Well, I guess everything dies, baby, that's a fact
Well maybe everything that dies some day comes back
So fix your hair up nice, do yourself up pretty,
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City…
Dean is sixty-five when he goes to the Grand Canyon for the first time. He and Sam park on a nearby bluff to watch the expanse of blue-black sky transform into a panoramic sunrise that lights up the land in rich reds and gold. Seeing the Grand Canyon that day is amazing, and the vastness of it, the catch in his throat when he hears the rapids so far below, the sight of stone carved by a million years of water, mesmerizes him. But it's the hour or two before dawn in the darkness, lying on the hood of the Impala with his shoulder against Sam's, talking about a hundred inconsequential things that are code for 'I love you' and watching the stars spin over them in the patterns they've known since childhood- that's what sticks with him. He knows, in that split-second before the sun breaks the horizon, that this is what he wants to remember before he dies.
Sam is four months shy of sixty-two years old when he builds the funeral pyre just outside Lawrence, alone under the cold stars for the first time since he was twenty-two. After slipping the gold amulet around his own neck, he kisses Dean's forehead- creased with age, lines of worry and laughter and time – and adjusts their father's leather jacket around his shoulders, lays the two silver wedding rings on Dean's chest. Instead of a rosary, his hands are folded around an old sawed-off shotgun and a cassette tape of the Black Album. Sam holds a little plastic Yoda with the Impala's keys on it, and a leather journal with three sets of handwriting in it, all telling one story. The world has dwindled down to small things.
"You know what my first memory is, Dean?" he says as he scatters salt and kerosene over the pile of wood. "A hotel room, really in the early morning, and you woke me up so we could leave. I know you said something, or tickled me, or were singing…but I just remember looking up at your face and loving you. Total, unthinking love. I would've followed you anywhere."
There's no response, of course, from the body. Sam strokes a stray lock of gray hair off Dean's forehead, marveling at the face he knows now. It's different and yet the most familiar thing he's ever seen. Though his own face has been a constant for nearly four decades, now, it's Dean who was the rock.
"You were my brother, man. That was all you ever needed to be. Just you and me, on the road, together. That's all, in the end. You and me." He's shaking and sobbing by the end of it, but he manages to choke out "You're worth the chick-flick moment. You're worth everything."
He strikes the match, drops it onto the pyre, hears the whoosh of kerosene and salt igniting on dry wood. And a split-second after the first tendrils of fire lick at the body that was Dean Winchester, Sam explodes in flames, gone to ashes fast as lightning.
Dean is twenty-seven and Sam is twenty-three, and Dad is dead, and the world isn't as it should be, not even close. Sam prays with every fiber of his soul for them to get through this, just to survive long enough to fix things, I can't leave Dean alone, I can't. Dean screams just one question- Why me? – into the abyss, and hears nothing but his own haunting echo.
But not all prayers, or questions, are answered loud enough to hear; like a photograph, sometimes you have to wait for the results to bloom slowly. Sometimes it takes years to see the whole picture.
Sometimes it's not until Dean is turning thirty and Sam is halfway through twenty-six, when it occurs to Bobby, who's hosting the little birthday party (which consists mainly of three six-packs and ribs on the barbecue) that Sam has a bit of a baby-face, for someone who's now closer to the dreaded 3-0 than his roaring twenties. Sam wings him with an empty can and Dean makes fun of 'widdle Sammy' and the evening ends with all three of them drunk and singing Springsteen on the roof…