** See Part One for full story notes and disclaimers.
PART THIRTEEN NOTES: Thank you all for the wonderful comments and support throughout the posting of this story. I was sorry to see the posting deadline chasing me toward the end, but I'll be returning to this world later on to finish their story. Enjoy this last section! Huge thanks go to Jack and Lyn for their amazing, super-speed beta work. Any remaining mistakes are purely mine as I tend to fiddle up until the very last minute. And I mean that literally this time. (vbg) As always, any and all feedback is appreciated.
BANNER INFO: I've finished a title banner for the story and it can be found at the following link: http: / i1125 . photobucket . com / albums / l582 / elerimc / Banners / IAHtitle . jpg. Copy and remove spaces to access.
"I'll call bullshit later. Don't think I won't. I'm ready to go whenever you are."
"Sure you are, sport. Do you have any shoes?" Dean hefted the pack for what would hopefully be the last time. At Sam's negative reply, he shrugged, knowing it had been an incredible stretch of luck to get even as far as they had. Shoes would have been pushing the boundaries of even Veronica's luck. "Veronica, keep the shotgun at the ready. Let's book."
Veronica nearly gasped when Dean pulled his brother to his full height. The man was freakishly tall, though his frame was painfully thin. She wanted to ask how long he'd been a prisoner, but wasn't so sure she wanted to know the answer. His obvious weakness didn't seem to slow him down as Dean followed her through the main room and past Devil's Gate, his brother's arm securely wrapped around his shoulders.
The exorcism continued on its loop from Dean's bag, joined by the echo from the two devices outside as they cleared the main doors. "How much longer before the batteries die on those things?"
"Honestly? I'm surprised they've lasted this long."
That was in no way comforting. And neither was the disturbing mark she'd seen on Dean's upper arm before he turned to lift Sam to his feet. The pale, raised flesh had a similar look to the scar on his face, strangely smooth and long healed. It had looked for all the world as if someone had branded him with a sick impression of a hand where his arm and shoulder met-a right hand with the thumb wrapping partway around his arm. She wanted to ask about that as well, but knew it wasn't the time or the place, or her place.
So she kept her mouth shut and hurried beside Dean and his brother through the empty camp. None of the humans they'd seen earlier made a repeat appearance. She hoped they'd taken the unexpected opportunity to run, but the lack of life she'd seen in them gave her the impression they'd merely gone back to their holding areas to await their next instructions.
It felt like hours before the vehicles came into sight, though in reality it couldn't have taken much longer than ten minutes. Sam's every step was dragging and Dean's running encouragement had become a constant murmur of sound in her ear. She knew it was meant for Sam, but it kept her moving right along with them. With a spluttering hiccup, the device in Dean's backpack died, leaving them in a profound silence. She met Dean's eyes and knew hers held more than a touch of panic.
"Go," he ordered, tightening his grip on Sam's arm. "Find one we can get started easily. We'll be right behind you."
"Dean." She didn't know what she would have said and she never had the chance to find out.
The command came from both of them this time and she ran. This was one thing she could do for Dean. She was useless against demons and probably most of anything else they would come across. After all the trust he'd placed in her, she wasn't about to let him down. She wasn't going to be the reason either brother was killed just when they'd found each other again.
She kept the shotgun at the ready, her eyes constantly scanning the area around her. Nothing moved, not even the wind. The cluster of vehicles was close enough to the main entry to give her chills. The first three cars were locked tight, which made no sense to her. Why would demons need to lock their cars? It wasn't like their human slaves would go around trying to steal them. Where would they even go? She kicked the tire in frustration and looked over her choices. Her eyes latched onto a mid-eighties sedan with a rust spot across the trunk marring the otherwise excellent paint. Head tilted to one side, she shrugged. Dean had said one that was easy to start. He hadn't said anything about it being stylish.
The sedan was open and she tore the housing from underneath the steering wheel, tossing it into the dirt at her feet. Grabbing a handful of wires, she plucked out the ones she wanted. It had been a long time since she'd hot-wired a car, but it wasn't a skill that went away from lack of use. She dug a small knife out of her bag, smiling as she remembered Dean's almost agonized look when he'd added it to her kit. "Don't stick yourself with this. Or me," he'd said, pointing a finger in her face.
She cut the wires smoothly, stripping off the little bits of insulation in her way. Tapping the cleaned ends together, she got an encouraging spark and a grind of sound from the engine. She slid into the seat and pumped the gas pedal twice, continuing to spark the wires. The engine caught with a roar and she smiled. She tossed her backpack into the rear seat and threw the car in gear.
The expression on Dean's face when she pulled up beside them was one she'd remember for a long time. She helped him get Sam into the back seat, curling his impossibly long legs up to fit. "Why didn't you mention your brother was eight feet tall?"
"It never came up in conversation."
She slid into the passenger seat, slamming the door behind her. "You're just lucky this car is a boat. Sam might not have fit in the others."
Dean took off with a spray of dirt, the front of the sedan aimed for the exit she could see in the glow of the headlights. "He's been in worse, unfortunately. How you doing back there, Sam?"
Chuckling quietly, Dean nodded once, a smile of contentment creasing his face. "That's usually my line. What have you been doing, taking notes?"
"Always. I learned from the best."
There was a wealth of affection in the teasing, good-humored and familiar enough she knew it wasn't the first time they'd checked up on each other in such a fashion. Dean glanced up into the rear view mirror, his expression softer than she could ever remember seeing it. "Get some rest, Sammy. I've got you now."
Veronica watched as Sam's eyes slid closed, his face relaxed despite the pain he had to be experiencing. She doubted he'd feel anything for quite a while, anything except relief that his brother was alive. "You're a good man, Dean Winchester."
A beat of silence followed her comment and she looked over to see him staring resolutely ahead. "Not really. Just ask the few people I know who are still alive."
"I don't need to. I've already met the only two who count." He didn't reply, merely tightened his grip on the steering wheel. Giving up on that line of conversation, she glanced around at the scenery flashing by. "Are you going to tell me where we're going now?"
"We're going to trade this piece of junk out for my truck. Who knows what kind of tracking methods they have on it."
"And after that?"
Another long silence filled the car, only the sound of the tires on pavement and Sam's unsteady breathing filling the space between them. "After that we're going somewhere safe. Somewhere Sam can heal and I can figure out what my next play is." And a good one it would have to be. Lilith was playing a game that had consequences that could end what little remained of the world he'd grown up in. However, with Sam, and his brain, back in action there was hope they could throw a wrench in her works.
"No, V. We're going someplace even safer."
"I find it hard to believe such a place even exists."
"It does when I build it."
She left off her questioning after Dean's unexpected comment. They weren't free and clear yet. His tensed jaw and repeated looks at the mirrors behind them told her louder than if he'd shouted it to the darkening sky. Long before she thought possible they were bouncing down the dirt track toward Dean's hidden truck. It only took a few minutes of careful maneuvering to get the two vehicles swapped out between the trees. They transferred their bags into the cab then she helped Dean maneuver Sam into the extended portion of the seat on the passenger side. She knew it wouldn't be as comfortable for him as lying out in the back of the sedan but there was nothing to be done for it.
Within minutes they were on the road again, heading north. She had no idea what was going to happen in the weeks ahead, where she'd end up. But she knew both the safest and the most dangerous place would be with these two brothers. Looking past Sam's face, tight with unvoiced pain even while he slept, her gaze lingered on Dean's profile.
One more thought came to her as the sun disappeared under the horizon to leave them in a world of dark skies and white lights. No matter where they were going, it wasn't going to be boring.
The End … for now...
AUTHOR'S END NOTES: Thanks for letting me play this year, Apocalyptothon team! I had a great time, despite the horribly short deadline, and I hope this story fulfills my plot requestor's love of apocalypse. There will be a second story to complete this. The plot just kept growing and I knew before the second week of the challenge was out this wasn't going to come to a nice, clean conclusion before posting time. Keep your fingers crossed my others stories finish in record time and I can get back to this fun universe. Thanks for reading!