The world ended on a Tuesday. So some people declared, the day the wire services first announced the appearance of a strange new virus—one that killed within 24 hours of exposure and then the cadavers rose again. Snarling and teeth bared, driven mad with a hunger for human flesh.
The more optimistic—or more naïve—held out hope for a cure. But by Friday, it had become a pandemic. The World is Ending, the headlines declared on Saturday. Maybe five percent of the populace was genetically immune to the virus, newscasters reported, but they'd be overrun by hoards of slavering and slowly decomposing corpses. Soon, only the Infected would remain.
On Sunday, the grid went down. Darkness swept across the planet. Game over.
But Monday, the Winchester brothers were still on the run. And the Monday after that as well, although it wasn't long before the concept of day of the week lost all meaning. There were just wake cycles and restless-but-exhausted sleep cycles, while the other kept watch. Days blurred into weeks. Carnage followed in their wake, and it was waiting for them wherever they tried to stop. On occasion, Dean and Sam found a few other survivors, helped them escape when they were about to be overwhelmed by Rotters, as the brothers had come to call the walking dead. But safety was a fleeting thing. And the people they met generally didn't trust two blood-splattered, knife-wielding hunters around their wives and children, didn't want to listen to reason, didn't want to share their precious few resources with strangers. So the Winchesters moved on. Sometimes they ran into their worst nightmare and had to double back. More than once they found the group they'd helped—the survivors who'd rejected their offer to travel together—hadn't lasted long on their own, roaming the woods now with gaping wounds and broken bodies and feral, hungry eyes.
The first time it happened, Sam didn't talk for two days. He didn't sleep either. He sat and stared out the car window with dark, wet eyes, and couldn't get the image of the grandparents and the little girl out of his thoughts. He used to be the guy who could always reassure the victims they met and get them to trust him. But now… the family had been afraid of him. And now they were dead. Dean felt guilty about the people they couldn't save too, but he was better at keeping it hidden. He got it out of his system by working up a sweat with a machete until every Rotter in sight was executed.
Eventually, they learned to stop thinking about the people they lost. Mostly. Sometimes they made a difference. Sometimes they didn't. The road went on. They looked for a place that wasn't Infected, a sign that civilization was making a stand somewhere… but they didn't find any.
So Dean had no idea exactly what day it was when he finally decided the world had ended. But he recognized it when it came.
It had started like so many other days. Dean had lost at rock-paper-scissors and was siphoning gas from an abandoned SUV on the side of the road while Sam watched the woods to the west with shoulders tensed and a wary eye.
But this time, a gunshot rang out from the east, screams rising in volume as the echo of the blast faded.
Words weren't needed. The Impala doors slammed shut and her tires burned rubber as they sped toward the tiny village set on a peninsula just off the main highway. A stoplight, dark and useless, swayed over the single intersection in the center of town. Dean parked at the top of the hill a block or two away from it. The screaming had stopped. The silence was ominous.
Banners still fluttered from old-fashioned streetlamps, announcing a festival that had never taken place. They showcased idyllic images from the little tourist town—seagulls wheeling across an azure sky, a picturesque lighthouse perched on a small island off shore, sailboats scudding past while the sun glinted on gentle waves.… Now, though, the horizon was gray and lifeless. No boats were tied up at the dock. In town, the storefront windows were all shattered. Trash drifted across the pavement like tumbleweeds, until it snagged against a disembodied limb and fluttered weakly there, trapped. Here and there a small cluster of the Infected shambled toward the mob gathering at the harbor.
Dean and Sam exchanged a look. How badly would they be outnumbered this time? How many was too many to risk it? That was one of the many conversations they should have had before—but it seemed the more people they watched die, torn apart before their eyes, the less they talked at all.
Were they already too late? Dean read that question in Sam's eyes. Or maybe it was his own uncertainty he saw reflected there.
And then they heard a human cry.
Like mirror images, they reached into the backseat to arm themselves. Rebar was the weapon of choice these days; they had less than a handful of bullets left between them. Sprinting from the car, they headed in the direction of the undead stragglers and dispatched them in a spray of brain matter, before turning the corner to see what had drawn them.
They skidded to a stop.
Twenty or more Infected surrounded the front of a two-story clapboard building at the foot of the pier. A blood-streaked sign identified it as the Maritime Museum. The Rotters were snarling, clawing each other to reach a young family cowering on the roof of its wraparound porch.
The mom was staring down wild-eyed at the chaos around them. She clutched a pink-swaddled infant to her breast with one arm, and with her other hand she held tight to a little boy who seemed paralyzed with fear.
The dad was pulling himself through the upstairs window after them. But the head and torso of a skeletal, decaying teenager in a fast-food uniform crawled out after him. She wrapped gnarled fingers around his ankle and pulled. He fell to his hands and knees, jarring his gun loose, and kicked free.
More Infected staggered into the mob and began to climb over each other in their hunger.
Dean vaulted onto the trunk of the nearest parked car. It bounced under his weight, and then the next one, and the next, as he ran along the roofs of a dozen cars until he was eight or ten feet from the porch. "Throw me the baby!"
The woman whirled toward him, eyed the distance, and shook her head frantically. "No!"
"You can do it!" Dean urged her. A Rotter at the edge of the mob turned, cocking his head, and then lurched toward him. Dean swung the rebar with a violence that whipped his attacker's head around, audibly breaking its neck. It flopped to the pavement, mouth gaping like a landed fish. Dean caught a glimpse of his brother, stabbing one Infected through the eye and shoving another off the boardwalk as he battled his own way toward the roof. Dean turned back to the mom. "This way! You can all make it! Just throw me the baby and then jump!"
She turned to see her husband wrestling with the window sash, trying to slam it down on a mop of stringy hair that hid the rotting face and vicious teeth.
"C'mon!" Dean yelled. She couldn't wait for her husband; there was no time.
Her feet scrabbled on the steep pitch as she tried to close the distance between them. At the edge, she let go of the little boy's palm to swipe at her tears with the back of her knuckles. Dean tucked the rebar in the crook of his elbow and held out his arms, willing her to move NOW!
With both hands, she lofted the pink bundle and it landed in Dean's hands; he swooped her gently up against his chest. He was just settling her against his shoulder to free up a hand to wield his rebar again when he realized something was wrong.
The baby was already dead.
Not Infected. Just still. Cold and lifeless and ice blue.
He never learned how she had died. The horror just escalated before he had time to think.
The little boy lost his balance on the shingles and slid down the roof, screaming.
"Danny!" The woman spun back around and dove for him.
The boy caught himself on the gutter and dangled there, fingers locked on the metal lip and legs flailing, but his mom slipped and fell off the roof. She hit the ground with a heavy thud, her skull bouncing off the pavement. The Infected mob swarmed over her unconscious body. The sidewalk grew wet with her blood and guts.
"Danny!" Sam's voice boomed as he fought his way closer. "Hang on!" He was so intent on clearing the way to reach the child that he didn't see three of the Rotters abandon the feast over Danny's mother and lumber up behind him.
Dean did—and dropped the bundle in his arms. In one move, he pulled his handgun from the back of his belt, slid down the windshield and off the hood of the car and broke into a run, looking for a clean shot. At the same time, the dad abandoned the window, picked up his handgun, and fired wildly at the creatures attacking his son. He missed.
Sam cried out, fell back, and disappeared from view.
The father screamed and Dean spared a glance to see the undead teenager at the window had lunged forward and taken a hearty bite out of the dad's side. When he looked back, the three Rotters had pulled the boy off the gutter and dragged him off, like dogs fighting over a bone.
Dean steadied himself, aimed his gun, and said goodbye to one of his last two bullets. In a blossom of blood, the boy's shrieks went silent; he wasn't terrified or in pain anymore, or ever again. Shaken, Dean scanned the museum porch, the street, the pier. He couldn't see his brother anywhere through the feeding frenzy of the hoard. "Sam!"
There was no answer.
That was the day the world ended.
Then he heard a splash.
Dean needed a better vantage point. Across the street, the marina had a restaurant with a trellis winding up the side of the building and an upstairs balcony for outdoor sunset seating. Only half a dozen Rotters stood in his way. Pocketing the gun and swinging the rebar like a Samurai, he plunged through the intersection. One by one, they were slaughtered. The last one got too close; Dean had to thrust the weapon up through the Rotter's ribcage, where it stuck. The Rotter still drooled and groped at Dean, so Dean propelled it against the nearest wall and impaled it there. Hands free, he started to climb up the trellis.
His only weapon now was a handgun and his last bullet. But if he didn't find Sam, he figured that would be enough. At the top of the trellis he swung his leg over the railing and looked around.
There. In the water, about 20 yards off shore, he saw the back of someone's head and shoulders, saw them go under, bob back up. The figure turned in the water and flicked his hair out of his eyes in a familiar move.
Dean smiled, weak with relief. Definitely not a zombie.
More Rotters came staggering down the street to join the melee, like sharks drawn by chum. Dean could hear inhuman grunts inside the restaurant now, snarling. Clumsy footsteps moving closer, echoing in the narrow stairwell.
Maybe Sam had the right idea.
Dean grabbed the gutter on balcony and swung himself up and over. Scampering up to the ridge, he surveyed his options. At the back of the building, the parking lot was mostly deserted. Just a handful of Rotters late to the party. But he was practically unarmed; relying on nothing but adrenaline. He took a deep breath and then slid down on the seat of his pants, landed on an overgrown hydrangea bush, and exploded out of the greenery before the Rotters had time to react.
Dean didn't waste time with them. He tore off down the pier, shrugging off his jacket, and took a running dive into the cold water toward his brother.
Sam had always been a strong swimmer—they both were. Their dad had made sure of that. But when Dean reached him, he could see that Sam was clearly struggling. "How bad?" Dean sputtered through the splash of an incoming wave.
"Leg," Sam grunted.
"Good." Dean swam closer, but Sam shook him off. "I got this." He turned toward the island several hundred yards away and began swimming again.
Dean treaded water, circling. The island did seem the safest option, at least until he could see for himself how vulnerable Sam was. He put his face in the water and began a smooth efficient stroke that quickly caught him up to his brother. It was clear that Sam was relying on his arms and shoulders to propel him forward and not kicking. The weight of boots and denim jeans didn't help.
Dean slowed his pace to match Sam's. A cold undertow brushed their legs and then tugged at them, trying to pull them off their course, drag them down.
"Dean?" Sam's voice was rough and low, weak; he was fighting but seemed at the end of his strength. Dean was there, ready. He draped his left arm around Sam's chest, checked how far now to the island, and set off with a determined side stroke, pulling them free of the undertow. Only the trail of blood seeping behind Sam remained caught in its current and was carried away.
It was raining when they finally dragged themselves into a dilapidated boathouse on the edge of the island. Sam was struggling to stay conscious. Dean stopped swimming, exhausted, and looked around. Half the roof of the wooden shack was gone, torn off in past storm, Dean figured, since there were no planks or shingles lying about to suggest the roof had collapsed. He wrapped both arms around Sam and kicked his legs to steer them under what little shelter from the rain there was. A dinghy rocked in the water there, anchored between the east and west walls; it was tied by ropes on each side, bouncing up and down as the waves lapped against its bow.
"Here." Dean pushed Sam up against it. "Climb in."
Sam obediently flung his arms over the gunwale, despite his confusion. "Wha—?" He bit back a cry when Dean grabbed his legs and practically threw him into the bottom of the boat.
"There's a lighthouse here. Shelter," Dean explained, hauling himself onto the wooden walkway that led out of the boathouse and up to a path. "But I have to check it out first."
Teeth chattering, Sam reached out to point a shaking hand toward the wall behind Dean. "B-b-boathook."
Dean took it down. They were in luck. The hook near the end wasn't at an angle to be useful as a weapon, but the top point was harpoon-sharp. "Got it. You stay put. Keep pressure on the wound." He studied his brother, praying Sam could stay awake and alert. "You're safe in the boat, Sammy. Nothing can get to you here."
"I'm good," Sam said. A lie, but it's all Dean had to carry with him. He went through the door out into the rain.
It was hard to be agile and stealthy when you were drenched to the bone. The lighthouse was at the top of a hill, but the trail wasn't too steep. The rain lashed down, making visibility an issue. Dean paused. The sounds of the storm masked any danger. Hyper-vigilant, he circled the brick lighthouse, then returned to the front door. It wasn't locked.
Inside, it was dim. Stairs led up. Stairs to a view that might let him see the whole island. A tourist sign at the bottom read "You must be at least 5 years old and 42 inches tall to climb the tower." Dean bit back a smile, shook his head, and started up, boots squishing.
The fleeting grin was long gone 97 steps later, when he finally climbed through a narrow hatchway to emerge on the gallery deck. Breathing hard, he looked around. The rain was easing up. He saw a fieldstone house, with a wooden outbuilding close by—an old privy from the look of it, he guessed. A tree stump behind the house had an ax embedded in it, a woodpile beside it. Between the lighthouse and the residence, there was an octagonal-shaped building whose purpose Dean couldn't begin to guess. The cluster of buildings was surrounded by a clearing, about 50 yards in all directions. A small patch of that land looked cultivated—a garden? Beyond it, he saw fog creeping out of dense woods stretching to the horizon. He continued along the walkway, circling the unlit beacon. On the opposite shore of the island, it looked like there was a large dock, big enough for a ferry perhaps. Maybe the old lighthouse was a summer tourist attraction? But everything seemed abandoned now. Back to the hatchway, and Dean looked toward the boathouse, resting on a rock foundation.
There were no signs of any struggles—no sign of predators of any kind.
Dean knew he wouldn't be able to scour the woods before dark, but he would scout the buildings before bringing Sam up.
It was another hour before Dean had Sam settled in the lighthouse keeper's house, propped up on an old leather couch under a Hudson blanket. One towel was tied around his elevated right leg, and a pile of extra towels sat on the floor beside him. Satisfied his brother was okay for now, he set to starting a fire burning in the fireplace. A stack of newspapers sat by the hearth. From the dates, it looked like the island had been evacuated the first week of the outbreak. Probably in a panic, Dean thought, given the state of the house—moldy food in the kitchen, dirty dishes still in the sink. He started rolling sheets of newspaper into kindling.
"You think that's safe, Dean?" Sam grimaced, awkwardly peeling off his wet clothes.
"They're attracted to sounds, but I don't think they'd notice smoke. It's not like they have two brain cells to rub together that tells them it means the chow line starts here. Besides—" Dean stopped in front of the now crackling flames to shed his own soaked jeans and shirts, "—if we don't stop that bleeding and hypothermia right now, it won't really matter anyway, will it."
"Nice." Sam grabbed an extra towel from the pile Dean had set on the floor beside him and used it to rub weakly at his hair. Icy tendrils of water were dripping down his back. The fire and the fatigue combined to make him sleepy. Those forces were wrestling against the throbbing pain in his leg, and Sam was seriously rooting for the former to win.
"Look what I found!" Dean came back to the couch after rummaging naked through some cupboards and drawers. He had a pleased-with-himself grin plastered across his face. "Flannel PJs for me. And a nightie for you!" He tossed the handful of lace-edged pink flannel at his brother and began climbing into the warm plaid pants.
"Jerk! You take the nightgown. You're smaller!"
"Bitch," Dean replied automatically. "This makes more sense, you know. Make it easier to check out your knee."
Sam wadded up the gown and threw it at his brother's head.
"Okay, okay. No need to get cranky," Dean held out the pajama top. "You can have this, I guess. If you can get those ridiculous shoulders into it." He started tearing the nightgown into strips for pretty pink bandages.
Sam struggled into the shirt and then shivered and lay back, pulling the blanket tighter over himself and closing his eyes.
Dean straightened his shoulders, took a deep breath, and then crouched at Sam's side. "I've checked out the emergency stores here. There's good news and bad news, dude."
Sam cracked an eyelid open.
"We've got plenty of fresh water."
Sam opened the other eye. Waiting for the shoe to drop.
Dean shook his head. "Can you believe it? There's not a drop of liquor anywhere in the house."
Despite how cold he was, a fine sheen of sweat broke out on Sam's brow. Dean moved the blanket aside and unwound the towel around his knee. Sam averted his gaze, studying the flames in the hearth instead. There was a long moment of silence, only broken by the snap and hiss of the fire.
"It's still bleeding too much," Dean said finally, rising. He went to the kitchen, rummaged some more, and came back with his hands full—a bucket of water, some clean dishcloths, and a small jar. More, that Sam couldn't see. He set down the pile with the jar on top.
"Cayenne pepper. It's good for disinfecting, and it'll help stop the bleeding too," Dean reminded him. "But it's gonna sting."
Sam knew the hot red powder wasn't the worst of his worries. Cleaning the wound, digging around for foreign matter…. He tensed.
Dean handed him a small rag. "The buildings were clear, but who knows what might be lurking in the woods."
Sam nodded grimly, put the cloth between his teeth, and bit down.
Their primitive medical supplies weren't enough to keep Sam from developing a high fever the next day. He was lucid only off and on. "It wasn't our fault, Dean," he said one time, grabbing Dean's hand when Dean went to put a cold compress on his forehead. "You know that, right? It wasn't our fault."
"What wasn't, Sammy?" Dean asked. Was he taking about the family at the Maritime Museum? Or something earlier? There were so many people they hadn't been able to save. He had no idea which tragedy Sam was absolving them of.
"The end of the world," Sam explained earnestly. "This time, the apocalypse wasn't our fault."
"That's right, little brother." Dean patted him on the shoulder. "This one's not our problem to fix. You can sleep easy now."
It took weeks for them to actually re-learn how to 'sleep easy'.
At first, Sam was restless with pain and fever, and Dean was vigilant about his brother, and about the risk that Rotters might emerge from the fog. But days rolled past, and Sam gradually got a little better, and nothing happened in the woods.
Nothing ever happened.
Dean kept busy. First he MacGyver'd Sam a crutch out of the wooden coat rack by the door. Sam stumped around the cottage, gathering up all the books he could find, while Dean went exploring.
"Found a fruit cellar," Dean announced the first day Sam was back on his feet—or foot, in this case.
"Fruit?" Sam's eyes lit up with hope.
Dean held out a jar of preserves. "Break out the spoons!"
Sam grinned so wide his dimples showed. They settled down at the kitchen table, the jar between them, and took turns dipping.
"Remember," Sam said, scraping the inside of the jar with his spoon, "that abandoned college campus we were scoping out for supplies? We hit the cafeteria and you were watching for Rotters and I said I was going on a pantry raid."
Dean broke out laughing. "Dude. I could have sworn you said 'panty raid'!"
Sam rolled his eyes. "Your brain…" Words failed him. "If there's anything more disgusting than Rotters, it's the idea of a Rotters' panty raid."
Dean shuddered. "I don't miss Rotters, that's for sure." He licked his spoon. "I do miss pie, though," he added with a nostalgic sigh.
"You know that octagon-shaped building?" Dean announced, stomping back in the house one bright, sunny day. "It's full of oil. For the lighthouse, I guess." He scrubbed his hand over his collar and the back of his head. "And cobwebs."
Sam looked up from one of his books. "Says here the channel between the island and the mainland is deep. Even at low tide, there's no causeway that anyone could cross on foot."
"Good to know."
The next day, Dean came in whistling, with a rod over his shoulder and a string of fish.
Sam smiled. "Hey, Opie."
"That make you Barney Fife?" Dean moved to the sink to clean the fish. "What's the word of the day today, dude?"
Sam closed his book, grabbed his crutch, and limped into the kitchen to dig out a frying pan. "More good news. The channel never freezes solid."
Dean cocked a grin. "So, no worries about uninvited guests this winter."
"Sounds about right."
"Looks like we finally found ourselves a safe haven."
"You know that's redundant, don't you? A haven by definition is safe."
Dean flicked a dishtowel at him. "Shut up, Sam."
They took to calling the island Haven after that. Months passed. Probably. They weren't keeping track, but it got colder and the leaves started to change colors and drop. Sam had ditched the crutch but the knee would never really heal. It felt like small shards of bone fragments had snagged in the joint and he couldn't fully straighten his leg, or bend it ninety degrees. Mostly the pain was a gnawing discomfort. Sometimes it was worse, waking him from sleep, or wresting a smothered cry when he put too much weight on it. But he'd survived a lot worse, he reminded himself.
Dean had had to assume the bulk of the gardening responsibilities, since he could kneel. He weeded and tended and harvested the vegetables, and Sam learned to can. Dean remembered Hilts making moonshine out of potatoes in The Great Escape, so he put together a contraption to serve as a still. The results were just as terrible as they were in the movie, but Dean swore they'd get it right next year.
They went exploring together, set traps for small game, argued over which cove had the best fishing, discovered the skeleton of a shipwreck off the north coast. With autumn, Sam put his height to good use in the apple orchard. Dean started drawing comics by firelight to amuse himself in the evenings.
As he started to plan their winter preparations, Dean found himself thinking that maybe karma wasn't always a bitch. Or maybe, after all the bad luck they'd faced, they were finally catching a break. The lighthouse keeper and his wife had planted a garden before they'd fled the island in a hurry at the outbreak of the Infection. They had several years' worth of canned goods and imperishables stocked away. Sam and Dean had arrived at Haven with nothing but the clothes on their backs, but the house held spare clothes, and mending supplies to make them fit. The wildlife, it turned out, was still thriving in the woods. Dean and Sam had made bows and brought down a young buck one dawn. There was plenty of fresh water and firewood to sustain them.
Sam had a permanent limp, and would never be without pain, but they were safe.
Dean jolted out of a sound sleep, one hand grasping the handle of the fish-gutting knife he kept under his pillow at night: a habit he never could break. There was a shuffling sound in the house. A chair scraped against the wood floor as it was bumped aside; heavy footsteps continued lurching across the room. Dean knew that noise. It wasn't something you'd ever forget.
The steps moved away from the bedrooms, toward the kitchen.
Dean cracked open his door, saw a shadow moving. Moonlight spilled across the floor through the window of the living room. The shadow crossed it and resolved itself—into Sam. He had a blanket wrapped around his shoulders and he stumbled out the front door, closing it softly behind him.
Midnight privy run. Dean shook his head ruefully and went back to bed. He didn't notice that Sam didn't come back until dawn.
One night not long after, Dean made his own midnight excursion to the outhouse. Overhead, meteors streaked across the sky. It brought back memories of sitting on the roof of the Impala as kids, watching their first meteor shower, and he decided this was something worth interrupting his brother's beauty sleep for. "Hey, Sammy," he called out as he came back into the house. "Leonid meteor shower. Right now. Wanna come see?"
There was no answer. Sam's bedroom door was open a crack, so Dean shouldered it open to drag his little brother out of bed. But the bed was empty.
Dean went back outside, scanned the terrain, and found tracks. Recent ones, heading down the trail toward the boathouse. More than one set—and since they didn't have any neighbors for a book club, it looked like Sam had made repeated solo trips. That hike had to be hell on his knee, Dean muttered to himself as he followed him down. If he's not sleep-walking, he'd better have a damn good excuse.
Dean knocked on the door to the boathouse before opening it. No reason to risk getting an arrow or an ax or a harpoon in the chest if he surprised Sam.
Once inside, Dean looked around. Half the roof was still gone—the stars overhead provided enough light to see and a ribbon of daylight peeked up from the horizon. The broken window, rotting wood, and cobwebs brought back vivid memories of the first and last time he was here, telling Sam to stay in the boat, that nothing could get to him there. Was his little brother having nightmares? Coming back to the place he subconsciously remembered being safe?
But the dinghy wasn't anchored in the middle of the water now. It was pulled up to the walkway and Sam was sprawled in it, bundled up, arms crossed. He looked a little abashed at being caught, but recovered quickly. "Remember those vibrating motel beds? Try it. Doesn't even cost a quarter."
Dean obliged, climbing into the dinghy and stretching out beside Sam. The gentle rocking motion was soothing. More like a waterbed though. The floorboards weren't that comfortable, but he didn't figure he'd have to wait long for Sam to start to talk. He was right.
"Dean. Can I ask you something?"
"This isn't one of those I'm-about-to-die-so-I-need-to-bare-my-soul-first conversations, is it?"
Sam huffed. "Not planning on it, no."
Sam stared up at the sky, his gaze tracking the last of the meteors streaking past. "Are we…. What are we doing here?"
"Here, in the boathouse? Beats me, Sammy. It looks like you're moving in. In which case, you might want to make it a little homier." Dean gestured at the cobwebs in the corner of the broken window. "I hear curtains are in these days."
Sam slapped Dean's knee with the back of his hand. "Jerk. You know what I mean. Did we decide this is it? Our last stand?"
"We didn't decide anything. It just happened." Dean shrugged. "You picked this island; I just followed you here. And we lucked out. It's safe. The Rotters can't get to us. We can chill here as long as it takes, till your leg gets better."
"You know it's not getting better, Dean. This is it."
Dean opened his mouth to protest that it was too soon to tell. But he stopped. He knew, even better than Sam, what the damage to his knee had looked like. He knew Sam's limp got worse when he was tired; he knew when it cramped. Sam might try to hide his discomfort, but Dean had been his big brother a long time. He knew. "You're right. I know it. But things could be worse. I could be stuck here with a cripple and without that lifetime supply of rice and beans in the cellar."
Sam couldn't help the smile. Since they'd landed in Haven, they'd eaten better than they had in months. Still….
He took a deep breath. "Okay. Cards on the table here. If I weren't here…. Say, if I dropped dead tomorrow from a snakebite. Would you stay… spend the rest of your life here, where it's safe?"
Dean didn't answer right away, which told Sam all he needed to know. "So. You'd go. But instead, you want to stay here on Haven… because you think it's safer for me."
"It is safer, Sam. Face it—you're retired now. This is our retirement home."
Sam shifted restlessly, one hand rubbing at the cramp that picked a bad time to interrupt. "Dean, remember—we talked about this. About all the times that everything that went to crap because I decided what I thought was best for you, or you made that decision for me? And we swore to quit doing that to each other."
Dean sat up, his entire face crinkled in a bewildered frown. "What? We never had a conversation like that. Seriously."
"Seriously? You don't remember me apologizing to you?"
"I think I'd remember something like that. If it happened. But you were pretty delirious the first couple days after you were shot. You probably hallucinated it then."
Sam didn't say anything. To be honest, he didn't remember any details about that conversation. Where it had happened. What had triggered it. Damn it, it probably had been a dream. Which meant Dean's own admission of guilt had been too.
"Yeah, I guess." There was a hint of resignation in Sam's sigh.
Dean sagged back comfortably. "Okay. Let's not say any of that stuff and pretend we did. What does that have to do with anything?"
Sam quit rubbing his knee and carefully flexed it. "It means, I want to go back out. Look for others."
"Sam. Everyone we know is gone. Has been for awhile." The words weren't easy for Dean to say, even after all this time. "By now—you know, there might not be any people left alive. Besides us."
"There might be. There might be communities that came together. There might be people out there, on their own, that we can help survive, to get to those shelters."
Neither of them said anything for several minutes. The sky grew gradually lighter, pink-tinged gray.
Dean turned his head to scan the waterfront a few hundred yards away. There was no sign of movement. Maybe all the Rotters had left the marina. "What was it you once said? Hope's kinda whole point, huh?"
A slow smile crept across Sam's face.
"But look, Sam. You've gotta be realistic." They had to face the truth, no matter how harsh. "You're a gimp. You can't run."
"The Rotters can't run either."
"I'm not joking Sam. You're vulnerable. You might be faster than them for a block, maybe two. But a mile? Or what if you fall. Or hit a dead end. Or get surrounded?"
"Worst case—I've got a gun, with two bullets left."
Sam nodded. "If you're with me."
"You know I'm with you. To the end." Dean reached up to ruffle his hair. "But you don't have a gun. We swam here, remember? We had nothing but the clothes on our backs, and there's no weapons here. I looked."
"I've got a gun." Sam gestured toward the little harbor town sitting across the channel a couple hundred yards away. A short hill rose from the center of town, and at the top, a sleek black sedan was parked, sun glinting off the hood. "Under the seat."
"Baby." Dean said her name almost reverently.
"She looks good, doesn't she?"
"That she does. " Dean took a deep breath. "Okay. Let's go see how much stuff we can pack up to take back with us." He got to his feet and stepped out of the dinghy, then held out his arm for Sam to haul on like a lifeline. Sam climbed out and stood at his side.
Together, they glanced back at the Impala and smiled. "It's time we headed home."
~ The end ~