Sorry I've been gone so long, real life swallowed me up. Thanks to everyone who emailed or PM'ed to check on me. I've really missed all of you.

This story previously appeared in the Route 666 #3 fanzine, which was nominated for Best SPN zine of the year in the 2011 Fan Quality Awards. Congratulations to Ann, the editor, and the other authors on doing such great work! If anyone is interested in ordering a copy of the zine, PM me for more information.

I was tremendously honored that this story was also nominated for best Supernatural story of the year. Thanks so much to everyone who nominated and voted for it! Special thanks to Ann for copyediting.

Never a Good Zombie Uprising When You Need One

"Oh, you've gotta be kiddin' me!" The sound of Dean's angry voice reached Sam all the way in the bathroom, where he was getting ready for bed. He poked his head out the door, never pausing in the brushing of his teeth, to see what the matter was. Dean had pushed away from the table that held the laptop, and stood nearby, glaring down at it as if it had done something personally offensive to him. Sam almost expected it to burst into flames at any moment, just from the heat of Dean's glare.

"What?" Sam tried to say around his brushing, but it came out garbled and unintelligible. It got Dean's attention, though, and Sam looked a question at his brother, wondering what had him so riled up.

Dean pointed at the laptop, outrage evident in his voice, "That … that … ugh!" He spluttered, seemingly too vexed to take time to explain. Instead, he settled for taking out his irritation on the nearby trashcan (thankfully empty), which he kicked and sent rolling across the room.

Cocking one eyebrow, Sam made his way over to the laptop, curiosity getting the best of him. Besides, this way he was close enough to protect their only computer if Dean decided to take his ire out on it. He leaned over to get a closer look at what had spiked Dean's temper, and almost choked at the combination of laughter and toothbrush. He only barely kept himself from spitting toothpaste all over the laptop as he realized what had Dean so worked up.

Sam worked hard to swallow his laughter, which had the unfortunate result of taking half of the toothpaste in his mouth down with it. Grimacing, he hurried back to the bathroom to spit, rinse, and compose himself, before he emerged a few moments later, using a hand towel to wipe his mouth, which he then tossed onto a nearby chair. He carefully schooled his features not to show his amusement.

"So, you, uh … probably won't survive the coming Zombie Apocalypse, huh?" Sam felt the sides of his mouth trying to turn up, but he fought against the laughter that wanted to emerge at the sight of Dean's righteous indignation and the dark glares he kept sending at the laptop. "Good to know," he said, as evenly as he could manage.

Sam obviously hadn't done all that great a job at hiding his amusement, since Dean quickly turned the dark glare on his little brother. "This funny to you?" he demanded.

Sam wisely decided against giving an honest answer. Instead, he pursed his lips, trying his best to look solemn as he shook his head, but he couldn't help it, a laugh came spluttering out before he could stop it. And once he got started, he couldn't stop laughing. It really was too much—the great Dean Winchester, hunter extraordinaire, felled by an online zombie survival test. The glower his older brother threw him only made Sam laugh harder.

"Not like those things are accurate anyway," Dean scoffed, clearly defensive over the whole issue. "Probably written by some civvie with nothin' better to do than sittin' around watchin' Night of the Living Dead a thousand times and makin' up stupid quizzes. Probably wouldn't know a zombie if one up and bit him in the—"

"Right," Sam jumped in. He'd used the time during Dean's tirade to get his laughter under control. It was still there, lurking just below the surface, but thankfully contained for the moment. "So if you know that, why's this got you so worked up?"

"I'm not worked up, Sam," Dean growled. "It's just annoying. I mean—who's killed more zombies, me or the guy who wrote this test?" Dean stared at Sam belligerently, as if daring him to give the wrong answer.

"I'm gonna go with 'you,' " Sam replied dryly, keeping a straight face. It was time to be a supportive little brother. There'd be plenty of time to make fun of Dean later.

"Right," Dean said emphatically. "And who's the professional hunter here?"

"You are," Sam affirmed obediently.

"Exactly!" Dean pointed a finger at Sam, as if pleased he'd caught on. "Just because I would hesitate at killing a little kid that may or may not be zombie infected, just to be sure, does not mean I'm destined to become some kind of zombie Happy Meal."

"Right," Sam said agreeably. "Anyone would do that. Can't just go in shootin' everyone."

Dean continued on, ignoring him. "And just because I'm not gonna hole up somewhere and hide out," he sneered disdainfully, "doesn't mean I'm doomed to join the ranks of the living dead."

" 'Course not," Sam wisely confirmed.

Dean looked at him suspiciously, as if trying to determine whether or not Sam was being genuinely supportive, or just trying to avoid getting a big brother beatdown. Sam put on his most innocent face, which was, of course, a mistake. Dean hadn't practically raised him for nothing.

"You." Dean pointed at him, using his best John-Winchester-drill-sergeant-voice. "Research. Now."

"What, now?" Sam squawked, looking at his watch. It was the middle of the night. They'd been up for nearly twenty-four hours straight.

"Yes, now," Dean sneered. "Find me some zombies to kill. I'll show youand that quiz guy … and the whole friggin' zombie horde, if I have to, what Dean Winchester's made of."

"Dean …" Sam whined, realizing too late that he'd poked the bear and wouldn't be getting any sleep tonight.

"Sam," Dean said in a warning tone.

"Fine," Sam huffed, exasperated, and reached for the laptop. It was clear that Dean's ego had taken a hit and he wouldn't rest until he'd proved something. Really, it was unnecessary. Sam already knew what a great hunter his brother was. But there was just no reasoning with Dean when he was like this. Best just to see if he could dig up a good hunt for them—dig up, Sam repeated internally, snickering at his own unexpected wit. He vaguely noted Dean going into the bathroom to shower and get ready for bed.

When he looked back at the screen, though, Dean's test results were still showing. Just out of curiosity, Sam clicked on the link to take him back to the quiz itself. As he scrolled through the questions, everything snapped into place, and he quickly realized just what had happened.

Apparently, the smart thing to do in the case of the Zombie Apocalypse was to hole up at home or some other deserted location, and stay inside. Kinda hard to do when they didn't have a home, other than the Impala. Besides, Dean would never just hide out and stay safe while other people were in danger. Neither of them would. Apparently though, being willing to sacrifice yourself to save others was a huge sign you were doomed in the coming zombie war.

Even worse was searching for family and friends, trying to make sure they were safe. Sam knew Dean would never consider doing anything else, but apparently the quiz's creator thought the Zombie Apocalypse meant every man for himself. As someone who'd been on the other end of Dean's rescues all of his life, Sam was thankful for his brother's protective instincts. Dean's selflessness and compassion weren't weaknesses—they were his greatest strengths. They were what made Dean, Dean.

And then Sam saw the kicker—a question about what action to take if a family member had been infected and might turn into a zombie. Clearly, the correct answer was supposed to be to kill the person or, at the very least, take off and leave them to fend for themselves, but Sam knew there was no way Dean would do either.

Sam had a sudden flash of the two of them sitting in that clinic in River Grove when he had been infected with the Croatoan virus, Dean refusing to let anyone hurt him and even seemingly at peace with the idea of dying himself once his younger brother had turned. Sam's stomach clenched and churned at the memory and he quickly clicked the quiz off.

Maybe a nice, simple zombie hunt would do them both some good.

xxxXXxxx

They limped through the door to their motel room, Dean clutching his ribs with one arm, and Sam's waist with the other. Sam had his own arm thrown around Dean's shoulders, helping him keep his balance as they stumbled into the room, battered, bruised, and weary. Sam's other arm carried the weapons duffel, which he dumped on the bed furthest from the door as soon as it was near enough.

He then turned his attention to easing Dean down onto the bed and digging out the first aid kit. He wasn't all that bad off himself, but Dean—as usual—had taken the brunt of the attack to protect Sam, so his brother had to be hurting. This hadn't been their usual kind of case, which made it harder in some ways, and that was even before the night's events had transpired and banged Dean up.

"Never a good zombie uprising when you need one," Dean grumbled, sounding disgruntled.

"Yeah, sorry 'bout that," Sam said apologetically. "It really looked like zombies were behind all those attacks."

"Yeah, well, guess you couldn't have known about the Hannibal Lector wannabes behind it all," Dean admitted grudgingly. "I mean, how sick do ya have to be to eat people's organs—raw?" His disgust at the very idea was clear in both his tone and expression.

Sam grimaced at the reminder. "Yeah, did you see that jar in the fridge?" He felt a shiver run up his spine at the memory. It took a lot to give them the creeps, but what they'd found in that house had definitely done it.

"Gives whole new meaning to the phrase 'takeout food,' that's for sure," Dean cracked, hoping to lighten the mood and help them both forget the horrors they'd seen that night.

Sam gave him a quelling look at the lame joke, and moved to begin examining his brother's injuries.

For his part, Dean tried to swat Sam's probing hands away from his battered frame, but eventually gave up in the face of Sam's persistence and let him tend to the wounds he'd received, though not without scowling at him, to let Sam know his displeasure. He didn't need anyone fussing over him; he was fine.

Sam just ignored the scowl and worked quietly for several minutes, disinfecting, bandaging, checking for breaks. Finally satisfied, he put the med kit back together and eased down on the bed across from Dean so they were at eye level.

He waited until Dean gave him his attention before he spoke. "Look, man, why are you driving us both crazy with this zombie thing? You've got to let it go. You don't have anything to prove—not to me or to anyone," Sam said earnestly. "No matter what that stupid online test said, you and I both know you're the best hunter out there," he attested with utmost confidence.

Something that had been tense and tight in Dean's posture for the last few days relaxed. Sam caught the look of gratitude Dean threw at him for his statement of faith, which Sam knew meant a lot to his big brother. And then, in typical Dean style, he tried to blow it all off with his trademark bravado. "So you admit that I'm a better hunter than you?" He gave Sam a cocky smirk. "Glad to hear you're finally tunin' in with reality, bro."

Sam rolled his eyes at that. At least Dean was back to his usual arrogant, smug self, instead of the brooding grouchiness and wounded pride he'd been sporting for the last few days. All things considered, Sam would take Dean's usual foibles any day. "Yeah, you're the better hunter, all right. As long as we don't get attacked by a horde of angry toddlers," he teased. "Then I guess I'll have to jump in and save your butt for a change."

Dean made a face at him to let Sam know his humor was not appreciated. "Bite me."

"Better not let the zombies hear you say that," Sam quipped, smirking.

Dean gave him a patently false smile, though his eyes sparked with amusement. "Laugh it up, Clown Boy," he returned, and watched in satisfaction as Sam's face paled a little at the mention of his dreaded nemesis. "And we'll be eatin' at McDonald's for a week." His grin, now real, promised retribution for all of Sam's teasing.

Sam wisely let it go … at least for now.

xxxXXxxx

It was a couple of weeks later that Sam finally got his chance to use the special item he'd found during his last trip to the store and had been unable to resist picking up.

He was currently trying to impress upon Dean the importance of not taking on any more cases until his older brother's now-broken rib had been given a chance to fully heal. As usual, Dean was taking the hiatus as a personal affront and sulking like a kid whose favorite candy had been taken away.

Sam tried to lighten his glum mood. "Anyway, this'll give you some time to practice your researching skills," he offered half-heartedly. Dean was good at research, but it wasn't really part of his preferred division of labor. At the sour look his brother threw his way, Sam felt a pang of guilt. He did feel bad for Dean, who never did well with inactivity. Plus, Dean had been hurt jumping in front of that banshee to protect Sam. Not that Sam hadn't been fully capable of taking care of himself, but still …

Sam tried harder to come up with something that would cheer Dean up a little. "Just think—you can clean the weapons to your heart's content." Dean's countenance did brighten a little at that. He had just been complaining that there hadn't been time lately to do the in-depth cleaning he liked to give their cache of weapons every so often. "And I downloaded all of the Die Hard movies from the internet, so we can have a movie marathon later," Sam continued, sweetening the deal. He was gratified to see Dean perk up a little at that, though he clearly tried not to let his little brother see that he was winning him over.

Sam decided it was time to spring the trap, now when Dean was least expecting it. "Oh, and I got you somethin'. This should help you pass the time." Sam casually tossed a brown paper wrapped package onto the bed. He had to work hard to quell the grin that wanted to break out as he anticipated Dean's reaction when he saw what the package contained. Dean's eyes lit up at the sight of the present, all sulkiness gone like rain clouds fleeing the sun. He loved getting gifts and always tore into them with a childlike enthusiasm that never failed to fill Sam with amused fondness.

This time was no exception, and Sam watched as his brother tore into the plain brown wrapping paper and pulled out the gray paperback inside. He watched Dean's face as he read the cover and realized that Sam had gotten him The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead.

Sam burst out laughing at the righteous indignation that flooded Dean's face, and raised a shoulder in apology. "What? It's your job to watch my back, right?" He parroted Dean's own words back at him, accompanied by a fully-dimpled, impish grin. "Can't have you slackin' off, takin' me down with you when the Zombie Apocalypse comes," he teased.

Dean's low growl of outrage was just enough warning for Sam to duck as the book sailed right toward his head.

For a guy with a broken rib, Dean sure could throw.