'Til Death

Chapter 1

A/N: One of my favorite times to write about is soon after the brothers reunite and Sam is fragile from Jessica's death. Maybe I just like to torture the boy, or maybe I keep looking for ways that he can heal. Thanks, as always, to Kelli for her typo-hunting skills. Thanks, too, to Larry for helping me indulge my focus, reading my stuff and always being there for a good laugh (bar and grill!)

oooOOOooo

The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death. –Socrates

oooOOOooo

As was normal these days, Dean woke up to find his younger brother staring at the laptop screen. Sometimes Dean let him know he was awake and, other times, he secretly watched him. It had only been a few short months since Jessica's death and Sam was not dealing with it well. Actually, he was not dealing with it at all. More often than not, he awoke from a nightmare where her death was the main attraction and he would remain awake for the rest of the night. Dean had no idea how much sleep Sam was getting these days, but he was willing to bet money that it wasn't a lot.

He worried about his brother, but was ill-equipped to help Sam deal with his grief. The younger man blamed himself for Jessica's death and, while there was no way he could have stopped it, Dean didn't know how to make him understand that.

As he watched, unnoticed by Sam, Dean saw his brother brush away a tear. He desperately wished that Sam was a child again so his fears and sadness could be taken away with a hug, a joke, or a bowl of Lucky Charms. But Sam wasn't a child anymore; he was twenty-two years old and trying to hang on after watching the woman he loved die in their bedroom. That was a lot for anyone to handle, but what made it worse was how she died. It was at the hands of the same unknown thing that killed their mother when Sam was only six months old. Both women were consumed by flames while they were pinned to the ceiling. Both women died over Sam's bed.

Dean thought about what he should do, but decided to let Sam have his privacy. He realized that was the easy way out for him, but he knew Sam needed time to process his grief. He quietly rolled away from Sam, tears burning his own eyes.

oooOOOooo

When Dean woke again, sunlight was coming into the motel room from the separation between the curtains. Sam wasn't sitting at the small desk, nor was he in the other bed. Listening for a moment, Dean heard no noise coming from the bathroom. He tossed the covers aside and padded across the room; the bathroom door stood open. There was no note from his brother and nothing to indicate where he might have gone. Dean was contemplating his options when he heard the room door open.

"Oh," Sam began. "You're awake."

Dean saw the coffee cups and brown paper bag in his brother's hands and immediately relaxed.

"It's still early." he said, taking one of the cups.

Sam shrugged as he put the other cup and the bag on the desk.

"How long have you been up?"

Sam slipped out of his jacket, saying nothing.

"Sam?" Dean watched as he busied himself with the bag of food.

"Are you hungry?" Sam asked.

"We've got to talk about this, Sammy."

"Sam." he corrected. "And there's nothing to talk about."

It wasn't lost on Dean that his brother had yet to look him in the eye. He put his coffee down. "I'll be right back. Don't eat all the bacon."

oooOOOooo

Sam was back on the computer when Dean returned from the bathroom. He pulled on a pair of jeans before sitting across from him at the small round table.

"Thanks for getting breakfast." Dean said, then took a sip of coffee.

Sam nodded.

"What are you reading?"

"Looking through news stories for a new gig."

"You know, Sam," Dean began as he feigned interest in a container of food. "We could take a few days off. Hang out –"

Sam looked at him. "Why? You think I can't handle this? You think I've gotten weak?"

Dean looked up. "Sam, no, of course not. It's just –"

"Just what? Sam demanded, angrily.

"Hey!" Dean groused, matching his brother's tone. "I'm not the enemy here."

Sam immediately relented.

Dean waited a moment. "So, what have you found?"

"Not far from here; cemetery desecrations."

"Grave robberies?"

"Yeah. A lot of them. The bodies of the fairly recently dead are being taken. And I found this community website with a message board. People talking about seeing dead people." Sam shrugged.

"Could just be teenagers playing devil worship."

"I know. But it's close and it could be something else."

Dean looked at Sam closely. There was something about his tone that bothered the older brother.

"Eat up, then we'll head out."

oooOOOooo

Dean was used to Sam falling asleep in the car as they went from place to place and it seemed as if the familiar Impala was the only place Sam could get any kind of quality rest. The car had belonged to their father, until he gave it to Dean on his eighteenth birthday. The boys practically grew up in the car and Dean wondered if that was one reason Sam found it easy to sleep in it; it was the one familiar place in his brother's life.

He was also used to Sam waking up from a nightmare while in the car. He'd learned to recognize the signs that Sam was dreaming and the sudden waking rarely even made him flinch anymore. More times than not, Sam would call out Jessica's name as he woke up, but today he called out for his father.

"You okay?" Dean asked, pretending not to be surprised.

Sam straightened in the passenger seat and cleared his throat. "Yeah. Where are we?"

"About an hour out of Lewiston. You said that was kind of the center of the grave robberies, right?"

Sam nodded, still trying to clear his head of sleep. Dean watched him from the corner of his eye, but said nothing. Sam's jaw was already set in the way that Dean knew meant he wasn't willing to talk.

Dean parked in front of the office of the first motel they came to and Sam immediately opened his door. "I'll go."

The older Winchester watched as his brother walked into the office. There was definitely something going on with him and Dean admitted to himself that he was worried.

oooOOOooo

They spent the rest of the afternoon going through cemeteries, investigating the sites of the robberies. They presented themselves as police officers, lawyers, friends of the family; whatever got them access to the information they wanted. There were more details to gather, but it was getting late and the cemetery administrative offices were closed. Dean suggested they grab dinner and go over what they found back at the motel.

The brothers spent hours examining their information, looking for patterns and commonalities before giving up for the night and going to bed. Dean had a hard time falling asleep even though he was exhausted. He knew he was missing something and he couldn't stop thinking about the grave robberies they already knew about. He heard Sam's breathing change when he fell asleep and heard it change again when he started to dream.

"Sammy." Dean whispered. He was tempted to sit on the edge of his bed to be close when he woke, as he'd done so often when Sam was a child and would be scared awake from some dream or another. Of course he wouldn't do that; Sam wouldn't appreciate it and Dean wouldn't be able to bring himself to actually do it. Instead, he switched on the bedside lamp. It didn't shed enough light to disturb Sam, but it would keep the worst of the darkness away.

A moment later Sam jerked awake, calling out for Jessica. Even if the light hadn't been on, Sam wouldn't have tried to pretend nothing happened. He knew his voice had been loud enough to wake Dean. Sam tossed off the covers and went into the bathroom for a few minutes of privacy. Sweating and nauseated, he also thought he might be sick and preferred not to throw up into a trash can.

Dean was sitting in one of the hard chairs next to the small table where much of their work had been laid out earlier in the evening. Sam wasn't surprised; he was even almost grateful.

"You okay?" Dean asked. Even in the mostly dark room he could see his brother's face was pale.

Sam sat across from Dean and nodded. "Yeah. Sorry I woke you."

"It's okay, you didn't. I guess I can't stop thinking about this." Dean motioned to the paper and notes on the table. He looked at Sam. "So –"

"Dean, I appreciate the concern, but I'm fine." Sam didn't sound convincing, even to himself.

"You're not fine, Sammy."

Sam looked at him.

"Sam." Dean corrected. "These nightmares, man –"

"Don't." Sam stood up and walked to the window. He leaned against the frame and stared into the parking lot through the blinds, then whispered. "Just don't."

Dean leaned back in his chair and sighed. "We're going to have to talk about this sometime."

Sam didn't respond. Dean waited a moment, then quietly joined his brother at the window. Sam glanced at him, but said nothing.

"There was nothing you could do." Dean said quietly. "I know I can say that a million times; until I'm blue in the face. But that won't make you believe it, will it?"

Sam shook his head. "I could have done something."

"What?" Dean asked.

"I – " Sam turned from the window. "Something."

"Sam –"

The younger man turned, angrily. "I don't know, okay? But I should have done something! I know what's out there and I didn't do anything to protect Jessica! I didn't tell her anything; I didn't teach her anything! I should have done something!"

Dean watched, helpless, as Sam lowered himself onto the bed and rested his head in his hands. Not for the first time, he wished Sam was a kid again because things had been so much easier then. He sat on the other bed, across from Sam.

"Hey." Dean said quietly. Sam didn't move. "Even if you had told Jessica everything, it wouldn't have mattered. We don't know what that thing is and we don't know how to protect people from it. If you had told Jessica anything, any of what we know, it wouldn't have protected her from that thing. It just would have scared her."

Sam looked at his brother, tears in his eyes. He didn't just want to believe Dean; he desperately needed to believe him. He looked thoughtful, then, without a word Sam crawled under the covers. Dean rested his hand on Sam's shoulder for a moment, then got into his own bed.

oooOOOooo

Sam was quiet the next morning. Dean insisted they go to the diner for breakfast before getting back into the investigation, but Sam could only choke down a few sips of coffee.

"Why don't you go back to the room and get some computer time in?" Dean suggested once he was done looking through the morning paper. There was no mention of any more grave desecrations. "I'll head over to Henderson and see what I can find out."

"Why are we splitting up?"

Dean did his best to appear nonchalant. "We have a lot of ground to cover. There have been grave robberies all over the county and it's a pretty big county."

"And you think I can't handle my part of the job."

"Sam, research is a big part of your job. I can't work the magic you do with the computer."

Sam knew that to be true, but that wasn't the real reason Dean wanted him to stay behind. His brother was worried; and probably with good reason. Sam relented.