Title: Writing on the Wall
Summary: Written for the l4d_bigbang. SPN Crossover with Left 4 Dead. Season 2 AU. Caught in the wake of a nation-wide epidemic, Sam and Dean find themselves stranded in a small town, far away from any form of aid. Together with a couple of other survivors, they must run the gauntlet of a town full of the infected, taking refuge in safe houses where they can, in order to make it to the evac zone. Even then, they learn, nowhere is truly safe...
Art: By the incomparable lj user="glasslogic"! Link here when available.
Characters: Sam, Dean, OFC, OMC, with quick guest appearance by Bobby
Disclaimer: I own neither Sam nor Dean nor anything to do with the L4D video game franchise. That's probably a good thing, because otherwise there would be a lot more zombies in the SPN world, and the character survival rate would be a LOT lower...
Warnings: No spoilers for SPN past Season 2. Swearing. Violence and gore about on par with both the show and game.
Neurotic Author's Note #1: First off, I encourage you to RUN, not walk, to the gorgeous art by glasslogic, who is a complete rockstar! Not only is she running the show, she's also writing AND making art! She made a banner and a divider and a whackload of icons, which are fabulous. You will note how gorgeous the banner is: she has a real feel for composition, and combined the elements of the story together beautifully. You'll see when you read the story.
Neurotic Author's Note #2: My undying thanks go out to yasminke, who beta'd this in record time and as usual saved me from myself in a bunch of really embarrassing places. ;)
Neurotic Author's Note #3: So I finally, finally got to indulge my extreme love of zombies in an SPN fic. I have been waiting for an opportunity for a really long time. Unfortunately, the L4D zombies are not the ones I prefer, but still! I also didn't get to go into as much description as I would have liked, and I was forced to tread the line between fantasy and the suspension of disbelief a little more carefully. For instance, I didn't allow my characters unlimited ammunition, and they didn't find convenient piles of weapons and stuff lying around. Can't have everything, right?
Neurotic Author's Note #4: I must thank my RL-friend fearsclave for introducing me to L4D and for gleefully encouraging me to slaughter as many zombies as possible all the while laughing at me as I squeaked and swore at the computer screen. I may never forgive him, however, for telling me to shoot "that car with the blinking light." Bah.
Neurotic Author's Note #5: fearsclave also encouraged me to read the awesome and creative graffiti in the "safe houses" in the game, which is what prompted this story to begin with.
"Zombies," Dean commented. "Gets funnier every time I hear it."
"Isn't that what you said about the vampires? For a hunter, you sure seem amazed by the appearance of some of the things we run into." Sam rolled his eyes as he carefully checked the remaining ammunition in his clip. "Well, I'm down to ten in this clip and one full one until we can get back to the car. And the shotgun, but that's not exactly our best bet."
"I've still got two full clips, other than what I've got still loaded," Dean said. He decided, magnanimously, to ignore the vampire comment. They had bigger fish to fry, after all. "We get out of this alive, we're working on your aim, Sammy."
"It's Sam, and it's not my aim that's the problem, it's the fact that there was a goddamned zombie horde on the other side of that last door. Which, I maintain, would not have been a problem if someone hadn't pulled the fire alarm," Sam pointed out, a little more bitchily than was strictly necessary, as far as Dean was concerned.
How was he supposed to know that zombies were attracted to loud noises, anyway? Dean made a derisive noise at the back of his throat. It's not like it was in any of the Romero flicks. Then again, in the Romero flicks, zombies didn't run at you in a mad, screaming horde and try to rip you to shreds. They just sort of stumbled and staggered around, and if you got taken down, well, it was because you were just unprepared. Unfortunately, 'unprepared' applied even to him and Sam these days, because, really, no one believed in the goddamn zombie apocalypse, not even them. Sure, there were zombies before, but they were psycho chicks who'd been raised by the dead by their creepy friend-slash-stalker with delusions of true love and far too much knowledge of ancient Greek rituals, and not at all mindless animated corpses that decayed as they walked. That was the whole fun of watching zombie movies, Dean thought bitterly: it was all fiction. No one expected the zombie apocalypse.
"It's like the Spanish Inquisition," Sam said, getting to his feet, and for a moment Dean wondered if he'd spoken his thoughts aloud.
"You start reading minds all of a sudden, psychic-boy?"
"Don't call me that, and no, I don't read minds. That's not how it works and you know it, jerk."
"Just wondering. There was that whole furniture-moving incident, so you can't blame a guy for checking."
"That was once, and it never happened again. It's just the visions, okay? God," Sam huffed. Trust him to get his panties in a twist over that when there were zombies milling about outside trying to eat everyone in sight.
"Fat lot of help those were. You think you could have predicted this whole mess," Dean rose from his crouch to peer through the window out at the darkening street below.
They'd been holed up on the second floor of an abandoned apartment building for the better part of the afternoon, after the aforementioned fire-alarm-gone-wrong incident, but there was very little sign of things getting any better. The Impala was way the hell on the other side of town, courtesy of some spectacularly bad planning on his part. Now they were trapped with very few potential escape routes, and even fewer bullets, and this day was really, but really starting to suck. He felt rather than saw Sam making a bitch face at him in the semi-darkness.
"Are you just trying to get a rise out of me, or are you being deliberately dense, or what?" Sam asked. "The visions only relate to the demon, in case you somehow managed to forget that. So I'm guessing that the zombie apocalypse, or whatever, doesn't have anything to do with it. Do you see anything?"
Dean risked leaning forward and ducking his head through the window. Apart from being a lot faster than he would have thought, and some of them having some freaky abilities, the zombies were pretty much acting according to stereotype: mindless flesh-eating machines. They didn't appear capable of reasoning, or at least not thinking much farther than a couple of feet in front of them, and the odds of one of them raising its head to look up —which none of them had done so far that he'd been able to tell— seemed pretty slim.
"Nothing. Well, that's not true. There's a bunch of zombies down there, kind of scattered around and not doing much. We might be able to make a break for it, but there's no way we're making it back to the Impala in one go."
"Yeah," Sam came to stand by him on the opposite side of the window, shielding himself out of habit rather than necessity —let it not be said that John Winchester hadn't raised good little soldiers. "It's not that far, really. We can probably make it in a few hours, if we do it in stages. There might be some way stations still in operation. Head to those, stock up on whatever we can find, keep going until we get back to the car."
"I swear, if those brain-eating ghouls have so much as scratched her paint job..."
"You'll what?" Sam challenged, and Dean just glared. It's not like there was much to threaten a zombie with, but it was a little rude to point it out and totally undermine the effect he'd been going for. Sam was already moving on, anyway, prowling along the wall and toward the front door of the empty apartment they'd holed up in, though it was obvious his bad leg was still giving him trouble.
"What is it?"
Sam made an equivocal motion with one hand, scrunching up his nose in that way he had when things weren't going to his liking. "Not sure. Probably nothing, since we did a sweep of the floor and those things can't climb stairs. I figure we should try for the roof first —there's too many of them right outside the building, but maybe we can go roof to roof for a couple of buildings, climb down one of the fire escapes."
Dean nodded. It wasn't a foolproof plan, but it was the best one they had to date. "You sure your knee can take it?"
Sam just shrugged. "It's either that or become zombie fodder. I've had worse, I'll make it work."
"I suppose it would be too much to ask for one of these apartment-dwelling yuppies to be a gun collector?" Dean grumbled, joining him at the door.
"Probably, but I guess it wouldn't hurt to check. Carefully. The last thing we want is to set a whole new bunch of them loose on this floor —we're running low on ammo as it is."
"All right, then. A few hours, and we'll be home free. Then we get the hell out of Dodge, regroup, and figure out just what the hell we can do about all of this."
There had been little or no warning when it had all first started. In fact, Dean was pretty sure that the whole "zombie apocalypse' started long before either he or Sam even noticed, cut off as they were most of the time from mainstream society. That was probably their saving grace, too. The fact that they drove around constantly, drifting from town to town like those bums in the thirties he read about who rode around on trains all day long. The first they heard of it was over the radio, one day when Sam declared himself sick and tired of listening to the same five cassette tapes over and over again —"Cassette tapes, Dean!"— and had demanded they at least try listening to the radio for a while.
"It can't possibly be that bad, and I don't know about you, but I for one haven't seen a newspaper or a proper TV in days, and we have no idea what's going on in the real world!"
"Seems fair enough to me," Dean had pointed out. "I mean, the real world has no idea what's going on in our world either. Ignorance is bliss, Sammy."
"God, I can't believe you. And it's Sam."
So rather than have Sam sulk at him for the next hundred miles, Dean had relented —even though he was the one driving and therefore totally had the choice of music in the car— and had let his little brother fiddle with the dials, looking for a radio station. It might also have had a little something to do with the fact that Sam had, once again, proven himself to be a magnet for supernatural fuglies on their last hunt, and had been so battered that for the first couple of days they'd holed up in a motel while Sam slept like the dead and Dean kept himself busy by cleaning every weapon they owned and cursing at the broken television set in the room. Even after that Sam had done little but doze fitfully in the car, shifting uncomfortably in his seat every few minutes to compensate for torn and strained muscles and a mild concussion. So Dean couldn't be blamed if it was nice to see him sit up and show enough of an interest in his surroundings to petulantly demand a news station. For a few minutes it had seemed like a lost cause: every frequency gave off nothing but fuzzy static and ear-splitting squeals, and Dean was about to bark at Sam to just put his music back on, already, when one station crackled into life, a bit garbled but still mostly audible.
"—urge everyone to remain indoors as much as they can possibly manage until the situation is contained," a voice said, in the earnest-yet-neutral tones of a news announcer, and Dean sat up straighter in his seat.
"Turn it up, Sam."
"We repeat: do not go outside unless you absolutely have to. The authorities are working around the clock to contain the spread of infection, but thus far their efforts have not been successful. If you encounter someone who may have been infected, do not approach them, and do not let them approach you. Do not, under any circumstances, allow them to enter your home. If they can still understand you, direct them to the nearest containment centre."
"What the hell?" Sam was staring at the radio as though it was somehow magically going to start answering his questions. "Is this a joke?"
Dean snorted. "Could be. Hey, maybe it's like that thing back in the thirties, what was it? That guy who put on a radio play and, like, panicked the entire eastern sea board because they thought earth was being attacked?"
"War of the Worlds," Sam agreed, but the set of his shoulders was tense, unhappy, and Dean couldn't help but agree. He had a bad feeling about this too. "I guess we'll find out in a minute if this is a radio play. I didn't think they even aired those anymore. They're kind of out of fashion."
"What with TV and all."
"—this recording will repeat in fifteen minutes. Now, for your news report," the voice stated flatly, and then was replaced by the same voice, but speaking live this time. Dean could tell by the slightly different quality of the sound when the man spoke, the slightly breathless quality to his words. "Welcome back, I'm Gerald Summers, with CKOD radio. As far as I know, we are the only station still able to broadcast in the TriState area, although I can't tell you how long we will be able to stay on the air, under the current circumstances. We may have to evacuate at any given time, although we will leave the recording you have heard, with relevant updates, to play for as long as the equipment will hold out."
"Sam, what the hell is going on?"
"Maybe if you shut up and listen to the guy on the radio, we can find out," Sam said testily, and for once Dean didn't even bother to flick his ear or punch his shoulder for being a pissy little bitch, just kept driving, both hands gripping the steering wheel.
"—as I'm sure most of you are aware by now, the area has been gripped by a virulent plague of some kind, one which turns its victims mindless and violent before killing them. At least, that's what the official reports would have us believe. Eyewitness testimony, however, indicates that the victims actually die quickly, sometimes in a matter of only hours, after being infected, and it's only after their death that the true horror begins."
"It's like we're stuck in this terrible movie," a female voice had said, quavering with fear. "Like one of those things you see on late-night TV or on the SciFi channel or something. They're like zombies!"
"There you have it. The word has been bandied about by more than one person over the last few days, and as surreal as it seems, it nonetheless remains that that is the most accurate description we have to date of this devastating illness that is spreading like wildfire through the large cities in this country. No one is certain where the infection originated, but what is certain is that it is transmitted through contact with bodily fluid, be it blood or saliva or anything else. If you or a loved one may have been infected —through a bite or through other means, it is imperative that you seek medical attention immediately. A list of emergency centres that have been opened for the express purpose of treating victims will follow shortly. Please make a note of the one nearest you, and head there only if you need to. If you are not yourself infected, do not attempt to accompany your loved one, you will only be placing yourself at unnecessary risk. If you are indoors—"
Dean pulled the car to the side of the road, leaned forward, and switched off the radio.
"What the fuck?"
Sam was shaking his head, didn't even bother to bitch about the fact that he was still listening to the broadcast. "I have no idea."
"Seriously, zombies? Are they kidding?"
"Doesn't sound like it. After 'War of the Worlds,' or whatever, they started putting warnings before their radio plays. We should confirm it, though. We're not far from the next town..." Sam pulled out the map from the glove compartment, checked their route. "I'll give Bobby a call, too, see if he's heard anything. I figure he would have called if he heard about this, though. Or someone else, for that matter."
Dean shrugged. "Maybe he wouldn't have. I mean, Bobby's pretty isolated, out where he is. Not too bad for defending against zombies, I guess, if push comes to shove, but maybe he wouldn't have heard right away."
"Or maybe he couldn't call," Sam suggested grimly, and Dean shuddered.
"Maybe it's just around here, hasn't spread anywhere else. Call him."
There was a tense few minutes while Sam dialed Bobby's number, then his backup line, then started working his way through all of the phone numbers Bobby had given them if they ever needed a cover story: the FBI number, the CIA number, the Homeland Security number.
"Nothing. He's not picking up."
"The lines are working though, right?"
"So maybe he's out on a hunt."
"Cell phone's off. Or out of the service area, anyway, and he doesn't have voicemail on his cell."
"Goddamn Bobby, still can't get in touch with the twenty-first century."
"Says the guy who still listens to cassette tapes in his tape deck."
"Hey, those are classics! And it's not like my life depends on my getting an MP3 player, you know?"
"Okay," Sam wrenched the conversation back on topic. "So we stop in the next town, find a TV, and hope one of the news stations is covering... whatever this is. Then we try Bobby again, and figure out where we go from there."
Dean blew out a breath, rubbed a hand over his mouth. "Sounds like the beginnings of a plan, anyway. Let's go."
And with that, they hit the road.
In the apartment building, Dean took point as a matter of course, Sam falling in behind him without so much as a mutter of complaint, which was a nice change of pace. Apparently the zombie apocalypse —and Dean was pretty sure he'd never get tired of saying those words— was a great way to make little brothers get their priorities straight. Or maybe Sam was just biding his time and would pitch the hissy fit to end all hissy fits at some later, yet-to-be-determined date when they weren't in immediate danger of having their flesh consumed by ambulatory corpses. Like he said: priorities.
The building was four stories tall, one story taller than the two to either side, which was an advantage in this situation: they would get a good vantage point to look at the street, and jumping to the roofs next door would be easier from a height. Not for the first time that day he wished they'd brought their flashlights with them, but they'd been out in broad daylight before. No reason to think they'd need the extra illumination then, but of course it was an entirely different kettle of fish now that they faced the prospect of an entire night spent roaming the streets of a decently large town filled to capacity with zombies.
He moved forward carefully, aware of Sam's presence a few paces behind him, though he couldn't hear him at all except for the occasional breath that seemed to echo harshly in the stillness. It was the silence that, for once, reassured him: zombies weren't discreet about their presence anywhere. They moaned or grunted, and in some really unsettling cases they hissed and snarled. Those were the ones to look out for, they'd quickly learned —the ones that moved fast and retained some semblance of animal cunning, and either ambushed you from above or else snatched you with some sort of weird tongue or a tentacle or whatever the hell it was that Dean didn't particularly want to think about. Sam had gone on and on about how weird it was, because weren't all the creatures just humans infected with a virus? A mutation like that made no sense, etc., etc., until Dean had none-too-politely ordered him to shut his cake hole. That had earned him an entire afternoon's worth of sulking and blessed silence, even though by the end of it he was kind of beginning to miss Sam's endless jabbering.
Dean opted to bypass the third floor entirely. There was no sense in borrowing trouble when they could just go on by and get to the fourth floor without the risk of running into anyone who'd managed to make it home after getting infected. Their footsteps echoed in the stairwell as they climbed, and he could hear his blood pounding in his ears from the exertion, but other than that, there was silence. He was reaching for the handle to the door that would lead them to the main hallway of the fourth floor when a hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"Wait," Sam said softly. "Listen. You hear that?"
He paused, holding his breath. Sam's hearing had always been the better than his. In fact, on a hunt, he pretty much relied on Sam to hear or spot stuff he'd missed. Dean had always been more proficient when it came to the down-and-dirty parts of hunting: he was a natural with most weapons, a crack shot, had lightning reflexes. Sure, he bragged about them and gave Sam a hard time, but even when he wasn't exaggerating for the benefit of a girl, or to make Sam roll his eyes, he knew he was damned good at what he did. But Sam was the one with the insight, the one who could be relied on to pay attention when it was necessary, and so when Sam told him to stop and listen, that's exactly what he did. A moment later, he heard it too: a low sob, too hurried and muffled to be the moaning of a zombie. A woman, by the sound of it.
"Is it one of those crying ones?" Dean made a face. Some of the zombies they'd encountered huddled in corners and wailed like women in distress, but if you approached them or made too much noise or, hell, even shone a light at them, they went batshit insane and tried to rip you to shreds. It was the worst thing they'd encountered to date, and he was sort of hoping there wasn't anything worse out there that he just didn't know about it.
"Doesn't sound like it. It's just a whisper, no wailing or moaning."
"So, civilians, you think?"
Sam nodded. "Probably."
"Okay. Stick close, we don't want to spook 'em, especially if they have guns."
He eased the door open, slid along the wall and stopped a few paces in, listening. Sam motioned with one hand, indicating a door across the hall, then called out. "Hello? Anyone there?"
Immediately Dean was on guard, listening for the tell-tale sound of a zombie shuffling toward them, or, worse, a horde whipped up into a frenzy by a sudden noise. There was a scuffling sound behind the door, and a thin whisper.
"Yes, yes! I'm here!"
Sam was across the hall in a single step, gun levelled. "Are you alone? Anyone with you?"
"I have the kids with me," the voice grew louder —a woman's voice, Dean decided after a moment, though it sounded hoarse, maybe from crying. "Oh, God..."
Kids. Jesus. Dean rubbed a hand over his mouth, feeling a little queasy that the first thought to cross his mind was that kids would slow them down. It was so damned easy to fall into that particular trap. So much for saving people and hunting things.
"Okay, open the door, please," Sam said, in his best witness-soothing voice. "We can help, but you can't stay in there."
After a moment there was the scraping sound of a chain being removed and a deadbolt sliding out of its lock, and the door opened a crack, then wider, revealing a woman not much older than Dean, her black hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, her brown eyes swollen and rimmed with red. She was dressed in a ratty grey t-shirt and jeans, with high tops that might have been white at some point, and she stared at them blankly, as though they might have been nothing more than annoying door-to-door salesmen interrupting her afternoon soaps. Dean thought she might even be pretty, under different circumstances.
"What do you want?" The look she directed at them was at once hopeful and suspicious, not that Dean could blame her. These were uncertain times, and, zombies aside, well, people were animals. Who knew what else she'd had to deal with the last couple of weeks?
"We're heading toward the evac zone," Sam said. It wasn't a lie. There were posters and graffiti all over the place, telling people where to go for evacuation, and the Impala was parked near one. Just because they weren't going to evacuate with the others didn't mean they weren't going that way. "You should come with us. It's not safe here for you."
The woman shook her head. "I can't... my babies..." she glanced back into the apartment, her expression suddenly fearful. "Claude left without us," she added.
"That your husband?"
She shrugged. "I can't leave them."
"Where are they?" Sam leaned over, carefully put a comforting hand on her shoulder, kept his tone gentle. It was the same tone he used with frightened children, wounded animals, and the few completely insane people they'd had to deal with over the years. Dean felt something cold slither down his spine. Why wasn't Sam just telling her they'd take the kids with them? "What are their names? What's your name?"
"Sheila. Sheila Huggins."
"And your kids?"
Sheila wrapped her arms around her stomach, shoulders hunched even as she leaned into Sam's touch. Dean still couldn't figure out how he did it. "R-Robin. Robin and Jessie. God, how can I leave them?" Her voice broke.
"It's okay, Sheila," Sam's expression said that it was anything but okay, but she wasn't looking at him, too caught up in her own misery. "Where are they now?"
"In the bathroom."
"Okay, Sheila. I'm going to go check on them. You stay here with my brother, all right?"
Sam carefully steered her to Dean, then motioned over her head to indicate that he'd be right back. Dean made a face to show exactly what he thought of that plan of action, but there wasn't much he could do about it now. Sam's expression was grim, and that never boded well. He was gone less than two minutes, and when he came back, the colour had leeched from his face. He looked at Dean, shook his head, and Dean had to swallow a mouthful of bile at the thought of what was locked in that bathroom.
"Sheila, you have to come with us," Sam placed a hand on her elbow. "You can't stay here. I'm really sorry."
She nodded, as though she'd just been waiting for someone to give her permission to leave. "Claude left..." she trailed off, then took a deep breath, and Dean saw the desolate look leave her eyes, if only for a fraction of a second. "He left me alone with our babies. What was I supposed to do?"
Sam put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into a careful hug. "You did the right thing, Sheila. Come on with us, we'll get you to the evac zone, okay?"
"Sheila," Dean broke in. "Do you have a gun? Anything you can use as a weapon?"
She shook her head. "Mr. Robinson down the hall is a hunter."
Dean got her meaning right away. "Good. Show us where, and we'll get the hell out of here."
Bobby had answered his phone after the fifth try that first day, and Dean let himself collapse bonelessly onto his motel bed, feeling the knot of anxiety in his chest dissolve. "You boys okay?"
Sam let out a sigh of relief that was half a sob. "Yeah, yeah we're fine Bobby. What about you? You scared the hell out of us! Why didn't you answer your phone?" He set the phone on his bed, hit the 'speaker' button so Dean could talk to him too.
"We're kind of busy here," Bobby replied testily. "In case you hadn't noticed, the whole world is going to hell! I've been organizing things with the town, getting us set up so the infection won't spread too far."
"How bad is it where you are?"
"Not too bad. We've got it contained. At least, I hope we do. You boys are right in the thick of it, though. It'll be a hell of a trick for you to get out of there in one piece."
Dean flopped back onto the second bed in the motel room they'd found for the night. "Yeah, we kind of figured that when we drove through the first horde of zombies. Bobby, what the hell is going on?"
"Damned if I know, kid. No one seems to know where this came from. We're just battening down the hatches. Most of the hunters I've talked to are holding their own, but I don't know how long we can last against all of these... things. I've had to put down a few of my neighbours, and let me tell you, it ain't exactly conducive to people listening to what I have to say. As far as most of them were concerned, I just sell scrap metal and used cars. As introductions to the supernatural go, this is one of the rougher ones."
"God. Okay, we need to figure out how to get out of here. Can you put us up for a while, if we make it out there?"
"Of course," Bobby sounded insulted. "We could use all hands on deck. You idjits try not to get yourselves killed on your way here, you hear me?"
"We'll try, Bobby," Sam ducked his head with a small grin. "You got any advice to keep us alive?"
"Aim for the head."
"Nice," Dean groaned. "Take care, Bobby."
The few television stations available at the motel were only showing snow at this point, though a few of the pay-per-view channels were still up and running. "Figures that porn would be the last thing to go," Dean commented.
"It's like the cockroach of the entertainment industry," Sam agreed while he hacked a neighbouring WiFi signal, fussing with the controls on the laptop in search of some arcane alignment of the stars, or whatever it was he did whenever he wanted to get free Internet in their motel rooms. "Which means you ought to be kept happy long after the rest of the world is turned into a shuffling, brainless mass."
Dean flicked through channel after staticky channel, until he eventually alighted upon one that still appeared to be up and running news reels, though the time stamps indicated they were already over a day old. He toed off his boots, stripped off his jeans, socks and t-shirt and lay back in his boxers and undershirt, flexing his toes and enjoying the feeling of no longer being in the same clothes he'd been in for the past sixteen hours.
"How did we even miss this for so long? It's been, like, a whole week."
"Well, where were we for the past week?" Sam pointed out reasonably, not bothering to look up from where he was tapping quietly away at the laptop keyboard.
"Yeah, all right, we were driving through the middle of nowhere," he conceded. 'And you were unconscious,' he wanted to add, but held his tongue.
"And you had your tapes playing the whole time, so there wasn't any chance we'd hear the news. The infection rate is a lot higher in cities and towns, so probably it hasn't spread to where we were yet. Or it might have by now, who knows?" Sam shifted his weight in his chair, trying to ease the stiffness in his muscles.
"You feeling okay?"
His brother huffed impatiently. "I'm fine. Just stiff from sitting in the car all day."
"Yeah?" Dean laced his fingers behind his head, ignoring a sudden scene of carnage on the television. Easier to pretend it was just a movie for now. "How's your leg?"
He sighed. There was no reasoning with Sam when he got like this. He could be crawling on two broken legs and still insist he was fine. "All right. Well, I vote we book it for Bobby's as fast as we can. First thing tomorrow we hit the blacktop and don't look back."
Sam shook his head. "There's a flaw in your plan, there, Fearless Leader. We were supposed to go on a supply run today. We're almost out of gas, we used up the last of our food hunting that last Black Dog, and we need to re-stock the first aid kit. The only thing we've got is ammo, and given what I'm seeing," he motioned at the television screen, which was showing dozens of silhouettes shuffling along a street in a nearby town, "we might not even have enough of that to see us through."
"So we resupply. Hit the nearest town, find an outlying mall, get as much there as we can and book it. Once we're out of the hot zone we can worry about anything we missed."
Sam closed the laptop with a huff, but held his tongue, as though it wasn't even worth bothering pointing out everything that was wrong with what Dean had just said. Not that he didn't have a point, but what choice did they have? It wasn't like they could make it far on less than a quarter of a tank of gas, and if things were as bad as the news made them out to be, they'd need to stock up on food they could take with them.
"Are you going to try to get some rest, at least?" Dean stared at him pointedly. "Take a shower, or something. It'll help with your leg, and God knows when we'll officially run out of hot water. If there's one thing that watching every single movie Romero ever made taught me, it's that when the zombies come, everyday commodities become rare as hen's teeth. I'll even let you get the first shower, so long as you promise not to use up all the hot water."
Sam snorted. "Subtle, Dean." But he did get up stiffly from his chair in order to limp into the bathroom, and a moment later Dean heard the shower running, the tell-tale sound of Sam shedding his clothes and stepping under the spray.
"Attaboy, Sammy," he remarked to no one in particular, then let his eyes close, and sank into the last peaceful sleep he would know for a very long time.
That had been a little over two days ago, and it felt like far longer. Now, Dean thought ruefully, all they had to do was pick up where they left off: get to the car, get to Bobby's, and try not to let anyone else get killed on the way.
They ended up picking up another survivor almost as soon as they were clear of the apartment building. They had been able to break into the neighbouring apartment, and while there were few weapons left —a couple of rifles that had reluctantly been left behind and two handguns— there was plenty of ammunition left over. Everything that Mr. Robertson hadn't been able to carry with him, which turned out to be quite a lot. After a quick crash course in turning off the safety on her gun, and the basics of how to point and shoot a semi-automatic, Sheila was about as ready as she was going to get if she was to have any chance at all of surviving this mess. Supposing she even wanted to survive, considering, but Dean was determined not to think about that. The first rule of hunting was to keep things as simple as possible, and trying to get into the head of traumatized civilians is a surefire recipe to complicate things.
The challenge wasn't in getting up and out of the building, it was the jump to the next roof. On a good day, Dean knew he and Sam could manage it, but Sheila was a question mark, and Sam's left knee was still giving him trouble after their run in with that black dog a few counties over. The short jump could prove disastrous, especially so early in the game. Sam found a solution to their problem in the form of a ladder left on the roof. Stretched out, it was just long enough to reach the next roof. He put a foot on it, tested his weight, and it rattled and wobbled, but ultimately held. He looked at Sheila.
"Dean's going to go first, then we'll hold the ladder while you go, okay? We won't let you fall."
She nodded, hand straying to the unfamiliar weapons attached to her hips. She hadn't said much beyond what was strictly necessary since they'd left her home behind forever, but she didn't appear in any danger of going catatonic on them or anything like that, so it couldn't be too bad. At least, that's what Dean was choosing to believe. Sam held the ladder as he climbed down, trying not to look down at the street four stories below, the silhouettes of the zombies already beginning to fade in the twilight. They were moving much too slowly for his liking, but there wasn't much he could do about that now. Sheila moved quickly down the ladder, followed more slowly by Sam, hindered by his bad leg and the fact that there was no one to hold the top of the ladder steady as he climbed. It rattled and shook, and Dean's heart lodged itself in his throat as he saw the ladder begin to shift ever so slightly, scraping against the brick.
"Sam, get a move on!"
"I'm going as fast as I can!" Sam snapped, looking up anxiously at the ladder. Dean heard him mutter "Fuck" under his breath, and if Sheila hadn't been right next to him he would have echoed the sentiment wholeheartedly. The moment Sam was within reach Dean grabbed him by the belt and hauled him unceremoniously into his arms, just as the ladder finally came loose from its moorings and fell, landing in a broken heap three stories down. For a second they stood, unmoving, and Dean felt his brother shudder in his arms.
"This way," Dean pointed to the door that lead to the building's main stairwell, yanking on Sam's arm in an attempt to keep them both from thinking about what had very nearly transpired. "We have to keep moving. Keep a sharp eye out, okay? You never know where those things could be hiding. Remember," he added, mostly for Sheila's benefit, "they're slow until they spot you, so make your shots count, don't attract attention. You don't get extra points for wasting bullets on zombies that are a hundred yards away. This isn't a video game."
Sam snorted. "Thank you, Dean."
"Shut up," Dean grinned. "Anyway, I figure we head directly for the safe house, or as directly as we can manage. No detours, cut through buildings if we can, just try to get there as the crow flies, you know? The only detour we get is to avoid hordes, or those nasty fuckers with the sticky tongues."
"What? What the hell kind of a name is that? That's lame, Sam."
Sam shrugged. "I dunno. You ever hear them breathe? That's the sound of three packs a day, if you ask me."
"Fine," Dean rolled his eyes, led the way down the stairs. "Then I vote we call the fat ones 'boomers' because they explode. You got to name one, so I get to name one. It's only fair."
"Imaginative." Sam levelled his pistol as the made their way carefully through the top floor of the building. "Stairs to the bottom?" he suggested.
"Hell yes. I hate elevators. Besides, it's only three floors."
Sam nodded, though Dean could tell he wasn't looking forward to it —it was going to wreak hell with his knee. Still, there was nothing to be done, and Sam had gone on harder hunts with worse injuries, so they forged ahead. It was when they reached the first floor that Sam lunged forward, slamming Dean into the wall before he could reach for the door that led to the building's lobby. Sheila stifled a shriek, and Dean barely had time to register that anything was happening before Sam was letting go of him, spinning on the spot and yelling at some as-yet-unseen attacker to back the hell off.
"Whoa, whoa!" Dean peeled himself off the wall, turning in time to see his brother forcing a young black guy in a suit against the opposite wall, cheek squashed up against the plaster, kicking his legs apart. "Easy, Sammy! If he's not a zombie, then he's an ally. Dude, you okay?"
"No thanks to this chucklehead!" came the annoyed reply, a little muffled because his face was still mashed into the wall. The man's legs were spread, hands to either side of his head and up against the wall, one still holding a pistol, though his finger was outside the trigger guard, Dean was pleased to note. If nothing else, the guy knew how to handle a handgun. "What the hell, man?" he sputtered as Sam released him with a muttered —and mostly insincere— apology.
"Didn't want you shooting first and asking questions later," Sam shrugged. "You clean?"
"Fine. Yes, I'm clean, no bites, nothing. Can I ask questions now? Who the hell are you?"
"Priorities," Dean interjected, already checking the door for stray zombies. "We're heading to the evac zone. You alone? You want to come with? We can use the extra pair of hands, if you know how to use that thing. Hell, even if you don't."
"I know how to use it. Name's Danny, I'm alone, and yes, I want in. Beats trying to fend off all them things by myself." The guy grinned, revealing a row of very white teeth. "Now it means all I have to do is run faster than one of your cracker asses."
Dean blinked, then laughed. "Fair enough, but we're pretty speedy. I'm Dean, that's my brother Sam, and this is Sheila. Let's go, talk as you walk —but quietly! Nice suit, by the way," he smirked. "Dig the red tie. Very 'Shawn of the Dead'."
"Kiss my ass."
"Only under very specific circumstances."
The streets were all but deserted, which was a blessing. There were no people, not anymore: they'd all been evacuated long before. At least, those who'd managed to escape. The only occupants of the streets these days were zombies and their victims, some of them too decayed to keep moving, or torn apart by the others and scattered about like carrion. The town wasn't that large, and although Dean desperately wanted to avoid the more densely populated downtown area, that went directly against his plan of taking the most straightforward route to the safe house. He hustled them along as quickly as they could manage, especially Sheila, who wasn't exactly the gym bunny type. She wasn't in terrible shape or anything, but she was a little overweight, more accustomed to pushing a cart around a grocery store and wrangling small children than to running long distances in the hopes of escaping flesh-eating monsters. Sam, too, was beginning to lag ever so slightly, favouring his injured leg, though right now it was subtle enough that only Dean knew to look for it.
Danny was turning out to be an unexpectedly competent ally. He'd figured out how to use a gun when he had to, and turned out to be more than a decent shot, to hear him speak of it. He was also pretty cheerful, when he wasn't being slammed up against walls by Dean's younger brother. He'd easily forgiven Sam for the earlier scuffle.
"Desperate times, right?" he'd said, dismissing Sam's more earnest apologies, when they became forthcoming. "Don't sweat it."
Sheila had pulled her hands into the sleeves of her denim jacket, the night turning cool. "Are you sure you know where you're going?"
Dean shrugged. "Well, you know your town better than I do. We're supposed to be heading for a warehouse behind some place called 'Al's.' You know where that is?"
She nodded. "Yeah. It's another mile away or so, maybe less if we can cut through buildings, like you said."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Sam said, even as he kept watch for movement in the side alleys. "Buildings are likely to have hidden pockets of zombies, and those feral ones tend to lurk in hidden nooks and crannies and ambush you."
"Pretty good hunters," Dean agreed. "But so what? They lurk outside just as much as they lurk inside. Better to take the fastest route we can."
"Straighter doesn't mean faster," Sam argued. "There's no guarantee that once we're inside a building that we'll be able to get out again. What if the exits are blocked? The doors could be barred, or the exits filled with zombies. We could get trapped, at the very least waste a hell of a lot of time looking for an exit."
They were still going at a brisk trot down the street, Sheila panting slightly behind Dean, Danny and Sam moving ahead to scout the route and make sure it was secure. Even as he went, Dean couldn't help the twist of fear and adrenaline in his stomach at the unnatural stillness of the streets. It was as though every other sign of life had been wiped from existence: there were no birds, no rats, not even cockroaches left. All there was were broken windows and abandoned cars with cracked windshields, garbage littering the pavement along with bits and pieces of human flesh.
They were passing an alley when Sheila suddenly let out a shriek from a few paces behind him. He whirled in time to see her wrench herself out of the claws of a zombie which had come out of nowhere, a heavyset guy, half of his face eaten away by decay and disease, part of her jacket firmly gripped in one rotting hand.
"Sheila, shoot it!" Dean yelled, not wanting to risk the shot when she was still in such close quarters with it. The thing moaned and yanked on her jacket, a string of bloody saliva hanging from its mouth as it lowered yellowed, rotting teeth toward the flesh of her shoulder.
Sheila shrieked again, but she somehow managed to keep her cool enough to wrench one of the pistols from her belt and fire off several shots in the zombie's general direction. She was panicky, though, and most of the shots went wide, but at least one found its mark, taking the zombie through the jaw, the bullet piercing through the soft palate and into the brain. The creature collapsed against her even as she kept emptying bullets in its general direction, and the sound of tearing fabric rent the air as its weight all but ripped her jacket off her arm.
"Sheila, stop!" Dean started after her, anxious about the amount of ammunition she was wasting. "Stop, it's dead!"
And of course, that was when one of her bullets went wider than the rest, and shattered the already-broken windshield of a nearby car. Immediately the night was filled with the shrill wailing of the car alarm, high and bright in the otherwise silent street, and Dean's stomach dropped, his mouth going dry.
"Oh, fuck," he exhaled sharply. Then, "Run!"
He grabbed Sheila roughly by her elbow shoved her ahead of him, making her drop her gun, but there was no time to stop and pick it up now. Already he could hear the sound of distant screaming as the horde approached. It was a high, wild, feral sound, and it chilled Dean's blood to the marrow. The last time they had encountered the horde Sam had gone through most of his ammunition and nearly gotten himself killed in the process, if it hadn't been for a couple of lucky shots on Dean's parts. Having already proven himself to be no one's fool, Danny had taken to his heels ahead of them, although Sam was moving back toward them, worry written all over his face.
"Not now! Just go! Go, go, go!" Dean yelled, as the screaming got louder. A glance over his shoulder confirmed his worst fears as a seething mass of creatures surged through the alleyway and erupted into the street behind them, their screams echoing off the abandoned buildings.
They ran. Sheila put on a burst of speed that surprised them all, and they ducked and weaved their way through the empty streets, the horde hot on their heels and gaining with every passing second. There was no time to look over their shoulders, to see just how close the zombies were, let alone to try to take aim and take some of them out. For all Dean knew, they were right on top of them, their foetid breath hot on the back of his neck. The only thing to do now was to run as fast as they possibly could and just pray that they could reach some kind of shelter before the horde caught up to them. Sheila was panting next to him, already out of breath, but she was gamely keeping pace —anything else would spell certain death for her, possibly for them all.
There was another startled yell from ahead, and he saw Danny make a comical leap to the side as what appeared to be a completely separate horde of zombies came seemingly out of nowhere, bearing down on them like a freight train. It figured, Dean had just enough time to think, that the universe thought they didn't have enough trouble on their plates as it was.
After that, it was nothing but screaming and snarling and thrashing limbs, the sound of repeated gunfire barking loudly in his ears, the smell of gunpowder sharp in his nose, mingling with the cloying scent of decay. Dean pulled both his pistols from the holsters he'd rigged around his hips, backed both himself and Sheila against a wall, and tried to make a stand. For now, the best he could do was to make every single one of his shots count, and they might just make it out of here alive. He had just enough ammunition, he figured, to get them through this one assault, if he didn't get himself or Sheila bitten or clawed. For all that they'd been depicted as a marauding band of thousands of zombies by all the news services they'd had been listening to, the horde of zombies was actually more like a group of fifteen or twenty zombies at most, gathered together by chance more than anything else. So while he could easily burn through a couple of clips trying to survive the onslaught, the onslaught could, in fact, be survived if you went about it right. The only way to survive this sort of an onslaught, he and Sam had learned, was to use the zombies' sheer numbers against them: find a place to shelter your back, preferably enclosed, and limit the zombies' access to you. Then kill them off, one by one. Make your shots count, aim for the head, and soon you'd have a makeshift barricade made up entirely of rotting corpses, which would further limit the zombies' access to you. And all the while, you just prayed that you wouldn't run out of bullets.
The zombies screamed and railed and threw themselves headlong into the line of fire, heedless of their safety. They were far beyond that now, and if one fell, the others simply tried to climb over it, shrieking and moaning and scrabbling for purchase. Time stretched out until it felt as though he'd been surrounded by a sea of red, of limbs and teeth and the fetid stench of zombies forever stretching back and forth through time, and his ears rang with the constant noise. Another head exploded in front of him in a welter of gore, and suddenly everything fell quiet. When his vision cleared he and Sheila were still standing, a pile of corpses at their feet. Dean let his head fall back against the wall for a moment with a dull thud, panting harshly in the the sudden silence, waiting for his heartbeat to go back to normal.
"You okay?" he asked, once he was sure he could speak without his voice betraying just how pants-wettingly terrified he was.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm okay," she shivered, huddling against him. "I lost my gun."
"Don't worry about it. We'll find you another." He drew himself upright, looked around for his brother. "Sam? Sammy?" he yelled, heedless of the zombies. With two hordes dead, he figured they were probably good for a few minutes. "Sam!"
"Over here." The reply was breathless, and sounded like it was coming from a few buildings over. "We're okay."
He pushed himself off the wall, drew in a shaky breath, pulled Sheila after him, and found Sam and Danny standing in the street, a few feet away from another pile of rotting corpses, their faces drawn with fear and stress and covered in grime. Sam was leaning heavily against the wall, hair falling forward to obscure his face, and Dean's stomach performed an unpleasant flip-flop. Sheila stumbled in his wake, shaky now that the adrenaline of the encounter had worn off.
"No one got bitten? Scratched? Sammy?" he put out a hand tentatively, hesitated before actually touching his brother.
"No," Sam shook his head, and the vice that gad been gripping Dean's heart relaxed its hold. Sam looked pale, though, his lips pressed together in an expression that suggested he was in more pain than he was trying to let on, and sweat was trickling along his hairline.
"You sure you're okay?"
Sam shrugged. "Wrenched my knee," he explained, and Dean winced in sympathy. This was not a good time to be aggravating leg injuries, not when they still had so far to go. "On the plus side, check it out," Sam bared his teeth in a painful grin, and pointed at an arrow drawn very clearly on the door of a nearby shop. The sign above it read simply: 'Al's.'
Dean found himself grinning back, and he clapped his brother on the shoulder. "Hot damn, Sammy. You found the safe house!"
The safe house was little more than a couple of rooms behind two massive stainless steel doors. It took a hell of an effort for Dean, along with Danny, to heave open the door and then shut it again behind them. Sam was of no use, his wrenched knee barely able to hold his weight, so he stood off to the side, keeping himself between Sheila and anything that might come at them from the street before they managed to get inside. It was a damned good thing that zombies couldn't figure out how to work a door handle, Dean thought, because, safe house or no, he never felt really safe unless he was behind locked doors, preferably with a whole bunch of salt between himself and the outside world as well, and maybe a couple of Devil's Traps. Oh, and some goofer dust while he was at it. Unfortunately, none of that shit worked on zombies, except maybe the locks, to keep them away.
He let Danny and Sheila inside, then when he saw how badly Sam was limping, pulled his arm over his shoulder to help him inside. Sam sank down on a packing crate by the closest wall, pressing a hand to his thigh with a grimace, all the colour leeching from his face. At the worried look Dean threw him he shrugged. "Think I tore something. If you find a first aid kit in here, I can strap it up. Even if you don't, I can probably rig something."
"Well, we've got some Aspirin left, enough to see you through tonight and tomorrow at least. Take the edge off. I'll see what else I can find," Dean promised. "Stay put, okay? And stay off it!"
"Yeah, really not an issue."
Danny was already making a sweep of the place, trotting up the metal staircase that led to what looked like a tiny storage area on the landing. "Well, definitely no zombies here!" he called down. "Got a couple of first-aid kits, God only knows what's in 'em, but it's better than nothing. I'm amazed no one's made off with them yet. Some canned stuff, and a note asking oh-so-nice for us to leave something behind if possible, so that the shelter's never completely empty."
"Yeah, well, they're kind of SOL this time," Dean said sourly. "We've got ammo and the clothes on our back, and I for one am not going to be leaving any bullets here for the completely hypothetical people who might, hypothetically, be coming after us."
"Got an ace bandage here. Catch," Danny dropped it into Dean's waiting hands. "You guys got anything down there?"
"A whole bunch of crates, and a whole lot of graffiti."
Dean paced along the walls, fascinated by the messages scrawled in magic marker all over the filthy surfaces. Some were just signatures, names and dates, as though the people who'd been here before had simply wanted to prove —to themselves or others, who knew?— that they were still alive, that they existed, that they mattered to someone. Others were directions to other safe houses, a couple mentioned a new evacuation zone. Most of them were messages left by survivors desperate enough to hope that their loved ones would follow them here, and maybe all the way to safety.
Maya, we're heading toward the evac zone. We'll look for you there!
Love, Ron and Allie.
John, I have the kids with me. We're all safe.
Meet us at Mom's place, we'll wait for you. Diane.
Seeing his father's name gave him pause, but it wasn't like John wasn't a common name. Dad had been dead for months, now, and there was no bringing him back. Other graffiti was the same coarse bullshit you saw everywhere else, all jokes about sex and bodily functions, and the rest was all the deranged ramblings you could expect in a place like this. One of them screamed at him from the centre of the largest wall:
THEY CAN'T CHANGE BACK!
DON'T TAKE THEM W/YOU
He was staring at one which said simply 'Exodus 9:15' when he became aware of Sheila's presence at his elbow. She looked at it, and her lip curled in disgust.
"Problem?" Dean asked.
"Religion," she sneered, then quoted: "For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou shalt be cut off from the earth."
"Cheerful. I love it when people are optimistic like that."
She snorted, then picked up the magic marker that had been left lying on a nearby crate. "All these people, they're still trying, you know? Trying to pass along messages, as if anyone would read them. You think anybody ever gets the messages meant for them?"
Dean shrugged, uncomfortable at the thought. "I dunno. Maybe?"
"In that case," she crouched by the wall, and began to write painstakingly under the stranger's imprecation to save themselves. When she was done she pulled back, her expression one of grim triumph, capped the pen and tossed it back onto the crate before going to sit by Sam.
For a moment Dean couldn't bring himself to look, but he knew it would eat at him forever if he didn't. The message was succinct, but she had traced over some of the letters, and underlined a word twice, just to make sure.
YOU ARE A COWARD
AND YOU LET
YOR CHILDREN DIE!
Dean shivered. He supposed Sam would have something to say about the fact that she'd misspelled a word, but when he looked at his brother he saw Sam staring at the words blankly, his lips pressed together so hard they had turned white.
Dean cleared his throat, breaking the sudden silence. "You okay, Sammy?"
His brother started a bit, then nodded. "Yeah. Could use a hand with this, though." He motioned to where he'd rolled up his jeans to expose his knee, which was already swelling enough to stretch the fabric of his pants.
"Sure," Dean dropped to one knee next to him, "just don't get any ideas, all right? I'm not proposing."
"Uh huh. Foot," Dean patted his thigh, then grabbed Sam's ankle to rest his foot in his lap while he wrapped up his knee as tightly as he could without impeding the circulation, forcing himself to ignore his brother's hiss of pain. "How's that, too tight?"
Sam tested it gingerly, chewing on the inside of his lip. "Yeah, feels okay enough. Thanks." He accepted the two Aspirin Dean dropped in his hand, dry-swallowed them without so much as batting an eye. It was a little depressing, Dean thought, that they both did that without even questioning it these days.
Danny had come down the stairs, and only cast a cursory glance at the newest decoration on the wall. "So what's the plan. Are we bugging out now? Or do we want to wait until it's not pitch-black out there?"
"I'm all for staying a few hours, catching some sleep, if we can," Sam ventured. "We've been up for more than twenty-four hours, and I don't think I can do much running at this point. We should have something to eat, too... I don't suppose there's anything like sleeping bags around here?"
"We can check," Dean promised. "Hey, Sheila, you still with us, doll?" She was staring out into space, but started and looked back at him when he snapped his fingers in her face. "No zoning out, sweetheart," he gave her his cockiest, most shit-eating grin. The kind that either made women giggle or want to slap him, and he figured that either reaction would be good right about now.
She blinked, then wrinkled her nose. "Does that really work with women?"
For a moment he wondered if she could read his mind. "Sometimes."
Sam snorted. "Feel free to ignore him. For all he looks young, he was actually born before feminism was invented."
That got a huff of laughter out of Sheila. "Oh sure," Dean made a show of complaining. "Him you find funny!"
The crates yielded up a few old blankets, but not much else that was of immediate use. Still, it was enough. They made a cold meal out of canned beans and fruit, and by the time that was done, they were only too glad to roll up in their blankets on the floor and sink gratefully into sleep.
Dean was pretty sure not more than a couple of hours had passed when his eyes snapped open of their own accord. He lay very still on his makeshift bed on the floor, trying to figure out just what had awoken him. It wasn't zombies —he couldn't hear any of the usual moaning and shuffling from outside, nor even the hiss of a Smoker or the growl of a hunter, nothing. He sat up carefully, holding his breath, until he heard a soft moan from off to the side. Sheila was curled into a tight ball, fast asleep, her breathing fast but regular, and Danny appeared to be asleep as well, splayed out on his back. That left only one person, and really, it wasn't that much of a surprise. Dean was accustomed to being freakishly in tune with his brother's moods, so if Sam was having a nightmare, well, it just meant that Dean was bound to be awake for it. Sometimes, his life really sucked.
He pushed himself to his hands and knees, crawled a few paces over to where his brother was lying tangled in his blankets, murmuring something unintelligible under his breath, and shook him gently by the shoulder. "Sam. Sammy, wake up," he whispered. "It's just a dream, Sam."
Sam moaned a little louder, his breath hitching, and he jerked away from the touch as though Dean had electrocuted him. "No.."
Dean shook him harder. "Sam!"
His brother came awake with a gasp, and Dean had to duck out of the way as he instinctively lashed out at whatever was holding him down. For a moment he thought he'd have a fight on his hands, but Sam's vision cleared quickly, and he let himself slump back onto his blankets.
"You scared the shit out of me," came the quiet complaint.
"Sorry. You were having a nightmare. Was it about... you know?" Dean made a vague twirling motion with one hand, but Sam shook his head.
Sam drew in a shaky breath, puffed out his cheeks as he exhaled slowly, trying to calm himself down, and Dean rubbed his shoulder, settling himself cross-legged on the floor next to him.
"It was, uh... it was the kids. Sheila's." Sam tried to pull his knees up to his chest to hug them, then gave up with a wince as his left leg refused to bend. "They weren't dead, when I found them."
Dean nodded, watching as chewed on his lip. He'd suspected, but having it confirmed made him feel sick. "We couldn't do anything for them, Sammy. You know how these things go."
"I know," Sam scrubbed at his face with both hands. "But I left them there, you know? Just... they were so small. I don't think the little girl was more than six, and she was... she was tearing chunks out of her brother's arm." He choked on a sob, swallowed hard. "I should have put them both out of their misery."
"Aw, Sammy..." Instinctively Dean inched closer, nudged Sam's shoulder with his own. "You couldn't have. Any other zombies for miles around would have come running at the sound of gunfire. We couldn't take the risk."
"I know, but... I just... I just left them there, dragged their mother away into the night. They're kids, Dean. Babies."
"They were already dead. You know that. They're just still moving around. Kind of like spirits but with really bad B.O."
Sam made a face. "You're disgusting."
He made a show of grinning. "Yeah, well, it's a God-given talent, Sammy. Can't afford to waste it. Hey," he nudged him again, this time with an elbow. "You think you can get back to sleep? We have a long day ahead of us."
Sam nodded. "Could use some Aspirin, though."
"Yeah," Sam sighed. "Lousy timing."
"Story of our lives," Dean agreed, shaking out four pills and shoving them at Sam. "Your liver will be fine just this once. We'll double-dose until we get to the Impala and you don't have to run on that leg anymore. Until then, the less pain you're in, the better."
"I wasn't going to say anything."
"Sure. Just take your pills, Francis, and go to sleep before you wake everyone else. You going to be okay?"
"Fine," Sam swallowed the pills, and Dean might have bought it if he couldn't see the kids' hands shaking even as he tugged his blanket back up around him.
"Yeah, okay," Dean nodded as though he believed every word, then casually reached over and pulled his own blanket up around his shoulders and settled next to Sam.
"What're you doing?"
"What? I'm cold, and you're like a freaking furnace. Is it too much to ask my freakish little brother to share some of that body heat?"
Sam huffed quietly, then scooted closer and draped an arm over his chest. "I'm going to pretend I can't see right through you, okay?"
"Thanks," Sam murmured into his ear, and Dean sighed theatrically.
"Spare me the chick-flick moment, Samantha, and just go to sleep."
There was a gust of warm air on the back of his neck as Sam settled down, and Dean could already feel the tension draining away from both of them. "Okay."
Dawn brought the noise of a starving zombie clawing at the door to the safe house. It was the door by which they had come in, and so Dean didn't bother doing much about it other than checking to make sure it hadn't attracted more of its friends.
"We need to get going," he nudged Sam in the ribs with his toe, stooping to lend him an arm to help him to his feet. Sam stumbled and winced a bit as he put weight on his injured leg. "How's the leg?"
"It'll loosen up in a few minutes. It's just stiff because I haven't used it." Sam was lying through his teeth, but there really wasn't much they could do about it anyway. It made a certain perverse kind of sense, and Dean himself had been guilty of embracing the philosophy of 'fake it 'til you make it' in the past, so he let it go, shoving the Aspirin at his brother and watching while he swallowed the pills.
Sheila and Danny roused easily —none of them had slept particularly well— and within minutes they had folded up their blankets and tidied away the remnants of their meal. The only advantage of having next to nothing with them meant that there was no packing up to do. All they had to do was steel themselves, and go. Dean did a quick inventory of their weapons, along with an extra handgun someone had left behind because it had jammed. It was a simple enough matter to clear the mechanism, and now they were all properly armed again, which went a long way toward reassuring him. The loss of Sheila's gun might have proved to be a serious handicap otherwise.
The coast was clear on the other side of the door through which they were planning to exit. By Dean's calculations, it wasn't all that far to the evac zone —barely a couple of miles, if that. If they booked it, they could make it in under an hour. Sure, neither he nor Sam were up to their usual ten-minute-mile standards, and he was pretty sure Danny and Sheila couldn't do that even on a good day, but still, it was so close he could practically taste it. He had no idea if they could make it, if the path that led there was riddled with zombies or some other kind of new and improved death trap, but all he wanted right now was to just go, already, and deal with the rest as it came.
He set a pace that was probably going to be punishing for Sheila and especially for Sam, who was trying very hard not to show how badly he was limping, but the faster they got out of here, the faster Sam would be off that leg and the sooner they'd all be safe. Danny volunteered to scout ahead, and Dean acquiesced with a nod and a hand-wave, casting an anxious glance back at Sam, who was doing a creditable imitation of bringing up the rear.
They circumvented one of the weeping zombies —heard her wailing from far away and carefully skirted the area once Danny returned with a report of her exact whereabouts. Dean could see her in the distance, half-crumpled on the ground, shoulders shaking, legs splayed out to either side. Sheila barely gave her a second glance.
"Witch," she said.
"Hey, you get to name the zombies, I figure I should get to name a zombie too."
He shrugged, kept walking. "Fair enough."
"You're naming 'em?" Danny was incredulous. "Bad enough they're trying to kill us, but now you gotta go treating 'em like pets," he added. "Typical that two white guys would come up with something batshit crazy like that instead of just capping them where they stand. They're zombies, not chihuahuas."
Sam chuckled, then shoved him gently between the shoulder blades. "Just keep going, dude. We're not out of the woods yet. When you're safely in that helicopter, or whatever, then you can mock the crazy white guys to your heart's content, deal?"
They jogged through the empty streets as fast as they could manage, steering clear of anything that sounded like it might be a horde, or worse, one of the nastier zombies that actively hunted humans rather than simply reacting to their presence. They reached the outskirts of the town as the sun began to rise higher in the sky, with no sign of danger, although a few stray infected blundered across their paths. Those were easily enough evaded without wasting bullets, though, and even Sam dodged around them, his face grey and pinched with pain. They ought to be in time for the next evac, judging by the position of the sun, but Dean checked his watch, just to be sure. "Evacs are four times a day, or were, last I checked. We've got about an hour or so before the next one, should be plenty of time to get there."
"Yeah, but what do we do while we're waiting?" Danny pointed out. "There ain't a safe house there. Hell, we don't even know that there's even a building, just a helipad. Hell, it's probably just a really flat field. For all we know it'll be wide open and full of the things."
"It should be pretty clear," Sam pointed out, with reason. "After all, it's an evac zone. The problem will be getting there: all the vehicles used for evac make a hell of a lot of noise, so I'm guessing the perimeter will be crawling with the infected. We'll just have to make it through without getting bitten."
Danny snorted. "Easier said than done."
The words proved prophetic. As they crested the hill above the evac zone, they all but stumbled into a veritable phalanx of zombies, all pressed up against a chain link fence, clawing at the barrier and moaning in almost comical incomprehension. Beyond the perimeter fence, Dean could see a helicopter sitting idle on a makeshift landing pad. They were so close, so freaking close it would be goddamned tragic to fail now. Sam nudged his elbow, pulled him a few paces aside.
"Okay, what now? We've got about two hundred yards of open terrain between us and what looks like a couple hundred infected, spread out along that fence. That sound right to you?"
Dean grimaced. "Yeah, sounds about right."
"Between the four of us, I'm pretty sure we don't have two hundred rounds of ammo."
"Nope. Besides, even if we did, no way we'd be able to make only head-shots, and there's no cover. They'd eat us alive if the horde turned on us. Literally."
Sam grinned mirthlessly. "Wow, are we ever screwed."
"Right. So, here's what I think. We scout for a weakness in the perimeter, aim for that, run like hell, and hope to God we don't get eaten on our way in. What do you think?"
"Sounds like a plan."
As plans went, it wasn't one of the more sophisticated ones they'd ever come up with, and that was saying something, because they were the masters of unsophisticated plans. Still, it was better than nothing, and if they were both lucky and good, they stood a decent chance of getting to the landing pad in one piece. The zombies were slow to react, and unless they attacked as a horde, individually they weren't so bad. He hadn't heard anything for a while now —not the burbling grunt of a Boomer, or the two-pack-a-day rasp of the Smokers, or even the feral snarl of the Hunters. If they were just up against the regular infected, Dean figured their odds were even better.
Sam was the first to spot an opening along the fence, a gap where the infected weren't all pressed up against the chain link and, due to the natural unevenness of the terrain, were actually scattered at a relatively decent distance from each other. There was a large boulder pressed right up against the fence, which looked like it had been hastily put up more as a means to keep out the zombies than anything else. Zombies couldn't climb fences, and definitely couldn't put two and two together in what was left of their brains to even try to clamber up on the boulder in order to try to get over the fence. Humans, on the other hand, could definitely make it into the compound that way.
The four of them crept along the ground, keeping as low as possible and to what cover they could find, until they were almost directly in front of their planned point of entry. Sheila was trembling, whether from fear or exhaustion or both it was hard to say, but her jaw was clenched, her fingernails digging into the palms of her hands, grim determination written all over her features. Danny was nervous too, shifting his weight from foot to foot, but looking just as determined. Freedom was less than three hundred yards away, so close that it felt almost like a living, breathing thing, beckoning them forward.
"Ready?" Dean looked over at Sam as the infected slowly shuffled along, leaving an even bigger gap near the boulder, and they exchanged a nod.
For all that he was injured, Sam put on a burst of speed that had him at the fence first. He hopped up onto the boulder, turned to snatch Sheila up by the waist, and unceremoniously boosted her up and over the ten-foot fence. She landed in an awkward tumble on the ground but immediately rolled over and scrambled to her feet in time to get out of the way when Sam gave a leg-up to Danny. He turned to Dean, who stopped him.
"It's fine, Sam. You first —I can climb that fence no problem, but I don't want your leg giving out on the wrong side, you know?"
Sam looked over at where the crowd of infected was beginning to stir, having sensed the presence of fresh meat in the air. He seemed about to argue the point, then relented.
That was when the ground began to shake.
"What the hell is that?" Dean's eyes widened as the ground lurched beneath their feet, threatening to send them tumbling off the boulder. He grabbed hold of the fence just as Sam caught hold of one of his arms to steady himself.
"No idea, but it can't be good!"
The movements of the infected were already becoming more frenzied, their moans louder than ever, and Dean could see them beginning to come together, slowly but surely, their focus turning toward him and his brother, even as the whole world appeared to tremble and quake around them. There was a deafening bellow, then, and it was all he could do to keep both himself and Sam upright on the boulder where they were already precariously perched. If either of them fell now, it would be straight into the waiting arms of the zombies.
"Oh my God," the colour leeched from Sam's face.
Sam could only point in horror past Dean's shoulder, his face a mask of terror, and when Dean turned to look he felt his blood run cold. Surging up over the crest of the hill, followed by what looked like a tidal wave of the undead, was the largest creature he had ever seen. It was massive, well over a story tall, and built like a tank, if tanks were made of lumpy grey stone. It paused where it had appeared and let out another angry bellow, silhouetted against the afternoon sky, then put its head down and charged directly at them.
"Go!" Sam yelled, and before Dean could stop him he'd stooped and grabbed him neatly around the knees and boosted him over the fence.
He landed in a tangled heap on the grass, scrabbling for purchase, unable for a moment to tell up from down. Something caught him by an arm and yanked, and he very nearly put a bullet in his assailant until he recognized Danny, pulling him to his feet. His footing regained, he pulled his guns from their holsters —though it was a bit like taking a pea shooter to an elephant— and trained them toward the fence.
It was too late, though. The thing had already cleared the distance like it was nothing, and had crashed directly through the fence, right where Sam had been standing. There was no sign of his brother, although he could hear a dull whirring sound somewhere behind him that told him the helicopter was coming to life. A voice rang out, metallic and distorted through a megaphone.
"EVAC IS PROCEEDING ON SCHEDULE. WE SEE YOU THERE. IF YOU CAN GET ON BOARD, DO SO NOW!"
He whirled, scanning frantically for Sam, caught sight of Sheila instead, who was standing, transfixed, staring at the monster bearing down on them, her eyes so wide they seemed to engulf her whole face. He grabbed her arm, jerked her roughly away.
"Come on, run!" he shoved her forward and she stumbled, kept her feet, and started running, as though she had only been awaiting his permission to go.
Danny was already sprinting as fast as he could toward the helicopter, but another ear-splitting roar told Dean they might already be too late. The ground trembled and shook as the huge beast lumbered forward, and the next thing Dean knew it felt as though a Mac truck had collided with him. He was thrown off his feet, sent tumbling head over heels along the grass, while Sheila shrieked, long and loud. He landed on his back, winded and seeing stars, couldn't seem to get his bearings for a moment. There was a whooshing noise followed by the sound of something exploding and an enraged bellow, and the air suddenly filled with an acrid stench that filled his nostrils and made him gag. He struggled to his hands and knees, crawled forward a few paces before he was able to stand again, his ears ringing. He saw the huge monster staggering back a few paces, its chest a mass of shredded tissue, and that's when he realized that someone in the helicopter was actually aiming what looked like a grenade launcher at it, while automatic rifle fire peppered the ranks of the undead, felling them in droves.
Hysterical laughter bubbled up in his chest, and he swallowed it with difficulty. "Awesome," he said to no one in particular, breath hiccupping a little frantically.
His ribcage throbbed, and he could taste copper in his mouth. Once the adrenaline wore off, he knew, he was going to be in a world of hurt. He forced himself forward, back up toward the helicopter, where he saw Danny helping Sheila aboard, mostly by dragging her bodily up with him by both arms, legs kicking in the air. The chopper was full, Dean could see it even from where he was, and there was still no sign of Sam. The beast was getting ready to charge again, slowed down but not out for the count by any means, and Dean straightened with an effort, waved at the guy holding the grenade launcher.
"Down here! I can hold 'im off!" he winced, wrapped an arm around ribs that he was pretty damned sure were at least cracked, if not broken.
"Are you sure?" the guy yelled back.
Dean nodded, took as deep a breath as he could, then called up again. "I'm not leaving without my brother! Give it here, and I'll hold it off until you're clear!"
The chopper was already beginning to lift off the ground, but the guy leaned out, hanging off the chopper by one hand, and carefully dropped the weapon into Dean's waiting arms. "You got a couple shots left –make 'em count. And good luck! Next transport's in three hours: we don't do night runs," he shouted to make himself heard above the whirring of the helicopter blades. "You hang in there, we'll be back to get you. What's your name?"
Dean laughed and hefted the grenade launcher. "Name's Dean Winchester, dude!" he said. "Always wanted to get my hands on one of these bad boys. Thanks for the loan! Get going before that thing pulverizes you!"
Not for the first time in his life, Dean was grateful for his father's military background. He dropped to one knee and aimed the weapon at the monster's midsection. He'd never actually fired one of these things, but he at least understood the basic of how they worked, and that was something, at least. For a moment the rest of the world faded into darkness, and it was just him and the hulking creature charging at him, and nothing else mattered. His first shot almost went wide of the mark, but with a target that huge it was almost impossible to miss, and he caught it in the side, ripping out a chunk of flesh and bone and gristle. He was rewarded with an enraged roar, but the thing's momentum didn't decrease in the slightest. Dean swallowed hard, stood his ground, and adjusted his aim. His next shot caught it just below the throat, and in the next moment its head exploded in a welter of gore. It collapsed comically slowly, as though its body hadn't quite caught on yet to the fact that it was dead.
Dean dropped the grenade launcher and leaped to his feet, heedless of the pain in his chest, and punched the air, whooping. "Take that, you son of a bitch!"
Silence settled over the area like a blanket, the sounds of the chopper fading into the distance as it flew out of sight. Dean leaned on his knees and coughed, spat a bright mouthful of blood onto the green grass, pulled in a careful breath, and straightened up.
There was a quiet groan from a few yards away. "I'm here."
Dean found him next to the boulder among the ruins of the chain link fence, pulling himself painfully and laboriously to his feet. The whole left side of Sam's face was bruised and beginning to swell, his arm held awkwardly to his chest, and he was holding his left leg gingerly so that it didn't so much as brush against the ground. He grinned, though, as Dean approached, revealing bloodstained teeth.
"Dude, I know I don't say this to you often enough, but that was awesome."
Dean limped over, returned the grin. "Hell yeah. Did you see me?"
Sam nodded. "Did I ever. You okay? That thing mowed you down like a steamroller."
Dean shrugged and grimaced. "Mostly. Cracked some ribs, probably, and my ears are still ringing. Probably have a concussion, but overall I got off pretty lightly. You? Anything bite you?"
"No bites, no scratches," Sam shook his head. "I'm kind of fucked up –that thing pretty much crushed me against the rock, but I can keep going for now. It's not going to hurt until later, when the adrenaline starts wearing off. Chopper was full, huh?"
"Yup. They're coming back for us in three hours, and I figure none of the infected move fast enough to get here between now and then."
"So we're not going back for the Impala?"
He hesitated. God only knew, the thought of leaving his baby behind hurt like very little else had hurt before, but it made no sense to risk both his life and Sam's over a car, even if it was a special car. Sam was badly hurt, and he wasn't much better off. "I don't know. I mean, it wouldn't be safe to go back, you know?"
Sam nodded. "I know. I don't really want to leave her, though, you know?" he smiled ruefully, rubbed the back of his neck with his good hand. "I'm kind of waiting for you to tell me that I'm being really stupid for wanting to get the car back, in spite of everything. I mean, it'd be one our more suicidal plans, wouldn't it? Stupid."
Dean almost laughed with relief. "I wish I could tell you that, but I think I've got the same brand of stupid. So..."
His brother grinned at him. "So we go get the car, and screw the rescue. What the hell, we've always rescued ourselves, right?"
"Damn straight." He checked over his ammunition as well as Sam's, and not even that could suppress the feeling of giddiness that had swept over him. One look at Sam's face told him that his brother was feeling the same way, his face flushed, expression exhilarated.
"I was born ready."
"That's my boy!" Dean threw his head back with a delighted, if slightly manic laugh. "Let's go!"
And together, they made a break for freedom.