Title: Light a Roman Candle
Category: Gen oneshot
Word Count: 7170
Characters: Dean and Sam with Bobby, Castiel & OCs
Spoilers: Up through 4.10 "Heaven and Hell"
Summary: The day Sam loses his sight, the sun turns black.
Disclaimer: The following characters and situations are used without permission of the creators, owners, and further affiliates of the television show, Supernatural, to whom they rightly belong. I claim only what is mine, and I make no money off what is theirs.
- - - - -
The day Sam loses his sight, the sun turns black.
Dean walks in with a bag of donuts and two large coffees, both black—cream and sugar in the sack for Sam—from the gas station down the street. Looking back, Dean will blame himself for not being in the motel beforehand. For going out and leaving Sam alone in those fragile moments before he lost his sight. Dean will blame himself, even though, deep down, and later—so much later—he'll realize there was nothing he could have done to stop things.
Now, though, Dean places the coffees on the nightstand alongside the bag of donuts. He walks over to the window where the motel management has been kind enough to mount little hooks on the wall for him to hang his jacket. Two things happen simultaneously then. Sam, who is coming out of the bathroom, screams, and the sun turns black, plunging the room—the world—into darkness.
Dean flinches when the sun goes dark. Despite having seen a lot of terrible things during his life, something inside tells him that this isn't anything that can be blasted away with rock salt or silver.
Yet, without hesitation, he runs to Sam, who's collapsed to the floor on his knees, screaming an ugly sound of fear and panic. Sam's hands tremble over his closed eyes as he cries out for Dean, for Dean to come and help him, help him right fucking now in that wretched tone.
Trying to keep the panic out of his own voice, Dean leads Sam around the end of the bed to sit him by the nightstand where a little lamp still glows. With the sun gone, the room is thick in shadows that rise high on the walls and slither across the floor. If Dean has to see what's wrong with Sam, he's sure as hell going to need light to do it.
"My eyes," Sam chokes out once he's seated and Dean is crouched in front of him, angled away so his shadow doesn't blot out Sam's face. "My eyes. They won't…they won't…"
"Okay," Dean says, and he pulls Sam's hands away from his face, places them in Sam's lap like he's four years old again and is being reminded not to pick the scars from his chicken pox. "Let me take a look."
Sam breathes out, sighs, but it's an edgy sound, and it's apparent it does nothing to calm him. His eyes are closed, the lids relaxed as if he's sleeping, while the rest of his face is lined in anxiety.
"Can you open your eyes?" Dean asks.
Sam shakes his head and swallows with his jaw clenched. "No. No, I can't. It's like…" He fumbles, searching for words in his distress. "Like the muscles are paralyzed or something. They just…they won't work. Won't open!"
"Okay, let me, let me lift up one of your eyelids," Dean says. He's trying to be rational, logical for Sam's sake, but moments ago, everything was turned upside down. The sun is gone, swallowed down into the night's gut, and Sam can't open his eyes. Sometimes, Dean thinks, the world just lacks fucking logic.
With the side of his thumb, Dean lifts Sam's eyelid, the soft lashes brushing against his skin. When he does this, sees that Sam's eye is rolled so far back that only its slimy, white underbelly and squiggly capillaries are visible, something cracks outside. Something brilliant and blazing like lightning, and Dean pulls his hand away, letting Sam's eyelid fall down again.
"Well?" Sam asks.
Dean licks his lips. "I…I'm going to try the other one," he says, and so he does. Same sight here. White belly of the eye in its socket and flash of lightning, closer this time—practically a salesman outside their door.
"Dean?" Sam asks once Dean releases his hands and pulls away, no longer touching Sam.
When Dean doesn't answer because bile rises up his throat to rest on his stupid, thick tongue, Sam presses, "Dean, please. Dean, tell me what's going on." His hands swim through the air, searching, until he leans forward and his palm connects with the side of Dean's face in a soft slap.
He keeps his hand there, the fingers cold on Dean's cheek, while he says again, "Dean? Dean, you've gotta tell me…"
Dean breathes in deeply as he stares at his little brother's face with those horrible closed eyes of his. He thinks of everything he could say. Everything he should say, but nothing wise comes to his lips. After a pause, he says, "This isn't good, Sammy."
- - - - -
He tells Sam the truth. A part of him wants nothing more than to take a long drink of his coffee and a bite of his donut to pretend that nothing is wrong. Offer Sam some cream and sugar in his own coffee, stir it up, and let Sam eat a donut or two also. A bit of morning caffeine and carbohydrates to soothe the soul perhaps.
But Sam is nearing the edges of terror, and Dean knows that nothing except answers will take the edge off that terror. So, he tells Sam because he's kept so much from Sam these last several months—about Hell, about demons and angels—that he doesn't know if he can keep any more.
"Call Bobby," Sam says once Dean's finished.
"You think he'll know what to do?"
"More than we will," Sam points out, which is the truth, because neither of them have an idea of what they're up against. What they do know is that taking Sam to an optometrist and getting his eyes checked out isn't going to help them. They're in something deeper and ranker than a physiological problem.
While Dean calls Bobby and fills him in, Sam rubs at his eyes. Every time he touches them, tries to open them, the sky sparks with rods of lightning, and the sun flickers, black to white and back again, like a dying bulb.
Dean whirls around, pulling the phone away to yell, "Stop it!" He doesn't mean to shout, but his blood is rushing manically, and he can't seem to get enough air. He wants to yell and scream at something.
"What's happening?" Sam asks as Bobby, on the other end, says the same.
Phone pressed to his ear, Dean explains to both Bobby and Sam the crackles of light, the flickering sun outside the window. Sam says nothing; he lowers his hands limply into his lap.
Bobby says, "I saw. The sun. Didn't know what was causing it."
"Sam seems to be causing it. His eyes. Him. Whatever," Dean replies.
"And this happened this morning. When the sun went dark, Sam went blind?"
Dean nods, even though Bobby—and Sam—can't see him anyway. "Yeah, yeah, just like I told you."
"Where are you two?"
"I want you to get here as fast as you can. Don't stop unless you have to. Don't stop unless it's an emergency."
There's a pause from the other end of the phone, only the sound of static whispers passing between them, before Bobby says, "I think…I think we're looking at something apocalyptic. I think this might be the end of the world."
- - - - -
Overseas in countries where oil is worth its weight in gold and the deserts are hot even under the moon, where people have never heard of Sam and Dean Winchester, where they don't even speak the same language as the Winchesters, they look up to the sky and point.
"The sun!" a little girl cries. "Momma, what happened to the sun? Why did it go away?"
Her mother is a strong woman, who has birthed five children and buried three. She carried on after the death of her husband, who she loved but died in a bombing on the city bus, and remarried a man, who she does not love but has money to keep her family alive. Never once did she cry.
Now, though, with the sun black, she pulls her daughter tight to her and feels tears coming to her eyes. The sun is gone.
- - - - -
Dean packs quickly, hastily, before grabbing their bags in one hand and leading Sam by the other out to the car. As he helps Sam, who's still shaky on his feet with no sight and too much vertigo, into the passenger seat, Dean hears a faint sound in the distance. He closes the passenger door, stands in the darkness and listens. From faraway, not in this town, but perhaps the next one over, bells are ringing.
- - - - -
They drive straight through for the next sixteen hours, stopping only once on a graveled road to piss in a ditch with weeds as high as Dean's waist. Sam stays silent during the drive, and Dean isn't in any mood to drag words from him. He's weirdly grateful for the silence, grateful that he doesn't have to make up excuses or false promises to calm Sam, given that he can barely calm himself and he's not the one who's lost his sight.
They arrive at Bobby's sometime after seven in the morning, time for sunrise when there used to be a sun to rise, and Dean kills the engine after idling in the driveway.
"We're here," he says to Sam.
"I figured," Sam replies, looking out his window as if he's able to see the heaped masses of rotting metal and Bobby's house in the background.
He waits in his seat with surprising patience until Dean opens the door and is by his side to walk them together up the driveway, sickly lit by the fluorescent barn light above.
Bobby meets them at the door, opening it up wide so Dean can keep a hand on Sam's shoulder to lead him around the piles of stuff heaped on the floor. They go into the living room, where a wide array of books are already opened on Bobby's desk. By the foot of the desk, there are ancient journals with Latin titles and cracked bindings in a dusty pile.
Dean helps Sam to sit on the sagging couch while Bobby crosses the room and slides some books around, searching for something.
"How're you doing, Sam?" Bobby asks.
Sam nods, a small gesture. "Been better, I guess." He forces out a weak laugh. "Kinda hoping I'll be able to see soon."
"You found anything?" Dean says.
"Nothing good, if that's what you want to know," Bobby replies, and it is what Dean wanted to know. His heart sinks a bit; he had been hoping for the past sixteen hours that this was a fluke, a spell gone wrong that could be fixed with a pinch of this and a pinch of that.
"How bad is it?" Sam says. "Dean said you mentioned…the apocalypse?"
Bobby nods, comes around the front of his desk to sit on the edge with a book opened in his lap. "I don't know anything about you going blind like this. Haven't found anything about that—short of not eating enough carrots—but the sun going black?"
"Could it be a solar eclipse?" Sam asks.
"No." Bobby shakes his head. "I already checked that out. Next eclipse's not due until 2012 in this area. Besides," he continues, shifting his weight on the desk and sighing, "no eclipse would be so instantaneous. It's a slow and gradual process for the moon to pass in front of the sun. We would've seen it coming."
"Yeah, I guess that's true," Sam says.
Dean, from where he's standing by the window and looking out into the endless black, asks, "Then what is it? Are we still going with the whole 'apocalypse' theory?" He turns to face Bobby and Sam, who has his head bent, eyes—as if he could see with them—focused on the ground.
"'Fraid so," Bobby admits. "Sun turning black? That's pure apocalyptic stuff. And, normally, I wouldn't be jumping to such a rash conclusion, but given all the demon mumbo-jumbo that's been happening around you two…Well," he says, sighs and reaches up to scratch underneath his cap, "maybe the apocalypse has waited long enough."
"How do we outrun it then?" Dean asks.
"Outrun it?" Bobby looks flabbergasted. "Boy, you don't outrun the goddamn apocalypse. You just duck down and hope you aren't caught in its path."
- - - - -
In a lean-to on the far edge of his rice field, the farmer sits on a stool and looks up at the dark sky. Around his feet, four chickens cluck and scratch at the dirt, hunting and pecking for what bugs they can find. The chickens have been good to his family, an egg or two a day from them, and then when they grow too old, off to the soup pot they go.
But now, with the sun gone, the farmer is worried about more than his white chickens. If there is no sun, the rice will not grow. There will be no grain for the chickens. Without the rice and chickens, he will be unable to feed his family. His beautiful wife and children will starve.
The farmer sighs and wipes a rough hand over his face. He's never been a spiritual man, but he wonders if it would be too late to start praying now.
- - - - -
After some persuading, Sam and Dean make their way to the basement, into Bobby's panic room because if Dean's going to be sleeping, he wants to rest somewhere where he knows nothing—except the fucking apocalypse that is—can get to them.
Earlier, Bobby checked out Sam's eyes, only to find the same thing Dean did. With every touch, the sun popped and sputtered, shooting down angry beams of lightning. There was a massive crack from the junkyard, and something sparked high into the sky. Dean assumed one of the cars had been hit. He didn't leave Sam's side long enough to go and find out.
"What d'you think?" Dean asks now, standing in the doorway of the panic room, as Bobby turns to go back upstairs.
"I…I don't know," Bobby admits. "Honest. This is the likes of something I've never even heard about." He glances over to Sam, who's sitting on the bed. "Look, I'm going to do some more reading, but in the meantime, you two need to get some sleep. You both look like death warmed over." He doesn't stick around to argue with Dean, who wants more answers, more solutions than Bobby can give right now.
Once Bobby's gone, Sam says, "You can have the bed if you want."
Dean looks up from where he's unrolling a sleeping bag. "And miss the joys of sleeping on the floor? Yeah right."
Sam smiles—the first that Dean can remember since this all began—even if it's a small, sad smile. "You're an idiot," he mumbles and rolls over on the thin mattress to sleep, knees brought up high to fit on the too short bed.
On the cement floor, Dean looks up at the ceiling, at the slowly whirling fan and the devil's trap. He closes his eyes and tries to sleep. In the silence of the room, he can still hear the bells.
- - - - -
Two weeks pass. Sam's eyes remain closed and Bobby's books remain open, but neither sees any answers. Dean leaves the house to go to the library and return as equally empty-handed. The sun remains hidden and the world stays dark.
One day, Sam wakes up in the early morning hours coughing blood. Dean swears and reaches for a nearby wastebasket where Sam hacks and spits out red foam.
When Sam—although shuddering—protests and says he's fine, Dean wipes his mouth off with his sleeve and helps him back into bed. In the sleeping bag, Dean tosses and turns for a couple hours before realizing he's not going back to sleep, not with the image of Sam's bloody spit in the bottom of the plastic wastebasket in his mind. So, he plods out to the kitchen where Bobby's sitting at the table and watching the small television on the counter.
On the screen, a newsman, wearing a beige suit, is illuminated from behind with a large spotlight. "…perhaps a prank," he is saying in his deep and professional voice as Dean comes into the kitchen. "Others believe it is blood." The reporter holds a microphone in one hand, and his stare into the camera is indifferent and plain. "Scientists in states bordering the Mississippi River are still testing the waters to determine the exact chemical makeup of this red substance…"
"Turn it off," Dean whispers hoarsely.
Bobby looks up, over to where Dean's standing in the doorway, and he reaches for the remote beside his cup of coffee. He punches a button, and the television dies.
"You know something?" Bobby asks.
"It'll be blood," Dean says, wiping a hand over his face. "It'll be Sam's blood."
Bobby's eyes widen. "You sure about this?"
"No…Yeah…Shit, I don't know. Bobby, he coughed up blood this morning and now…?" Dean makes a weak motion to the TV. "That?"
Bobby doesn't argue. Doesn't try to assure him that maybe it's just a coincidence, just a weird sort of thing that happened to happen at the same time. After all, how can he when the truth is too damn strong to ignore because Sam's gone blind and the sun's turned black? For that much, Dean's thankful that Bobby doesn't try to offer false platitudes.
"Rivers filling with blood. Another sign of the apocalypse, right?" Dean asks.
Bobby nods, silent.
Dean bends his neck and shakes his head. He swears, low and gruff. "Fuck."
- - - - -
The first church, the one with the bells that started ringing on the east coast of America, collapses. Its frame was weary, weakened by the tormenting vibrations, and the hairlines fractures in its mortar eventually grew until they were gaping gashes in the walls. The church collapses, and its congregation and pastor rush outside, praying and crying, shouting to the sky and wanting to know why. Why, why, why, they ask to the dark clouds.
While this church's bells have gone silent, three more churches' bells begin the song anew.
- - - - -
They leave Bobby's that afternoon despite his many protests to stay.
"No," Dean says after he's finished packing the car and Bobby stands with him in the driveway. "There's something coming for us and I don't want you to be in the middle of it too. If this is the end of the world, well, damn Bobby, you don't need to deal with it because of us."
"You're a moron. You and Sam both." But when he speaks, Bobby's eyes are glassy and his lips form a tight smile. He pulls Dean in close, hugs him fiercely, and says, "You call if you need anything, okay?"
"Okay," Dean agrees, and he holds onto Bobby a moment longer, while the back of his mind wonders if he'll ever see him again. At last, he lets go—even as Bobby tells him yet again to stay and not run off—and climbs into the car.
He starts the engine and backs out onto the empty road. Bobby stands in the driveway, a black silhouette beneath the light. He lifts his hand in farewell before bowing his head and turning away into the shadows.
- - - - -
A day later, the news reports begin to roll in. The scientists have confirmed the red substance in the water is blood, which is now spilling into the Gulf of Mexico and then into the Atlantic Ocean.
"Where this blood is coming from, the scientists remain unsure," the car radio reports, "as there are no animal bodies to account for such a large quantity of blood. Thousands of fish have already died because of the blood, however, and it is predicted that the rest of the marine life may be in terrible danger if this blood continues its deadly spread."
From the passenger seat, Sam reaches forward, fumbles for a moment without his sight, before eventually turning off the radio. They ride along in silence until Dean says, "You never really liked fish anyway."
Sam doesn't even pretend to smile at that one. He tightens his mouth and asks, "Where are we going?"
Dean shrugs, doesn't matter that Sam can't see him. "Away. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere where we can't hurt anybody with the apocalypse on our tail."
Sam nods as if this makes perfect sense.
They drive past a church with its bells chiming loudly. Outside, a small cluster of people are gathered, fat candles and fatter Bibles in hand, to pray.
- - - - -
A group of fishermen go out in their boat. Their static radio has brought news that a river in America has turned red. All waters are connected, they know, which means that soon, their waters will be red as well.
They push off and float out faraway from the coast to drop their nets. But they're too late. When they turn their spotlight to the water, they see the fish, hundreds—maybe thousands—floating on the surface of the water, their pink bellies turned up to the dark sky. The massive, hulking bodies of larger creatures—whales and sharks, squids and stingrays—bob slowly in the waters among the fish. A whale's mouth hangs open; its row of baleen is stained red and its cloudy eye stares up at the fishermen. There is no water to be seen beneath the sea of death. The fish slap the side of the ship, their corpses the hollow sound of rain against the hull.
One of the men leans over the side of the boat and vomits into the sea.
- - - - -
They make their home in the middle of Montana. There is no one around for hundreds of miles at the little, slumping cabin Dean finds. They've got enough food and water inside the Impala to last for a couple weeks, he figures.
The cabin's a rickety building, and the wind whistles through the window cracks at all hours of the day. But, the plumbing works, even though the water's more yellow than clear when Dean turns the handle on the faucet, and it's warm enough inside that they won't freeze to death before the apocalypse comes a-knocking.
In the first several days since leaving Bobby's, Sam coughs up blood twice more. But it's two times too much, and it worries Dean, who sits on the moldy mattress next to Sam and rests a hand between his shoulders as Sam hacks into the bowl Dean offers.
"You good?" Dean asks when Sam's breathing slows.
Sam nods wearily and wipes a hand over his tightened face and mouth. Red foam lingers at the corners of his lips. "Yeah…yeah…for now, anyway."
As Dean stands to toss the bowl's contents outside, Sam says, "You heard anything from the angels?"
Dean stops. "Angels?" He knows exactly what Sam means, but in the flurry of Sam's condition, he'd forgotten all about the angels.
"Yeah. You know, Castiel and Uriel. Have they…have they said anything to you?"
Dean looks at Sam's face, hopeful in spite of his closed eyes. "No," Dean admits. "Maybe they're waiting until the last minute. You know how those angels are…wanna make a fashionably late showing." He forces out a chuckle. Before Sam can reply with words that will only push the guilt down harder on Dean's back, Dean opens the door to the outside.
He gives the bowl a flick and tosses the bloody spit into the darkness. From somewhere in the distance, he hears the wind swirl in a sound like the flapping of wings.
- - - - -
Sam tries to call to Ruby using some of his new psychic powers to ask for guidance. If Heaven won't tell them, he argues, perhaps the other side can give them some answers.
Ruby doesn't answer.
"Maybe she just can't hear you," Dean suggests, opening a can of pork and beans.
"No," Sam says with a shake of his head, "I don't think she's…around."
"You mean…?" Dean grapples with the word choice. Doesn't want to outright ask if she's been taken back to the Pit, but where else would she go? Not like she has any family or friends she'd be telling good-bye.
"I think so. Maybe they took her back to get that side ready before the apocalypse."
Sam keeps calling for her for the next several days. But she never shows and Sam stops calling.
- - - - -
In foreign cities of Europe with galleries of art hundreds of years old, the leaders of countries gather together. The table in the hall is long, spanning the length of the room, and the intricate glass windows rise high and dark along the wall.
"What are we going to do?" a woman asks in a tailored business suit. The lapels on her collar are white, the rest of the suit black.
The people look at her. They all have lined notebooks and electronic organizers in front of them, cell phones resting silent off to the side, and notes gathered from experts around the continent. Notes gathered but no answers found.
"What are we going to do?" the woman repeats when all she can hear is the sound of the cathedral's chimes, low and deep, outside the building. She leads a country of millions, and she is not stupid. She knows that without the sun and now without the water, they do not have much time to act.
"I think…" a man says from the other end of the table. "I think there's not much we can do. I think we should be asking what we are going to tell the people. Maybe the truth?" he asks.
Murmurs bubble forth from around the table because the truth now is such a dangerous, frightening thing.
- - - - -
After that, things escalate far too quickly, and Dean is thrown into a panic. Sam's eyes drip blood one morning, fat, red dots that plop on his stale granola bar, which Dean snatches out of his hands before he can eat it. That night, while Sam lies on the bed and Dean stares out the window, the moon rises red and rusty in the night sky.
When Sam's stomach becomes so upset that he ends up vomiting anything he eats into the toilet, the radio reports thousands of deaths from famine in a faraway country.
"Dean, what's happening to me?" Sam asks, and he sounds so young, so afraid. He sounds nothing like the man Dean knows he is, nothing like the hunter who has killed demons and ghosts, faced down countless horrors.
Dean can't answer. In the bathroom where they kneel by the toilet, he wraps his arms around Sam and pulls him close. Sam collapses, limp and heavy, against Dean, breathing hard in a struggle not to cry.
The smell of Sam's vomit is hot and acrid in the room, and while Sam breathes heavily, Dean lifts his eyes to the small window. Part of him expects to see horsemen riding over the horizon.
- - - - -
Castiel comes at last, and his face is somber when he walks inside.
"I hope you have some news," Dean says from where he's trying to feed Sam sips of broth in hopes that Sam's stomach will allow him to keep something—anything—down.
Castiel nods. It's a slow and heavy gesture, though, and Dean's heart falls.
"I think we need to talk about this outside," Castiel says.
"No," Dean says, "no more secrets. If you want to talk, you can say it in front of Sam."
This isn't what Castiel wants, evident by the way his face tenses, but he doesn't argue. Instead, he crosses the room and sits on the bed across from Dean. "Sam is dying."
"No," Dean whispers, a growl.
"Yes, he is. He is dying, and when he is dead, Lucifer will walk free."
"What?" Sam chokes out now, struggling to roll toward the sound of Castiel's voice. "I thought you said the sixty-six seals had to be broken for Lucifer..."
"We were wrong," Castiel admits, and he turns his eyes away from Sam and Dean. "We were wrong, and I am sorry."
When neither Sam nor Dean speaks, Castiel continues, "Sam, you are the last seal. The only seal that seems to matter now. When you die, the seal breaks, and Lucifer walks free."
"You didn't know this?" Dean spits out, angry now, furious and ready to kill. "You guys and all your fucking 'infinite wisdom' didn't see this?"
"I'm sorry. We didn't. Sam was…he was told to be the anti-christ, the one who would oppose us and the Father. He wasn't supposed to be…Not a seal itself. The demon blood…" Castiel begins, but the words fade away. For the first time, he appears unsure of himself and his holy mission.
"How do we stop it?" Sam asks, voice quiet and calm. "How do we stop me from dying?"
Castiel lifts his eyes from Sam's face to Dean's and says, "Dean has to kill you before it's too late."
"What?" Dean gapes.
"Use the demon's knife that she gave you. Nothing else will work to destroy the demonic powers—the seed Azazel planted—inside him. You, Dean, you have to do it. You and no one else because you're his brother and his blood. If you kill him before he dies on his own accord, Lucifer will not walk. The world will be saved. This is the holy task—why you were saved from Hell—that the Father has given to you."
"You've got to be fucking kidding me," Dean growls. "You actually want me to stab him?"
"Lucifer—" Castiel begins, but Dean cuts him off.
"Get out of here before I stab you!" Dean hollers, rising to his feet and grabbing Castiel by the coat lapels. He drags Castiel across the room, away from Sam, away from the beds and to the door.
"Dean, you don't understand," Castiel pleads. He's not afraid; Dean could never physically hurt him. But, he's worried nonetheless, about the world and Lucifer.
"I understand just fine. You want me to kill him. Look—fuck—I sold my soul and went to Hell to bring him to life, okay? Go tell your angel buddies that until there's a new plan, I don't want to see any of you." He shoves Castiel outside, even though he's sure this is probably going to be one too many strikes against him up in Heaven—yelling and pushing around an angel—and slams the door. While waiting for Castiel to come back and smite him with a lightning bolt, Dean crosses the room to where Sam's lying on the bed.
Castiel doesn't return, and Sam and Dean are left alone.
- - - - -
Patches of infected skin break out along Sam's legs and forearms almost overnight. The skin reddens, warms, and blisters, before peeling away in waxy clumps. Dean tries to apply the crude creams they have in their first aid kit. When the creams do nothing, Sam asks for something to at least dull the pain.
"What does it look like?" he asks Dean after swallowing some pills.
"Like…like the skin's rotting."
"Flesh-eating bacteria, then," Sam answers. He snorts and shakes his head. "You checked the news lately?" he asks sardonically. "I'm sure this is the plague to a whole country of people."
Dean hasn't listened to the radio. Following Castiel's visit, he's too afraid of what he might find outside their cabin in Montana.
"We can get you to a hospital. Get something strong enough to treat this."
"And say what? That I can't open my eyes, I sometimes cough up blood, and, oh yeah, on my really bad days, blood comes from my eyes?" He sighs. "Besides, I'm sure the hospitals are filling up fast if it really is the plague. Plague and pestilence. All that…"
"Then what do you want me to do?" Dean asks, trying to keep the edge out of his voice. He feels helpless, unable to do anything except watch Sam deteriorate.
Sam breathes out. "I…I don't know anymore."
Later that night, after Sam's asleep, Dean listens to the radio. Sure enough, across the globe, people are dying, dropping like flies in the streets from an unknown pathogen.
Dean doesn't sleep that night. Sam's breathing rattles and the sound of the bells grows louder.
- - - - -
A nurse wipes her forehead with her sleeve, as she fumbles to administer another dose of morphine to a patient in a country where the face of a queen is still on the coins. Too many patients, too much death that no one can stop. None of the doctors know what's wrong, cannot place any of the symptoms to one curable—treatable—disease. All they prescribe is drugs for the pain. To keep the patients calm until their hearts give out and they're slipped into black, plastic bags to be wheeled downstairs.
The morticians no longer bother with autopsies. They can't keep up. The instructions that remain are to dig expansive, endless holes where bodies can be dumped by the dozens.
- - - - -
Sam loses the ability to walk not long after. The sores on his legs have grown larger, the bacteria eating away at his flesh and muscle, revealing the slick, red interior of muscles and the soft, pillowed yellow of fat. He refuses to allow Dean to take him to a hospital. Only asks for more pills to keep the edge off the pain.
"I'll forgive you, you know," Sam says.
Dean turns from where he's reading more in the books Bobby gave him, searching vainly for one more solution, one more answer other than what Castiel offered. He now understands how Sam felt during that final year after Dean traded in his soul to Hell. Scrambling blind, fingers finding nothing but dust.
"For killing me." Sam sighs. "Dean, look. Maybe you should just…maybe you…end it…me so Lucifer can't—" His words stumble, stutter over his shaking tongue. He's not comfortable discussing it, but Sam's always been rational, always looked at the bigger picture more than Dean ever will.
"No," Dean grits out, hands curling to fists over the book's yellowed pages. "No. I didn't before. I won't do it now." He shakes his head. "No."
They sit a while longer, and Sam's voice is pained, thick with tears when he whispers, "I don't want you to die, too."
"Sam, shut up."
"No, no. Dean, if I die? You die, too. Don't you get it? If you kill me, you can live. The world can live."
"And what?" Dean asks, turning around in his chair. "I'm just supposed to go on, like life is fine and dandy after I kill you? Like…like…I wouldn't want to die right along with you?"
Sam swallows, the sound of it loud in the little cabin. "I want to know you'll be okay."
"No. No. The world's not ended yet. We're going to find a solution. You're not dying. Lucifer's not walking out of Hell. The damn world's not ending." He breathes out to control his heartbeat as acid sloshes in his stomach. "You're not dying," he repeats.
Sam nods, little boy gesture, too tired to argue for now. "Okay," he whispers.
- - - - -
Castiel isn't alone when he comes again.
"You have to kill him," Uriel tells Dean, making a motion to Sam who is wincing while he applies bandages to the sores on his legs. Sam can't see the gaping sores where bacteria eats its way to the bone, but he can feel the pain, feel the hot flash of agony, to know where to place the bandages.
"Yeah?" Dean says. "And what are you going to do about it? Can't kill me, 'cause I gotta kill him. And…you can't kill him, because then there's that whole 'end of the world' thing to deal with, hm? Can't you just level the whole world? Sure would save the trouble of Lucifer getting out. Make life a lot easier on all of us."
Before Uriel can speak, Castiel interrupts, "Those are not our orders."
When he says no more, Dean asks, "Oh? The whole 'free will' stuff, right? It's supposed to be me using my free will to save the world. You guys can't help out, huh?" He shrugs, turns to Uriel. "So, in other words, there's nothing you can do."
"You impertinent swine…" Uriel begins, but Castiel places a hand on his chest and pushes him back. Gets him out of Dean's face.
Castiel turns to Dean. "Why are you doing this?" he asks, genuinely confused. Dean remembers Anna and thinks of how Castiel doesn't know what it means to defy an order. Doesn't know how to think entirely for himself.
"He's my brother," Dean says. "I went to Hell for him. I can't kill him."
"Even if it means the lives of millions of people?" Castiel asks in that same even tone.
Dean swallows. Hates the guilt on his back now. "I can't."
Uriel snorts. "Selfish human. Going to destroy the entire world because you care about yourself too much." He reaches forward and backhands Dean hard enough to leave him gasping and clutching the edge of the table to keep upright. "When the world ends and you're in Hell, I hope you remember you could have stopped this."
He storms out in a massive gust, leaving Castiel behind. Castiel watches Dean as he staggers upright again, bleeding from his nose and split lip.
"The Father will forgive you," Castiel says. "Sam has said he will forgive you."
Dean shakes his head, still a no because at the end, he doesn't know if he'll be able to forgive himself—God and Sam both be damned.
- - - - -
Somewhere beyond Indonesia, a group of islands disappear. They sink and go under, taking with them thousands of people and buildings. A man in a skyscraper on an opposite island, standing at his window and looking out at the inky water, will go home and tell his wife. He will tell her that it was like the islands, their city lights still twinkling, began to lower themselves into the water. There were no waves, no storm, no violence to suck them down. When the islands went under, the ocean rushed back in to fill the space they'd left behind and the lights went out.
- - - - -
The earthquakes come, fierce and trembling, and before the radio crackles and dies, Dean hears about mountains splitting and islands disappearing. The ground breaks apart, ripping the cabin in two, and Sam cannot stop weeping.
The tears fall from his eyes, even though he makes no noise, no sounds to indicate he's upset. The tears fall quietly, and with every tear, Dean watches stars fall from the sky. They plummet to the earth, bursting into fiery blazes and pummeling anything in their paths. They crash through the house, pulling the roof from the cabin, while the wind rises to a deafening howl and the earth shakes.
Dean leans over Sam on the bed, screaming Sam's name and shaking him, trying to get him to respond. Since the earthquakes started, Sam's been unresponsive, a vegetable of blood and rotting meat on the bed.
"Sam!" Dean yells. He can barely hear his own voice above the roaring wind. Planks are torn from the cabin, flung into the swirling air to disappear in the darkness. Lightning cracks, jagged streaks across the black sky, where the stars pitch forward, fall from their heavenly stations and come hurling to the earth. The bells chime in monstrous tones, seeming to challenge the thunder in their volume. "Sam! Dammit! Please! Wake up!"
Dean clutches Ruby's knife in one hand. He doesn't want to use it. He's refused angels of the Lord in using it. Its blade trembles in his hold.
Deafening, thunder crashes, and wind tears through the house, lifting the table and smashing it against what remains of the cabin's walls. Dean ducks, covers Sam as a leg of the table sails over their heads.
"SAM!" he screams again, so loud and strong that he feels a burn in his throat. In the shadows, the illumination from the lightning and the falling stars, Sam's face doesn't move. Doesn't respond.
This is it, Dean knows. This is it and there's nothing that can save them anymore. It's the end of the world, and in a few minutes, Dean will be dead right alongside Sam. He takes comfort in that thought, knowing that he'll be gone, too. With that, knowing his death is imminent, he lifts the knife.
He bends forwards, presses his mouth close to Sam's ear and whispers, "I'm so sorry, Sammy." He's crying now, crying just as Sam is, but his sobs wrack his body, make him tremble and shake, gasp and cough because even if he's doing this to save Sam, to stop him from suffering when the earth swallows them whole and the stars flatten them into the ground, he's still doing it. He promises to turn the knife on himself in the moment after.
He lifts the blade high, and he brings it down into Sam's chest.
- - - - -
The bells stop.
The world stops.
- - - - -
There is a crystal moment of complete silence, and Sam's eyes fly open. His eyes are there, no longer those white bellies from before, and he looks at Dean. Around them, wood, rocks, and dirt are frozen midair in the hushed room. A star, a flaming meteor, hovers at the foot of the bed. The wind is a mere whisper, a silken swirl past Dean's face.
Sam's skin is clean and smooth, no longer rotting away under the apocalyptic plague. He looks healthy and whole. Even though the knife remains in Sam's chest, there is no blood, no slice through Sam's shirt—as if it's a magic trick.
Sam smiles. "Hey," he whispers.
"Sam," Dean chokes out, a broken syllable. "You…you're not dead." He's still crying, tears still in his eyes and wet on his cheeks.
That same peaceful smile on his face, Sam replies, "No. Not right now. Not this time."
Dean doesn't know what to say. His heartbeat is loud in his ears; Sam's breathing louder in the starkness. In that moment, all words are lost to Dean except one: "Sammy…"
Sam lifts a hand to rest it on Dean's shoulder. "It's going to be okay," he whispers. "We're going to be okay."
Dean nods. He believes it.
- - - - -
On a beach faraway from Montana, two boys walk down the shore next to clear, blue water. One boy is older, one boy is younger. The older boy is slightly taller than the younger, who is quickly gaining height.
The older boy takes the younger's hand in his own, and he squeezes slightly, gently, just enough to be reassuring.
They continue in silence until the younger boy smiles and says, "Let's go home." Hand in hand, they walk off into a brilliant and warm sun, leaving nothing behind but their matching footprints in the sand.