This is an expanded fragment of one of the stanzas from When the Road Stops, Rest.
It's not really a complete story and may not make sense if you haven't read the former story. I seem to be on a snapshot jag.
Fragments of Broken Futures
future-fic, PG13, apocalypse
(approx 3,200 words)
It's five years before the last of the power grids gives out. Dean isn't sure if it's the hydro plants or the nuclear facilities. They avoid places with either. They go months without seeing anyone.
"We could be the last people on earth," he says, one night when the winter is settling in. Sam's hair under his fingers is longer than it's ever been. It's got grey streaks in it. Premature.
"Almost," Sam says and his thumb rubs out a secret on Dean's calf.
"Maybe you should…go. Next time."
"And miss the end of the world?"
Dean grins at him.
There's a lot to be said for the old ways of doing things. Jim Murphy's old farmhouse was a hundred years old or older the first time Dean and Sam saw it; hand hewn logs and iron nails, the cellar dug deep and braced hard. It had withstood and survived wars and hard winters, summer storms and demonic attacks. The ground was sanctified by more than holy water and faith.
There was a well and modern plumbing, gridded electricity backed up by a heavy duty generator that roared like a jet and sucked fuel like a leaky pipeline. Plumbing upgraded and updated, enough kerosene lanterns to show up on a satellite map if they were all lit at the same time.
It had been Jim's home for a lot of years.
It became a fortress during his tenancy and a refuge after he was gone.
They spent the first summer repairing and rebuilding what had fallen or failed due to neglect. They stocked and restocked, laid in supplies for what they knew would be a hard winter, mostly because they didn't know what to expect. Sam drove posts into the ground spaced precisely apart, set runes into the wood, laid lines of salt between them.
Things walked freely now, things only ever seen in shadows, but they seemed less interested in what few people remained than they did in making their own place in the world that opened up to them, the world that was dying around them.
Sometimes Dean found Sam staring into the distance, hammer or shovel loose in his hands, eyes unfocused and fixed on the forest around them, the mountains beyond. He worried less if Sam was still -- it meant he was seeing and not listening. The first time he'd touched Sam to bring him out of his thousand yard stare, Sam had shuddered and then sobbed, catching himself before letting it escape completely.
It's all dying, he said. There won't be anything left when it's done.
It had taken Dean awhile to understand that it wasn't the forest, or the grass, it wasn't the animals -- not the deer that were so plentiful around here he could practically pick them off from the porch. It wasn't so much the world as the mark mankind had left on it that was slowly being overcome…slowly losing it's hold…dying.
What ghosts they still saw seemed less driven; lost and wandering. They worried less about poltergeists and vengeful spirits than they did the things that crawled out from the darkness and shadow, things that had remained hidden for God knew how long; things they didn't even have names for. The shades and shadows of lives that had or should have already moved on, were fading, wandering into the twilight just like the living had.
It pissed Dean off at first, and for a long time afterward -- like the universe had suddenly realized it had made a mistake and was busy erasing all traces of it.
It wasn't the same as feeling> it happen though.
The first couple of years were strange and terrifying in ways that ghosts and monsters and demons weren't. The first wave of people didn't all die at once, although it started in such numbers that there was no way to miss it. One in ten, the experts posited. Men, women, children: no pattern, no commonality in race or economics, in faith or lack of it, not just the crazy or the remarkably good. Some of them walked away; most of them, people would realize later. If they were on the coast, they walked into the ocean like lemmings. In the more arid places they wandered into the desert. They walked up into the mountains, off piers and cliffs, roofs and bridges, or into rivers.
For days it was on the news, on the radio, constantly, like a world war only no one could figure out who the enemy was. There was some initial panic, a few riots, some incidences of violence.
And people kept walking away, sometimes in the middle of the inevitable upheavals.
You could stop them. They wouldn't fight, but unless you locked them up or tied them down, they would just start walking again.
The faithful prayed. Some of those without faith prayed too.
A lot of those who had once seemed to be waiting for the end of the world, seemed kind of disappointed. And even when the dead started walking the streets during the day -- phantom images wandering through the living like the living were the ghosts -- it seemed less like the fulfillment of prophecy than a bizarre lottery gone horribly wrong.
"It's amazing that no one's dropped a bomb on anyone else," Dean remarked, half listening to the news while he and Sam loaded as much ammo as the Impala could bear without scraping pavement.
Sam had shifted things in the trunk to pack in a few more boxes. "Makes you wonder if anyone's checked to see if the people with their fingers on the trigger are still there," he said, and checked the action on a sawed off shotgun. It caught. "This one's shot," he said.
"Let's cache this and we'll replace it when we pick up food."
It took only a week before the newspapers stopped running single obituaries and just started running lists of names. A month before there weren't enough people left to get the papers out daily or even weekly. News broadcasts became sporadic.
The number of outright suicides were fewer but still shocking. No one was really sure if it was because they heard the call and for whatever reason couldn't answer it, or they hadn't and were so afraid, they decided to take the mystery out of the decision.
It stopped as suddenly as it had started.
Took awhile for that to sink in as well, for word to get around. Nothing significant to mark it. Not exactly x number of months or during a full moon, a new moon. No cessation of solar flares or change in the seasons. One hundred and fifty seven days as nearly as anyone could tell but it was only a guess. Nothing particularly noteworthy about the number of days or the combination of numbers and dates.
People consolidated where they could. What government was left tried to bring in some order, some structure, but it was hard to do when you had no way to know who survived, who remained at their post or their station. Phones still worked, radio stations, even television and satellite broadcasts.
Dean didn't think about it too much, about how to save what infrastructure remained. Some places would make it work and others wouldn't.
The first few months one of them always stayed awake. They drove, made notes. They couldn't cover every town, obviously, and Sam tried, tried so hard to make it all find some kind of order that for a few weeks Dean thought he might crack. Whole towns stood abandoned, others had a few people still functioning but in a low state of shock, other towns seemed like they were relatively untouched. Three here, a dozen there…
Sam saw things, Dean knew. In between the towns they visited, making a kind of lazy trek along routes they'd traveled before, checking on the people they knew, old friends and contacts…assessing the damage, the loss. But what Sam saw wasn't like before, not the agonizing glimpses of future deaths or destruction. These played out in glimpses and flashes of faces…a flip book of photographs. Sam didn't know if the people were still alive or about to walk. There wasn't enough for him to tell and trying too hard did bring pain.
So Sam flinched a lot and Dean tried not to notice.
"You'd think it would have taken the kids," Sam said, outside of Wichita, where there was actually a school in session, maybe thirty kids, of all ages, although none older than ten or eleven. None younger than five or six either.
"Oh, now there's a cheerful thought," Dean said sourly. "Kids wandering off until they die of dehydration or exhaustion. Nice, Sam."
"That's not what I meant," Sam said soft and tight and angry, jamming his fists into his pockets and pushing off from the car to cross the street.
It wasn't and Dean dropped his gaze for a moment, trying to get a hold of his anger. He wasn't angry at Sam but more and more, Sam was bearing the brunt of his frustration, his helplessness. Kids had died, just like that. Infants carried off still nursing from their mother's breast. They'd come across bodies outside of Vegas, mothers and fathers carrying their children. It looked like the kids had probably died long before their parents had finally dropped.
But it was rare they found bodies at all. Like wild creatures crawling off to die in secret, people did the same thing for the most part and Dean tried not to think too hard if there were the savaged remains of the dead in the mountains, bones picked clean by scavengers. When they did find them, there was rarely any sign of struggle. No tormented faces, wracked by pain or fear. They just kept going until they couldn't any longer. In towns and cities with large bodies of water, people waited for the bodies to float up, wash ashore…
They didn't. There'd been early reports of dragging rivers and lakes. Of bodies found, ultimately buried, at first…but it was like whatever this was was determined to inflict its own rules. There were bodies all around them; they just couldn't see them all.
The idea that millions of people could just…
Sam came back, still looking tense and angry, but he was calm when he spoke. "Anderson says they've managed to gather six propane tanks. Small ones, 500 gallons each. We can leave this here -- they've got them loaded into a semi."
Dean glanced at the truck of diesel fuel and nodded. Six would get them through the winter and then some. Eventually they'd have to find some alternate generators. No real way to know which kinds of fuel would start to become scarce first.
"Even trade?" he asked, knowing the town was getting the better deal. The tanker was full.
Sam shrugged. "I told Anderson we wanted enough of the diesel to make the trip back, but otherwise yes, as far as I'm concerned. Unless we find a diesel generator of our own."
It took them another day to complete the trade, and Dean was adamant about checking all the fittings, tapping each tank, to make sure they weren't being duped. It wasn't until they were halfway back to home that Sam pointed out that he'd already tapped and tested the tanks before he agreed to the trade.
"I trust you," Dean said quickly, knowing he sounded defensive. "Just double checking."
Sam had said nothing, only smiled a sadly, like Of course you do. Not.
That night when Sam woke, blindly pulling at the handcuff on his wrist as he tried to follow whatever he heard that wasn't the crickets echoing around their campsite, Dean wrapped his arms around Sam's chest and said his name over and over again. Sam finally relaxed, dropped his head and took shaky breaths that didn't quite sound like sobs and Dean felt a little less guilty.
But only a little.
He isn't sure when or how it happened, when trying to keep Sam from leaving somehow got twisted around like maybe Dean could give him a reason to stay that was more compelling then the voices or the song that he couldn't hear and Sam couldn't quite stop listening too.
It felt desperate on his part, but somehow it always seemed like Sam was relieved.
He knows it started in winter, maybe the second? It was after the official news reports had faded to almost never and what news was still coming across -- if sporadically -- were from amateur ham radio operators. Shortwave was suddenly trendy again.
Sam had been making dinner, bundled up in layers and wool socks. They kept the farmhouse only barely tolerably warm, enough to keep the pipes from freezing or from shivering themselves as long as they added extra layers of clothes. They left the upstairs more or less closed off, shifting one of the big double beds down into the room that been Jim's private study. They slept together under piled on down comforters and wool army blankets, listening to the hundred year old logs creak and sigh under the settling ice and snow.
It was the smell of burning food that alerted Dean, sent him careening out of the living room where he'd been cleaning guns to the kitchen to find it empty, dinner starting to char, and a tendril of cold leeching heat through the kitchen door that hadn't been closed entirely.
Sam was a hundred yards away, slogging through snow up to his calves, leaving a path behind him.
Dean's view was unimpeded. Sam wasn't moving terribly fast, just steadily, and Dean took the time to shut off the stove, put on his boots, which Sam didn't have, and his coat which Sam also didn't have. He also had a snowmobile, traded for the year before when they realized how cut off they were when it snowed.
Sam didn't even notice the roar of the engine, his gaze didn't shift when Dean circled in front of him to cut him off.
Dean didn't even have to get off to stop him. Sam didn't veer at all -- he reached the snowmobile and Dean and tried to climb over both.
He was already shivering, breath coming out in visible puffs of fog, sounding harsh and shallow. His clothes were already soaked through, his skin icy. When Dean held on, Sam pulled but he didn't fight, like he didn't even really understand he was being restrained; pushing like someone did who got momentarily tangled in vines or cobwebs.
When Sam stopped struggling Dean turned the snowmobile around and headed back, Sam turned his head to stare, eyes fixed on some distant point Dean didn't even want to know about.
It was frightening, then, even though Sam didn't try to walk away again, even as Dean stripped him of his sodden clothes just outside the kitchen then pushed him roughly to the bathroom and a warm shower. Sam's teeth were still chattering together and he moved like a partly animated puppet.
It had never lasted this long, or been this weird. Always before Sam would keep trying to go until whatever it was compelling him to do so fell silent again. Dean was pretty sure the compelling call was still there, but Sam was only listening, not answering. He got Sam into the shower but Sam just stood there, swaying on trembling legs.
Dean stripped down and got in with him, a half theory rising up like a vicious taunt -- Sam was psychic. Maybe the thing had finally figured out it didn't need Sam's body to get Sam.
It started with just touching, with washcloth and soap, to get warmth back in Sam's skin, to do anything but stand naked with his brother under the hot spray of water. When Sam didn't respond, Dean gripped his face, his hair, talked, pleaded, threatened, yelled, tried to get Sam's eyes to focus on him, to prompt anything but the vacant stare.
Sam's legs gave out, quickly enough that Dean had to catch him, ease him down, both of them curled and pretzeled up in the bottom of a too small bathtub drenched by water that was getting cooler by the moment.
He didn't remember kissing Sam, or hugging him, hitting him or rocking him, but when Sam's voice finally penetrated a brain so fraught with grief and anger and just…helplessness, Dean almost missed it.
"I'm here…I'm here...Dean, I'm here," Sam said, voice tight and low and hoarse like he'd been screaming it for hours. Maybe he had been. His hand gripped Dean's arms so tight he flinched. The water was definitely cool and yet all Dean could feel was the warmth of Sam's breath on his throat. He locked his arms tighter around Sam until they were both shivering when the water went from cool to cold.
Only Sam didn't move, he shivered and held on and murmured promises he might not be able to keep but that Dean needed to hear anyway.
Dean finally shifted around enough to cut the water when every word Sam said was punctuated by the clattering of his teeth; when it penetrated into his brain that he could lose Sam to hypothermia and pneumonia as easily as to that call he couldn't hear.
They moved, in foggy, half remembered stumbles and fumbling, clinging to each other like one or the other vanishing was the absolute result if one of them let go. When Dean struggled to build the fire back up in the stove, Sam's hand curved around his ankle. When Sam reached back for the blanket on the sofa, Dean wrapped arms around his waist, that didn't loosen even when the blanket was wrapped tight around both of them. They couldn't find the strength to make it to the bedroom but Dean could reach a lamp and he could pull the cord free and tie it around both their wrists.
They slept on the floor, hard and cold with only the blanket, curved and curled around each other like a tangled ball of twine. Sometime in between fitful sleep and to predominant nightmares, touching for contact became touching with intent. Unsustainable fear became undeniable need, became unregretted lust when hands and mouths accidentally touched there and here and in a combination that only got yes for an answer.
When Dean woke, he found Sam sitting up, still bound wrist stretched awkwardly across Dean's chest, eyes fixed on the window and the creeping grey light of dawn.
"Sam?" he asked, fear rising up even though Sam wasn't trying to pull away.
But Sam turned to him immediately, free hand stroking through Dean's hair. "I'm here."
Dean licked his lips and pulled himself up to sit, feeling bruises and tender places from the hard floor and the strength of Sam's fingers, where they'd pressed into his skin. "But you can hear it?"
"Just a little. You're louder."
Dean wasn't even sure what he meant but he'd scream from now until kingdom come if that's what it took.
They'd gotten up, cleaned up, made coffee and put breakfast together, restoked the fires and checked the house. Dean locked all the doors and hid the keys. Then he'd taken Sam to bed, properly this time. Or maybe Sam had taken him. The details didn't matter.
And it wasn't as if Dean thought sex alone or even love could keep Sam with him. Plenty of people; husbands and wives, sweethearts, parents and children, had been torn apart by this thing. It wasn't enough, there wasn't anything Dean could do to make the voices stop calling or stop Sam from hearing them.
But Sam found a reason to fight it and that was good enough.