A/N: New Harmony, Indiana is right on the Illinois border. I figure it makes more sense for them to head over the border for a new state, plus - as Dean said in LR when they noticed Sam was in Pontiac, it wasn't far from where Dean was planted. So, for the purposes of this story, Dean was buried in Illinois.
The Impala swerved to the side of the road and its driver tumbled out, unfeeling as the gravel along the interstate's shoulder bit into his palms.
He gazed up at the sign before him.
'Now Leaving Illinois.'
Mere hours ago, the backseat of the car – Dean's car, still Dean's car – held his brother's shrouded body. Sam didn't know whether Dean'd be pissed or proud that his beloved car ended up being his hearse as well.
The shovels that he and Bobby used to dig the grave and the hammer that pounded the nails of the crudely-built coffin were in the trunk. All the weapons were in their expected places. Dean's duffel was packed and ready – as if they were headed out to another hunt.
Sam used stolen motel soap to wash the blood from his brother's body, had pointlessly stitched gashes that would never heal. He kept blinking back tears that blurred his vision, saw the salty droplets dotting his brother's skin. He brushed away the wetness on his face, carefully dabbed along the perfect sutures he was in no hurry to create.
In no hurry to put his brother in the ground.
He dressed Dean with care, trying not to dislocate his shoulder getting his arm into an untorn shirt, difficult even though rigor mortis had not yet set in. A memory came unbidden, Dean telling him what a pain in the ass it was to dress Sam when he was a baby, a shy look of pride crossing his face when he told him that he was better than dad at it.
The dam welling up behind his eyes burst at the thought, gut wrenching sobs shaking his form.
There was no quiet joke to ease the pain in his heart, no thump on the back or firm shoulder squeeze to provide comfort. There was no Dean.
It made no sense that one moment Dean was here and then he was gone. One moment more, he could pretend the corpse held in his arms was his sleeping brother, the next he noticed the blood pooling underneath the skin as gravity pulled it downward – spreading shades of aubergine, the heart within the remains no longer pumping.
Sam hugged his brother's body tight to his chest, closing his eyes tightly, trying to willfully ignore the slack weight, the coolness, the lack of breath. There was a chasm inside his chest and maybe if he held onto Dean tightly enough he could make this all untrue. Maybe he could shove Dean into the void, keep his essence safe until he found a way to bring him back.
He felt warm hands disengaging his embrace. Sam looked up with a tiny shred of hope that was immediately stamped out. He was startled to see Bobby there, his face also shiny with tears, snot stuck in his mustache.
The younger – now only – Winchester looked on as Bobby ran his hand through the body's freshly washed hair, softly and with great love, a way he'd never dared to when Dean was alive. Sam murmured 'no' as the defunct relic his brother used to exist within was pulled away from him.
The would-be-father laid his would-have-been son down in the casket cobbled together out of splintering planks of pine.
Sam was suddenly enraged, livid at the whole universe, and the only person he could take it out on was the one standing there insisting burial or cremation right away. He grabbed onto his brother's pulseless hand and shot a deeply hurt look up at the older hunter; it screamed 'How could you?' and 'You're giving up?'
Bobby nearly staggered backward from the crushing blow the hazel eyes of his other would-be son. He remembered Dean had laid Sam's body down on a cot for three days, refusing to bury him. He remembered that when the boys showed up at his house, he was too late to save Dean from his fate – this fate. His eyes returned the volley. It said, 'Please let go. I can't lose you too.'
Sam loosened his grip, perhaps something in his mind loosening as well. He removed his own blood-smeared button-down, rolling it up before lifting his brother's head to set down the makeshift pillow. There was a fantasy of the remains in the coffin peering out of one eye and relentlessly teasing him – gotcha Sammy, every fiber in Sam's being was longing to be the butt of a very morbid and inappropriate joke – to be the geek, the Sasquatch, the pain in the ass kid brother again.
Anything to have him back. I'll do it. Just please give him back.
Sam closed his eyes for a moment, waiting for the Trickster or anyone to make this not true.
It didn't happen.
Sam wiped his eyes and leaned over Dean's body, gently removing the protective pendant he had given him so many years ago.
He whispered in his brother's ear, "You can have this back when I get you home. I promise, big brother, I won't leave you there."
Sam pulled away, giving Dean's ruined form one final caress, his long fingers splayed across the still body's chest, confirming there was still no throb of life within.
He stood up slowly, the faint glow over the horizon signaling sunrise was on its way, heralding the start of existence in a cruel world. One that had him survive Lilith only to make him live through burying the one thing he had worth dying for.
He gazed back at the casket settled onto the grassy field. Birds chirped merrily as if they couldn't see an old man easing the lid into place, the shadow crossing Dean's face like an eclipse blotting out the sun.
Sam held out his hand toward Bobby, silently asking for the hammer.
"Sam, you don't have to –"
Four iron nails and four nails only, the bare minimum for bugs and wildlife to be kept out, the maximum Sam could bear, each tap into the soft wood like he was putting the nail into his own flesh.
Four would be enough, Dean wouldn't be there long.
He and Bobby used ropes to lower the coffin into the ground. It fit there snugly, like a puzzle piece. It made Sam want to scream, this fighting, flailing thing beneath his chest eager to escape, to force the world to acknowledge what it had just lost.
Neither of them spoke any words or prayers, there was nothing they could say.
Bobby put the cross up to mark the grave. Sam didn't want to explain that it wasn't necessary; he already had the coordinates burned into his memory.
They walked out to their vehicles together in silence. It was a pretty morning, cool and dewy, the sky a hand-painted watercolor, the kind of morning in which you might be able to see the divine, if life hadn't taught you better.
They made plans to meet up at Bobby's house, although it went unsaid that if they hadn't found a way to get Dean out of his deal before he was taken to hell, getting him out would be nigh on impossible. For that reason, Sam knew he would be breaking those plans. Bobby had limits on what he would do to bring Dean back. Sam didn't, not anymore.
They hugged, Sam struggling to keep himself together as he clenched warm cotton flannel in his hands. Neither of them made mention of the wet spots on the other one's clothing.
And that was it.
Sam had driven for awhile before he'd pulled over, he'd drunk what was left in Dean's flask, then started in on the jug of Jack in the trunk. He eyed the blue highway sign hatefully before stumbling out and whipping the bottle at the sign, falling onto his hands and knees, ears barely registering the sound of breaking glass.
He was on his feet again, menacing – prowling – screaming at the rectangular aluminum as if it owed him answers.
"Why him?! Why him instead of me?!" Seething in rage, spittle ran down his chin like he was some rabid wild thing.
And just as quickly he was broken, sobbing on his knees. "Fuck. Dean. ...why?"
His eyes looked up to the sign again.
'Now Leaving Illinois.'
He swallowed hard and let determination grit his teeth. No matter what it took, he'd be back.