So I'm pretty sure this idea's been done to death. But I still wanna, you know? Just so I can go "yay, I wrote apocafic!" and all. And if there was ever a better time to do it in the SPN canon, I don't know.

To give credit where credit is due, this fic was rather oddly inspired by the live version of Josh Ritter's "Golden Age of Radio," with which it has almost nothing in common. Yeah, I don't get it either. Enjoy.

--

wooden nickle's pride

--

It's not all pristine, of course. There are places that are charred and blackened, places glinting of shattered glass and twisted metal. These are the firebreaks, erected by humans and demons alike as they tried to stave off the inevitable.

But the rest? The rest is perfect. Green grass and cloud-littered skies as far as the eye can see in the heartlands, cracked earth and sagebrush unmolested in the southwest. In New England the trees are taking on brilliant jeweltones.

And there's nobody to enjoy it, but there's nobody to ruin it, either.

--

He'd really thought he'd die. So when the light receded and Lilith was shrinking away from him, god what a surprise. But the shock at being alive wore down real fast when he realized Dean wasn't.

--

Bobby made the gentle suggestion that they might want to burn Dean and it took all of his willpower not to hit the older man. Because this is temporary, temporary god damn it, and it's not like he stayed dead—why should Dean?

So instead they bought a utility freezer using one of Dean's fake credit cards and rented a storage unit fifteen minutes outside of New Harmony. Bobby just stood to the side, one calloused palm over his mouth while Sam tenderly bent Dean's blanket-covered legs to fit.

--

Four days later he'd sent Bobby away so he could have some peace. He sat alone in a motel room near Indianapolis, ignoring the sounds of squabbling from the room to his right and heavy pacing from above. He scratched his blunt nails through the beginnings of a coarse beard as he took a deep breath and began to focus.

The brain (his brain) was really like another limb. He pushed his thoughts through membranes back to the place where pain used to explode on a regular basis—a corner (but there are no corners in his mind, everything is just soft and pliant and waiting) that he had been avoiding for a year, simply relieved to be free of the visions.

And he took a quick breath as he forced his way into that part, that dormant part he'd hoped to leave alone until he died.

When he awoke three hours later there were crusts of dried blood circling both of his nostrils and nobody at all in a four-room radius.

--

It took three weeks before he could stay conscious long enough to see what happened when he tapped into that part of his mind. He'd sat in a diner, a creeping temptation growing in him until he simply gave a little mental push. And his eyes went wide as the passing waitress simply…wasn't. She bled away, hair and clothes and coffeepot and all, and there was nothing left but a faint smell of burnt hair and ozone.

All this took less than half a second, and by the time he'd recovered from the shock there was no one left in the diner. He turned in time to see an invisible ripple hit first a man on the sidewalk and then a woman and child in a sedan stopped at the red light.

He wiped at his face with a trembling hand and found his nose was bleeding again.

--

He almost stopped then and there, once he saw what was happening. It was enough to give him pause, even with the overarching goal of Dean looming. They didn't feel pain, as far as he could tell—but god only knew where he was sending them.

It wasn't to hell, he found.

A demon had tried to kill him one night; it had come within three inches of successfully slashing his throat. When he had pinned it tightly against a wall, it hissed a question: what had he done with those people?

It didn't know, and he didn't know, so he figured the conversation was over.

He'd simply melted away its human shell until all that was left was a writhing mass of greasy smoke. He pushed harder, felt a vessel in his eye burst, and watched with abject fascination as he felt its scream while it crumpled in on itself and vanished.

--

By the end his radius had extended to over four hundred miles. Every radio station, every news program was detailing the disappearances. Explanations abounded: biological warfare, alien abductions, mass spontaneous combustion. It became nearly impossible to find any good music on the radio.

And then there was nothing at all—every major city, every tiny town had become a casualty. He tried to feel something as he moved his search overseas (there were plenty of planes, but it took him nearly a year to learn to fly one to his satisfaction), but there was nothing. Every war had casualties.

Before he left the continent he made certain to hook the freezer up to as many generators as he could.

--

He found Lilith in Indonesia with a small band of demons—one of the last, as far as he could tell. She promised him power (he already had it), and safety (who could harm him now?), and Dean. He gave her five minutes, and when Dean failed to appear, he smiled as he felt her shriek that child's shriek.

--

He opened the door in Wyoming after placing Dean's thawed body against a tombstone. Some rational part of his brain knew that Dean's body would probably be too damaged to support life, whether it be from the original wounds or cell damage from the ice. The rest of him was willing to take the chance.

This time Hell hadn't vomited up demons when the gate opened—it was like a void instead, sucking him inside.

He didn't know how long he wandered before coming upon a shapeless and mewling form held up by meat hooks. He knew Dean, though. He'd always know Dean.

It took less time getting out than it took getting in, and soon he was kneeling on the damp grass in that Wyoming graveyard, watching as the thick, dark-grey mist that was Dean in the corporeal world settled into the ravaged body.

And Dean tried to claw his face off when he awoke, eyes tinged with oily black. It was a madman's reaction, a brainless thing's reaction.

He had expected his heart to break, but all he felt was a calm perseverance. He could wait Dean out.

--

He knows, eventually, that the gasoline will run out and they'll have to abandon the Impala. He dreads that day, as Dean is as attached to the car as he ever was. He curls against the passenger-side door, as far away from Sam as he can get, and strokes the paneling with his fingerpads. And he knows one day the food will run out, that they won't find any more MREs in empty surplus stores, and they'll have to cultivate their own harvest. He doesn't even know how they'll manage then.

Dean hates the cities, hates the howling silence of one, two, ten million vanished souls. He lets the black creep into his eyes as he bares his teeth at Sam, and the message is clear: you did this. You chose this. He thinks it's because demons prefer hopping bodies to being trapped in just one, and perhaps along with the phantom smells of burnt hair and ozone omnipresent in the back of his mouth, Dean can also smell the wasted potential of millions of fresh meat suits and corruptible souls.

The country, the wilderness, the vast desolate landscape—that's home now. Out where no one lived and no one melted away, Dean breathes like he should. He's getting better, out here. He smiles a little, sometimes. He chooses a cassette, sometimes. He coughs out the word Sammy, sometimes.

It's not right, and Sam knows it. This is not how it should have ended. These pristine landscapes, these yawning maws of empty cities, these cars littering the sides of the roads by the hundreds and thousands, these endless skies unaltered by contrails.

Dean is not his Dean, and he is not Dean's Sam. Sometime, in the four years between the hellhounds and Wyoming, they were irrevocably altered. When Dean died, it left a hole in him. But now, even though he has Dean back, the pieces don't quite fit. They've been reworked, the two of them, reshaped until they resemble a child's puzzle with a triangular piece and a trapezoidal slot.

But god, god they're the only ones left, and what has he done, what has he done?

Dean pats his head awkwardly, thumb flicking over the cartilage of his ear, and murmurs "I'm here, I'm here, I'm here…" until the panic passes.

And he turns Johnny Cash up as loud as the speakers will go, listens to a long-gone voice echo through the Rocky Mountains (and Dean's uncertain warble follows a little off-time), and tells himself again that it was worth it.