The bunker is too quiet. Silence hangs in the air like smoke, thick and oppressive.
Dean had been under the apparently erroneous impression that this kind of quiet would take days, maybe weeks to descend. The kind of quiet that muffles the cacophony of the world even when it’s screaming. That soul-aching, lonesome kind of silence that only befalls those who are desolate and broken, twisted up into something wholly unfit for human consumption.
Rage, after all, isn’t exactly a quiet emotion. If anything -- at least in Dean’s experience -- rage is one of the loudest.
Sorrow, however, is another thing altogether. It’s quiet and painful and bone deep, a constant, deafening quiet that never really goes away. And maybe Dean wasn’t wrong, exactly; maybe he just hadn’t considered all the factors when he drew his conclusions.
Welcome to the Dean Winchester Show.
Rage is the only emotion Dean expected to feel. He doesn’t need a therapist to tell him that when faced with emotions he can’t process, he descends into fury like a boulder launched from the side of a cliff. Denial may be the name of the game, but Dean never did get in the habit of denying himself the pressure release his wrath provides. Under normal circumstances, when he can’t bear to peer too closely at the various feelings scraping their way through his head, Dean knows he can count on rage to distract him.
This is different. Everything about this is glaringly, painfully different. These feelings don’t just scrape, they tear, and Dean is trapped by his own inability to articulate that aloud. His insides are shredded into blood-soaked tatters, every last nerve flayed and wailing, and he can’t so much as raise his voice to scream.
Maybe there are no words for the searing throb behind his heart. Maybe there don’t need to be. Maybe it’s enough to say that everything just… hurts.
Dean drags his dead-eyed gaze away from the untouched tumbler of whiskey sitting beside his right hip on the empty stair -- a seat without an occupant, a glass without a hand. Sam hovers just inside the heavy curtain separating the observation deck from the library, red-rimmed eyes shimmering with brand new moisture; moisture that Dean despises.
Sam clears his throat, jaw clenching. “Do you… need anything?”
Dean blinks, a sluggish movement that makes him feel like shards of glass are trapped beneath his eyelids. The ache in his chest threatens to swallow him whole, clawing at the cage of his ribs, beating against the wall of his sternum like a rabid werewolf trapped in a cell.
Frowning down at his hands, at the four fingers of amber liquid he hasn’t even looked at since he poured it, Dean grunts, “What?”
Pain furrows Sam’s brow, makes the tears gathering along his lashes spill over and run in thin rivulets down his cheeks and chin. “Is there anything I can do?”
Something sharp and dangerous swells up on Dean’s tongue, but he bites it back. None of this is Sam's fault. Even through the haze of grief shrouding his vision, Dean knows Sam did everything he could.
“I’m fine, Sam. Go back to bed.”
“Couldn’t sleep.” Shifting his weight between one foot and the other, Sam seems to hesitate before making a decision. He shuffles into the darkened alcove to sink down on his brother’s left side, one step below him. “Don’t think I’ll be sleeping for a while, if I’m being honest.”
“Yeah, tell me about it,” Dean croaks.
He attempted to sleep when they got back, hadn’t been able to close his eyes without drowning in the undertow of his own memories. After giving up, he’d wandered the empty hallways for a while, unable to think straight and too defeated to try.
Ending up in the observatory wasn’t a conscious decision. Somehow or another though, that’s where Dean found himself when he finally managed to tune back into his surroundings, only to then almost immediately realize two tumblers of whiskey aren’t necessary when you’re drinking alone. Muscle memory must have kicked in somewhere along the way, but all it managed to do is waste a perfectly good glass of alcohol while serving as yet another stark reminder of what Dean's lost.
Sam shifts closer on the stairs, pressing the side of his arm against Dean’s legs in silent comfort. “I called Claire.”
It shouldn’t be some huge revelation, but it steals Dean’s breath. Of course they should have called Claire. Dean’s sure he would be pissed at himself for not thinking of it first if he could summon the energy to try.
Sam’s shoulders tremble, like he’s suppressing a sob. He clears his throat again, more roughly than before, “No, not really. Jody and Donna are both with her, but...”
There’s a lot there, hiding in what Sam doesn’t say. Claire is a badass, tougher than most of the hunters Dean knows, probably tougher than him and Sam combined, but she’s already lost two parents. Losing a third… Well, Dean can’t even imagine the devastation. Sam probably can, probably doesn’t even have to imagine, but Dean can’t bring himself to ask.
“What’s Jack doing?” he asks instead, another gut punch of knee-buckling pain landing a direct hit.
Jack lost Kelly before he even got a chance to have her. And while Lucifer was a colossal accumulation of dickery and Jack was always going to be better off far, far away from him, he was still the kid’s biological father. Jack felt that loss, even if it was all tangled and twisted up with the anger and pain Lucifer created in him by simply existing.
Two (mostly) innocent kids, shouldering the weight of yet another loss; losing someone who loved them not because he had to, but because he couldn't not. The tragedy of their circumstances strikes Dean with force and his own shoulders sag beneath the weight of it.
Sam’s eyes fall on the wall of drapes shielding them from the rest of the bunker. His gaze is intense, like he can see clear through the thick red fabric to wherever Jack is and what he sees snaps something off inside him. He drags the back of his hand along the edge of his stubbled jaw, wiping away tear tracks.
“Uh, Rowena took him to get pancakes. Being here, seeing you -- seeing us like this… It can’t be good for him.”
Dean can’t argue with that. He’s a mess, self-aware enough to at least recognize as much. No one should use him as an example of healthy coping mechanisms; a young, impressionable kid like Jack could only benefit from steering clear.
“Gimme a day,” Dean sighs. It sounds hollow even to his own ears. “I know I gotta get my shit together, but I… Just give me a day.”
Sam reaches over and tugs the tumbler from Dean’s grasp, lifts it to his own lips and drains it in one go. He sets the empty glass by Dean’s heel and climbs to his feet, puts a hand on Dean’s shoulder and grips too tightly. “Jack will be home in a few hours, I just wanted him to have something good to focus on for a while. Heartbreak doesn’t heal in a day, Dean. Take whatever time you need.”
Heavy silence closes in around Dean like a cloak the second Sam steps back through the curtain. His eyes burn, the need to cry tears he simply doesn’t have building a dam in his throat.
“Fuck.” Dean buries both hands in his hair, fingers clenching until it hurts, a fractured sound of agony ripping loose from his chest. “Fuck!”
Letting go of Lisa and Ben; Alistair and the Rack; The Mark; several lifetimes worth of death and loss and sacrifice -- none of it even compares to the white hot anguish currently ravaging Dean’s insides. This pain feels like it’s trying to gouge its way out from the center of his body, dragging every last one of his organs in its wake, and Dean doesn’t even think about it when he prays for it to all. just. stop.
He doesn’t get a response, but he never really expected one. The only celestial being interested in listening to the prayers of Dean Winchester can’t exactly come to the phone right now, so he can’t say he’s surprised no one is listening.
Raising his head, Dean casts his attention behind him, staring up at the massive telescope in the center of the room with slack-jawed reverence. His mom used to tell him that if he tried hard enough, he could see Heaven through the little tinker-toy telescope in his bedroom in Lawrence. He never did manage to find it, but she always helped him search.
Dean shoves to his feet, stumbling as he climbs the couple of steps to the pedestal landing. Swallowing down the bubble of nausea scorching his throat, he adjusts the focusing knob while he squints through the eyepiece, hunting for a clear patch of sky.
Everything inside Dean reaches toward the inky velvet expanse, willing it to reveal its secrets just this once. He blinks back tears, fingertips trembling where they brush the round part of his cheek.
“Cas, where are you, man?”
Only the stars blink back.