AN: Just like the fic that's tied to this one, trigger warnings for attempted suicide and disassociation attack exist. If these triggers affect you, this fic may not be right for you.
When Dean stumbled out of the forest and back to the Impala, he looked as always for cops or civilians. Last thing he needed was either sticking their noses in and asking why he was covered in dirt and black goo. Especially the black goo, which…huh. He thought it'd been worse than that, but it didn't even look like he'd gotten any on him.
Something niggled at his brain, something he was supposed to remember. He turned to Sam to ask what it was because Sam always remembered for the both of them, then stopped. Sam wasn't there. Sam was…somewhere else. They'd split. He didn't know where his brother was, and he didn't want to know where. He didn't.
His stomach twisted, a hint of anxiety he couldn't bullshit away. "Traitor," he muttered, looking at his gut.
All right, not knowing where Sam was bothered him. So what? You couldn't look after someone for years on end, all but raise them, and not still care. And he did care; that hadn't stopped. They were just better off separated.
In the midst of not-worrying about Sam, he realized that the entire street was silent. No one seemed to be around. The Impala was right where he'd thought he'd put her, so he slid in and started down the main strip to find a motel. He glanced at his phone but there was no reception.
That was when he realized, as he made his way down the street, that there was no one. It was early morning and there was no one around. No dogs barking their heads off, no cats in windows, no kids yelling at the nearby school, no vehicles moving-
He realized he was breathing heavier, that tendril of anxiety starting to blossom into something else, so he pulled over to get a grip. "The hell?" he muttered as he stepped out. The gas station he'd pulled into was equally empty of people. Cars were just parked, no one in them. "Hello?" he shouted.
Nothing. "Hey! Anyone!"
Still nothing. "I'm giving away a million dollars!" he shouted as loud as he could. No one showed up. "Okay, time to get some help," and he pulled out his phone. Still no reception.
He snorted. "Figures." Fine. He'd hit the road, then, and give Bobby a call on the way. Not Sam. He wasn't calling Sam.
As he drove, though, things only got worse. No other cars on the highway, no other people in any other town that he pulled off and drove through. There was just…no one.
Had he seriously been dealing with a hunt and somehow missed the end of the frickin' world?
He finally got reception and called Bobby first. The voicemail he got didn't make him feel any better, and his heartrate only sped up again. Because if Bobby wasn't there, then Sam-
No. Bobby was fine. And somewhere-that-Dean-didn't-know-about, Sam was fine too. Just not with Dean. He was fine.
Dean needed him to be fine.
He tried Bobby four more times in a row and still got nowhere. He turned to calling Castiel's cell phone and received no response. "Cas, I'm on the road," he prayed. "Give me a call when you get a chance. Something's going on. The world's just empty, everyone's gone."
Then, because the swirl in his gut kept getting worse, he added in a whisper, "Please call me back."
No answer. Dean pursed his lips so hard together they hurt and finally turned to his speed dial #1. Because yeah, sure, they were supposed to be separated but if the world had somehow tossed everyone off somewhere, there was only one person he needed to hear from, to be by his side.
He pressed Sam's number, but paused before he could hit dial, because his phone suddenly lit up with new voicemails. Five voicemails in the last few hours that he'd somehow missed, and they all belonged to Sam.
Relief hit him so hard that he doubled over the wheel and squeezed his eyes shut. Breathe in, breathe out. Sam was there. Sam was alive and he was still there.
Then the voicemails began to play.
"Hey, um, it's me. I know you said we need to separate and stay that way but…Dean, everyone's gone. And I tried calling Bobby and he won't answer and I'm calling you and you won't answer-"
"And…and I don't know what to do. So. Um. Please still be here. Because if it's just me I don't, I don't know what I'll do." A bitter laugh. "I don't know what I'm doing anyway. So this isn't anything new."
The next voicemail began to play before Dean had even started digesting the first one. Sam's voice now was less desperate, more even, like he was trying to pretend everything was fine and normal. "I'm heading to Bobby's. Because maybe he's in the panic room. Or out looking for people like I am. Or maybe talking to you and you're both ignoring me because you don't want to talk to me anymore." A pause. "How sad is it that that's what I'm hoping is happening? Because even if you don't want anything to do with me, at least the two of you would still be here. And alive."
Dean realized he was driving on auto-pilot towards Bobby's house, and somehow had already passed some serious miles. He wasn't sure how he'd missed driving that far or how much he'd tuned out, but it didn't matter. What mattered was getting to Bobby's. Finding Sam.
The next voicemail played. "The towns are all empty. I keep pulling off and looking around, hoping against hope I'll see somebody, or hear a dog, or even a stupid mosquito. But there's nothing around. Even when I yell, it barely echoes. I'm alone. Um. I should probably stop to get something to eat. I can eat anywhere I want now, I guess, as long as I know how to cook it. Before the power grid goes down."
"Yes, eat, you idiot," Dean muttered. Kid never ate when he was supposed to.
Next voicemail. "Does the world look funny to you? Like, the sky seems a weird color? Maybe it's a side effect of what happened, of where everyone went. I don't know. I told you, I don't know anything. I wish I'd realized that before…well. Before everything. It would've been better for you and everyone if I had realized just how stupid I could be."
It made something in Dean's chest hurt. Mistakes or not, his kid was still the smartest guy he knew. To hear him so down on himself, so broken, it dulled some of his own frustrations with Sam and just felt wrong.
The last voicemail played. "The lights are still on everywhere. It's weird. Some houses still have lights on and everything looks normal except it's not. Everyone's gone. And I almost miss people. I mean, it's not like I wanted them to leave the planet, but I didn't have much to do with them except screw them over. I tried to save people and wound up just…" A cleared throat. "Anyway. I'm almost to Bobby's. The lights are still on near his place so at least I'll see the pothole they never fill in."
Dean put the gas pedal all the way to the floor. Why not, when the world was empty and there were no cops, no rules, nothing left?
Suddenly the phone rang. Startled, Dean jumped, and the phone flew out of his hand and down into the passenger footwell. "Oh you sonuvabitch," he cursed and pulled the car over. By the time he got it pulled over and had a hand on the phone, it wasn't ringing anymore. One missed call: Sam ran across the screen.
Dammit. Why hadn't he just called Sam? He should've called him back instead of listening to the voicemails but it had been easier than calling Sam, then talking with his brother. Even as he began to hit redial, though, the screen changed again. One new voicemail.
It couldn't be a long voicemail. Maybe Sam was going somewhere else. Maybe Sam had found Bobby. It made sense to listen, right?
Slowly Dean put the phone to his ear. Sam didn't tell him he was going elsewhere. Sam hadn't found Bobby. His little brother's voice was no longer calm and settled, retelling his day, but panicked, frightened. He kept rambling on about Bobby being gone and how Dean was really gone, too, and why was he still calling and leaving messages when Dean was gone, and Dean couldn't put the car in gear fast enough. Because that was the sound of his kid, his little brother, frightened beyond belief with no options left.
"I'm going to go look his place over," Sam continued saying, voice wrecked and desperate. "Because…well. It's something to do. And maybe, maybe he's safe in the panic room or something. I don't know. But if he's gone and you're gone, then what's the point? I don't want to live in a world without you," came in a choked-off whisper.
Dean shut his eyes tight for a minute. "Aw, Sammy," he murmured.
He tuned back in to hear Sam whisper, "And when I don't find anything, I'm…I'm going to be done. I still have a gun. And then there'll be nobody left."
Dean froze, foot still pressed against the floor, phone to his ear. "I love you," Sam mumbled, lost and thinking he was all alone. "I'm sorry about everything and I hope you don't hate me. Didn't hate me. Before the end."
The message ended. Dean nearly ran into the pothole on the road and realized he was almost to Bobby's. The gas gauge read "E" but he was close. He could make it. He could do it.
An old Chrysler sat in front of the house, as battered as its owner probably felt, and it shouldn't even have an owner because its owner belonged in a different car. He slammed the door shut and hurried up the stairs to the silent house. Everything was too frickin' silent.
"Sam?" he called the instant he was through the door. He scanned the living room, the small library, looking for that mop of hair-
And there was his kid, slouched over on a kitchen chair, shoulders hunched, eyes dark and weary. He looked exhausted and pale and in need of a good meal or six. But he was alive and Dean hadn't gotten there too late.
Then Dean saw the gun, hanging from an almost limp hand, and swallowed back the fear that rose like vomit in his throat.
"Sam? Anyone home?" he asked, trying to joke, trying to get any sort of response.
Surprisingly, he got one. "You came to find me?" Sam whispered, but he didn't look relieved. He still looked empty.
"Yeah," Dean said. "Yeah, I did. That's sort of why I'm here: we need to figure this out." Together. They'd figure it out together.
Sam glanced at the gun. Dean tensed. Then Sam choked out three words that made Dean almost physically ache. "Stay with me? I know you're not real but…please stay with me? I, I don't want to…"
He swallowed and trailed off, eyes still on the gun. Slowly, carefully, Dean approached and knelt in front of his brother. Up close, he could see the tears trailing silently down Sam's face as he stared at the gun. "Sam," he called softly. "Sam, look at me."
Slowly Sam's eyes rose to meet his, and Dean took a deep breath to steady himself. Because if he screwed this up…
Straightforward. That was how to do it. "Give me the gun," he said as calmly as he could. Sam curled his arm in closer to himself, taking the gun with it, and Dean pursed his lips. "Sam-"
"I can't, I don't," and Sam shook his head. "Everyone's gone, you're gone-"
Okay, they were done with that, first of all. "I'm not gone, and I'm definitely real. You're not leaving me here in this crap world without people."
Sam didn't let it go, and suddenly Dean was stupidly angry. Because his brother didn't quit. His brother was stubborn and he kept going and he didn't quit. And Dean wasn't about to let him start now. "You gonna pull that trigger and leave me here alone?" he ranted. "You'd seriously do that to me?"
There was doubt now on Sam's face, and Dean took advantage of it to grab the gun and toss it onto the nearby table. He grabbed Sam's empty hands and watched as Sam jerked. His hands felt like ice, and even while Dean began to rub life back into them, he couldn't help but feel relief too. Because he hadn't been completely sure that Sam was real, either, not after hours of driving through emptiness by himself. But this was his brother all right. Drained and loopy but there.
"Feel me?" he said. He brought Sam's hands up against his heart, then to his face, where Sam ran trembling fingers over his nose, brow, and jaw. He reached out to do the same and watched more tears spill over. Way more than drained. Sam was at his limit.
He wiped the tears away with his thumb and whispered more soft promises, that he was there, and he wasn't leaving, and that they were there together. Anything to get through to Sam that he was there and real.
Suddenly Sam was in his arms. His little brother held on like if he let go, he'd disappear, and Dean held on just as tight. Sam's chest rose and fell against his own, and Dean shut his eyes. Alive.
When they separated, Sam rubbed at his eyes. "Yeah, let's see about food and sleep," Dean said.
"I'm okay," Sam said automatically.
"Right," Dean drawled. "And when did you last eat?"
Sam hesitated, then shrugged. Normally, that was Dean's cue to rib on his brother for not eating, or something, but now…
Now he wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to do.
Silence fell. Dean really hated it. Sam rose from the chair and began to rub his hands together, like he'd just noticed that they were like ice cubes. Dean backed away and tucked his hands into his pockets.
"So…" Dean cleared his throat when Sam didn't seem to be eager to continue the conversation. "Where have you been?"
"Oh. I, uh. I was hunting something near Cheyenne." Sam shrugged like he hadn't just called Dean a hallucination. "But it wound up being nothing."
"And that's when everyone disappeared?"
"You didn't notice?"
He'd been in the woods at the time, hunting a ghoul, and he shared the details with Sam. Some hunt that Bobby had sent him on. He told Sam about the phone calls, to Bobby, to Cas.
His first thought had always been Sam.
"There was nothing between here and Indiana," Dean told him. There was still enough daylight to see, so he pushed the blinds open as far as they allowed. Was it better to conserve electricity or use it all up? "No people. They're all gone."
"No insects, either," Sam pointed out quietly. "No bees."
He wasn't quite sure why that mattered, but it was clearly a big deal according to Sam's tone. "Bees?"
"Pollinators," Sam continued. "Without them, we won't be able to plant anything. And there's no animals for meat."
So the world was basically ending. "Great," Dean muttered.
The awkward silence filled the room until he thought they'd both choke on it. He'd been desperate to get to Sam, so focused on making sure that Sam didn't kill himself, but now that he was here, everything just came roaring back into focus. Ruby and the demon blood, letting Lucifer out. Lying to Dean for months.
Water and oil. There was a reason they'd split, and yet Dean had come running back, looking for Sam again. Just like he always did, and anger at Sam and himself blossomed in his chest.
Sam stood in the living room as if he wasn't sure if he belonged there. It irked Dean to see his brother pulling the martyr crap after everything, but something niggled at him, something he couldn't quite grasp. Whatever it was, it made him not want to call Sam out. Probably for the best.
"You're okay, though?"
Sam's voice, quiet and hesitant, helped chase away the irritation. It wasn't like Dean didn't care what happened to the kid, even after everything. And Sam had clearly cared, still worried about Dean. It soothed Dean's temper and he gave Sam a grin. "Right as rain. You?"
"Tired but I'll live," Sam answered. "Just…glad you're here."
Dean could well imagine why. It was creepy, standing in a house that was so silent it made him want to bang every single pot and pan Bobby owned. But at least they weren't alone. "Yeah. Probably best to stick together with everything going on."
Sam's face filled with relief. "It's too quiet, y'know?"
"Yeah. I do." He clapped his hands together and rubbed them, and the sound was jarring. "Any theories?"
Sam's face told him the answer before his little brother did. No, he had no clue. Sam's lack of ideas wasn't exactly thrilling but they had the world's greatest library at hand. They could figure it out.
Food first. Dean was starving and Sam didn't look like he'd eaten in…well. A while. He set up cooking, and at first, Sam hung on the fringes, eyes skating over the library to research but clearly hesitant to leave Dean. "I'll make noise," Dean said, feeling irritated again at being watched so closely. "Go."
And he did, banging pots and pans and slamming cupboard doors and singing off-key (not on purpose, he could sing when he wanted to, okay?). Which seemed to work for Sam just fine, because he didn't appear in the kitchen again.
But that left Dean without being able to hear him. It wasn't like reading was a loud task. He glanced in the living room but couldn't see his brother. He paused briefly in his own tasks, listening for the rustle of pages, the squeak of the old chair, but he got nothing.
Sam was still there. He hadn't disappeared. He couldn't help the swell of anxiety from rising in his gut, though, at the thought of his little brother having disappeared, too.
He pursed his lips and stormed into the other room. There was Sam, seated just out of sight, with two books open and reaching for a third. Still there, not gone.
He startled at Dean's appearance and frowned when Dean took his books. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"Easier for you to shoot ideas past me if you're in the same room as me," Dean said gruffly. He dropped the books on the kitchen table and went back to cooking. He heard the chair slide across the linoleum and then the careful flip of pages. He glanced over his shoulder and found Sam watching him with a grateful look.
Yeah, so maybe Dean was as transparent as a spirit, but damn if he didn't feel better with Sam in his vision. There was just the two of them left in the world now, from the looks of it.
The last thing Dean wanted was to be the last one standing.
"So get this," Sam said, voice soft but enough to break the silence, and Dean let it roll over him with a grateful sigh.
He'd always wondered, in the event of an apocalypse (zombie in particular) just what they would do. As Winchesters and hunters, they had an advantage over most in terms of survival. But back then when he'd daydreamed, apocalypse hadn't been part of his real, day-to-day vocabulary.
Now it was as easy to say as "silver bullets" and "carburetor". Just part of the new world.
Turned out, Sam had clearly considered it too, because on top of thinking about bees and the lack of steak in Dean's future, he'd also thought about gasoline. "It won't stay in the tanks forever," he said. "It'll evaporate eventually. We need to get as much out now as we can."
No chance of making more. Dean just turned and went to the gas station Bobby had in the yard meant for fueling up and started pumping gas out.
Sam came with him. Sam went with him everywhere, and he couldn't really find it in himself to hate that. As much as he'd loathed the noon-day shadow that Sam had been as a kid, he'd missed it when Sam had left for college. He hadn't realized just how much he hated being the one left behind until that day. He hated it even more now, he thought. So Sam hung around him and he just kept moving gas tanks and pulling wood up to the house and they did everything together.
And suddenly, just like that, it was easy to talk.
"You remember when Bobby made us cut wood all day?" Dean asked as they hauled more lumber up to the house.
Sam startled at his voice. They'd been making plenty of noise but they hadn't really talked much. "Which time?" Sam said after a minute. "I can think of at least five."
"Five? I only did it four times."
"Yeah, well, when you and Dad took off to help Caleb get out of that trap, I got to cut and haul wood all day. Fun times."
Dean thought back to the trap and winced. "Nope, you got the better part of that deal. Trust me."
"You got to help Dad."
"No, I got to help find Caleb, caught in a fishing trap by a river, where he was standing buck-ass naked because it had ripped his pants while he'd tried to get free."
Sam's mouth dropped open. "Why am I only hearing about this now?" he asked, and for a moment, he almost smiled. Almost. Lips went up and everything, but just a little bit.
"I never told you?" Dean asked, and he let out a laugh because, well. As traumatizing as it had been at the time, it was funny now, and the glimmer of a smile on Sam's face was worth recounting the whole damn thing.
That led to Sam's story reminding Dean about Dad mistaking a skunk for a black dog, and they'd moved from there. They kept the topics away from…the recent stuff, and that helped make it okay. These were the good times. These were the better times, honestly, before Stanford, before Dean's deal, before angels and demons and other crap. When they'd just been two brothers. It helped remind Dean about the kid standing next to him and why he wanted him right there where he was.
Of course, that couldn't last. Because Winchesters didn't get breaks. Especially them. And two days after they joined back up, it all went to hell.
It started small. Sam's innocent question while they finished lunch, of what did they do next, gave Dean a little pause. Mostly because it was Sam refusing to take the lead on anything again, and while Dean got it and appreciated it, man did he ever, it was still grating a little to have to make all the calls. If Sam wanted to be a partner, taking a fair share of the decisions was part of that.
Except if Sam had been making the calls and telling him what they should do, Dean would be griping about Sam making decisions after his fair share of bad choices, so yeah, Dean was being unfair and he knew it. Sue him.
Dean turned it around on Sam, and Sam poked at his lunch. "Power will last us a few more days at most," he said softly. "Then we'll have to do the generators, but eventually the gas will evaporate. Then that's us without power."
For some reason, Dean kept imagining a huge ass clock ticking without end, slowly moving towards an appointed time in which the world stopped allowing them to exist. If he listened hard enough in the silence, he was pretty sure he could hear the tick-tick-tick of the clock. It sounded a lot like Bobby's grandfather clock outside one of the spare bedrooms but that thing was all the way upstairs. Maybe it was just that quiet.
He turned back to the weapons laid out on the sofa. He didn't need to clean them or use them, but running through the motions was comforting. So far, Sam hadn't said anything, and Dean doubted he would. When it was clear Sam was done talking, Dean set the gun back down. "I don't know. You'd think that if the world was messed up, and I mean seriously messed up like it is now, at least there'd still be angels or something, like demons. But no one seems to be around."
No Castiel, no black-eyed bastards threatening him. Above or below, they were just gone. People he sort of understood, why they were missing that is, but angels and demons were harder to excuse away.
He was so wrapped up in his thoughts, he nearly missed what Sam had said. When his brain caught up to his ears, however, his heart froze somewhere in his chest. Because he had to have heard that wrong.
"How do you know that?" he asked quietly al the same.
Sam glanced at him. "What?"
He set the gun he'd been playing with down and stared at Sam. "I said," he said, his hand slowly closing into a fist, "how do you know that?"
Sam slowly slid back in his chair and Dean knew, he knew, he hadn't heard wrong after all. "I tried to find them," Sam said breezily, or at least, as breezily as he could, but it fell short. Too short. "I figured it anyone was behind this, it had to be angels or demons."
Anyone. Yeah, right. There was only one angel that had this kind of juice. "You mean Lucifer," he said, anger slowly burning everything else out of its path. It felt good, better than the fear that kept sitting in his gut while he thought about an empty and silent world with the tick-tick-tick of their time left ticking away to an inevitable zero. "Lucifer did this and you…you know it. You've known it."
Wide eyes shook in a pale face. "No," Sam insisted. "No, he's gone-"
Sam shut his eyes tight at that and hung his head, and Dean felt his blood pressure rise even more. He knew? He knew? And how the hell did he know?
He slammed the gun down on the table and braced himself on the edge of the table. Sam slid back but screw him, the absolute coward, the guy who'd been talking with Lucifer for who knew how long, the guy that Dean had trusted again and who had known everything.
Who was the stupider of the two of them, Sam who talked with the devil and knew him well, or the guy who kept trusting the little brother who talked with the devil?
"How the hell do you know that?" Dean snapped. "What did you do?"
He glared at Sam until Sam relented. "I prayed to Lucifer," he said, voice so soft that Dean almost missed it. He almost wished he had missed it, because the enormity of Sam's statement nearly sent him to the floor. "And Castiel-"
For a moment, Dean couldn't breathe, and then rage flew in and gave him enough breath to get his voice back. "So your new best friend decided to end the world and what, leave us behind?"
"He's not my new best friend, Dean, I swear-"
"At what point were you going to tell me that the apocalypse had happened and you knew why?" Dean yelled. Sam had known. The whole time he'd known. "We've been at this for days and you had the answer!" He snorted bitterly. "Why am I not surprised you're hiding something. I wish I were more surprised by hey, looks like Sam can't change his stripes."
He'd drank demon blood, consorted with a demon, let Lucifer out, and was even now talking with the devil. Staring at the man before him, Dean couldn't even tell where his little brother was, sometimes.
Sam was talking, words that flowed most over Dean, but he caught the gist. No, not the apocalypse that Lucifer had in mind, something else is going on, etc. It was all crap Dean had heard before, along with 'I'm sorry' and 'Guess I shouldn't have done that'. Yeah, maybe not pray to Lucifer for answers. Was Lucifer watching them even now, waiting for Sam to say 'yes'?
"This isn't the apocalypse," Sam kept pleading. "Not with the angels and demons. Something else is going on, that's the only reason I prayed to Lucifer."
"How the hell isn't this related to the apocalypse, Sam?" he said, gesturing at everything around them. "And now you're telling me you prayed to Lucifer for help?" How low could a guy go?
"No one else answered! I, I was desperate to see if anything still existed. Castiel didn't answer, there were no demons-"
The words were out before he could think about them. "Did you call me before or after you tried to summon a demon? Worried that your dealers might have left, too?"
The hurt and pain that shot so suddenly across Sam's face made Dean think for a minute that he'd been shot. But there was no gun, no bullet. Just Dean, fully loaded with words he didn't really mean but had already fired off. Sam gazed at him, eyes wet and wide in agony, mouth hanging open and trembling. Dean had done that.
Anger flared again but at himself this time because dammit he hadn't meant to say that. He knew it wasn't true, knew Sam was clean and determined to stay that way. But his own hurts had surfaced and had insisted on striking back. And he'd struck out all right. "I didn't…screw it," he muttered, and he turned towards the door. He just needed air. That was all.
But once he hit the porch, his feet kept moving him until he was at the car. After that, it was obvious to get inside and start the engine. He needed space, needed time, needed something besides Sam clinging to him like a toddler.
He tore out of the junkyard and hit the pedal. A flash of movement caught his eye but it was only Sam, racing after him on foot as best he could, shouting and reaching for him. His little brother stopped at the edge of the junkyard, and Dean watched the next hill swallow him up.
Going back while he was still this steamed was a bad idea. He needed time and space. He needed some serious whiskey and the silence that still felt oppressive. Well, Dean didn't mind the silence as long as it wasn't full of Sam telling him that he'd called Lucifer up. Just a quick chat, how're you doing, great, by the way how's the apocalypse going?
Dammit he'd trusted Sam. Again. And for what? For Sam to call on the biggest evil sonuvabitch they'd ever met and ask for his help? How the hell did that help anyone? And then to summon demons on his own, was he asking for trouble?
The car died about eight miles out from Bobby's. Dean spit curses as the car rolled to a stop, the engine sputtering. He realized he'd never filled up on the way to Bobby's, desperate to get to his stupid kid brother, and she'd been on E for a while. Well, now she was empty.
He got out and did some yelling because dammit why couldn't he catch a break? He kicked the tire for good measure and then stood there, glaring at the world around him. His shouts had long faded out and it was back to silence again. Of course.
He wouldn't get anywhere without gas. That left him at a literal crossroads. Did he go back to Bobby's for gas? Or try his luck in town and see if he could siphon anything?
He stood and let out a sigh that sounded louder than it had a right to be. No other sounds around him. Even the engine didn't tick over as it cooled down. Everything dead and gone.
Maybe not dead. Maybe just gone. Wasn't like there was anything Dean could do about it either way. All he could was make a decision for himself.
He gritted his teeth and leaned against the top of the car. It always came back to Sam – of course it did. Everything was always about Sam. He'd done just fine without Sam for almost two months.
Well. He was alone, and he could admit that no, he hadn't done "just fine". He'd missed Sam like a limb. Even now, he wanted Sam in the passenger seat, or standing on the opposite side of the car, talking with him. Filling the silence with his soft tone, raising an eyebrow and giving that grin that said he was needling Dean and enjoying it. Dean had missed that.
But that didn't mean he had to come racing after Sam whenever his brother called, like he'd always done. It was Sam who ran and Dean who came after him. See how Sam liked it when Dean did the running.
He sighed and hung his head because that wasn't what had happened. Dean had just left. He hadn't run, he'd stormed out and left Sam behind. All alone.
"Dick move," he muttered. He shouldn't have left Sam behind like that. It made him a freaking hypocrite, for one, because he'd always told Sam, promised, that he'd never leave Sam. And he'd said it again when they'd joined back up together. Even when they'd split, it had been Sam who'd left.
And Sam who'd come back, begging for them to join back up, to be brothers again. Because even though Dean had come looking for Sam when he'd called, Sam had gone looking for him first. Hoped, probably prayed, for Dean to be all right.
He'd needed Dean. Wanted to be with his big brother. And honestly? Dean felt the same way.
The words he'd hurled at Sam sat heavy in his memory, and he pursed his lips. It hadn't been a fair call, and he'd known it as soon as he'd said it. It was a cheap shot about the demon blood because he knew that Sam would rather die than drink demon blood again. He realized now that he'd just wanted to have it out with Sam, a real fight. Something to help drown out the fear that kept rising like a volcano inside him.
But Sam had just…stood there. Let Dean yell at him. In all the time that Dean had ever known his brother, which was pretty much his entire existence, not once had Sam ever just stood there and taken it without firing back. Yet that's what he'd done. The only time he'd moved had been to race after Dean, yelling for him the whole way. Eyes filled with what Dean now finally acknowledged had been fear while he'd driven away.
Something in Dean's gut went sour, and he turned back towards the way he'd come. No bugs, no wind, nothing. The silence made him reach for his phone. That's what he told himself.
Not because he had a sudden need to hear his brother's voice. To know that Sam was okay. Hell, to tell Sam he'd crossed over the line and that he shouldn't have said what he had. Because this wasn't Sam's fault. And he could admit now, with the clarity of guilt helping, that Lucifer rising hadn't been all Sam's fault either. If Dean hadn't known any better, he would've ganked Lilith too.
Maybe it was time to tell Sam that.
But the phone didn't ring, only went straight to a dispassionate feminine voice.
"The number you've dialed cannot be reached at this time-"
The phone had to be dead. They hadn't exactly spent a lot of electricity charging the damn things – what was the point?
It made his decision that much more obvious. He pressed his fingers to the top of his baby's roof and started the long walk back to Bobby's. He'd be back with a gas can.
And Sam. He'd be back with Sam. They'd leave Bobby's, they'd go elsewhere. Together.
An hour later, the sky began to lose the last of its pink rays and fade into twilight. He tried calling Sam again and got the same message, some woman who didn't even exist anymore.
There was no way to reach Sam, at all. He'd left Sam alone back at Bobby's, and suddenly his stomach twisted at the thought. He'd left Sam all alone.
He put more pep in his step, especially because it was getting darker and darker. The first stars began to shine in the sky. He went faster.
By the time he hit the edge of the junkyard, there were plenty of stars out, and he was in a full-out run. He reached the porch, gasping for air. "Sam!" he managed to shout. "Sam!"
A gunshot rang out. Dean froze and turned wild eyes to the door. The flash of light and the sound had been unmistakable, and Dean felt his lunch rise into his throat. He stumbled on legs that suddenly had no strength and raced up the stairs, burst through the door.
The smell of gunpowder hung in the air, but there was a sound, somewhere over by an upturned drawer and dozens of loose papers. Dean hurried around the edge of the sofa and found Sam seated on the ground, fumbling with the gun. Behind him, just by his right ear, was a still smoking hole in the wall. He'd missed.
Even as Dean tried to breathe, Sam managed to get the gun centered and clasped in both hands, and the tip of it landed neatly against his forehead. Sam hung his head a little and closed his eyes.
Dean dove forward and caught the gun, yanked it out of Sam's hands. Sam didn't startle or jerk or anything, simply opened his eyes and glanced at Dean, dazed. His red-rimmed eyes weren't quite focusing right, and when Dean caught him by the hands, the shoulders, the face, he was like an icicle. And he wasn't shivering anymore, either.
Well past shock. Dean could still lose him even if he'd stopped the gunshot. "Sammy, look at me," he said, and his voice sounded foreign, full of panic and fear that left his hands trembling. He rested both hands against the sides of Sam's face and tried to catch his little brother's gaze that seemed to roam everywhere. "Hey! Sam! Look at me!"
"St'p doin' this," Sam whispered. "St'p savin' me." He made a general reach for the gun but Dean shoved it further way and as far from them as he could.
"Not gonna happen," Dean said tightly. "C'mon, we gotta get you warmed up, you're like a freakin' popsicle over here. God, why are you so cold?" The lethargy and lack of a real response was starting to seriously frighten him.
"Y'not real," Sam murmured. "D'n left. Go 'way. M'done. Can't, can't do it an'more."
Forget frightened: Dean was absolutely terrified, and Sam wasn't focusing on him at all. This wasn't just lethargy, this was, this was giving up, and he had no idea how to combat this.
"Sammy, c'mon, I know I'm not your favorite person on a regular basis, but I'm definitely real," Dean said, aiming for a laugh and falling way short. "And I left but I'm back, all right?"
Sam just shook his head. "I'm done," he said again. "Don't, don't wanna be 'lone. There's nobody left. M'fault, but I'll fix it. Just gotta die. Just wanna die, lemme go, y'not real-"
A stream of curses spilled from Dean's lips and he caught hold of Sam under his arms and hauled him upright. "Not fond of the option I got left, kiddo, but you're freaking me out, and I don't do freaked out well," he muttered. His heart pounded a staccato rhythm in his chest and it was easier to focus on his fear than his guilt, the guilt that was gnawing on his insides.
Because he'd left Sam alone in a world with nothing, and instead of fighting back like he would've before Lucifer, Sam had just waved the white flag and decided he was going to catch the first bus out. He hadn't thought Dean would come back. He'd seriously thought Dean would rather, what, a world with nothing in it than a world with him?
He dragged Sam into the first-floor shower near the mud room and shoved him inside. Without fanfare he turned the shower on. Cold water came on first, and Dean rammed himself between it and Sam, gritting his teeth until the water hit warm. Who knew how long the hot water tank would keep working?
Later. He'd deal with the rest of the world later, but if he didn't deal with Sam now, he wouldn't have Sam for later.
He stepped out of the spray and let it hit Sam full force. Sam shrieked and for the first time tried to fight back. "Easy," Dean said. He kept Sam upright while fending off Sam's admittedly weak attempts to slug him. "Sam! Take it easy."
Sam didn't seem to hear him, and Dean finally caught Sam and pulled his brother up against him. Words poured out, a steady stream like the shower above them, and Dean didn't even know what he was saying. All he knew was he meant every single one of these words. That he was there, that he was real, that he had Sam and he wasn't going to let go.
He realized Sam wasn't fighting him anymore a moment before Sam spoke, voice hoarse. "Don't, don't leave me. Please don't leave me, please, please don't leave me alone-"
It hurt more than getting shot. Getting violently stabbed in the heart had to honestly hurt less than hearing Sam break in his arms. Dean swallowed hard and held on even tighter as Sam's legs gave at last. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have left before, I'm an idiot, I'm so damn sorry Sammy. Sammy, I'm sorry, I'm here, I promise. I won't leave again, I won't."
He didn't know how long they stood under the spray, begging and promising in turn to one another, but eventually the hot water began to run cold. Dean turned it off before it could get there and blindly grabbed for a towel out of the rack. He bundled Sam up, clothes and towel and all, and got him seated on the closed toilet. For a minute, it was déjà vu because how many times had he been here, kneeling in front of Sam in this very bathroom, patching him up after scrapes and hunts gone bad? Usually Bobby puttered around in the background, terrible at hiding his worry, but even then it was just the two of them.
It would always be the two of them. And Dean was going to make sure Sam knew it.
He carefully dried Sam off and pulled the clothes off. Even soaked, he could still smell the gunpowder on the shirt, and Dean threw it behind him viciously. He'd never liked that button up of Sam's anyway. Beige just reminded him of the jacket Sam had died in.
The t-shirt passed muster though and then it was down to the soaked pants, underwear, socks. He darted out of the bathroom, uttering promises the whole way that he'd be back, he was just getting clothes, he'd be back, and then he was back with fresh clothes. Sleep pants and one of Dean's t-shirts, and he hadn't even asked if it was okay, he'd just done it.
Sam immediately grabbed hold of it and latched on, and some part of Dean breathed at that. Because if Sam could still find comfort in Dean's clothes, then they weren't too screwed. Not yet.
That meant Dean could still fix this and put something back into Sam's lifeless gaze. At least Sam was tracking him now, eyes following every move he made. His fingers were tight and wrapped around Dean's t-shirt so hard that Dean worried about circulation.
Fine, giving up the shirt wasn't going to happen. Dean rose and went to get another t-shirt, something of Sam's, because the kid wasn't going to get hypothermia on his watch.
The instant he headed out of the room, though, something ugly wormed itself out of Sam's throat, feral and panicked. Dean was already turned to get back to him but Sam stumbled off the toilet and tried to race after him. His legs, still not working, sent him straight to the ground before Dean could catch him, but he managed to get there to cradle Sam's head. Sam let out another sound that tore at Dean and scrambled to hold on.
"I'm not, Sam, I'm not leaving, I just needed to get a shirt-" It was a lost cause, trying to explain. They were past words for a while. Dean wasn't much for words anyway. He did action a lot better, so action was what he did, hauling Sam to his feet and mostly dragging him out to the living room. From there, he wrestled the shirt free and got it on his still-shivering brother.
After that, well. It was completely for Sam that he stayed next to him and held on tight. Not at all because he needed to feel his little brother's ribs expand and contract with each breath. Proof of life.
They fell asleep like that, huddled around each other in the silent world.
The Incident, as Dean came to call it in his head, led to a few days of mostly nothing. Well, not nothing, they existed, they did things. But it was more like trying to rediscover an equilibrium that they hadn't had in months. One they desperately needed.
I'll fix it. Just gotta die.
The words ran through Dean's head while Sam lay, curled up on the sofa under the quilt he always took whenever they were at Bobby's. Sam didn't say much of anything else for a while (for days) so Dean filled up the silence instead. "Hey, he's got tea, that stuff you really like," and, "I didn't know Spam could go bad but damn, this stuff in here is foul," and, "Think the Rapture happened? Pretty sure Bobby would still be here if that were the case, and a lot more porn stars."
Anything to fill the silence that had fallen. He didn't even think Sam was trying to be that quiet, it was more that he just didn't have the energy for the words. He kept trying, that much Dean could see, but then he'd just deflate and curl back up into as small a ball as he could make himself. No gas left in the tank.
It made his own words come easier, and Dean found himself apologizing. Because if he'd kept his damn mouth shut, if he hadn't tried to pour out his frustrations and fear on Sam, maybe his little brother wouldn't have wound up with a gun to his forehead and so deep into shock and depression that even days later he was empty.
"I got scared," Dean admitted about two days out from The Incident. "I wanted a fight and figured you'd give me one if I pushed. But I pushed way too far, Sammy, and for that I'm sorry."
That actually got a response. "No, Dean, I'm sorry," Sam said, because of course his brother had to apologize. It seemed like all Sam could say these days were apologies, like he owed everyone amends or some crap like that. It didn't look anything like the brother he'd known and raised, even when his brother had been at his most tender-hearted. It made Dean hurt a little bit more.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean, I mean, I meant to, but, I wasn't doing it to try and scare you, I thought, I didn't do it to hurt you-"
"I know, Sam," Dean said and cut him off, because suddenly it was worse that Sam was finally talking. Sam hadn't done it to try and incite sympathy or make Dean scared. He'd just done it because he'd thought it would help. That he could fix things. That the world might restart if he sacrificed himself, and Sam had been willing to try. For Dean's sake, most likely, and it made the dark coil in his gut even heavier.
When night came, Dean didn't even bother trying to separate them. Even the distance between the beds was too much. The first few nights, getting Sam off of the sofa wasn't happening, so he found a cot and shoved it up against the sofa. It left him close enough to rest a hand to Sam's back and feel him breathing if he wanted to, the same way he had when Sam had been a child and he was sick. Sam didn't have a cold now, though. No respiratory issues, no snot or congestion.
Didn't meant he couldn't hear the hitched breaths that Sam succumbed to every now and then. Didn't mean he didn't keep his hand on Sam's back to tell himself his brother still breathed.
On the third day the gas stove had issues lighting. It reminded Dean of the Impala that he'd abandoned on the side of the road. Even if no one else was around to take it, he still wanted to get her back.
Surprisingly, when told about the Impala, Sam went to find his feet for the first time in a few days. "I'll go with you," he said.
Dean blinked. "Sam, it's probably eight miles out at least. You up to it? Carrying you is sort of something I haven't been able to do in, oh, I don't know, a long time?"
"I can help," Sam said stubbornly. "I can do that much at least. And…and we're sticking together, right?"
Put it that way and there wasn't a single way Dean was going to tell him no. "You need to stop at any point, you tell me," Dean insisted. "I can always get the car and come get you." Or, y'know, leave the car and stay with Sam. Because in the grand scheme of things, there was always one thing that mattered more than anything else. And it wasn't the car.
They made their way out to the gas cans and he wasn't even surprised when Sam insisted on carrying one. They wandered slowly down the road, the silence filling the air around them. No crickets, no wind, no insects buzzing or cars zooming past, even in the distance. It was just silent. It made his skin crawl.
They made it to the Impala by sheer willpower on Sam's part, because almost three days of not really functioning after a horrendous mental breakdown and shock had clearly taken a toll on his physical abilities. He'd slowed to a crawl at a few points and every time he'd had to stop his eyes had shot to Dean. Waiting for him to leave, to abandon Sam. It was the same look he'd been wearing for days now, and it made Dean sick to his stomach every time he saw it. Because he'd put it there on Sam's face.
So he did the only thing he could do. He walked slower, he kept pace, and he full-on stopped when Sam took a minute to breathe. They weren't going to break any land speed records, but each time Dean paused with him, the tension slid out of Sam's shoulders a little bit more.
And he made it, doggedly holding onto the can of gas with white knuckles by the end, but Sam pushed through to the Impala. Pride welled inside of Dean because this was his kid, the one who kept going through it all. It didn't escape his notice that while he'd been the impetus to Sam giving up, he was also the drive for Sam to keep going. It was humbling.
That didn't mean Dean wasn't going to insist on taking the gas cans now that Sam had proven his point. Sam kept saying he wasn't out of shape, that he could do this, he could, but he looked two seconds away from passing out. Too much too soon, and doing eight-plus miles while carrying a five-gallon can of gas didn't help.
He steered Sam to the passenger seat instead, and while Sam went willingly, he had that look on his face again, the look that said Dean's leaving was inevitable, that Dean would consider him unfit for duty and leave him behind. Fat chance of that. "You're recovering from shock and…other things," he added with a wince. 'Mental fog' and 'suicide attempt' and 'helplessly terrified by being left alone by the one person who was supposed to never leave' was way easier as 'other things'. But Dean knew exactly what was in there, and guilt landed against his chest like a sledgehammer.
Sam winced and ducked his head in what looked like shame, and no, hell no. "Hey. That's not your fault. Any of it. I never should've left. That's on me."
Sam didn't seem to believe it any better than before, trying to say he shouldn't have checked out, like he'd had some control over how much his brain could take. Dean was pretty sure most people would've checked out way before Sam had. Not his little brother, though. Not his kid.
"It's not gonna happen again, though," Dean told him. Sam met his gaze, still looking exhausted and empty. "Because I'm not gonna leave you again, and I know you think I will. I can see it all over your face." Cheeks flushed at being so blatantly called out but whatever. The point was that Dean wasn't leaving. And he'd do everything to prove it to Sam.
He wished he were better with words, like Sam could be. Something to tell Sam just how important it was that Sam was in the passenger seat, that his little brother was his partner-
Screw it. He'd figure out the right words as he went.
"Cas isn't a better partner," he blurted out. Sam jumped at his voice. "I mean, he's fun and all, and you should see him in a brothel-"
"You took an angel to a brothel?"
"But he's got no straight face when it counts. And he doesn't understand any of my references, and he doesn't know any of my codes. He doesn't know any of that. He's a great guy, and a good friend, but he's not my best friend. He's just Cas."
The silence began to dig in again in the wake of Dean's words. Sam stared at him long enough for Dean to fidget, but then he did something with his mouth and holy shit he smiled. Sam actually smiled and Dean had forgotten what it looked like. Right now, it looked like the sun peeking out of the clouds or a slice of homemade pie. It was the best damn thing he'd ever seen.
"Yeah," Sam said, still smiling. "I missed you too."
She started up the first time after both cans of gas. He was pretty sure they both breathed a sigh of relief when Sam closed the door, back in the seat where he belonged for the first time in way too long. He slid into the driver's seat and Sam, sweat dripping down his face, cheeks with little color in them, panting a little for breath, actually smiled a little again. It made him want to make a dick joke about how the world had to be ending but it sort of was so Dean swallowed it back and enjoyed the moment for what it was.
Suddenly the thought of going back to Bobby's house, an empty shell without the man who lived in it, felt like taking three steps backward. "Let's get our stuff and go," Dean said.
Sam blinked. "Go? Go where?"
"Anywhere," Dean told him. "We've wanted to see the Grand Canyon for so damn long, and there's other spots on the way I know you've been dying to get to, other national parks and world's largest ball of twine or whatever. You said it yourself, the world won't last without the bees and pollinators and whatever else. It's all going to come to an end at some point. I'm not wasting it on worrying. We had a list of stuff we wanted to do. So let's go do it."
It felt like an explosion in Dean's chest, this sudden need to just get up and go, take Sam and run while they still could, before everything ended. Hold onto his brother as hard as he could and not wait for the ending to come, but force it to come to them. The two of them against it all.
Sam didn't say anything, but his eyes seemed to sharpen in focus, and there was a light there that Dean hadn't seen in a while. There was life, honest to god life in his eyes, making them bright and vivid and hopeful. He looked like the kid Dean knew, the kid that had gotten lost the last year after months of grief and looking for any way out. This was Sammy.
And there was no one else Dean wanted to be with when the world was coming to an end.
They drove back to Bobby's and they both grabbed everything they could they might need: more gas in the gas cans, non-perishable foods, flashlights, pillows, the works. Sam's favorite quilt got put on his seat, and he got another smile from Sam for it. Wait until Sam found the snacks he'd salvaged from the cupboard: three boxes of ginger snaps. He knew Bobby kept them for Sam, and he looked forward to telling Sam just where he'd gotten them. Because Sam needed to know that others loved him and cared.
They took a single break for food, where, for the sake of time and resources, Dean made them both peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sam smiled – another smile – and they talked about the last time they'd had PB&J, which had apparently been a while. "If you wanted to prove to me that this is real, this is how you do it," Sam joked, and Dean gave him a push. Sam just snorted and took another bite of his sandwich. Ungrateful wretch. Dean had slaved over the sandwich for a whole of maybe a minute and a half. He made more sandwiches out of the rest of the loaf of bread and put them into a cooler to take with them. Who knew what would last or when they'd be able to find food again?
By the time they had the car packed, it was in the early morning hours, and they collapsed together in the single queen bed that Bobby kept upstairs. They couldn't look at their usual beds, the two twins across the hall, and the idea of being without each other was more than Dean could handle at the moment. Sam clearly didn't want to go near the sofa again, and Dean couldn't blame him. No steps backward. He pressed a hand to Sam's back and fell asleep to his brother's lungs rising and falling.
A few hours later they were up, grabbing the last of the hot water for a shower and boiling water for instant coffee with the gas stove-top. Both of them were antsy to get going and leave Bobby's house behind. Without Bobby, there was nothing there that Dean wanted. Even as heartbreaking as it was, that Bobby was gone and they were alone, they shared a sense of urgency in getting out and getting moving.
They settled into the Impala. Sam ran his fingers over the quilt and kept his eyes out of the windshield. "Last chance," he said jokingly, but his eyes held hesitance and doubt. Like he was waiting for Dean to kick him out.
Screw that. Dean wasn't leaving his brother behind. Not now, not ever. "It's the end of the world, Sammy," he said, and didn't miss the inhale at the nickname. "Who the hell else would I want to be with?"
He'd wanted to make a joke, turn it the way he always did, but he didn't know how much time they had before everything went pear-shaped. And Sam needed to hear this. He needed to say it.
Sam's eyes lit up and the doubt vanished. "Jerk," he said, and Dean thought, yes.
He opened his mouth to give the rejoinder, but suddenly there was something in front of the car. A familiar figure in a trench-coat who was waving his hands urgently.
"Cas?" Dean gasped. They weren't alone. Oh god they weren't alone and it felt like a benediction and a curse all at once.
"You need to wake up," Castiel said, voice somehow echoing inside the Impala. "You both need to wake up!"
Sam stared. "Wake up? What do you mean?"
"Wake up," Castiel said, and something niggled at the back of Dean's brain. Something he was supposed to have remembered. "Sam, you have to wake up!"
"Dean," and Dean turned at the fear in his brother's voice. The world shimmered, colors faded and everything grew dark. He could still see Sam's wide, frightened eyes. "Dean-"
"I'm so sorry," Sam choked out. Dean reached for him because no, this wasn't his fault, and then suddenly Dean was back in Bobby's house. He shot up out of the bed, calling for his brother, but Sam was gone. It was just him and Castiel and Bobby, both of them hovering at the edges of the bed.
"Where's Sam?" Dean demanded.
Bobby gaped. "You've been out for three damn days and that's what we get-"
"You were supposed to find that out!" Bobby yelled. "That's the whole reason you drank that damn drink!"
Dean began to yell but then it all came back. Trying to call Sam after Zachariah's stupid visit to the "future" and not reaching him. Trying for days but getting nowhere except closer to panicked. Bobby had made the suggestion that at some point, Sam had to sleep. I've got dream root left over. You got any of his DNA?
Plenty of hairs in the Impala left over, because no one else ever really sat in the passenger seat. No one else had dark hair that long. He'd put the drink together and swallowed it down as fast as he could because missing brother or not, it was still nasty.
Then suddenly he'd been in a different world. One missing people and pollinators and everything except Sam.
"What the hell happened?" Bobby asked in a softer tone. "Because we couldn't wake you up."
"He wasn't sleeping," Castiel said. "Neither of them was truly asleep. It was an alternate reality of some sorts. Getting in was…difficult."
Dean would've been more grateful except he still wasn't any closer to finding Sam. "Then you know where Sam is?" he asked.
Castiel grimaced, and Dean's heart sank. "He's awake now," Castiel assured him. "If you woke up, then so did he. You might very well have saved his life."
If Zachariah had dropped him into some nightmare-quality world in order to get him to kill himself, that angel was going to get a blade to the face. "But you have no clue where he is."
The silence that followed wasn't really silent. There were birds outside, insects that buzzed even through the closed window. There was no wind but every now and then, Dean realized he could hear a car passing by outside. Sounds of a world that had people and things in it.
But none of them were Sam.
I was hunting something near Cheyenne but it wound up being nothing.
That's what Sam had said, wasn't it? It gave him somewhere to start. "I think I might know where he is," Dean said, standing. Well, attempting to stand at any rate: he fell back onto the bed, the room spinning until he thought about hurling.
"Not like you were unconscious for three days or anythin'," Bobby said. "You want my chair? Or food? I ain't lettin' you leave looking like this."
Dean made a face but pushed himself up again. This time, he hung onto Castiel and tried to pretend he was Sam. Because Sam would've been his perfect match and guide, keeping him buoyed just right.
He was going to find Sam. That was it.
"Food, then shower, then car," Dean said. "I'm going to find Sam."
So food and shower wound up turning into sleeping another few hours when he almost passed out in said shower. Whatever. All he could see whenever he looked at the main floor shower was Sam barely responding until Dean turned the water on warm. Sam frozen solid in his grasp and not moving, not really seeing anything. Sam with the gun to his head and already empty.
It was dark by the time he got back on the road with provisions. Bobby didn't know how Dean had found the ginger snaps so damn fast or why he was missing a few cans of expired food that Dean had tossed. The point was that he was driving and he had Sam's cookies and soon he'd have Sam. If Sam was still in Cheyenne, which was numerous hours away.
The car barreled down the road doing ten over the speed limit when the phone rang. Dean startled and the car nearly went off the road. He fumbled for the phone and this time didn't drop it into the footwell. "Hello?"
"Sam called," Bobby said, and this time Dean did nearly drop the phone. "At least I think it was him. I traced the call back to a small motel just outside Denver, the Good Nite's Rest."
Denver was too far. "I won't make that before he leaves," Dean protested. "I can't-"
No. He could. "Hang on, I gotta make another call," he said, and he hung up and tossed the phone aside. This call required a different form of reception.
A moment later and Castiel was in the car beside him. "I need to get to a motel in Colorado," Dean said.
"Yes," Castiel said, and he rested his hand on Dean's head for a moment. An instant later, they were in a parking lot, and Dean slammed on his brakes because going 45 miles an hour in a parking lot was sort of frowned upon by, well, everybody. He turned to yell at Castiel but the angel was gone. Through the window, Dean could see the sign blinking in neon, Good Nite's Rest with Vacancy beneath it.
All right, so maybe he wouldn't yell at Castiel. Not yet at least.
He parked haphazardly near where he'd stopped and hurried towards the office. He already had his wallet out when he stepped inside and found a woman behind the desk, a little younger than Bobby with a soft, pretty face but who could pull off mothering easily. She smiled easily at him and if she noticed how bedraggled he was, she didn't say a thing.
The picture held two smiling faces, but it was the most recent one he had, the last picture of them they'd taken and it had been two weeks before Dean's deal had come due. Not a single picture taken since then, and it hurt to think about it that way. They'd get new ones, he vowed.
He handed it to her and tried to find his voice. "Have you seen this guy? My brother?"
She looked at the picture and her eyes widened in realization. Dean thought he'd pass out. "Room 8," she told him. "He was the sweetest thing, but looked like he'd been through the wringer." She smiled, almost bashfully. "He told me I was beautiful. Not often I get to hear that anymore."
She was no model, but at that moment, she was more angelic than any of the angels Dean had encountered thus far. "He's not wrong," Dean told her, and gave her a blinding smile full of relief. "Thank you."
Her cheeks went a dull red but her smile widened. Then he didn't see her because he was already out the door and into the night. Noise filled the air, cars off the distant highway, crickets, a random dog bark. Life.
None of it mattered. There was only one person he wanted to hear.
He knocked on the old door with the 8 on it and waited, bouncing on the balls of his feet. When he heard nothing, he knocked again. He had no idea what car Sam was driving, no idea where Sam might be if he wasn't in, no idea anything about his baby brother and it was making his stomach lurch-
The door opened, and there was Sam. His too-thin face caught Dean's attention first, along with the dark circles under his eyes and the bandage on his neck. He held himself like he was in pain, one arm cradling his gut, and Dean realized he'd answered the door without a single weapon. He was completely unarmed.
Sam froze and stared at him. "Dean?" he whispered hoarsely. Stunned wasn't a good enough word, Dean thought, as Sam's eyes went wider than he'd ever seen them and he couldn't seem to get any other words out. He hadn't expected to see Dean.
There were a million and one things Dean wanted to tell him. "Your phone doesn't work," was what he said instead.
He watched Sam swallow hard. "What?"
"Your phone. I've been trying to call you for days."
It took Sam a minute to pull himself together, and he fumbled with the arm not wrapped around himself towards the nearby table. "Dead," he said. The black screen emphasized that point well.
"How?" Dean asked. Sam stared at him, still apparently trying to take in the fact that Dean was there, something that was almost as alarming as Sam's mental state in…whatever that other place had been. "Sam, where have you been?"
Sam just watched him with big eyes, and Dean finally pushed himself into the room and shut the door behind him. The room was covered in clothes tossed in random places, as if Sam had just been trying to get to something and hadn't bothered repacking. Pink towels also dotted the landscape, but no food, nothing that smelled like food.
Time to get this ship back on track, starting with some answers. "Sam," Dean called gently, and that seemed to get Sam's attention best. Going slow for the brother who was possibly in shock. "What happened?"
Sam blinked. "Oh. Djinn. Uh. Not the happy dream sort."
A djinn? That would explain the bandage on the neck and the malnutrition. "How long?" Dean demanded. "Sammy, how long?"
"Dunno. A week, maybe? It doesn't matter," he said and shook his head. As soon as he did, his eyes rolled back and he nearly hit the deck. Dean caught him in time and got him to the bed, keeping a steady stream of encouragement running all the while.
A week. A whole week as a djinn's play toy. No wonder he hadn't answered his phone.
No wonder Dean had gotten sucked in when he'd drunk the dream root. Actually, Dean was pretty grateful for that, no matter how horrible the world had been. Leaving Sam alone there wasn't an option. He wondered what would've happened if he hadn't come into the djinn's world. Then he immediately didn't want to wonder because he knew what would've happened.
Sam had lost what little color was in his face and was now leaning forward with his head between his knees. "Dizzy," he mumbled.
"Yeah, that doesn't surprise me," Dean said, glancing around. Seriously, was there no food here at all? "When's the last time you ate?"
Sam shrugged. "You cooked," he said so softly Dean could barely hear him. "In the other reality."
"Pretty sure peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in a djinn world don't have any real nutritional value, dude." Maybe he could call the woman at the front desk, see if she knew where he could order in something to eat. The last thing he was going to do was leave Sam here alone, even to go get him food he desperately needed.
A hand reached out and caught his arm. "What's the matter?" Dean asked immediately. "Sammy?"
Sam gazed at him for a long minute, eyes red but actually seeing him for the first time since Dean had shown up. "Dean?" he whispered.
"I'm right here, kiddo." And not going anywhere.
"How did you know?"
Dean frowned. "Know what?"
"That, you, that-" Sam shook his head and Dean tightened his grasp, not needing another attempt at passing out. "The sandwiches. You made sandwiches."
"The sandwiches," Sam said, almost desperately. "How did you know?"
It dawned on Dean just what Sam was getting at. "I was," Dean said. "I was there with you."
"But, but how-"
"Dream root. I definitely had enough of your hair in the Impala to make it happen. I didn't know you were in a djinn's reality-bending crap fest when I did it, but-"
The look he got told him that Sam thought he'd lost his mind. Dean wasn't entirely certain that he hadn't, but the panic when he couldn't reach Sam had taken over every fiber of his being. The world that Zachariah had shown him had left him terrified of not knowing where Sam was. The long months without his brother, trying to prove that they were better off apart, it hadn't been worth a thing. He'd missed Sam like he'd miss a limb. Even after everything, he'd needed Sam. Wanted Sam as his partner, best friend.
Sam still looked to be waiting for an answer. "You wouldn't answer your phone," Dean said with a shrug. "I didn't have any other way of getting in touch with you."
And he'd been desperate to try anything. Anything to get to Sam.
"You were really there?" Sam whispered. "I thought…I mean, I didn't know it was a djinn thing, the other world, I thought it was real, but when I woke up-"
Dean hadn't been there. There'd been no reason for Sam to think that Dean had really been in the alternate reality with him.
Sam didn't seem to know what to do with the information. Seriously, he wouldn't be on the verge of passing out every five seconds if he'd actually gotten something to eat. "I'm gonna call in for something to eat," Dean announced. "You gotta eat. How's pizza sound? There's always a pizza place open. Thank god the world's full of people again, right? Life without pizza would've sucked."
One look from Sam cut off his rambling but hey, he figured it was allowed. The last few days had been a mess, and he'd had a startling revelation of just how much he loved his kid brother only to nearly lose him a few times, all right? Sue him.
Sam cleared his throat and Dean found himself holding his breath for whatever Sam would say. When he spoke, Sam's voice was soft, hesitant, but full of what almost sounded like hope. "The world has people in it again, and you still came looking for me."
It was easier to answer than he'd figured it would be. "I didn't come looking for you because everyone had disappeared," Dean said. "I came looking for you because I wanted to find you."
He liked that the world had noise and people in it again, but honestly, if that had been reality and not this, he would've figured out how to keep going. As long as he had Sam, he could pretty much handle anything.
Sam gazed at him for a long moment, and then finally, his lips turned up into a genuine smile. "I missed you," he said, and his hand tightened around Dean's forearm.
If Dean gripped back just as hard, well, neither of them seemed inclined to mention it. He wanted to say something flippant, something that could fit the situation and still leave them even-keeled, but what came out was, "Me too."
From the way Sam's smile grew, it seemed like it was the right thing to say.
Then Sam swayed again and his face completely lost its color. "Okay, time for you to lay down and for me to get food," Dean declared. He carefully helped Sam up onto the bed and grabbed a few pillows to prop up his feet. Sam had his eyes shut like the room was spinning, which, hey, it probably was. A week with a djinn didn't exactly leave you in the best of health.
He also kept a death grip on Dean's arm, and Dean wasn't inclined to fight him on it. Instead he reached over his brother and grabbed the old motel landline. Turned out, there were two pizza places within delivering distance, and Bev at the front desk not only gave him the numbers, she insisted on making that "sweet young man" some gelatin snacks because that's what you did when someone was sick. In a matter of minutes, he had pizza ordered and promised in less than half an hour.
With dinner and apparently dessert handled, that left Dean with nothing else to do except sit on the side of the bed next to his brother. Sam still hadn't let go.
Dean held on back and just breathed.
Another two days allowed Sam to get back on his feet. Turned out, those pink towels hadn't been pink by choice: Sam had forgotten to mention the fight he'd had with the djinn when he'd come to and the injuries that had come with it. Dean had threatened to chop all the idiot's hair off if he tried to hide another stab wound from him again.
Three stab wounds. And Sam had tried to wash the blood out of the towels afterward, because of course he had.
Getting Sam into the Impala was no less emotional than before, but this time, he slid into his seat with a watery grin. Finally where he belonged again, and something in Dean eased at the sight. Eased even more when he shared his idea for the Grand Canyon after seeing Bobby. The smile on Sam's face was worth every drop of water and wax it would take to clean the Impala after driving through the red dust of Arizona.
Neither of them said a thing after that as Dean pointed the car back towards South Dakota. He figured some things needed to be seen and not just heard, even though they'd conversed with Bobby twice since Dean had found his brother. He couldn't begrudge his brother the need to see Bobby in person. He remembered what the empty house had felt like.
Still, a few miles out from Denver, he was surprised when Sam requested that they pull over. He slid the car to the side of the road and waited. When Sam began to step out of the car, he quickly exited himself and raced over to help Sam stand steady. His little brother just smiled at him and leaned back against the car, then closed his eyes. For what, Dean had no clue-
And then it hit him like a sledgehammer. The noise surrounded them, and Dean shut his own eyes to parse out the different sounds. Crickets. Birds. Squirrels. Wind through the grass and trees. Bees buzzing through the wildflowers along the side of the road. The distant sound of a car that grew louder and louder before it passed them by and began to fade off again.
Life. A lot of life. Not a single thing was silent.
It was the best thing Dean had ever heard.
Sam let out a sigh of relief and contentment, and Dean had to amend his last statement because that was the best thing Dean had ever heard. His little brother back at his side and actually relaxed for once.
He knew Castiel was bound to call eventually, and reality would settle back in. For now, though, reality involved driving with Sam by his side.
After a minute, Sam let out another sigh, but this one was tired. "C'mon Sammy," Dean murmured as he caught Sam's arm in his hand. "Let's get you back in."
Sam smiled and looked at him with such fondness that Dean wasn't honestly sure what to do with it. All he'd done was pull his ass out of his head and gone looking for the little brother he shouldn't have let go in the first place. And here was Sam looking like he'd hung the moon.
They were back on the road a few minutes later, but Dean rolled the windows down and cruised at a slow enough speed that they could hear the noises outside. He expected Sam to close his eyes and listen again, but he didn't. Sam leaned his head back, one ear turned towards the open window. The rest of him turned towards Dean.
Dean just smiled and kept them rolling down the road.