So this is the beginning of the next phase in the Brother's Blood 'verse! We have another chapter of "Crash and Burn" on the editing table, so there will be an update next week. After that, we have a few more interludes lined up, some one shots, some made up of two or three chapters, which'll give us a look at how Sam and Dean's relationship is changing as they hunt together in the wake of Louisiana, all leading up to the sequel, "Father's Gun." Which is John heavy. Very John heavy.

Yeah. We're gonna need some time for that. And possibly alcohol.

Lots of alcohol.

Enjoy, and leave us a review if you have the time and inclination!

Sam stops sleeping after the fire.

Dean lets it slide at first, in the sudden, mad rush of smoke and research and suspicion, all stained and stinging with the hot, new burn of old memories. He can't fault his brother for being lost in his own head when half the time Dean's not looking forward to hitting the hay himself, diving into nightmares he thought he'd shaken at the ripe old age of six.

Because of course he couldn't help but think of Lawrence. Of mom. Of standing outside the smoking ruin of his home, holding his baby brother close against the long, black body of the Impala, trying and failing to understand what just happened.

What comes next.

The sharp, cold punch of the loss had hit him the same, creeping in and dousing the heat of adrenaline with the cold, icy crawl of shock. The smoke burned the same. Stung his eyes and let him pretend, in the way that Sammy never bothered to pretend, that the burn was the reason for the tears, and not the sweet, blonde girl, precious and perfect and as lost as any hope they ever had of a normal life.

Because now there's no confusion. No wondering what their lives will become. This time around, Dean knows the answer. He's spent twenty-two years watching his Dad, learning, memorizing what life after death really means.

He knows that the hunt is all that matters now. That any plans or dreams he and Sam may have had about settling in – of hunting together and building something and fixing, little by little, the crazy, fucked-up pile of shit their lives have become – are gone now, nothing but smoke and cinders. Hot enough to burn, but smothered enough not to catch, never to grow into something real and tangible.

He knows that those plans have to die so that Jess can get justice, so that Sam can get closure, so that whatever took Dean's mother from him all those years ago can finally, finally answer for everything it's taken from them. He understands. He does. Really.

He knows what Sammy's going to go through. Gonna hate himself for. Gonna wake up screaming about at night, so loud that he wakes Dean up and sends him scrambling for the one safe thing in the room.

His baby brother.

His Sam.

Dean really wishes these Lawrence memories would crawl the hell back into whatever corner of his mind repression and denial have locked them in, because they're getting real old, real fast.

He doesn't have time for this crap.

Sam needs him.

Sam, who hasn't slept in days. Sam, who's papered the wall of their motel room in Palo Alto (Not nearly as skeevy as their normal digs. Dean is still trying to adjust to soft towels and quiet ice machines.) with what little they can turn up from the night of the fire.

It's like whatever was there, whatever killed Jess, whatever's been haunting their family for twenty-plus goddamn years, is a fucking ghost.

Except Dean can hunt ghosts. Can kill them with iron and salt, with burned bones and consecrated ground, just as easy as changing the oil in his baby.

As easy as making Sammy smile when he's in a snit.

He's not smiling now, pacing furiously between the tiny hotel coffeemaker and the wall of notes at his back. Notes, because hell if they've been able to turn up a single solid goddamn lead in two goddamn days.

There's nothing. No EMF. No cold spots. No history of violence in the apartment. No other deaths in the area. No local legends. Nothing from any witnesses. No one saw anything. No one heard anything. No one can find anything.

Not the cops. Not the fire department or the arson investigators or Bobby, who took the news with a heavy sigh and a not-at-all muffled curse, like Dean wasn't the only one who never wanted Sam to understand this side of hunting.

They've been after this thing – whatever it is – for all of two days, and they're already at a dead end. It frustrates Dean, kills him, because he knows who they need to be asking about this, who has all the intel on what it is and how to find it and what will finally put it in the goddamn ground, but they can't reach him.

Because, shock and awe, Dad isn't picking up his phone.

Dean understands being on a hunt and not being able to call. He understands putting civilians before shooting the shit with the fam. He can even allow for not taking time to dial in for a "Happy you're not dead, son," back and forth.

But this is Sammy.

This is Sammy and the thing that killed Mom, and Dean thought that if anything, anything in the world, would get Dad to pick up the phone, it'd be this.

But no.

And it's not like their phones aren't ringing. They are. And every single time, Dean thinks that it's finally Dad calling to check in with them, to weigh in, to fix this. And every single time it's nothing but Sam's friends and Jess's family, and they're all so, so sad and so, so sorry and they all want to hug and cry and bring casseroles.

And Sam? Huggy, cry-y, casserole-munching Sam?

Sam picks up the calls and brushes them off, mouths the right words and the right phrases, makes sympathetic noises and promises to call if he needs anything, all while tracking out fire patterns and scanning police reports and rereading witness testimonies with fiery, single minded devotion.

It's cold and efficient, and it puts a shiver down Dean's spine, because he can see Sam becoming, bit by bit, the touchy, obsessed, super-efficient mess that Dean woke up to in Louisiana.

Sam won't rest, won't focus on anything other than the case. And Dean gets having a mission, he gets putting on blinders and shoving it all down to deal with later, focusing on something you can actually have some effect on, but Sam's gone over those notes a dozen times before and he's getting harder to feed and his hands are starting to get that almost-imperceptible shake again and that is enough.

Dean's calling it. He's stepping in. He respects Sam's stubborn-ass need to starve himself of food and sleep in times of stress. It's a free country after all. God Bless America. But that means Dean can do whatever the hell he wants, too, and right now all he wants to do is shove a chicken sandwich down Sam's throat and steal his phone before making the overgrown nerd sleep for a day and a half.

Sam's on the phone with one of Jess's friends, humming sad-sounding sentiments while thumbing through preliminary arson reports lifted off the county servers. He's read them at least fifteen times by now, and Dean knows for a fact that he's 'talked' to Becky (of Zach-and-Becky, Stanford's own answer to Donny and Marie) at least three times a day since the fire.

Nothing world-ending, then, he decides as he unwraps a Snickers from his duffle and strides to where his brother is hunched at the tiny motel dinette.

Dean snags the phone from Sam's hand and hikes a hip on the table, planting the seat of his Levi's squarely on the bulk of Sam's reports.

The battered Dell behind Dean (or, rather, being not-so-gently-compressed by the right half of Dean's behind) makes a beleaguered whine as Sam opens his mouth to protest, only to snap it shut like a bear trap when Dean zooms his Snickers bar at it, airplane style, which buys him enough time to turn his attention to the phone at his ear, where Blabbermouth Becky is motoring away amid sniffles.

"Hey, Beck. This is Sam's brother, Dean," he announces into the speaker. "I hate to cut you off like this, but we've gotta go get some family from the airport. You mind givin' us the line? Yeah, 'course, he'll call you back, yeah. Yeah, talk to you later. Bye."

"What the hell, Dean?" Sam glares, swiping at the spiderweb-fine strings of caramel Dean had smeared on his face during his Snickers fly-by.

"You know what's tomorrow," Dean tells him. "You need sleep, something you didn't eat over burn pattern analysis and Zanzibarian ritual texts. Come on, Sammy. Take five."

Sam shoves a hand through his bangs, completely oblivious to the sticky threads of caramel he's smearing in his hair, and sighs.

Dean feels like a miserable shit. Forcing Sam to stop, to sleep and eat and remember being human, being anything more than a research machine, means making Sam confront the hurt inside that he's diving into the hunt to escape, but Dean knows that'll only make Sam hate himself more in the long run. He knows what it's like not to get a real goodbye, to be plucked up and torn away before the world resettles around you.

There's no healing from something like this, but what Sam's doing? It's only gonna rub salt in the wound. He knows Sam. Knows how much this is gonna haunt him. And he knows how much worse it's gonna be if Sammy's too lost in the hunt for what took his girl from him to say goodbye to her.

"The trail's getting cold, Dean," Sam grumbles, head in hands and elbows on knees, his floppy, tangled hair brushing against the ripped denim covering Dean's knee. "We gotta keep looking. There's no time-"

"We've looked everywhere we know to look," Dean interrupts, resting a hand on Sam's shoulder, not missing the way his little brother leans into the contact. On the strength of that, he follows his gut. Motors on. "We been at this for days with nothin'. What we need is fresh eyes and someone who knows weird, obscure shit like this."

"Dean, I already know Dad hasn't picked up—"

"Not talking about Dad," Dean shakes his head. "We're goin' into the reserves for backup on this one."

"Who?" Sam sighs, pressing into his temples, but Dean feels the long, tense line of his brother's shoulders relax anyway, so he keeps going.

"Bobby," Dean answers, hoping to whoever's listening that Phase 2 of his brilliant plan isn't met by too much pouting, kicking, floppy-haired rebellion. "In the meantime, you need some rest. Bed, Sasquatch."

"Dean, it's six PM," Sam groans, but he leans back when Dean slides off the table and doesn't do much more than whine and slump into him when Dean levers his big little brother up from the spindly hotel chair.

"That's why I'm only gonna let you sleep 'til the food gets here."

"Not hungry," Sam grumbles as Dean shoulders him onto the bed closest to the door, making little bitchy noises as he falls face first into the rumpled sheets that Dean didn't bother straightening after last night's four hours.

"And I'm not sleeping," Sam adds, directly into the mattress.

"Rest your eyes, then. Meditate. Build a better mousetrap. I don't care," Dean rolls his eyes as he grabs Dad's journal and sits up against the headboard, nudging Sam's stupidly broad shoulders over with a hip so they can both fit on the bed, "but if your hand touches pen, paper, or plastic before we finish dinner, I'm biting it off."

"You're bluffing," Sam tells the box spring, shoving blindly at Dean's knee.

"Yeah, we'll see," Dean murmurs, flipping through the battered, stained pages of John's journal.

There's half a moment of quiet, filled with nothing but the rustle of pages and the quiet huff of breathing and the heat of Sam leeching through plaid and battered denim to press against Dean, then his brother lets out an explosive huff, flipping abruptly over and sitting up.

"This is useless, Dean," he stews. "I should be doing something, not just lying around—"

"Sammy, we're spinning our wheels here," Dean reasons. "If there is anything to see in what we've got, it's not gonna be us that sees it."

"You don't know that," Sam bites out stubbornly, mulish set in his jaw that has never ended well when it came to fights.

"Sam," Dean sighs, tossing the journal aside to punch a number into his cell from the crumpled takeout menu on the bedside table, "I'm not asking for the moon here. I'm not asking you to quit for good or even for tonight. I'm asking you to close your eyes for half an hour while we wait for food."

"It's been two days and we still don't have anything," Sam answers quietly, looking up at Dean from his back, and his voice has Dean dropping his cell back down on the tiny bedside table. It's not stubborn. It's not angry or sarcastic or bitter. It's small.

Small, and sad. And more than a little afraid.

"We'll find it, Sammy," Dean promises, because that's all he can do. Promise and hope that this time is different, that this time the thing doesn't wait another twenty-two years to surface. That they can – and will – gain on the shadowy, awful thing that they've been chasing their whole lives. "Just get some rest."

"I can't sleep, Dean," Sam protests, and Dean can hear the fear there, under the anger and stubborn, bitchy irritation. Knows what it's like to face monsters in the day that aren't half as scary as the ones that come at night.

"I'll wake you up if it comes to that," Dean promises. And he will, no matter how bad his brother may need sleep.

The nightmares were bad enough before the fire. He's not gonna let Sammy fall into that without someone on the other end of the line to pull him out.

"You won't know—" Sam argues, but he didn't get all of the stubborn the Winchester gene pool had to offer.

"Bullshit, I won't," Dean dismisses as he abandons his phone to dig in the nightstand, pulling out a dented flask and tossing it to bounce on Sam's stomach. "Now take a few slugs and get some fucking sleep."

Sam glares at Dean.

"You know this isn't a healthy way to deal, right?" Sam asks, smacking Dean in the kneecap with the flask of booze.

"Probably wasn't a healthy way to get you to shut up as a baby, either," Dean shrugs, aiming a retaliatory slug to the shoulder at his brother, "but it's the Winchester Way. Drink up, Sammy."

"The Winchester Way is seriously fucked up," Sam grumbles, taking a swig from the flask and wincing. "God, this tastes like lighter fluid."

Dean tries to remember if that flask ever actually had lighter fluid in it, snagging the thing from Sam's hand and taking an experimental swig just to make sure. All he gets is the rough, fast burn of cheap bourbon, so he passes the flask back to Sammy.

"Nah, you're just a girl," he dismisses, flicking at Sam's hair, research-wild and flipping every which way, as he reclaims his phone.

Sam grumbles through his next slug, capping the flask before tossing it with all of his freak strength and hunter training right at Dean's sack.

"Son of a bitch!" he wheezes as Sam flips over and snickers into Dean's pillow.

Dean orders dinner from the Thai joint in town in a pained falsetto, which has Sam shaking with intermittent chuckles, then dials Bobby once most of the agony has subsided. Sam has worked his way back down the bed, one arm flung out across Dean's lap, the other scrunched somewhere between the pillows and his head. His legs are sprawled out, the length and breadth of his overgrown little brother spilling over the edges of the bed. Dean tries to ignore the giant, comforting warmth as he waits for Bobby to pick up.

"Hey Bobby," Dean says when he gets the older hunter's voicemail. "It's Dean. Hit me back when you can."

"Bobby's pissed at me," Sam mumbles from somewhere around Dean's hip.

"Yeah, why's that?" Dean asks, not at all surprised those two drags have Sammy sleepy and slurring already. A couple of shots worth of bourbon on no sleep and an empty stomach would have most people feeling something, and Sam, for all his height and hunter upbringing, is still a lightweight when it comes to booze.

"Called him during this," Sam sighs, flopping his arm against Dean as he talks to his right pants pocket.

"And he's pissed? Can't imagine why," Dean rolls his eyes, punching in one of Bobby's other numbers.

He's not surprised Bobby's pissed. He's still pissed, too. The anger, the guilt, it hits him like a punch to the gut every time he catches sight of the bandage taped across his little brother's forearm, a bright, glaring white reminder that he screwed up. That his brother's gonna carry scars from Dean's steaming heap of failure for the rest of his life. That he left Sam, and Dad left Sam, and his brother was on the hunt by himself, alone and lost and completely unprepared. That the price for Dean's idiocy was Sammy, strung out on fear and desperation, mutilating himself to put Dean's fuck-up right.

It should have never happened. Should have never happened at all. And it's all Dean's fault it did.

"Just wanted to save you. Everyone's sooo mad," his brother whines, scooting closer on the bed to dig his face into Dean's hip, because after a couple hits of cheap booze, all the smarts and hunter know-how just melt away to reveal Sammy's cuddly, puppy center.

This right here? This is why Dean held Sam's hand crossing the street until the kid was, like, eleven.

And because it's Sam, with his stupid floppy hair and scowly puppy face; Sam, who could never hold his liquor or let an opportunity to get on Dean's case pass; Sam, whose girlfriend burned to death above his bed right in front of him, Dean lets his hand drop down onto his brother's head, the haphazard mop of brown sticking up in curling tufts at Dean's hip.

"I don't get it. You're fine. I'm fine. We're fine. Why're you all so mad?" Sam whines, slurred, petulant voice muffled by denim.

"You know why, you dweeb," Dean murmurs, a lifetime of unsaid words in one soft, heavy sigh.

And because of that, because he knows why and Sam knows why, because he was so close - they were so close, back in Louisiana and again just a few days ago - he can't stop himself from scritching his fingers in Sammy's hair, dragging through the soft, baby-fine strands as he listens to Bobby's phone ring on the other end of the line. His brother is a dork and a lightweight and acting like a needy, whiny five-year-old, and that makes it easier. Makes it a simpler thing, to stand up and protect him, to take care of the kid like he has for as long as he can remember.

The fact that Sammy needs him so much makes it easier to ignore the fact that this is all Dean's fault in the first place. If he hadn't needed saving… If he hadn't ran off instead of facing his brother… If Sammy hadn't been out of the apartment that night...

"Stop talkin'," Dean grumbles, snapping his train of thought in half as Sam sighs against his leg. "It's girly and you're distractin' me."

"Noo chick flick moments," Sam parrots loyally, his voice slow and sleep-heavy.

"Bingo," Dean nods, his hand stilling in Sam's hair as a gruff, annoyed voice picks up.

"Singer Salvage."

"Hey, Bobby," Dean answers, keeping his voice low and watching the slow rise and fall of Sammy's back, trying not to jerk his brother out of the first uneasy sleep he's gotten in the past few days. "You got a minute?"

"What d'you need?" asks Bobby, and Dean can hear the ancient creak of his battered desk chair on the other end of the line.

"We hit a dead end over here," Dean sighs. "Been lookin' ever since-"

His eyes dart down to Sam.

"Well, you know," he shrugs awkwardly, even though he knows Bobby can't see it. "Anyway, we got nothing."

"I'm on my way," Bobby gruffs, and Dean can hear the heave of the chair in the background, the shuffle and thump as the older hunter moves through his cluttered house.

"Come on, Bobby," Dean scrubs his free hand over his face, wincing at the scratch and burn of stubble. "You don't have to do that."

"You two just cool your damn jets until I get there," Bobby grumbles. "Either one of ya gets kidnapped or starts cuttin' on hisself before I hit town, I'm kicking both your asses."

Dean barely stops himself from nodding and giving Bobby a "Yes, Sir," after taking down the older hunter's flight information. As it is, he can't stop the half-smile that spreads when he hears the grumbled "Idjits" before Bobby disconnects.

As he turns back to his sleeping little brother and the abandoned Thai menu, Dean can't quite squash the tiny, traitorous thought that it's nice, just this once, to have someone pick up when he and Sam need them.