They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing--these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight.
The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
Sam cleans the body himself. The body, because it's not Dean, not anymore. It can't be. He uses the pile of rough motel washcloths they've accumulated over the years, tosses each one aside when it gets rusty with blood and picks up another.
Sam dresses Dean himself, ignoring the way his flesh has been shredded, his blood has seeped away. Bobby's talking, saying they don't need to dress him to salt and burn him, but Sam's not listening. He eases the clothes onto Dean's cold body, slips his lighter into the pocket of his jeans. He pushes down the memories of the last time he undressed Dean, supple freckled skin and firm muscle under his seeking hands.
He has to force the boots, and apologizes softly as he laces them up tight. He remembers Dean teaching him to tie his shoes, remembers the time he tied Dean's bootlaces together while he was asleep after a long night at the bar, the way Dean staggered and ended up planted face down on Sam's bed. On Sam, like a heavy sweaty blanket that reeked of stale cigarettes and beer. Sam had shoved at him until he moved over, but he didn't get out of bed. Even then he'd known what he wanted, what he never thought he'd have. What he's lost.
"You can't win for losing, can you, Sammy?" he'd said with that obnoxiously cocky grin on his face. Sam would kill to see it again. He will if he has to, he vows silently.
He runs his hands through Dean's damp hair, chokes out something that's halfway between a laugh and a sob as he says, "Sorry I didn't do your hair, man. You can yell at me when you get back."
For all he knows, Bobby's still talking, but when he looks up, the room is empty.
He leaves the ring on Dean's finger, but slides the leather cord of the amulet up over Dean's head, drops it around his own neck without thinking, the sudden weight of it odd against his chest.
Sam digs the grave himself, too. Bobby offers to help, stands there awkwardly with his shovel when Sam doesn't respond, and moves a few shovelfuls of earth before Sam glares him off.
He walks off, and any other time, Sam would feel that, would feel the pang of rejection and hurt, but he comes back when Sam is knee deep in the grave. He's carrying two slim logs; he sets them down and starts stripping the bark off them.
"Need a marker," he says when Sam doesn't speak.
Sam nods once and goes back to digging. He doesn't need a marker for this grave. He'll always know exactly where Dean is buried, and he'll be here waiting when Dean claws his way out.
Sam stays with Bobby for a few days. They drink, and Bobby tells stories about Sam and Dean as kids that, at any other time, Sam would have enjoyed listening to, but right now, he can't. He tunes Bobby out, loses himself in the sharp burn of the whiskey in his glass. All he can hear is Dean screaming as he gets torn apart. All he can hear is his own voice promising to save Dean. All he can hear is the voice in his head calling him a liar and a failure.
When it gets to be too much, he leaves.
He doesn't say goodbye.
At first, it's strange, feeling the amulet press against his chest, the smooth leather cord rubbing at the back of his neck. He turns to the passenger seat to ask Dean how he got used to it, and has déjà vu, because Dean's not there, and this time, there's no Trickster to bring him back
It's hard everywhere, even though Sam's been alone before, but it's hardest in the car, because the car is Dean's, even more than it was Dad's, and Sam keeps finding him in unexpected places. He finds an issue of Popular Mechanics tucked under the front seat. The article on alternative automotive fuel sources is dog-eared, paragraphs underlined and question marks curling in the margins, as if Dean couldn't believe what he was reading. The entry on shtrigas in Dad's journal has notes in Dean's blocky handwriting, the stark black ink bold on the faded pages.
There's a nearly empty bottle of Dean's Walgreens-brand hair gel leaking in the bottom of his duffel when Sam finally empties it out. He gets rid of the rattiest of Dean's t-shirts, the ones that Dean would probably make into rags to clean the guns. The rest, he packs away in the trunk. He's not ready to face it yet.
He doesn't think he'll ever be ready for that.
He keeps finding bits and pieces of himself hidden away, too, surprised even now at how much Dean kept, how much he left behind. The army man he shoved into the ashtray in the rear driver's side door is still there--that was one panel Dean hadn't had to replace when he rebuilt her, and it makes Sam's heart ache whenever he sees it. There's a small stack of paperbacks in a crate that sits behind the wheel-well, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Outsiders, The Lord of the Rings, all inscribed with Sam's name, and in the first two cases, the libraries Dean had stolen them from for him. He can hear the Legos rattling around in the vent when he turns on the air conditioning, the sound as familiar as the steady growl of the engine or the hum of the tires against the road.
He wears Dean's amulet and he drives Dean's car, but the jacket--he can't bring himself to wear the jacket (not that it fits, and there's something ridiculous about that, how it was always just a little big on Dean, even after he'd grown up, and too small on Sam once he'd hit his growth spurt), though he uses it as a blanket some nights when he passes out drunk in the backseat of the car.
He's down to his last six bucks when he finds a twenty stashed in the inside pocket of Dean's jacket, along with a matchbook from the Roadhouse and a squished penny from the Space Needle. Sam chokes out a laugh that's not quite a sob. It had been his good luck charm until he'd left for Stanford. He'd almost turned around that night and gone back for it, but he'd known he'd never have been able to walk out again if he had.
The jacket was Dad's before it was Dean's. Sam remembers Dean putting it on in secret, like he was stealing Superman's cape or Batman's cowl, the way it hung off his skinny shoulders and swallowed his scrawny body. Dean had popped the collar the way Dad did and said, "There's no way Melissa Brearly is going to resist me now."
Sam had rolled his eyes and gone back to reading A Wrinkle in Time.
They used to fall asleep in the back of the car, tangled together underneath the jacket. It smelled like old leather and gunpowder and Dad, and it was the closest thing to a security blanket Dean had ever had. (Dean was the closest thing to a security blanket Sam had ever had, and the jacket is a poor substitute.)
Dad gave Dean the jacket when he was sixteen, and it made Dean think he was bulletproof. Sam knows better now.
He drinks to forget, but he can taste Dean in the acrid burn of Jack Daniels, smell him in the fumes from the tequila. He uses Dean's toothbrush to scrub the hangover out of his mouth, something he'd never have done when Dean was alive, much to Dean's bemusement.
"Dude, you'll suck my dick but you won't use my toothbrush? Seriously?"
"It's unsanitary," Sam had said, laughing at the baffled look on Dean's face. He'd always loved throwing Dean for a loop, making him laugh or rendering him speechless. "Anyway, I have my own toothbrush."
"Which you can't find."
"It's in here somewhere." Sam rifled through his duffel again, hoping he was right. It wasn't that he thought it was gross to use Dean's toothbrush (though he kind of did); it was that he liked having things that were his. So much of what they owned was secondhand, or more, by the time it worked its way down to him. Maybe it was only a ninety-nine cent toothbrush from the dollar store, but it was Sam's, and had never belonged to anybody else.
The morning after he agrees to sober up so Ruby will help him, he details the car, exactly the way Dean taught him to. His head is pounding and his stomach feels like it's trying to crawl up his esophagus and escape, and he gets lightheaded in the sweltering Oklahoma heat, half-believing the weatherman on the radio is lying when he says it's ninety degrees and it's only ten a.m. Inside the car it's probably ten degrees hotter. Sam wipes his sweaty face on his damp t-shirt and says fuck it and turns on the air conditioning.
He's washing the inside of the rear window when he notices that the panel on the back shelf is sitting wrong. He pries it up, confused, and rediscovers his initials carved into the underside of it. He runs his fingers along the smooth square grooves of the S and the sharp angles of the W. Dean's initials are a couple of inches lower and to the left.
Sam chokes back a sob. He remembers the day they did this, begging Dean to use one of the knives he'd gotten for Christmas that year, and Dean reluctant to give it to him.
"You're too little, Sammy," he'd said, mouth set in a thin line, but even then, Sam had known how to get his way, eyes wide and lower lip pushed out in a pout. It was their secret, one of the first Sam remembers, though far from the last.
He doesn't think Dad ever discovered what they'd done. He'd have tanned their hides for sure if he had.
"Oh, how sweet," Ruby says, startling Sam out of his reverie. She rubs her fingers along the carvings, the way he had a minute ago. "Now do you wanna sit here crying like a baby and reliving your misty water-colored memories, or do you wanna get started on learning how to avenge Dean's death and kill Lilith?"
Sam swallows hard, and his voice is rough when he says, "Get the fuck out of my car, Ruby." He doesn't let her ride in it again.
Sometimes he thinks he should. He let himself get used to having Dean beside him again, even though he'd watched him die over and over and over again. Sam had been so sure he was going to save Dean this time.
He can't take the silence, the rush of the wind, the low roar of the engine, the nagging voice in his head that reminds him of his failure. He plays Dean's tapes loud enough to drown out the voice, but when Out of the Cellar snaps and jams in the cassette deck, he buys an iPod, whispers an apology to Dean, and hooks the jack into the lighter. (He tells himself the tape is one even Dean wouldn't miss, but he can't take the chance with any of the real classics.) He fills it with the greatest hits of mullet rock, and then, as the weeks pass, with random music he finds on the internet, things Jess liked, things he likes that Dean would tease him unmercifully for even knowing.
He's not fine, he'll never be good, but he's surviving, getting stronger. He'll live long enough to avenge Dean, and then he doesn't give a damn what happens. He expects to join Dean in hell.
He never expects to come out of the bathroom one day and see Dean in the doorway of his motel room.
He lunges with the knife that's always at hand, ready to make whatever it is pay for the travesty, but Bobby stops him.
"It's him," he says. "It's really him." Sam can hear the tears, the truth in his voice.
Dean steps forward and Sam grabs him and holds on as tight as he can, the way Dean's always held onto him. He thinks maybe he's never going to let him go, until Ruby coughs and Sam remembers all the secrets he's going to have to keep.
He doesn't care. There's nothing he won't do to hold onto Dean this time.