Protecting the Dead

Chapter 1

Disclaimer: I don't own anything related to Supernatural except some really cool merchandise.

A/N: This takes place sometime after Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things and Croatoan. It will probably be posted in three chapters.

oooOOOooo

It is not the experience of today that drives us mad; it is remorse or bitterness for something which happened yesterday and the dread of what tomorrow may bring – Anonymous

oooOOOooo

"Sam! Behind you!"

At the sound of his brother's panicked cry, Sam Winchester whirled around, barely taking time to aim the shotgun before he fired the rock salt. The spirit screeched and lashed out at him before it disintegrated.

Dean ran toward Sam and quickly examined the new scratch on his face. "Come on, let's finish this and get the hell out of here."

They were in the cemetery digging up the grave of the spirit that had just attacked Sam so they could salt and burn the bones. Its death happened in a one-car accident several years ago and had been terrorizing motorists along the same road every since.

The brothers went back to the grave and Dean jumped back into the five feet deep hole. He shook his head when Sam picked up a shovel. "Keep an eye out for that ghost."

"Dean –"

"I've got this, Sam," Dean insisted as he started to dig. "If that thing comes back again and we don't see it coming, we're done for. It's beyond pissed. It's a good thing you noticed the rifle was out of reach and got out of the grave to get it or we'd probably already be toast."

"Fine. Just hurry," Sam growled. He knew Dean was right about needing to know if the ghost was coming for them again, but he hated being on the sidelines. He appreciated his brother's constant concern, but sometimes it could be irritating.

After exposing the coffin, Dean broke through the rotten wood to get to the skeleton inside. He climbed out of the grave and Sam sprayed lighter fluid on the bones while Dean lit the match. He held it out in front of him and gazed at it for a moment before dropping into the coffin. They heard the screeching of the ghost as it raced toward them, but it didn't have time to reach them before the fire sufficiently consumed its bones.

The brothers quickly filled in the hole then carried their gear back to the Impala, which they'd left parked on the edge of the cemetery. Dean rested his head on the back of the seat, his eyes closed, as Sam slid into the car beside him.

"You okay?" Sam asked.

"Yeah." Dean opened his eyes and turned the key in the ignition.

They'd planned to leave town as soon as the job was over and had taken all of their things from the motel when they left for the cemetery. Dean headed out of town, but stopped at the first rest area they reached to clean up the scratch on Sam's face. Not knowing what exactly had caused it, Dean was concerned about an infection.

---

Dean leaned against one of the sinks in the bathroom, his arms crossed, watching Sam as he washed the cut and applied an antibiotic cream. They were both glad it wasn't deep enough for stitches. Dean could handle it, but their supplies were basic. They didn't have a variety of needles and sutures at their disposal and more than likely, Sam would have ended up with a scar if Dean had to stitch up his face. Hospitals were always a last resort.

When Sam was finished, Dean held his brother's chin and looked at the cut again. He grinned when Sam pulled away.

"I saw a sign for a McDonald's at the next exit," Sam said as they walked back to the car. "Why don't we get some coffee before we disappear onto the back roads?"

"Good idea."

oooOOOooo

The brothers traveled in a comfortable silence, each lost in their own thoughts and sipping at the coffee. Dean found a classic rock station on the radio and set the volume fairly low so it would be easier for Sam to fall asleep if he felt like it.

It was nice to have a simple job once in a while. Things had been so hard since their father died; the jobs they came across were complicated and Dean just felt so tired. He was having a hard time dealing with the secret their father left him with before he died…or was taken by the demon. Dean didn't know the details, but he was pretty sure there had been some deal between them and he didn't know how to handle that.

So, this uncomplicated job had been a relief and he hadn't had to pretend too much that he was having a good time. He just hoped the next job would go as well.

After a couple of hours on the road, Dean glanced at his brother. Sam's head was resting against the window of the door and his eyes were closed. He couldn't help but smile. In the nearly two years since Dean had come for him at Stanford, Sam had been through quite a bit. The death of his girlfriend at the hand of the same thing that killed their mother, being sucked back into a life he'd detested, the visions starting….Dean liked seeing him relaxed, even if it was in the car.

He reached for the radio volume control and turned it down a little more, then settled back into the seat.

---

Dean drove until just after 1:00 in the afternoon and Sam slept until the Impala's engine was quiet.

"Where are we?" he asked, rubbing his face.

"Portage, Wisconsin. I'm gonna see if I can get us a room," Dean said. "I'll be right back."

Sam watched as his brother walked to the motel office. He looked at his watch, surprised to see so much time had passed. He felt bad for leaving Dean alone; his brother must have been just as tired, but yet he'd driven for hours.

"You hungry?" Sam asked when Dean got back into the car.

"I'm too tired to be hungry."

"I'll find us something and bring it back. You can take a shower and relax."

Dean handed Sam one of the keys to the room. "We're in six; at the end of the building."

"I won't be long."

---

Inside the room, Dean dropped his duffle bag next to the bed that was closet to the door. Ever since they were small, no matter where they were, Dean would take the bed closest to the door. If anything was going to come in, it would have to go through him to get to his brother.

He took in his surroundings; it was pretty much the same as every other motel room. There were two beds with ugly bedspreads and tacky pictures hung on the wall, but at least they hid some of the puke green paint. Dean sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. He rubbed his face tiredly and considered just crawling under the covers and going to sleep, but the room was cold and he decided to turn up the heat and take a shower first.

Standing under the hot water, Dean couldn't help thinking about things. There was a time, not too long ago even, when he was excited after a job was done. No matter how hard or easy it had been to kill the evil creature, he was always ready to celebrate when it was over. These days, especially now, it was all he could do to stand upright.

He knew part of it this afternoon was that he'd been awake for nearly 24 hours, but he also knew the real truth. His heart wasn't in the hunt anymore; not since his father's death and the warning about Sam. If he couldn't save him, Dean would have to kill his brother…. Dean shook his head to clear the thoughts and finished the shower. He was in sweats and a t-shirt when Sam returned with soft drinks and burgers from a diner down the street.

They sat at a small round table that had full view of the television. The motel provided HBO and there was an action movie on they'd both seen more than once, but it was at least a distraction. They ate in a comfortable silence, but Dean noticed that Sam looked at him from the corner of his eye more than once. He knew that Sam was worried about him. They'd had the conversation more than once where Dean insisted he was fine and Sam begged him to let him help. It always ended up in an argument and neither one was in the mood to fight today.

"Thanks for getting the food," Dean said after he'd swallowed the last of the burger.

"No problem. You gonna get some sleep now?"

"Yeah, I guess so. What are you going to do?"

"There's a laundry place down the street. I'll wash our stuff while you sleep."

Dean glanced at him, then sat back and sighed. "I know what you're doing."

"What do you mean?"

Dean heard the innocent tone of his brother's voice, but suspected it was an act. "Sam, I'm fine, okay? It's no big deal that you fell asleep in the car. I drove until I was too tired and then stopped. I appreciate you going out to get the food, but you don't have to punish yourself with chores."

"It's not that," Sam said quietly, his eyes pointed at the table. "Exactly."

"What is it then? Exactly."

Sam shrugged and wiped at imaginary crumbs.

"Sam, I'm too tired for this. If you want to do the laundry, knock yourself out, but don't think you have to do it."

Sam nodded.

---

As Dean settled into bed, Sam gathered their dirty clothes and his laptop then headed for the Impala.

"Hey, Sam?" Dean called as his brother opened the motel room door. Sam turned to look at him. "I….Maybe we'll go out later, okay?"

Sam nodded, a small smile playing on his lips.

---

While the clothes were washing and drying, Sam worked on his laptop. He was surprised to get a wireless signal and after he was connected, he started surfing news stories and looking for a new gig. He glanced up as a young woman walked in a little while later, but he didn't have any interest in talking to her. She was pretty and blonde; Sam had no doubt if his brother was there, Dean definitely would have hit on her. At least he would under normal circumstances. Sam had noticed that Dean spent a lot less time flirting with random women since their father's death than before and he wondered what it meant.

After his thoughts turned to his brother, Sam had a hard time shifting them to something else. He was worried about Dean and he didn't know what to do about it. It wasn't that he was handling their father's death particularly well, but Sam wasn't tail-spinning like his brother was. Sam had hoped that something good might come from their father's death, that maybe it would make them even closer, but instead it seemed to be driving a wedge between them.

Sam put the last load of clothes into the dryer and stretched. He folded what had just been dried and put it into the bag, glancing around the room. He was alone again; the woman that had come in left as soon as she put her clothes into a washer. After a few minutes of watching the clothes tumble in the dryer, Sam started to pace. He looked at the computer he'd left on a nearby chair and half-heartedly went back to searching the news stories.

For a while after their father's death, Dean had been dangerous. He'd craved the hunt, needing the violence of a kill. But now he was subdued and just seemed to be going through the motions. They'd almost traded places because it was now Sam who vigorously pursued the hunts, trying to do what their father would have wanted.

Of course, Dean called him on that and they'd ended up having yet another argument; something they did often these days. Dean had told him what he was doing was too little, too late. Sam agreed with him, but he didn't know what else to do. He felt guilty for all the fights he and their father had. He felt guilty for going away to school. He felt guilty for just about everything having to do with their father. And Sam missed him. He missed him so much that there was a physical pain and he knew that Dean must feel it, too.

Sam set the laptop aside again and stretched out on the old, plastic chair. He stared out of the window in front of him, not really seeing what was outside. He was thinking about his brother, their father and what was next for him and Dean. They still had to find the yellow-eyed demon and figure out how to kill it. They still had people to help. Sam knew he was where he belonged; at least for now. Some day maybe he could try having a normal life again, but when he did, he wouldn't have to run away from the hunt and Dean would remain a part of his life.

The dryer buzzer sounded a few minutes later and interrupted his thoughts. Sam packed up his computer and folded the last of the clothes. Once they'd been added to the duffle bag, he headed back out to the Impala and looked at his watch. He'd been gone for just over two hours, taking longer than he had to. He could have used more than one machine at a time and gotten the job done faster, but he wanted to give Dean time to sleep in peace. At least as much peace as his brother ever had.

Sam didn't immediately go back to the motel. He drove around town and found a strip mall with a large bookstore. He spent the next hour looking around, but decided not to buy anything. Dean was still asleep when Sam got back to the room, but he shifted as the door closed. Sam watched him for a few minutes, then set up the laptop and went to work.

---

"Hey, Sleeping Beauty," Sam grinned when Dean finally opened his eyes.

Dean grunted. "What time is it?"

"Almost seven."

"Shit. Why'd you let me sleep so long?"

"You obviously needed it."

Dean grunted again, then got out of bed and trudged to the bathroom. When he came out a few minutes later, he joined his brother at the old table situated in front of the room's only window.

"What have you been doing?"

Sam nodded toward the computer. "Looking for a new job. Clothes are clean."

"Oh. Yeah. Thanks for taking care of that."

"No problem."

"So, you find anything?"

"Maybe. You hungry? We can talk about it over dinner somewhere."

Dean shrugged. "Okay."

---

The brothers ended up at a bar down the street. They found a table near the back and ordered beer and a plate of nachos from the young blonde waitress. Dean didn't even make eye contact with her.

"Looks like there are a couple of decent pool tables back there," Sam noticed.

"Yeah, I saw that when we came in."

"You gonna get into a game?"

Dean looked at his brother, trying to figure out what was going on in his head. "I don't know."

Sam slumped in his chair, not sure what to say next. Dean glanced around the room.

"So," he said after a few moments. "Tell me about the job you found."

"I'm not sure if it is a job," Sam said, clearly thankful for a safe subject. "But there's a town in Illinois where a lot of kids have died and there have been a large number of miscarriages recently. I found a few news stories about the deaths and didn't think much of it until I found a series of articles about the kids. There are a lot of questions, but no answers."

"And you think this is our kind of job, why?"

Sam shrugged. "I'm not sure it is. I also found some stuff about people seeing things in one of the cemeteries in town."

"Things?"

"Reports of seeing corpses brought back to life."

Dean glanced at the waitress when she dropped off their order, but he didn't return her smile.

"Corpses brought back to life?" Dean repeated once they were alone again.

Sam nodded. "I don't know how credible the reports are, but…."

Dean didn't want to start another job; especially one involving reanimated corpses. He just wanted to find somewhere safe and hole up with his brother until he could figure out what to do about the secret their father shared with him. He'd never wanted to hide before, but finding out that he might have to kill Sam….it was unacceptable. He couldn't imagine his brother becoming something evil, but he didn't know what to do if it happened.

"How have they died?" Dean forced himself back to the conversation.

He saw Sam's expression darken. "They've been torn to pieces."

"Jesus, Sammy."

The younger man looked apologetic.

"And you don't think this is just some human monster?"

"I don't know."

"How many kids?" Dean asked quietly.

"The newspaper says five have been identified for sure, but there are a few more missing."

Dean took a long draw from his beer. "Torn to pieces?"

Sam nodded.

"Where do you find this stuff?" Dean asked, not really expecting an answer.

---

After a couple more beers, Dean's mood lightened. They finished the plate of nachos while talking about the potential job along with other topics. A third beer in his hand, Dean headed off to the pool table. He got invited to join the game and an hour late he was up by over $200.

Apparently bored with the game late, Dean started to work the room. As Sam watched, he flirted and collected phone numbers, but something was off. Sam knew his brother better than anyone else and he knew that Dean wasn't really enjoying himself; he was just doing what he thought Sam expected him to do.

Sam worried when Dean switched from beer to shots and decided to intervene rather quickly. Dean was already pretty drunk and the last thing either of them needed to deal with in the morning was a hangover.

"You ready to head out?" Sam asked when he approached his brother at the bar. He'd just thrown back another shot of something that could have been whiskey.

"It's still early," Dean protested, his words slurring slightly. "I can walk back to the motel if you're ready to call it a night."

Sam looked at him. Normally he didn't mind leaving Dean alone in a bar, but lately his brother had been so volatile that he was nervous whenever Dean was out of his sight.

"If you want to get an early start in the morning, we should get some sleep."

"You're such a party pooper," Dean laughed.

As if the slurred words weren't enough of an indication that Dean was drunk, his use of the phrase party pooper certainly was. Sam sighed inwardly. It wasn't that he minded staying out later, though his preference would have been to leave at least a couple of hours ago, but he knew Dean would be hurting tomorrow and he wanted to avoid as much of the hangover as he could.

"Why don't you leave with me now," Sam suggested, hoping Dean wouldn't react angrily.

"Okay," Dean said. "I'm gonna hit the head first."

Sam watched his brother's unsteady gait for only a moment before he decided to follow him. He waited outside the men's room and Dean said nothing about it when he came out a few minutes later.

oooOOOooo

Sam was awake early the next morning and made coffee in the room, trying to be as quiet as he could. He had no intention of waking Dean up. The only reason he'd even mentioned getting an early start the night before is that he thought that was the only way to get him out of the bar.

Sam took a few sips of coffee as he stared out of the window. Their room had a decent view of a nearby park and there were already joggers out on the path. He realized it had been a while since he'd been for a jog. He and Dean had to be in good shape to do what they did and they worked out several times a week. He made a mental note to get a new pair of jogging shoes, then took the coffee to the table and booted up the laptop.

Keeping an eye on his brother, Sam went back through the information he'd found the day before and organized it. As far as he could tell, he was the only one who suspected a connection between the miscarriages and the deaths of the children. He wrote down a couple of phone numbers, then took his cell phone outside to the parking lot. Leaning against the Impala, he made phone calls and made more notes.

When Sam went back into the room, he heard the shower running. For no particular reason he glanced at the bed his brother had slept in. There was nothing out of place, not that he expected there to be.

"Hey," Sam said when Dean joined him a few minutes later. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine."

He noticed how slowly Dean moved as he dressed and Sam poured a cup of coffee while his brother eased himself onto the edge of the bed. He grunted in thanks when Sam handed him the coffee.

"I saw you on the phone outside," Dean said a few minutes later. With a little caffeine in him, he was already sounding better.

"Yeah, I was talking to the police and reporters in Ridgeville," Sam said of the Illinois town where the children had been killed. "Not surprisingly, the cops weren't too cooperative, but the reporters were pretty chatty. Especially the one who did the feature on the killings. He didn't have much more information than was in the paper, but he's still looking into things. Of course the prevailing thought is that it's a serial killer."

Dean rubbed his forehead, but Sam knew better than to coddle him.

"I also called the hospital – there are actually two in town, but one isn't much more than a clinic. I'm going to try to hack into their records because I didn't get much out of the administrator." Sam paused when Dean dropped the empty coffee cup onto the floor. "Dean?"

"You really think there's a connection between a few kids being killed and miscarriages?"

Sam hesitated. "I don't know. It seems odd, though, doesn't it?"

"I guess so. Let's say there is a connection. What do you think caused both things?"

"I don't know," Sam admitted.

"And you don't think some messed up person killed the kids?"

"It's possible," Sam leaned forward. "But I don't think so. The kids all lived in the same neighborhood –"

"Could be some sick fuck working his way through the town."

Sam nodded. "I know. The neighborhood borders a cemetery."

"A cemetery?"

"Might be just a coincidence."

"I don't believe in coincidences. Especially not when there's a cemetery involved. Not to mention reanimated corpses," Dean grimaced. "When are things going to realize that what's dead should stay dead?"

"You know," Sam began as he took in his brother's ashen skin tone and the dark circles under his eyes. "There's a lot more research to do and I can probably do a lot of it from here. Why don't we stay another day or two and –"

Dean looked at him, his eyebrows raised. "And what, Sam?"

"Come on, man. You drank a lot last night and I can see you're hurting. Why don't you go back to bed for a while?"

"I'm fine." Dean's tone was icy.

Sam sighed and glanced away for a moment. "You know what, Dean? I'm tired. I'm tired of trying to help you. If you want to be a martyr, be my guest. You want to be in the car all day? Fine! Let's do it. Let's go."

Their eyes locked and neither brother was willing to look away.

"Who said I wanted your help?" Dean growled.

"You never want my help. You're the great Dean Winchester. You can handle anything. You don't need anyone." Sam stood up and headed toward the door.

"Sam."

The younger man didn't pause. He opened the door and slammed it hard behind him.

---

Dean flinched at the noise and pain exploded in his head. He wanted to go after his brother, but when he stood up the room began to spin around him and he was forced back onto the bed. He yelled in frustration, but that only caused the pain in his head to increase. By the time he was able to make his way to the door, Sam was nowhere in sight.

It wasn't true. What Sam said about him not needing anyone, it wasn't true. He needed Sam. Dean also needed their father, but he was dead. More than dead, he'd probably traded himself for Dean's life. But before he did, their dad had shared a secret with his older son. A secret he wasn't supposed to share with his brother. It was eating him up inside and making him do stupid things.

He went back for his cell phone, but seeing Sam's right next to it on the bedside table, he knew there was no point. He hesitated only a moment before taking his car keys from the table and heading for the Impala.

Dean only got as far as the motel room door. He put his hand on the doorknob and couldn't make himself open it again. He didn't want to not see his brother outside. Even the thought of Sam not being there when he opened the door made Dean feel cold.

"Not again," he whispered.

---

Sam wanted to take back what he'd said. He wanted to take back the fight and most of all, he wanted to take back walking out on his brother. It was just all too reminiscent of how he left for Stanford. The fight with their father and then storming out of the dingy apartment they were living in at the time….All he wanted to do right now was go back to the room and fix what had just happened. He stood with his hand on the door knob, not able to make himself open it just yet.

After a moment, he pushed the door open as Dean pulled. They stared at each other, neither sure what to say.

"Bitch." There was a small sparkle in Dean's eye.

Sam's smiled was lopsided. "Jerk."

Dean backed out of the way as Sam walked into the room.

"Breakfast?"

Dean sat down on the bed. "I feel like shit, man."

"I don't doubt it. You were really throwing them back last night."

"Why don't we just get on the road?"

"Because you'll probably throw up in your car."

"Good point."

Sam sat down next to him. "What's going on, man?"

Dean said nothing.

"Why won't you talk to me, Dean?"

"I talk to you."

"About Dad."

"Aw, Sam. What's there to say? Dad is dead."

Sam looked forward and nodded. "I know that."

"You know how I feel," Dean said after a few minutes. "I told you when we left Lawrence the last time."

"I know that, too. But you're still acting erratic, Dean. You're still scaring me."

Dean looked at his brother. Normally there was nothing he wouldn't do for him, but he didn't have anything left for Sam. It took every bit of strength he had to get out of bed every day since their father died, let alone deal with the things they did….He didn't know what to do any more.

"Let's just do this job, Sam."

"We will, Dean, but –"

Dean stood up, struggling against the pain in his head and the nausea he felt.

"You drive," he said, taking his duffle bag and heading for the door.

TBC