Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural.
Author's Note Part One: This story takes place in the End!verse as if past Dean had never been sent to that future and the future Dean had never confronted Lucifer and died from it. It's a plot bunny that bulldozed me and I had to start writing out at least a prologue, so enjoy!
The end of the world is not explosive, nor is it quick. (Sam used to quote the one line, that the world ends with a whimper instead of a bang, but Dean tries not to think about it. He tries not to think about Sam at all because Sam's gone, even if he's left his body behind.) It's a slow drain of life and resources until, one day, neither will remain.
Entire cities have burned to the ground, leaving smoldering piles of ashes and stripped foundations as the only signs that they existed in the first place. Other cities are overrun by Croats mindlessly trying to infect the humans who still cling onto life in the wreckage of what was once their world.
Dean takes in a lungful of acrid air, used to the burn that sets into his throat. He kicks aside a charred bone with the steel-toed boots he stole off some Croat's body nearly a year ago. They've served him better than his old boots, and now isn't the time to be picky. Functionality rules over stylistic preferences.
With a sigh, he heads into the remains of the city, already knowing that he won't find much worthwhile to take back with him. Hell, he'll be lucky to find anything worthwhile to take back with him.
Cas follows alongside him, directing him, but he doesn't like this. The entire area has been scorched and no signs of life have been left behind. Not even animals roam here.
"You're sure this is the place?" Dean asks.
"Yes, I feel it," Cas says. "Ever since my connection to Heaven started returning, I've felt drawn here. Like there's something important."
"Yeah, about that. How the hell did you get reconnected to Heaven in the first place? I thought the angels ditched us."
"They did, but maybe they came back. Maybe they didn't want to let Lucifer roam free here." Cas steps around what once might have been someone's shed. "After all, what would stop him from following them once he got bored here?"
"But I never agreed to be Michael's vessel," Dean says. "I thought that was, like, half the deal for them to save us."
"I wish I had more answers for you, Dean, but I'm not fully connected to Heaven yet. Restoration takes time."
Cas is a far cry from the almighty Angel of the Lord that Dean used to know him as (though he's stopped taking drugs from the infirmary, and he's becoming more like his old self each day). He wears too many layers, all of which are mismatched. He doesn't shave, so his scruff is free to grow into an unkempt beard.
Dean used to want to beat some sense into him, especially once he started stealing from their meds for the sole sake of getting high. Dean wanted to yell at him until he understood that they all needed him to have a clear head. That every man counted now that they had reached The End of Days.
Cas might still have his disheveled look, but he has life in his eyes again.
Dean stumbles through the dirt paths of the survivor's village he's helped create, wishing for a cup of hot coffee. He took so much for granted, and he never even realized it until too late.
Dean shakes his head. There are some paths that he refuses to let his mind wander down. When survival is his primary goal, he can't let himself dredge up upsetting memories. He doesn't need to mull over the things he could have done differently.
The truth is that what he did is done, and there's no changing that. He has to live with the consequences of his actions, even if he was only doing what he thought was best.
When someone grips his sleeve and pulls to turn him around, his first instinct is to fight. Eliminate the threat, then move on. It's a reaction so ingrained that he's mid-swing by the time he realizes it's Cas standing there.
"Dean," Cas says, his eyes wide and panicked.
Dean's first thought is that Cas has taken too much of something he's not supposed to take any of. He has to be high out of his mind because he hasn't shown so much emotion at one time in a long time. He's frantic and losing it more than usual, nothing more.
"Dean," Cas says against, stressing the single syllable of his name like it's something important. "I feel it."
Dean rolls his eyes. "Feel what?"
"I feel Heaven. My connection to it is returning." Cas says it like he can't believe it himself.
Dean removes Cas' hand from his sleeve and starts leading him back to his cabin. "You need to lie down, Cas."
Cas pulls away from him. "I'm not on anything right now, Dean," he says. "I woke up this morning and I could feel it returning."
Dean takes a deep breath. Cas used to be someone he trusted, even if he admitted to helping deceive both Sam and Dean in order to start the Apocalypse. Dean hated him for a long time, but he never stopped trying to make up for his wrongdoings. After all, like Dean, he only thought he was doing the right thing.
"Alright. C'mon, you can tell me about it while I eat breakfast."
A week after Cas' connection started returning, and they ended up in this place.
Their ride and a few tag-a-longs from the village are parked on the outskirts of the city. Dean has a flare gun with him. It's not a signal for them to come help; it's a signal for the others to abandon him and Cas in order to save themselves in the instance that all hell breaks loose.
He's never had to use the flares, but they can't be too careful these days.
The longer they walk without finding anything, the more Dean wonders if he was wrong to trust that Cas is returning to his old self. Maybe Cas was having some bad side effects from whatever he took and this is all a wild goose chase.
"It's close," Cas says. "There's something here, Dean. I just… I can't tell what it is."
Dean bites his tongue, swallows any bitter retorts that try to escape his mouth, and nods. He'll humor Cas for now. Once it turns out that it's all nothing, he'll have a reasonable excuse for putting Cas on the sidelines for awhile.
Cas stops frequently and looks around, trying to pinpoint something unknown to Dean.
Dean's ready to call it all off and head back to the others and their truck. It's fall, but it's one of the hotter days of the season. He's exhausted and sweating, wanting nothing more than to be in his cabin and taking a nap or finishing off whatever he has left in his dwindling liquor stash. He's starving, and there's a lot of meals that he hasn't had in so long, he wouldn't hesitate to kill if it meant he could have them once more.
Cas stands in front of an abandoned home for several minutes before he nods. "In here," he says.
Dean follows behind Cas. There's no way the thing he's looking for is alive. The inside of the home is coated in a thick layer of dust that, as far as Dean sees, hasn't been disturbed in the slightest. It's a strange sight of a forgotten past. There's a TV in the corner, positioned to be visible by all occupants of the couch. There are some toys laying on the ground, signs that there were children living here once before the Apocalypse hit them full force.
Thinking about the Apocalypse and the lives it destroyed brings a sudden rush of anger with it, but there's an undertone of guilt. It wasn't all… He's at fault, too.
"Is it true? Did I break the first seal?" Dean asks. He feels like he's been hit by a truck, and he's not going to be released from the hospital any time soon, but the question is tearing him apart more than Alastair did.
Cas confirms that he did, and Dean wishes that Alastair killed him. He was raised to believe that he was a hero, but now he learns that he was the beginning of the end of the world.
For the first time, but certainly not the last, Dean thinks that it would have been better if he hadn't brought Sam back. He knew it was selfish when he made the deal, and the world keeps throwing shit at him and mocking him for his decision. The dead should stay dead. He knows that. He used to repeat it after his dad sold his soul for his life.
He just can't seem to take his own advice.
He follows Cas up to the second floor of the house, where there are visual disturbances that someone—or something—has been in the house recently. The dust is not settled in a thick blanket, and the floor is spotted with scorch marks and bloodstains. He steps over glass shards and tipped over furniture.
How can something get to the second floor of the house without touching the first floor? He checks the windows, but finds that they're secured and the locks won't budge. They aren't broken enough to allow anything to slip into the house, just covered in thin cracks instead. He considers the possibility that it's a split-level house, but the stairs to the upper level aren't separated from the lower level.
It's been awhile since he's hunted something that wasn't a Croat, but he thinks that the disturbances could be from a vengeful spirit. Although, it's still odd for the activity to be confined to one floor. That's the kind of information he'd usually get from…
No one. He's on his own and he can trust only himself (and occasionally Cas).
Cas interrupts his thoughts by saying, "That can't be, it's impossible."
He's standing in a doorway and looking into a room. Dean comes over to join him and see what could possibly be so shocking.
He glances in, and he's frozen to the spot, his mouth hanging open. His blood turns to ice in his veins and his body doesn't seem to know the proper reaction, so it's shut down instead.
There's a man in the room on the bed, lying prone. He looks worse for wear and has visible injuries, some fresh and some old. His clothes are torn and dirty, bloody in some places. But it's not the physical state of the man that shocks Dean.
It's the fact that the body lying on that bed used to belong to Sam.
Author's Note Part Two: So, here's the start! I promise that this will be completed (I have a good track record for completing the stories I start, if you look at my profile) I just don't know how frequent the updates for it will be at the moment since most of my writing time goes to Embracing the Monster (check it out, if you haven't!).
Please leave a review and let me know what you think about this beginning!