of the bed and he started when he met a pair of glowing eyes in the dark.

Cautiously, he reached out for the bedside lamp and switched it on, then almost laughed out loud. There was Pebble, lying curled up next to Dean's right knee, her green eyes watching Sam intently. A quick glance at his brother told him Dean hadn't responded to the light, which was a bit disconcerting to Sam. Dean generally slept very lightly, but of course with a concussion and drugs in his system, it was likely that he wasn't as responsive to light as he normally was. And animals generally seemed to have a calming effect on people, which might also account for Dean's lack of response right now.

With a sigh, Sam switched the lamp off again and got under the covers of his own bed. There was something peaceful about this house that he couldn't quite define. He felt safe here, like this was a haven in the midst of this insanity he called a life. Once again, he pushed such thoughts aside, afraid to allow himself to get attached to something that would be gone soon enough. And it was really kind of ridiculous to feel this way after having been around Grace Alden for only one day. Well, technically, it had been closer to five days if he counted the days in the hospital, but still.

It took him no time at all to drift off again and this time, the dreams left him alone.

***

The following morning

Grace wasn't particularly fond of getting up early, but she did when she had to and having house guests was one of the reasons why she might do it. Since she had no idea what their sleeping patterns were, she assumed at least one would be an early riser and so she got up at eight only to find that the plate with sandwiches was gone and both boys were still asleep with Pebble protectively watching over Dean.

So she sat down at the kitchen table, had a cup of tea and her breakfast and read the newspaper. At eight thirty, she called Clark. "Hi, it's Grace," she said and smiled in anticipation of the sigh that was bound to come.

"Everything alright?" Clark sounded instantly worried.

"Yes, you worrywart. Everything's fine," she countered. "Listen, Clark, I just want to make perfectly sure that you don't go and do something stupid here, okay?"

"Like what?" Clark sounded like a pouting kid when he used that tone and it always amused Grace.

"I don't care what you think happened with those cuffs, okay? I've had enough opportunity to observe both of these boys yesterday and I can tell you already now that they're not going to be any trouble."

"Yeah, well, I'm only trying to do my job. And you're such a sap sometimes, Gracie," Clark countered, but he sounded more relaxed.

"It's my prerogative as a woman," she said with a smile. "So, how are things down at the station?"

"Quiet. But then ... when aren't they?" Clark said. "At some point, I need to talk to those two about what happened to them. If they know the location of whoever did this, we should arrest them."

She figured she should have seen that one coming, but she had hoped that Clark would lay off that for a bit longer. "Where you do you stand on self defense, Clark?" she asked.

"What do you mean?"

"What do I mean? What do you think I mean?" she shot back. "What's your take on self defense?" she pressed.

"Well, it depends. What have you heard?" Clark asked.

Grace barely prevented a groan. "Look, Clark, whatever happened to Sam and Dean also happed to that kid you picked up one month ago. And with a fair amount of likelihood, it's also happened to these other kids that have disappeared within the last six months. Those who did this are animals. Hell, they're worse than animals," she said.

"He died," Clark interrupted her.

"What? Who died?" she asked, a little taken aback.

"The kid. He died last night. If you ask me, it's best that way. After what he went through..." Clark said. He sounded heartsick.

Well aware that Maddie's tale had probably been something she had been told in confidence, Grace decided to feign ignorance. "What do you mean?"

Clark was silent for a moment. "There's something about this case that we kept out of the newspapers. Out of regard for the boy's family, of course. And him too." Clark sighed. "He was raped. Repeatedly. According to the doc, brutally too."

Even though she knew this already, Grace still grimaced in sympathy. "Poor kid," she muttered.

"Yeah. And, all things considered ... he was number seven if the same fate has befallen the other kids that have disappeared," Clark agreed. "I asked the doc if ... you know, your charges were in the same boat, but he said he didn't think so. Looks like whoever did this made a mistake of picking on both of them at once, huh?"

"Yeah," Grace agreed and glanced toward the doorway to the kitchen. "Clark, Sam more or less admitted that he had to bash some heads in to get himself and his brother out of there. I sincerely hope you don't intend to make a big thing out of this."

"I kinda suspected you were gonna say that," Clark said. "Did he say if they were still alive when he left them?"

"He said they wouldn't hurt anyone else. So, I'm assuming they're history," Grace said.

Clark was silent for a moment and Grace could almost hear the gears in his head turning. "Good," he finally said. Grace sighed lightly. "I'm gonna need him to show me where it is when he feels up to it. It is a crime scene, after all."

"I'm sure he'll be happy to help out," Grace said. "Only one thing, though. Neither of them have much in ways of clothes. Dean lost his jeans at the hospital when they cut them up. I need to drop by the motel they were staying at to get whatever stuff they've left there."

"What motel is that? Northern Lights?" Clark asked.

"Yeah, that's right," Grace agreed.

"Don't worry. I'll drop by and get their stuff and I'll bring it by the house tonight," he said.

"That's sweet of you," Grace cooed. "You're a good boy when you want to be."

"Oh, shut it," Clark huffed, but Grace could hear that he was pleased by her praise. "I'll see you tonight, then."

"Yup. And don't you go poking through their things. They're not suspects," she warned.

"Like I would do that. I'm an officer of the law," Clark growled and hung up.

Grace smiled and switched the phone off again.

***

Dean woke up with only one thing on his mind. Well, apart from the fact that his leg was hurting like a bitch, of course, and his head felt heavy. But the thing first and foremost on his mind was food. He was starving.

"Oh man," he rasped, then glanced at the night stand where Grace had left the glass of water the day before. "Food," he muttered when he spotted the plate with two sandwiches. He sent a quick glance in Sam's direction and smirked, fully convinced that this offering was from his brother.

The remote for the bed was lodged under his left thigh where he had left it the night before and he wondered about the fact that he obviously hadn't moved at all during the night. He dug the remote out, then raised the head of the bed and couldn't help a pained smile. "I could get used to this," he muttered under his breath, reached for the plate and pulled it over in his lap.

He devoured the sandwiches in record time, which made him feel a little better until another urge announced itself. And this he could not deal with on his own. He made a face, then glanced over at Sam, who was still sleeping. He didn't know the layout of the house, had no idea if there was a downstairs bathroom, but he needed to go. With broken ribs and a broken leg that had grown a heartbeat of its own, he pretty much knew this would end in misery if he tried to brave this on his own, but having to admit weakness to Sam was not something he did lightly.

With an effort, he pulled the sheets away from his feet and eyed his bandaged legs for a moment. His left foot was wrapped up too and he hadn't even reflected on that he had broken a toe while everything else was hurting. "Crap," he growled.

"Dean?" He glanced over at his brother, who was now awake. With an effort, Sam sat up. "You okay?"

"Yeah, fine," Dean countered automatically and squared his jaw.

Sam flinched when he moved his left arm, then pulled his legs over the edge of the bed. "You don't look fine," he said.

Dean considered his options of doing this on his own and had to admit defeat. There was no way he would be able to walk right now. He gritted his teeth and almost sneered. "I gotta go to the bathroom," he finally said.

The expression that Sam gave him in reply would have been worth a few laughs if Dean hadn't been hurting and in desperate need of a bathroom break. Right now, there was nothing laughable about the situation.

"Sam," Dean pressed out.

"You can't walk," Sam countered and glanced at Dean's bandaged legs.

"Not shit, Sherlock," Dean said and shifted. "Look, this is awkward like hell. I'm fully aware of that. It sucks out loud. But the fact remains that I need to take a leak and I kinda need to do it now."

Sam got up. "I'll get Grace," he said and was out the door before Dean could disagree with him.

"Great," Dean muttered. "Like we're not enough of a burden to her already."

***

Still halfway asleep, Sam hadn't really thought it through. He stepped into the kitchen, holding onto his left arm with his right, and blinked a little sluggishly at Grace.

"Good morning," she said, a smile on her lips.

"Dean's got a problem," he said and stifled a yawn.

"And what might that be?" Grace asked and rose.

"He needs to go to the bathroom, but ... he can't walk," Sam said and pursed his lips. "And I can't really help him."

"No, he wouldn't be able to, would he?" Grace agreed. "Don't worry. I come prepared," she added with smirk, stepped out into the hallway and routed through the built-in closet there for a moment.

Sam just remained where he was, for some reason incapable of thinking straight. He glanced up at the clock on the kitchen wall and frowned lightly. It was nine a.m., not exactly that early. He turned to watch Grace, but she was already gone. A second later she stepped back out of the guestroom and closed the door behind her.

"I'd better get him some crutches soon," she said. "Or a wheelchair. I don't think he'll stay in that bed much longer and with his injuries ..." She trailed off and eyed Sam for a moment. "You hungry?"

"Yeah," he agreed and let out a sigh. "I feel weird," he added and pensively rubbed his brow.

"Weird how?" Grace inquired and pulled a chair out for him. "Sit down. You look about ready to drop."

"Like I'm ... I don't know ... drugged," he said and made a face at the idea.

"Well, I haven't drugged you," Grace said. "You want coffee?"

He shook his head lightly. "Too much too early," he muttered.

"Tea?" she asked, to which he nodded. "What would you like for breakfast?"

"Nothing big," he countered. "You really don't have to do all this, you know. I can ..." he tried, but trailed off while glancing down at his arm.

"Not really," Grace said, agreeing with the thought that he really couldn't do all this with only one arm. "Don't worry about it, Sam. I don't mind pampering you two for a bit. Heaven knows I haven't had anyone around this place for a while."

Sam glanced up at her. "So you're not ... married or anything?" he asked.

Grace put the kettle on, then opened the fridge and inspected its contents for a moment. "No, not anymore," she said. "I used to be married many years ago, but ... he died."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry," Sam said, a little uncertain about what else to say.

"That's okay. It's a long time ago," she assured him and pulled out a few things before closing the fridge again. "How does an omelet sound?"

"Great," he said. It was obvious that she wasn't happy about talking about her husband and he didn't press the issue.

"How about you? Any significant other in your life who ..." She trailed off with a frown. "Damn, I knew I'd forgotten something," she added. "Someone called you yesterday. I promised him you'd call him back once you woke up again."

"Who?" Sam asked, instantly concerned.

"Bobby Singer, I think his name was," Grace said.

"Uh ... how would Bobby know we're staying with you?" Sam asked, a little baffled.

"He didn't. He called your phone," Grace said, which cleared things up for Sam a little.

"Oh ... oh crap. Yeah, we should have checked in with him," Sam muttered and got up to go get his phone. But Grace stopped him and sent a saying look toward the closed door to the room. "Oh yeah," he said and made a face. "He may be my brother, but there are certain things I don't want to know," he added and smirked sheepishly for a moment.

"Don't blame you," Grace said. "Sit down, take it easy. I'll let you know when the coast is clear," she said and left the kitchen again.

Sam sank back down on the chair and again rubbed his brow with the tips of his fingers. Then he suddenly realized why he was feeling so odd. The headache was gone. The concussion he'd had, had obviously withdrawn over night.

A moment later Grace returned. "All clear," she said with a smirk, then headed over to the stove to prepare that omelet.

Sam returned to the guestroom and gave Dean a questioning look.

"Don't start," he growled. "I feel like a goddamn invalid here."

Sam considered that for a moment, then shrugged his right shoulder. "Well, you kinda are," he tried, which earned him an angry glare from his brother. "Looks like you're feeling better, huh?"

"Better? My head's about to crack wide open, my damned leg is killing me and my chest feels like someone's run over it with a car. Yeah, I feel better alright," he shot back aggressively. "I ..." he continued, but stopped short with a frown furrowing his brow. It looked kinda lopsided since he had that gash on his brow that obviously made frowning painful. "What is that smell? Is that ... omelet?" he asked and looked up at Sam.

Sometimes Sam was impressed with Dean's ability to discern what food was being prepared. "I think so," he agreed.

The look in Dean's eyes changed and he glanced toward the door with nothing short of longing. "Man, I'm starving," he muttered.

"I'll tell Grace," Sam said with a vague smile. It was amazing how quickly Dean recovered when there was food in the vicinity.

"Tell Grace?" Dean stared at him. "What the hell is going on here? You've known the woman for one day and suddenly you just ..." He stopped himself and made a face.

A little confused about Dean's attitude, Sam sighed. "Okay, I won't tell her then," he suggested, well aware what that would do to Dean.

"I didn't say that," he said. "I'm starving, dude. Those two puny little sandwiches you left me didn't even begin to cover it. I haven't had anything decent to eat in ages."

Sam grimaced. "Make up your mind. You want me to tell her that you're hungry or not?" he asked.

Dean grumbled something under his breath and wrapped an arm around his chest.

"I'll tell her," Sam repeated and left before Dean could raise another stink about it. He kind of knew what this was about. Dean was hungry, which made him grumpy on the best of days, and he was in pain, which didn't help, and he was incapacitated, which was just about the worst thing anyone could do to his brother. Put those three things together and you were in for one hell of a shit storm.

With his phone safely tugged away in the sling, he returned to the kitchen and sank down on the chair Grace had previously pulled out for him.

"What's the matter?" she asked. "Bad news?" She obviously assumed he had already called Bobby.

"No, Dean's just being a pain," he muttered. "He's hungry. You'd better give him the omelet before he tears the house down."

Grace eyed him for a moment, then chuckled. "Okay, no problem. I'll just make another one for you," she said, scooped the first omelet onto a plate and left the kitchen.

While she was gone, Sam fished his phone out of the sling and dialed Bobby's number. It took a moment before Bobby picked up.

"Hey Bobby. It's Sam," he said.

"I kinda figured. How're you doing?" Bobby countered.

"Not too bad. We got ourselves into a bit of a fix up here," Sam said.

"Yeah, that woman you're staying with kinda filled me in. What the hell happened?" Bobby asked.

"Hard to explain, really. Let's just say that there's some weird people living in the woods of this country," Sam said and sighed lightly. "We'll be okay, but we may need to be picked up at some point. It'll be a while before Dean can actually walk again."

"I'd love to, Sam, but I can't. I'm pretty much snowed in right now," Bobby said. "I kinda got the impression that this woman you're staying with doesn't mind the company, though. Has anything changed since yesterday?"

"Not per say. Dean's just more alert and you know how cranky he gets when he can't move," Sam said and glanced toward the doorway. "Nothing supernatural about this one, though. Just people. And I'm beginning to agree with Dean's assessment of people. They're just plain crazy," he added.

Bobby sighed. "Yeah. I won't argue that point with you," he agreed. "Anyway, Sam, stay in touch, will ya? And slap Dean upside the head if he keeps the attitude up."

"Will do," Sam agreed with a vague smile. "Talk to you later."

He put the phone down on the tabletop and shifted his left arm a little only to hiss at the pain this caused.

"I think I've got my work cut out for me with your brother," Grace said when she stepped back into the kitchen. She looked a little surprised.

"He likes to eat," Sam countered, having noticed that she had brought the plate back and that it was empty.

"I noticed," she said and chuckled. "I promised him another one. But you first," she added.

Sam actually felt sorry for her right now and promised himself that he would warn her to not allow his brother to boss her around. Generally, though, Sam didn't think she was the type of woman who would accept that sort of behavior easily.

***

Over the next couple of days, both Sam's and Dean's condition improved. Since the snow had pretty much buried the countryside and Grace had decided that driving in this was too dangerous, if not downright impossible, Dean was in a bit of a predicament. At this point in time, his leg should have been in a cast, but since getting to the hospital was pretty much out of the question, he had to settled for the brace, which again made it impossible for him to even think of walking.

Grace had braved the outside to visit a neighbor who had crutches standing around and had brought them back and with a bit of help and a pace that turned a snail into a race horse, he was able to get from the bedroom to the living room and the bathroom.

He spent a lot of time on the couch, staring out at the white nothingness outside while being bored out of his mind.

Sam stood by the landscape window and watched the snow fall for a bit, then glanced back at Dean. Grace was somewhere upstairs. "Where's the Impala?" he asked.

"Where I left her. Buried in snow on some god-forsaken field out in the middle of nowhere," Dean countered. "And with it our stuff," he added and grimaced. "At least we didn't leave the weapon's bag in the motel. That could have been fun, trying to explain to that sheriff guy what the hell we were doing with that many weapons."

"Yeah," Sam agreed, then turned his attention to the living room itself. The whole place felt homey. Grace had good taste and she didn't over-decorate. No frills and no pink. Nothing that spelled overtly female. His gaze wandered over the furniture to the fireplace. He eyed the photos on the mantelpiece for a moment, then stepped a little closer when he fixed on the photo at the end. It was of a man holding a baby.

"What?" Dean asked, having noticed his preoccupation.

Sam picked up the frame and eyed the photo. "Grace told me she'd been married many years ago," he said. "She said her husband died. I wonder if this is him," he added.

"Probably," Dean grumbled and picked at the fringe of the afghan.

Sam put the frame back in place, then shifted his attention to the other photos. There was only one photo that had Grace in it and he didn't really recognize her at first. She looked like a teenager in it. He smirked, then shifted his attention from her to the guy standing next to her, his arm around her shoulders. And it was right there and then that time screeched to a halt and everything stopped making sense to him.

"I cannot believe she doesn't have a TV," Dean said and sighed. "I need a frigging vacation," he added. "Sam, are you listening to me?"

Sam heard him, but he couldn't tear his eyes away from that photo.

"Sam?" Dean's tone had changed to slightly worried. "Sam!"

Like a sleepwalker, Sam grabbed the frame and turned to face Dean. He obviously didn't look right, because Dean's expression was deeply worried.

"What is it?" he asked.

Barely able to function at all, Sam handed Dean the frame. "Look at this guy," he finally managed, his voice a little hoarse now.

With a frown, Dean took the frame while eying Sam closely, then shifted his attention to the photo. "Son of a bitch," he huffed.

"Something wrong?" Grace stepped into the living room and had obviously overheard Dean's exclamation.

Sam didn't hesitate. He snatched the frame back from Dean and held it out to her. "Who is this man?" he asked. Even he could hear the slight tremble in his voice.

Grace arched an eyebrow, then took the frame and looked at the photo. And then she smiled. "That's my baby brother," she said. There was something sad about the way she smiled, but it wasn't her smile so much as her words that totally floored Sam.

He took a step back, suddenly a little dizzy, then glanced at Dean who was staring at Grace like he had never seen her before.

Grace glanced at Sam, then at Dean and their reactions made her frown. "What's the matter?" she asked.

Sam and Dean glanced at each other, then Dean looked up at her. "That's our dad," he said.