Chapter Twenty.

"Better The Devil You Know."

It was easily the most gruesome bonfire Sam had ever attended, two human-shaped shrouds ablaze before them, the brushwood pyre crackling in the heat and tiny hot sparks darting out to mix with the solid blackness all around them. It was a morbid spectacle, but still one that nobody could quite take their eyes off.

They'd arrived at Bobby's the day after the big showdown, Sam sporting a chronic headache and dark glasses as Dean had steered him gently in across the threshold, the elder wearing the face he reserved only for when he wanted to give life a damn good throttling. Bobby had said nothing, simply stepping back and letting them in with a sigh, resigned to the fact that time would bring him his answers.

The body in the back of the Impala however had been a different story and he'd blinked in astonishment as Dean had lead him out towards the car and popped the trunk,

"What in the world – ?!"

"It's Cal,"

"What?" More blinking had followed, incredulity mixing with horror, "You killed him?"

"He was a werewolf Bobby!" Dean had shot back, calming himself as his temper had threatened to spill over, "He shot me then tried to turn Sam. I didn't have a choice."

Nor did Bobby doubt it, after all Dean Winchester was many things but an unnecessary killer of other hunters was not one of them. Besides, there was a bigger question that needed asking,

"So you put him in the back of your car? What were you thinking?"

A flicker of annoyance had flashed across the younger man's face, obviously the thought of having a dead body in his beloved Impala had not been his first idea either.

"I was thinking that we would be the first suspects when the locals found him. Besides," A somewhat awkward shrug, "He was a hunter Bobby."

Bobby had nodded. The kid was right, Cal deserved the same send-off they would have given anyone they'd worked with. Regardless.

And then another thought.

"He shot you?"

A sigh had been the response, Dean leaning forward to collect up one end of the grisly package and watching as Bobby had moved forward to help him with the rest,

"With rock salt – it's a long story."

Together they had manhandled the body into one of Bobby's outbuildings, Dean standing and dusting off his palms absently before turning and heading back to the car again. Bobby had frowned, wandering after him and trying to piece together the strange sequence of events that had obviously befallen the boys in his absence,

"Where are you off to now?" he'd asked, scratching at his beard as he frowned. Dean had glanced back calmly as he'd swung shut the door, his response far from enlightening.

"I'm going to pick something up. Look after Sam."

"Dean – ,"

The Impala had roared off before he'd been able to finish the sentence and instead he'd groaned, thrown his hands into the air and trudged off to get the rest of the story from Sam – he always had been the more detailed narrator of the two anyway.

By the time Dean had pulled back up close to twelve hours later, the extra body in the back – the new one in an official body bag, which was a bonus – was the least of the surprises he'd received that day.

Sam had tentatively gone through the whole thing with him, even filling him in on the back-story that he himself had apparently only heard from Dean that morning, and taking the older hunter step by step through the subsequent events thereafter. Sometimes it beggared belief how much trouble two boys could get themselves into, although seeing as they were John Winchester's sons anything was technically possible…frequently was for that matter.

As the pair of them had plodded out to help Dean unload his latest cargo however – still dressed in his best FBI suit in a visual explanation as to how he'd managed to obtain Jerry Rudman's body from the morgue – Sam had got a sharp look and a carefully appraising gaze from his brother followed by a terse but undeniably concerned sounding,

"Go sit down Sam, Bobby and me can handle this."

Nor had the younger doubted them but he'd been sitting feeling miserable for himself pretty much the entire month, if he could help at all then he was determined to.

"I'm fine Dean."

It was all the conversation they'd seemed to have needed and Bobby had hidden his vague smirk underneath a grimace of exertion as they'd pulled the body free of the trunk. Half the time those two boys barely even needed words.

They'd waited until nightfall to burn the Rudmans. Laying them side-by-side on a makeshift funeral pyre, adding fuel and setting the dais alight. Bobby had found them each a beer and despite earning another look from Dean even Sam had taken his, figuring that since it wasn't whisky he wouldn't have a problem. Besides, they were burning Cal, and his father, he'd damn well needed something to drink and so together the three of them had stood in silence, each alone with their sombre thoughts watching as the shapes before them flickered between the writhing flames.

Bobby had lasted ten minutes before sighing and finishing up his beer, figuring with some none-too-shabby intuition that the boys needed, or at least would benefit from a heart-to-heart or at least the chance to be alone without drama for what would apparently be the first time that week. He'd sighed quickly, turning towards them with a nod,

"Well, that's me out for the night," he had offered, trying not to sound too conspicuous yet aware that he was failing, "See you two in the morning,"

Dean had cocked an eyebrow at him, decidedly unconvinced by the exit,

"Night Bobby."

Sam however had seemed a little more taken-in,

"Yeah, night Bobby."

They waited until he had disappeared from view before turning back to the bonfire, the brightness of the licking flames almost blinding and the combination of heat and light doing little for Sam's continually thumping head. He didn't move though, rooted to the spot as if drawn by some strange emotion. He owed it to Jerry Rudman to stay, the Jerry that Cal had convinced him had been a bad father, the Cal that had briefly once or twice draw parallels between himself and his father. For all his apparent faults however, Jerry had obviously loved Cal deeply and even if his son hadn't appreciated it Sam could. It was a lesson he'd had to learn the hard way himself.

"I'm sorry Sammy,"

Dean's voice sounded strange amidst the crackle, almost choked although whether from emotions or the smoke Sam couldn't tell. He frowned instantly, concern flickering across his face,

"For what?"

Dean waved a hand, seemingly indicating everything, although that was a pretty big time frame, nor was any of it his fault. Finally however he settled on one prominent feature,

"Not letting you go see Jess."

Ah. Dean thought it was his fault. Idiot. Before Sam could contradict him however his older brother continued, eyes staring straight ahead into the flames and no doubt thinking back to their own father and the strange repetition the burning seemed to represent.

"If I'd have let you go to see her we'd never have taken that job of Cal's, and this whole thing – ,"

"Cal would have found a way Dean," Sam interrupted firmly, the facts already straightened out in his own mind, "Maybe not then but next month, next year even. This isn't your fault."

It didn't do a lot of good, Dean seemingly intent on wallowing.

"That's not the point Sam, I should have just let you go in the first place."

"Yeah well," casting down, gazing past the beer bottle clutched in one hand and towards his feet instead, Sam heaved a sigh, reluctant to say what he was about to but knowing it was the truth, "I'm glad you didn't."

"What? You're glad I didn't?"

As Dean's eyes turned towards him narrowed in confusion, Sam nodded, keeping his gaze low. It had been a hard enough fact to admit to himself under his older brother's scrutiny however it was virtually impossible.

"Yeah," he offered eventually, "You were right, turning up there would have been a bad idea. What would I have said if people had asked me where I'd been? Why I hadn't called?"

He tailed off with another shrug, both of them fully aware that the question was purely rhetorical. Besides, those had been Dean's main points in the first place. It had annoyed Sam at the time, as he was bound to have known, but in his own way keeping Sam away from Jessica's grave long enough to get the mourning period over was Dean's way of protecting him from further harm, from accusations, from questions.

Silently they turned back towards the fire as one, the blaze capturing both men's gaze as they tipped back their bottles and contemplated the month's events – which even by their standards had been somewhat more angst-ridden than usual. Still when did a month in the Winchester calendar ever go smoothly? Sam could barely remember the last time one of them hadn't been thrown across a room, punched or throttled at least once in a four-week period. It was almost unheard of.

Beside him Dean sighed, stepping back and swinging his arms with a slight wince – obviously having been cramped in the Impala for hours straight with a couple of cracked ribs and a dead body in the trunk hadn't done wonders for his back. Go figure.

"Hey Dean?" Suddenly Sam felt strangely proud of him, although it wasn't worth saying, Dean would just snort, look at him oddly and blame the concussion, the alcohol or both. He wanted to say something though, "Thanks."

He got the odd look anyway, accompanied by a frown hiding the evident pleasure that came with hearing the word. Looking away again Dean nodded, acknowledging if not completely understanding the reasoning for the sentiments.

"Sure."

But Sam hadn't just said it for himself – although he had enough grounds to – he'd said it for Jerry and Cal too, finally at peace together after a lifetime of butting heads. Dean had done that. He'd not had to but he'd done it anyway, all without saying a word. Sam smiled wryly,

"How're the ribs?"

"I'll live. How's the head?"

"Thick as ever."

"Hey," Dean shot back holding up his hands, eyes shining with amusement in the glow of the fire, "You said it, not me."

"Yeah."

Another short silence fell between them, comfortable in the warmth of the inferno. Suddenly however Dean turned towards him, obviously trying to sound casual as he picked his way through the next sentence,

"So," he began slowly, waiting until he had his younger brother's undivided attention, "Want to head on over next week? You know, once we've eaten Bobby out of house and home."

He didn't need to say what for, that much was clear.

Want to go and see Jessica?

"Yeah," Sam nodded back quietly, smiling slightly, "Once you can drive without wincing your way over every bump and pothole,"

Dean smirked straight back,

"And once you can hold a decent amount of booze without spewing up everywhere."

"Deal."

And suddenly Sam didn't mind the wait because the wait didn't matter. Jessica wasn't in the grave under that little plot of grass anyway – she was with him, always. Just like Dean, for better or for worse.

It took him a second to realise that his brother was holding forward his beer bottle, one final mouthful swilling around in the bottle. Sam stepped forward with his own at once, letting the glass chink between them,

"To Jess," Dean offered quietly and as he registered it Sam realised abruptly how much more it meant coming from his brother than from Cal. He nodded gently, swallowing down the lump gathering in his throat and for the first time that month feeling halfway content with life. He was quite possibly going to be okay.

"To Jess."


Annnnnnd cut! Done.

Well, that's me officially run out of ideas for the moment. For the first time since November I'm finishing a story and not launching into another! Had to happen sometime I guess!

Thank you so much for all the reviews - I think this is my most ever! Whoo! I hope this one met all expectations!