"It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things."
Sammy was gone.
He still couldn't believe it, even as he stood silently in front of the lonely headstone and listened to the solemn timbre of Pastor Jim's voice compete with the gently falling rain. Every once in a while he could hear Jim's grief slip through his stony requiem in the way he said Sammy's name – as though yet another piece of his faith had been chipped away by the woes of the world – but for the most part Jim kept the service as professional as possible.
Dean didn't understand why Jim was bothering since the only people present were Bobby, Caleb, his father, and himself. There was no crowd or congregation to stay strong for, just a few weathered hunters standing with their umbrellas turned against the weary rain – rain he was thankful for despite his growing hatred for it. He was thankful for it because not only did it blend in with his silent tears, but if the weather had been anything but this rain, had been anything other than looking like he was feeling – like everything he was was falling from the sky, like everything warm and bright and good was being washed away into the cold, dark mud – he would have snapped.
And he hated it.
He hated it.
He hated it so fucking much because it made him think of Sam and how much he loved the rain, how he would run around splashing in the puddles like a toddler and laughing like he hadn't suffered a bad day in his life. Once when Dean had asked Sam why he loved the rain so much he had said that it felt like all the bad in the world was being washed away and Dean fucking hated it.
He didn't need any reminders of what he'd lost. He was already surrounded by them, trapped beneath a never-ending avalanche of grief. Escape was impossible. He couldn't escape the empty seat next to him in the Impala, couldn't escape the empty bed next to his and furthest from the door, couldn't escape the empty bottles that seemed to follow him and his father and haunt them wherever they went.
He couldn't escape from the stone slab in front of him that told him his baby brother was dead – buried and gone forever. Dean looked carefully at the numbers etched beneath the words SAMUEL WINCHESTER, BELOVED SON AND BROTHER – the numbers that told him his brother had died only a few weeks before his thirteenth birthday. God, he wasn't even a teenager yet.
Forcing himself to tear his eyes away from the numbers that would haunt him for the rest of his life, Dean looked at the measly crowd gathered around the grave site. Caleb was the first one to catch his eye – his head was lowered slightly, glassy eyes focused on the small mound of fresh dirt in front of him. From the way his eyes were unfocused, Dean could tell he wasn't really with them at the moment. He wondered where he was, if he was in some memory with Sam.
Dean hoped it was a happy one.
Various memories of him and Sam with Caleb began to appear in his mind's eye. They had stayed with Caleb many times while their father had been out on one hunt or another. Because he wasn't too much older than Dean, Caleb had always been more of a friend than a caretaker and had never been "Uncle Caleb" despite what their father had wanted.
Dean forced himself out of the memories before their despairing warmth had the chance to overwhelm him, and went back to watching Caleb's face; as he noticed the fading bruise along his jawline, Dean felt the slightest twinge of guilt. When his friend had suggested giving Sam a hunter's funeral, his fist had swung before he was really conscious of doing it. Logically, Dean had known where Caleb was coming from, he did. But emotionally… he just couldn't handle it. It would have felt like he was letting Sam go – something he could never convince himself to do.
That, and there would be fire.
One person he loved had already been taken by fire. He knew he couldn't have survived if he had seen fire take Sam too. Then again, he wasn't surviving now either. His body was functioning – barely – but that was the extent of his existence.
Dean moved his gaze over to Bobby, who was clutching his worn cap in his free hand and had his head bowed in reverence. He knew that if Bobby had looked up, Dean would have seen puffy, red-rimmed eyes that matched those of the men standing solemnly around him. Besides him and his father, Bobby was taking it the hardest. He had been the father that John couldn't be – teaching them baseball instead of training, giving them comics to read instead of ancient lore, sneaking them an extra cookie or two when their father wasn't looking.
When Bobby looked at them, he saw the children that they were instead of the soldiers their father was training them to be.
Bobby chose that moment to glance up at him and Dean wondered what Bobby saw now behind his wet and empty eyes, wondered if he saw the emptiness that Dean felt consuming him, wondered if he saw the hollowed out shell of a kid who was forced to grow up too much too fast, who had lost too much too soon, and who was one crack away from shattering. From the look of agonized pity that crossed his face, Dean guessed that he could.
He quickly looked away.
As Jim finished up the last words of a final prayer, Dean noticed his father begin to shift beside him. He glanced up at him and could tell from the way his father's chin was trembling and his nostrils were flaring that he was about to bolt in order to hide his inevitable breakdown. Jim muttered one last watery amen and Dean shivered as his father immediately turned and stalked to the car, taking their shared umbrella with him.
Dean barely felt the rain as it began to slowly soak through his clothes. His body went through the motions as each man came and comforted him in their own way – Jim with a squeeze to his shoulder, Caleb with a tight hug, and Bobby with a soft tap to his cupped cheek – before leaving him to his grief.
Dean wasn't sure how long he just stood there, staring at the little grey headstone without actually seeing it. At some point he discovered he was kneeling in the mud, the cold turning his legs numb.
He couldn't feel it, couldn't feel anything.
The next thing he knew he was sobbing painfully and uncontrollably, hands clenched over his chest because it hurt. It hurt so fucking much. His grief had manifested as a physical pain and it felt like hot iron was stabbing though his chest, like something had reached inside him and was trying to rip out his very soul. He grappled uselessly at his shirt until he felt his hands tangle in a familiar cord, one he was so used to wearing he forgot it was there. He shook as his sobs stuttered and tapered off into harsh sniffles, and he slowly moved one hand down until it was clutching the amulet. It was warm, even when everything else was so cold.
In a voice that hadn't been used properly in days, Dean choked out, "I love you, Sammy." I love you so goddamn much. Squeezing his eyes shut, he clutched the amulet tightly to his chest and tried to hold onto the meager warmth he felt there.
Dean continued to kneel in the mud, trembling as the cold water ran over his shoulders, refusing to let it take him.
He had a tether, and he was never letting it go.