Death After Sorrow

They Can't Survive Without Us

Sam hung his head as he looked down at his packed duffel bag. Could he really do it? Could he really leave his brother when he was so obviously in trouble? Sure, he'd walked out before, but this was different, and even he knew it. Walking out to pursue his education, or their father, was one thing. Walking out in a snit would be something new, even for him. He looked up as a knock on the door startled him out of his thoughts. He hadn't thought to lock it, and wished he had as Rita didn't wait for an answer before waltzing in.

She took in his ragged appearance and the bag on the bed in one swift glance. She sighed. "Family isn't always easy, you know. Trouble with blood is that even if you walk out now, it's still there, coursing through your veins. And that'll lead you back to him time and time again."

Sam closed his eyes. "I know."

"He'd do anything for you. Even I can see that. You owe him a lot more than running out on him when he needs you for once," Rita stated shortly.

Sam laughed, and if there was a hint of hysteria to it, he didn't care. "I've tried. He won't tell me what's going on, and I can't watch it happen anymore. He won't let me help. He's so bound and determined to protect me that he doesn't seem to care what it costs him, or me, for that matter."

Rita chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully. "Have you ever considered, Sam, that it's not really you he's protecting this time? That it's possible he's just as scared as you are?"

Sam stared at her, surprised. Could it really be that simple? His first instinct was to answer that Dean wasn't afraid of anything, but he'd learned over the past few years that it wasn't true. There were things that absolutely terrified his brother. Losing family was always first on that short list, but running a close second was coming up against something he couldn't defeat.

Rita continued. "I don't pretend to know Dean very well, either of you, matter of fact, but I see a lot of my Bill in him. Bill's sister died in a car accident, and it nearly destroyed him. But he wouldn't let me help. Our marriage almost fell apart, after that. He was so determined to handle it alone. I was at the end of my rope with him. I was so tired of fighting to keep us together alone."

Intrigued despite himself, Sam sat on the edge of the bed. He swallowed. "How did you win?"

Rita chuckled. "I didn't. It occurred to me, eventually, that he had developed a fear of losing me, too. He was pushing me away, determined that it wouldn't hurt so much when I did finally leave. It was hard, but I stayed with him, kept quiet, and didn't push him. Then one day, he opened his eyes, and I was still there. It broke him all over again. Of everything we had suffered since the accident, that day was the hardest I have ever lived through. But live through it we did, and had a wonderful thirty years together."

Sam closed his eyes. His brother had sold his soul to bring him back from the dead, and he had actually been considering leaving. Guilt lay thick on his shoulders as the realization of how selfish he had been dawned on him.

"I'm sorry for your loss," he whispered. "You must miss him terribly."

Rita surprised him again by chuckling. "I do, more than anything. Especially having Dean around, it's like watching my Bill in action all over again. So protective, so giving, and so fiercely loyal. But in the grand scheme of things, I'm glad he went first. He didn't have to worry about me when he passed. Given the chance, I was more than capable of looking after myself. It's why they love us so much, Sam, because we let ourselves need them. And they know it. But it doesn't go both ways. We can survive without our protectors, but our protectors, they can't survive without us. They don't know how to want for themselves, to live for themselves. That's our job."

It was eerily familiar to the speech Bobby had given him before they left, and there was no less truth in it now than there had been then.

"It's a double edged sword," Rita continued, smiling gently at the lost young man. "We want our freedom from them, but somewhere, deep down, we understand that freedom will mean their end, even as we walk out. Their love, though, is so deep, so unconditional, that they let us go. Every time. Because that's what we need or want, even if it destroys them."

"But we always come back," Sam whispered miserably. "They always draw us back."

Rita nodded. "As we let ourselves need them, we protect them from us in return, from losing themselves in us. It's a heavy responsibility, a duty, and a privilege we willingly take on, but we both love and hate them for making it necessary. Like I said, a double edged sword. It's a complicated relationship few who haven't lived it would ever truly understand."

Sam smiled gratefully at the old woman. "Seventy three years of lessons passed down in a ten minute conversation?" He hesitated, but he wanted to know. "So why didn't you have a funeral for Bill?"

"I expected that would come up." Rita sighed, thinking to answer carefully. "Another facet of their love, Sam, is their capacity to let us be incredibly selfish. In every way that counted, I'd had Bill all to myself for just under fifty years. Well, death counts and I didn't want to share him. So I had him cremated in Rapid City. His urn is on my dresser. In my own way, I feel like he's still watching over me. No one around here knowns that, but I suspect you, of all people, would understand."

"Yeah, I guess I kinda do," Sam admitted, his mind wandering to what was coming. When the time came, could he let Dean go? He didn't think so. He was determined to stop this deal from coming due if it was the last thing he did. He couldn't do that if he ran away now.

Rita stood. "You're good boys, where it counts. Give him time. Sooner or later, he'll realize he can't do this on his own. Sometimes the best way to deal with them is to wait them out. They love with such unyielding ferocity that they can seem indestructible, but they have one weakness, one flaw."

"They don't know how to be loved," he finished. It was a truth about his brother he'd had to accept years ago. "Thanks, Rita," Sam replied honestly. She nodded and closed the door behind her. Sam quickly unpacked, not wanting Dean to know he had seriously considered making good on his threat to leave. As much as he hated to admit it, his brother had his own share of demons to exorcise, including deep abandonment issues.

His cell phone rang about halfway through unpacking. Expecting it to be his brother again, he frowned at the caller ID.

"Hello?"

"Sam? This is Joe Springs. I just got a call from Anne Holders. I guess Randy is having some kind of fit. He's locked himself in the library and won't come out."

Sam frowned. He knew how dangerous that could be for the ill teen. "I'm sorry to hear that, but why-?"

"He wants to talk to you. Could you maybe go out there?" Joe requested. "I know you've got your own stuff on your plate right now, but Randy really shouldn't get worked up like this."

"No, no, it’s okay, Joe. I'll head out there now. Is Dean on his way?"

"Son, Dean left work about an hour ago. Probably headed for the Pub, given what happened between the two of you. I tried calling his cell, but he didn't answer."

Sam sighed. It would hardly be the first time Dean had sought out the bottom of a bottle after a fight. If he followed true to form, he was probably permanently occupied for the night. "It's okay. I'll leave now."

"Thanks, Sam. I appreciate this. We may not handle it right, but this whole town has a bit of a weak spot for the kid."

"No problem, Joe." Sam hung up, frowning. Grabbing the keys to the rental, he raced out the door. Truth be told, he'd developed his own soft spot for Randy Holders.


"Randy? Honey?" Anne called from outside the library door. "Your friend, Sam is here. Will you let him in?"

"Only him!" Randy called back. Sam glanced at the middle aged woman standing beside him, and could see her worry.

"It's okay, Anne. I'll talk to him," he assured her.

The door opened a fraction, and Sam slipped in, surprised to see the normally comfortable library had been turned upside down. Books littered every space of the floor, as though Randy had been searching frantically for something.

He closed the door behind him, sensitive to the desperate mood of his young friend. "Randy? Are you all right?"

The teen seemed to have worked himself into quite a state. "I'm sorry, Sam, I didn't know who else to call."

"It's okay, really. Just tell me what's happening."

"You have to promise not to laugh at me!" Randy insisted, for the first time sounding his young fourteen years.

"Randy, I promise you, I'm the last person who would laugh at anything you have to say," Sam assured.

"Professor Knight came over for my lesson this afternoon. He seemed distracted. I thought at first he was just upset at something, and let it slide. Then he gave me this lesson on witchcraft in the 1800's. He told me about cleansing rituals. At first, I didn't think anything of it. He goes off on tangents sometimes, and we don't really follow any sort of normal curriculum."

Randy looked desperately at Sam, as though seeking forgiveness. "I'm sorry, Sam, if I had figured it out earlier-"

"Figured what out?"

"One of the cleansing rituals he had described sounded very familiar. When I made the connection to Marie Miller and the others, I made a comment, comparing the similarities. He went off on a rant about keeping the town pure, how those seeking to pollute Eden deserved to be punished. I was scared, I didn't know what to do. I pretended my comment had been merely in interest."

Sam frowned, making the same connection Randy had. "You think Professor Knight is the killer?"

"He's got the knowledge, Sam, and evidently the motive. The only part I couldn't connect with him is how he got in the door. All the victims had willingly let their attacker in. The ranch hands won't have known him, and Marie didn't have much to do with him. But then I started to think. Lily was one of Marie's best friends, and she's been known to have her charms with the hands, even if she's not that pretty." Randy stopped, trying to catch his breath.

"Lily? The waitress?"

Randy nodded. "She's his daughter."


Sam cursed as he threw down his cell phone, having failed once again to get through to Dean. He had used their special ring, the one you never ignored no matter how deep in the throes of passion you were.

Dean was in trouble- that much was obvious. No matter how angry his brother might have been at him, they'd both been trained to answer that code. Sam stepped heavier on the gas pedal, not caring about the shifting dirt road beneath the tires.

He had left Randy with a promise that he would handle this. How had they missed that connection? That Lily had been the last to see the victims alive? How had the police missed it? But then, the woman herself was easy to miss. She was just a plain, quiet waitress.

He breathed a sigh of relief as he screeched to a halt outside the Pub. Running in, he scanned the room. Farmers had come in for their nightly drinks and socializing, but he couldn't see Lily anywhere. Making his way to Cole, Sam got his attention with a wave of his hand.

"Hi, Sam! What can I get for you?"

"I'm looking for my brother, have you seen him?"

"Sure. He was here a couple of hours ago. It was a little strange," Cole frowned. "I've been a Pub manager for a long time, bartender even longer. I'm pretty good at judging who can handle their liquor and who can't. I had Dean pegged as the former. But halfway through one beer, he seemed to drift off. I had to cut him off."

Sam closed his eyes. "When he drifted, did he pass out?"

"No, nothing like that. He just seemed vacant for a few minutes, as if he was lost somewhere. But it didn't last long. It took a few tries, but I got his attention. He didn't argue with me about cutting him off, or cause any problems. We actually had a nice conversation. I chalked it up to his illness making him a light weight."

"Do you know where he went?"

Cole shook his head. "Sorry. I assumed he was heading back to the Bed for supper."

"What about Lily?"

"She's in the pantry. Do you want me to ask her?" Cole offered.

"Actually, could I slip back there and ask her myself? She might have noticed something about Dean's behavior that I'll recognize." Sam lifted his eyebrows in suggestion.

Cole chuckled. "Sure, no problem. Head on back. First door to your left, then down the stairs."

"Thanks."

Sam cautiously made his way to the basement. He didn't know what Lily was capable of, but if she had managed to take down his brother, he wasn't taking any chances. His foot had just hit the bottom of the stairs when he heard her laugh.

"Dad was right. Take one, and the other will follow."

Sam frowned. "Where's Dean?"

"I'll take you to him, if you come quietly," Lily offered, stepping out from the shadows. "He said you wouldn't, but I think you're smart enough to know that there's an easy way, and a hard way to do this. Ultimately, the hard way means Dean gets hurt."

Sam ground his teeth. He really didn't have a choice. Lily held all the cards at the moment. His first priority was to get to his brother. They would deal with what happened next later. "Let's go."
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