The Long and Winding Road (amypond45) wrote,
The Long and Winding Road


They run out of food again around the middle of May, just two weeks past Sam’s twentieth birthday. By then, it’s obvious they need to move on. For one thing, the gas they managed to siphon last year is already going bad, and unless they get the car going now they’ll be stuck walking twenty miles to a town that’s already been pillaged and picked over.

They need to get going.

Bobby Singer’s house just outside Sioux Falls is the logical destination. They don’t even know if Uncle Bobby’s still alive, but if he is he’ll be a great resource in helping them figure out how to survive in this strange new world without people in it.

Not to mention, seeing Uncle Bobby again would give both boys the hope and comfort they desperately need. They need to know they’re not the only two people left alive in the world.

Dean’s beyond excited to get on the road. He packs gas cans and weapons in the trunk, then gathers his mixtapes to play in the car. The batteries in the boombox have died and he hasn’t been able to listen to music in six months. He begs Sam to let him drive until Sam finally relents with a sigh, shaking his head at Dean’s enthusiasm. It’s not like it matters that Dean’s never taken a driving course. It’s not like anybody will pull them over to check his non-existent driver’s license, after all.

Sam manages to conceal his anxiety and apprehension as they pull away from the cabin, leaving behind the only home they’ve known for the past four years. He’s got the addresses of other safe houses in his head, but he’s not sure they’ll need them. Between here and Uncle Bobby’s there’s just one, on the outskirts of Wilmar, and for now that’s his only goal. Get there, hunker down, assess their next move.

They stay to the backroads, and for the first few hours they don’t see any signs of human life. All the little convenience stores and gas stations they pass are dark and deserted, and Sam guesses the electricity is out everywhere, as it was in the little town they pillaged last year. They stay off the main roads, which are possibly clogged with cars, although after the first two hours pass without seeing a single sign of human life, Sam starts to wonder.

Then they round a corner and Dean slams on the breaks.

There’s a pickup truck stopped sideways across the road, a baseball cap visible through the back of the driver’s side window.

“You think it’s a – “ Dean swallows hard, clutching the steering wheel.

“Dead guy,” Sam nods grimly. “Yeah.”

They can’t drive around it, so they get out to see if they can move the truck. Neither of them has seen a dead body before, although they’ve done their share of hunting. This is different. This dead body was a person once.

There’s not much left of him now, and Sam’s more than relieved about that. The man must have fallen asleep or passed out at the wheel, given the way the pickup is parked. Sam opens the passenger door and a stale, musty odor is all that’s left of the smell of death. The body has decayed almost completely, so that only the clothes and bones with a few strands of stringy, dried skin and hair are left. This man has been dead almost three years, Sam guesses. He reaches in to grab the gearshift, forcing it into the neutral position before climbing back out.

Dean’s standing a couple of feet away, eyes wide in his pale, freckled face.

“We should be able to push it now,” Sam tells him, gesturing toward the front of the cab.

Dean nods, following Sam’s silent direction without question, bracing his hands on the hood of the truck. Sam reaches in and turns the steering wheel just a little, enough to ensure the truck will roll easily off the road. Then he climbs out and nods to Dean, positioning himself with one hand on the open door jam, the other against the windshield.

“On the count of three,” he says, and Dean nods.

Sam’s grateful he’s grown another inch or two this year; he’s fairly sure he’s outgrown their dad, since all of the clothes he wears used to be John’s and his wrists and ankles are sticking out. It’ll be the first thing they do when they get to Wilmar, he tells himself. There’s bound to be a department store with tall men’s sizes in a town of nearly 20,000.

Or at least, a former town of 20,000. There’s no telling how many people are left, if any. Sam’s pretty sure all of Minnesota and both Dakotas were evacuated before the radio died. He remembers wondering if he and Dean were the only people left in the whole country.

He’s forgotten why that might be a problem, actually. Somehow, being the last two people alive on Earth doesn’t seem so awful. He’s worried that wouldn’t be best for Dean, though, so he keeps that thought to himself.

When they get to Wilmar, there are more bodies. The streets are littered with piles of clothing that used to be human beings, and Sam knows the houses and buildings will contain a few too. Luckily, after three years, most of the corpses have decayed sufficiently that there’s not much left, no smell, not much even vaguely resembling once-living human beings.

They find the safe house without a hitch, and Sam easily picks the lock. It’s got fully stocked shelves, mostly with cans of vegetables and beans that apparently never expire, and an underground bunker with a working generator that provides light, heat, and running water.

“First shower’s yours if you want it,” Sam tells Dean, who makes a face.

“Really? In this dump? The water’ll be all rusty and gross,” Dean complains, and Sam smiles. He loves it when Dean gets fussy about their accommodations, although he doesn’t think too hard about why that might be. He likes feeling like the magnanimous older brother, always sacrificing the best stuff so Dean can grow big and strong.

And clean.

Sam doesn’t think about how good Dean looks when he’s clean, or how good he smells. That would be wrong, and Sam definitely knows it.

Doesn’t stop him from jerking off on the safe house couch that night, though, as he thinks about Dean’s soft lips and clean skin. Sam let Dean have the bedroom, and he tries hard not to imagine Dean doing the same thing in there, in the dark.

Sometime in the night Sam wakes up hard, heart pounding. The house is as silent as a tomb, but Sam’s sure he heard something. Something woke him up.

Then he hears it again. A rustling noise, outside below the window, like trees moving in the wind.

There’s no wind.

Sam throws the blanket off, reaches under the couch for his gun. It’s possible someone’s out there, saw their light, saw the car pull in. It’s entirely possible some folks survived the epidemic here, maybe by locking themselves into a bunker underground. Maybe there are others like Sam and Dean, whose daddies sent them out to well-stocked cabins far away from civilization to ride out the worst of the disaster.

Maybe someone’s survived by sheer dumb luck, and now he’s scavenging, looking for food. Looking for other signs of life.

Looking for survivors like Sam and Dean.

Sam stalks quietly toward the front window, peers through the shades at an angle. Of course, it’s pitch dark outside, no moon. If something is out there, Sam can’t see it. He waits, thinking maybe the rustling sound will repeat itself, but it never does.

He creeps back to bed eventually, grateful he took the time to barricade the door, irrationally glad that he also salted the doors and windows and drew those weird symbols on it that his father always insisted they put up for protection.

Sam’s dad taught him to be prepared for anything. Maybe that’s a good thing after all.

In the morning, Dean wants to push on, get on the road to Sioux Falls. Sam knows they should go, but he wants a little more time to get acclimated to their new world. Truth be told, Sam just wants Dean to slow down, to appreciate the moments when things are good, when everything’s working and they have full bellies and a stable possibility of another meal.

Sam wants safety. He wants as much normal as they can find in their crazy lives. That’s all he’s ever wanted. He wants Dean to have more time to grow up.

They find a thrift store on the outskirts of the city. The windows are smashed and a lot of the interior has been trashed, but the men’s clothing section doesn’t look like it’s been touched. Thieves tend to loot things they think they can sell, and clothing doesn’t matter.

It matters to Sam. Finding jeans and shoes that actually fit him, after straining and hurting in his dad’s hand-me-downs for the past couple of years, feels like a serious accomplishment. Like cause for celebration. Dean finds a new pair of jeans and a jacket that might be a little big on him, but only by a little. He’s still growing, so it’s a good choice.

They’re leaving the store in their new used clothes when disaster strikes. In retrospect, Sam knows he should have been prepared for it, should have expected it. His dad’s voice growls angrily in his head as he realizes his mistake, understands in a split second that they’re in trouble. Sam’s let his guard down.

Four men stand waiting for them in the parking lot. They’re grizzled and dirty but Sam doesn’t doubt they’re strong. Two of them have baseball bats dangling from their grubby fingers, and when they see the boys they close ranks, move into a loose semi-circular formation between the Winchesters and the Impala.

“Well, will you look-it what we have here?” One of them smirks, and Sam can see he’s missing a couple of teeth. The rest of them look yellow and rotten.

“Looks like a coupla nice-lookin’ boys, Carl,” another one says, fingering his belt-loop with one hand while he dangles the baseball bat in the other.

“Nah, I think the tall one’s a girl,” Carl says. “Look-it his hair.”

“I like the little one,” baseball-bat guy says. “He’s prettier’n a girl.”

“Shore is,” Carl agrees. “Bet he’s got a sweet little ass to match that sweet little face.”

“Don’t talk about my brother that way,” Sam says, puffing his chest up as he steps in front of Dean. He’s too aware that he left his gun in the glovebox, but he’s not going to let that shake him. These guys look mean, but one of them dangles a liquor bottle in the hand not holding a baseball bat, and none of them look very fit or well-fed.

“Oh yeah?” Carl takes a step forward and baseball-bat-guy raises his bat, taps it against his other hand, menacing. “What’re you gonna do about it, boy? Huh?”

“That little one’s got a mouth like a girl,” liquor-bottle-guy says, licking his lips. “Don’t he, Josh? Get a look at the mouth on that kid.”

Carl takes another step, flanked by baseball-bat-guy and Josh, who hasn’t said anything yet but stares with the hollow-eyed glare of someone who’s seen too much and doesn’t have much sanity left to show for it.

These men are survivors, all right, probably hunkered down during the epidemic, then crawled out of their holes to scavenge and loot after most of the population was dead or gone. They don’t look like they’re doing very well, and they’re obviously looking for someone to blame.

Sam’s already figured out how to take down Carl and baseball-bat-guy. Silent Josh and liquor-bottle-guy are the wild cards.

“I said, don’t talk about my brother like that.” Sam glares at them, shifting his feet so that his arms are hanging loose at his sides. He needs to provoke them, needs to get one of them to take a wild swing so Sam can take him down fast.

“Or what? You’ll hit me?” Carl challenges, taking another step. “Come on, go ahead. Give it your best shot.”

Sam takes a deep breath, lowers his chin to his chest and clenches his fists. It takes an effort to ignore Carl’s provocation, but he makes it. He knows he needs to wait.

“Come on, boy,” Carl grins at him, sensing an advantage, mistaking Sam’s inaction for fear and youthful inexperience. “You let us have our fun with your little brother there and we’ll let you go on your way after. We’ll even give you a bite to eat. You hungry? You must be hungry.”

“Just leave us alone,” Sam growls. “Go back to the hole you climbed out of and don’t bother us again.”

“Oh,” Carl nods, eyes going cold and cruel now. “That’s how it’s gonna be, huh? We gotta go through you to get to him.”

“You can try.” Sam manages a taunting smirk, clenching his fists. Adrenaline and fear give him focus, and he’s suddenly hyper-alert, aware of each movement of all four aggressors, assessing their strengths and weaknesses. He’s sure the one with the liquor bottle is drunk, so he’ll be easy. He’ll have to go in hard to dodge those baseball bats, but it’s nothing he hasn’t done a million times, sparring with his dad or Dean in the backyard.

He’s grateful he’s been keeping up on his training these past four years, grateful Dean’s been training right along with him. Let the men think Dean’s small and weak, that the only challenge to their attack is Sam.

“Have it your way, then,” Carl says, and gives his signal for his men to attack.

The fight lasts all of two minutes, if that, although later Sam thinks it felt like an hour. He goes in low as soon as baseball-bat-guy gets close enough to swing, ducks as the bat goes over his head and the guy twists around, leaving his kidneys exposed. Baseball-bat-guy goes down with a swift punch to that vital organ, bat sliding out of his hand as he wails. Sam kicks it out of the way and shoves a quick elbow into the ribs of the guy who’s trying to grab him from behind, head-butting the man hard in the nose as the guy cries out. He lets Sam go so he can grab his face, blood spurting between his fingers, eyes squeezed shut in pain. Sam kicks his kneecap and he goes down, then falls to the side, out cold with a blow from Sam’s fist to his temple.

“Sam!” Dean’s cry of alarm makes Sam see red. Carl and Josh have Dean pinned down, and Josh is trying to unbuckle Dean’s belt to get his jeans off while Carl holds his shoulders pinned to the pavement.

Sam’s not exactly sure how he does it, but he’s positive that he’s the one who knocks Josh out, then sits on him, raining down blow after blow until his face turns into a smashed pile of bone and blood. Dean’s shouting his name, standing in front of him and waving his arms to get his attention because he knows better than to try to touch Sam when he’s like this. Carl lies on the ground a few feet away, out cold from a blow Dean must’ve landed because Sam can’t remember going after anyone but the guy who was trying to pull off Dean’s pants.

He looks up when Dean squats down in front of him, catches his eye.

“He’s good,” Dean nods cautiously. “You got him. I think he learned his lesson.”

Sam pulls his fist back, looks down at the mess that used to be Josh’s face, and nods, more satisfied than repulsed. The guy should be dead, but Sam knows he probably isn’t. Deserves to be, though.

“Come on,” Dean coaxes, daring to put a hand out now, and Sam can see the blood on his knuckles. “Let’s get out of here before one of them wakes up.”

Dean drives. Sam’s shoulder hurts where somebody got off a good blow he didn’t even notice, probably the guy he head-butted. His lip’s bleeding. Dean has a cut on his cheekbone, right under his eye, and another one on his forehead. Scrapes, nothing more. They got off easy.

They’re about five miles out of town, headed south, before Dean speaks.

“So I guess there are survivors,” he says, and Sam nods grimly.

“Looks like,” he agrees.

When they pull into Sioux Falls it’s getting dark. Sam maneuvers the car along empty streets, no bodies or abandoned cars clogging the asphalt. Although he doesn’t drive into the middle of the city, he’s pretty sure it’s deserted. People must’ve got out before the epidemic caught hold here.

There’s a gate across the drive into Singer Salvage, and it’s padlocked. Sam peers through the slats, remembering visits here as a kid with their dad. Bobby was a recluse, a hermit, a paranoid bastard who kept his possessions locked up tight and rarely let anyone in. Sam could never get a straight answer about how Bobby and John met, but he’s pretty sure that guns and whisky were involved.

“Did you try calling him?” Dean asks. In the early days of the epidemic, some of the old phones still worked, and landlines in certain areas were functioning, too. Sam left messages when he got through to some of the numbers his dad gave him, including Bobby’s.

“Yeah,” Sam nods, rattling the gate to check for give. “Maybe we can climb it.”

As he starts to feel along the edges of the gate to find a hand-hold he hears a familiar sound.

“What was that?” Dean hears it too, stares at Sam with wide, startled eyes.

Sam looks back up the dark road, the way they just came, and waits a moment to see if the sound repeats itself. When it doesn’t, he shakes his head, turning back to the gate.

“Just the wind, maybe,” he shrugs. It’s the same sound that he heard last night at the safe house in Wilmar, but he doesn’t tell Dean that.

Dean agrees dubiously, keeps his eyes on the road as Sam goes back to feeling along the gate for a way inside.

Another rustling sound, like wind through trees or bushes, comes again, but it’s closer this time, sending shivers up Sam’s spine because there’s something not quite natural about it. It’s definitely not wind.

“Sam!” Dean sees it first, scrambles backwards into his brother as Sam struggles to put himself between Dean and whatever it is that’s making the noise...

Then Sam sees it, too.

Three figures, human in appearance except they’re moving strangely, not walking so much as sliding along the ground. Their feet make the rustling sound as they move, and they seem to be whispering at the same time, the effect about as eerie as anything Sam’s ever heard.

“What the hell?” Sam backs up, puts his arms out to keep Dean hidden behind him. He’s not sure what he’ll do if the figures keep advancing on them; he’s left all their weapons in the car and he’s fairly certain these creatures aren’t human, or at least they aren’t human anymore.

Sam’s just about ready to make a dash for the car, dragging Dean with him, when the gate behind them opens and Bobby Singer stalks out with a shotgun in his hands. Without even a glance at the boys, he fires a round of buckshot at the monsters at point blank range and they fall apart in a cacophony of shrieks and moans, leaving behind only a pile of ragged clothing.

Sam’s breathing hard, like he ran a race, and Dean clings to him, peering around Sam’s still-outstretched arm at the man who quite possibly just saved their lives.

Bobby lowers the shotgun and turns to look at them, and for a moment Sam’s not sure Bobby recognizes them. It’s been five years, and both boys were much smaller back then.

“Sam,” Bobby greets him, then nods at Dean. “Dean. Looks like your daddy was right about monsters.”

“Wha – What was that?” Sam stammers.

“Revenants,” Bobby says grimly. “Silver’s the only thing that kills ‘em. Luckily, they only come out at night.”

“Yeah, luckily,” Sam says, hating how shaky his voice sounds. “What’s a revenant?”

“Ghost,” Bobby shrugs. “Mostly. Some animated flesh and bone, but mostly ghost.”

“Ghost,” Sam whispers. “Ghosts are real, too?”

Bobby’s eyes narrow. “Didn’t you listen to a thing your papa taught you?”

“Well, yeah, Bobby, but I didn’t believe him.” Sam’s feeling defensive. “I mean, did you?”

Bobby takes a deep breath, lets it out on a sigh. “I guess nobody did,” he admits. “Now, come on.”

They drive the car into the salvage yard and Bobby closes the gates behind them. He locks them with a silver padlock, and Sam recognizes the symbols spray-painted on the back after they’re closed.

“Wards against every kind of evil you can think of,” Bobby nods. “Not taking any chances.”

“What else have you seen?” Sam follows Bobby into the house, Dean on his heels. The boy looks rattled, but energized at the same time, and Sam gets it. He does. Dean’s life has been pretty boring so far, and almost being attacked by revenants is about the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to him.

After what almost happened with the human gang in Wilmar, that’s weirdly comforting.

“Oh, nothing close up,” Bobby says. He gestures to two empty chairs at the table in the kitchen, where a big pot of some spicy meat-and-beans mixture is cooking on the stove. Sam’s stomach grumbles. “You hungry?”

Sam nods, and Bobby looks up at him, squinting. “You sure got tall, boy,” he says as Dean slides into one of the chairs. “You’re taller than your daddy.”

“Yes, sir,” Sam nods, feeling tears smart at the backs of his eyes. He brushes them away angrily, blaming the spicy vapors from the chili, but apparently Bobby thinks otherwise.

“Hey, boy, you done good,” Bobby says softly. “You did what your daddy told you. You saved yourself and your brother, and now you’re here. You made it.”

Sam nods, more tears leaking traitorously from his eyes. His lips tremble and he can’t look at Bobby, but suddenly he’s being pulled into a gruff bear-hug, squeezed tightly for a moment or two before the grizzled older man finally releases him with a brusque pat.

“That’s all right, son,” Bobby murmurs. “You’ve had a lot on your shoulders these past few years. Looks like you did everything exactly right. Your daddy would be proud.”

Bobby doesn’t ask about John because it’s obvious. If the older Winchester was still alive, he’d be here, with his sons.

Sam slides into the other chair at the table and lets Bobby serve them big, steaming bowls of chili and glasses of warm beer. He doesn’t ask how Bobby survived. He knows about Bobby’s personal bunker, stocked with his own supply of food and fuel and weapons. Sam’s not surprised Bobby made it, but he’s more grateful than he’ll admit. It gives him hope.

“You think there are other folks like us?” he asks after he’s swallowed his first helping and Bobby’s serving seconds.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure there’s others out there, all right,” Bobby nods. “Rufus Turner came by about six months ago, stayed for almost three weeks. A couple of others, too. There’s others like us all over the country.”

“What about the ghosts? The revenants?” Sam still can’t quite get his mind around the fact that the supernatural world is real, just as his dad had always said. “How did we never see them before?”

“Oh, I’m guessin’ it takes a cataclysmic event to shake loose that amount of evil,” Bobby says. “This epidemic wiped out most of humanity. The way it looks to me, evil’s just been waiting for a chance to slink into the natural world, and now it’s found a way. I’m guessing there’ll be other manifestations. No reason to believe revenants are the only supernatural things in town.”

“You think these things were around before?” Sam asks. “I mean, Dad thought something supernatural killed Mom. He always said evil was lurking just under the surface of the real world.”

“I’m starting to rethink a lot of things,” Bobby acknowledges. “My wife’s death, for example. I always thought she was possessed by a demon, but nobody believed me except your daddy and a few others. Every one of us had a story nobody believed. That’s what brought us together, sort of. We never exactly trusted each other, but we all agreed sometimes evil got into the world in hard-to-believe ways. Unexplained things happen.”

“And now it’s trying to take over?” Sam tries to ignore the shiver that goes up his spine.

“More like, it’s all that’s left, and it’s taking it’s turn,” Bobby says. “Like the dinosaurs got wiped out by that comet, remember?”

Sam barely needs to consider that idea. “So, we’re the dinosaurs,” he says quietly.

“Could be,” Bobby agrees, his eyes widening. “Or just the scrappy little rats that survived underground for a few thousand years. Either way, it ain’t gonna be easy.”

“We should get out there, try to find some more survivors,” Dean speaks up, and both Bobby and Sam look at him. “What? We should. There’s probably folks like us all over the country, like you said, Uncle Bobby. Other people who hunkered down and rode out the epidemic.”

“Or more yahoos like those bastards in Wilmar,” Sam snaps. He’s still mad when he thinks about how Dean was beaten and almost raped. “Morons who survived by sheer dumb luck, just roaming around looting and pillaging.” Raping, he doesn’t say, but they all know.

“Yeah, we had a gang like that in Sioux Falls, about a year ago,” Bobby nods grimly. When he doesn’t continue, Sam raises an eyebrow. “I took care of it,” Bobby says, leaving it at that.

“We can do reconnaissance for you,” Dean says. “Stake out a town or a city, figure out what’s salvageable. Rescue innocent survivors. Take down any hostiles we find.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Sam glares at him. “You almost got yourself killed today. If Bobby needs any reconnaissance done, I’ll be the one to do it. Alone.”

“Stop treating me like a baby, Sam,” Dean fires back. “I’m sixteen-and-a-half, not twelve. You go out there, you take me with you.”

“Like hell,” Sam spits out.

“Boys,” Bobby interrupts, glancing from one to the other of them. “Ain’t nobody going anywhere yet. I’ve already got a team of hunters out looking for survivors. I need you to stay put for now, do some research. Don’t need you two idiots charging out and getting yourself killed before you know what you’re up against.”

“Research,” Dean rolls his eyes.

“And training,” Bobby adds. “You need to learn how to kill the things that are most likely out there, waiting for a chance to take you down first.”

“Well, that’s something, at least,” Dean says with a smirk. “Killing evil things doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Not just killing,” Bobby admonishes. “I need information. We need to find out if all the things I’ve been hearing and reading about are actually out there. I’m getting reports about werewolves and vampires. I already know ghosts and revenants are real, but what else? Are some things more evil than others? And while you’re at it, don’t forget that we’re probably the minority race now, so don’t go drawing undue attention to yourselves. The last thing we need is for evil to start gunning for us, or for you two specifically.”

“Dean can’t go out there,” Sam insists stubbornly. “It’s not safe. I need him to stay here.”

“No way, Sam!” Dean’s indignation is palpable. “I’m almost six feet tall, in case you hadn’t noticed. I’m putting on muscle, I know how to handle a gun, and I’m fast. You need me!”

“I’m afraid he’s right, son,” Bobby says to Sam. “He may be only sixteen, but in this brave new world, even sixteen-year-olds have to become warriors. We need him. Anyway, by the time you hit the road again, he’ll be a few months older.”

Sam scowls, but he doesn’t argue. He knows Bobby’s right. Dean’s still young and green, but Sam will need the backup. And the truth is, he’d rather have Dean with him anyway. He can keep an eye on him better.

Besides, Sam really wants to be useful. They both need to do something. This is everything they trained for, everything their dad told them to be ready for.

“I’ve got a list of my dad’s safe houses,” he offers. “We can use those as launch pads for foraging and recon missions.”

Bobby nods. “After you’re trained here, you two can drive around the country gathering intel, putting down monsters only when you have to,” he says. “Report back when you find something. If you come across innocent civilians who need help, you can add them to our network, let them know there are others. You boys can help us get a handle on how wide-spread this thing goes.”

They both know it’s the whole country, probably the whole world, but the plan makes sense anyway. Finding compatriots, more of their kind of survivors, is a first step toward rebuilding civilization.

“There’s only one problem,” Sam says. “We need fresh fuel. The car’s running on fumes as it is, and all of the gasoline we find at gas stations is old and tired. We’ll never make it to the closest safe house, much less spend a year or more on the road.”

Bobby cocks his head, gives a little enigmatic shrug. “I think I might be able to fix that,” he says.

“It’s magic,” he tells Sam after he pulls a jar of something that looks like chunky fireplace ash from a shelf in the kitchen. “Put this in the gas tank and the car runs like it’s just been filled with newly-refined fuel.”

“How does it work?” Sam asks as he tips the jar this way and that, trying to figure out what’s in it.

“A spell for reviving dead and dying things,” Bobby shrugs. “You probably don’t want to pour it on those revenants out there.”

Sam stops shaking the jar and stares. “You’re serious,” he says finally.

“Deadly,” Bobby agrees. “And that’s just the beginning. Spells, potions, all kinds of magic really works now. Don’t think it did before. Like I said, something’s been unleashed in the wake of the epidemic. Something powerful.”

“Huh,” Sam comments. He’s skeptical, but after what he saw outside the salvage yard tonight, he’s willing to keep an open mind.

It’s a lot to process, though. Sam’s spent too much of his life covering for his dad’s crazy ideas, keeping two versions of reality in his head at once. When he was very small, he believed everything his father told him, living in constant terror of things that go bump in the night. By the time he was twelve and started to see the truth, Sam had to face the fact that his father was probably insane, that his dad’s view of the world was skewed. Now, finding out that his dad’s view was the right one, just premature, is more than a little unsettling. Apparently John Winchester and the others like him were prophets who nobody believed because the world they said was coming hadn’t happened yet. There wasn’t any proof.

Now, there seems to be proof. And if the supernatural world’s taking over, as Bobby claimed, Sam can adjust. Again. The main thing to do was to get a handle on it, to figure everything out so they can stay ahead of it, just like their dad had trained them to do.

Sam can do that. Sam’s good at figuring things out.

They sleep in the living room, Sam on the floor because he’s too long for the couch. Sometime in the night he feels Dean’s fingers in his hair, stroking gently. He lies still and pretends he’s asleep because it feels too good and he doesn’t want Dean to stop.

He never wants Dean to stop.

They stay with Bobby for three months, learning all they can about the strange new world that’s been born on the deaths of six billion souls.

“Souls are powerful,” Bobby explains at one point. “The fuel expended when that many souls expire could be the catalyst for this thing.”

Which begs the question, why did it happen? If there’s some kind of malevolent intelligence behind it, where is it? Why rearrange physics and science and the empirical world they grew up in so that magic is suddenly the dominant force in the universe?

Sam has a feeling they’ll live their entire lives without finding the answer to that question, any more than they might have learned why they were here in the first place, before everything changed. It’s not the most important thing anyway.

They’ve got work to do, and Sam’s pretty sure they’ll have their hands full doing it.

They’re on the road by Dean’s seventeenth birthday. Within the first month they encounter ghosts and revenants, three packs of werewolves and a nest of vampires, all of whom used to be living, breathing human beings. Sometimes they kill the monsters, especially if they’re menacing groups of survivors, but more than half of the time they leave them alone. It’s not like there are enough humans left alive to make it worthwhile to slaughter every monster they meet. It’s their world now. The remaining humans are on the defensive, hiding in holes and safe houses, just trying to avoid being eaten.

The day they encounter a vampire who tells them she gave herself up, begged to be turned, Sam figures they’re done. Of course the vampire still wants to tear his throat out and drain him dry, so Dean slices her head off with a single swing of his machete. But it’s an eye-opener.

“She chose this,” Sam says later when they’re burning her body and digging a shallow grave for the ashes. “She’d rather be a monster than dead. It’s not easy to argue with that.”

“I’d rather be dead,” Dean says simply, and that’s the end of the conversation.

They’re staying in a safe house near Richardson, Texas, investigating a house once rumored to be haunted, according to reports in the local newspaper. There are numerous urban legends about the house, dating back twenty or thirty years, all carefully archived in the public library. Some said that an old man kidnapped unsuspecting teenagers when they broke into the house at night. No one had died, but the rumors persisted right up to the time of the epidemic, so Sam and Dean decide to check it out, see if they could find any evidence of a real monster.

What they find is evidence of kids trying to scare each other. The walls are painted with occult symbols, candles and herbs line the windowsills and mantel, and someone painted a devil’s trap pentagram on the floor.

“It’s like the kids wanted to summon something, but they didn’t quite know how to do it,” Dean suggests.

“Kinda makes you wonder, of all the monsters that exist now, how many came into being just because people believed in them,” Sam nods.

“You mean, like a tulpa,” Dean suggests, and Sam raises an eyebrow.

“What? I read,” Dean snaps indignantly, and Sam can’t help the grin that splits his face open. “Love to make you smile like that,” Dean follows up quietly.

Sam looks up in surprise. Dean’s watching him, green eyes soft with pleasure, cheeks pink, little smirk tugging at the corner of his full lips.

Sam loves this boy more than it should be possible to love another person.

Later, when they’re getting ready for bed, Sam catches Dean watching him while he’s brushing his teeth. Sam’s shirtless, wearing only the soft plaid pajama bottoms he wears to bed, and Dean’s eyes are dark. He’s wearing boxers and the Led Zeppelin t-shirt that used to be too big for him. He fills it out nicely now, arms and shoulders and pecs almost fully developed from weight-training and hard work.

“Tomorrow’s my birthday,” Dean says, and Sam feels himself blush.

“I know,” he says softly, setting down his toothbrush.

“Yeah, well, it’s tomorrow somewhere on Earth right now,” Dean says, and Sam nods, doesn’t move because he doesn’t trust himself. “I still want you, Sam. Told you I would. Never gonna stop.”

It’s been a lot to deal with, learning about supernatural creatures, adjusting to a world with them in it but without many humans. They’ve encountered a couple of other small groups of survivors, mostly families who went underground or deep into the woods like the Winchesters did. There were even a couple of girls, sisters the Winchesters’ ages, who stared at them like they were ghosts and didn’t seem to like either of them much. The way they huddled into each other when they explained how they had made it through the epidemic with just their wits and their mom’s survival training told Sam everything he needed to know. These girls were everything to each other. They didn’t need the Winchesters or any other men in their lives, ever.

After Sam explained what they were up against and put them in touch with Bobby, the boys headed out again, each silently contemplating the loneliness of the human condition in the post-human world.

“What are the chances now, geek-man?” Dean had asked at the time, and Sam had frowned.

“You know, you’ll always have me,” Sam says now to Dean’s reflection in the mirror. “I’ll always be your brother.”

“I’ll always want you to be more than that, Sam,” Dean says. “Can’t help it.”

And Sam finds he can’t hold out any longer. He can’t think why he should. Their world, the one they knew before, has ended, but another one has taken its place, and in this new world Sam and Dean need each other in a way they might never have needed each other in the old world. In that other world, Sam had believed they would both grow up, find wives, have children and live separately. Maybe they’d get together for holidays and birthdays, but mostly their lives would be pretty ordinary, a deliberate reclaiming of the normalcy their father never allowed them growing up.

Now, that’s impossible, of course. And in these past four years, Sam has come to accept that he can’t ever really live without Dean. He probably never could have lived without him. Life without his brother constantly by his side would be existing only, not really living at all. Sam would be always missing some vital part of himself. He might have insisted that they live separate lives in that other, more normal world, but he would be dying inside from the moment they parted. He knows that with an almost painful certainty now.

In a way, it’s too easy for them to be together as a couple now. It’s as if the universe has rearranged itself to ensure that inevitability, as if the stars have aligned themselves so that the Winchesters can have each other in every way. No one will ever doubt their choice to put each other first now. Other survivors will envy what they have, and Sam’s vaguely sorry for that, sorry for all the lonely souls who never find this. It sucks to try to find love after the end of the world. Fortunately for the Winchesters, there’s never been anyone else, for either of them.

Sam turns and leaves the bathroom, gathers Dean into his arms, and kisses him.

Tags: au, older sam/younger dean, pov sam, pre-series, rating: pg-13, romance, sam/dean, spn-reversebang, teen!chesters, wincest

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