A/N: This was because of a fantastic, creepy prompt at the OhSam community on LiveJournal.
Phantom faces at the window
Phantom shadows on the floor
Empty chairs at empty tables
Where my friends will meet no more
It starts in Milton, Wisconsin. Ashley Pemberton is a helpful roommate who thinks she saw what took her friend. Couldn't take it to the police, but Sam and Dean charm and charm and she agrees to talk. After her psychology class, of course, and they generously go out to dinner while they wait.
When they get back, and Sam goes up to ask her questions, no one knows who he's talking about. "We've never had an Ashley," one of the girls says, frowning. "We have an Audrey, but, well, y'know. She went missing a week ago."
Sam carefully does not point out that he knows that and returns to the car. It's hot, even for March, and he finds himself wanting to shed his jacket even while he knows he needs to keep it on. It's that feeling of too warm now, could be cold in a few minutes feeling, and it leaves him even more unsettled.
"Ashley's not there," Sam tells Dean when he climbs back into the Impala. "No one even knows who she is. Did we get the wrong building?" But it's a stupid question because the awful pink birdbath is out in front of the brick apartment, an eyesore not easily forgotten.
Sam whips his head around, but Dean's completely serious. "The witness," Sam says slowly. "Audrey's roommate."
"Huh. Guess I wasn't paying attention."
Now that Sam will believe. Ever since Lisa and he had...split, for lack of a better term, Dean's been flirting more openly, or trying to at least. He'd been making passes at all the young college girls ever since they'd landed in town. And even Sam had to admit, some of the other girls in the shared apartment building had been impressive in terms of bust.
He still feels uneasy as they leave, though.
They don't find Audrey.
Ashley Pemberton doesn't exist in the school directory.
Sam fights the urge to roll down the window the next morning when the heat from the car starts going into overdrive. He worries about the engine, but Dean says the heat's not that bad. He'll still stop and get it looked at, though. What's the next job?
A haunting near St. Louis. Nice, easy job; they don't get a lot of those these days, and Sam will take each one they find with a smile.
They pass around the usually busy outskirts of Chicago and instead find traffic light and easy. Bloomington, Illinois is much the same way. "Everyone decide to take a vacation this year?" Sam asks jokingly.
Dean looks at him with a frown. "What do you mean?" he asks.
It's Sam's turn to stare. "Dean, we're on an interstate near big cities, and there's no one here. Traffic usually backs us up for ages; there's nearly no one on the road." Just a small Honda ahead of them, and in the mirrors Sam can see a pickup truck and two other midsize sedans. Not the bumper to bumper traffic they usually attempt to avoid at any costs.
"Uh, yeah; it's not one of the big cities by any means, Sam. We're midwest here, you know that. Unless it's directly on the coast, there's no cities with populations above a thousand out here. The thin spread center of the American sandwich, remember? I thought you were the historical and geographical geek," Dean jokes, though he still looks concerned. "Last time I'm letting you near a map."
The sign for Springfield comes up, and they pass by without a thought. The capital of Illinois, with barely any traffic.
Sam wonders if he's missed something, apocalypse wise. He'll ask Dean later, and closes the air vents in the car. Maybe the fumes are getting to Dean's head.
Even though he closes them, the heat still comes through. The engine's too warm, but they're almost to St. Louis. Sam could do with some people.
"Can't believe there's a haunting out here in this ghost town," Dean says, parking in front of the seemingly normal house. It's a two story little suburban cookie-cutter house that even has children's toys in the front to complete the perfect picture. A breeze blows through and rustles the trees, but it doesn't give Sam any cool reprieve. If anything, the air feels warm. It'll be a hot summer.
The weather doesn't really concern Sam at the moment, though. It's the rest of the area. It's not a nice neighborhood by any means: Sam can see the outlet malls just down the street a few blocks, and the pavement is cracked from use. The grass is mowed, though, the bushes mostly hedged. Leaves are scattered across the lawn and they skitter down the pavement with an almost fingers on chalkboard sound.
There's no one around. There's no traffic to be heard from the main road they've turned off of. Sam saw all of two cars driving on the road with them, and that was it. Two cars.
The population of St. Louis is nearly one million people. And there's no one in sight.
"Dean, something's wrong," Sam says as Dean steps out of the vehicle. "Dean, listen to me!"
"Then talk," Dean says reasonably. Like the world hasn't shifted and suddenly, seemingly, dumped all of its occupants somewhere else.
"Haven't you noticed that people aren't where they're supposed to be?" Sam says, then tells himself to breathe. Franticness when there could be an easy solution is not okay.
Dean's stopped what he's doing for the moment, at least, but it's to look at Sam in bewilderment. "Are you okay?" he asks with a frown. "If you're not feeling well Sam, then we'll just move on. We don't have to do this job. It's not like it's gonna hurt anyone, y'know? There's only what, five hundred or so people in St. Louis? Most of them don't even come out this way at all."
They're in the center of St. Louis, there's only five hundred people around, and maybe Sam is sick. He wipes at his sweating brow and feels warmth. He's never been one to bail on a job before, but the uneasy feeling from Milton is coming back to haunt him. "Can we go?" he almost pleads.
Dean shuts the trunk without a word and they go. Sam checks Wikipedia while on the road, barely getting any signal, and finds that Dean was wrong about the population of St. Louis.
It's apparently only 62, down two people since the mayor and his wife died just last month in a car wreck.
He closes the laptop, tries not to think about Dean's eyes on him, and stubbornly wraps his jacket around him even while he sweats.
They're on some back road taking the long way to Springfield (Missouri, not Illinois Springfield, though Sam has no doubt it's now completely empty just like all the other cities they've passed in the last few hours) when Sam finally decides they need help. Passing the national forests and hearing silence, no birds, no rustling animals, no cars, nothing, has left him with a growing sense of fear that won't be stopped until this is solved. "We need to get to a big city that has cell service," Sam says, because there's nothing anywhere. The wi-fi and 3G networks stopped after St. Louis and haven't responded since.
"What big cities? And who're you trying to call, anyway?" Dean says, and he's looking at Sam like he's grown a third head, never mind a second.
Sam swallows back the growing panic inside and says as calmly as he's able, "Bobby. I'm gonna try calling Bobby, or maybe Cas, see if either of them can help."
Dean's silent, long enough that Sam turns to look at him. "Dean?"
"Sam," Dean says softly, starting to look as worried and afraid as Sam feels, "I don't know who the hell you're talking about. Bobby who? Cas? Sam, who-"
"Stop the car," Sam says, because he can't breathe. The inside of the car is too hot, and Sam's afraid if he doesn't get out of the car in the next ten seconds he's going to die. "Stop the car!"
The Impala lurches to the side of the dusty, empty road. Sam all but throws himself out of the car and into the grassy fields around them. Open plains for miles and miles, no people but them, but it wouldn't matter because hey, there's nobody left but them.
Nobody but them.
The sound of a car door shutting is followed immediately by quick footsteps. "Sammy, talk to me," Dean says, and good, he sounds panicked now, too. When Sam looks up he sees the outright fear on Dean's face. "Just calm down, okay? We'll get you somewhere you can lie down, all right?"
"Just...just listen to me," Sam begs. He feels like he's going to shake out of his skin, and the panic is threatening to consume him. God, there's nobody left but them. "Bobby, you know Bobby, this isn't funny Dean-"
"No, it's not, because it's just us, Sam," Dean says, and the bottom of Sam's stomach drops out. "It's always just been the two of us, okay? You keep saying that there's people left and god, there's not, not by a lot. It's like you think there's a world filled with billions of people-"
"The girl, this morning," Sam suddenly says, trying to make some kind of sense, any sense, "The one with the piercing in her tongue? And the bra you could see through her shirt? You said she didn't look too much like jail-bait like everyone else at the college did-"
"Sammy, listen to me," Dean says, eyes wide and afraid. His hands reach out towards Sam, half in caution, half in comfort. "I don't know what's going on but I'll fix it, okay? You're probably coming down with something. You look warm, you've been fiddling with your jacket all day, let's get you laid down somewhere with a cool cloth for your fever and we'll be fine, okay? Please, Sammy, just let's get back in the car and go, okay?"
Sam stares and stares and tries not to listen to the abhorrent silence around them. He'd never realized how loud crickets and birds could be until they weren't there. The girl, Ashley, from just last night, she'd had a bird on her shirt, some upscale clothing line or something. She'd had blue eyes and a sweet smile and she'd had a psychology class. There'd been toys in the yard, toys someone must've played with, and god, they'd been real, hadn't they?
Sam looks at his brother and sees his own fear reflected in Dean's face. "There wasn't a girl?" he can't help but ask. God, let him get this answer right. He feels too hot and too cold, chills and goosebumps, and he just wants to know what's going on.
"No girl," Dean agrees, but he doesn't look anymore relieved. "Back to the car, all right?"
Sam nods in stilted movements. "Okay. Yeah, okay." Laying down. Laying down was good. He turns back to the car and heads for the door, feeling disjointed. Panic's still there in the hollow of his chest, in the flutter of his heart, but he'll just lay down for awhile and be fine. No girl, no toys in the yard-
Bobby. And Cas. They have to be real. "Dean, what about Bobby?" he asks, turning back.
The road is empty. Dean's gone.
Terror seizes Sam in his heart and he races back to where he'd just stood moments before, Dean right in front of him. "Dean?" he calls, searching under the car. Around the car. He scans the fields as far as he can see, but the grass isn't that tall, and the long miles stretch to the horizon, empty of life. "Dean?" he shouts, his voice trembling.
Nothing. No answer. He's all alone, in the middle of nowhere. His eyes dart all around as he pants, trying not to hyperventilate but oh god, he's alone, the world's gone, Dean's gone, and there's no one left. It's just him. He screams Dean's name in a panic, his voice breaking at the end of his brother's name. His brother who no longer exists. Had he ever existed?
Yes, yes, yesyesyes he had and Sam wasn't going to second guess that, not now. There had been a world with a billion plus people in it. There had been a world with a Bobby and a Castiel and a hot girl with a piercing and a Dean, his Dean, it's just not this world, he's fallen into some alternate dimension and that's fine, he'll get back, everything's going to be fine.
The silence is terrifying. He falls back against the Impala in fear that she'll leave him, too. Leave him all alone in the middle of nowhere. No breeze to even rustle the grass or give him relief from the heat that's pressing on every side of him. He wants to tear his jacket off but something keeps him from doing so. He's sweltering with it on, but it's just one more thing he could lose here. He curls up against the side of the Impala, arms wrapped around him and shivering.
The voice, when it calls, comes out of nowhere. Sam. Just one word, but it's enough, and Sam straightens and searches desperately for the owner. He's not alone, there's someone else there-
And then he sees who it is and he knows. The hand is outstretched, the smile is gentle. Yet he knows that if he goes with him, the hand will turn red, nearly black with blood, and the smile will grow feral.
But if he doesn't, he'll stay here. Alone. No sound, no other soul save for himself.
Your choice, Sam.
And he hates making this choice, hates that he has to make this choice, and Sam chokes out a sob as Lucifer waits, arm extended towards him. The flames are starting to lick at his skin and either choice he makes, he'll burn.
If he closes his eyes, Lucifer will be gone when he opens them, and then that's it, Sam's abandoned here until he goes mad, and it's almost worse than being torn apart. He shuts his eyes anyways, helpless tears leaking over his cheeks.
Sam. Make your choice, now. Sam.
His eyes snap open.
Out for an hour, Dean tells him. A bad seizure. Bobby and Dean had to hold him down.
Audrey got found, got home. The spirit was put to rest. That was the easy part, apparently. They'd gone back to the motel to meet up with Bobby.
Something had triggered the seizure, and the next thing they'd known, Sam had fallen to the floor, eyes rolling back and out for the count.
The next thing Sam had known, he'd wound up in Lucifer's favorite mind game.
He doesn't know what triggered it. He's got his theories, but he's not sharing them with Dean, or anyone else. He'd have to think about it again.
Bobby leaves, but he calls when he gets back to his house. He's fine, he says. Got another case for them on the coast, if they want it. No rush, though.
Dean's there, hasn't left. Sam didn't say anything, but Dean seems to sense that he needs Dean there. Might have had something to do with Sam's clinging to Dean, choking back sobs when he came to. It doesn't matter. So long as Dean doesn't disappear, Sam'll be fine.
He doesn't want to sleep, or close his eyes, too afraid that Dean will be gone when he wakes up. After useless coaxing Dean finally rolls into bed beside Sam and shuts his eyes with a sigh. "You bring this up later as ammo I'll kick your ass," he says unconvincingly. His arm finds its way around Sam's shoulders just as Sam's fingers stay wrapped in Dean's shirt.
When he wakes up almost twelve hours later, Dean's still right beside him, snoring heavily. Sam shuts his eyes and makes the choice to go back to sleep.
In his dreams, Lucifer is still waiting for an answer.