What's Dead Should Stay Dead

Disclaimer: I've converted three new people to Supernatural fandom, but since they aren't selling stock based on recruits, I still don't own a piece of the action.

Thank You: To Wysawyg for being such a great beta. I really put her through her paces with this one!

And Jen for the insta-feedback…it made a difference.

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Sam sat on the bed with his long legs stretched out in front of him and sighed. The flat, boring wood paneling and red velvet trim had long since ceased to hold any fascination for him other than possibly tracking down whoever thought it was a good look in the first place and slapping some sense into them. He had only been here for three days and it was two and a half days too many.

Sam cracked his neck and pushed himself higher in the bed. Dull pains throbbed through his stomach at the motion, but he pushed them away with practiced effort. Dean would be back soon with dinner, promises of more punishment disguised as physical therapy and excuses for moving on within the next day or so.

Sam thought back over the course of the last nine days. They had switched motel rooms frequently during that time. Dean had kept them moving in an erratic pattern, keeping in contact with Bobby and making sure the necromancy group had really given up on using Sam in their quest to bring back either Thomas or his older brother: the Necromancer himself.

Of course, nine days ago Sam had been pretty out of it. He had vague recollections of Dean wrapping him in blankets then slowly and carefully helping him out to the car. He remembered, or at least thought he remembered, Dean orbiting nearby whenever he awoke: helping him sit up in bed to sip tea or soup, the trips to the bathroom that while only ten feet away were an insurmountable distance without Dean's strong arm to keep him upright and the comforting presence of his big brother when he woke up shaking from a new round of nightmares of flickering candles and voices in the dark. On one such night, Sam had bolted awake and lain there shivering and trying not to wake his brother until his mind caught up with his body and he heard fragments of a conversation.

"I don't care what it takes. Find some way to cast a very long shadow of doubt on Monroe's capabilities as a doctor."

"No, I'm not suggesting that…yet."

"Thanks, Bobby."

By the time Dean had sat down next to him, checking on him for the umpteenth time that evening, Sam had been drifting on the edges of sleep. He had forgotten to ask Dean about it the next morning and after that, it seemed a moot point.

Six days ago, Sam had insisted the strong painkillers Bobby had procured from dubious sources be discontinued. He did not want the drugs sapping his resolve or enveloping his brain in a white haze any longer. The pain would be preferable to his continued dependence on Dean. He appreciated his brother's attentiveness and, while a part of him reveled in the feeling of being cared for that the attention engendered, it would not do for the long haul. He needed to regain some independence for himself, to quell the lingering feelings of doubt that he was, despite Dean's protestations to the Necromancer, a burden to his brother. Dean had listened to his request for the most part anyway. He gave Sam the remaining Tylenol 3 they still had on hand from several months ago during the day, but Sam suspected in the evening the stronger medicine had found its way into Sam's bloodstream for at least two more nights.

Five days ago, Dean had begun torturing him. It started small with miniature circuits around the motel room and progressed to trips to the Impala culminating in voyages down the street and back. Dean had hovered ever present close to his elbow and Sam knew Dean had been worried he was not strong enough for the longer trips. True to his nature, Dean had allowed Sam the freedom to push himself past Dean's level of comfort, but only as long as he was there to monitor Sam's endurance level. The one time Sam had left the room to walk on his own to the motel office for a can of soda while Dean was out getting lunch had ended in an argument. An argument Sam had decidedly lost.

"Sam, promise me you won't leave the room, unless I'm with you."

"Dean, I don't understand what the big deal is, I wasn't gone for more than two minutes."

"And what if you'd fallen down or someone had tried to mug you, what would you have done?"

"On the way to the motel office?"

"Sam, just promise, at least until the staples come out."

"Okay, fine, but only until the staples come out."

"All of them."

"Fine!"

The look of relief that had flashed briefly across Dean's face had Sam feeling so guilty he had not pushed the issue or the reasons behind Dean's over-reaction to it.

Two days ago, Sam had finished taking the antibiotics, the dry mouth feeling had gone away and his appetite had returned. Dean had tried to get him to walk an extra two blocks that evening with the strange promise of gummy worms. He had given Dean a quizzical look, obviously confused by the odd offer.

"What's with the gummy worms?"

"I figured you could have some, if you earned them first."

"Yeah, but gummy worms?"

Dean's only response had been to chuckle in amusement at his own joke. Sam still hadn't figured that one out.

Yesterday, Dean had found a small clinic and had taken Sam in to get the staples checked. Dean had been checking them daily for signs of infection, any redness and tenderness, but had decided today was the day they should be checked by a professional. The doctor on duty had agreed with Dean's assessment and had removed nearly all the staples in his chest and legs. The doctor had checked the staples in his stomach from the surgery and tested his stomach for soreness. Sam had noticed Dean clenching his fists when the doctor probed a tender spot, but to his credit had said nothing. If the doctor thought anything of the twenty-three year old having his brother in the exam room, he had not mentioned it. Sam had been grateful on both counts.

Sam stretched again and shifted restlessly on the bed. The idea of an actual shower, instead of just a pit bath and hair wash, for the first time in nearly two weeks appealed to Sam and he slowly plied himself off the bed. Carefully reaching down for his duffel bag, he eased it onto the bed with one arm, holding his other arm protectively across his belly. He searched through the bag and finally came away with a clean pair of boxers and a clean t-shirt. He was still zipping up the bag when Dean walked through the door with to go boxes in his hands.

A quiet look of disapproval fluttered through Dean's eyes, but disappeared as quickly as it came. Dean set the boxes down on the table and without turning to face Sam asked, "Taking a shower?"

"Yeah," Sam replied with a voice scratchy from sleep. "I can't wait for a real shower."

"I didn't want to say anything," Dean replied, turning around with a smirk on his face. "But you smell pretty ripe."

"Nice," Sam shot back. "Thanks."

Dean awarded him a lop-sided grin and added, "Any time. I brought back some food. Hamburgers, fries, even salad," the last said with a small laugh.

"Wow, I'm impressed," Sam sniped on his way past Dean. "You're diversifying."

"It's not for me," Dean protested with a look of horror on his face. "I'm not the one that needs to eat his vegetables."

"Your body probably wouldn't know what to do with vegetables," Sam muttered entering the bathroom and closing the door.

"What's that, Sam?" Dean's muffled voice asked through the door.

"Nothing," Sam replied, sitting on the toilet to peel his socks from his feet. The pulling on his stomach caused a twinge of pain, but Sam had stopped letting Dean help him with socks or shoes several days ago. He had to maintain a sliver of pride somehow.

"'Cause it sounded like you said you were up for some extra walking after lunch today," Dean remarked.

"Sure," Sam replied, refusing to take the bait. Save me from my big mouth, Sam thought. He turned on the shower and let it steam up before climbing in. There would be time to work the kinks out of his back before he went walking with Dean this afternoon.

When Sam emerged from the bathroom, Dean was sitting on his bed with a dissembled rifle, cleaning it. Sam walked back to his own bed and sat gingerly on the edge. "Are you ready to go?" Sam asked.

"Not until you've had lunch," Dean said pointing towards the food on the table with the cleaning brush.

Sam resisted the urge to roll his eyes or to admit he was not hungry. Lately, Dean had taken any indication that Sam was not up to snuff as his cue to start flapping about like a mother hen. Sam knew the incident with the Necromancer had raised Dean's hackles, but it did not fully explain the absolute hovering act Dean had been performing. He suspected it was whatever had happened after they had left the hospital, but before he had awoken at the caretaker's house on the kitchen table.

Walking over to the table he rummaged through the paper sack and pulled out the salad. It was a fast food salad, but it actually looked pretty good. He popped off the plastic lid, drizzled on the dressing and started to eat. "Hey, Dean?"

"Yeah?" Dean responded without looking up from his task.

"Maybe we should start looking for our next hunt?" Sam suggested. A change of scenery and something new to focus on would do them both a world of good.

"You're not ready," Dean replied succinctly.

"I'd just be looking for a hunt and doing the research," Sam protested. "It's not like we'd take off right away or anything."

"No," Dean stated his tone leaving no room for argument. Not that that would stop Sam.

"Dean…"

"I said no," Dean barked, this time lifting his gaze to look at Sam.

Frustration flared and Sam paused to gather his thoughts before continuing. "Dean, what happened?" Sam asked quietly.

"Don't know what you mean," Dean replied, switching his gaze from Sam back to cleaning his rifle.

Sam sighed lightly and walked over to Dean, sitting down next to him, their shoulders almost touching. "You know it goes both ways," Sam said simply.

"Oh God, what?" Dean asked, tossing the barrel down on the bed in frustration. He did not want to have this conversation.

"I know when you're not telling me everything too," Sam answered.

Dean turned his head towards Sam and made brief eye contact before looking away again. The look of quiet understanding in Sam's eyes was almost enough to make him crack. Almost. "Sam, I'm not holding anything back. I don't know what you're talking about."

Sam did not respond, but sat next to Dean without saying a word. Words would frustrate Dean to the point of shutting down entirely. Silence offered him the time and freedom to muster up the courage to talk, if he was going to talk. Dean chanced another glance at Sam and found him waiting patiently. There was no look of expectation or annoyance on his brother's face, just a quiet offer of a listening ear.

Dean sighed. "You stopped breathing." It was said so low Sam barely caught the mumbled words.

"At the caretaker's house?" Sam asked.

Dean nodded his head, but did not continue right away. His eyes were staring at an obscure spot on the floor, but his vision was turned inwards. "The doctors at the hospital didn't know what was wrong and the caretaker kept telling me he could help you, so…so, I took you to him," Dean said.

When Dean did not continue Sam softly urged him on. "I remember," he prompted. "We were in the car."

"You were so sick, Sammy," Dean continued. "When you passed out in the car I thought I might have been too slow, too late."

Sam heard the emotion in Dean's voice even if there wasn't any visible in his eyes. "But you weren't and you did. And even if something had happened, it wouldn't have been your responsibility. Dean, you can't protect me from everything."

Sam realized too late how wrong those words were as every muscle in Dean's shoulders and neck bunched before the impending explosion from Mt. Winchester. Dean abruptly stood up and walked three paces away from the bed before turning back around. "It is my responsibility, Sam," he spouted. "You're my little brother," he continued, his voice softening even though his posture did not. "That makes you my responsibility."

Sam's shoulders slumped slightly and he tried not to show Dean how much those words scared him. Not because he did not appreciate the sentiment, because he did. He did, but he knew just how much Dean meant what he said and Sam was afraid of what it might cost one day.

"Sam, responsibility is not the same as burden," Dean replied closing the distance between them and resting his hand on Sam's shoulder. "Don't let that guy throw his issues with his brother on you."

"I'm not," Sam countered.

"Now, who's holding something back?" Dean chided. He sat down on Sam's bed so he could look his suddenly reticent brother in the face.

Sam met Dean's gaze and replied, "I'm not letting his issues get to me." At Dean's disbelieving stare Sam added, "Exactly."

"So what exactly is it?" Dean asked. He leaned forward resting his forearms on his legs, leaving only inches separating them.

"Dean I know you think you can save me from whatever the demon's plans are for me," Sam began.

"I will," Dean replied, without hesitation or doubt in his voice.

"The thing is, well, you know the reason I asked you to…" Sam's voice trailed off again before he found his voice again and continued. "I don't want to hurt anyone."

"I know that," Dean replied, although in his heart he knew he could not kill Sam. He would save him. It was the only option Dean would allow himself to acknowledge.

"That especially means you," Sam finished quietly, breaking eye contact with Dean and staring at a stain of unknown origin on the lime green carpet.

"You won't," Dean reassured him, tapping Sam's knees with his knuckles.

"What about you?" Sam asked, re-establishing eye contact with Dean.

"I promise I won't hurt me either," Dean quipped with a smirk.

"Promise?" Sam asked, his sincerity evident in his expression.

Well crap, he had not even seen that Sam-mine until he stepped on it. Dean sat there in silence for a minute before standing up and walking to the table. He could not bring himself to lie to Sam about it. He would do what he needed to do when the time came. "We should probably head out for that walk," Dean stated. "We need to be back in time to pack up before it gets too late. We're moving out tonight."

Sam noticed the walls slam down tight on Dean's face. The conversation was over and nothing Sam could say would jumpstart it again. "Yeah, okay," Sam replied, catching his coat when it was tossed to him. He knew the frustration and fear he felt was visible in his eyes, because Dean was studiously avoiding looking at him.

Dean held the door open and fell into place beside him as they headed out. As Sam walked past the Impala he noticed the passenger side window was no longer cracked. "You fixed it," Sam said nodding his head at the window.

"Of course I fixed her," Dean replied. "She's my baby."

Sam glanced over at Dean and read on his face the double meaning behind the words. It may not have been the words he wanted to hear, but if the situation was reversed he knew he could offer Dean no more false assurances than Dean was offering him. If he was faced with the same scenario he would do what he had to do to save his brother too. He smiled at Dean and offered him the only olive branch he could – understanding.

Fin.

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AN: Thanks to everyone who has been reading. It's been a fun ride!