A/N: This story idea began as an orphaned plot bunny that hopped out of Soncnica's recent oneshot, "Houston, We Have A Problem" (http :/ / fanfiction dot net/s/5663495/1/). She has allowed me to adopt and feed the critter...and this is what happened.

Disclaimer: Supernatural and it characters are created and owned by the Great Kripke, the biggest bunny of them all.

Grave Consequences
by FraidyCat

Digging a grave is hard work.

Ask Sam. He's been doing it for years.

He plunged the shovel's round tip into the rich earth with a power born of desperation, and remembered.

The first couple of years he was allowed to accompany his father and Dean on hunts, his main jobs had been keeping the Impala warm and staying out of the way. But on his sixteenth birthday, he was awarded the Winchester Rite of Passage. Some guys got cars. Some dudes got hookers. Some buds got totally, shit-faced, drunk.

Sam got to dig his first grave.

"Sammy," Dean had drawled lazily from his position near the marble headstone. "Maybe I shouldn't have told Dad you were ready for this. It's taking you an awful long time."

Sam's grip tightened on the shovel, causing him to wince as a blister threatened to burst. He glared in the general direction of Dean's flashlight. "Shut-up," he answered sulkily. "It's not like I asked for this...honor."

He couldn't see Dean clearly, but he could hear the smirk in his voice. "Aw, Princess. Just say the word and I'll switch up with you."

Sam glanced over his shoulder, toward the place he knew their father was waiting by the car. "Asshole," he muttered, gingerly scooping another shovelful of dirt. "A pizza." He grunted as he heaved the dirt out of the deepening hole. "Maybe a beer. That's all I wanted for my birthday."

Dean laughed. Sam paused, dropped the shovel, shrugged painfully out of his jacket, wadded the denim material into a ball, and threw it as hard as he could toward the sound. "Here. Hold onto something besides a flashlight." He grinned wickedly at he bent to pick up the shovel. "Or are you doing that already?"

"Very funny," answered his brother. "But hey, thanks for the extra coat; it's getting cold up here, just standin' around waiting for you."

Sam's response was unintelligible. Dean was just starting to laugh again when he heard it: the unmistakable thunk of shovel meeting wood. He dropped Sam's coat when he bent to snatch the tin of lighter fluid off the ground. He picked the fluid up, straightened, and crossed to crouch at the edge of the yawning opening containing Sam.

Dean peered into the grave, sweeping the flashlight down the length of the casket. "Just clear away enough dirt so's you can break through the top," he advised. "I've got the fluid right here. Lighter's in my pocket. Time to light Casper's fire!"

Sam looked up with troubled eyes. "I know what to do," he said. Then he just stood there.

Dean sighed. The teasing was gone from his voice when he gently asked, "Then why aren't you doing it?"

Without comment, Sam turned his face away, back to his task. In just a few moments, most of the top half of the coffin was visible. After a few forceful jabs, Sam plunged the tip of the shovel through the rotting wood.

To his credit, it wasn't until Sam had exposed and lit the bones, and climbed out of the hole, grabbing Dean's steady hand with his shaking one...it wasn't until he was on terra firma again, that he vomited all the food he had eaten during the last week.

Remembering, Sam grimaced, and wondered -- not for the first time -- about himself. In no time at all, it seemed now, he had advanced from a gawky teenager who was sickened by the act of grave desecration, to a hardened hunter. When had that happened? How had that happened? Was it the experience of losing Jess, the act of killing Madison, the self-revelations he had received courtesy of Max, Andy, Ava? All of the above, perhaps?

When he was sixteen, his shoulders and back had been sore for days after that first grave. For almost a week, he could barely lift his arms. Neither Sam nor Dean had ever mentioned it -- not to each other, and certainly not to their father -- but Dean's assistance had been required on several occasions. Getting his shirt on in the mornings; taking it off at night. Retrieving anything that was stored on a high shelf. Lifting anything heavier than a few pounds. Sam had left his backpack in his locker all week, unable to sling it over a shoulder and shlepp it home.

Now, his shoulders and back were corded with lean muscle; his abs were more chiseled than any marble headstone; his fully developed biceps strained against the fabric of his shirt and jacket as he continued to dig. On a good night, he could dig a grave now in less than a quarter of the time it had taken him to dig his first one. In fact, Dean had almost missed the last one.

It was winter; cold and icy. Dean had a cold; he probably shouldn't have been there at all. It was a testament to how lousy he had been feeling, that he let Sam drive to the cemetery. Then, he had let Sam talk him into waiting in the warmth of the Impala while Sam got started on the grave. Dean had not expected him to be halfway finished yet when he finally joined him, shivering, at the gravesite -- only to see that Sam was almost done.

Sam had heard the odd mixture of pride, surprise and reprimand in his brother's raspy voice. "Dude. How the hell did you do that so fast?"

Sam, increasingly testy as Dean's date with the hellhounds grew closer, growled out a response without bothering to look up at Dean. "Don't worry. I just used a shovel. No mojo involved."

Dean had sniffed, coughed once, and the flashlight flickered as he pretended to inspect the growing hole between them. "I wasn't accusing you of anything, Sammy," he answered, sounding hurt.

As always, the use of his nickname softened Sam's heart toward Dean. As much as the younger brother protested against being called 'Sammy'...when it came from Dean...well, he would miss hearing it.

He would miss Dean.

"Maybe you fell asleep for awhile in the car," he finally responded gruffly, continuing to dig at the earth.

"Yeah," Dean had agreed after a sneeze, his voice pensive.

Sam remembered, and thought again that Dean shouldn't have been at that grave. Not when he was sick. Not at that time in his life.

He stopped digging, stood quietly for a moment, head hanging, and felt his eyes well with tears. Several cascaded down his cheeks, mixing with the dirt there until mud droplets fell from his chin onto his heaving chest. Eventually he squared his shoulders, lifted his face to the night sky and scrambled his way out of the grave, heaving the shovel out first.

Up top, Sam made a decision. He understood, now, that the world was full of evil, of all description. He would become a specialist; narrow his focus. He would pick and choose what he hunted. Vampires. Werewolves. Bezerkers. Demons.

Lilith. Especially, Lilith. Always, Lilith.

But he had dug his last grave. Let some other hunter deal with disgruntled spirits. Sam was never digging another grave in his life.

Decision made, he turned slightly. The moon was full, and even without a flashlight it was easy to see the sheet-encased mound that was all he had left of his brother. Dean was lying there, patient as a dead man, waiting for Sam to finish digging his grave. Again, Dean shouldn't be where he was. Again, Sam had let him down. Again, Sam had failed.

Again, Sam was alone.

And he had dug his last grave.