When the Road Stops, Rest
Type/Rating: all audiences, future-fic, end of the world, death-ish.
1,200 words (12 connected drabbles)
The characters and situations portrayed here are not mine, they belong to the WB. This is a fan authored work and no profit is being made. Please do not link to this story without appropriate warnings. Please do not archive this story without my permission.
Summary: "It's like the words to a favorite song. It's like promises and a good meal. It's right in front of him, just a few steps more."
There are stretches of road between places, between one job and the next, that are so empty and long, Sam thinks the end of the world came and they didn't notice.
There are towns they've stopped in where no one looks at them. Sam wonders if they are invisible or if people don't want to be rude. Sometimes, he thinks it's both.
Sometimes, he's not sure if everything else he knows, feels, or sees is the dream and the part where it's just him and Dean and the road isn't how it really is.
He's not sure which he prefers.
They get run off the road outside of Tulsa, by an overloaded truck heading west. It's pouring rain and Dean swears like a sailor when he checks for damage. There is none, but the car is mired and no amount of pushing will free it from the mud. They need to wait for it to dry.
The next town is eight miles away. Dean gets back in the car to wait for the rain to break before walking.
Sam stands on the side of the road with his face upturned and thinks this is how the world ends.
It's ice and snow in Montana in February.
There's a splash of bright red against the whiteness and tracks a blind man could follow. Almasti are from Siberia, Sam knows. They are here because it's given up on sheep and cattle and turned on humans.
They track it like an animal. Sam shudders when they salt and burn. The face is too human.
The rancher who'd lost his stock to it spits at their feet, glares, and curses them in Russian. He gives them food, lets them drain fuel from his car.
Sam wonders if they killed the wrong thing.
On the dunes on the Carolina coast, they stare at the Atlantic's winter-grey water as it crashes against yellow sand and winter-browned saw grass.
Sam can taste salt on his tongue and the spray makes his hair feel heavy and thick. Dean crouches and lets cold sand run through his fingers, then tosses a handful into the air.
The grit strikes his face like hard snowflakes.
There's no one else on the beach. The bodies never wash back on shore.
A gull mocks them.
Dean stands and brushes his hands off. "Let's go."
Sam doesn't him ask where any longer.
They can't get any further south than Raleigh. Kudzu has taken over the roads like a creeping green blanket. It's blooming. It smells like grape Kool-aid.
There's people still, but not many; those that didn't walk into the sea or into the desert or the mountains or blow their brains out. The world went mad in a day.
The people that remain are waiting to see if they are the lucky ones or not.
Sam and Dean slept through it in a motel outside of Akron and didn't know until the ghosts started walking in daylight.
Nothing else changes much.
Sometimes Sam can hear the ocean calling him. In the desert, voices whisper his name, laughing and playful. There's not really anything there. It's just echoes.
There are a lot of echoes in the world now. Like sound carries for hundreds of miles; from the town they left behind three days ago or from the town they are heading toward.
Dean no longer asks what Sam hears in the empty, hollow places they pass through.
"Don't listen, Sam," he says and Sam tries not to.
When Sam covers his ears, Dean wraps his arms around him and sings really loudly.
Food's not an issue. Neither is water or gas. Whole cities are abandoned. There are communities that hoard, and just as many who have completely turned their backs on technology for the most part. They spend their first full winter in Colorado, in Pastor Jim's old farmhouse. It's fully stocked with food and fuel.
Sometime after Christmas Dean wakes and Sam's missing from the bed they share. His stuff's still here.
He finds him walking in snow up to his thighs, bare skin blue, eyes glazed.
Heading toward the mountains.
He handcuffs them together when they sleep from then on.
Dean can't hear it calling. They get reports still, of people just wandering off. Not like the first time, just a few, here and there.
He's afraid to take his eyes off Sam for too long.
"Do you want to go?" It's been three years and five months. They winter in Colorado. In the spring and summer they travel, in the fall they restock.
"No," Sam says, sure. "Only when I hear it…I can't stay." It's an apology.
"I should make you, then?"
"Yes. Please." Sam's hand on his is callused and rough. So is his voice.
Dean just nods.
Come spring, a town further south they've traded with is completely empty. There's no destruction, no bodies. The animals and stock run free. Just like before.
"Second wave?" Dean asks while they scavenge what they can. It's a lot. They'll need to make another trip.
Sam closes his eyes and reaches for Dean's arm. "Different song," he says and loads up canning jars and seals. They're going to need to learn how to preserve food. He's got a book.
"Why can't I hear it?" Dean asks.
"You don't know how to give up," Sam says quietly and smiles at him.
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.
He hears it the first time on a cool spring morning. It's like the words to a favorite song. It's like promises and a good meal. It's right in front of him, just a few steps more.
He can't move because there's a rope around his waist and Sam's arms over that. He wants to go, but it doesn't bother him that he can't.
It's not going to go away. It doesn't just end, it's just what waits.
It does fade, though, until he can only hear Sam's harsh breathing in his ears.
"We can go."
The broad porch is overgrown; last night's rainfall drips from the roof into a low depression forming a pool. A raccoon sips and washes its paws before climbing onto the porch. A rotted rope is tied to one of the supports, trailing out into the grass.
The raccoon follows the line, digging in the grass for bugs.
It gnaws on the sharp, abrupt end of the rope, pulling out graying fibers.
A low sound startles it, sends it toward the woods. The birds on the roof take flight.
It sounds a lot like laughter.
It sounds a lot like tears.