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Inherit the Earth, Suffer the Consequence

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“Hey!  Has Charlie gotten that damn thing working yet?” Dean groaned from underneath the crumbling shelter they’d managed to locate the night before.  He glared as he stared up at his surroundings, specifically the roof, still wary of the stability.  God, it looked like it could collapse with one friggin burst of air!  

The crew was dispersed in huddled groups beneath the old framework of the building which happened to be an old college dorm.  They were taking cover in the parts still left standing.  The only reason they knew that this was a former campus was because of the weathered sign their Jeep nearly collided with on the drive in.  

It was so damn hard to tell where they were these days, figuring out what was a solid structure and what wasn’t.  The group took what they could get and, considering that there was shade a short walk down the halls, the place was equivalent to gold.  Everyone was camped out, catching some well-deserved shut eye, while Dean and Sam kept watch up front.  They were on guard duty and eagerly hovering over Charlie with anticipation.  

Everything slowed to a crawl when they were afforded a break from their usual nomadic life.  Except the road was where Dean felt comfortable, and part of the reason he was so wary of these weak-ass looking overhead beams.

There was so much debris blowing in the wind, it was beating down against the lobby doors - a sandstorm of loose, Midwestern dirt.  Currently, there was an unease about whether the dust inside was kicked up from the ground or failing cement of the dormitory...

Sam narrowed his eyes at his brother and snipped, “She’s not going to get it fixed any faster if you keep bitching at her.”

“Dudes, it’s okay,” she assured them, fiddling with the battery-operated radio.  “I’m just glad we could find another.  Ever since we lost the last one, scavenging has been a little more…stressful, ya know?”  Charlie continued to work with the device, her capable fingers tinkering with the wires as she relayed, “I think I’ve just about got it,” before she blew the sand out of the open-faced box.

The sound of Jo slowly walking towards them was prefaced by a loud yawn being roused from her nap and a, “God, it’s so fucking hot!” right before the Winchester brothers watched Charlie reach into her bag and pull out a pair of batteries.

Yeah, maybe they were hovering a little but they knew the magic Charlie could work with not only her brain but her hands.  When she finally pushed the button, the others all but waiting on baited breath, and a red light flashed on.  Dean cheered, “Fuck yeah!”

“Fuck what?” Jo stalked closer, wiping the sweat from her brow, clad in a sports bra and tattered jeans.

“Char got the new radio transmitter operational!” Sam announced with a smile, but then admonished, “You can’t go too far into the lobby like that, the sun-”

“Yeah, yeah, Mom.”  The blonde rolled her eyes and stretched out.  “Just gimme a second to breathe and enjoy the roof over our heads before we have to cover up!  Not my fault we can’t exactly lay out and tan these days.”

“Heh, yeah.  Lube up with some baby oil by the radioactive pool and deep fry,” Dean scoffed, because it was true.

The ozone was fucked.

Every scientist predicting global warming had officially been proven right, but the preventative measures were never set in place.  People were too concerned about money back then, and their children’s children had inherited the Earth and suffered the consequence: humanity's extinction.  After all, those billionaires would be long dead and wouldn’t have to worry about the problem, so why should they care, right?

Except…it wasn’t simple global warning.  It wasn’t only the ozone, the ice caps nearly ice cubes, the “save the whales” line everyone would spout.  No, mother nature had enough.  She wasn’t fucking around anymore and slammed on the self-destruct button.  Or, that’s what everyone assumed had happened.  They had no way to confirm their assumptions, since televisions, radio and internet hadn’t been around for going on a decade now.

The sun?  That was the least of their problems.  Even though it was a helluva problem.

While Jo was taking a nap, the rest of the team they’d assembled, a group of survivors who’d randomly found one another, were deeper inside the current building, shrouding themselves in enough darkness to get some actual shut-eye.  Peace and shelter was a scarce rarity these days.

Even though Sam, Dean and Charlie were currently "on watch," it felt like they were never relieved of their duties, needing to keep the group safe at all times.  And Jo was always close behind.

Whether they were looking out for a dust storm, piece of shit looters who would try and take their supplies or - God help them - another Event, they were prepared for just about anything.  They had their ‘fire drill’ procedures in preparation anything that could go wrong and those, more often than not, outweighed the things that could go right.

But currently finding another actual, salvageable two-way receiver?  This was a win.

Dean raised his hand for a high-five with a wide smile.  “Good work, girl.  Now we’re back to four!  Halle-fuckin’-lujah!  We won’t have worry about where Gabriel and his dumb ass’s wandered off to all the time!”  He leered to his brother and commented, “Now you won’t have to follow him around like a damn puppy dog.”

With a quirked grin, Charlie casually alluded, “You ever think that maybe Sam likes to follow him around like a damn puppy dog?”

“Hey!” the man in question protested. “I’m right here!”

“Then stand up for yourself!” Dean answered right back. “Now that we’ve got this figured out and there's no need for a big, bad Moose of a bodyguard watching Char, you should catch some shut-eye, too.  Go wake someone else up to take guard duty for you.”

Sam didn’t move from his crouch and looked out to where the lobby doors had been demolished and light poured in.  He looked to the bare nothingness that laid outside, the barren landscape broken only by a few more desolate buildings, and flicked at some rocks that had rolled inside.  Sam sighed and shrugged his shoulders, “What about you?  I’m sure Cas will be happy if you actually sleep for once.”

“Eh,” Dean shrugged his shoulders noncommittally, “Just…don’t have the best feeling about this place.  Think we’ve gotta stay on the move.  Wanna be ready to blow the whistle.”

“Dean,” Jo’s voice cut through the air, “This is the most solid place we’ve found in a damn long time.  Not only do we have sturdy protection from the sun, we can gather our bearings for a second.  We’ve been running for what feels like forever, only making due until-”

“And what happens when we’re snoozing and the next earthquake hits, huh?” Dean challenged, stalking over to her and gesturing to the beams, “This place is on its last legs! You wanna pull your girlfriend out under piles of boulders?  Maybe amputate her limbs if she’s not already dead?”

Jo's jaw dropped, and she growled, “Jesus!  The last earthquake was-”

“A month ago!  Which, if Charlie’s predictions are right?  Means we’re due for one, coming to theaters soon!  I’d rather be huddled up in the middle of nowhere, roughing it nomad-style, than trapped where my family meets their end, bloody, under some goddamn hunks of cement!  Especially after everything we’ve been through, just because we need a nap!” Dean threw his arms in the air and turned on his heels, needing some space.

He was just getting so fed up with this.  With everything.  It wasn’t like there was a switch to flip, anything they could do to change things, but…Dean was tired.  He was so tired of running, just like Jo said, but this wasn’t the place to stop.  Sure, they’d find somewhere.  Dean knew that.  But today wasn’t the day.

Dean huffed and tried to work off some of the steam pacing back and forth through the hallways, but none of it helped.  It wouldn’t help his pent-up aggression until they jumped ship or until he was doing something practical or positive.  The box on the list so far checked a big, fat ‘none of the above.’

Idly, Dean’s fingers traced over some graffiti left from a student in another time, in another world.  That was when he felt a hand on his lower back.  It was warm and comforting and, on a good day, Dean would've sank and melted into the heat.  Right now, he was too high strung.

“Dean,” Castiel’s voice was direct (as always) as he tried to pull the other man’s focus.  “I heard you were…on edge.”

“You should be sleeping.”  It was even and cold, even though Cas was the last person he should be treating that way.  Dean tried to soften it with, “You need your rest, go back to-”

Castiel unceremoniously grabbed Dean’s shoulder with an iron grip and spun him around.  There was a decent amount of surprise held in his wide green eyes when they met those fierce blue ones and Dean stumbled to gather his bearings.  Cas didn’t seem to care, he cuffed Dean under the chin and forced his attention.

“If I go back to sleep it won’t be alone.  You can order around the rest of your team, Winchester, but you won’t pull that shit with me.”  His entire energy was fierce and left no room for debate.  “If you don’t want to sleep?  You’ll tell me what your problem is.  And we’ll fix it.”

“Heh.”  With a wry scoff, he couldn’t help but push Cas’ buttons, “Pretty sure my problem?  Isn’t something you can fix.”

That made Castiel raise an eyebrow.  But it wasn’t a ‘oh, that’s interesting’ eyebrows.  It was a ‘you’re in trouble, you little fucker’ eyebrow and Dean tried his damnedest not to gulp.  Because he knew very well that he had gotten himself into this situation.  Still, he couldn’t help it.  Cas was both the kindest and the most domineering boyfriend in the world.  Hell, he had to be to deal with Dean.

“You’re in one of your moods.”  His voice was ice and he crowded Dean against the wall, his back hitting the unforgiving brick with a thud.  “Are you trying to pick a fight with me?  Like I heard you did with Jo?  You know that never ends well.”

Still…Dean loved to press boundaries and this made for a fantastic distraction.  “Doesn’t change my answer.”

“I will drag you back to bed with me.  Since your brooding isn’t merely pointless, it’s irritating.  Perhaps I’ll have to wear you out first.”

With a quirked brow of his own, Dean asked, “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

Cas got one of those looks.  One of those barely-there grins as he grabbed Dean by the throat just enough (just how Dean liked it) and said, “If you can keep quiet.  The moment you’re too loud?  Is the moment we stop.”

He looked around, surveying the area and the lobby Dean had stalked away from.  They both knew where the rest of the group was camping out and Castiel took the initiative to all but haul Dean down a separate wing.  Thrill zinged through his spine as they dodged past a skyline that filled a patch of the hall with light until they reached an isolated room with pure speed and grace.  It was moments like this that Cas’ history shone through brightly.

The pair hadn’t known each other until the Earth fell apart.  Until California fell off the map and into the ocean.  Until the volcanoes took out Washington and everyone fled towards the Midwest.  They hadn’t even liked each other until they realized their broken pieces fit together perfectly.  That they were both damaged in ways no one could repair, but the other filled in those holes.

In the real world, they never would have made sense.  Never in a million years.

Dean was a Fed.  He’d been with the FBI and had intel predicting what was happening before it all came crashing down around them.  Castiel?  He was on the other side of the law.  Not a serial killer or anything crazy (…he hoped), but a bodyguard for hire.  And the price tag Cas came with only allowed what Dean joked as “Super Villains” to hire him.  

Except, it wasn’t a joke: Castiel stood alongside those Dean used to put behind bars.  Hell, he was one of the things that stood in Dean’s way.  That was all in another life, one that went up in smoke.

And right now?  Cas was currently pinning him against a wall with his hand down his pants.  Somehow, his past didn’t seem all that important, hell, not much seemed important other than this.

Dean’s breaths were coming out heavy as he sucked on Cas’ neck and grappled for him.  After all this time, despite the build up between them, plus the time it took to put aside their differences being so obnoxiously long - Dean was in love.

He’d do fucking anything for this man.  He’d go to hell and back for Cas, and Dean knew damn well, in this shit-pile that was their world, Cas would do the same for him.  This man was the only thing separating Dean from insanity.  And the ironic part was that their connection, their relationship, it sometimes bordered on insane.  Those were just the facts of life.

Now, they were fighting belts, buttons and zippers to haul their pants down when their mouths clashed.  And it looked like Cas wasn’t in the romancing mood.  This was about wearing Dean out and putting him in his place, making him stow his bullshit and taking him for all he was worth.

Unfortunately, the lube they had was tucked away in one of their backpacks, but that didn’t deter Cas.  He spat on his palm and wrapped his hand around both of their thick, pulsing and hard cocks.  It was dirty and sloppy and everything Dean needed.  He gasped at the rough touch, jerking his hips into Cas’ fist as he pumped their erections together, their lips still glued against one another's.

Moaning into his mouth, Dean tangled his hands into his boyfriend’s unruly hair, whispering dirty things into his ear, earning him a throaty gasp.  God, he loved the sounds that Cas made.  He wanted more of them.

He wanted more of his touch, more of his body but what he truly wanted just wasn’t in the cards right now, and it frustrated him.  In fact, thinking about it made Dean grunt in annoyance, because it didn’t seem like anything was going right today.

That sound alone made Cas pull away and stare his boyfriend down, his hand returning to Dean’s throat and dropping his cock altogether.

“Oh, forgive me.  Is this not good enough for you?”  His voice was dangerous, and Dean knew instantly he’d fucked up.

He whimpered out, “I-I didn’t mean it like that, Cas, ‘m sorry.  Just want you so bad.  A-all I can think about, I didn’t mean-”

Castiel’s eyes pierced him like a goddamn bullet and they never left him as his free hand yanked Dean’s pants down further.  So far, in fact, they pooled around his ankles, the rough, broken tile wall scraping against his bare ass.  Dean's eyes were wide, honestly terrified as to what the man’s next move was going to be, because Cas could be so damn unpredictable.

The low pitch was prelude as he leaned in, nipping Dean’s earlobe and ordered, “Hands on the wall.  Spread your legs.”

“B-but-” Dean fumbled with his words as Cas released him, scrambling to follow his order.  “We can’t, we don’t, we-”

A firm ‘thwack’ bounced off the hallway walls and Dean’s rear stung something awful.  But…in a good way.  When the next firm slap of Cas’ hand landed on his ass, it startled a moan from his chest, but this time Cas massaged the sting away.

“Dean,” his voice pointedly reminded him, “remember what I told you about being quiet.”

He bit his lip and nodded vigorously, a zing of anticipation and thrill shot through his spine.  No one could keep him on his toes like Cas could, no one could throw him off guard and leave him floundering.  And once his hand disappeared…Dean was left hyper-sensitive, hyper-aware and waiting for something, anything…

All he heard was the slight rustle of fabric, but there was no touch, no more orders.  His whole body tensed as he prepared for an attack that never came.

Then Dean wondered - was this some kind of game?  Was Cas just fucking with him because he’d been a cheeky, ungrateful brat, or-?

He choked down what could have been another alarmed but wanton groan as he felt the onslaught of Cas simultaneously spreading his ass cheeks wide open and his tongue flicking across his hole.  Instead, he made a fist and pounded it against the wall while Cas chuckled darkly and swirled his tongue around Dean’s rim.

“Good boy.”  His breath was hot as he squeezed, nails biting into Dean’s cheeks.  “So good staying silent,” his praise was capped off with his tongue plunging inside Dean’s ass.

Fuck,” he hissed out, arching back into the touch as Cas continued to eat him out.  “H-how did you get down there?”

He had to say something, or else he’d be reduced to babbling, pathetic noises and come unraveled because - Jesusfuck, his boyfriend was a the definition of talented with his tongue.  Dean was trying to keep his knees from buckling, but they were already shaking.  In fact, his entire body was quaking as Cas licked him from the inside out.

And when he added two spit-slick fingers and started to set an unforgiving pace, pumping against his prostate?

“Baby, I ain’t gonna last, holy shit, Cas-” he gasped out, because he didn’t want to be selfish he…  “Wanna cum with you-”

That made Castiel pause for a second, as if to give the desperate plea of a freakin’ dying man some thought.  With a hum, he roughly nipped Dean’s flank, most definitely leaving the indentation of teeth marks, and stood back up.

Yet when Dean made the move to turn back around and face Cas, he was shoved back to the wall and ordered, “Just like this.”

With his eyebrows scrunched in confusion, Dean asked, “Just like what?”

Dean was quickly answered by Cas kicking his legs back together and rutting his cock in the sloppy, wet mess between Dean’s thighs.  That not only made a grin tug on Dean’s face but feeling Cas’ dick so close made his own throb impossibly harder.  He bucked backwards, like he was actually getting fucked, and the moan he drew from Castiel was so worth it.

He lashed out, grabbing one of Dean’s hips for leverage and wrapped the other around Dean’s cock.  As Cas ground against him, jerking him at the same, brutal pace, he taunted, “What was that, about wanting to cum with me?”

“Hell yeah,” Dean encouraged, torn in this tug of war between pushing back and thrusting up, “I’m so close, Cas, fuck!”

He leaned forward, just enough for Dean to feel his breath on the back of his neck.  “Cum for me, Dean-”

And that was all it took, that growled, rough and near-brutal order for Dean to slap a hand over his mouth.  The rush was dizzying.  From both hardly being able to breath as he muffled his damn shout, and his overwhelming orgasm that painted the wall with his release.  The euphoria was so intensified, Dean was pulling away as quickly as possible to brace himself.  Yeah, his knees did give out, but Cas had caught him.

Thank God.  He knew Cas hadn’t finished on him because their clothes were limited (fuck, Dean hoped he got off, he’d feel like the biggest piece of shit ever if him literally almost collapsing had stopped Cas-) and when he rolled Dean around he flashed a goofy grin.

With a chuckle, Cas assisted Dean back into his boxers and pants, because apparently the afterglow was something incapacitatingly spectacular, and then adjusted himself.

He pulled Dean into a searing kiss and finished with a kiss on the cheek.  “I love you.”

Dean lit up and tugged him back in, “Even when I’m being a dick?”

“Mmhm,” Cas confirmed with a hum, “Even when you’re being a dick.”

“I love you, too.”  He snagged his fingers through one of Cas’ belt loops and took a second to rest his forehead on the man’s shoulder.  “You’re gonna-”

“Make you take a nap.  Yes, I am.”  Castiel reminded Dean, “Because I love you,” and took his hand, interlacing their fingers together and leading him back to the group.  “I don’t want you burning the candle at both ends, as you tend to do.  It’s just a nap.  I think you can handle that.  You’ve already been on watch since we arrived here and if there was any local activity, we would’ve picked up on it by now.  That’s a statistic we can both agree on.”

Even though he hated it, Cas was right because he was being smart and logical and Dean couldn’t put up a fight with that.  Dean grunted to tell him as much as they retraced their steps through the hallways.

Still...that didn’t mean he had to go quietly…

“I just don’t trust this building and something about this area’s got my sixth sense itchin’ something awful.  You know what I mean and how I get.  And that I’m usually right,” Dean emphasized and sent a significant look towards his boyfriend.

Cas didn’t roll his eyes, he didn’t brush it off, he simply acknowledged it.  “I understand, Dean.  But if you don’t get some rest?  How will you be able to handle whatever your sixth sense is telling you?”

And that was just another reason he loved this man.  Cas didn’t patronize him, he didn’t play games, he noted and respected Dean’s stupid ‘gut feeling’ and made it a thing about ‘when,’ not ‘if.’  It was all so Dean wouldn’t get upset about Cas not taking him seriously, because he was - and that meant that Dean needed to pay him the same respect.

That was how Dean found himself coaxed down the hallway from where Cas had emerged.  Where the rest of the group was camped out, getting some shut-eye.  And, yep, Dean had come here, willingly.

“Jesus,” Gabriel complained from where his head was pillowed against a small mound of his clothing.  “You stink of sex.  Really?”

“Yeah, really.” Dean didn’t even bother to hold back as Cas led him by the hand to the corner where he’d set up shop.  “You got something to say about it?”

“Oh.  He’s in a mood.”  That was Ruby’s muffled voice from another make-shift bed.

Castiel, at least having the decency to lower his voice, felt the need to inform them, “You don’t even want to know what he was like before.  Don’t worry, he’ll feel better after he gets some rest.”

Someone scoffed but it didn’t matter who, Dean’s passive-aggressive meter had dropped to about a four on the scale.  That didn’t warrant any additional bitching.

Still, Dean had one more thing to do.  He looked around the dimmed hallway for someone specific before he allowed his boyfriend to drag him to bed.  Shooting a glance towards Cas, he tugged away from his grip and dodged around the people who were still asleep until he located the woman.  Falling back to his haunches, he gently tapped her on the shoulder until she awoke, glaring at him something deadly.

“What do you want?” Meg asked, obviously pissed off her sleep was interrupted.

Dean would have laughed but the thought of disrupting more people stopped him.  “I was ordered off guard duty. Figured you’ve gotten your beauty rest and Jo needs a partner.”

With a sigh, she sat up and tried to tame the unruly mass of curls on her head before getting to her feet.  “The things I do for that girl.”

“Thanks,” he winked and then tossed in, “Your fault, you know.  Staying single at the end of the world would’ve been more convenient.  Trust me, I know,” Dean grinned over at his own boyfriend.  “Char got the radio working.  Sam doesn’t want to leave anytime soon.  So Jo’s the third wheel.  Probably would appreciate your company.”

Meg didn’t give him an answer; she simply rolled her eyes and began pulling out any clothes she would need to protect her from the sun in case they needed to leave their current hideout.  She didn’t want to risk waking the others, digging as silently as she should, and then walked away without another word.

When Dean looked over his shoulder, his eyes had already adjusted to the darkness.  He could see where Cas was stretched out on his side, waiting for Dean to join him.  Hell, he always had everything spread out for two.  That, right there, prompted a smile across his face.

Dean crept over, once again weaving between the passed out bodies, and slipped in next to him.  “You were all ready for me?”

Cas pulled the man into his arms and down onto the hard floor.  After shifting around together, they managed to make themselves comfortable.  “I was going to get you here eventually.  It was simply a matter of when.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean muttered and tried to sound put out, but both knew there was a grin on his face.

If there was one thing that Dean could count in the midst of Hell on Earth it was that Cas knew him better than he knew himself, that he’d take care of Dean no matter what.  Sure, Dean was stubborn.  He was a dick, he was prideful and a pain in the ass, but Cas happened to have him beat.  He challenged Dean when he needed it; Cas broke him down and opened him up.  He comforted Dean, took care of him, even though neither would say it aloud.

And within the warmth of his arms, Dean felt safe.  Even though they were constantly surrounded by danger, this, right here, was a place of solace and a slice of happiness Dean wasn’t sure what he’d done to deserve.  The kiss Cas brushed along his neck made him hum happily and, as he nuzzled deeper into his warmth, sleep came surprisingly easy.

-----------------------------

Once everyone had gotten their much-needed rest, they were going through their rations and deciding whether this little hideaway would serve as a headquarters for a bit longer, or if they should move on.  It had been a damn long time since they took stock, ever since they hit this drought with no cover they’d been on the move constantly.  They couldn’t risk breathing in the dust, they couldn’t risk being in the sun and overheating, so trying to count previously was the double-edged sword.

Now, under the shadows of the dormitory, they spread out their goods.

Hannah and Ruby were going through the food they had.  Jo and Meg were dividing up the gas cans they’d dragged inside with them, so they wouldn’t combust within in the sweltering SUV.  Bobby and Mary were sifting through their ammo as well as their make-shift weaponry and sharpening the dulled blades.  Charlie was making sure all their electronics were in tip-top shape and counting their battery supply while Gabriel watched on, as something to do.

The brothers and Castiel had returned for look out duty, even though the fog-like sand made it difficult to see, their visibility utter shit.  They were relying on their ears, more than their eyes.

Listening for the hum of an incoming engine or the shouts of a human.  That was the only way to detect incoming threats.

“On our way in,” Meg was the first to speak up, “how many did we count?”

Castiel already knew precisely what she was alluding to.  “Many.  Too many.”

“What kind of shape were they in,” she asked, standing up and walking towards the men.

“Bones, for the most part.”  It was cool and off-hand.  “Although there were a few fresh ones.  What are you thinking?”

“Well, fuck.”  Meg crossed her arms.  “I still think Sammy and I should give the campus a look.  See if there’s anything left on the bodies we can use.  Even if they’re old, even if they’ve decayed, some of the crap we need may still be with them.  We could find something useful.”

This was standard procedure.  Whenever they rolled into a town, no matter where it was, there was always a death toll spread out across the lawn to greet them.  

Only, this Welcome to Campus?  Was undoubtedly college kids.  Which was why Meg had come to the brothers to speak of it.  Sometimes they had larger groups head out and pat down the dead, looking for things they could add to their own loot.

Even though it seemed callous, it was the way of the world.  The stripped bones, they must have met their end early.  Or (they’d know once they dug through the dust) a fire could’ve ripped through here and burned them alive.  That was less likely, since no one had noticed singe marks on the building.  It was probably dust inhalation.  The fresh ones probably hadn’t been prepared for the sun.

Sam turned to her and nodded, saying quietly, “I’ll get suited up.”

These missions, the ones that were a bit more delicate, went to Sam and Meg.  Not because they were hardened to the world, no.  Well, Meg maybe, but Sam was forever an optimist.

Hell, he was the one who was constantly begging Dean to take in strays.

It was because in years long gone in a distance past: Meg has been a nurse and Sam, an EMT.  Not only were they desensitized to death - both having experienced it with their jobs - they were professionals and could discern exactly what had happened.  What the cause of death was.  What the group had to look out for and beware of in the current surroundings.

Of course, Castiel and Gabriel would have no problem with the pillaging and plundering part, given their... shady background.  However they wouldn’t be able to tell a drowning from a death by pigeon attack after rigor mortis set in.  And that was precisely why they needed Meg and Sam.

To see if this was a place they could linger.

Or if this location was dangerous, and they were playing with fire.

“Whatcha guys whispering about?”

And, speak of the devil.

It was a good thing that Dean had gotten a good nap in, because it always tested his patience to deal with Gabriel.  He was almost positive the man did it on purpose, and while most people brushed him off (or, fuck, actually enjoyed Gabriel, which he never understood) Dean had to tolerate him because he happened to be Cas’ brother.

“Doing a sweep of the stiffs.”  Dean kept to the point.

“Ooh, need some help?  It is a big campus,” Gabriel pointed out, “And I could use the entertainment.  Cruising and napping?  I’m aching for some action.”

Dean cast a glance over to Meg, because it was her call.  It was her and Sam who were going out there, so they’d be the ones dealing with him.

“Sure.  No skin off my back,” the woman said with a smile.

Which figured.  She happened to be one of the crazy people who liked Gabriel.

“Perfect!” he announced and rubbed his hands together.  “I’ll go grab my garb!”  Just like that, he was gone.

Dean tried to shake himself off and turned back to the rest, “How’s everything looking?”

“Good on gas for a while!” Jo shot him a thumbs up and gestured to the canisters, “They’re actually all full.  I was surprised; I thought we’d used more since we added that new Wrangler.  Thank God we’re not cramped anymore.”

It had been a crapshoot whether to leave or pick up said vehicle.  On one hand, it was better for their missions - they could actually spread out while traveling instead of being crammed like sardines, but gas?  It was a commodity that they couldn’t afford to waste.  Still, Ruby all but begged them, over and over, that they’d never find another one in that good of condition again.  The thorough inspection was the tipping point, because they knew she was right.

Now, the Wrangler was added to their caravan, and hadn’t sucked up the gas they thought it might.  Dean was damned pleased about that one.

Charlie tacked on, “Long as we’re not hella chatty over the walkies we should be okay for a hot sec.  They all have fresh batteries, but we’ll need to find another set for when they die.  Night vision’s good, too, both‘a them.  GPS is solid.  Radar’s still acting up.  Think I’ll be able to fix it soon, just need more time.”

With a nod, Castiel acknowledged, “That’s all good news.”

“We’ll be sharpenin’ for a while longer,” Bobby muttered as he did just that, scraping a knife against the stone.  “Everything’s dull from when we were cuttin’ our way through the fallen dead trees, crashed down on that damn road.  This’ll take some time.”

Mary gestured to the bag where the heavy artillery was already tucked away.  “We’ve got enough ammo for individual protection, not much beyond that.  But…” she paused, biting her lip, “We haven’t run into another group in…”

“Three weeks,” Ruby helpfully supplied, and then with a sarcastic tone, pointed out, “And that, Mother Mary, is where we lost our ammo!”

She hit the nail on the head.  There were raiders who attacked.  They hadn't even bothering to lull the group into a false sense of security, they came in, guns blazing and tried to take the group for all they were worth.

Too bad for them, they had no idea who they were fucking with.  Every last one of them ended up dead.  That’s where Charlie got the night vision goggles, which were a fun new toy.  They’d also managed to get a few cases of filtered water, but that was the extent of it.  

This group?  They were desperate, they were on their last leg.  If they didn’t meet their end with bullets, it would have been starvation within days for them.

Perhaps they’d done those assholes a favor.

But the water, God, that was a hand-delivered blessing.

More than anything, water was the hardest thing to come by.

The earthquakes, right at the beginning, were unforgiving.

Pipelines, gas mains, all of it broke and dumped oil and pollution into the water systems.  If the rivers and lakes weren’t poisoned by that, it was the lead in the pipes.  All the fish, all the wildlife choked and drank its way into extinction - the fish that remained were toxic and inedible.  It was damn near impossible to find pristine, untouched lakes that didn’t connect to the poisoned waterways since the rain was just as toxic and useless.

“How’s the food looking?” Cas asked over his shoulder to Hannah and Ruby.

The women glanced at one another, which…wasn’t the best of signs.  It was like they were waiting for the other to speak, and when Ruby straight-up smacked Hannah in the arm, it ended up being the latter who turned back around to report in.

“We’ll need to make a run.”  

That was how she put it.  Interesting. 

“All right…” Dean slowly said.  “We can do that.  But how are we doing in the meantime?  What’s our current status?” he emphasized the whole “now” part of everything.

“Not fantastic,” Ruby weighed in with a fake grin.  “We’ll, uh, have to limit rations, I’m thinking.  If we do that, just enough for nourishment, we could probably get a week out of what we’ve got.”

The words ‘limit’ and ‘probably’ stuck out and made Dean damn uneasy.  But he couldn’t show panic, that was the number one thing he’d never do.  Not as a leader, not as someone every individual here was looking to for confidence.

“All right.  We’ll do a run after Sam, Meg and Gabriel do a sweep and see if this place checks out,” he decided, raising his voice so everyone could hear.  “Anyone who could help sharpen the blades, do it.  Hopefully, those three recover something.  You guys can chat together about who wants to go on the run.  If all’s well, you can take one of the vehicles and do a couple mile radius around here.  Seems pretty untouched.”

With a nod, everyone went back to their tasks at hand and Dean took a deep breath in.  He hoped whatever news and findings on the corpses would give them some answers, because he still didn’t like it here.  He still had a bad feeling and he’d learned not to ignore those.  But Dean couldn’t get away with leading their little nomadic tribe away on a hunch, they needed proof.

Crossing his fingers, Dean prayed there was some kind of proof out there.

---------------------

Even though Sam knew he should be hurrying to change into his clothes, the moment he peeled his sleep wear from his sweat-covered body a sigh of sheer relief overwhelmed him.  Here, in the darkness, the temperature had to be at least twenty degrees cooler.  Once he was outside covered from head to toe, well…it was a lot like stepping into an oven.

Everyone had their duties and he had a moment of solitude to breathe.  Let his skin breathe.

The average day was over one hundred and twenty, without the dangerous sun beating down on them.  The one that, if it singed your naked skin, could give you second degree burns in the blink of an eye.  Unfortunately, Sam had experienced the sizzling burns and bubbled skin on his arms towards the beginning.  The sheer intensity and pain within mere seconds-  

God, his skin had peeled off in sheets.  

Right now, without his normal sweat-drenched clothing sticking to him, he closed his eyes and took in a sensation that was the definition of rare.  

He left himself be selfish just for a moment.  After all, Sam was about to be examining dead body after dead body, collecting those things they clung to as their life slipped, while he determined what exactly killed them.  It wasn’t fun, but it was needed.  He and Meg had a good system, they worked well together, and he had a feeling their well-oiled machine would be exhausted by the end.

They had an entire campus to survey, after all.

A whistle and a, “Damn, do I have fantastic timing, or what?” jerked Sam out of his daze and sent him scrambling for his clothes.

Gabriel clucked his tongue, sauntering even closer and said, “Oh, no.  Don’t feel rushed on my account!  Please, continue; return to your zen place.”

With a bitchface, Sam tugged on his pants.  “What are you doing back here?”

“I’m joining your expedition,” he said casually, still approaching and it made Sam’s heartbeat quicken.  “Thought it would speed up the process.  Lots’a ground to cover.”  Gabriel was shamelessly in Sam’s bubble when he asked, “That okay with you?”

The proximity made him freeze as he slowly responded, “W-why wouldn’t it be?”

“Because.  You’ve been acting cagey around me lately,” Gabriel lifted an eyebrow and watched Sam in a way that could only be described as a predator watching his prey.  “Wanna explain that?”

He tried to move naturally, he really did, but Sam’s moves were jerky as he reached for his long sleeved shirt and gloves.  “Are we talking about the mission?  Or you thinking of how I’ve been acting?”

Sam was stopped before he could pull it over his head, Gabriel appraising him thoughtfully and he tried not to gulp.  But before the man could open his big mouth, he was cut off.

“Okay, fine,” Sam admitted defeat, and put some space between them just because he couldn’t handle the closeness without…never mind.  “I don’t mean to be ‘cagey.’  I’m just…I know you, Gabriel.  At least, I think I do.  And I know not to take you seriously.  So whatever happened between us was probably you entertaining yourself in the moment, and I get it.  I won’t-”

“Is that honestly what you think?”  Gabriel tilted his head to the side, voice curious and almost affronted.  “Wow.  Glad to know I rank so high on the respect scale for you,” Gabriel sneered, turned away, and moved to his own belonging.

Okay, now Sam was downright confused.  Gabriel’s response made him pause, he was having trouble figuring out what to do as the other man got dressed, reminding himself he needed to, as well.  But Sam's thoughts wandered as he pulled on his clothes.

...Did he just piss Gabriel off?

From day one, Sam found Gabriel to be an anomaly.  He was a mixture of humor, snark, fearlessness and danger rolled into one.  Sam had been attracted to all the qualities but remained silent about how drawn in he was.  After all, the man didn’t have a problem openly flirting with just about everyone who didn’t have a 'hands off’ sign attached.  Sam figured he wasn’t anything special.  

Still…as time wore on, the more he watched Gabriel, and the more turmoil, trouble, and life or death situations they ran into - all of those qualities?  They transformed into intellect and ruthlessness, but he still had that little flame of optimism that so few carried.  And, goddammit, if Sam didn’t want him more.

After a particularly grueling night, when everyone was running on empty, the last bits of adrenaline crashing and needing a shelter to wipe away the blood from a mission gone wrong - something just snapped between them.

It…happened.  They happened.  And Sam couldn’t get it out of his head ever since.  

But he wasn’t an idiot.  Sam knew that it could’ve been anyone, he was just the closest warm body but he was so fucking glad he was.

Afterwards, they never had a chance to talk about it.  They never had the privacy to, because of the whole living-on-top-of-each-other thing.  That only added to Sam’s internal struggle, his own confirmation that it meant nothing to Gabriel.  Hell, maybe it had messed things up between them, because if the man had called Sam out about acting weird, when before they at least had a friendship …fuck.

“Hey.”

A hand was on Sam's bicep, not to get his attention, but to shove him to the side.  He was faced with a very frustrated and take-no-shit Gabriel.  An expression Sam never wanted to be on the receiving end of, because it was intimidating as all hell.

“You’re not ‘entertainment,’ as you so eloquently put it.”  Gabriel's voice was icy, and Sam could see him for the criminal he previously was.  “I’d never use you.  You tell me right now if I read that situation wrong.  I would never take advantage of you, Sam.  Now I’m feeling like I did.”

Sam had a hard time meeting his eyes, they were so intense.  It got to the point that Gabriel had to cuff a finger under his chin as friggin help.  Jesus, why was he acting this way?!  He couldn’t be blamed, not really, not when faced with…this!  He could handle Gabriel any day of the week, but this was different, this was...fuck.

“You…didn’t read it wrong.  You didn’t take advantage of me, I promise.” Sam’s voice was a bit shaky, but he needed to get those words out there.  “I’m sorry I’m acting weird.  I’ll stop.”

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry about, kid,” Gabriel seemed appeased by his admission.  Then, a piece of the usual Gabriel shone through, but not enough for Sam to feel absolutely comfortable.  “So you wanted it?  Are you acting weird because you still want it or because you regret it?”

It was shitty.  So shitty that this man had no shame, whatsoever.  That Gabriel didn’t beat around the bush, he just said whatever was on his mind and didn’t believe in hints or subtext.  He went right in for the kill, no matter how awkward it made the other person.  And since it was just the two of them, Sam didn’t have an out, he didn’t have a distraction while Gabriel was unforgiving.

“I…wanted it.”  Then, Sam decided to say fuck it.  He wasn’t going to let Gabriel keep playing alpha male, what right did he have, anyway?  “I was acting weird because with normal one night stands?  You never see them again.  It’s a walk of shame and an adios.  Not a, let’s-try-and-survive-the-end-of-the-world-in-close-quarters, kind of thing.”

Instantly, Gabriel quipped, “You didn’t answer my question.”

“Yes, I did,” Sam retorted, “That’s why I was being weird.  I didn’t know-”

“Do you regret it or still want it?” he pressed, while his finger moved from Sam’s chin to graze along his neck.

Sam ground his teeth and ended up barking out, “I still want it!”  He turned his head away in embarrassment, snapping, “There!  You happy?!”

With eyes that lit up with glee, Gabriel grabbed the back of Sam’s neck and hauled him down into a fierce kiss that was over much, much too soon.  Although Sam was breathless and buzzing with the first hints of excitement (and the stirrings of lust) Sam was more confused than anything.

“W-what was that for?” he asked Gabriel, still staring at him intently.

“’Cause I’ve been wanting to for a long time.  If you hadn’t been so stubbornly avoiding me...”  With a shrug of his shoulders, Gabriel finished grabbing his things and flashed a hungry gaze.  “You, Sam Winchester, are no longer allowed to hide from me.”  After a moment of thought, he added, “But we should probably hide from your brother and mine.  Hell, let’s add the whole team in.  It’ll be fun.”

Sam was taken aback by so many things, but the main one was, “You want…something?  Like, a relationship?” he didn’t care if it was secret or not, this was…well, it was huge.

“Anyone who can piss me off and get under my skin like you?  Is someone special.”  He winked and gestured for Sam to follow.  “Your ass is mine.  I hope that’s okay.”

“Yeah, that works.”  Sam flashed him a smile, already knowing it was probably dopey right before Gabriel smacked “his” ass.

“Glad we’re on the same page.”  He paused once more before they were within sight of the group, just long enough to steal one more kiss.  “Now, let’s go rob some dead bodies.”

“How…romantic.”

---------------------------------

The three were suited up from head to toe, Charlie offered them all the walkies (while one remained at the base) before they headed out into the whirlwind of dust.  Although, it seemed they’d hit a bit of a lull, and visibility wasn’t as horrible as it had previously been.  It didn’t really matter as their eyes would be focused on the ground.

With empty backpacks already on and the radios hooked to their waist, they waved the group off before they headed out into the unknown.

“Any guesses?” Ruby asked the group, half were doing their duty sharpening while the others (those who didn’t have the tools) were lounging.  “Why didn’t you go, Cas?  You aren’t squeamish.”

As the three's backs faded into the distance, clouds of tan swirled up around them, Castiel shrugged.

“It was only going to be Sam and Meg.  Gabriel was a last minute addition,” he reported like he was reading off a script.  But in all honesty, he wanted to stay by Dean’s side.  “As for guesses, I’m going with suffocation or heat stroke.  Something simple.”

“Yeah, besides the fact that there were two different rounds that took people out,” Jo grumbled, putting her back into the chore so hard that sparks were flying everywhere.  “I saw.  I was trying, trying to dodge the bodies while I drove.  Some of ‘em?  They were…fresh.  Ish.  That’s why Dean only wanted Meg and Sam to go.  And…there were a lot of ‘em.”

“Is that true?”  Mary paused and looked at her son with concern, not having seen that on the way in.

“Yeah, Mom.”  He tried to flash her a reassuring smile when he explained, “Meg and Sam are gonna figure out cause of death.  That’s when we’ll know whether to hunker down or head out.”

Mary stood up and brushed the dirt from her thighs, walking over to the pair and looking out.  Although there wasn’t much to see, there were more crumbled buildings around to analyze.  She pursed her lips and wondered aloud, “I understand the first round.  We see bones everywhere we go.  But if another group, just like us, had used this place?  Perhaps called it home for a brief time?  I can’t help but feel it’s unsafe.”

She gestured to three of the other tumbling structures, “Broken window, cleared of broken glass.  An entrance in and out.  How much do you want to bet one of those was their camp?”

“Char!” Dean called over his shoulder, “You catch that?”

The redhead bounced over to the Winchesters and asked, “Catch what?”

“Have one of ‘em scope out these…” he squinted at the now-visible display Mary had pointed out, leaning forward, “...Lecture halls?  See the easy-access window frames?  We’re thinking safe house.  Could hit the jackpot.”

“Dude, good eye!”  Charlie raised the walkie to her mouth and pressed the button, “Whoever’s still closest to the dorm, turn back and check out the inside of the lecture hall, over.”

It was Sam’s voice on the other end who asked, “What are we looking for, over.”

“Thinking it might be a recent hide out, especially the one on the west end, over.”

“Got it.  Headed there now.”

It didn’t take long to see Sam’s tall, lumbering frame walking to the building Mary had discovered.  He squatted down when he peered inside and had to crawl due to the way the framework had warped.  But Sam was in and they were all waiting with bated breath for a status update.  In fact, they were also waiting on Meg and Gabriel.

Everyone was glancing up once in awhile, as if it would help speed along the process, but it merely made the anticipation grow.  By the time they were almost finished with the blades, Gabriel’s voice was heard over the speakers.

“Got some more guns and knives from the looting.  May wanna take a car down to the south end where there’s a parking lot - could siphon more gas, over!”

“Good deal!” Charlie said with a smile, then pressed the button to ask Gabriel, “How many cars are left in that lot, over.”

“Meh, probably a dozen?  Any reason we haven’t had word from the others?”

Now, it had been well over an hour.  It not only made Charlie - who was constantly gripping the device and feeling phantom vibrations - nervous, but the rest of them as well.  So, instead of answering Gabriel, she changed her tactic.

“Sam.  Meg.  Come in, over!”

And waited.

It was Sam who reported in first.  “You guys were right, I hit the jackpot.  I’ve been loading my bag this whole time.  A group just up and vanished, leaving all their stuff here!  I may have to take two trips, over!”

“Hell yeah!” Ruby exclaimed, and cheered as she watched Sam crawl out of the window he’d previously disappeared into.  “Good news, for friggin once!”

“They didn’t disappear.”  And that was Meg’s voice over the intercom - finally !

But she didn’t sound excited: she sounded wary.

Dean grabbed the radio from Charlie to confirm his suspicions, “They’re the fresh ones, right?  Any reason guesses as to how they died, Meg, over?”

Meg’s tone was deliberately collected when she asked, “Sam.  How lived-in was the shelter?  How long do you think they were there, over?”

With a glance to Charlie, Dean’s brow furrowed because…why would that matter?

Sam was crossing the space between the lecture hall and the dormitory when he responded, “I’d say a week, enough to make a trash pile for their rations and get comfy, over.”

With a wide smile emerging underneath his buff when he hit the shadows, Sam came traipsing back to the group and began to unload his findings out on the floor with a, “Here’s the first load!  Do you guys want to organize it while I go back for the second?”

Hannah looked thrilled, seeing the canned goods they were sorely lacking and agreed, “Of course!  This is perfect, Sam!  Great eye, Mary!”

After he’d finished emptying his bag, it was only then the group realized they still hadn’t heard from Meg.  Which was disconcerting.

“Megan,” Gabriel beat them to the punch, “Your silence is foreboding, over!”  Then he added, “Oh!  Found some more ammo, cleared the south side, about to head back, ooo-over!” there was a sing-song quality to his voice.

“Good deal, you can help Sam carry the rest of other group’s belongings, or help us sort, over.”  Even though Dean knew it would probably take him a little bit to navigate his way back, they were all still waiting for Meg.  He waved his brother off who was on the way to make his second trip, digging through this group’s left behind supplies.

“I’ve got a cause of death, over.”

“Thank God,” Jo lamented, sorting through the chaos on the floor right as Sam disappeared back into the building.

“They knew what they were doing,” Meg’s voice was clinical, “They were covered from head to toe.  No blisters or boils, innards cooking happened postmortem.  No wounds from a fight.  Guys…these skin markings….this is from exposure to radiation.  Over a short, short amount of time,” she emphasized the words, urgently saying, “There has to be some kind of a nuke around here!  One that went up when the pressure was too much, we’re in a hazard zone.  I repeat: hazard zone.  They didn't know it either, probably a hidden black site or something, but whatever it was, this is gonna turn into Chernobyl, and fast.  We’ve gotta get what we need and get the fuck out.”

“Uh, guys,” Sam’s voice was shaky over the radio as panic set into the group, “Further down the hall, the ripe ones…Meg’s not messing around.  All the signs of radiation poisoning are here.  It’s not just in the air outside, it’s within the shelters, it’s…” his radio clicked off before his voice could escalate from dread, but Sam sounded cool and collected when he came back with, “We need to pick through the loot.  Carefully, I think I smell some kind of a gas leak, too.  Could be another side effect of the explosion.  We can’t let anything hazardous contaminate our rations.”

“Shit!”  Dean wanted to punch something, but Cas lashed out and grabbed him before he could.  “Guys, segregate that stuff again, right the hell now!” he ordered and there was a frenzy of movement because…

They weren’t even sure which of the items were theirs and which they’d just acquired from Sam, they’d just dumped the items together!

“Goddammit,” Ruby hissed under her breath, but went to the first and most important potential bio-hazard: the food.  “We keep these cans in a separate bag, as long as we can wash ‘em off, we can still use them, right?”

“Question for Meg,” Jo interjected as the flurry of hands and bags re-openings and zippers hissing filled the lobby.

Dean most definitely agreed with that, he needed their nurse back.  Taking in a huge breath, he pressed down on the button, trying his damnedest not to break the fucking thing, when he ordered, “Sam, Gabriel, Meg, return to home base, over.”

He turned back to the rest who were wide-eyes, already covered in their outdoor gear and scrambling to get to their feet.  They were waiting for Meg’s word.  Waiting to see if they could even use the hidden treasure that Sam had found, or if it could be their end.

“Pack your bags.”  Dean made the choice for them, gesturing down into the hallway.  “We need to head out, now!”

No one had to be told twice as they hustled back into the broken-down dorm where they’d gotten their sleep.  Probably too much sleep, given the danger that was both soundless and scentless, invading and destroying life on this campus.  

Dean knew it was too fucking good to be true.  They were on the move again, this time it was an evacuation, praying like hell they hadn’t been there long enough to get poisoned themselves.  That was the last thing they needed as they hustled to escape, moving with lightning speed to get the hell out, because every second counted.  They could never catch a goddamn break.

Chapter Text

They were driving blind for a while because of the drought kicking up too much dust in the air and the sandstorm, but once they reached the expressway again (hoping no sinkholes had swallowed up the path as they’d come across in the past) they knew it would clear up, even if it was just a little bit.  Then they would have a course.

Early on, the goal was to stay in the Midwest.

Avoid hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanoes, the giant “fuck yous” from mother nature.

Even though they still had their fair share of other things to worry about (tornadoes, floods and the sandstorms were a whole new bag of tricks), flat lands in the event of the earthquakes were safer, as long as they stayed away from the big cities.  That was still what they searched for.

An ideal shelter from the sun, the heat, that wouldn’t collapse around them when the looming quake hit.  Hell, even if they could go underground, that would be something.  They’d be happy with pretty much anything right now.

“We need to refuel,” Hannah gently reminded Jo, who’d been driving the past six hours, following behind Dean and Bobby in their caravan.

The light had been on and, yeah, they were running on fumes.  With a sigh, she flashed her brights and flipped on the hazards as she pulled off on the side of the road.  It was that move (along with Hannah announcing their task to the other vehicles over the walkie) that woke a dozing Meg and she looked over to her girlfriend with a confused expression.

“What are we stopping for?”

“Gas,” she explained, pulling on her face mask and her hat.

They’d long since treated the windows with UV protection so they were safe as long as they were inside (Charlie being a mechanic was clever as hell like that), but the moment a window was rolled down or a door was open, the sun was their enemy once more.

The others covered themselves with a rough, wool blanket as she grabbed the gas canister and hopped out of the car.  This was the part Jo hated.  Because, as much as they’d tried to accommodate everyone, the gloves that had been handed to her just never fucking fit right.  

She had to wrestle with the gas cap, and by the end of filling up, they’d been doused - freakin’ soaked no matter how nimble she was, and smelled to high heaven.  Great.  Now the inside of the car would have a friggin gasoline air-freshener scent.

Jo huffed with annoyance, praying they found a lake, stream, even a dirty-ass puddle of water she could wash these off in.  And her clothes.  They were covered in filth, grime and sweat.  She couldn’t even believe that Meg still found her attractive, let alone willingly kissed her whenever she got the chance.

But…those were the things that made life worth living for, she supposed, with a smile.

She knocked on the window to give the girls warning before she opened the doors.  They went through the movements, and the second she hopped back in the driver’s seat and started the car, she peeled off her layers.  That was when Meg, just as she had hoped, was waiting for her with a greeting kiss.

“Hey, babe.  You still alright with driving, or do you want me to-”

But then Meg froze, mid-sentence, her eyes going wide.

“Did you…?”

Jo tilted her head slightly and asked, “Did I, what?”

That was when the static over the radio chimed in and Ruby ordered, “Charlie felt the first tremors of the earthquake we’ve been waiting for!  We need to get the fuck off the road, we don’t wanna get stuck in cracked concrete!”

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Jo hissed as she jammed the key in the ignition and the engine roared to life.

The cars began peeling off the road, one at a time, searching for the nearest exit.  Luckily, there was nothing but plain and flat land in Kansas so they didn’t have to worry about skyscrapers toppling, but now those tremors?  Oh, they were shaking the car.  Bobby, in the lead, didn’t even bother with an exit.

He went full-on off-roading and took his chances sliding down the side of the grassy ditch and drove right out into the field.  Dean was directly behind him, following suit.  

Jo held her breath as she took her turn, knowing that this damn vehicle was top-heavy and praying they wouldn’t topple - God, the last thing they needed was to roll, the windows breaking, their flesh bubbling into blisters because they weren’t prepared in their clothes!

She gasped in relief as the field evened out and they all drove for a quarter mile before parking.

Mary barked out into the radio, “Everyone get covered!” but Jo was one step ahead, already having told the women in the car to do so.  

This way, from the way they’d parked they could see everyone.  They buckled down, protected their heads as the ground shook underneath them, something pounding and earth-shattering.  

It had the cars truly jolting and shaking, each tremor impossibly stronger than the last.  Like a carnival ride, one that wasn’t meant for fun, the whiplash and the bouncing came at uneven times - keeping them on their toes.  One shook so hard that a shriek was pulled from Hannah’s chest, her body (no matter how tightly wrapped in the seat belt) collided with the door with enough force to bruise her entire left side and knock open the door.

They were damn lucky it stayed in place!

Meg kept looking out the passenger window from where she was in the safety position, making sure everyone’s car was still upright.  That’s what was important - because the second someone toppled over was when shit could hit the fan.  Being buried until the weight of an SUV, the shattered glass, the crunched metal piercing skin and tearing clothes leaving you open to the sun, hell, that could’ve cauterized it… The nurse in her needed to be prepared for anything, even as she rode it out, she was worried for the others.

Even as the insanity was cranked up to ten, she continued to watch both them and Jo.  God, it felt like it continued on forever!

Still, they’d gotten damn lucky, being where they were at the exact time.  Which was literally nowhere.

“Is it..?” Hannah asked hesitantly, fighting to catch her breath, since the tremors had faded into light vibrations.

It was at that point, just when they thought it was over, Jo looked up to see that everyone had made it through-

And one last explosive quake had her entire body flying high enough to hit the roof.  Then gravity took hold, her head thumping against the steering wheel.

“Jo!” Meg shouted, her girlfriend unresponsive at first, sagging in the driver’s seat like a rag doll while the blood dripped freely from her forehead.  “Jo!  Dammit !”

She unbuckled her seatbelt and crawled across the space to grab the blonde’s face, cradling it and taking stock of the wound.  The concussion was undeniable, and this would need to be stitched.  Meg tried to keep her shit together, stroking her face and trying to coax her back to consciousness.

“Hey, babe, c’mon,” she whispered, then jerked her attention back to Hannah and ordered, “First Aide kit!  Now!”

The woman was scuttling to follow the order, digging through one bag they carried for essentials.  “Okay, got it!”

Meg set it on the dashboard and that was around the time that Jo’s long eyelashes fluttered and big brown eyes stared at her girlfriend in a daze.

“Wha-” she tried to pronounce, “Did I…?”

“You’re okay, just did some head banging when cock-rock is dead,” Meg quipped with a devilish grin.  “Think you can be a badass and let me sew this up without crying?”

Jo was too busy looking at something else, “How…?”

But Meg was persistent.  “Joanna Beth.  You just fuckin’ nailed your head.  Hard.  And I need to clean this and stitch it up, or else-”

“No, Meg, I know I’ve gotta head injury, but I didn’t lose my mind,” she grabbed her girlfriend’s shoulders and shook her.  “Those?  Were not fuckin’ there before the earthquake!”

“Jo, deep breaths…”

“Meg,” Hannah began with a shaky voice, “Joanna is correct.  I can’t explain it but-”

Although she was at her wits end, the fact that Hannah was backing up whatever lunacy Jo’s head was constructing, this was enough to at least humor the blonde.  So she did her duty and turned around to face whatever the fuck they were looking at.

And…holy fucking shit.

Just beyond the highway, the pavement that had, indeed, crumbled, cracked.  They were smart to have exited, but beyond that, just from where they’d driven from, laid something unbelievable.

Not even a half hour earlier, there was grass and dirt for as far as the eye could see.

Not anymore.

Now, there was a mountain range obstructing any view that extended outward, just like that.

It had appeared out of nowhere…

Now, Meg felt as though she was going to pass out.

---------------------

Once the sun had set, the temperature dropped to sub-zero degrees and they were huddled around a campfire.  They’d tried to get away, as far away as they could from the unbelievable sight (fucking insane phenomenon) because not only was it completely unfathomable and eerie, from a strategic perspective: mountains equaled avalanches.  So, they’d go with that to try and rationalize it.

So avalanches were dangerous.  They were accidents waiting to happen, and now it was all they could see in their rearview mirror.

Now, camping out, a strange hush fell over the group like they were trying to comprehend what was going on, but they were coming up with zip.

 

Dean and Castiel were openly sharing a blanket, Dean all but in his lap, seeking warmth and leaning on his shoulder because shit just kept getting worse and weirder.  On the other side of the coin, Sam and Gabriel were slowly and stealthy trying to make this thing between them work.  

Although the pair had individual blankets, from where the edges pooled together they were able to link their hands underneath the crumpled spot.  Just their touch was enough to provide each other the support they both desperately needed.  Meg was perched on a stump with Jo resting between her legs, using her thigh as a pillow.  She wouldn’t be getting much sleep tonight because of her concussion.  The others?

Well, they were staring off into the flames, looking for answers.

It was Charlie who finally blurted out, “Plate tectonics.”

It was like a TV episode, where everyone jerked their heads at the same time, and the camera zoomed in on the redhead.

“Like,” she began making hand gestures, explaining, “I think that’s why the earthquakes have been changing.  It started off once a year, then six months, then three, and now we’re down to every month, right?  I think the Earth is shifting, I think it’s remodeling and this earthquake?  It got shit done.”

“Wait,” Bobby stopped her, “Yer tellin’ me that a tectonic shift just delivered us, on a silver platter, a mountain range ?”

“Well, it wasn’t the entire mountain range, I don’t think,” Charlie weakly defended.  “Or it could’ve been.  We just…don’t have the technology.  But as we’ve been traveling?  You, especially, Bobby!  How many times have you been around the US on road trips?  Haven’t you noticed the changes?  Like, places aren’t where they usually are and shit?”

He didn’t respond with more than a nod.

“She’s got a point,” Ruby spoke up, “When we were hustling away from the west coast, things were different.  Little things.  And right now, since everything’s so…drab, we don’t have much room for comparison.  But that shift?  That earthquake?  It was results.  I’m going with Char’s theory.”

“As with any good theory,” Sam perked up, “we need a hypothesis.  A direction.  Where is it going next?  Where will the next shift be?  How soon?  How drastic?  We need to plan our destination based on that.  Because if we hadn’t gotten the hell out of dodge when we did…we could’ve been crushed by those damn mountains.”

“Mm, I love it when your brain comes out to play,” Ruby, on the other side on Sam, flirtatiously stroked the length of his arm underneath the blanket.  “Always the complete package.”

That ruffled Gabriel’s feathers, although he wouldn’t admit to it.  That chick always had eyes for Sam, she was persistent as hell and tonight, yes, tonight, he was going to get Sam alone.  One of the things he intended to bring up was what exactly was going on between the two of them.  The other was a continuation of them.  

Gabriel didn’t make promises lightly, and the fact that he wanted to be with Sam?  He would make it happen.

“All right,” Dean ignored Ruby and went with Sam’s idea.  “So let’s put our thinking caps on.  We weren’t together the whole time, all these years.  We need to go around in a circle.  How many earthquakes were you in, solo?  Without the group?  Did you notice any of these shifts Charlie’s talkin’ about?  Where were you and what happened?”

“Woah, woah, woah,” Meg stopped him, “You’re asking us to remember, like, nearly ten years ago?”

“Well, it would hold a certain amount of significance,” Hannah actually rolled her eyes, which was unlike her.

But what happened today?  It looked like there were no rules.  Not anymore.

“Well, shit.”  Meg huffed, and while playing with Jo’s blonde locks, Meg decided to go first.  “More and more people were coming into the hospital because of burns, exposure to the sun.  Even though sunscreen companies were making bank off their product and SPF 250 was new on the market.  I think I was working third shift at the hospital when the first earthquake hit,” she recalled, and only then said, “It was right after the volcano exploded in Washington, triggered the next in Oregon, and the lava plus ash turned the West coast into Pompeii.”

“Wait,” Jo peered up at her and asked, “Weren’t you…on the west coast?”

Meg kissed the top of her head and teased, “Aw, you do listen to me!  Barely.  I was in Nevada.  Vegas.  Normally, I dealt with drunks and overdoses.  Or the stupid accidents people get into because of drunk shenanigans, but once the skin conditions started rolling in in addition to the lead poisoning and toxic water?  I knew.  There was a voice in my head that told me hysteria was going to follow.”

She sighed and glanced back to Dean, “Tried to stick it out.  By the second earthquake?  Everything was in shambles.  Everything crashed and burned.  I was on my way out the door, I’d been packed, ready to head out...but I still didn’t want to leave my patients.  Call it a character flaw.”

“That’s not-” Charlie hadn’t meant to interrupt her, but Meg had a reputation as coming off as a cold, hard bitch.  This proved the exact opposite.  “You stuck around, even as everything was falling apart.  To save people.  That’s not a flaw, Meg, that’s damn admirable.”

Meg huffed and wrapped the blanket tighter around her and her girlfriend.  “Point is, I shoulda gotten out sooner.  I honestly never thought I’d make it out of the traffic.  I drove, and fucking drove long after I lost contact with my friend.  After the cell towers collapsed.  Once I was alone and didn’t have a direction to go in.  The third earthquake…” She had to think about this one.

While the first two were memorable, the third was fuzzy.

“The epicenter on that was close to the gulf,” Mary tried to help her, remembering it for herself.  “That triggered the hurricane that…put Florida underwater."

“Oh yeah.  That was the first of the nine, wasn’t it?  When the group started forming?” Sam asked his mom, silently putting together the pieces of his own story.  It was inappropriate to smile, but he fought damn hard against it when Gabriel’s thumb began rubbing circles against the back of his hand.

“Shit, yeah!” Meg pointed her finger at Mary, “That was when I veered north!  That was when I literally ran into Charlie, looking for gas!  Now that we‘re talking about plates shifting and crap, I do remember thinking how the hell I got to Kansas so quick.  It made no sense.”

“Maybe you were riding dirty on one of those plates,” Charlie winked and nodded, “I remember us fighting over that canister.  Until Sam and his puppy eyes swooped in and saved the day!”  She sighed and confirmed, “So, that could be a lead.  I mean, it’s small, but if it stood out to you, the time it took to get to Kansas after all these years, that’s something?”

“After all the stop and go traffic?  Being in rush hour hell?  Then having to demand where the hell I even was and finding out it was Kansas?  I’d say that’s a little something,” Meg concluded before looking around the campfire and pointing to Hannah.  “What about you?  You’ve gotta have something, what, with your bird’s eye view.”

“I was extremely lucky,” she willingly admitted.  “All the initial disasters?  All the chain reactions that decimated the Earth?  I wasn’t between shifts, I could see it from the sky.  Even on a flight from O’Hare to Dulles, once we reached a certain altitude, you could see the spread of volcanic ash, you could see the pulsing tremors on the water, it was terrifying.”

Hannah had been a flight attendant, and luckily her busy job hadn’t afforded her much time on land.  Except, something tragic happened.  Something that once the group knew about, they didn’t speak of it again - and they surely weren’t trying nor expecting her to bring up the topic.

The reason for her constant flights, of picking up her coworkers shifts, of working herself into exhaustion was all for her brother, Gadreel.  They were two peas in a pod, and the man (after careful consideration and self-discovery) had decided to give college one more chance.  It was only them, children in the system, lucky enough to be adopted together - and they were each other’s world.  So Hannah took it upon herself to help her brother out as much as she could.  She wasn’t high maintenance, she was caring and loyal to those around her, and material things held very little value.

So if she could give her brother another shot at his dreams?  If she could help pay for his schooling?  Damn right, she was going to.

Each chance she got to fly into LAX, he’d be waiting there to take her out to lunch between layovers.  That was Hannah’s favorite part of being able to fly frequently and LAX being such a hub when he was studying at UCLA.

Until California sank into the ocean.

And Hannah’s brother with it.

She’d been devastated, Hannah didn’t know anything else besides loving her brother, she didn’t have another person in the world who she even cared about - let alone loved.  She was isolated in her grief, and she watched the world implode with an indifferent eye, meant for the scarred, the heartbroken, and the numb.

“Right before they ended air travel,” Hannah said thoughtfully, “I was working an oversea flight.  Like Meg, these were just…lingering thoughts.  Things that I hadn’t analyzed until now.  We were trying to shuttle families back together.  We wanted to reunite people before it was too late.  It wasn’t about money, it was about charity, humanity; at least, that’s what my company did.  We did it for free and I was proud to work until we no longer could.  But that last flight, I’d made it so many times, our one international hub.  I thought it may have been because of the earthquake Mary referred to but…”

“But, what?” Charlie used a softer, more caring tone with Hannah.  She knew this sucked, they never brought it up but they needed to know, needed to talk this out.  “This was the third one?”

“Yes.  After that, flights were suspended.  Everything was too dangerous.  But, as everyone knows,” she glanced around the group, “The entire world is having the same problems.  Yet, when the pilot announced we were descending?  It wasn’t our predicted arrival time.  We were hours early to our destination in Africa.”  She emphasized, “Hours.  It wasn’t because we hit an air stream, it wasn’t because he was flooring it, it was like…”

“Africa had moved,” Dean summarized, his voice shrouded by both disbelief and amazement.  “Was it submerged at all?  How damaged was it?”

“It was surprisingly…average.  No, none of the shores had been eaten away, it’s just the continent, as it always had been.  I don’t know if it had to do with the ocean and the tides moving,” Hannah gestured to Charlie, “The tectonic plates, but our arrival shocked everyone.  That was my final job.”

“And what a job to have!” Gabriel whistled and shook his head, “Wish we had a TV - hell, a real radio.  I wanna know what the fuck is going on with the rest of the world.”

Sam gave him a look and a grin and asked, “How about you talk about what used to go on in your world, then?”

“He does love to hear himself talk,” Ruby commented, which was something that irritated the man.

“You want information or not?”  He leaned over Sam to face her head on, his voice armed with that razor-sharp edge that shut her up instantly.  “That’s what I thought,” he grinned and returned back to his seat.

Yeah, Gabriel wished he could openly cuddle with the adorable, amazing man next to him like the other two couples, but maybe it was too soon.  Maybe they needed to test the waters, see if they could even work before they jumped into things with everyone else watching their every move.  

The last thing Gabriel wanted was to set them up for disaster; he just wanted Sam.  He didn’t plan on throwing any wrenches into the system, thank you very much.

“At the beginning, I was brokering a deal and goddamn, was I lucky,” he admitted.  “I was on my way out of California right before it happened.  I was on my way out of the chaos before everyone and their uncle hopped on the roads.  I called Cas, told him to pack a bag, a couple guns, and anything he could load up in the way of non-perishables, because I was coming to get him.  Right the fuck then.”

“We had a huge family.  All involved in…unsavory business,” Gabriel was never shy about that, “I knew they could fend for themselves.  But Cas?  I wanted him with me.  I wanted to make sure that whatever the hell was happening, we had each other’s backs.  So we headed to one of the family’s condos in New Mexico.”

“Let me guess.  Close to the border, easy to work with cartels?” Ruby drawled, leaning on Sam as she listened to the story.

Gabriel turned to Charlie, who seemed to be the ringleader behind this campfire “share your stories” love-fest and warned her, “Someone should inform Ruby that cartels were small time for me.  If she continues to be a pain in my ass, well…I can’t be held accountable.”

It was Sam who spoke up and asked Ruby, point-blank, “What are you doing?  Are you just aching to tell your story?”  He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to calmly say, “You’ll get your turn.  Next.”

“Aww, you’re so cute when you’re defending your BFF.”  She tucked a strand of hair behind his ear, and Sam could feel Gabriel’s grip on his hand pulse with fury.

And then…let go.

He turned to face the man who wasn’t looking at him, and Sam felt a little crestfallen.  He liked where they were, what was happening and the promise of something more.  And there Ruby had to go and ruin it.  Goddammit!

“Anyway!  We had some toys for the road, but loaded up with more once we got to our location.  Kept an eye on the news.  Once the channels went black, we still had some connections to keep us afloat.  All signs pointed to fucked.  Around that time, we knew our residence wasn’t safe so we loaded up again and headed north.”  Gabriel laughed at the memory, glancing at the Winchesters as he recalled it, “And, who would’ve known?  A goddamn landslide with the ultimate meet-cute and icebreaker for this power couple happened,” he gestured to Cas and Dean.

Because that was exactly what happened.

They were following Route 66 back to Kansas. Dean was in a rough place, he remembered that encounter vividly and they always made jokes about it to this day.  He was heading back to Sam and Mary when the Novaks had rolled up behind him with the news that they had a goddamn slew of explosives to power through the collection of rocks blocking his way.

Dean had been working at moving them until his hands were bleeding, he was so desperate to get back to his family.  And when they lit the C4 and it actually worked to clear the path?  The little asshole didn’t even thank them.  However, he did hesitantly ask if they needed shelter, if they needed a place to go.

“Little did I know that my bro was already dick over heels with Deano back then,” Gabriel snickered, stretching out and winking at Castiel.  “Woulda followed him to the ends of the Earth.  Even though they were both playing hard to get for a while.  But!  We got lucky.  It was before the houses were completely demolished, when we still had time to gather together.”

“We were compiling our team.  Got along with the lovely Miss Mary right away, God knows where Dean came from.  Bobby was there and they’d already adopted Jo and Charlie.  Meg was on route.  And this lovely little live-saving puppy?”  Gabriel clapped a hand on Sam’s thigh, who was still filled with apprehension, “Was a lovely surprise.”

Sam flashed him a timid smile, one that Ruby actually caught, and it led her to launch into her own story.  “What happened before doesn’t matter.  I know I came into the game once you were on the road.  But I’ve got more info about the later powerful earthquakes that you guys were apparently too “go team” to worry about.  I was still out there, scavenging alone, and each one of those pulses didn’t just shake me.  I didn’t seek cover that could collapse.  I made sure I was out in the open, looking for any danger so I could protect myself.  God knows Jo is probably going to suffer permanent brain trauma,” she aimed for a joke, but no one found it funny.

“Anyway!”  Ruby continued after the teasing fell flat, “Each and every single time I’d be outside?  I’d never just drop down.  Let gravity pull me and bump me around.  I’d always, always end up, like, tucking and rolling.  The distances, they’d vary, but I can agree with the plates shifting.  I think that’s what’s causing all the earthquakes.  The question is why they’re happening more frequently?  And…” she whispered, because it was fearful, “What the fuck happened today.”

“There’s a part of me who wants to go explore it,” Dean admitted slowly, “If only to see how far it extends.  How much is there.  What’s on the other side.  But…the danger outweighs the benefits.  Ruby’s right - the frequency is unknown, can’t risk it.  If the friggin Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music, I don’t want Dante’s Peak popping up, too.  Ohio.  I think we’ve gotta head to Ohio.  Just a little further inland.”

“Mm,” Bobby agreed with this idea.  “Most borin’ state there is.  Plenty’a stops along the turnpike, other roads runnin’ alongside.  Maybe we can find one for shelter.  They’re solid.  Just gotta avoid anything that’s near Chicago.”

“What?  No more story time?” Gabriel found himself pouting, because he wanted to hear about Sam.

Charlie snickered and glanced at Dean, with that look of ’you wanna take this one?’

And he did.

“Already know my bro and Mom’s story inside and out.  Same with Cas and Jo because we’re tight.  Bobby’s family.  Why?  You like this story time?  Thought you’d wanna sleep, or something.  Enjoy the fresh air before dawn.”  Dean crossed his arms and raised a challenging brow.

“Fine, fine!"

“I’m gonna head to the SUV and change Jo’s bandage,” Meg commented as she hauled her girlfriend up.

Right afterward, Bobby asked Mary, “You wanna help me map out the best route to Ohio and the turnpike?”  Then, he glanced up at Charlie and added, “If these plates are shifting, we’ll need yer help figuring out which ones are…different.”

“No prob!”

Dean grabbed Cas’ hand and began to drag him a little further out, away from the group to ask him, “Tell me what you’re thinking?  About this?  About all of this?”

“I’m thinking that could best be left for morning.  As of right now?” he led in, “I’d be much happier kissing you.”

“I could get down with that,” a huge smile blossomed across his face as they walked out a bit more, Dean making sure he had a walkie just in case.

Ruby…well, she was unrelenting.  Normally, on a good day, she’d throw a few flirtatious innuendos Sam’s way and that would be it.  Now she’d gotten bolder and progressed to touching.  To the point of cupping his face and turning his focus towards her and asking, “Look at all those cute couples, Sammy.  Aren’t you ever jealous?”

He jerked away as though he’d been burned and responded, “Nope.  Not really.”  But…Sam couldn’t ruin this, he couldn’t make this awkward and he told her in an understanding voice, “I get it.  We’re, like, the only people out here and you want someone.  But that someone can’t be me, and I’m sorry.  I hope something works out for you, but my heart’s somewhere else.”

Ruby looked downright confused and offended.  “What do you mean, your ‘heart’s somewhere else?’  I’m not looking for a romance, Sammy.  I’m just looking for some fantastic sex and I’ve seen what you’re working with when we’ve bathed in the river,” her hand wandered from his thigh, and upward.

And now he had to stand up.  For himself, and (even more so) for whatever budding relationship he had with Gabriel, who was chatting animatedly with Hannah by the fireplace.  “That’s not what it’s about.  I’m sorry.  I can’t do that, I just…can’t.”

“Your loss,” she snorted and added, “Whenever you want a good fuck, I’m here.  And let me tell you, I’m fantastic.”

Sam breathed in the deepest breath as she headed towards their makeshift sleeping area turned back to the fire.  He slipped into the conversation the best he could but had no idea what they were talking about.  However, it didn’t look like he had to.  Gabriel slammed to a halt when he joined and paused.

“What was that all about?”  He sounded skeptical and, dare Sam say, possessive?  “Ruby make you an offer you couldn’t refuse?”

“Oh, I refused it, all right,” he scoffed.  “I feel dirty.  So friggin dirty.  She commented on my dick, then offered sex.  Even after I turned her down, she kept pushing.  Like… why?  No is supposed to mean no, right?  I don’t care about ‘wanting a good fuck,’ that’s-”

“Not who you are,” Hannah finished the sentence for him with a sweet smile, gripping his shoulder.  “You’re a wonderful person, Sam.  Don’t let that get you down, all right?  Of course, women are going to want you.  You did the right thing.  Stay true to yourself and don’t be pressured.  I admire that about you.  You…remind me of my brother.”

Maybe there was a slight blush staining Sam’s cheeks, knowing just how much weight those words carried, when he said, “Thank you, Hannah.  That…means a lot.”

“May I steal him for a moment?” Gabriel asked and flashed the woman a grin, who nodded her acceptance.  “Lovely!”

He didn’t touch Sam, knowing that would be too obvious and the man would already follow him like a puppy.  They wandered out much further than they probably should have, needing to get out of sight, out of range from the group.  

Gabriel was looking around, specifically for a heartier dead tree (since all of them were rotting roots, trunks and limbs toppled over these days).  He wanted one to shove Sam against.

Gabriel finally found it and kissed the living fuck out of him.

When he released the breathless man, Gabriel heatedly stated, “If we’re gonna make this work, first things first.  You’re mine.  I don’t like other people touching my things.  Is that something you’re gonna be able to handle?”

A whimper escaped Sam’s throat and he eagerly nodded because, okay, that totally turned him on.  Like, arousal spiked in his veins and he blurted, “All yours.  I’ll belong to you.”

“God, that sounds beautiful on your tongue.”  Gabriel watched him with hunger and it made Sam hard in the blink of an eye.

“You already knew I didn’t want her.  I never have.  It’s…always been you.”  Then he realized, like a goddamn moron, how stupid that sounded.  “Wow.  How was that for an idiotic confession?  Do I sound desperate, or what.”

“Nothing to be ashamed of.  In fact, I think that’s pretty damn hot, you wanting and pining for this long,” Gabriel admitted with a teasing grin and ground their hips together.  “Already rock hard for me?  I have to admit, I was worried.”

“W-worried?”  Sam grabbed Gabriel’s shoulders and pushed him away at arm’s length, because he’d hoped they’d actually talk tonight.  “What do you have to be worried about?”

It looked like an internal battle was being waged for Gabriel to keep his hands to himself.  But he won the fight and said, “I hoped the first time wasn’t a fluke.  That you weren’t just…horny.  And bending over for the first, well, only cock available.  See the problem?”

“Not a problem,” Sam laughed a bit, “Shit.  How long?”

“Have I wanted you?”  Lust was dancing in his eyes, “Probably since I saw you.  But wanted to be with you ?  Really?  Couple years, at least.”

“We’re idiots,” Sam decided, plainly, finally dragging the man forward and capturing his lips.  “We could’ve been in a ‘secret relationship’ so much sooner.”

“And…you’re okay with that?” Gabriel was truly surprised, as he yanked down the collar of Sam’s shirt and sucked a mark into his skin.  It was one that the others wouldn’t see, but he wanted a visible claim, dammit.

“Anything you want, Gabe,” Sam’s voice was pure seduction, and it was on purpose as he nipped his earlobe and whispered, “ Anything.”

“Fuck,” he cursed and raked his nails down Sam’s sides, “You need to be careful what you wish for.  Or did you forget who you’re dealing with?”

“Oh, I remember,” Sam purred and nipped roughly at the muscle of his shoulder, “Which is what makes it so goddamn exciting.”

“You like that, huh?” Gabriel couldn’t help but drop the timbre of his voice as his hand dove down the front of Sam’s pants and boxers.  “That you were the good little poster boy, saving people, day in and day out.  Hustling your ass as an EMT, striving for a better tomorrow.  And then, there’s me…” a wicked smirk crossed his features as he wrapped his hand around Sam’s cock and jerked his length inside the confines of his clothes.

Sam was desperately grabbing at the tree trunk behind him for support, eyes heavily lidded but hanging on Gabriel’s every word when he pronounced, “I was a… different poster child.  Instead of saving people...well, if they got in the way of me or the family business?  They’d end up in your ambulance.  Or you’d never hear about them again.  I think the danger turns you on.  I think the fact that my regard for human life is ambivalent, at best, intrigued you.”

“Which should make you feel that much more special, Sammy,” Gabriel praised him, leaning in to flick his tongue across Sam’s lip - where he was trying so damn hard to stifle his moans.  Sam was thrusting into his fist with abandon, but never tore those hungry eyes away from Gabriel; they were so goddamn fierce.  

Gabriel growled into his ear, “You’ve made me want.  You’ve made me need.  Which is rare.”  

As a small admission, Gabriel added in, “After I had you, I thought there was a small chance it may go away, the craving whenever I saw you.  It was a distraction, a weakness that I couldn’t afford.  But now I’m addicted.  Sam Winchester, you are something amazing, and I will have you as mine, whenever I want.”

A shuddered, choked breath escaped Sam’s throat, he was hanging on every word and they riled him up beyond belief.  Gabriel’s feelings were contagious, now he wanted, oh, did he want in this carnal way, and these pants?  They needed to go.  No matter how goddamn amazing Gabriel’s hand felt, he reached down and tore past the button, the zipper until he pulled both Gabriel’s fist and his cock free of their freakin’ denim prison.

He dove forward, capturing Gabriel’s lips and snarling out, “And you’re mine,” before Sam copied another move, yanking down the man’s collar and nipping the outline of his teeth into his flesh.  “I don’t regret a second of it.  I don’t care if I’m your weakness.  God, you have no idea, the things you do to me-”

It made Gabriel groan, he was on fire from Sam’s touch and it had him demanding, “How far can we go with this?”

To be honest, Sam wasn’t sure.  He wanted to go all the way, he wanted it all, but the logistics were a little difficult without either of their bags right here.

With a whine, Sam admitted, “Fuck, I want you so bad but-”

A smirk crept on Gabriel’s face, pulling away his hand.  “You do?  How do you want me?”

“All of you.  Want to feel your cock splitting me open, fucking me for all I’m worth, but…” he trailed off, the disappointed evident in his voice.

“Yeah?  Think you can handle it here, or should we go further out?  Where no one can hear you scream?” he further taunted, and a shiver ran down Sam’s spine, as well as confusion.

“Wait, what?  You…” he asked warily, eyeing him because...where was Gabriel going with this?

“When you were dealing with your Ruby problem?”  His hand dove into his back pocket, “I was getting ready to send you a little message.  Preparing to stake my claim.  Prove exactly who owned that tight ass and gorgeous body.  A little lesson,” he explained with a devious grin, pulling out a small vial of oil that left Sam weak in the knees.  “So I’ll ask again-”

“Fuck me now-” Sam begged, beating him to the punch.  “Jesus, I need you, I’m so ready, Gabriel.”

“Turn around, bend over, grab the tree,” he ordered, but before the man moved, he hauled him down into a kiss.

One that lasted much, much longer than either anticipated, because they could never get enough of each other’s lips.  It was consuming and alluring in a whole new way.  

So much so that Gabriel made the choice, “Next time, we’re taking guard duty together.  Just for the fact that we can make out.  And for sleeping arrangement?  You’re always going to be within reach, so I can surprise you during the night when everyone’s asleep and taste you.”

“I’d love that…” Sam smiled breathlessly in a way that was strangely sweet in the middle of the hot-and-heaviness of the encounter.

Still, he was ready; he was filled from head to toe with needy arousal and he did exactly as he was commanded, bracing himself against the tree and giving Gabriel perfect access to his hole.  The man didn’t waste time.  He used two lubed-up fingers to circle his rim before plunging them both inside and working him open.  Although it hadn’t been that long, the first time was Sam’s first time in years and years.  Hell, his body was practically a virgin again and the sheer passion and urgency had left him nearly limping for a few days.

Sam was damn lucky they were on a long drive and no one had called him out on it.  Even though he had to shift uncomfortably in his seat for said prolonged road trip, every move reminded him of Gabriel.  And that, right there, made him damn happy.  It was in those moments following their first encounter that he knew he wanted that feeling again.  As many times as he could get it.

Sam couldn’t believe this was a thing, that it was happening, and once the other man was three fingers deep and brushing his sweet spot, he never wanted it to end.  He truly wanted Gabriel all to himself.  He wanted the man in ways he couldn’t explain.  He wanted his optimist along with his darkness, the strength and the sex he exuded.  God, he was everything Sam hungered for and more…

“C’mon, need your cock,” Sam demanded, arching his back and fucking himself down on Gabriel’s fingers.  “I know what I can handle, I’m ready.”

Gabriel raised an eyebrow, ready to take Sam at his word because, to be honest, he was getting impatient.  His desire was winning out over everything and Sam being pushy was an absolute delight.  Even so, he needed to say the words:

“Promise?  If I hurt you, I’ll be pissed.  Even if it’s your fault, I’m not gonna be happy about it,” he admonished, pulling his fingers out and caressing down Sam’s sides.

As Gabriel placed a few kisses along the smalls of Sam’s back, Sam all but growled, “Need it.  Been needing it, just didn’t know how to ask.  Whether I was allowed to or not.”

“Oh, babe, anytime you wanna say those dirty words?” Gabriel tsk‘ed, unzipping his pants and coating his cock, “I’ll be more than willing to oblige.”

“That better be a promise,” Sam glanced over his shoulder and caught the downright feral expression on Gabriel’s face as the head of his cock began to push inside him.  “Oh, fuck- !” he had to slap a hand over his mouth to stop from shouting, to stop from drawing the attention of the others as he was split open and stretched wide, just as he’d asked, Gabriel not holding back even for a second.

“Love the way you feel, wrapped around me, so goddamn tight and hot,” he praised, squeezing Sam’s hips and rolling his own.  “Like you were made for my dick.”

Gabriel’s voice was rough, low and dark - the kind of sexy that Sam just couldn’t get enough of.  He was so caught up in the sensations, in his own addiction to the man and how randomly lucky he was to get his fantasies fulfilled, that the whines escaping his throat couldn’t be stopped.  Those seemed to light Gabriel up in a whole new way.

“Tell me,” he started rocking in and out of Sam’s still too-tight body, “How does it feel, Sammy?” knowing damn well he probably couldn’t form words.

He was clinging to the tree, knuckles white and knees so close to buckling, but he loved every second of it.  Sam thrived in the way that Gabriel never for a second treated him like he was fragile or breakable.  He never treated Sam like a blushing virgin; he treated him like an equal and something he desired.

Hell, Sam had honestly never felt more wanted in his life and that was one of the most powerful aphrodisiacs.

That’s when he finally found the words, even though his syllables were punched, Gabriel fucking him with more intensity, sharper and harder thrusts in.  “Feels like you said: my hole was made for your cock.  My body was made to be filled with your cum,” he dared to look back, flashing him a devilish smile he knew would egg the man out.

Oh and did Gabriel respond.

His eyes darkened impossibly more and he grabbed a fistful of Sam’s hair, snarling, “You’re my little whore, aren’t you?  So fucking beautiful and only I get to see you like this.  How did I get so lucky?”

Sam was getting dizzy from the intensity, Gabriel now slamming against his sweet spot without remorse.  He was completely unforgiving and Sam knew he’d struggle to keep up the façade of not being fucked within an inch of his life.  

He ordered, “Gabriel, you’re gonna make me cum, make me scream - so shut me up.”

Sam needed him to do it, because if he lost the grip he had on the tree?  He’d be knocked over on his ass.  That was the sheer strength and near violent way Gabriel was pounding him with.  Sam was worried that if he covered his own mouth he’d topple over.

“Next time,” Gabriel vowed, “I’m taking you further away from prying ears.  So I can hear all the filthy moans and obscene noises you make,” as he slapped a hand over Sam’s mouth.  “Now, cum for me.  I’m about to fill you up, claim that ass.”

With an eager nod, Sam arched his back, writhing and bucking back into the assault.  He couldn’t help but tease, running his tongue along the length of Gabriel’s fingers, just adding more fuel to the fire.  It actually earned him a firm smack on the ass that made Sam release a muffled yelp into Gabriel’s hand.  Less than a handful of seconds later his hands were desperately grabbing at the tree and he was doubled over, orgasm washing through him.

Gabriel’s heated voice purred out, “Yes, I love it when you cum on my cock, and my cock alone.  Such a good boy.”

After a more few rough and intense pumps of his hip, Gabriel muffled his own voice by sinking his teeth into Sam’s flank.  He was sore, his rim sensitive and amazingly used that he could feel Gabriel’s release spill inside him and the knowledge, plus the sensation, made Sam shiver from head to toe.  

He was gasping for air when Gabriel pulled his hand away, returning to stroking his back and kissing all the sweat-glazed skin he could reach.  He mumbled once more, “So good for me.  All mine.”

Sam couldn’t help but encourage, “Every part, Gabriel,” and then add in the moment, “anything you want,” because he knew it would affect him.  He knew it would drive him crazy.

“Mm, telling me that might get you in over your head, kiddo.”  He sounded thrilled in that dangerous kind of way, the side that Sam was so goddamn draw to.

“Wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it,” Sam promised and whimpered as Gabriel pulled out.

But it looked like he’d planned ahead and had everything they needed to clean up.  After tossing all the garbage, they found themselves sitting in an area that actually had grass and resting against one another.  Sam was deep in thought after a few of their confessions, some in the heat of foreplay and others that weren’t because now…he kind of wanted to talk.  While they had some privacy.

And he wanted to learn a little more about Gabriel.  The real one.

“You said you wanted me, wanted more for years,” Sam brought up, kissing his neck softly.  “What does that mean?”

Gabriel met his eyes fearlessly, yet paused in thought.  “You’re wondering if my want is different from your want, aren’t you?”

He nodded and waited.

With a shrug, Gabriel explained, “It probably is.  Like I said, no one catches my interest.  Unless it’s sexual.  Like I said, wanted you - from day one.  But then…it turned into more.  You’re not just a pretty face.  You’re compassionate, but it’s not a weakness with you like it should be.  It’s the strangest thing I’ve encountered,” he teased, “You’re stronger for it.  Which should be impossible, at least from what I’ve seen of the world.  Which drew me to you.”

He considered Sam for a moment, with a deep, scrutinizing gaze that almost made the man shy away.  “That’s when I really thought about it.  Watched you more.  Realized just how special you were.  Then I asked myself, if it wasn’t the end of the world, would I care?  Or was I merely interested because you were the last piece of ass in town?”

That part actually made Sam frown and his eyes fall down to his lap.

Before Gabriel finished with, “I realized that no matter the circumstances, you’d be just as special.  I’d never find anyone like you, and I’d want you no matter what.  End of the world or not.  I just got damn lucky.  Even if Fate is a bitch, it smiled on me and threw me into this random group with you.  Funny, how that works out.”

Sam’s focus shot up as he slowly pronounced, “So it wasn’t because I was the last piece of ass in town?”

“Nope.”  Gabriel grinned and pulled him in for a kiss.  “Or else I wouldn’t be asking you about a secret relationship.  I’d just be seducing you and banging you.  See the difference?”

“Yeah, actually, I do.”  He chuckled a little and shook his head.  “For once, I’m happy with your brutal honesty.”

“Yer always happy with my brutal honesty.  Or else you wouldn’t like me,” Gabriel pointed out, with both his words and his finger, flicking the bottom of Sam’s chin.

He opened his mouth to correct the word to 'love,' but he stopped short because…was Gabriel there yet?  Would that freak him out and make him take back everything?  Sam knew he was gaping when the man looked concerned and frowned at him.

“You okay?  You look like you’ve got something on your mind.”

“I’m fine.  Great, actually,” Sam urged, and pulled him in for an out-of-place, passionate kiss.  “I’m kind of obsessed with you.  And I’m happy I have you.  Is that alright?”

“Oh, the feeling is mutual.”  With a thoughtful and impish grin, Gabriel mused aloud, “How long do you think we can make-out out here before they get suspicious?”

Sam smirked widely and countered, “Probably not that much longer…but I’m all for pushing boundaries…”  

“Then shut up and kiss me.”

----------------------------

“This…just doesn’t make any sense,” Charlie muttered, mostly to herself as she scrolled through their GPS that they paired with maps to try to figure out what was going on.  It wasn’t simply a matter of their location, it had to do with the impending mountain ranges, the stories told around the campfire, and her own theories.

She felt lucky that this device didn’t have a brain - it only relayed black and white information - or else it would have fizzled out like the rest of them.  As she flipped through the settings, trying to zoom out and get a better, real-time picture of a map, she could only go so far.  But, flippin’ a, there they were.

The geographic marking for mountain range right along the left side of the screen, but that was as far as the device let her scan.  So unless Charlie wanted to hop in a car and cruise back to scope out the situation, this was all the information she’d get.  But it was real.  And from the looks of things, they may not be in Kansas any more.

“The hell…” she blurted out and after a few more thumbs flying across the screen, wide-eyed and frazzled, she shook her head.  “That… can’t be right.”

Apparently, talking to herself finally roused some attention because Hannah had perked up from her sleeping area and silently crawled over.  She made sure to not wake the others and sat up next to Charlie whose face was still frozen in disbelief.

Hannah pitched her voice to a whisper when she asked, “Have you found something?”

Charlie chewed on her bottom lip and pulled the GPS to her chest to hide the brightness.  “I…had this hunch.  When we were putting our stories together?  Just kind of a feeling, you know?”

“All right.”  Hannah was supportive and encouraged her to continue, saying, “Did you find your feeling held water?”

“Yes and no.”  Charlie shifted her entire body to face her and explained even quieter to make sure she didn’t scare anyone, “The last earthquake.  I didn’t know if we moved or that range moved.  So I pinpointed our location.  We...we’re back in Nebraska, Hannah.”

Her brows screwed up on her forehead, “That may confirm your theory of a major, extreme plate shift.”

“Except, it wasn’t like that, not exactly.  We weren’t hauled back to the Rockies,” Charlie tugged at her hair in frustration.  “When tectonic plates collide, they make earthquakes, valleys, and mountains.  Usually, it takes god-awful lengths of time, but I think that mountain range we saw?  Was fresh.  We weren’t teleported or anything.  Everything’s moving and changing and…”

“And?” Hannah prompted her, because there was something she wasn’t saying.

“Remember where we were headed?  Flat, boring, nothing?” Charlie weakly asked with a tilt of her head.

“Of course.  We were on route to Ohio,” she confirmed, then mused, “Although it would seem we’re not safe from anything.  If the environment can be shaped with just one collision under the Earth’s surface.”

“Right?”  Charlie brought the GPS forward, figuring it’d be easier to show her rather than tell her.  “I mapped out the route.  To the center of Ohio.”

Hannah’s eyes glanced over not just the map but also the estimated time and blurted out, “That can’t be.”

“That’s what I said,” she offered pathetically.  “Something’s seriously wrong.  It’s not just the weather, the collapsing conditions.  It’s the actual Earth itself, Hannah.  You‘re good with distance, flying or driving.  Our new Nebraska take-off to Ohio?”

“There’s no way…” she looked like she’d seen a ghost, looking directly at Charlie, “Even in a jet, it would...”

“I guess we’ll see tomorrow,” Charlie huffed and leaned her head on Hannah’s shoulder. “Since our tried-and-true piece of tech promised we’ll arrive within two hours.”

Hannah could only say the hushed words of, “What the hell is going on,” before the two set their alarms pre-sunrise so they’d avoid the potential blisters and boils from the frayed ozone and dawn of a new day.  They wouldn’t discuss their findings with the others until it was necessary.  Or until they rolled up to a sign that greeted them into the very same state.

Oh what a surprise that would be to the group.

Yet Charlie couldn’t get it out of her head.  What else she couldn’t get away from was the fact that she needed to boost her view.  She needed an eagle’s eye to see what was happening over the entire country, hell, the world.  It wasn’t a matter of rabbit-ear antennas, no, she needed some real heavy-duty tech.

The only place she could think of to look would be in DC.

Even if it was dangerous, even though they never, ever went anywhere near the oceans for fear of tsunamis or hurricanes it looked as though danger was everywhere.  Even if she could take a small group just for a day trip, just for an in-and-out while the others sought a more permanent shelter…

They needed to know, on a large scale, what they were dealing with.  What they needed to prepare for.  Day to day life was a battle, but at least it made sense.  There was a scientific explanation for all this bullshit they were fighting through.  The latest news that could be enough to trump it all.  Charlie was determined to figure out what the fuck was happening, because as of right now the fear of the unknown was getting to her despite how she tried to fight against it.

Tomorrow would tell exactly how fucked they were.

Chapter Text

Dean was jarred into consciousness, not by the group’s alarm but by bouncing up and down from where he was pillowed on Cas’ chest - the man coughing roughly.  It was as though something had caught in his throat but the moment that Dean was going to ask if he was all right - the scent filling his nostrils stopped him dead in his tracks.

This wasn’t random.  This wasn’t a tickle in his throat.

Castiel was choking on ash.

Dean had been face down in the crook of his neck, the air filtered from his positions, but now that he was out in the open, he got a hefty inhale of the soot.  He cursed, raised his shirt to cover his nose and mouth, and grabbed a water bottle for his boyfriend before ordering him to do the same.

One by one, each member of the group began waking, gasping for breath as the dark pieces fell like snow on the breeze and Dean dug into his bag.  He was searching for a flashlight, searching for-

There it was!

He flipped the switch on and cast it into the sky, seeing nothing but an ominous black cloud stretching outward, the wind-flung ash raining down and slowly accumulating on everything in sight.  They needed to move.

“Everyone up!”  Dean shouted, hoping to jar anyone who was still lost in their dreams, “We need to head out, get away from-”

“I don’t get it!” Jo cut him off, throwing her bag together, “There aren’t any volcanoes around here, and we would have felt an eruption!  Heard it, or-”

“Doesn’t matter.”  Castiel had finally regained his breath after sucking down enough water. “We need to put as much distance between the aftermath of a volcano and us as we can.  Before the ash clogs the engine and ruins the cars.  We can’t fight the sun and this at the same time.”

“But we don’t even know-” the blonde continued to protest but then nearly fell over, clutching her head.

Meg rushed to her side, balancing her before even attending to her own belongings, asking, “Are you okay?  Is it just the pain or something else?”

Jo’s vision was blurry and she had to blink a few times, staring at her girlfriend, “Dizzy…” she managed, “Fuck, maybe I did get a concussion…” which had Meg ordering her to sit and gathering both of their things herself before she even tried to help her to the back of one of the vehicles.

But the reminder of exactly how Jo had knocked her head-

It spurred an idea that hit Charlie all at once.  

“Yellowstone!” she announced, “It had to be the Yellowstone Caldera - it’s a friggin super volcano and this last earthquake had to finally, finally trigger it!  I’ve been keeping track, waiting for it!”  She explained as she gathered her things and gestured to the air, “This?  Was gonna be the volcano seen ‘round the world!  Well, states.”

“What does that mean?!”  Ruby demanded, already outside the Jeep, handle in her grasp.

“The power behind the explosion!  The ash!” Charlie emphasized, “The accumulation!  It’s literally gonna be seen from coast to coast!  Which is why we need to get out of the hot zone and head in the other direction, where there’s not as much build-up!”

“Balls!  Yer right, accumulation’s gonna be practically everywhere, like a nationwide blizzard,” Bobby hissed and jumped in the front seat of the SUV, shouting out, “All in!” as the others followed suit.

It was only a matter of minutes before their alarms went off, reminding them to prep for sunrise.  It was an obnoxious reminder, something they didn’t need right then and there, since they were already on the move and running for their lives once again.

It was tricky - damn tricky - navigating back to the road as the sun began to shine through the ash fell like a snow flurry.  Only, it was black, not white, and it smeared over the windshield, their minimal wiper fluid not enough to cut through the thick layer.  The fluid had dried out due to the heat, plus, it wasn’t as though that was a high-priority item when they made runs.  They didn’t get rain or frost or have any need to use it.

The only part was Charlie knew just how close their proximity now was to Yellowstone.

Everyone else thought they were in Kansas, but the redhead didn’t know precisely how to mention they’d literally rode a damn plate that slammed into another plate to create a brand-new spankin’ mountain range and landed their asses back in Nebraska.  Hell, that’s probably why Ohio was so close, it had ridden back with them…

Either way, she was the one with the GPS, so whatever car Charlie and the tech landed in, she took the lead with the directions.

When new earthquakes happened and things were settling, they always stayed with back roads that weren’t just scraps of cement, or sometimes fields flat enough for their vehicles to off-road.

Luckily, they were too busy trying to squint and see where they were headed, as Charlie barked out the directions of “east!” and “veer left!”  No one was interested in or demanding an ETA.  This…was about survival.  If any of the vehicles shit out on them, they’d be prey to the sun and the ash.

Their lungs would risk suffocation, their skin would risk burning and if that failed to kill them, stranded out here in the middle of nowhere, they’d dehydrate in no time.

It was urgent to get out of this hot zone and find shelter.  There was no time to waste.

------------------------------

Jo wasn’t doing so hot.  And it had nothing to do with the heat outside, as they had cranked up the rarely-used air conditioner inside the car to make the blonde more comfortable.  Usually, they just sweated it out to save on fuel, but right now was a different story.

No one was sure if it had been the jarring of the terrain as they slammed down on the gas peddle, the bits of ash that had filled her lungs, or simply the time that had passed.  It happened slowly, though.

As Charlie barked orders at Ruby who was driving the Wrangler, Jo’s hand had darted out and grabbed Meg’s while her other braced against the seat in front of her.  Meg turned to see a white-knuckled grip and then glanced up to see an even paler face.  However, she looked confused, her eyes fading in and out of vacancy, as though she wasn’t sure where she was.

Meg had tried to coax her back and distract her, thinking that Jo was on the verge of a panic attack because of the eruption.  However, after Jo took one look right at her girlfriend and appeared as though she couldn’t place her?

Meg knew damn well something else was wrong with Jo.

It went downhill from there.

While she was able to fight off the nausea in the form of a ripped rag soaked in their scarce drinking water cooling her brow, the other symptoms had the driver and shotgun rider nervous.

But no one as nervous as Meg.  She was trying to stay calm, carding her hands through blonde hair as Jo curled up on her lap, looking ghostly pale.  Still, she stayed strong and smiled at her, remembering her medical training and putting on an air of confidence for both herself and her girlfriend.  Who knew if it helped anyone, but Meg would protect Jo.  She was the one thing in the world left fighting for.

They’d been driving long enough that the downpour of ash had turned into a light and scattered flurry but…if they stopped, it needed to be because they’d found shelter.  They needed to have a place to protect the cars and themselves from the random bouts of soot.  They needed-

Fuck!  Charlie!”

That was the only warning Ruby and Charlie got before they glanced back and saw Jo seizing.

“Shit, shit!” Ruby cursed, already looking for places to pull over with or without Charlie’s say so.

She wasn’t about to let one of her friends freaking hurt themselves and die in the backseat of a car, dammit!  At least Meg had been a nurse, and she expertly moved Jo onto her side as well as she could and tried to make sure any dangerous objects were out of the way.  It hurt her to let go, but she couldn’t hold her down or restrain her, Meg had to let her be or else she’d risk hurting her even more - she had to let this pass!

All Meg could do was kick her legs up onto the center console, act as a bridge to balance so Jo didn’t go rolling onto the floorboards.  She did the same with her arms and gripped the rear pocket of Ruby’s driver’s seat with her hands so Jo’s convulsing head could roll with something under it, if only two arms between her skull and Meg’s legs keeping her up.

“Hey!” Charlie’s voice was both assertive and collected at the same time as she addressed Ruby, “We’re leading the pack!  It’s not only the four of us, okay?  Don’t fly off the handle!  You and where you stop the caravan, Rubes, will make or break eleven lives!  Focus!”

The brunette looked at Charlie, then the road and nodded, taking in a deep breath.  “Goddammit.  Then you tell me!  Fucking tell me where to go, because we need to stop!”  She could hear Jo thrashing in the backseat.  “Please!  Or else I’m-” Ruby cut herself off because…she couldn’t do this.

She couldn’t be responsible for eleven people, but she couldn’t deal with being unable to save one either.

“I’ve got this,” Charlie promised, looking down at the GPS and out into the field.

She squinted and looked for something, anything that caught her eye amidst the mild black haze and random fallen trees along the dirt road.  Those offered no protection, they were merely roadblocks in the making once a storm hit.  In the distance, she could see a gleam of something.  Something man-made, something reflective that meant bouncing away the sun.

“You see that?  Another mile out, where this trail branches west?” her voice raised in pitch, in hope, leaning forward in her seat.  “I think we’ve got something.  I don’t know what, but it’s more than dead, sparse and shredded ol’ forest.”

Ruby tried her damnedest to black out Meg’s soft words and the thuds knocking around in the back seat.  She tried to see what Charlie was seeing.  And, all the while, her foot stomped down on the accelerator, harder.  “I’m gonna take your word for it,” she swallowed hard, and gunned it.

--------------------------

“Woah, the fuck is going on?!” Dean balked as he watched the Wrangler spin its tires, kicking up a cloud of dust to mix in with the volcanic ash.  “Is Ruby drag racing?!”

Bobby was just ahead of them in the other SUV, and didn’t hesitate to step on it, too.

“Something must be happening,” Mary said from the back, “Or else we wouldn’t be burning through fuel like this.  It’s not like Charlie to let Ruby go for a joy ride.”

“Exactly,” Cas confirmed and tried to peer ahead to the car in the lead.  “Perhaps we should dress appropriately, just in case.”  

He looked further, trying to discern where they were headed in such a hurry and caught sight of an old solar-panel roofed home.  At least, he believed it was a home, it was too far away to see, but for it to be standing and proud, to say the least…well.  This could go a couple different ways.

They’d run into a few of these - the “Doomsday fanatics.”

Those who had actually prepared for the end, and they’d done an exceptional job.  The question was: did this fanatic live in the current generation?  Or were they an old extremist from days before?  Hell, some panic rooms from the Cold War were still functional, he’d found!  But solar panels - this had to be more recent.  

Would they have to approach a person living in peace, or could they use their abandoned space? 

The sounds of zippers, rustling fabrics, and Mary speaking idly with Dean was background noise as Castiel watched the Jeep spin its tires until it was under the awning of the building.  The engine was cut, and he carefully observed the fall of the ash to make sure they’d truly escaped the eruption.  Yet…it didn’t appear as though they had.

The tail end was still in the sunlight, but they were parked - which sent off warning signals in Cas’ brain.

He voiced his concerns instantly.  “Sloppy park job.  Make sure we’re completely shaded but leave room for them to relocate.  Something is off.”

“I agree.”  Mary was leaning forward between the seats as they rolled up behind Bobby and turned the corner into the shadow of the three-story structure.  “As soon as Dean dresses, we need to get to them.”

“No shit,” the man in question mumbled and spun the wheel as he parked.

As quickly as he could, Dean pulled on his sun protection and peered around the car to make sure everyone was ready to go.  With nods of affirmation, they all exited the vehicle to find the rest of the group was out as well.  

Except, no one in the Jeep had emerged yet. 

They circled, but didn’t open any doors for fear that someone inside hadn’t dressed.  They didn’t want to risk letting the sun in, letting someone’s skin sizzle off because they were over-eager and worried.

Sam turned to his brother and asked, “What do you think’s happening?” as he batted away the ash in his face.

It wasn’t enough to do any damage, not in small doses like this anymore.  They’d put enough distance between them and where they’d woken up.  Still, it was an annoyance.

“Why don’t you boys figure it out and I steal Cas to do some recon on this fuckin’ brick of a building?” Gabriel suggested, gesturing to one of the most unaffected structures they’d ever witnessed, un-battered from all the disasters happening around the world, not a beam shaken or piece of siding out of place.  “Oh, PS.  Anyone know where the hell we are?”

“How long have we been driving?” Hannah inquired, then guessed, “We’ve hit flat land.  Perhaps the weather around here hasn’t been as chaotic?”

“Chaotic or not, tornados sweep up the Midwest.  Somethin’ tells me if Dorothy and Toto ain’t here, this guy shouldn’t be as pristine as he is, either,” Gabriel huffed and crossed his arms.  “Not like I’m complaining.  Just wish Red would hop her happy ass outta that Jeep and drop some knowledge on us.  Anyway!”  He turned his attention to Castiel,  “Wanna adventure?”

“Yes, that’s amenable.”  With a nod, he followed Gabriel towards the bizarre building.

“I’ll come with you,” Hannah offered, already changing her path to join them.

Bobby spoke up, “I will, too.  No reason for all of us to hang ‘round, waitin’ on those girls.  Lots’a ground to cover in there.”  Then he asked, “Everyone grabbed protection, just in case?”

“Condoms?” Gabriel quipped, just to ruffle the older man’s feathers and was met with a groan.  Just as quickly, he unsheathed his blade from its holster on his hip, adding, “I’m always packin’, old man.  Don’t you worry.”  He also liked the fact that he earned a chuckle from Sam but didn’t say a word.  Secret relationship, and whatnot.

“Idjit,” he groused, as they marched on.

With a low whistle, Dean commented, “That’s a comedy act in the making,” before he turned to the Jeep and knocked on the window, raising his voice, “You okay in there?  What‘s going on?”

None of the three Winchesters liked that silence rang out louder than the words they were waiting on.

Eventually, a knock sounded from the passenger side window and everyone ran over that way, knowing Charlie had jumped in the seat when they’d evacuated their camp site.  The door almost knocked Sam on his ass when she threw it open, just enough for her tiny frame to hop out, and slam it shut behind her.

Dudes!” she exclaimed, being crowded against the Jeep.  “I was trying to get you to switch sides, not tackle me!

“Sorry,” Dean rolled his eyes in annoyance and immediately pointed out, “You gotta do a better park job.  Rear’s in the sun and you’ve got room, don’t know why-”

“Jo had a seizure; we were trying to get off the road, not earn points for parallel parking!” Charlie snapped, because she was right around the place of finding the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The camel, obviously, being her.

“Is she okay?!” Mary’s jaw dropped, “What happened?!  She was fine this morning!”

Dean felt like a complete asshole.  Jo had become like a little sister and now he was frozen in shock, gushing, “We need to get her inside, we need to-”

“When she hit her head, the concussion was worse than we thought.”  Sam realized, his crisis-mode and EMT training kicking in just when they needed it.  “Thank God Meg is with her.  What’s her current status?”

And, hell, if Dean and Mary couldn’t be more grateful for Sam in that moment.  Dean wiped a hand across the fabric covering his face while Mary watched the scene with her heart in her throat, waiting on bated breath for an answer.

Charlie absently glanced back to the Jeep and admitted, “We were…hoping you’d do what you’re doing.  Check out what the flip this place is.  So we can move her and let her rest.  She didn’t stop convulsing until after we’d parked and then she was out for a sec.  When you knocked on my window?  Was when she started coming to.”

Sam nodded and looked beyond the group towards the vehicle, even though he couldn’t see inside because of the way they’d painted the windows.  “She can’t be jarred anymore.  Not for a while.  We can’t let it turn into a more serious brain injury, aggravating it with a rough road, hell, the stress of being on the road,” he sighed and smiled at Charlie, “I’m glad you pulled over.  And I’m glad she’s coming to.  Hopefully, this place is legit.”

“What the hell even is this place?” Dean asked aloud, “And Hannah brought up a good point, we weren’t sure how long we’ve been driving.  Where does our GPS ping us, Char?  Have we made good headway?”

The woman paused and then laughed nervously, which, in turn, made the other three uneasy.

“If you’d call Pennsylvania some good headway…?”

What?!”

------------------------

The only one with enough foresight to bring a flashlight had been Hannah and Gabriel.  Gabriel - two flashlights in fact, because he’d been just itching to search this mystery of a building and “get his exploring on.”  They stayed in pairs and Bobby snatched up the other flashlight when he veered off with Hannah, figuring Cas would rather be with his brother anyway.

It turned out it wasn’t merely three floors as it had appeared from the outside.

There was a good old-fashioned panic room sealed up downstairs.  But before exploring that, they needed to check the upper levels.  Not only for goods, shelter from the lights, but for survivors.

Which meant threats.

Even though Sam had a penchant for picking up stragglers, anyone they would find would likely have turned feral, having lived in isolation for too long.  They were no longer people who could exist in a normal society.  They saw everyone as a danger.  They, themselves, were also a danger.  Lucky for the group, they were used to dealing with those types.

Unfortunately, they’d had to put down some of those crazies in the past.  Some were marauders, sort of like pirates of the New Age, and half had been driven insane from toxic drinking water and sun poisoning.  

People…just weren’t people anymore.  It was downright scary.  The way the lead, gas, and other toxic waste had drifted into the pipes or reservoirs before anyone knew what was happening the damage was done.  Those who were affected paid a hefty price.  It wasn’t merely a hospital visit, puking, with blood disease or physical ailments, no.

It had infected their minds, and the brain wasn’t something you could amputate and scorch the pieces clean like a festering wound.  

These people (if you could even call them that) were infected and it was a condition the CDC had blanket-named CCI - Contaminant Cerebral Impediment.  

Which was a nice way of saying that if you were an a tight spot as far as provisions go?  Maybe your friend looked tasty and survival mode kicked in over those nice, human things like, oh, compassion and loyalty.  Cannibals, walking psychos that would do anything to live, some lost the ability to speak because it was unnecessary, the base instincts overwhelming the social ones.  They were terrifying.  There were all different levels, but one thing remained: once you were infected it was all downhill, soon your kindness would crumble, your camaraderie would be destroyed and your brain would deteriorate.

The stuff that made you human, rather than a freaking zombie, would evaporate.  That’s what they were dealing with when it came to humanity now and, so far, they were able to put them out of their misery pretty damn easy.  At least it didn’t take a headshot like a zombie; you could cut them down quick.

So far, none walked these halls. Thankfully.

The top floor was what kept the place running.  It was all the gadgets and gizmos that operated the solar panels and made Gabriel ask Castiel, “You think there’s actual power here?”

With a pause, he responded, “That depends if we’re alone.  If we are?  It’s possible, and we’ll return to this room,” he looked around and pointed out, “Charlie may know a thing or two about operating these.  But,” Castiel made deliberate eye contact with Gabriel, “If someone is here?  We can assume all of this is inoperable, or else the lights would’ve been on when we walked in.”

Or!” Gabriel began, ushering them in the direction of the door, now that this room was cleared, “They heard us zooming up.  Seriously, three vehicles, comin’ in hot?  First thing I would’ve done was killed the lights, found a hiding place and prepped for war.”

“That’s quite reassuring,” Cas grumbled drably as they descended the steps together.

“You boys find anything?” Bobby called out from the bottom of the stairwell.  “We cleared the other two levels - livin’ quarters.  You ready to hit up the Doomsday cellar?”

“Yep,” Gabriel confirmed as they finished the downward climb and reported, “Got a huge control panel that runs the place on solar power.  Dunno if it’s functional.  Guess we’ll find out when we finish up the recon?”  With a pause, he asked, “Other two floors were just…like a house, ‘r something?”

“Exactly,” Hannah confirmed.  “If you ignore the upstairs, the exterior, and whatever we find downstairs, is a pristine three bedroom house.  This was the home of a survivor.  Someone who knew, or at least suspected, of what was to come and prepared for it.  Isn’t it odd, to find something like this, untouched, in the middle of nowhere?”

Castiel felt wary, the way Hannah spoke of it.  “It is.  Did you find any provisions?  Has it been looted?”

“Ain‘t been looted, hell, bed's are made'n everything,” Bobby turned to the men.  “That’s the weird part.  Like Hannah said: picture outta time.  I’d reckon the provisions’ll be down here.”

They all stood in front of a steel door and looked at one another, uncertainty written across their faces.  Some weren’t sure if they wanted to know what was behind it or not.  But this would answer so many lingering questions and, even though they didn’t know what was happening outside with Jo, if they could use this place as a shelter, even for a little bit and get the all-clear?

It would be invaluable.

On instinct, everyone’s hand hovered near their weapon and Bobby grabbed the handle of the door.  The first tug didn’t work, and it wasn’t for the sheer fact that the door probably weighed a ton, it was because it was locked.

“Balls,” he hissed under his breath, but before he could say anything else and turn around-

Gabriel was already surging forward with a lock pick.  He crouched down and laughed out, “Really?  They’ve got this badass Noah’s Ark in the Flood and a bitchy little barrier like this?”  After a minute, the sound of clicking was all that could be heard in the eerie silence of the building (no one felt it was a house, it was too odd) until Gabriel let out a noise of victory.  “All right, old man.  You want round two’a doing the honors?”

Bobby glared something fierce but did just that as Gabriel stepped aside.

It wasn’t the scraping of the metal against the wood floor that stunned them before they could even step into the basement; it was the smell.

The rancid, musty, gag-inducing scent that everyone knew all too well.

Death.

It had been locked up behind that door for God knows how long, just rotting and sealed in by the airlock on the metal barrier.

“Oh, God,” Hannah blurted out, jerking out of sheer disgust over the repugnant scent that passed through the cloth covering her face and into her nostrils.

“I guess we know what happened to the welcome party,”  Gabriel muttered and then, with a strange amount of kindness, turned to Hannah and said, “Hey, we know we’re not in any danger.  Why don’t you go out and get the rest of the team?  No need for all of us to go down there, right?”

The look in her eyes was pure gratefulness as she held back a gag, nodded, and agreed. “I’d probably be in the way.  But you’re right; I should let the others know they can come in.  It’s much cooler inside than out in the heat and they’ll be sheltered from the ash.”

He winked, taking Hannah’s flashlight and handing it to Cas, and watched her turn back around.  Now it was up to the three men to finish the task.  They couldn’t let this loose end linger just because it was messy.  And it be honest?  All three weren’t exactly squeamish.  It was simply the scent of decay, the ripe, gnarly intensity, that bothered them and it was only going to get stronger as they descended.

“All right,” Gabriel sighed, “So...in and out?”

“As quickly as possible,” Castiel confirmed.  “Luckily, this door was made to be sealed at the edges.  We’ll do a sweep, take any provisions we need immediately and if there are more for later?  Well…” he sighed heavily, “we’ll take them later.  For now, we assess the decomposition of the bodies, see what’s down there, and then shut it back up.”

“Need to see if the bodies are the owners or squatters,” Bobby pointed out.  “Take special care to look at their clothes.  Doubt we’ll wanna talk much down there.  God knows I’m not gonna wanna get any’a that air in my goddamn mouth.”

“I’ll second that.”  Gabriel physically shook himself off and mentally prepped.  “Let’s get this shit over with!”

----------------------

The moment they heard “bed” it was like the damn Heavens opened up, Hannah a damn angel delivering the news.  In the blink of an eye, instead of worrying about wrestling Jo into her sun protection, Meg grabbed a blanket to cocoon her in and delivered her into Dean’s waiting arms.

Hannah took the lead, Meg and Ruby haphazardly tossing on their own garb in creative ways to block themselves just enough to get through the front door safely.  They had barely heard anything about what this place was, some kind of home and safe house, because they were worried about Jo.  No, those were details that the Winchesters were taking in.

A flight of stairs later landed the blonde on an honest-to-God mattress , still blurrily looking around and asking, “Where are we?” in a voice that just…wasn’t Jo.

Meg was sitting next to her and Sam was right there, too.

For as much as Mary, Charlie, and Ruby were concerned, the room wasn’t big enough to hold all of them comfortably and they fell back into the hallway to give them some space.  This was about Jo first and foremost and they knew Dean wasn’t going anywhere.

Even though this was more of a moment between the ‘medics’ and Jo, Dean still wanted to be within arm’s reach.

“We’re safe, babe,” Meg said softly, grabbing her hand and smiling.  “Found some random place off the grid.  Gotcha an actual bed.  How fuckin’ crazy is that?”  She paused and kissed her on the cheek before she asked, “How are you feeling?  What’s the last thing you remember?”

She was the support system while Sam was using his flashlight (the small one that Hannah had instructed those in the Jeep to grab) to check her pupils for dilation.  He also moved and found an honest-to-God trashcan to bring to Jo’s bedside in case the next step was vomiting, which he was surprised hadn’t happened already.

The pair waited for her answers, because Jo appeared to be genuinely confused as she thought back.

“I…remember driving.  Or, riding.  Getting really, really dizzy.  I’m still kinda,” she sharply inhaled, “I feel like I got hit by a truck.  My head, it’s throbbing.  N-not just from where I nailed it, all of it, and my body is just…”

“Exhausted,” Sam filled in for her with a weak smile.  “You had a seizure.  Now, I wasn’t there for it, but Meg took good care of you.  So your body’s gonna be really tired after that.  The concussion is way worse than we thought, so we’re camping out here for a while, but-”

“A seizure?!” Jo demanded in a shrill voice, “How did I-” her eyes were wild as she looked at Meg, terrified, “Am I going to keep…”

“That’s what we’ve gotta watch for, kitten,” Meg cuffed her under the chin.  “Hannah said this place will work for us, right?”

“Yes.”  Taking that as her cue, Hannah took a few steps forward and sat down on the other side of Jo, squeezing her shoulder.  “We’ve searched this place top to bottom.  We can camp out here.  You can recover.  It’s much safer than risking you on the road.”

“It’s the best circumstance,” Sam emphasized, crossing his arms.  “It’s almost too good,” he thought aloud, but went back to the points at hand.  “We don’t have hospitals, Jo.  It’s Meg and I.  You need to recuperate, and relax.  The potholes and off-roading is only gonna jar your head more, and we can’t afford you getting a major brain injury when you’re high-risk.  We wanted to find a place to breath anyway.  I think we found it.”

“Where’s here?”

That caused Dean to laugh from where he was lingering by the foot of the bed and shake his head.  “You wouldn’t believe us, trust me.”

Jo dangerously narrowed her eyes and warned, “I got a bump, Dean, I’m not stupid.”

Charlie was still wound up tight after that conversation and didn’t want to be held accountable or talk about it anymore, but she felt like it was her duty to.  “We’re…a little outside Pittsburgh,” she braced herself, and glanced at Hannah, who was the only one who knew about the distance shifts but appeared supportive no matter what.

“Woah, didn’t I pass out after my seizure?” Jo’s brows screwed up in confusion.  “How long was I out?”

Ruby and Meg froze, it was almost comical, except that it wasn’t, and neither of them knew whether to freak out or not because Jo was fragile.  Should they demand answers out of Charlie later?  Or now?  Because - how in the actual hell?!

“Doesn’t matter,” Dean waved it off and crossed the space, “What matters is that you’ve got a comfy ass bed and pain in the ass girlfriend who’s gonna take care of you.  So how about you keep that convulsing to a minimum and-”

“Patient numero dos!  Comin’ through!” Gabriel’s voice shot like a bullet through the hallway, sending Mary and Ruby toppling back into the room.

Because he and Castiel were sprinting past them into the next bedroom with Bobby hot on their heels.  But they knew right away that the patient wasn’t any of them because cradled like a rag doll in Castiel’s arms?

Was a woman that no one had ever laid eyes on.

All they caught was a glimpse, a flash of red hair as her small frame flew by, and then there was muffled conversation before Gabriel shouted out, “Sammy!  Need your medic ass in here saving lives, like, yesterday!”

He looked alarmed and baffled, jaw dropped, not knowing what the hell was going on since everything was happening so fast.

“Are you alright?”  Sam asked Jo, then realized this point was moot and asked Meg instead, “Are you alright to take care of her?”

With a quick nod, puzzled by this new woman, she said, “Go…save lives?  The fuck is with today!”

This didn’t make sense.  They avoided other people like the plague and these days would sooner let them sink then help them swim.  Sam, though...Sam would always and forever feel that drive, feel that need to help.  He didn’t know why this was different, but if Gabriel was giving him a chance to do that again?  If the three men had come across someone they deemed worthy of help?  Sam wouldn’t hesitate, and now that he knew Jo was stable, he sprinted towards their voices to find the other room where this mystery patient was, even though he had no idea what he was in for…

----------------------------------

When Sam rushed into the room, it was to see Castiel spreading out the shell of a girl on top of the bed sheets.

She was gaunt, emaciated, and her red hair, no matter how vibrant, appeared somehow dull by the dim life inside her.  And it looked as though it was growing even dimmer with each passing moment.

“Tell me what happened.  I need all the details,” Sam ordered Gabriel, then turned to Castiel and said, “Can you get the emergency kit from the SUV?  I’m almost positive I grabbed tubing, a syringe and bag for a makeshift IV drip or transfusion if we needed it.  That would be now.  Before we can even think about food, she needs fluids, but find something that’s easy to swallow.”

“I’ll do that,” Castiel nodded and rushed from the room, understanding the urgency of the situation.

Bobby added in, “I’ll ask them girls if she can borrow somethin’ of theirs to wear.  She still smells like…down in the basement,” he frowned and left just as swiftly.

Sam went about taking her vitals as best he could seated on the edge of the bed - pulse, feeling her forehead for a temperature, but still urged, “Gabe!  Story!”

“Well, I don’t know her story, but I can tell ya about how we found her.”  He ran a hand through his hair, looking at the poor girl who couldn’t have been past her late twenties yet.  She looked so frail and breakable, yet she’d fought so hard to stay alive when-

He needed to tell Sam this, not muse over it.

With a deep breath, taking advantage of their alone time while Castiel and Bobby grabbed the requested items, Gabriel looped around to be on the same side of the bed as Sam.  He noted the door was only cracked as he leaned in and stole a quick kiss - something that he’d wanted to do for a long time - before he took his hand and laced their fingers together while they had a stolen moment to do so.

“We cleared the house.  Everything was peachy until we went underground.  I had to pick the lock to even get down there.  Soon as it opened you could smell death.  That’s when we figured the house was empty, sent Hannah out to grab Miss Joanna Beth, and went looking for goodies.  Well, that, and to see if it was the owners who were rotting or squatters.”  Gabriel chewed on his lip before he gestured, “Then, we found her.”

“What?” Sam jerked his head upward to meet his boyfriend’s eyes and asked, “But if the corpses were that far into decay, how was she…?  Unless-” his eyes widened and fear filled them.

“No, no, Sammy,” Gabriel shook his head, “She doesn’t have CCI, that was the first thing I was thinking, too.  Munching on the rest’a em to stay the lone survivor?  Couldn’t be more wrong.  Looking at bodies - no, it was…a bloodbath.”

Woah, back up.  It wasn’t starvation, it was a fight?”

A humorless grin spread across Gabriel’s face, “I can only deduce so much from the scene.  Ain’t no spatter analyst, but I probably know more than the average Joe.  We’ll know more when she wakes up.  But, fuck, kiddo.  The reason it smelled so goddamn rancid was because there was at least a dozen of them.  She was the only survivor, hiding in the corner.”

“I think the original owners had a run-in with a group of looters.”  His voice was monotone, keeping it as black and white as possible, “And when they didn’t think they were going to be able to fight them off?  A certain someone locked everyone in, so no one made it out alive.  But riddle me this - the key could only be used from outside the basement.  So who was the single survivor who locked everyone else down there, someone armed with a key?”

“That’s why you had to pick the lock…” Sam’s eyes lit up then narrowed dangerously, “What sick fuck does that to their family?!  Leaves them for dead, just to save their own sorry ass?!  They knew what they were doing and-”

When Sam whipped around to face him, eyes alive and dancing with anger, Gabriel cupped his cheek and pressed a kiss to his forehead.  “Like you said.  Sick motherfuckers.  But this girl?  She can still be saved.  Although, I’ve got lots of questions.”

Sam tuned him out, just for a second and melted into his touch because these nightmarish scenarios…those were part of the reason he hated the way the world turned today.  Not because of the daily struggle to make it until tomorrow but for how it warped people.  This person didn’t have CCI.  It was a choice they made deliberately; there was no excuse.  It was a malicious, depraved choice to live while their family died bloody.

That was why Sam needed Gabriel’s grounding touch a second longer and was happy the man indulged him and kissed him once more.  It was another reminder of how he’d gotten lucky to help counter the horrors of outside (or downstairs).

With a squeeze of his hand, Sam finally came back into the moment and asked, “What questions are you thinking of?”

Gabriel remained affectionately at Sam’s side as he sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for the others return, carding his free hand through Sam’s hair.  “If she was a looter or in the original family.  If she joined in the fight, killing the opposing side, and how many she took down.  At least we know she’s not poisoned, but we do know she’s potentially dangerous.  However!  She either works well with a group, seeing as how looters tried to take this place down as an organized effort, or, she was a family girl, just trying to live a life in a broken world.  Regardless, I didn’t see a reason to put her down and…”

He lowered his lips to Sam’s brow and admitted, “And I know that you would want to fight to save her.  Played a game of ‘What Would Sam Do.’  So I brought her right to you.”

An actual, brilliant smile flashed on Sam’s face as he looked up to Gabriel and, at first, he didn’t have the words.  He raised their joined hands and kissed his knuckles before admitting, “Shit, you know me way better than I thought you did,” he laughed lightly.  “And…thank you.  I know it wouldn’t be your first choice, but thank you for letting me do this.  It means a lot.”

“I know it does,” Gabriel’s voice was pitched just shy of a whisper and that was a damn good thing.

Because in the next moment, heavy boot stomps sounded just a few steps away, and the pair pulled apart as Castiel came back with a back bag full of medical equipment.  As he unzipped it, they saw that it wasn’t merely the items Sam had asked for; there were many others things he’d carried with him.  Almost as soon as Cas’ arrival, Bobby came back into the room too.

Sam looked on in confusion at the surplus of goods when he dug through and asked, “Why did you bring-”

“When I was carrying her,” Castiel began, “her shirt was riding up, and I noticed she had been cut.  The wound, you would know better than me at this point, may require stitches.  It’s a good thing Bobby brought a change of clothes, because I have a feeling she may have wounds on her body, as well.”

“The entire time you’ve been around her,” Sam began slowly, “Has she ever regained any type of consciousness?  In and out?  Confusion?  Could she speak?  Open her eyes?  Recognize she wasn’t alone anymore?”

The three men looked between each other carefully, and it was Bobby who offered, “When we were first comin’ down the steps…it was the reflection of her eyes that scared the livin’ shit outta us.  So she knows we’re here, that we got her.”

“But…” Sam sighed heavily, “she doesn’t know we’re the good guys yet.  And we’re gonna have to undress her and treat any wounds without the restriction of clothing.”  Sam wiped a hand over his face and huffed in frustration, “And I can’t get Meg, as a woman, to help - because she’d with Jo, as she should be!”

“Well.  Why don’t we just hustle while she's out?” Gabriel offered, “The less people, the better?  The quicker, the better.  Plus, you need to get that drip going.  And if she’s had any serious cuts like Cas said since they’ve been locked away?  Jesus fuckin’ Christ, I’m gonna place my bets on infection.  This may get ugly.”

“Okay, we need to move,” Sam couldn’t agree more.  “The fewer people, the better.  Gabe, stay with me.  Cas, see if the Jeep was ever re-parked?  You and Dean can actually relax and get some time together.  And, thank you for your help, Bobby.  I’ll yell if I need anything.”

“Or, she will,” Gabriel pointed out with a waggle of his eye brows.  “Oo!  See if this place has power!  That’s another thing!  Take Char up to the top floor and have her play.  Because that would be fuckin’ awesome and she’d love to tinker around with all the toys while I’m playing nurse to Doctor Sexy, here.”

Castiel deadpanned, “Why on Earth would you pick Gabriel to assist you, Sam?”

With a snort, Sam cast his gaze over the other man who was flashing him puppy eyes.  “Because he’ll be able to talk this girl down from the ledge if she freaks out and wakes up.  Gabe can talk his way out of a paper bag.  I’ll need his communication skills, if worse comes to worse.”

“Ahh, that’s fair.”  Cas seemed satisfied with the answer.  “Well, we’ll be off.  Good luck, let us know if you need anything else.”

Sam gave his affirmation and the door was shut behind them since the next thing, unfortunately, was undressing the poor girl.  She’d been through the ringer and Sam prayed this wasn’t when she chose to open her eyes.

“At least the first anti-freak out to ‘sorry you’re naked’ is ‘don’t worry, we’re gay.’” Gabriel unabashedly winked at Sam as he used his strength and towering size to maneuvered the woman around while Gabriel got the IV ready.

With a burst of laughter, Sam rolled his eyes.  “Because that’s exactly what I’d be quelled with upon discovering I’d escaped certain death and ended up naked in front of two random dudes at the end of the world.”

“We can make out and show her?” he suggested with the shrug of his shoulders.  “Or if we wanna really prove it-”

“Gabriel!  Focus!”

“Oh yeah, right, saving lives and shit…”

------------------------------

It was so damn hard for Dean to pull himself away from Jo, he felt like he needed to take care of her, protect her but…Meg was truly the best person for that.  Not just because of her credentials, but because of the pure love she had for the girl.  Still, it freaked Dean right out when Jo had come to and actually appeared - for a split second - like her confusion extended beyond what she was saying.

It wasn’t merely a ‘where am I,’ no, Dean knew the look in her eyes.  It was a ‘who are you people,’ mixed in with a possible ‘who am I.’  And that, right there, scared Dean shitless.  Which was why, even when the others retired or they were bustling around to help Sam gather things to help this other survivor, Dean had to be physically dragged away from the room.

It wasn’t until he found himself sitting next to Cas in one of the bedrooms, leaning against the headboard and staring off into space, that he realized where he was.  But it looked like his boyfriend had taken the liberty of untying his shoes, peeling off his coat, and making them both comfortable.

Still, Dean was in a daze.

Their hands were linked; he could feel Cas’ worried eyes heavily on him and he let out a shaky breath.

“Dean,” his voice was soft as he squeezed, “Tell me what I can do for you.”

He finally turned to face the concerned blue eyes and admitted, “Zap Jo back to healthy?  I dunno.  I’m just…dude, I miss hospitals.  Used to hate ‘em and avoid them like the plague before, but now?  I miss MRIs and CT scans.  I’m worried.  Wouldn’t say that to anyone but you, but I…” Dean shook his head, “Dunno how hard she hit her noggin.  Jo’s…not Jo.  What if it’s more than a concussion?  What if her brain is hemorrhaging?  What is there’s swelling and bleeding?  What if-”

“There’s nothing we can do,” Cas cut him off with words and a palm cupping his face.  “We currently have the best case scenario we could ask for.  A bed for her to relax and recover in.  A hearty structure that won’t be affected by outside factors for shelter.  Meg and Sam to care for her.”  He paused, making sure he had Dean’s full attention before he emphasized, “Now, let me care for you?”

Casting a glance over his current state, Dean chuckled humorlessly, “Looks like ya already made some headway.  Thank you.”

“I’d prefer to do more, Dean,” he insisted and pulled the man into a deep, lingering kiss.  “Tell me what you need.”

“A distraction…” the words fell from his lips and a chain reaction began with Cas grinning followed by him laying Dean out on the bed.

“Allow me to undress you?”  He asked in that sexy, husky voice.

Which Dean found intriguing.  

Because Cas?  He never asked - he took.  

Wow, Dean felt like he really must be all kinds of messed up if the other man was treating him like a fragile doll.  But it was kind of sweet.  Even though Dean knew it was difficult and he was most definitely holding back, since the look on his face was as heated and feral as ever, Cas was trying his hardest to be here, to be present, to be what Dean needed - nothing more, nothing less.

So he nodded.  “Hell yeah.  Long as you get naked with me.”

“That can be arranged.”

Before their lips met, before any touches turned remotely sexual, Cas took his time, took special care to remove the sweat-soaked, dirt-stained and now ash-smudged articles, one by one.  He caressed Dean’s body with gentle hands and took great pleasure in being able to admire every inch of his lover’s body.  And he was doing just what Dean had assumed - taking care of him.

This was an act of love, not ripping and tearing things away, just taking his time.  Because for once, they actually had time.  After all the chaos and bullshit, how crazy was that?  Something worked out for them.

The softness of the bed sheets were so foreign but complimented the rough calloused hands moving with a caring touch.  The juxtaposition was ironic but welcome.  Dean sighed happily against all the different feelings, his senses soaking in so many damn sensations.  Still, his favorite one was probably Cas’ hot, muscled, and naked skin against his own.

Their lips brushing together wasn’t too bad either.  

…Understatement of the century.

Dean’s arms instantly wrapped around Castiel the second his weight dropped down on top of him and he sighed happily, still nothing overtly carnal about the way they moved together.

…Not yet, anyway.  They walked this fine line and that in and of itself was kind of exciting and new.

“Mm, is this helping?” Cas asked with a bit of mischief in his voice, now using a bit of teeth as he sucked the column of Dean’s neck.

That may have sent a spark of pleasure through him as he inhaled sharply and chuckled, “Y-yeah.  Doing damn good, Cas.”

“That’s unfortunate…” he mused casually, mouthing at Dean’s collarbones and down his chest until he snagged a nipple between his teeth.

“Whu-” Dean attempted to say, but he was moaning and his hips were grinding into Cas without his consent.

Cas focused back up, catching his boyfriend’s eyes with a grin, “I was aiming higher.  Good may as well be synonymous with mediocre.  I’ll have to work harder, won’t I?”

And, hell, if that didn’t make Dean’s breath catch in his throat as Cas continued his descent downward.

“I-I could get on board with that.”

“Is that so?”  Cas sounded amused as he finally reached down and smeared the precum beading up on his slit.  He leaned forward to ask, “Tell me, how could I make this great for you?  I want to please you.  I want you to have to muffle your screams so the entire house doesn’t hear them,” with a devilish quirked eyebrow, he admitted, “Although, I wouldn’t be opposed if they did…

“You have no shame.”  It wasn’t an admonishment, not at all; it was just a comment.  Cas surprised him every day with his fearlessness.  And it was goddamn amazing.  “Please, please tell me you have something for lube this time,” Dean grabbed the nape of Cas’ neck and demanded with a tug, “You have no idea how bad I need it.  It’s been too long, you’ve turned me into a friggin’ addict who needs a fix,” he snarled, the pent-up sexual tension hot in his veins.  

And Dean wasn’t stopping there.  He was going to let Cas know exactly how he felt, hopefully baiting him into hurrying this up.  “Got me addicted to you fucking me raw, leaving me sore in the morning, covered in reminders from your hot mouth, proving what a possessive bastard you can be.  Blowing your load into my ass, claiming me in every possible way.  While I’m loving every second of it.”

His words kept dropping in pitch but towered with confident sexuality, drawing Castiel into the moment, while he hungrily licked his lips.  Dean was damn pleased and haughty, because he could see Cas’ cock twitch with undeniable want, dripping even more precum as his breathing picked up.  And those gorgeous eyes that Dean was so in love with?  His pupils were blown wide with need; he was a slave to his body, blindly reaching into the nearby duffle.

In a flash, Cas had squeezed lube not only all over his fingers but also his cock.

Well, it looked like he was prepared and wasn’t going to waste a single second.

And that’s just what Dean liked.

“Gimme two fingers, now! ” Dean ordered as Cas was circling his puckered opening.  “I’m so hungry for it, you have no idea.  Last time, when I couldn’t have you and I got some alone time...I finger-fucked myself, so this should be pretty damn easy, babe.”  His breath was coming out faster.

But not as fast as Cas’.  The moment he began working with two fingers, it was obvious he could already push in one more.  “Holy fuck, Dean.  You really, really wanted me, didn’t you?”

“Always want you-” Dean cut himself off with a gasp, now pushing against the fingers as Cas found his sweet spot.  “The way you fuck me, the way you make love to me?  Never, in my entire like, have I had something so goddamn perfect.  We fit together.  You’re…you’re my everything.  And you haven’t even headed for the hills yet,” he stated casually with a goofy grin.

“And I, you.” Cas kissed him thoroughly and completely, hoping to prove how much he felt the same.  “Are you ready?  Maybe I should have used four, but if you’ve been helping me out…”  Then he paused for a second before cupping Dean’s cheek.  “Next time you touch yourself?  I wanna watch.  I need to see you, strung out on pleasure, fingers buried deep inside your ass while you scream my name.  You’d be such a vision…”

Dean hadn’t been expecting that.  The thrill of it all, hit another one of his kinks, heightening his arousal at the mere thought.  “Hmm, I’ll do it.  I’ll give you a hell of a show, Cas.  So long as I get your cum in the end.”

“I doubt I could hold back if I tried.  You’re so fucking gorgeous,” he praised, beginning to push inside his lover.

This time, it wasn’t just the feeling of Cas bottoming out and sending a shock of pleasure racing up his spine that was driving Dean crazy.  He felt the love flowing out of his boyfriend.  Yes, his… forever and ever.  When they were finally one, all Dean was left with was keening and moaning and the sensation of being completely wrapped in Cas’ love.  It was perfect, even though it never lasted long.  

“Love that thick cock, Cas.  Fuck it’s so deep, practically rearranging my organs,” he chuckled, and when the man began to move with a grin, Cas’ genuine smile surprised him.  It had Dean’s dirty talk turn into word-vomit as he sighed out, “Oh, hell, you’re perfect, never want this to end-”

“I don’t either,” Cas returned, sucking those marks anywhere his mouth could reach.  “Being inside you, I c-can’t explain it.  Just being with you...”  His hips began to accelerate, the rhythm pounding in harder, “You’re the only thing in this goddamn world that makes sense.  And I couldn’t love you more.  These are moments I cherish, not j-just sex, but when we‘re together.  Can’t get enough of you-”

Castiel took a massive breath trying to keep up with a devilish grin, “I wish there was a way to keep my cum inside you.   You could keep it warm for me, you'd never forget a second of me fucking you.  Then when I fuck you again, I’ll keep filling you up.  Until you’re stretched open with my cum and it’s gushing out.  My claim on you…”

And, oh Lord, when Cas started with his dirty talk?  Dean was done with… just completely done.  He couldn’t keep up.  He would probably say something ridiculous what with his brain short-circuiting, so he felt relieved that the array of noises Cas was literally pounding out of his body effectively prevented any attempt.  Hopefully that was enough, because forming words, putting together strings of them?  Was damn hard-

Although, Dean with everything else that was happening, he had to muster up the strength to say, “No matter what happens, I want us to work out.”  All right, he was going balls to the wall, Cas rolling his hips and grinding against his sweet spot.  

It was hard to label things in the end, but Dean needed to prove something much more...important he’d been sitting with.  “I…want to spent the rest of my life with you, whether it’s over tomorrow or we figure something out for the l-long run.  I feel it in my bones,  I-I, oh fuck, that feels amazing!  A-And I know you love me too.  I just…wanna take the next step, if we even can-

Cas dipped down and left a painful, obvious hint.  Or…did he?

“You are mine, Dean Winchester, and I'm yours.  I don’t say those things lightly.  Do you understand this?”  He wouldn’t let up on Dean’s sweet spot and pounded into it with brutality, making him reel, curse loudly, and grip Cas like he might float away.  “That means forever, that means that I want you forever.  My m-mind was overwhelmed by my goddamn heart, and you’re it for me.”

“I’m s-sorry!  Just thought it was too good to be true.  God, I love you, I’ll follow you anywhere, Cas.  I’d do anything you want when - if - we can make it out and- holy fuck!”

Mid-sentence, Dean was cut off by his orgasm.  All he could think about was Cas; how he’d changed when they were together, just like now; how much he loved him; and how he promised they’d be always be together.  The promise of forever meant something when you had a future and Cas had just given him that.  Some kind of hope.  Dean knew in finality that they were real.

Cas’ fingers dug into the meat of Dean hips as he chased his own orgasm.  Dean (now much more coherent) whispered out all the dirty, filthy things he knew would tip Cas over the edge.  And, damn, did it work.

When Cas pulled out, Dean was damn surprised to be tackled and covered in a barrage of kisses because Cas was rarely this affection, well… ever.  But in a sweet way he could get this behind.  

But, he wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth as they made out, their hands roaming over one another and Dean sighing happily with the prospects of an actual future together, despite both of their rocky pasts.  It was crazy.

“I love you, Dean.  We’ll work this out,” he shot him half a smile but the urgency behind it was a tell.  So…maybe Dean grabbed him tighter and pulled him closer, taking advantage of this amazing bed to the fullest.  “Was that a decent distraction?”

Recalling the words previously spoken, Dean hummed and confirmed, “It was great, Cas.  Great.”

Chapter Text

At the end of it all, Sam had felt like an honest-to-God surgeon with a frail human life in his hands.  

Although they’d hooked her up to the IV and had fluids flowing into her, her skin held zero elasticity, and it wasn’t a saline drip - it was water.  But…hydration was hydration, right?  

After Sam and Gabriel’s version of “Operation” they had a fewer answers than they’d started off with.  It looked as though she’d put up a hell of a fight down there.  The good news was the cuts Cas had seen on her skin (even if she hadn’t had the means to sew herself up) proved she knew enough to disinfect the knife slashes.

There was no infection.  Thank God for small miracles.

She’d also wrapped the gashes tightly down in that storm cellar and changed the bandages, and if Gabriel’s nose didn’t deceive him, the latest round of binding was soaked in cheap rum.  She must have passed out while changing some, and that’s why the midriff cuts were unwrapped - or she could have been letting them breathe?  

Hell, Gabriel thought at that time, she probably assumed it was all pointless, being the lone survivor and trapped down there for who knows how long.  But she fought, damn, did she fight for the chance at life.

The damage was five cuts deep enough to warrant stitches and a few butterfly bandages after glorified sponge bath.  Hopefully, the woman was more joyful about being clean than freaked out about who did the cleaning.  They could always lie and say it was Meg; no one would be the wiser.  But the thing that concerned both men were the fading bruises around her neck and wrists.

It didn’t take a genius to recognize these.  These were ones that…very well could be read as assault.

Which meant this woman was (more than likely) part of the family.  

The looters could have come in, guns blazing, and taken advantage of her - especially since by Gabriel’s account the rest of the bodies were male.  Sam did not, by any means, feel comfortable looking for signs of rape.  One - that wasn’t in his wheelhouse and two…he didn’t want to take the choice of people knowing other than her away.  

Sam wanted to respect her privacy was much as possible, and hopefully if she stuck with them?  She’d come around and share her experience or, even better, the lack thereof.

After all, not only was Meg a nurse and could help with this, having run into scenes of domestic violence and sexual assault all the time, Mary was a retired counselor.  They actually had a damn good spread and eclectic bunch of hidden talents in their grab bag.  They had tools to help her, if she ended up needing them.

And hopefully?  In the perfect world (or Gabriel’s vividly painted picture of one), she Hulked-out and killed anyone who tried to come at her with her bare hands.  Even though she was skin and bones, a pound away from blowing off in the wind, she was the one who had outlasted and survived them all.

Now, at least, she could rest.

Sam was completely and utterly exhausted from their early morning escape from the volcanic ash attack, the speed-racer trip to freakin’ Pennsylvania, Jo’s seizure, and now this...he figured Dean could take a shift for him watching over this newcomer.  He had only been a few rooms over and didn’t have a problem keeping a vigil over the woman.  

Sam was grateful, his brother said yes.  It wasn’t until he stepped into the hallway to speak to him that Sam noticed the sun had set.  The rooms themselves were created to block out harmful rays, and any natural light that shined was UV-protected in the gathering rooms.  Dean had teased him about being ‘in surgery’ well past his bedtime.

When Sam stopped in to check on Jo, he saw her and Meg were curled up under the covers cuddling, but also noticed there was an alarm set on the nightstand next to the bed.  Good - she was being responsible and making sure to wake her every few hours.  For a check in, even though they had diagnosed her, it wouldn’t be good to allow Jo to fall into some heavy state of unconsciousness or risk another seizure without moving her to her side.  

They needed to keep a damn close eye on her.  That head injury…fuck, the fear of the unknown and the extent of the damage, it was scary.

Sam was lingering in the doorway, watching the women blissfully unaware of the world around them, when he felt a hand fondle his ass and then fingers tugging on his belt loop.

When he glanced over his shoulder, Gabriel was staring him down and nodded his head in a way that didn’t request but ordered Sam to follow him.  Intrigue naturally got the best of him and he did just that.  Sam didn’t ask questions, but when Gabriel led them up the stairs, he was growing a little apprehensive.

The hallway almost mimicked the one downstairs except the doors weren’t as close together. This was a level Sam hadn’t checked out.  He didn’t like being anywhere he, himself, hadn’t cleared and this place after dark was making him uneasy.  But Sam had to trust him.  After all, that was a part of every relationship, right?  

Gabriel obviously realized that and took advantage of Sam’s stupor, luring him to the very end of the hallway.  But before he could open the door, he leaned right outside and grinned impishly.

“Know where we are?”

Sam shook his head, pursing his lips together, “No…haven’t had much of a chance to explore.  Been having to play the EMT card all day.  Do I get a hint?” he asked with a half-smile.

“Are you off the clock?” Gabriel countered, advancing on Sam and grabbing him by his belt buckle.

God, I hope so,” he admitted, his heartbeat picking up in speed as Gabriel asserted his grip and began to walk backward, dragging Sam along in the process.

“Good,” he purred.  “Because this joint is a little “home,” right?  Down below was the guestrooms and where the kiddies stayed.  I, in my inspection,” Gabriel pushed the door open, his eyes never leaving Sam’s and darkening by the second, “happened to find the master bedroom.  And I plan on using it.”

Once Gabriel had them both inside all the way, he shut and locked the door behind them, a blaring sign that he refused to be interrupted.  He was torn between grabbing Sam’s face and kissing him senseless for hours and moving things along.  But regardless, he still wanted to tease.  

Gabriel ended up unbuckling the belt he’d been toying with and ripping it from the front his jeans with a sharp hiss, asking a slightly dumbstruck, but very responsive, Sam, “What do you think of this plan, kiddo?”  He unbuttoned the top of the denim, then walked away.

Sam was fighting to keep his breath even as Gabriel looped around him in a circle and pulled his own layers off, one by one.  They never, ever, had had the luxury of doing this. 

They’d never had a shelter good enough, stable enough, to shed their clothing and be laid bare without clothing covering nearly every inch.  And now, as each article dropped, more of Gabriel’s hidden muscle and skin showing proudly, Sam could - holy crap - he could almost feel himself shivering with want.

He was never at a loss of words, but when Gabriel haughtily looked over his shoulder, boxers the last thing between him and miles of skin, Sam swallowed hard past a lump in his throat.

“I-I-” Sam never had this problem, maybe it was exhaustion, maybe it was just the raw seduction that was Gabriel, a real bed, and the downright sinful sight before him.  “With you looking like that?”  Sam finally found himself groaning.  “I’m never going to want to leave this little discovery.  I’d be damn happy spending the rest of our time right here in this bed,” he advanced on Gabriel, needing touch.  “Taking turns fucking each other into that mattress.  Until we break the bed.  Making good use of it-”

Gabriel grinned something wicked as he eyed Sam and agreed, “Don’t think I’d mind that at all.  I like where your head’s at.  Now, why the hell are you still dressed?”  His hands darted out to help Sam spring into action.  “How the hell am I supposed to fuck you into the mattress - like you want - with all these layers?”

Gabriel boldly grabbed Sam’s wrist and guided it to feel the massive bulge straining against his boxers.  Huskily, he surged up and whispered into Sam’s ear, “I don’t know how to explain it, but you have no idea how sexy you were today.  Hell, every day.  You get me worked up, then hard and throbbing in the blink of a friggin eye.  Wanna show you what you do to me, Sammy.  Wanna make you feel good, fuck you however you want it.  You deserve a treat.”

“Jesus, Gabe,” he gasped and couldn’t take it anymore.

He reached out, grabbed his boyfriend and kissed him hard.  But it wasn’t rough and aggressive, it wasn’t fiercely needy in that violent, desperate way.  Because Gabriel’s words weren’t pitched in a lewd, dirty fashion.  It was different.  Sam needed this.  He licked inside Gabriel’s mouth, loving each and every one of the gorgeous sounds he earned, while Gabriel worked to pull Sam’s clothes off.

Sam was practically clinging to him, there was this desire and something a bit heavier coursing through his body but more importantly, his heart.  There was only one second they had to break - Sam lifting his arms up to get rid of the shirt, and then they were toppling over onto the California King mattress.  It was perfect because they could roll around, get lost and tangled in one another’s limbs, not knowing where one started and the other ended.

This heat, this passionate heat, engulfed Sam and fueled so many things, sending any hint of sleepiness to the wayside.  Gabriel had lit the match setting him ablaze.  Sam synced the roll of his hips to Gabriel’s, both their hands roaming as they kissed marks into each other’s skin. Sam was completely enamored; there wasn’t even the usual rush to get off, the one normally hanging over their heads.

And Sam couldn’t help but get wrapped up in thoughts about just how amazing and helpful Gabriel had been that day.  Like…it was insane how they just fell into it naturally, their teamwork and almost silent, perfect tandem.  Obviously, Gabriel’s shady past molded him and had him cracking off-color jokes while they knitted the girl’s flesh together.  Or, on the other side of the coin, when they had a bleeder, Gabriel jumped right in with some gauze from their first aide kit to soak it up, letting Sam get through the stitches in double time.

He hadn’t even needed to prompt him.  They were one mind, one body.  He kept Sam calm and more than anything?  There were just…small shared glances, touches, and pecked kisses that felt so natural.  Maybe these things didn’t amount to much to Gabriel...but they meant the fucking world to Sam.

Right now, Gabriel had three fingers twisting gently inside him, coaxing him open, and brushing his sweet spot, making sure it was good for Sam.  Just like he promised.

And, oh, did Sam let him know it.

It was only then, when he was writhing and demanding, “Need that cock, Gabe,” that he paused and went wide-eyed, demanding, “Fuck, can they hear us?”

“No one’s this far down the hall…” Gabriel thought aloud, slicking his dick up and hesitating for a second, “Is this…okay?”

“Is what-?” Sam asked, then it hit him.

Both times they’d had sex he’d been on his hands and knees or bent over.  They’d never been face to face and, holyfuckinghell, it felt like Sam had never wanted anything more in his life!

“Hell, yes,” he blurted out like a prayer, “Wanna kiss you.  Never want to stop.”  Sam was feeling damn fearless these days and, as Gabriel slid into his body, his jaw dropped, not just from feeling the stretch about his thick, amazing cock, but from watching Gabriel’s face.  “Goddamn, Gabe - you’re beautiful…”

Gabriel jerked at attention with a crooked grin and chuckled, “If I’m beautiful?  Yer a masterpiece.”

Maybe in the past, Sam would have blushed, but right now was something completely different.  He lifted his hips off the bed to meet the rocking of Gabriel’s hips, feeling his dick buried deeper inside him with every thrust.  Hell, he knew that his moans and whimpers were loud - probably too loud - and they weren’t ready to give themselves away.

Let alone traumatize anyone.

So he rushed up, wrapped his arms around Gabriel’s neck, and plastered their mouths back together.  He needed this kind of intimacy rolled up within the electric feel of their joined bodies.  It all was so perfect; he didn’t know the words left his lips and fell onto Gabriel’s until they were already out there.

He breathlessly moaned out, “Fuck, I love you,” almost as though it was the hundredth time he’d said it-

But it wasn’t.

That phrase, that weighted, almost terrifying word had never been uttered between them and they were so new that it shouldn’t have come out.  

Shit, shit, shit - Sam was panicking internally, his breaths coming out sharper now, so he sped up the movements of his pelvis, now slamming against Gabriel’s, hoping, praying, he hadn’t heard him or would acknowledge him.  Maybe he’d just sweep it under the rug -

Gabriel pulled away from sucking a bruise into Sam neck and asked in a voice full of hushed surprise, “What?” yet never slowed his hips.

“I…” Sam was a deer in headlight.  He ducked his head so Gabriel couldn’t see his face and exchanged it for biting into the meat of his shoulder, feeling the thick head of his cock grind down on his prostate, “I’m close, God, I’m close, Gabe!”

“That’s…” he trailed off, but shook his head, dismissing it and instead pounding into Sam’s body with renewed vigor.

His nerves were erased as the pleasure built up in Sam’s body and then crashed down as the orgasm he’d been dying for (hoping that bucket of ice-water hadn’t killed his chance) ripped through his body.  Sam clutched at Gabriel with urgency, riding out every last second of it, feeling the glide of his own cum between their bodies.

Gabriel gasped and returned those desperate grabs, sucking down on Sam’s collarbone, moaning out his name.  Sam writhed and felt that rush of cum filling his body, feeling strangely complete knowing in a way that he was claimed without anyone knowing - it was enough that he knew that they were something .

…Or so he hoped.  Oh Jesus, he knew Gabriel had friggin heard him.  He knew that this was a giant fat ‘something’ and he was totally screwed.  Sam was just waiting for the bomb to drop.  For the dismissal, for the questions, for... anything.  God, he was so tense but tried so damn hard to relax and not dwell on it.

When Gabriel pulled out of Sam and pillowed up on his chest, he dodged the subject first with a contented, “Hm, gotta love a hot bod and a good mattress…” followed by, “Not to mention getting to kiss you and watch you fall apart underneath me.”

Sam thought that was ironic, because he was still falling apart, in his own way.

But he had to stay strong and laugh with, “Yeah, I bet it was quite the show.  The bed was something I had no idea I missed so much.  I hope we can stay here for a little while, at least.  I’m all about making the most of it.”

“Right?  Think we gotta.  On house-arrest.  Two patients, and all,” Gabriel thought aloud, running his hand through the mess of cum on Sam’s stomach, right before he stated, “You know what I’m gonna say.  Right?”

Sam’s resounding silence was a pretty damn good indicator.

“What’s going through your head, kiddo?”

Sam paused, biding his time, before he openly admitted, “I’m worried that I fucked everything up.  That if I did, hopefully we can...forget it happened.”

“Heh.”  Gabriel rolled over until he was hovering over Sam, pinning him down, with a brow raised.  “You really think I’m forgetting that little confession anytime soon?”  His face was strangely neutral when he asked, “Did you mean it?  Or was it something in the moment, in a burst of wild , sexually-charged adrenaline?  Don’t bullshit a bullshitter.  I’ll know if you are.”

“G-Gabe…” Sam couldn’t look him in the eyes.  “I’m scared, okay?  I don’t want to answer.  B-because…I don’t want to fuck things up.  I am so fucking happy with you.  Happier than I’ve been with anyone.  Happier than I’ve been in my life.  And if I ruined it, ruined us ?  I-I couldn’t forgive myself.”

Gabriel squinted, because that hadn’t really given him an answer.  “C’mon.  Just tell me the truth.”

Fine.  If he wasn’t going to respect his choice to drop it, if he didn’t care about potentially ruining them, Sam had no other fucking choice.  God fucking dammit.

“I meant it!” Sam finally snapped.  “And I’m worried I’m gonna scare you off!  Did I?  You’re probably gonna head for the hills, and I’m sorry, but I do and I-”

Gabriel reached up and slapped a hand over Sam’s mouth to quite literally shut him up.  “How about you stop assuming and let me do my own thinking, yeah?”

Sam nodded very, very slowly.  When Gabriel released his hand, he had to ask, “And what are you thinking?” with nerves evident, practically shaking, his tone as though he was about to fall into an anxiety attack because... this was really happening.

There was nothing Sam could do to stop it any longer... 

“I’m thinking that, yeah, any other time with any other person I may have blew town right about now,” he said with a small smile, his hand slowly caressing the side of Sam’s face.  “But with you?  Those words comin’ from your mouth - it didn’t scare me like it should’ve .  Like it normally woulda.  Sam, I never thought I’d be saying this, never thought I’d experience it in my cold-hearted bastard, don’t-fall-for-anyone, love-is-weakness life.  But you?  You’ve broken me down, kiddo, and I feel the same.”

His eyes widened as Gabriel didn’t merely say he was all right with it, but that he felt the same, something Sam hadn’t even imagined being blessed with in his freakin’ dreams, because he thought he knew Gabriel and love… it just wasn’t on the list - and he’d accepted that.  

Right now, dammit, Sam’s heart was practically overflowing.  Just when he’d been coming down from the intense sex, his body was alive again - blood pumping faster, heart beating out of his chest and breath racing.

“Really?”  It was all Sam could think to ask.  To be honest, he was in shock.  Maybe he needed a doctor of his own because his heart was beating out of time.  He thought the best case scenario for his fuck-up was Gabriel letting it slide, not…this.

“Yeah,” he admitted with a nod.  “I love you too, Sammy.”

Sam all but lunged upward, wrapping Gabriel in his arms and pulling him back down to his chest, kissing him hard.  He couldn’t stay away after that, no, not for a freakin’ nanosecond.  Gabriel made a noise of surprise, but happily returned the eager kisses until they both needed air once again.

With a chuckle, he pressed his forehead against Sam’s and said, “See, you didn’t need to go into panic mode.  Give me a little more credit next time, will you?"

The smile on his face was making his words sound ridiculous as he returned, “I just…never expected it.  Thought it was too good to be true.  And it was something I realized in the moment, kinda took me off guard as much as it did you, probably.  So there wasn’t time to think, it happened and...then it was out there.  And I felt it, I knew it, but I didn’t know what you’d think.  It wasn’t, like, a grand romantic gesture to tell you or anything.  Should’ve been something special, I guess.”

“I ain’t mad.”  Gabriel kissed Sam’s forehead, his voice fond when he mused, “You just had to go and worm your way in, didn’t you?”

“See… that was the thing…” he chuckled sighed out the nerves now because everything was...surprisingly alright, “I didn’t think that I’d had enough time to worm my way in yet.  We’re still so new, I thought it was too soon, and that’s why I was worried you might think I was crazy.”

“Hey,” Gabriel pulled far enough away to look into Sam’s eyes, “Remember what I told you?  When we were out in that dead woods?  That, yeah, I wanted that ass since I saw you but I‘ve wanted more for years?  I‘d say your worming started around then.  Way sooner than you’ve given yourself credit for.”

Sam’s smile turned brilliant.   “I think…that may have been when I realized it, actually.  Just didn’t say it.”  He shook his head and laughed, “Ironic, that everything’s falling apart around us but we’ve fallen together, you know?”

“I’ll take it.  That’s damn poetic, Samsquatch.  You can take up a new hobby!”  He flopped down on his side, bouncing a little with the bed and suggested, “Wanna take advantage of this lovely locale and get some shut-eye?”

With a hint of hesitation and worry, Sam asked, “What if they need me?  What if Jo or the girl-”

“Let’s just put some clothes on so we don’t traumatize anyone, I guess,” Gabriel suggested with a shrug.  “Then they can just wake you up.  Damn, why do you have to be such a hot commodity?!”

Just for a second, Sam took in the ramifications and voiced what he thought he was understanding.  “Wait…does this mean you’re all right with-”

“People knowing?” Gabriel wiggled his eyebrows.  “I think I’m past that.  I don’t care if the world knows anymore, ‘cause this?”  He grabbed Sam’s hand and intertwined their fingers, “This is real.  I’m absolutely positive now.  You know, the ‘love you’ part kinda makes a difference, I think.”

“Yeah?”  Just when Sam didn’t think he could become any happier, he turned downright giddy.  “All right.  Let’s clean up and little and pull on some clothes.”  After a brief pause he realized, “We’ve…never been able to fall asleep together.  This is kind of awesome.”

That was something Gabriel hadn’t taken into account, either.  It was something he’d always envied about Castiel and Dean, as well as Jo and Meg.  Coming out as a couple did, indeed, change things for the better and had so many benefits.  Sam’s joy was contagious and he was feeling it from his head to the tips of his toes like a little freakin’ girl.

“I call big spoon,” Gabriel quipped with a Cheshire-like grin.  “From here on out.”

Sam tried to look unimpressed, but his stupid smile wouldn’t be smothered and chuckled, “Fine.  Fine!  I may fight you for it later, but for now I’ll allow it.”

“Damn right, you will!” Gabriel announced and tackled his boyfriend to the bed.

------------------------

Dean had actually found some magazines and books within the bedroom they’d placed their mystery patient in when he took over his brother’s night time vigil.  He was thumbing through one of his favorites - a text by Vonnegut he never thought he’d lay eyes on again - when the woman stirred.

He jerked to attention and, even though he was caught off guard, it was nothing compared to her reaction.

She jolted to an upright position, almost yanking the makeshift IV out of her arm as she scanned the room with wild eyes and the beginning of a scream on her lips.

Dean rushed to her side and whispered, trying to comfort her the best way he could, “Hey, hey, hey, it’s okay.  You’re okay.  When we found you locked down there you were pretty beat up and it looked like you were left for dead.  Just relax.  We’ve got a nurse and EMT with our group who stitched up your wounds and we’re getting some fluids into you.”  He gestured to the IV, hoping that physical proof would alleviate some of her obvious terror.

She was still scared, still on edge, when he offered, “My name is Dean.  Once upon a time, I used to work for the FBI.  What’s your name?”

With hesitancy, she shrunk away and returned, “Anna…my name is Anna…”  Slowly, she asked, “You…have a group.  How many?”

“With you, that makes twelve.  If you wanna join us.”  His smile was sincere, and he prayed she read it as such.  “I mean, so long as you’re not a psycho, or anything.”

Dean’s joke fell flat when she narrowed her gaze into a glare.

“Uh…sorry.”  He awkwardly scratched the back of his head, and changed the subject.  “You’re gonna need some recovery time.  One of our girls is actually healing too, got a helluva bump on the head from the last ‘quake.  Do you…wanna tell me your story, Anna?  I’m all ears.  You’re obviously a fighter.  Damn good one, at that,” he wore a smile in approval, still trying desperately to win her over.

Dean was usually so good at this!  He continued, “Ya fended off whatever the hell happened down there.  Then because of some dickwad, you were left for dead.  But you still hung in there.  God knows you got me curious.”

Anna bit her lip and the silence dragged on.  She was obviously debating whether or not to trust the strange new-comer or not.  Dean didn’t blame her, especially given the circumstances.  But he was stubborn and wasn’t going to give up.  He was determined to make some headway, to be an ambassador of sorts for their group since they’d kind of appointed him into some leader role anyway.

“Or if it’s a rough subject, do you want to talk about before?” he offered hopefully.  “Like I said, I was a Fed.  What’s your story?  Your background?  Did you live in this house - know what was about to go down?  Because this baby, right here, was some awesome protection against all the Events.  Gotta say, we’ve never seen anything hold up as well as this house,” he told her with a grin.  “And we’ve been just about everywhere.  So I’m speakin’ from experience.”

The redhead seemed to relax a bit, the tension in her shouldered eased as she took in his appearance and analyzed him closer.  This told Dean that she could read people, not that she was a scared little mouse.  She was scrutinizing him and his every move and something flipped the switch.

So much so that she leaned back against the headboard and pulled the covers up, tight to her chest.

Anna examined the IV and followed the tubing to the crude bag hanging over a chair before she turned back to meet Dean’s gaze.  “I was a scientist.”

“Really?”  That information intrigued him, because that…was something they didn’t have.  And depending on what kind, could really, really aide them and the group.  “What field?”

“Oh, the field,” she laughed without humor.  “I was part of the EPA.  Well, even though we were defunded by the government, and not an “actual organization” anymore, we still did our work through private donations and grants.  Lobbied for decades and decades, no matter if the House or Senate swung left or right, to get our funding back but they had bigger fish to fry.  Until it was too late.”

“Holy shit,” Dean’s eyes doubled in size.  “You were the real deal, huh?  You knew what was coming.  I had…a little foresight sight because of our asshole government.  But you, you guys could see it falling apart since forever!”

“We could,” Anna confirmed and heaved a sigh.  “This was our, well, our safe house, I guess.  Hopefully, no matter what we predicted, we’d be able to keep meeting, keep an eye on the climate, the conditions, take data and compile research until we couldn’t anymore.  Until, what we predicted, would be humanity’s extinction.  Yet, we planned on living out our own days in peace.”

“Explains the self-sustaining home.”  Dean was in awe, but it made perfect sense and now confirmed that she was a resident, not a looter.

“Yeah.”  Then, with a hint of mischief in her grin she added, “You know, instead of wasting fuel for your gas lamps you could simply, I don’t know, turn the lights on?”

“Shut up!” he gasped and hopped up from where he’d been seated, excitedly wandering over to the switch on the wall.

When he flipped it, the entire room was illuminated from bulbs, real freakin’ bulbs, and Dean couldn’t remember the last time he’d experienced electricity!  It was amazing, a blast from the past, and he wondered what else worked around here…but just before he could pick Anna’s brain, there was a light knock at the door.

“Hell yeah!  We were wondering about the bells and whistles on the roof,” it was Ruby’s voice, full of amazement, then pitched over to Anna.  “I heard voices, wanted to see if Sleeping Beauty was up.”

Ruby walked into the room and over to Dean’s side like she owned the place and Anna didn’t bristle, which was a testament to the fact that she seemed to trust Dean.  In fact, it was her who began the introductions.

“Hi, I’m Anna.  This used to be a Headquarters of sorts.  I can show you guys many more bells and whistles once I’m back from the dead.  Thank you,” it was the first time she said the words, and she meant them.  “Anyone else would’ve left me for dead.  Hell, I would have.  But you…took the time, made the effort.  You didn’t even know if I was dangerous or not.  Just…I appreciate it.  I can be an asset, I’ll prove my worth.”

“You don’t have to do all that,” Dean waved her off.  “Just let us crash here for a little bit.  While you and Jo get back on your feet.  Oh, that’s Ruby, by the way.”

“Kudos on that intro.”  The woman rolled her eyes, but her curiosity quickly drove her to move past the slight.  “So an HQ, huh?  We haven’t been able to explore much.  Between the sunset and the tinted windows.  Any spoilers, now that we know the lights work?”

With her hands folded, Anna shrugged, “Many rooms.  Plans, maps, some tech.  Not sure how much of it will work, though.  Before the attack, a lot of it was active and will need to be recharged, but the sun these days it’s…well, it’s a very delicate process.  Too little and the battery doesn’t get enough charge.  Too much and it explodes, rendering it useless.  I’d be the only one to gauge it, and I’d need the meter, it-”

“So the toys wait ‘til you’re healed,” Ruby summarized.  “That’s cool.  You and Charlie are gonna love each other.”  Even though it was sneered, it still rang true.

“Charlie?”  Anna inquired, “I know Dean said your group was large, is he-”

“She,” Ruby quickly corrected, “used to be a mechanic.  But she’s a jack of all trades.”  While she rounded the corner, Dean eyeing her uneasily, she pried, “So I gotta know, this attack…what happened?  Any real “Headquarters” should have gates?  Couldn’t you go on lock-down mode?  Something?”

Dean quickly smacked his friend in the arm, snipping, “Why are you liked this?!” and promised Anna, “You don’t owe her anything, you don’t have to explain-”

“No,” Anna assured him with a strangely soft smile, “It’s okay.  I’d be curious too, actually.”

She pursed her lips before trying to adjust herself into a more comfortable position and winced.  Before anyone could rush over, (they looked ready to freaking launch - she thought them an odd pair) she assured them, “I’m fine,” and fell back into the bed.  With a groan, she directed her first statement at Ruby, “We weren’t the type of Headquarters that needed gates.  No one was clamoring to get in, we were the outsiders, the rejects, it wasn’t until people needed shelter that this place was a hot item.”

Anna laughed as she recalled, “Our cameras were only set up to view the terrain.  Our perimeter, to measure the strength of the quakes and the distance of the shifts.  That was the only reason we caught sight of the attackers before they got to the building.  Samandriel was tracking a wind storm and happened to catch a glance of them approach, shouted out through the house…that’s why we took cover in the bomb shelter.”

“But not fast enough,” Ruby recognized with sympathy.

“No, we would have,” she corrected and clenched her fists against the sheets, “Except Uriel wanted to go up against them.  He said that the information we’d collected was too important.  That they were looters, they’d tear thought our house, wreck our home and they’d never leave because why would they?  Where else had working electricity and hydraulics?  All our data would be lost, and I told him there was no one to even read it!  It was pointless!”

Her voice turned sharp when she growled out, “If we all waited it out downstairs, where we had rations of food and water, they’d run out upstairs and leave!  It didn’t matter if they ransacked the place, it’d be better to be alive!  Except, by the time I reasoned with everyone, they were already inside.”

Both Ruby and Dean were hanging on her every word, and Anna’s voice shook with anger as she said:

“It was Uriel and I shouting, the team was down in the basement like we all should have been and Uriel…he baited them.  He turned on us .”  Anna’s gaze dropped down as her frail body trembled with rage, “He told them that “we surrendered,” seeing they had weapons, blades, knives, machetes, told them all our food was down in the bomb shelter and to take it and leave.  It wasn’t.  But one of them, they grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me down with him, telling me to show him where it was.”

“Uriel locked the door behind us, leaving each and every one down there for dead.”  Anna finally looked up.  “Was there a black Ford truck in front of the place?”

Dean had been completely stunned into silence, but Ruby wasn’t.

She even went as far as to sit down on the best next to Anna and take her hand.  Ruby answered, “No, sweetheart, there wasn’t.  That’s why we didn’t know if this place was vacant or not when we did the sweep of the place.”

Anna looked off blankly and said, “I expected as much.  He took our research and left.”

“What a piece of shit,” Dean spat out with venom.  “I hope he broke down and the sun baked him alive.  That mother fucker-”

“As you can imagine, what happened after was a bloodbath,” the woman turned her focus to Ruby, who was comforting rather than overly sympathetic, which she appreciated.  “Them versus us.  A group of scientists versus an armed group of killers.  Only advantage was, we knew the layout of the basement - it was large, we could get the jump on them.  But in the end…it was only me who made it out.  I guess, since there was one of us left standing, you could say our team won - but was it really a win?”  

Her voice was choked when she said, “Everyone’s gone but me.  That’s because I stole a fuckin’ switchblade off a corpse and stabbed one of them in the back while they were slitting my friend’s throat.  He thought he was finishing off the last of us.  He was wrong.  He was the last of them.”

“Hey, hey, hey,” Ruby squeezed her hand and demanded her attention, “We do what we’ve gotta to survive, right?  You did good.”

“But did I?” she asked in confusion, finally meeting the woman’s eyes.  “That door locked.  Why did I choose starvation over a swift death?  It doesn’t make sense.  I didn’t know you’d show up.  If it was anyone else, it would have been the same story, and another blade to run from.  I just-”

“You’re thinking too much, Anna.”  Dean had to reassure her, because this was the kind of existential crisis they’d all faced at the end of the world.  Hers was just happening harder and faster because of what she’d been through.  “You were damn near close to death.  And you fought, you fought fuckin’ hard to stay alive.  Now, I like to think karma has its ways of showin’ up, and this is one of them.  Fuck God, you’re a good person doing good work trying to help the world with the EPA, right?  Now.  Let’s get you healthy again and see if we can’t figure out a way to survive this mess.”

Through all this, Anna hadn’t shed a single tear.  She nodded firmly and agreed with him, trembling slightly from the memory.  “All right.  We can do that.”

Ruby hadn’t heard her backstory, but she’d figured out the general picture through words like ’scientist’ and this being their ’HQ’ as well as the key points Dean made during his impassioned pep talk.  What she also knew is this woman would be a damn good addition to the team.  From what Anna described, this place was like a small oasis and it begged a damn good questioned:

“So, uh, not to be insensitive, but do your showers work?”

Anna busted into an honest-to-God laugh and squeezed Ruby’s hand back.  “Not just that, but upstairs?  There’s a Jacuzzi.  All thanks to our own custom-build water filtration system.”  With a conspiratorial wink, she glanced between Dean and Ruby and whispered dramatically, “But only you two can know, because you’re already my favorites.”

“Oh, God!”  Ruby moaned aloud and clutched her chest, “I just had an orgasm thinking about it!”  

“Gross, Ruby!” Dean complained loudly, but then the thought of actually washing in clean water… “Okay, I might’ve jizzed in my pants too…”

“Anna’s a secret Sex Goddess,” Ruby announced, then poked her (gently) in the shoulder, “Now, you use your powers for good and not evil, all right?  You’re dangerous!”

With a challenging brow raised, Anna countered, “And when, exactly, can sex be used for evil?”

“Hm, I’ll have to get back to you on that one…” the other woman appeared thoughtful before she grinned something devilish and hopped up. “I’m gonna “explore” a little.  If you know what I mean…  Do you want to sleep more, or do you want to meet Charlie?  Because we know you two are going to get along, and if there’s anyone on your brainy level, it’s going to be her.”

Anna cast a long look over to Dean and hummed in thought, “I’m getting a bit tired…but if you could tell Charlie my story so I don’t have to relive it?  That would be fantastic.  After you fill her in, I’d love to meet her, if it’s not too much trouble…”

“That’s totally understandable,” he readily agreed.  “Thanks for telling and trusting us.  What happened to you was heavy, Anna.  You’re a tough chick and you’re a survivor.  I’m proud of you.”

Both noticed how her cheeks flushed with a hint of pink - the first color on her ghostly white face since they’d found her.  While Ruby found it hilarious Dean thought it was cute but hoped to God the woman wasn’t attracted to him.  It wasn’t like he could throw out in conversation, “I love dick, especially this guy over here’s dick.  Actually we’re in a relationship,” and he didn’t want to offend her if that wasn’t what it was about, either.

Dean…would just have to be careful.

“I’ll go find Charlie.  Just rest up ‘til I introduce you guys.”

“Sounds good,” Anna responded and leaned back in bed.  “It was nice to meet both of you.”

As the pair smiled and exited the room, shutting the door to give her privacy, Ruby full-out punched him in the shoulder.

“She is totally wanting the D from you!” she sniggered as they walked down the hall.

“Shut the fuck up!” Dean snapped back, “No, she doesn’t!  Cut her some slack, she was on Death’s door, she-”

“Right,” Ruby agreed quickly, “Why else would anyone in their right mind be attracted to you?”

“Oh, fuck right off!”

“Whatever, I’m gonna go find something starting with a ‘j’ and ending with a ‘acuzzi.’  See ya later, Winchester.  Don’t get in trouble with Cas, I know how possessive he can be!”

Dean scoffed and swatted at her as he went to look for Charlie because Ruby was not joking.  If there was anyone who’d stake claim on Dean like it was their day job?  If there was anyone who would go out of their way to prove a point, to prove that Dean was off-limits?

It was Cas.

…Maybe Dean needed to nip this Anna thing in the bud, now that he thought about it…

--------------------------

It was like a “No Boy’s Allowed” was posted on Anna’s door the moment she and Charlie met, because the two clicked instantly and, while the rest of the team weren’t a bunch of barbarians, they didn’t have the refined art of conversation the redheads did.  And it was all about tech stuff.  On the bright side, everyone else would’ve fallen asleep anyway.

Although, when Charlie was getting Anna a bottle of water they had, she smacked Dean in the gut and confirmed Ruby’s initial thoughts of, “Dude.  She’s totes in love with you.”

“What the hell?!” he demanded, then leaned in and hissed the whisper, “You need to casually mention that my boyfriend?  Is, like, a former hit man, or something.  He’s dangerous.  I like Anna, I like her a helluva lot!  She’s got spunk and attitude, especially for being on her way to the Pearly Gates, and I want her to live long enough to become part of the team.  This keeps up?  Cas is gonna have an ‘accident .’”

She raised her hands in front of her and confirmed, “Don’t I know it.  Just warning you, bro.  So don’t be your dashing, Disney Prince self.  Just be…IDK, someone else?”

“Oh, that’s really helpful,” he rolled his eyes.  “So, any word about what you need?  Or how the fuck we’re in Pennsylvania?”

Charlie looked awkward and shrugged, “The plates, Dean.  Can’t really say much more.  They’re, like, on steroids.  I told Anna, just like I told our Hannah that I need a global GPS.  I need to see what’s going on abroad.  What’s happening to the oceans, the other continents.  Sure, ours is okay for travel, but I need large scale to make predictions to…”

She chewed on her lip before admitting, “To find a safe place.  That’s what we need.  Safety.  I don’t want to stay on the run, Dean, I’m tired.  I want to figure out the grand scheme of this, there has to be a reason, you know?” 

Dean didn’t look convinced.  “It’s just the end of world.  Global warning, deterioration of the ozone, no one converting to clean energy because that’s not where the money was.  We’re fucked, we’re-”

“I don’t believe that.”  Anna’s voice was strong as she leaned in the doorway, wincing in pain, her brow wrenched up in the throbbing sensation.  “I have theories, too.  Mother nature has purged danger from her multiple times.  In order to start fresh.  I-I think this is another case of it.  We just need to figure out how to ride it out and survive it until she’s flushed out the shit.”

“Anna!” Dean rushed to her side automatically, “Yer literally stitched together, head to toe.  Why are you up?!”

She laughed and allowed the man to carry her to bed.  “Heard you giving my girl crap.  Needed to defend her."

“But you didn’t have to put yourself through that…” he was overwhelmed with nothing but concern, even though he knew he was supposed to be pulling away - Anna was already special, he could see her falling into the team flawlessly.  Just…as a friend, obviously.  Hopefully she’d get that hint soon.  “I solemnly swear not to give Char shit, okay?   If you stay in bed!”

“Fine!”  She heavily rolled her eyes and took the water bottle Charlie had gone to get her.

Now that Dean was a part of the discussion, he couldn’t help but ask, “What’s the next move?  We’ve got all the brains behind this operation in one room.  I’m sure sparks are just flyin’ between you gingers!”

“Satellite GPS.  Anna actually fucking has one!”  Charlie beamed with excitement, “But… it’s been broken for a while, so I’ll have to see if I can get it working again.  But it’s gonna give us the whole scope.  Not limit us to our shitty, narrow view.  If not?  We’re gonna have to head toward DC.  Which isn’t far, now that we’re in PA.  Hell, it might be a light jog, with the way things are going,” Charlie joked with a snort.

“Right.”  Dean crossed his arms and asked Anna, “Anyone in your group before worked with broken tech?”

She shook her head and admitted, “When something wasn’t working, we’d call the manufacturer and have them walk us through it.  Or send it in to get a replacement.  We focused on the experiments, the phenomenon surrounding us, how we could face it and what was happening, not the equipment, as much.”

“Then you’ve got an all-star in Charlie.  She’s a fuckin’ beast when it comes to tinkering and fixing everything!” Dean boasted like a proud father.  “No doubt she’ll get this up and running in no time.”

“So as to how we find it…” she said meekly, “It was, uh, downstairs.  With the dead bodies.  On someone.  I don’t know, it’s gonna be gross.”

“Well, we’ll just have to go for gross anyway.  I mean, we’ve got showers, so that’s cool.”  He sighed and offered, “You wanna tell me what it looks like?  I’ll head down there and check it out.”

“Oh my God!” Ruby gasped as she whipped around the corner, only wearing a towel with wide eyes, looking for her bestie Charlie.  “You’re never gonna believe what I just heard!”

She blinked owlishly and asked, “Uh, what?  That someone stole your gear?”

“No!  So I was using the Jacuzzi upstairs, right?”

Anna instantly interrupted, because she and Dean had wished her an enjoyable bath, and asked, “Was it not working, or up to your standards?”

“Oh, don’t worry, Red, it was great!” she assured her, then leered at Dean as she announced, “Until I heard noises coming from the master bedroom…”

“Wait…”

Charlie was trying to put the pieces together, they all were, because Meg was watching over Jo who was fuckin’ concussed and out for the count.  Dean was right here, who the hell knew where Cas was (probably in bed at this hour), Ruby, Charlie, Anna were also present.  Mary and Bobby were widowed and widowers so that could only mean…

“Shut the flip up!” Charlie’s jaw dropped and she jerked her attention around to Dean, “Did you know your brother was boning Gabriel?!”

“Oh, honey,” Ruby patronizingly drawled out, "Gabriel was pounding little Sammy within an inch of his life.  Trust me, you don’t even want to know what I heard in the throes of passion coming from that room, but - kinky.  Didn’t know Sam had it in him, you know, Gabriel’s dick, and all.”  She snorted and shook her head.  “At least now I know why my advances never worked.  Kid’s gay for that asshole.”

Everyone at once whipped their attention to see Dean.  Whether he knew, if it was news to him, what he thought, anything.  But he looked like he’d saw a ghost.  He was sputtering out, trying to come up with some response.  To the point where Charlie jumped over and grabbed both his shoulders, demanding his attention.

“Dean Winchester.  The proper answer to this situation is: ‘I’m happy my brother has found someone.  I am happy Sam is happy, no matter what.’”  She wouldn’t break their eye contact, even though his green eyes were flickering all over and he looked baffled.  “Dean ?  Ya get all that?”

“Hey, if it makes ya feel better, I def heard an ‘I love you,’” Ruby whistled, and snapped her fingers, since it looked as though it would take a village to get the man out of his goddamn daze.

That…was the first thing that seemed to work - fucking finally!  Because, to be honest, Charlie was a little worried for a moment.

Dean exhaled sharply and asked Ruby, “Really?  So…it’s serious?  Not just fucking around?”

“Oh…it’s serious.  Now, I’m gonna get dressed.  I know those two are probably trying to keep it on the DL, but what happens, happens.  So don’t be a dick?”

“I won’t,” Dean promised, because if his little brother was happy?  That’s all that mattered.

Even though he was shocked down to his core.

So he switched it up to something he could deal with.  Digging through dead bodies down in the panic room.  Since, apparently, that was easier than downloading this new information about his brother's love affair: wading through decaying corpses.

“What’s this GPS look like?  I’ll head back down into the Murder Basement now,” Dean announced.  “Quicker Char gets it fixed the better.”

With a chuckle, Anna repeated ruefully, “Murder Basement.  Okay, so here’s what you’ve gotta keep an eye out for-”

-------------------------------

Dean should have dragged Cas down with him into said Murder Basement, but he wanted the rest of the group to actually kick back and chill out now that they had a decent place to do so.  And apparently...dammit.  

Since his little brother had been screwing-

God!  He couldn’t even think about that!  How long had Sam been keeping that secret?!  Gabriel and Cas had been with them for years!  Had it been that long or something more recent?!  Whatever.  Dean really, really didn’t want to know.

Ruby probably just wanted to announce it to the world because she wanted to get into Sam’s pants so badly and being shunned made her inner rage light up.  So tattling on them, telling a secret they probably wished to keep to themselves, was her own form of revenge.  Which was kinda decently shitty, now that Dean thought about it…

He may just tell Charlie and Anna to keep it to themselves.  Hopefully, the chick got her jollies out from it and spilling her guts about the relationship to the three of them and that was it.  Sam and Gabriel didn’t deserve having their love life splashed all over the “front page” of the paper…that they didn’t have any more, but whatever, they got the point…

Dean sighed at his own musings.  He flicked the switch to the basement light.  Nothing happened.  Unfortunately, the bulb in the basement had fizzled out.  And while the solar panels were tricky, the promise of full-fledged electricity was exciting.  Even though all Dean had right now was his flash light.

He was beaming it around, looking for this device left and right.  Anna said it would be larger than a portable GPS.  It should still be on one of the shelving units, but in the fight everything got knocked over.  Dean stepped over the corpse's, nose scrunched at the smell, and headed for the signs of struggle.

Just when his flashlight caught sight of what looked to be exactly what Anna had described, he let out a victorious, “Ah-hah!” but then…he saw something else

Something that did not spell out anything good.

Fuck.

Anna must have been so cut up, delirious, dehydrated and malnourished that she never saw it.  She was in terrible condition, obviously, she wasn’t looking for it.  

Shit, he needed to get the tech to Charlie and word to the others.

Dean glanced at the device and internally cheered that one thing was going right - that the screen was intact because he had half a mind to expect it shattered.  That was the only good think about his visit downstairs.

Now…he had some horrible news to deliver.  And it was about to change everything.

Chapter Text

Okay, so maybe after he dropped the satellite GPS off with Charlie, he avoided the subject with the excuse of heading to bed.  After all, it was getting late.  The girls could stay up playing with the new tech and he and Cas could crash.  Even though he didn’t sleep well with this new shit on his mind.

Then, Dean put it off even further.

He decided that, since he wasn’t with the original scouting team, he should “get familiar” with the place.  Murder Basement aside, he wanted to scope out the top floor where Charlie said the machinery and tools made her heart beat faster and gave her butterflies.

Dean wanted to check in on Jo, he wanted to see how his mom was doing (still sleeping soundly, thank God - she earned it), see all the amenities the house part had to offer….but more than anything he wanted his boyfriend.  He hadn’t been there when Dean had awoke - Cas always the early riser.

Dean was doing a damn good job prolonging the inevitable.

He found Cas in the kitchen sitting on a high-top stool with a magazine spread out across the breakfast nook.  There was light shining in here but just enough tint to protect against the heavy and dangerous UV rays.  After all, those who’d built and customized it had been damn prepared.  They’d gotten everything right down to the details and the sun’s intensity.

“Hey,” Dean cleared his throat as he approached, “What’s up.”

The man glanced over and reached out his hand.  Once Dean took it, Castiel pulled him in and wrapped his arm tightly around Dean’s waist.  He let his head naturally fall onto his shoulder as he flipped the page, like this domesticity was real.  And, fuck, if Dean wished they could pretend it was.

Just stay here, like a happy couple.  Hidden away from the outside world.  Acting all cute and grossly adorable, pretend mother nature wasn’t giving them the middle finger.

“You have something on your mind,” Cas stated with preamble, “And you need advice.  What is it, Dean?” and didn’t bother moving.

Even though Dean locked up.

Okay, this was serious and he needed to talk with his boyfriend face to face.  So he kissed the crown of his head, Cas knew that meant to sit up and he released his hold.  Dean took a seat at one of the three chairs up against the breakfast nook and sighed heavily before he could gather his thoughts.

“When you were in the bomb shelter…did you notice anything?”  Dean knew he had Cas’ full attention.

The man scoffed and replied, “Besides a slew of bodies and then girl on the brink of death, reaching out to be saved?  No.  There wasn’t much time to survey the area.”  He took Dean’s uneasy, fidgeting hand, keeping his casual tone that usually made Dean keep his cool when he asked, “Why did you go back down?  Were you scavenging?  What did you find?  You’re obviously spooked, so something happened.”

He gulped and nodded, “All’a the above.  Anna woke up last night when I was keeping watch.  I didn’t wanna wake you, figure I’d fill you in this morning.  But she lived here.  She’s basically with the EPA who were cut from funding but continued research.  This was their safe house when the world went to shit.  Got hit by outsiders.  Charlie was mentioning how she wanted to see what was going on outside our area, because we’re in fuckin’ Pennsylvania, dude!  After that driving, it should be impossible.  We need to see so much more, outside our little small-scale GPS.”  He went onto explain, “Anna’s team?  They’ve got a Global GPS.  And the best part, is it’s tuned up with satellites, so the Earth’s self-destruct mode shouldn’t really affect it.  Gravity is the one thing that hasn’t changed, at least.  Or our orbit.”

Yet,” Castiel groaned wryly, “But please, continue.  Tell me what you’re concerned about."

“The last quake.  I don’t know where the epicenter was, but it was bigger than we thought…” he squeezed Cas’ hand as he recollected, “The crash that created the mountain range.  The tectonic plate we rode that put us back a whole fuckin’ state.  Yellowstone's super volcano erupting, the…I don’t know, smashing together of the states?  Like, we were thinking it’d take a full day to get to Ohio, and we got to Pennsylvania in a handful of hours!  I don’t know what to think-”

“Dean,” Cas coaxed, pulling him in and kissing him softly on the lips, “What did you see in the basement?”

He took a deep breath, gathering his courage and looked into his boyfriend’s eyes that were bright with love and encouragement.  “I saw a crack.  It had to have been from the earthquake, but you know how those “safe houses” are build, it shouldn’t be possible.  But maybe the epicenter was around here?  And Anna was too fucked up to notice.”

“Cas, it was the length of the basement...and when I pitched my flashlight down to check out if it was just superficial?  Darkness.  I picked a can off the shelf and set it on the ground, just to test out my theory.  It rolled down, towards the tear.  But that’s not the worse part.  When we first landed here, we did a sweep, nothing was out of the ordinary, everything looked fine-”

“If we located a potential threat, such as this, we probably would have pulled over somewhere else to treat Joanna,” Cas confirmed, “You’re right, nothing was wrong or amiss on the outside.”

“Which brings me to why I’m a little freaked out.”  He ran his free hand through his hair.  “This area?  It’s old coal country.  These mines, they’ve obviously been abandoned, like, forever, but-”

“Sink holes,” Castiel’s eyes lit up with the same kind of fear Dean felt in his heart.  “If it’s already cracked, one more earthquake?  One more Event?  We’d be done for.”

“We’ve gotta get out of here,” Dean urged and then asked, “You’re with me, right?  I-I know that everyone else thinks they’ve found this little vacation time-share thing, but they didn’t see what I saw.  The quakes are unpredictable now, I mean, I say we get all the information we can here.  Have Charlie raid the archives, steal all the tech, because we’re bringing Anna with us, even though she will need more time to heal.”

He was talking a mile a minute, explaining, “We’ll know if Jo’s out of the woods in a day or two.  But…I think our first priority is looting, ransacking everything that’s still within expiration dates.  Using all the knowledge those people packed in here, stuff Anna and Char can translate.  And then we get the fuck outta dodge.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Castiel nodded solemnly.  “I wish we had more time to heal the injured, but you’re correct.  The quakes are so unpredictable.  Where should we journey next?”

Dean groaned and huffed in utter frustration and so much more defeat, “Cas.  I can’t make all these choices.  I just found out last night I have to ruin the group’s life and their happiness about finding this place.  I hardly slept a wink, I can’t think straight!  Just - fuck.  Just gimme some time to come up with something!”

Right away, Cas realized his folly and jumped up to wrap his arms around his boyfriend.  “Dean.  I love you.  I’m sorry, I understand this is a tremendous weight on your shoulders.  I believe the new large-scale GPS will help chose our path for us.  That burden should not lie with you.”  He pressed a kiss (okay, maybe a few) along the column of Dean’s throat, trying to ease the brewing hostility.  “Would you like me to?”

Within his grasp, Dean pulled away with furrowed eyebrows and asked, “What?”

“To deliver the unfortunate news,” Cas said simply, raising Dean’s chin with his fingertips.  “To date, no one has gone against me or argued with me.  Well, except you, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to you and your idiotic bravado.  In addition, why on Earth would they believe I have any reason to lie about it?”

“You’d…really do that for me?”  The bafflement was real, but his pure, complete and utter love for this man was even more sincere.  Dean wrapped his arms low on Cas’ hips and laughed in disbelief, yet the true smile on his face was forming.  “What the hell did I do to deserve you?”

“Mm, I’m still figuring that one out myself.”

The slow smile turned into a wicked grin as Dean ordered, “Shut up and kiss me, my knight in shining armor.”

Castiel took that as a golden opportunity to haul Dean up and onto his lap, now straddling Cas on top of the bar stool as their lips met.  It was tender and sweet because he could see just how frantic and downright scared Dean was about the possibility of the sinkhole and having to move their friends, who shouldn’t be moved, back onto the road.  It was making the most out of an impossible situation, and all Cas wanted was to make the man he adored feel better.

Kiss away the anxiety, the pain - especially focusing on the fact that Dean carried the goddamn weight of the world on his shoulders almost every day.  It was a job well done, as Castiel’s roaming hands dove underneath his shirt.  While the pair licked into each other’s mouths languidly and tenderly, Cas made it his mission to massage out every knot he could find.

Castiel’s hands had always been strong.  It was with his…job description.  After all, if a gun was knocked from his hand during an assignment, he was trained in many forms of martial arts, and his fists were just as deadly.  But this, right here?  This was the best way he’d ever found to use that particular strength.  To calm his lover who was sighing happily into his mouth.

Cas pulled away, sucking a light mark into Dean’s skin as he continued working out the tension and whispered into his ear, making sure he knew he was cherished, “You mean everything to me, Dean Winchester.  Don’t you ever forget that.”

It was answered with a low moan, and the man tilting his chin enough to make eye contact with a smile.  “I don’t think I would have made it this far without you, Cas.  Not with my sanity intact, at least.  You’re the glue that holds me together.  You’re what keeps me fighting and, fuck, I love you for it,” he whispered it like a prayer and kissed him like he meant it.

Dean…well, he always meant it, those words, but this was special.  This was one of those rare, soul-baring moment that they knew wouldn’t go beyond an amazing make-out, even though they were both hard and ready in their jeans.  This was to prove the other was real.  That they were together and standing side by side in the wake of another impending calamity.

These were the warm moments that brought Dean back to Earth, because of Cas.  That preserved his sanity, and also kept Castiel from going off the deep end and becoming the murder machine that was lingering right under the surface of his own silent lake.  This was where they balanced each other out, this wasn’t just saying the words “I love you” this was showing it and keeping a promise to one another.  To keep going, together.

It was amazing even though it was prefacing the inevitable darkness.  But, once again, Castiel proved how much he cared about Dean with his offer to spread the news.  He didn’t want his boyfriend to struggle through each and every announcement when Cas could coldly tell everyone without worrying about sticky feelings.  Of course, he cared for the team but he had a talent for being clinical and straightforward.

Yes, this was the best scenarios for everyone involved.

Dean…simply had too big of a heart when it came to family, and he considered everyone in this building to be just that.  While Cas…didn’t have much in the way of said heart.  Another one of the multitude of reasons they fit together flawlessly.

When they stopped kissing, completely breathless, flushed with their lips swollen and eyes dilated, they had to take a moment to will down their underlying lust.  But in exchange for another round of sex, Dean just clung to his boyfriend, taking in deep breaths and holding him close.  Cas didn’t have a single problem doing the same.

Maybe existing in this little world was alright, for now.  And tonight they’d solve the other problem.  But once Dean hopped off Cas’ lap?  He’d be on a mission.  And Dean would probably be the one who the group came to with concerns.  He had half a mind to shut himself in what Cas and he claimed as their bedroom.

Scratch that half-a-mind bullshit.  Dean had a whole-mind to shut himself in that room.  If someone wanted to investigate for confirmation?  They sure as fuck could help themselves.  Just don’t fall down the wishing well.

---------------------------

Everyone was nervous.  Everyone, in their own time, had held their breath and (gripping the handrail for dear life) saw for themselves the split in the Earth that Castiel had explained to them.  Except the problem with that…was then it was real.  Oh so real.

Their predictions on when the next quake was happened to be pretty damn shoddy.  They couldn’t bank on another month, maybe a couple weeks.  Enough for Anna and Jo to get their feet under them.

They had lights on, which was another special treat when the switch actually did something when flipped.  Charlie was putting the finishing touches on the GPS, but as everyone gathered around the dining room table, the question the hung in the air was “What next?”

“Do we stay on flat land?  I don’t know if we want to risk going further East.  Hurricanes and shit.  Maybe a little north.  Or backtrack to Ohio…” Ruby suggested before she pointed out, “All the winds and sandstorms have probably kicked up the ash accumulation, so that’s-”

“Clouding the air, making it harder to breath,” Mary countered.  “This latitude is safe.  Decently out of reach from the volcanic ash, but I think we may need to head towards to the city, for supplies in the future.  Remember how low we’ve been?  Gotta have a next step.  Probably Pittsburgh.  The Appalachians are too close to any others.  Can’t risk avalanches.”

“If they’re still where we think they are.”  Hannah’s words were laced in frustration, being the first who caught a glimpse of the warped geography on their smaller GPS.  “I really hope that Charlie gets the tech working.  I believe our planning will surround that instead, rather than our spitballing.  Yes, flat land, of course - but where does it even exist now?”

Bobby added to the conversation, “We’ve got a friend and a resource in Anna.  Glad the girl didn’t kick the bucket before we got here.  Valuable information in that head of hers.  Sure she’ll have two cents to add about all this.”

“Hopefully,” Mary sighed and leaned heavily on the table.  “She’s been out of it for how long?  Locked away in the basement, betrayed, and out of the loop?”

Gabriel defended her instantly.  “Charlie hit it off with Anna right away.  Peas in a pod.  They’re brainy together, like, reached the next level, brainy.  Bobby’s right - she’s an asset.  Sure, she looks young but she’s smart as a whip, I can’t pretend to know what the Ginger Twins are talking about.”

As if on cue, Charlie whipped through the room, cradling the GPS like a newborn infant to her chest as she headed for the staircase.  She stomped up, taking the steps two at a time like a goddamn elephant, heading straight for Anna’s room.

The group blinked at her Olympic Sprint and slowly turned to look at one another.

“Sooo…” Dean said with a smirk, “How much ya wanna bet she fixed’r up?”

“I’d bet cash money on that,” Meg sneered.  “One step closer to a plan.  Damn, does that feel good!”

-----------------------

Charlie all but threw herself onto Anna’s bed, who was barely awake and demanded, “Help!  Show me how to work this baby?  I fixed it - the wiring and the physical probs from getting knocked around and stuff, but there isn’t exactly an instruction manual.”

Once she heard the words, she jolted up out of bed with wide eyes and excitement.  “You did?  You fixed it?!  Here, crawl in, let me show you!”

Following directions and handing it over, Charlie did just that.  She hovered over the screen, noticing that the thing was actually pass-code locked after you got past some secret menu thing.  Well.  That explained why she wasn’t going anywhere fast, or making any progress.

In fact, there were many, many steps in order to make a connection and sync up with a satellite.  The connection time was in the form of a countdown, but it was working!  They hadn’t received any ‘failure’ messages in red, which felt amazing.  Who knew what could have gone wrong?  Waiting, yeah, they could do that.

Over the last week, Anna and Charlie had gotten close, because while Charlie’s knowledge of science was a hobby and, more or less, from experience, this is what Anna did.  Day in and day out.  They’d have story time, Charlie soaking everything up like a sponge.  She loved it; she couldn’t read anymore due to the crushed libraries, so between listening to Anna and when she needed sleep, she helped herself and dove into their library.  The fact they had so many books?  She was elated!

“Any guesses for what’s in store?” Charlie asked conversationally as they waited, the long bar ticking from 34% to 35%.

Anna exhaled, her body rigid as she answered, “I…honestly have no idea.”  She glanced over to the other woman.  “I think that’s why I’m so anxious, you know?  It never mattered what was happening, they always had a hypothesis.  Always had an explanation.  Always had a prediction.  Now?  It’s only me and I have…nothing.”

“Hey,” Charlie’s voice was soft as she said, “You have us.  I mean, obviously, we’re not genius scientists like the rest of your team, but you’re not alone.  And it’s better because we roll with the punches.  Make due with what we’re given.  And whatever this shows?  We’ll come up with an answer.  We’ll come up with actions in response.  Maybe your team was the thinkers, but we’re the doers.”

“That…” Anna finally smiled, “Actually makes me feel better.”

The percents slowly stretched on, and once the ‘acquiring signal’ passed 100% Anna had to go through a few more password protected blocks.  After that, there was another menu - a long ass fucking menu -of options she could use this device for.  It actually intrigued Charlie, because while Anna had referred to this as a GPS?

This, right here, was NASA-grade equipment.  And…there was a damn good chance it was smuggled out, like one of the people from her team had worked as a bug on the inside.  Only one of the features had anything to do with showing a display of the Earth in its current form, the rest?

Charlie didn’t even speak the language!  Like, there could be launch numbers, freakin’ missile info, she hadn’t a clue!

Slowly, Charlie was too nosy not to, she inquired, “Stolen goods…huh?”

Anna flashed a wicked smile and corrected, “Souvenir.  You’re too damn smart, Char.”

“You’re too damn sneaky!”

“Hey, end of the world?  You make do,”  Anna offered with a shrug of her shoulders.

Now the map from the satellite was loading and they were on pins and needles.  They knew they’d probably have to adjust, to zoom in, to tweak the image - but seeing the view all at once may give them some kind of hint as to-

No.

They didn’t need to do anything.

“Holy fuck,” Anna breathlessly gasped once the screen appeared, even without the resolution perfectly downloaded yet.

It was still a bit pixelated, but what they saw?  It was horrifying.

Charlie’s hand slapped over her mouth, because she didn’t trust a damn word to come out of it, taking in every detail as, second by second the image became clearer and clearer.  It didn’t change what they saw.  It didn’t help a damn thing.  It-

They were dumbfounded and holding the device with shaking hands, minds working a mile a minute to figure out if they could get out of this alive.  There were theories, ideas in both women’s quick heads, fighting through the disbelief because this-

This wasn’t the time to have a meltdown!  They weren’t allowed to, they needed to carry the team and-

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking…” Anna finally whispered, unable to tear her eyes away from the image, “The way the other continents are moving, it’s undoubtedly happening everywhere

Charlie nodded, running both hands through her hair and tugging in frustration.  “It’s all headed to the beginning.  The Earth is starting over…”

Anna was the one to say the words:

“Earth is moving back to Pangaea.”

---------------------------------------

It was almost as though they were back in school - Anna and Charlie as the teachers while everyone else collected around a long table just waiting.  The top floor was where Anna’s previous team had debriefed all the other members about their findings, where they convened when they needed to discuss something.  This was comfortable and familiar to her.

This was also where the majority of their tech was, and they weren’t going to bother dismantling it from the walls or tearing the large-multi-screened Apple computers from the walls to shove into the vehicles.  With no internet connection or communication network, those things were useless these days, anyway.

It was ironic, because out of the millions that went into building this shelter?  This building where they had hoped to find a solution?  It was going to meet its end because of shitty-ass coal mines under foot.  Apparently, the contract workers just didn’t even bother researching the land before building their fortress - they ran with the words 'remote location' and now they were one quake away from being swallowed whole.  All their hard work, all the hours they slaved away, wasted.  

And it was all because of a single, lazy contractor who didn’t do his goddamn homework! 

It infuriated Anna because, with their predictions and the outside world, this building would have been the best place to wait it out.  But, no, not any longer.  She’d examined the damage herself, she knew it was happening and there was no going back. It was too dangerous to stay and that felt like a punch in the gut.

Everyone was gathered as Meg stayed close to Jo who was feeling better.  Last time Charlie had visited her, she was talking about headaches but nothing more, which was great news.  

Anna was healing too.  She was starving and inhaling solid food.  While that was usually in short supply and the others rationed, the food she smashed down on was found inside the building (which was hers to begin with) and they needed her strong enough to move on her own (since hitting the road needed to happen and soon) so they let Anna eat her fill.

That was the reason she could stand, if not a bit wobbly, at the front of the table along with Charlie.  They’d dug out some cords and it looked as though they were a second away from rigging up the new tech to a...projector?

Yeah, this definitely felt like a classroom, which made some sit at attention and others squirm based on past experiences.

It was Anna who spoke first, looking out onto the crowd.  “We figured out what’s happening-” instantly, the mumbling, whispering and gasps interrupted her, and she had to speak above them to press, “And it’s a crap shoot to see if we’re going to make it out alive!”

That’s when the room fell silent.

Anna massaged her temples and explained, “The moment we saw what the rest of the world looked like was the moment we figured it out,” she gestured to Charlie to project the image out on the screen, “the continents, all of them - they’re shifting.  Moving across the oceans.  It’s not merely the land masses.  Anyone know what this means?”  She glanced over to Charlie after she examined the projection and frowned, “Doesn’t it look like Africa has moved since the last time we linked up with the satellites?  I’m not crazy, right?”

With a shaky breath, the other red head confirmed, “You’re so right.  It’s getting into position.  Hell, I think it is in position, now.”  She walked right up to Anna and whispered in her ear, “If it comes together the way it broke apart, that means we’re supposed to join Africa.  It’s gonna be us, slamming against the friggin’ Ivory Coast, dude…”

“I know.”  Anna kept her voice low so no one would hear them.  “Begs the question, if we we’re in a crash-course for them, would it be another mountain range?  Or the water, having nowhere to go, drown a portion or land?  Floods?  Create another great sea?”

Loudly, someone cleared their throat.  “You think we’re moving back to Pangaea?” Jo asked with a raised brow, that actually caught Anna off guard.  “Before I moved to Kindergarten, I taught Science at our High School.”

“Wait - what’s that?” Hannah asked curiously, “The map, it’s obviously horribly, horribly skewed, but there’s a reason for it?”

Jo smiled kindly at Hannah “If our resident scientists are thinking what I’m thinking, yeah.  See, way back in the days, millions of millions of years ago, all of our continents fit together like puzzle pieces.  You can see on the screen how they’re making their way back, how they still fit,” she pointed it out to Hannah, “Pangaea was a supercontinent.  Then, one by one, because of the shifting of tectonic plates rifting and breaking up - the huge land mass dissolved, giving us what we have today.”  She paused with a frown.  “Except, not today.  Because it really, really, looks like we’re headed straight for Mother Nature’s ‘Happy Place.’”

“Maybe it’s a way to start over.  A new beginning,” Mary suggested, studying the image with barely-controlled awe.  “Everything’s ruined.  Maybe it’s a defense mechanism.  Start small, start fresh.  Something like that.”

With a deep breath, Anna said, “There’s good and bad news, then possible good and possible bad news.”

Charlie flashed a fake grin at the team with a thumbs up and asked, “Whatcha wanna hear first?!”

It was Gabriel who slapped his hand on the table and instantly said, “Good news.  Please and thank you.”

“Cool beans!  So, Anna and I were lining up where the tectonic plates fell, how they’d manage to move back to Pangaea and map out their route.  The path they took, well, we took, would finish up in an entirely different climate when the lands lock.  That’s one of the reasons I’m gonna have to go with Mary on this one-” she nodded towards the blonde with a wide grin, “Nature’s rebooting where they’ve got the lowest fuel emission, least poisoning, more than anything, a place where the ozone isn’t completely and utterly fried.  Like a potted plant, changing its blossom to face the sunlight.  It’s like a last ditch effort to purge.”

“Which means it may be a survivable environment,” Anna reported to Gabriel with a smile.  “If we make it through…the things Charlie’s told me about what’s happened out there?  It’s supposed to have taken one-hundred and seventy-five million years.  Not ten.  I can’t even begin to describe,” she was breathless at the implications.  “If there’s anyone around after this?  I’m writing the book, dammit.”

Meg smirked, “I love a go-getter.  Now, what’s the bad news?”

“Bad news, is that this gap?”  Charlie gestured to the space between the United State and Africa, then the United States and South America.  “We were doing math.  I told her about the last shift and the time it’s taken us to travel.  And, as of right now…the gap separating us.  It’s so close, now that we know the quakes are based completely on the plates headed to the homestead.  We don’t know if we’ll reach Pangaea in one quake or two.”

“And…” Dean frowned, “How is that bad news?  Can’t we just, like…wait and see?”

“Not that easy,” Anna shrugged and explained, “First thing I’d want to do once the land connects, so long as it’s solid is cross and see if there are survivors.  But if it takes two quakes and we’re by the ocean, waiting on a single one?  There will be a tsunami, we’re whipped out to sea, dead before we even see the ending.”

“And it’ll be a big one,” Charlie emphasized.  “So we need to stay inland, at least for the first one.  But this sweet piece of tech?  It can zoom in, real time, and check out what’s going on.  Let us know if we can head east or we’ve gotta wait.”

“Wow,” Sam blew through his lips, trying to take everything in.  “I never would’ve thought…but those pictures…” his eyes were glued, because some of the outside continents had already merged.  It was simply the Americas who needed to be added to the mass.  The final mass.

“And you’re hypothesis…once everything is land-locked…there will not be anymore quakes?” Hannah asked, almost nervously.

“I honestly believe, in my scientific opinion, that everything happening around us?  Is because nature wishes for this result,” Anna spoke openly and professionally, hoping to soothe Hannah’s nerves.  “I believe the only reason, as you can see in the picture, that our countries have been shaved down, made smaller, are cutting off the tainted bits.  Those that cannot be saved.”

Anna walked over to the project screen and pointed out, “California is gone, Washington and Oregon.  Michigan sank into the Great Lakes, which caused a fold of land - what you experienced when you ended up back in Nebraska?  The entire plate that carried the line from Ohio, downward, since Michigan was gone, it doubled up.  It actually overlapped the previous deteriorating plate, and pulled the East Coast inland along with it, in order to downsize.  That’s what affected your ETAs.  The United States is much, much smaller than it used to be.”

“You’ll notice other countries aren’t as…warped, as the US.  But some are just as much, if not more.  It’s about peeling away the dead skin.  Getting rid of what’s no longer needed.  Getting the freshest start you can in this environment.  Like a haircut, trimming the dead ends.  It’s actually, quite intriguing.  And, while it should be impossible for humans to survive, it’s the only way for Earth to survive.”  Anna considered the other countries thoughtfully, then turned back with a smile, “Any questions?”

“Yeah,” Sam spoke up, “Now that we’re, I don’t know, crunched?  Down-sized?  How far away would we need to be to stay away from the tsunami?  Like, how many miles is the United States, total, anymore?”

“That’s the thing, it’s constantly changing so we can’t give you the mileage, Sammy, I mean, it’s all so tentative,” Charlie said with a shrug, “But this tsunami, if it happens?  I think…We may be all right here.  Just, you know, not here, here.  Like, Pennsylvania, here.”

“We need’ta get outta this building.  Anna?  You should start packin’ soon.”  Bobby’s voice was kind as he stood up, still trying to digest the information thrown at him.  “Everyone else, y’all should pack the vehicles, too.  We’re playin’ Russian Roulette with a goddamn sinkhole and a tsunami.  Balls.”

“And, fuck, if he isn’t right!” Dean groaned and leaned over to lay his head on Cas’ shoulder who was oddly silent, just taking in the information.  “You okay, babe?”

He didn’t miss how Anna’s eyes were on him.  Them.  And that’s how Cas decided it was an excellent time to kiss the fuck out of him.  Well, all right, then!  Apparently someone got wind of the rumor that Anna had a crush on him, and it looked like Cas was staking his territory here and now.  Dean hummed into it, and when they broke apart, he laughed, rubbing their noses together affectionately.

“You ever been to Africa?” Dean asked conversationally, slinging an arm around his boyfriend.

Just on the right side of shady, Cas tossed out, “Once or twice.  On a job, of course.  I had to learn the native language to make sure no harm would come to my client.  It was a very…interesting task.”

“Maybe you can teach me,” he wiggled his eyebrows just to tease, as one by one, each person began leaving to pack and get ready.

Castiel flashed Dean a patronizing stare with a, “Really?  Dean, you were FBI.  You should know how many languages, dialects, tribes and families speak different tongues in Africa.  It’s never ending and-”

“You know I just like to rile you up.  Duh,” and that was definitely his teasing-one-step-ahead-of-him face.

With narrowed eyes, Cas stood up and hauled Dean with him, “Oh, I’m about to make you regret that.”

“I can’t wait,” Dean purred, then turned around to wave at the women and say, “Dude, you guys are fuckin’ genius!  Thanks for the meeting and, uh, that actually gave me hope.  Kinda uplifting, right?  We’re gonna get through this.  We’ll head out in the next day or two, quake isn’t scheduled for another week or so, but we’ll be over-prepared!”

“Sure ya will, you horndog!” Charlie teased and flagged him off while Dean blew her a kiss.

Anna…was a little flabbergasted.  “Is…was that…-?”

“Oh, Cas?  Yeah, they’ve been together for years.”  She tried really, really hard to keep it nonchalant and matter-of-fact because maybe Ruby was right.

Maybe Anna had totally been crushing on Dean?  Well, in the grand scheme of things, finding out the object of your affection (for only a couple weeks) was in a gay relationship wasn’t the end of the world.   During the end of the world.

“Want me to help you get back to your room?” Charlie offered with skip in her step, because, “I think that meeting went pretty well.  Given how…heavy everything was, right?”

“Heavy is relative.  And…it depends on how the next quake hits us, or rather - what it hits.  If it creates another mountain range or a tsunami to pull us into the undertow…” Anna had a faraway look in her eyes, and that’s when Charlie perked up with something different.

“We don’t know if the plates could double up again.  Obvi, the US was fucked beyond repair.  If I was re-branding, I’d just sink us.  What if we went a little more inland?  We won’t know the stretch of the water, and the time it takes, getting from point A to B is nonexistent.  Plus, the ash has to be settled.”

She finally snapped out of it and frowned.  “Where are you thinking?”

With a shrug of her shoulders, Charlie suggested, “Maybe Oklahoma?  Nothing but open space there.  Or Kansas again?  We’re risking the Appalachians too if we're anymore inland, so that’d be a double whammy if we got smacked with tide and an avalanche.  Better safe than sorry?”

“You’ve been out more than me.  And Oklahoma is just that, nothing.  Will shelter be available?”  Her questions were critical and pointed as Charlie should’ve expected.

She needed to answer her confidently back.  This was not the time to show hesitation.  Anna was too damn strong and would eat her alive if she showed weakness.

“We’ve always found someplace, always made due.  Sometimes our shelters last a night, others a week.  If we’re exhausted and need a break, we’ll walkie the others and pull over for the night, sometimes sleep in the cars.  Early on, I mixed together this special kind of tint that wouldn’t allow any kind of burning light inside the car windows.  When we travel, we don’t have to wear our head-to-toe gear.  We can be comfortable.  Thank God my mechanic day job came in handy.  Used to tint car windows for celebrities, made my own practical concoctions,” she winked with that.

“Interesting.”  Anna tapped her chin.  “I agree, we shouldn’t take the chance, we’ll head further inland.  I have a bad feeling about the quake coming much, much sooner than we think.  Now that the other continents are in place?  Why wouldn’t ours be rushed?  Why wouldn’t those plates be locked, and ours ‘encouraged?’  I…can’t help but think the ‘month’ cycle is going to be bullshit, very, very soon.”

With a shiver of fear, Charlie realized…that was very, very true.  And she hated it.

“Okay, I’m gonna get you to sleep.  One more day of rest.  I’m going to tell the others we disembark tomorrow morning.  I think you’re right and it freaks me out.  If you’re not?  We need the travel time, like we decided.  That can be our excuse.”  Charlie was speaking in fast, choppy sentences - it was her biggest tell when she was nervous.

She helped Anna down the stairs and to her bed, heart beating a little faster because she was kind of unhinged.

“Anything I can get you, girl?” she asked, trying to cool her jets, but it was friggin impossible.

“I’m good, I promise.  You on the other hand,” Anna reached out and poked her in the arm, “Look as though you’re about to have a stroke.  We’ll leave tomorrow.  It’ll be okay.”

She breathed in sharply through her nose and nodded.  “I know, I know I just - it’s my family.  Not, like, literal family.  But they took me in, and if anything happened to them that I could have predicted and just waited on-”

“We’re not waiting,” she reminded Charlie.  “Now, go.  Make your rounds and get some rest.”

“Okay, yes, ma’am!”  Charlie saluted, and turned on her heels.  She lingered in the doorway with a grin and admitted, “Thank you.  For talking me down from the ledge.  God knows I needed that.”

“Any time.  Now, go!  I want to sleep!”

“Oh, right, yeah, sorry!”  Charlie scrambled her ass out in record time.

----------------------------------------

It was around eight o’clock am, the last morning (probably last chance) for everyone to catch a good night’s sleep and wake up on a real mattress.  Then the group promptly moved into the next phase, which was working in an assembly-line fashion to get all the goods from the house into the vehicles.

Half were dressed in their outside gear, the front door being propped open, as the others brought the food, medicine and extra clothing to the front.  Then, they’d be loaded up for their journey.  This was an excellent stop, the best they’d had in years, not only because of the loot but because they had a brief moment of normalcy.

“So what’s the plan?  You know, once the earthquakes stop?  Once we’re in an environment that doesn’t try to kill us?” Ruby asked, lifting some heavy water bottles into the back.

Hannah offered a smile and simply stated, “Well, hopefully - we live.”

“Huh.”  Ruby’s head tilted to the side with that information and she agreed.  “I guess you’re right.  It’s just such a weird concept.  I figured we’d all die.  Picked off, one by one.”  With Hannah at her side, they went back to grab the next load.  “Never had much hope.  But now I guess there’s a chance, isn’t there?”

Hannah’s glowing expression was soon interrupted, crouched down to pick up a bag filled with food when she demanded, “Did you feel that?  Please.  Tell me you didn’t?”

“Feel what?” Ruby’s voice was concerned, but when he looked to the ground and noticed the small rocks shaking, every-so-slightly, she was frantic.  “Fuck!”

Ruby sprinted at top speed into the house, shouting at the top of her lungs, “Everyone out!  Now!  The quake’s coming!  Put on your gear, don’t worry about anything else!  We have to go!

“What?!” Charlie demanded, but did exactly as she asked without hesitation, her clothes on the table.  “Shit, I had a feeling,” and she called up the stairwell to where she knew three others were, in case they didn’t hear Ruby, “We’re leaving now!  Earthquake’s about to hit!  Hurry, hurry, hurry!”

Sam and Gabriel were picking up the last leftovers of the supplies, before making sure that everyone got out.  They were counting, one by one, Meg and Jo, fleeing, Cas and Dean already waiting, Ruby and Hannah out already.  Bobby and Mary with some more necessities in their arms.

But no Anna.

“Fuck!  I’m going to get her!”  Dean charged back in and ordered, “No one follow me, I’ll just have more people to worry about!”  Then he left, darting back into the house.

When he leapt up the stairs, he found the woman frantically searching for anything to use to cover her body - never having the need to before, and she looked terrified.  “Dean- I,” her jaw was dropped, but they felt the first tremors of the quake beginning to shake the entire house.

It was coming.  The massive tremors were moments away, there was no time to waste-!

She had thick jeans, boots but nothing more than a light t-shirt.

Dean made an executive decision.

“We’ve got a lot of shade around the cars,” he announced, and with no room for argument, pulled off his thick jacket.  “Cover yourself with this.  You’re already stitched up, dehydrated and fuckin’ malnourished.  The last thing we need is you getting burnt up because you don’t know how to duck and dodge like I do.”

“Dean-” her eyes were wide, but she put the coat on, and flipped up the hood.

She shouldn’t say much more, because the house - it was leaning - and Dean was all but dragging her down the stairs and to the main level.  Fuck!  Everything was shaking, and when another wave hit, the ground level cracked right down the middle and they had to jump praying to even grab the fuckin’ doorway.

Anna was so weak.  She was struggling to hold on, and Dean had to help her, had to push her, while he gripped the cement with one hand.  Their bodies were dangling against the hardwood floor that was now nearly vertical, snapped in half with nothing but darkness underfoot.  Dean could feel his goddamn nails breaking off because of the weight.

But it worked, she kicked up one leg and managed to get to somewhat even ground, and she was running to the group just like that.

Dean followed her as easily as he could but as soon as he got to somewhat stable land (it wasn’t, the dirt outside was beginning to follow suit and curve into the sinkhole, loose sand flowing like a flipped hourglass) he swore violently under his breath.  There were two things that happened.

He witnessed in shock as one of their vehicles, the one parked closest to the house, got eaten up by the corroding land.  

It was tipping as he righted himself, and just as he stood up, it toppled over, a victim of gravity from another rough jolt to the Earth.  Dean had to brace himself low to the ground, or else he would have been sucked back in just like that SUV-

The group must have known that it was too dangerous to even try and drive that one away, that it was a lost cause, because the others had put some distance between the house - now a vision of the sinking Titanic - and the other two cars.

Which was the other terrible part of all this.  

The house, bending inward ...it offered no more shadows.  No more safety in the form of awnings.  And he needed to get the fuck out of there, right now!

Dean could see the back tires of the cars in front of him were on a different plane than the front; they couldn’t back up for him, it was a suicide move.  So he took a deep, deep breath, seeing that the door was open-

And he took off running like a bat out of hell.

He could feel the excruciating searing heat on his skin.  He could feel every inch that was exposed from his fuckin’ tank top become hotter and hotter, like he was charging through hell itself.  Dean could actually feel the beginnings of bubbling flesh, the acute mind-blowing pain nearly made his knees give out, but he was so fucking close!  Dean wanted to scream, he wanted to collapse because of the agony - but he was mere footsteps away.

Then he launched himself into the car, someone shutting the door behind him.  He grunted, trying to muffle and hide how bad it was but Cas was right there, ordering Meg or Jo who was in the back seat to grab some burn cream, pain pills, anything.  Meg’s voice was kind of far away, the lingering anguish leaving him lightheaded, fuck, he felt like he was going to pass out.

But he could feel something cold on his all-but-charred skin.

Cas was whispering sweet things into his ear.

His mom promised he was going to be all right, that he was a hero, saving that poor girl.  Even though when she said that - Dean could feel Cas tense.  And he knew damn well why his boyfriend did that.  He hated it, downright loathed it, when Dean put himself in the line of fire, when he was a ‘martyr.’

“Balls!” he heard Bobby shout, and he could feel the back and forth tug of the SUV gaining ground, only to be pulled back by the force of the sinkhole.

Over and over, it almost felt like rocking, like Dean was out in a boat at sea, but this was so much more dangerous and had a gravity-like quality that could end in death.

Bobby kept whipping the wheel back and forth, cursing about how the Jeep had made it because of their tires, or something.  Dean was having difficulty catching every word, he was having trouble staying conscious, to be honest, except that he knew this was damn important.  

Eventually, with a bounce and a rev of the engine, Bobby spun his tires and zoomed away, barely making it out of range.  Everyone’s eyes (besides Dean’s) were watching behind as they booked it away from the house.  From Anna’s home.

It was completely gone, swallowed whole and sucked up into the ground along with their other SUV and the goods piled inside it.  The crack they’d born witness to in the basement extended, but it manifested into something else - it was almost a perfect circle, still engulfing the earth whole.  It was wasn’t stopping with the house, even though its weight had triggered it - no, the sinkhole was ravenous and continued to eat away at the land surrounding it.

That’s why they needed to stay shifted in the vehicle’s top gear's, gas pedal to the floor, getting as far away as they could.

Even when the earthquake sent them almost flying off the road, to the point it could have rolled the car, it was the lesser of two evils.  They all held on tight, praying to make it out of this one alive.

Chapter Text

Dean wasn’t sure what they gave him, but it worked pretty damn good, because the next time he woke up it was to the sound of the static on the walkie.  He grimaced through the pain but actually looked around to see what had happened after his bonehead move.

His head was pillowed on Cas’ lap, his middle on Sam’s and his legs on Gabriel’s.  Okay, so it wasn’t the worst of situations, apparently now they were all family and shit.

It was Charlie’s voice that reported from the other car, “It took a hot sec to connect to the satellite, but it looks like we’re one more earthquake away.  This wasn’t the one, but at the rate they‘re coming?  It‘s gonna be sooner than we ever predicted.  I told Ruby to drive due west because we don’t know how far inland this tsunami is gonna hit.  We’ll keep track of it in real time.  Then, once it recedes, we’ll head back east.”

Before Mary could respond, there was a block from the other side.

This time, it was Anna, she sounded genuinely upset while she urged, “I am so, so sorry, Dean.  You never should have-” she paused to catch her breath.  “But I know what kind of man you are.  So thank you.  I know I’ll never be able to repay you, but I’ll try.”

His mom cast a glance back and a smile, saying, “At least she knows you’ll tell her not to say sorry.”

He grunted in response, because he wasn’t very confident with his words right now.

Castiel was tense, he was watching the sunset and told Mary, “Could you copy them back and tell them we should start looking for a place tonight?  I’d really like Meg to help with Dean’s wounds.  Someplace that isn’t a bouncing car with her leaning over from the back seat.  And we need to work out what we have, what we lost, and what we need.  After all, we have much that’s gone from our vehicle going down in the sink hole.  We need to take stock and see precisely what.”

Now, Dean was tense.  That was one of Cas’ threatening voices, the one that reminded Dean that his boyfriend was a dangerous motherfucker and it sent ice through his veins.  Even though it was to protect him, just hearing those words freaked him right out.

He couldn’t imagine being on the other side of them.

“I agree,” Mary emphasized and sent that exact message back to the other part of the team.

It took a while longer than it should have, but, after a long stretch of nothing but rubble and dead trees, they finally found a plaza with one building that hadn’t been completely destroyed.  It looked to be a nail salon of all places.  But the point was, Dean needed help.

Right away, Ruby and Charlie were out of the Jeep with their firearms (they never used them, people were so scarce) to make sure the small building was empty.  That there weren’t squatters because it was a prime location.  After a sweep of the main room and the management office, they deemed it safe and Ruby returned with good news for once.

It was completely dark outside, so there was no need to cover up.  And thank God for that, Ruby had seen the way Dean had flung himself with abandon into the SUV, and she knew any fabric against those burns would be hellish.  Ruby opened the side door Cas was on to deliver the news with a smile.

“This ain’t just a nail place.  Couple'a rooms for massages.  Means we've got massage tables!  Meg can actually play doctor on a legit surface.”  Her voice was kind, something very strange for Ruby, but she had witnessed what happened, the things he’d do for the team - hell, he’d always do those things.  Without hesitation.

Ruby had simply never appreciated him enough and this proof staring her down was something that resonated.  She needed to respect him more in the future.  She recognized Dean as a leader, of course, but he was so much more than that.

“That’ll be perfect,” Meg told both Dean and Cas then promised Dean, “It’ll be the most comfortable way to sleep, too.  Those massage beds usually have pillow tops to lay on and blankets.  Real pillows also.  You can stay on your stomach and let the healing process start.”

“Thanks,” was the very first thing from Dean’s mouth, “All three’a ya, helping me out.”

“Of course, everyone would!” Jo added in, glad she had been able to assist Meg with the creams and ointments while Dean had been KO’d.  “Now, let’s figure out how to get you inside.  And this is the perfect time to use one of our lamps.”

Somehow, Cas, Sam and Gabriel managed to get Dean out of the car without touching his arms or back, easily avoiding the blisters to his neck and redding on his cheeks, and into the salon.  Ruby led the way to one of the rooms with the battery-operated lantern, and the second Dean laid on the massage table…

Soft, cool even, and most importantly: unmoving…it felt like Heaven in comparison to the jarring heat inside the car.

“All right, I’ll bring most everyone in.  But we’ll still have some watch-duties,” Ruby smiled and casually said to Cas with a grin, “I think it’s time Anna earns her keep, don’t you?”

With an equally sharp smirk, he nodded, but before he could respond, Dean interrupted.

“Dude!  It was my idea!  My fault!  I thought I’d be able to use the shadow of the awnings to jump right into the goddamn car!  I didn’t know they were gone, that you’d already driven further away, I wasn’t going to let that poor girl, after everything she’s fuckin’ been through, add frying to the list!” he grunted through the pain because had to defend himself.

“That’s bullshit.”  Cas immediately called him out.  “The cars were never close enough for you not to have been exposed to the sun.  You knew damn well that we’d begin driving for safety’s sake.  You knew what you were doing, so stop being a goddamn martyr.  I can’t lose you.  I’m fucking furious with you, because that’s a damn good way to get yourself fucking killed!”

Dean’s jaw dropped, and before he could offer anything, Cas turned his back and simply said, “I’ll get Meg.”

Ruby was still with him and stated, “He’s right.  But you’re gonna do what you think is right.  Just…don’t let it be a choice between life and death, okay?  Today really was pretty damn risky.”

Then she made her exit, too.

Left in this silence was bizarre.  And he didn’t know what to make of it.  

So, yeah whatever, he knew he might get a burn, like, probably falling-asleep-on-the-beach.  Just a flicker of sunlight.  But he was in fight or flight mode.  Anna and her porcelain skin, her weak body, hell, she’s probably never even taken a stroll outside when the climate was like this.  The heat alone would have zapped her, not even taking into account the UV part of things-

She wouldn’t have made it - she would be dead and Dean would not let that happen.

He knew he was strong, that he’d persevere and pull through.  Of course, in the meantime this fucking sucked.  He could feel every inch of skin that had been sizzling and was bubbling hell, maybe down to the centimeter, but these were the marks he had because he had saved another human life.  And…that made it better.

Meg getting her ass over here, though, would make it even better than just playing ‘martyr.’  Maybe getting Cas back, too...  Even though it definitely seemed like he wasn’t happy with him.  Fuck.  He’d do it all over again, so he could be as pissed as he wanted.  Dean would stand by his choice.

----------------------------

It looked as though Cas was giving Dean the silent treatment.  Everyone noticed.

Hell, he’d volunteered for guard duty instead of being there, next to his boyfriend who was literally writhing in pain and barely able to sleep.  It was Sam who asked him what he was doing, and after a glare that nearly made Sam run away with fear, Cas replied, “The medication Meg gives him will knock him out for the remainder of the night.  I’m here to be an asset.”

It wasn’t until Sam had walked away that he rolled his eyes.

Look outs were Castiel, Anna, and Charlie - who was showing their new member the ropes.

And kind of distracting her.

Because, okay, Cas was scaring the shit out of her and Anna truly wondered if she was next on his hit list.  And she barely even knew his past history.

The others took advantage of the comfortable seats inside the salon, curling up happily against the cushioned chairs, and Jo (because Meg was overprotective) made her take another one of the massage beds.  It looked as though she was in the clear, but, because of how hard that concussion had hit her, the aftershocks were unpredictable and Meg wasn’t taking any chances.

Sam wanted some privacy, just for a little bit, and the only place that offered it was the management room.  So once everyone was asleep, he poked Gabriel and nodded his head in a motion for him to follow.  He did so with stealth, and in no time, they were huddled in the furthest corner of the shop, sitting on the floor with their voice pitched in almost-silence.

“How long do you think it’s going to be before Cas forgives Dean?” Sam asked, because he was truly worried about his brother.

He had a front row seat, he almost saw him give up when he was running to the car, face contorted, and then that final push - and God, one thing Dean didn’t know?  

Was the smell.  As soon as the door was shut, his brother was too out of it to take mind, but the scent of burning human flesh was forever stamped into Sam’s nose, as well as his brain.

He’d watched the already-raised skin continue to swell before Meg had frantically spread aloe and cream on it.  Dean hadn’t passed out because of the pills, he passed out because he couldn’t take the sensory overload of the friggin’ torture.

Normally, this would be where Gabriel teased, “You brought me back here to talk about your bro?  I can think of much better things to chat about-” and it was on the tip of his tongue.  Except, Gabriel refrained.  He’d been there too.  And making light of it wasn’t right.

“Cas’ll be pissy for a little bit.  But he’s doing it out of love, you know?  Me and him, we steered clear of love because it was a weakness and this kind of thing just proves it.  That’s probably why he’s so mad.  His boyfriend, who means more to him than anything in the world, more to him than even himself, he did something that seriously fucked him up.   Willingly.  See,” Gabriel tried to explain, “It’s like a slap in the face to Cas.  Even though Dean was helping someone, saving someone, Cas took it personally because the last thing he needs is to lose Dean.  And Dean did something that could’ve potentially done just that.”

“That makes a lot of sense actually.  I know he’ll come around.  Especially because Dean isn’t above begging and puppy eyes - but only when it comes to Cas.  They’re so... funny together.  Like, night and day from who they are as individuals.“  Then, Sam asked quietly, almost shyly, “Do you…think so?”

“That they’re night and day?  Or-”

“No, no,” Sam laughed and interrupted him.  “You said you and Cas steered clear of love because it was a weakness.  Do you steer clear?  Even now?”

Gabriel’s lips upturned in a strange smile and shook his head, “In general, yeah.  But not with you.  Because I know you can take care of yourself.  It’s actually one of the things that I love about you, kid.  I don’t have to be worried.  I don’t have to hover and make sure you’re okay.  You’re strong and smart and low maintenance, all things considered.”

With a shake of his head and even wider smile, Sam said, “Well, I’m glad to be a part of the minority.  I’m flattered.”

“Get yer ass over here,” Gabriel randomly whispered and grabbed Sam’s collar, hauling him close and kissing him hard.

Sam had to muffle his surprise and instead, grabbed Gabriel and hoisted him up into his lap.  He took the hint, wrapping his legs around Sam while he sat between Sam’s crossed legs and looped his arms around his neck.  And, damn, did it feel amazing to kiss the hell out of him.  Gabriel missed it, the chances were going to be scarce, and the fact that they’d had many at the house had spoiled him.

Towards the end, they had to stop.  Wean themselves off.  And now, it would prove even more difficult.  So times like these?  Were awesome.

Gabriel was in the perfect position to not only yank off Sam’s shit, but to spread kisses across his chest.  At first, he simply mouthed down Sam’s long neck, but once he got to his collarbone?  He nibbled lightly, ducked down enough to drawn the muscled meat of Sam’s shoulder between his teeth and sucked.  God, he wanted to mark every part of him.

Oh, and that was before he even started teasing his nipples.  And Sam was already panting, tangling his fingers in Gabriel’s hair and tugging with encouragement.

Gabriel, flicking his tongue and working the sensitive nubs into hardness, looked back up to a flustered Sam and asked, “What do you want, Sammy?”

He smiled and shook his head.  “I-I want everything.  But I know we c-can’t.  I know I won’t be able to keep quiet.  These walls are too thin, there’s no privacy.”

“I hate it,” Gabriel’s voice was hushed but he sighed happily when he teasingly ground their erections together.  “But you’re right.  We really can’t do anything.  Hell, we’re pushing it right now.  If someone wakes up and comes looking for us?  Dangerous territory.”

Sam cuffed him under the chin and kissed him hard, “I know.  But you gotta know if things were different?  I’d bend over for you, right here, and order you to fuck me.  ...Even though we can’t.”

Gabriel growled low in his chest and snipped, “You can’t just say things like that, kid.  Too goddamn tempting.  How the hell am I supposed to get rid of this hard-on?!”

He laughed, he actually laughed and suggested, “Should we talk a little more?  With, uh, some distance between us?”

“Okay.  We can try that,” Gabriel nodded and hopped off his lap, crossing his arms and huffing with sheer frustration.  “What do you wanna talk about?”

Suddenly, Sam’s body language looked a little shy when he said, “Maybe we can talk about when the Earth stops moving.  When it’s back to the beginning.  Maybe…if you want, we can talk about, like, maybe having a life together?  If it works?  I mean, if you’d like that…”

Gabriel blinked openly, because not only was Sam adorable but this wasn’t just a ‘the world’s ending, may as well find a warm body,’ now that they had the possibility of living again?  Being survivors?  Sam still wanted him.

“Wow.  I gotta admit, kiddo, I’m kinda surprised,” Gabriel confessed, running a hand through his disheveled hair.  “I really thought that once we found out there was an end game, you’d take off.  But…you still want this?  Us?”

Sam tilted his head and looked at him with bafflement.  “Uh, yeah.  That’s exactly what I just said, Gabe.  I want to be with you.  I was hoping you’d still want to be with me, too.”  There was a slight pause, and Sam was so nervous he had to fill it with, “So is your surprise good or bad?"

“Goddammit, I wish we were somewhere else.  Because I want to jump you right the fuck now,” Gabriel eventually stated with an impish grin.  “Of fucking course, I want to stay with you!  I’ve never felt this way about anyone, end of the world or not.  I thought I told you, you’re special, and if I had it my way I’d never let you go.”

“You don’t have to; I’m yours,” his voice was coy but his body language read ‘want’ loud and clear.

Which was something they were trying to stay away from, but oh well.

“Think we can get away with blowjobs?” Gabriel mischievously inquired with the wiggle of his brow.

Sam grinned something deviant of his own.  “We can sure try.”

“God, I really do love you.”

-------------------------------

They camped out at the nail salon, knowing that Dean wouldn’t be road-ready in his current condition and that this structure was not only in the right spot but would hold them until they needed to head back to the coast.  They were under no illusion they could wait until he healed.

However, Meg wanted to wait until the burns, at least the second degree ones, were healed enough to be wrapped for protection.  Wrapped and not unbearable to the touch.  Because right now even a brush against his skin, even the cooling cream would send him into shock.

Dean needed to be able to sit upright in the car for a journey (not just short jaunts; they couldn’t afford random breaks) and not be in excruciating pain.  The numbing agents in the medical supplies they’d found would help, but they were finite.  So they could only use them for emergencies.

Like the beginning of his healing and later when the wounds were too much to bare and he was forced to be table-bound and without a shirt to rub against any tender flesh.

On the third day, Cas had finally swallowed his pride and visited Dean, apologizing for his absence and explaining that he’d needed time to cool his head.  

While he understood, Dean’s morale was low, ridiculously low, having been left alone in his thoughts and the isolation of feeling unwanted was getting to him.  He’d missed his boyfriend.  And while his friends had been milling in and out, distracting him when he wasn’t sleeping his way through the injuries, Cas was all he wanted.

That was the first night Cas decided not to take some kind of shift.  He pulled a chair close and slept next to Dean. Just the proximity and good-night kiss from his boyfriend...it made everything better.

God, did Dean feel better.

He knew Cas could hold a grudge like no other and Dean was terrified it would follow through to the end.  Since there could be an “after” for them, that also meant there was a potential “end” for them, as well.  Which was heart-wrenching and...he couldn’t even think about it.  It would keep Dean up at night and he’d dig himself into a deep, dark, hole contemplating a life where Cas didn’t want him...

It haunted his dreams... what if this last earthquake created a land bridge?  What if there was something more on the other side?  What if Cas didn’t want to be with someone so reckless and self-sacrificing as he was?

Dean wouldn’t blame him if Cas decided to leave and live his own life given the chance.  Hell, Cas didn’t even like him at first.  What if his boyfriend looked back at all the things that he loathed about Dean, all the things that annoyed him, and wondered why the fuck they’d gotten together in the first place?

Those were the things Dean had nightmares about.

So when Cas eventually came back?  He could finally, finally breathe again.  Hell, he almost broke down crying because he’d been so goddamn scared, but he couldn’t do that to Cas.  He needed to be better, stronger, smarter - he needed to keep this man he loved so fucking much it killed him.

--------------------------------

It was on the fourth night that it happened. 

Ruby, Meg, and Jo were on look out, snacking on an actual bag of chips (they tasted like freakin’ Heaven) they’d found at the house, chatting to keep each other awake, even though Jo was wired.  She had gotten too much damn sleep.  She’d teased Meg about it - because on a good day, she was the first to volunteer for guard duty.

It had to do with all those sleepless nights in college, and then even more of them grading the homework that she had a disposition for putting off until the last minute.  She was a night owl and tended to take naps while they were traveling to support that habit.

In fact, it was Jo who hesitated on the snacking, slammed the crinkling of the bag to a halt by tearing it away from the other women and lifting her finger to her mouth in a motion to silence them.

Both were at attention instantly, looking out at the rubble of the decimated plaza, through the ruins and outside to the dirt and gravel.  But…they couldn’t see what Jo saw.

Everything was just barely swaying with the wind, making a comforting white noise that was all they could hear, too.

Still, they followed her line of sight, Meg asking in a hushed voice, “What is it, babe?”

Jo squinted, then ordered, not taking her eyes off something, “Gimme the night vision goggles,” and before she could say ‘please’ they were in her hand.  Unfortunately, they realized they’d lost their other set to the sink hole, so they had to be extra careful about this pair and treat them like the gold they were.

She instantly pulled them over her forehead but had to hold them over her eyes because the last person to wear them was Sam and the strap was set much too loose to accommodate her small head.  

At first, Meg was worried.  Except, her reason for worry wasn’t because of a threat.  She was worried about Jo’s condition - if she was seeing things, if she’d hit her head and her brain had been affected, if she-

“Grab your weapons,” Jo ordered quickly, “there’s five of them.”

“What?” Ruby hissed out, grabbing the gun at her side, first but then fumbling with it as Jo thrust the goggle at her.

Jo knew already that Meg may not believe her.  She knew the way her girlfriend’s thought process worked, so she wasn’t going to be wasting time arguing and needed to get another in her corner to prove she wasn’t crazy.  Jo needed to prove she was right, and once Ruby pressed them against her face, she whispered, “North, they’re by the collapsed McDonald's.”

Shit, you’re right, and these ain’t friends.”  Ruby pulled them away and looked to Meg, saying, “Heads up!” because the other woman needed to catch a glance.

Because now that they’d been spotted?  They were moving.

“Should we wake the others?” Jo asked right away, raising her rifle in defense, Ruby doing the same.

Meg ground her teeth when she realized they were in a full-out sprint and snapped, “No time.”


The three stayed on top of the SUV from where they’d been keeping watch, staying high above the approaching group and aimed their firearms.  It didn’t do a damn thing to deter their speed, which was the first sign.  There was only a few moments to decide whether they got a verbal warning or a warning shot.

“Stop!” Ruby shouted out, “Or else you’re dead!  What do you want?”

It didn’t do a damn thing, if it did anything it made they pick up the speed, foaming from the mouth.  Which answered the question for them.

They wanted food.  They were hungry and driven by that primal instinct, alone.

This was a group contaminated with CCI who’d actually managed to work together instead of eating each other like usual.  It was... unprecedented, which made them even more dangerous.

At this range?  They didn’t need the night vision to see them nor the glazed over look and the eerie way they lumbered.  So Meg ordered, “Fire!”

The assholes knew enough to run in zig-zags, but the women took down two right away.  One was a headshot, the other was a fatal wound in the gut.  The closer they got, the higher the spikes of fear grew, but they were trained.  Bullets were like diamonds - they wouldn’t waste them over a shaky shot: only a kill shot.

The first, the fastest one was already at the car, grappling at Jo’s leg, but Ruby’s barrel was down in time to blast his head wide open.  It was an explosion of meat, brains and shattered bones, a pointblank shot, and in the fleshy firework, Meg screamed.

There had been another hidden right in his shadow, one that yanked her clear off the car and onto the ground.

“Fuck!” Jo shouted and without missing a beat, jumped.

Ruby stayed up top, looking for the other one who’d disappeared in the commotion, but couldn’t find him.  But then…she heard the tell-tale bell of a door opening.

He’d gone into the fucking nail salon!  No one was prepared, everyone was asleep, this was-

She slide down into the ground and ran as fast as her legs would carry her, screaming at the top of her lungs, hoping to wake them up, “CCI!  Not human!  Kill it!” trying to get to the door.

When Jo had landed on the ground, the poisoned man was pinning Meg down, and it was too close - she couldn’t use the gun!  As quickly as she could move, Jo grabbed the knife sheathed at her side and threw all her body weight on top of him, knocking the creature off her girlfriend.  They rolled a few times, but she never lost the grip on the hilt.

It didn’t matter who landed on top, Jo was damn good with a knife, its blade easily sliced into his jugular like butter.  And out of pure rage for seeing Meg attacked, she dragged it through until his head was only attached by a few flaps of skin and some nerves, having severed the spinal cord.  She kicked his dead and bleeding body off her with both feet before scrambling on the ground and crawling to Meg.

Meg’s breaths were shaky but she smiled at her, quipping, “Nice job, you psychopath,” but she was covering and grasping her arm.

“Are you okay?  Did he hurt you?  What about the fall?  Are you-”

“Shh, Joanna Beth, you need to calm down,” Meg tried to roll her eyes, but she was wincing.

And Jo could see blood.  Lots of blood. “Dammit, Meg!  If you don’t tell me what happened, I’m gonna-”

“I-I need Sam to stitch it and wrap it, is all.” She tried to sit up, only to crash back down to the hard, unforgiving cracked cement.

“Shit!”  Jo could see the blood gushing freely now through her fingers, from where she was attempting to hide it, plain as day.  And it wasn’t stopping, “Here, I’ll help you up.  Don’t give me any crap about it!”

Meg winked, but it was weak.  “Wouldn’t dream of it, gorgeous.”

------------------

Ruby’s screaming was enough to jar most everyone from their dreams, considering that everyone was usually on high alert, but before the noise woke them - there was a scramble and then a smell.

Even surrounded by this many people, the contaminated didn’t have any self-preservation.  Even though they knew they were outnumbered, that they were going to die, all they cared about was their uncontrollable hunger.  They were consumed by the overwhelming need for a meal, getting to the closest thing to sink their teeth into, and they considered meat their prime target.

Like a sick, sadistic carnivore in the wild.

But what the thing was that truly woke the group up - was a shrieking cry.

A loud, shrill, blood-curdling scream.

It came from the chair closest to the door, the closest prey, and just as any predator would they went in for the kill, planning to drag to their dinner away and eat its victory elsewhere.

Ruby ended up being the one who stopped it, but not before she froze and took in the sight.

The fucking animal with a poisoned brain, who used to be human, was now chewing on the carotid artery of it’s trophy’s neck, trying to make an escape.

She felt fury.  Ruby felt her own blood boil as she opened the glass door and let it out, let it run just enough so she could shoot it in the back of it's skull.  And as this pig dropped dead on the floor, Ruby chased after it.  She kicked him over like a piece of garbage to retrieve the one she hadn’t been quick enough, smart enough to defend.

Anna’s lifeless body was too small, too light in her arms.  

Her face was impossibly more pale than when they found her in the fallout shelter, fighting for life even though she wasn’t promised one.  The crimson color, like a goddamn waterfall all down her body, was a stark contrast to her morbid white, drained complexion. 

As well as those gorgeous, inquisitive, and sharp eyes now staring blankly ahead.

Fuck, Ruby tried so goddamn hard not to cry as she swiped a hand down Anna’s face, closing her eyes, because she blamed herself.

How did she miss him getting around her?  How did he manage to make it so fast inside their hide out?  It was her fucking job to-!

She had no idea how long she’d been there, but she could feel the now cold blood soaking through the thighs of her jeans from where she’d collapsed, holding her mauled, dead friend.  Someone was next to her.

And that someone was Mary.

She didn’t say anything at first.  Simply allowed her to become used to her presence.  Ruby wasn’t sure how to handle it.  She didn’t want to talk, she didn’t want a ‘it’s gonna be okay,’ because it wasn’t.  None of this was okay, if they’d just been-

“Jo’s really tore up-”

And just when Ruby was about to spat, ‘of fucking course, Ruby knew it was her fault’ Mary surprised her and cut her off with, “Jo’s tore up because Sam’s doing emergency stitches on Meg.  One of them almost ripped off her entire arm, Ruby.  From what I hear, you got one right out of the gate.  Shot another one about to pull Jo down.  Killed a third, when there were five of them.  These weren’t merely the infected, they were strong and knew how to organize in a group and that doesn't happen.  They were feral and dangerous on a whole new level.”

Mary continued, except this time she dared to wrap an arm around Ruby, “We’re used to one randomly passing by.  We haven’t seen hide nor hare of one in months.  We thought they had died out.  No one saw this coming.  You did better than anyone could’ve.  We all grew too comfortable.”

If there was one thing Mary was good at, it was making sure not to say any word that Ruby could argue with.  If she said ’it’s not your fault,’ she’d have an instant fight on her hands.  But all these things?  Wouldn’t be refuted.  They were facts.  Although they didn’t make her feel better, they were black and white statements.

Her body was shaking and she leaned against Mary because it had been so long, so fucking long, since they’d lost someone.  This…it hit so close to home because this had been Ruby, once.  She’d been waiting for death to claim her, just waiting for the end in isolation until this group had found her.  And then she had a home.

For this to happen to Anna right after she’d become family?  And because-

No, Ruby couldn’t think about it, she had to be strong.

Mary rested her head on Ruby’s and said kindly, “Bobby and Gabriel have shovels.  They’re ready whenever you are.  We’ll give her a proper burial instead of letting her burn like the others.  Luckily, we’ve got the veil of night on our side.”  With a soft pat on the back, Mary reminded her, “At least she got out of her cellar, Ruby.  She got to live more life than most.”

Ruby squeezed her eyes tight, making sure any tears were gone when she eventually nodded.  “Go tell them she’s ready.”

Even if Anna was ready, Ruby wasn’t.

She spent the rest of the night with her rifle, staring out into the blackness, waiting for more.  Hell, Ruby felt as though she may never sleep again.  That all she’d hear when she closed her eyes was the out of sync rhythm of metal slicing against the earth, and then the downpour of dirt after every slide.  Over and over.  Until the ‘tap, tap, tap’ing at the very end, securing the clumps of ground in place.

That would be her lullaby.

-------------------------

Even if they hadn’t made plans to leave for another handful of days, the truth was, they couldn’t stay any longer.

Now the questions mounted: was this a hot zone?  Were there more people, more of the infected in this location?  It appeared to be safe, perhaps they were simply roaming around.  Maybe the group was just fast food they’d stumbled upon?

It was something Dean, Castiel, and Sam had gotten into a discussion about, as he checked Meg’s wound once they had natural light.  The morale was low and this tended to be the core group (minus Charlie, who was on watch and impossibly more distraught than the rest) who took the lead in situations.  Whether it was just another day or in the wake of tragedy.

Unfortunately, it was the latter and two of the key players were injured and they had one fatality the previous night.

Sam tried his damnedest, along with Cas (who didn’t have much of a mask in any given situation), to keep things light.  Things…as normal as they could be.

“Holy shit,” Dean caught his first glance at Meg’s wound, laying on his stomach on the massage bed while Sam unwrapped the bandaging from a chaotic night before, “Yer damn lucky you still got your arm!”  He straight-up balked, looking at the flesh, “You’re a trooper.  I didn’t even hear you scream, or anything!”

She shot him a death-glare and reminded him, “There were more important things happening, if you forgot.  Besides,” she winced as Sam checked the stitches, “adrenaline helped me.  Now?  This hurts like a bitch.”

Even Cas’ eyes widened and (since he was mobile) he crouched down for a closer look.  With a tilt of his chin, examining the multiple bite wounds, trying to rip her fresh from her arm, he questioned, “How did you survive this?  The amount of blood, alone-

“Oh, I shouldn’t have survived,” she sneered and stated, “he was going right for my neck.  This?  Was my protection.  It was my fucking guard, I was dead on my own.  Until Jo saved me in time.  But she wouldn’t have, because one’a them grabbed her but Ruby saved her.  Ruby got three of them.  Please, someone has to tell her that.  We wouldn’t have made it without her.”

Meg sighed heavily but noticed that Cas didn’t seem to catch the latter part of the statement, still focused on her chewed, mangled, barely-held-together flesh.

She had to remember who Cas was.  And the fact that his lack of empathy, and Anna having little to no value to him, made right now “just another day at the office.”  It was Dean who’d told Meg about his past, and…well, the woman supposed Castiel would be more interested in how Meg survived a wound this gruesome than the unfortunate death of a girl they hardly knew and Cas had no relationship with at all.

It may be callous, but Castiel would be alive in the end because of it.  It was also one of the reasons, Meg knew, that he’d punished Dean.  Given him a little time-out so he’d remember that all that mattered was surviving.  And Meg understood. She just thought that the pair together?  They were…bafflingly different.  

Dean cared about everyone so much.  

And Castiel…well, he’d never hurt anyone.  He’d never throw anyone under the bus.  He’d never put someone in the line of fire for his own personal gain, but he’d never go out of his way to help someone who wasn’t “of value,” as he saw it.

Meg had to contain her snort when she informed Cas, “Soon as I knew he was munching down, I tried to keep as much fabric between his teeth and my skin as possible.  Then, once I saw Jo coming, the moment, and I meant the goddamn moment, he fell back, dead?  I tore strips and wrapped that bleeder as tight as I could.  I had to.  All those veins and capillaries, I knew I needed Sam.  I-I knew, from how many times he got me with those chompers, I could bleed out,” she sighed.

With a cluck of her tongue, Meg tried to push the image away, even though it had been buried in her memory banks.  “When Jo got me up, I was light headed, I’d lost blood.  She had to carry me to the door and by the time we got there…Anna was already on Ruby’s lap.”  Her voice took on a tone of frustration when she blurted, “We couldn’t stop.  I-If we stopped to help Ruby, comfort her, it would’ve been two of us who didn’t make it, and-”

“Meg,” Sam abruptly stopped her.  “You didn’t get to me a second too soon, hell, Hannah was my nurse, my extra eyes and hands.  Jo was freaking out, if you had waited, you’re right.”

“We need you.”  Castiel’s voice was absolute and he stood back up to his full height.  “You did the right thing.  You’re more than simple medical staff for us, Meg.”

She blinked in confusion because, damn, that may have been the nicest thing Cas had ever said to her.  Or anyone who wasn’t Dean.  And how the hell was she supposed to respond to that?  Turned out she didn’t have a chance, because Sam was sanitizing the wound, sending her spouting out curses, nearly jumping through the goddamn roof, before he rewrapped it.

Meg couldn’t help but wonder, “How are Dean’s burns looking today?” not knowing like she usually would have since she had swapped over to Jo’s bed due to said blood loss and exhaustion, Sam taking over all duties.

“I’ve only glanced at them a few times, but he didn’t bitch too loud when I applied the aloe,” he teased and pulled out a water bottle for Meg.  “What was your idea about leaving…well, before this?”

“I was gonna give it as long as we could.  But now there are so many factors,” Meg sighed and shook her head.

Previous to this, Dean had been in the same zone, the same state of mind as Charlie.  As Ruby.  He’d been devastated that Anna had-  …No.  He wouldn’t think about it.  That was how you went on living.  Forgetting about the trials of yesterday.  But he needed to be more assertive, and there were a few things on his mind.

“I just don’t get it,” Dean interrupted all of them, “CCI fuckers, working together?  Does that mean they’re evolving, or they’re less infected?  Has the poison been in their system so long that they’ve learned to adapt to it?  Are they scavengers in a pack?  We literally…”  He stopped, mid-sentence realizing, “they just changed.  Maybe it hadn’t completely consumed them yet.”

The moment it dawned on him, Dean shot up from the bed to his feet, demanding, “Someone get Charlie!” while Sam admonished, “Dean, you shouldn’t be-”

“Hush up!”  Dean waved his brother off - who huffed in clear annoyance, and turned to pick Meg’s brain.  “Say that we, like, us, in a group have been surviving for this long together and we just get contaminated.  How long would we hold alliances before we turn on each other?”

“I suppose that’s kind of nature versus nurture question, in all actuality,” she mused and pointed out, “Like you and your wounds.  You never thought, even for a second, about self-preservation.  If you contracted CCI, I highly doubt you, Dean Winchester, would turn on your friends, even in the end.  You may starve.  No matter how it warps your brain.”

However,” Meg turned her focus to Castiel with a mischievous smirk, “Mr. Pack Alpha’s instincts would be all about self preservation.  If I had to guess about Cas, I believe he would care about the group's well-being and leave.  It’s because we’ve been together for so long, he’d be concerned he’d endanger us.  Because, heh, let’s face it?  We all go up against one another?   Cas is the winner.  But he also loves his little alpha.  Would he provide for him?  Interesting, isn’t it?  Going back to a primitive, yet sick and fucked cannibalistic, brain.”

Meg hummed out a long noise that ended on a high note, right as Charlie walked in.  “If they were a group like us, banned together and bonded by years , I’d imagine it’d be ingrained into their programming as some type of pack mentality.  But only for so long, so this area is significant for some reason.”  She turned her body, and asked, “Wanna tell us why, Red?”

Except, in her dramatic reveal, Meg’s body swayed and a wave of dizziness washed over her.  Castiel lunged out to support her, the woman blinking rapidly while her head lulled in his arms.  Slowly, they moved her back to and upright position together and she sighed and made a motion to reach for the water.

With a genuine smile and a, “Thank you, Castiel,” she grumbled, “What I wouldn’t give for a good old-fashioned blood transfusion.  I can’t even imagine how my iron levels are right now.  Shit.”

“Should we help you to the other massage room?” Sam asked, right behind Charlie, who he’d ushered in.

Although she looked a bit bleary-eyed, Meg shook her head and confidently said, “No.  I need to be here for this.  I’ve…gotta.  So I can report it to Jo, and I can help Ruby and-”

“ Jesus!” Dean snapped, “You almost died last night!  If you push yourself more, you’re in friggin Dystopian ICU!  How do you feel about that?”

“You wanna know how I-?!”

“Um-” Charlie swiftly spoke up, “What, uh, what did you guys wanna know?”

The normally energized, lively and vibrant woman was a shadow of herself before them.  Obviously, it had been expected but not to this extent.  She had the essence of a fawn, a motion away from jerking and running.  As though she was beaten to the ground and afraid to even attempt to stand.  Her eyes were bloodshot and her pale skin wasn’t creamy light; it was gaunt.  She looked tired, in the “I’m done” way.  And that was not Charlie.

No matter how hard life hit them?  Charlie always hit back - harder.

So why was she so affected?  Yes, they were friends, they’d formed a bond, Anna had given Charlie hope, but this…this was something different.

Even though there wasn’t a right or wrong way to mourn, this was far from usual.

The sentiments over Charlie’s behavior must have been mutual, since there was an elongated pause and then everyone was stumbling over their words, trying to figure out a way to fill the sullen silence.

It ended up being Dean, since he was the one who requested (bitchingly ordered his brother) to go snag her in the first place.

He started off casually, because he knew damn well from first hand experience if something was wrong?  He didn’t want to be reminded of it.  “Hey girl.  Everyone hanging out and taking watches out there?”

“Yeah.  For the most part.”  She shrugged her shoulders.  “Not much else to do.  What do you need?”

After he chewed his lip, Dean wondered, “How far can you zoom in on that thingy?  I know you said once you connect, it’s real-time.  Hell, NASA-grade, right?  Could you see what’s in our direct vicinity?”

Charlie looked thoughtful for a second, “Well, since we always used it for wide-scope, I haven’t really tinkered with it like that.  But I’m sure I can, Anna would’ve-” the words died on her tongue and she paled impossibly more.  Almost as though she were just another actor on a stage, she shook herself off and turned it around to, “It’s all about imagery.  I’m assuming the tech, with the make and model alone, has the ability to provide the details from the satellites.  That was the initial ’what if’ we hurdled.”

“Okay, okay, that’s good,” Dean shot her a bright smile and nodded.  “I was thinking that this area, with the attackers last night, must have had some inhabitants.  Maybe a group lived here.  Maybe someone like us.  I wanna make sure there isn’t a base of people close by or something.  CCI or not.  We need to know how quick we get our asses outta here,” he gestured to the other woman, “It’s Meg’s turn to need a breather.  Or a donor.”

“Shove it, Winchester.”

Sam snorted, happy not to be the Winchester in trouble, this time,

“Oh, God, Meg!”  Charlie seemed to snap back to herself (her real self) for a moment, “I totally didn’t even ask you how you were!  God, I’m an idiot!  Jo…well, when you were sleeping, she told us what happened, is it…?”

Castiel was actually the one who answered, trying to pull Charlie out of her grieving and back to their team, which included productivity.  “It’s much worse than I’d anticipated.  I’ve seen lesser wounds in my occupation that could’ve killed someone.  Meg’s lucky that Sam is skilled and she’s tenacious.”

The thing that no one had been expecting, was the fact that Cas didn’t stop there.

“Charlie, we were all caught off guard last night.  It was a horrible turn of events for us, but we’ve risen above and weathered so much to merely be beaten down in the home stretch.  Anna gave us hope.  She gave us the means, the bread crumbs to follow towards our final destination.  And, I never thought I’d say this, but it’s not only Anna - there isn’t a single one of us here would ever wish to dull your spark.”  He implored, “Can you, Charlie Bradbury, come back to us?  We all need you, and it’s not as a mere tool.  As a beacon, as family we need in our support system who always cares.”

She listened to his every phrase, hung on his every word and by the end…Charlie had broken down into tears, the dam breaking and was a sobbing mess in Sam’s arms.

It was something she needed, to let it all out, to finally, finally let go of that weight - and once her body stopped trembling she peered beyond Sam and blurted, “Thank you, Cas.  T-That really, really, really means a lot.  A-And…” she sucked in a much-needed gust of air, “you’re right.  We can’t slow down now.”

After a few more tremors rocked her body and Sam held her close, she promised with sheer determination against his chest, “N-not now…”

Dean reached out to grab Cas’ hand with a smile, and it wasn’t simply returned.  Cas closed the distance, (since his boyfriend was being rebellious, as usual) and pressed a tender kiss on his forehead.  He went the extra distance, since Charlie was still catching her breath and whispered into Dean’s ear, “I love you.”

It was moments like this that still caused Dean’s stomach to fill with those butterflies, to feel giddy with the childlike happiness of real love.  Before he could say it back, he felt someone staring at him and turned around-

Only to catch a heavy eye roll from Meg and a hushed, “Gross.”

Dean narrowed his own glower and hissed at a whisper-volume, “Shut up, you and Jo are the grossest!”

“Well, I’m profoundly happy we’re all adults, here,” Cas grumbled as Charlie finally pulled away from Sam.

“I’m gonna go sit by the windows in the shade for the best signal, but not to fry the tech!” she announced with excitement, finally back to her old self.  “I’ll keep you guys updated as I look around the area!  But Dean, you’re right.”  She pointed, already headed to the door.

Charlie thoughtfully continued, “There totes could be another group around given the newer batch of poisoned peeps.  Maybe they got some goods in a raid gone wrong?  We should double-down on guard duty.  Seriously fortify this place until Meg gathers her bearings and can fight outdoors again.  Kay!  See ya!”

Just like that, she hopped away.

Even though they knew giving her something to do was somewhat of a band aide, that was just what it took.  Something small these days did wonders to snap someone out of it.   It was a series of band aides and it seemed to work for everyone so far.  Charlie?  God, did she need one - and Castiel’s words were worth more than she could have ever hoped for...they would linger, be her own pep-talk in times of darkness.

Charlie refused to blow those off.

“Well, hell, Cas - you should give some speeches more often,” Sam exclaimed with a low whistle.  “Even though I think I need a new shirt, Char needed that.  So…thanks, man.”

“I was merely telling the truth.  I’m not as heartless as you all think me,” he responded while Dean tugged him closer.

Meg winced when she said, “Well, I mean, you are kind of the only person who isn’t upset about-”

“Don’t say it,” Dean jerked his arm down to get her attention.  “It doesn’t matter, okay?  What matters is what comes next.  And after that.”  He looked to his boyfriend and said, “Help me off the table?  I want to walk around more than I have been.  And find my shirt...”

Cas spared a look to his ’nurse,’ but she just shrugged her shoulders and nodded because the last thing she wanted was a fight.  They needed to work, they couldn’t afford any conflict, and it was pointless for Dean to lay around all day.  He needed to get used to the feeling of fabric on his skin, of his arms swaying and the skin moving.  He needed to feel useful again.

So when Cas helped him down and tried to pull the tank top on as painlessly as possible, avoiding the still-raised-yet-healing second-degree burns.  Dean stole a kiss and cheekily said, “My hero,” before turn and said, “Meg, I kept it warm for ya.  Seriously, though.  You need sleep.  You’re hanging on by a thread and I saw the way you almost passed out.  Don’t play the hero.  You already did.”

She did a double-take, wondering if that’s what it was.  Yet, before she even knew what was happening, Sam had taken her and was already lifting her up to the massage table.  It happened so damn fast that she didn’t even realize she was laying on her good side, on a pillow, with Cas and Sam pulling the other massage table form the other room right alongside hers until it happened.

And then in the next second?

Jo was springing into the room and hopping onto the other one, facing her girlfriend.

She cupped her cheek and drew her into a languid kiss before teasing, “I’m babysitting you.  Which is the best job ever right now.  Because it basically means that I make sure you relax, nap, and hydrate.”  Jo whipped out her best pout.  “Please don’t put up a fight?”

“Hah,” Meg shook her head.  “As if I’d ever be able to say no to you, blondie.”

“Awesome,” her voice dropped to a whisper as she cupped her cheek.  She took advantage of the table that were flush and tangled their legs together, knowing she had to be gentle of her arm and a bruised rib she’d gotten from the fall.  But this…this was okay.

In fact, as they closed their eyes with Jo’s hand slipping to gently hang, wrapping around Meg’s neck, this was damn near perfect - given all the circumstances.

---------------------

It took Charlie a while to remember how Anna worked this damn piece of equipment.  After all, she’d never done it on her own, she never thought she’d have to…

Before another wave of sorrow washed through her, she snapped out of it because she had a mission, dammit!

She entered in the coding she remembered from the back of her mind, the pass codes, the numeric entries and all the bells and whistles to herself to the main screen.  It took a couple tries, and thank God, she never got locked out because of her failed attempts.

Once she was looking at the main menu, she connected with the satellite and waited.

She sucked her lip into her mouth and chewed on it as the loading bar slowly, but surely, moved across the screen until she was in.  Now, for the experimentation.

It turned out she needed to enter in their coordinates to zoom in.  After all, it began with a wide shot of the Earth but that made her fumbled for a second.

Seeing what the last quake had done, holy crap!  They were nearly touching now!  Her eyes were wide as she looked and, yep, Anna and her hypothesis was corrected.  That it would take one more two more shifts to lock the lands.  Although…hopefully, mother nature knew when to stop, knew when she shouldn’t continue with these large land shifts, because if she did?  

The lands wouldn’t merely lock, they’d collide something fierce and who knew what the end result would be.  Still, this looked promising.  After she checked out the area, after it was deemed safe enough and Meg’s wounds were coming together, they’d head east.

She had to guestimate their location, the latitude and longitude as told by their small GPS, and entered a half-mile zoom to see the surrounding area at first.  Charlie could always change it if the scope was too large or small.  This would at least show any other inhabitable buildings, perhaps a set of vehicles from the sky or something.  If she could see their outpost, she’d look around. If not, she’d zoom in more.

As the image began loading, it became clear that it would take a while. She had a feeling that the satellite was brushing the dust off its shoulders. The pixilated images slowly became clearer and she held her breath.

She was so tense; she needed to roll her shoulders.  She heard from her right, “Hey Charlie, look what I found,” and just in time, caught Gabriel chucking a lollipop at her.  “Relax, girl.  It’s gonna be okay.  You know what you’re doing.”

His voice was actually soothing and she smiled at him, glancing down to ask, “Cherry or strawberry?”

“Who knows?”  He wiggled his eyebrows, “It’s a mystery!”

Charlie finally laughed and unwrapped the candy, commenting, “I totes remember when I’d go to the salon and they had these in the back for the fussy kids.  They worked wonders.”

“Why do you think I gave one to you?” Gabriel quipped right back.  “My fussy little ginger.  Just take your time.  We got word, guard duties doubled, I’ve got my gun on me, no one’s getting the jump on us again.”  His voice dropped to something comforting as he assured her, “We’re ready.  For anything.  So you just point us in the right direction, okay sweetheart?”

“Thanks.”  It was honest and she turned back to the screen it was downloaded and-

“Woah-” she gasped, squinting at the screen.

“Woah, what?” Gabriel demanded, crossing from the window where he was keeping watch from inside and over to where she was in the very first chair.

“Hold on!” Charlie ignored him, putting one arm out to stop while she increased the zoom to a quarter-mile, a half-mile east of them.

Now that the device was already in the zone, it easily shifted to her command, and slid over when she pressed enter.

There was a building, one of the only ones they’d seen with the ability to weather the quakes that wasn’t Anna’s, standing tall.  Except, the device was real time, and this building was on fire.  The smoke was blowing in the opposite direction, which was why they hadn’t caught sight of it, or smelled it.

But there was a lone man outside.

And he was cutting down each of the people who managed to escape the flames.

The fact that he could use a weapon (and damn proficiently) told Charlie one thing.

He hadn’t been infected.

But if Charlie had to wager a guess?  This was where the attackers from the previous night had come from.  Maybe this had been a community, one that had been poisoned.  Maybe this man had taken it upon himself to put those riddled with CCI out of their misery before they were completely overtaken.

Those coming at him had that animal-like movement, driven by hunger, driven by the hunt with no care for the flames igniting their clothing - their one, singular mission was to attack this man.  Probably for the age old CCI reason - food.

There was no doubt in Charlie’s mind they were poisoned.

The question was, why hadn’t he been ?

Charlie made a split-second decision.

She turned off the device, ordering Gabriel, “Make sure that stays safe!” and ran to get her outdoor covering.

“What’s going on?” Gabriel’s voice was a distant echo in the background and Charlie didn’t answer him until she was suited up and heading through the front door.

“Errand.  Be back soon.”

Charlie already knew Ruby was on guard duty, she refused to do anything but.  So Charlie grabbed her by the arm, and asked in a hushed voice, “How about you and me go get some revenge?”

The woman did a double-take and asked, “What are you talking about?”

“I’ll explain on the way,” Charlie whispered, before raising her voice and telling the others, “We’ll be right back!  Caught something interesting on the screen, just gonna check it out and see if it’s worth our while!”

Everyone seemed alright with that, and Bobby dug into his pocket and tossed Charlie the keys.  She flashed him a thumbs-up and hoped no one noticed how quickly they ran to the Jeep.  Because time was of the essence and Charlie knew what she had to do.  One way or another.

Chapter Text

As Charlie hit the pedal, Ruby had to hold on to the dashboard to keep herself from jerking back and forth.  Everything around them was land, no pavement, no back roads covered by gravel, hell - no trails!  And these fields could only be driven by the Jeep.  Damn, was Charlie on a mission.

“Wait,” Ruby had to make sure she got this right, “So you used your little hijacked NASA thingy and found a burning building full’a CCI fuckers?  And a lone ranger making sure none of them get out alive?”

“Yep,” she confirmed, and just then she pointed to the smoke on the horizon.  “See?  We would’ve never know if they hadn’t pushed me into looking around for another group.  Getting…well, out of my….depression... thing.  Plan is, I found something that could help both of us!  We’ve either gotta help this dude, or put him down.  Hell, if he’s already been taken out?  We’ll pick up where he left off, these animal can’t be let out into the world.”

She was completely taken aback by the growl in Charlie’s voice, but Ruby understood.  She felt the exact same way.

“God, I can’t wait to take these assholes on,” she instantly agreed as she gripped the handle of her gun and glanced back to make sure the extras were in the back seat.

They closer they got, the more smoke was billowing into the sky until finally they caught sight of the building, engulfed by flames.

The man was still fighting.  There was an impressive pile-up of bodies surrounding him, but it looked like the job was nearly finished.  As they whipped around behind him, spinning their tires as somewhat of an announcement, there was a single woman crawling and snarling like an animal from the only point of exit.

Fire consumed her, she wasn’t ever wearing something to block the sun from her head, and flames licked every inch of the clothing she did wear.  So Ruby rolled down the window, took aim-

And watched her head explode from a point-black hit.

That was when the man whipped around to see the pair of women within the Jeep.  He didn’t look scared or worried he just nodded and said with a surprising accent, “Nice aim, cher.”

“Are you infected?” Ruby demanded, now training her gun on him.

With a shake of his head, he held his arms in the air but didn’t drop his machete.  He was still too far away to use it, anyhow.

“Ya think I could’ve gotten away with lighting a building of my former friends on fire and killin’ the rest who squirmed out, if I were infected?”  A heavy sigh left his chest with those equally heavy words, as he cast a glance towards those he’d called friends.  “No.  Something happened.  Two days ago, I…” he looked back towards the women and asked, “I’m Benny.  If you showed up here, there must’ve been a reason.  I’ll leave my blade out here and come in for a chat, or I’ll drop it if you want to come outside?”

Ruby and Charlie glanced and one another and spoke in hushed voices.

“Let’s let him out of the heat.  He just, what?  Escaped a fire?  Fought all those CCIs?  He’s probs burning up,” Charlie said sympathetically and gestured to the water bottles they had.  “He did the right thing, we can hear him out.  He’s obviously not infected.  Even the early stages show cognitive confusion.  Hell, if I were out in the sun like that, even without being poisoned, I’d be confused as fuck!  He’s got clarity in spades!”

Ruby seemed to consider her and nodded, “He can tell us about what happened, too.  He must have noticed them change.  I bet he has answers.”

She looked around the back and said, “Give me time to stow the weapons.  I’ll sit in the back with him, so he doesn’t try anything.”  Ruby finished with, “I want…I fuckin’ need to know what happened last night.  W-why...”

Charlie reached out and grabbed her shoulder.  “Me, too.  That’s why when I saw this?  I had to bring you.”

“Okay,” Ruby took a deep breath and jumped out of the car.

She did exactly as she told Charlie she would, Benny waiting carefully in the wings.  He hadn’t let his arms drop once, trying to show he was pliable and willing to do anything they wanted, knowing he looked like a threat.  Still, he surveyed the situation, catching his breath from the fight as the smoke continued to rise, making it difficult to truly do so.

“Benny,” Ruby finally said, “Drop it, come sit with me.”

He did just that, leaving the machete outside and following her into the back of the Jeep where she scooted all the way across holding her gun and he stayed as unassuming as possible on the passenger side.  Charlie had already shifted her body from the driver’s seat and was watching them both.

The first thing Benny did was pull away his mask and goggles, breathing in the fresh air of the cab.  It was like heaven to the man, and Charlie actually handed him a water bottle.  He looked upon it with both surprise and caution but noticed the seal and the clarity of the liquid before he cracked past the plastic and downed almost the entire thing at once.

“You said they were your friends,” Charlie led in with.  “How large was your group?  Why weren’t you affected?  Where did they get the CCI?  How long ago?”

“One question at a time,” he chuckled with a smile - one that was forced because he was trying to be friendly, but they could tell his heart was heavy.

How could it not be?  After what they’d witnessed.

Benny tried to put the questions in order, in a story they could understand, or at least one that would make the most sense.

“Our group,” he decided to begin with, “we were a little over twenty strong.  Well, there used to be more of us, but the journey…takes its toll.  Hard keeping everyone fed, hydrated, safe,” he added ruefully, “Sane.”

“We were strong, we were on base when things started going downhill.  Most’a us tried to go back to their families.  But a good sized group of us knew that the journey, from what we heard through the stations, wasn’t good.  Shelter, that was what we needed.  Stocking up on food and water, surviving.  Before all this…” he trailed off, and sighed, “I’d already lost my wife.  So I led the movement with the guys who wanted to live.”

“Took us a while, but one of the men had a father who was a carpenter.  Knew what building would keep, what ones would collapse.  We found this one,” he gestured out the window,  “a good two years ago.  Made ourselves dorms.  People had privacy. Those who’d managed to find their families were safe, too.”

“Wow.  That’s pretty awesome.”  Charlie had to admit it, but now she was confused, “Where did the contamination come in?”

“One’a the guys.  Before we found the building, he didn’t know why everyone was treatin’ me like the leader.  Had a real problem with it.  Thought he could do better.  We butted heads, I wouldn’t step down, ‘cause I knew that under him?  It’d be a dictatorship.  Real asshole,” Benny scoffed and slowly pronounced, “I guess he never got over it.”

Both women were waited on bated breath.  Waiting for what happened to turn his group on itself, on what made this ‘family’, who’d been solid, good people making a life for themselves from the beginning, self-destruct.

“Name was Alastair.  Yeah, there were a couple of my guys that didn’t have a problem with him.  But the only thing I can think of was four days ago, fuck, I should have asked more questions, I should have-” he began rambling, and Ruby couldn’t help but lower her weapon because this man was in the same boat they were in.

“Hey, just tell us what happened,” Ruby urged, feeling a certain camaraderie with Benny.  “We’re not gonna judge you.  You’re strong, anyone else would have run away, let those infected kill any living, breathing survivors or eventually turn on each other.  That was bravery.”

Benny glanced up, locked eyes with Ruby and admitted, “Don’t feel too strong or brave, but I appreciate it, nonetheless.”  He sighed before explaining, “Been real dry when it comes to runs ever since we made a base.  Each one takes us out further and further.  I’m assuming you two are nomads?”  When they nodded, he continued, “It shoulda raised red flags.  Alastair and his team.  They came back one morning, only having been on a run for two days.  Usually, it’ll take a week or more.  Came back with tons of water and a little food, bounty, in retrospect, jus’ didn't make sense...”

“I had a night shift, I was sleeping the day away and when I woke up, the cocky bastard told me ‘our people were thirsty’ and I should’a been up if I wanted what they scavenged, because everything was already handed out.  It wasn’t until later when some started acting wily that I investigated.  Alastair was out on patrol, I went into his room and looked at the bottles he had.”

The tone Benny’s voice took on was one of helplessness and bitter rage, “The labels.  They were from a run months ago.  I knew, because I was the one who found them.  He must’a collected them and kept them hidden, then filled ‘em with stream or pond water and brought ‘em back to look like a hero.  Everyone was so damn thirsty, they didn’t even bother checking the seals.”

With a clenched fist, he spat out, “Then other night I started talking to people, asking them questions, but their memories were blurred.  Some more than others.  Hell, I couldn’t find five of my men right after sundown.  No idea where they went.  Then in the middle of the night, everyone started eating all of our rations.  Every last bit, no regard for pacing and the future of our rations, they just had this insatiable hunger.”

Benny’s voice was shaky, “That’s when I knew what I had to do.”

“Fuck,” Ruby cursed, her sympathy running higher than she’d expected.

Because if her group had been contaminated?  Would she even have the guts to take them down?  Would she be willing to pull the trigger so they didn’t get out into the world?

“Those five you couldn't find…” Charlie began, and now it wasn’t just to reprimand him about Anna, it was to give him information.  “They slipped out.  They attacked our people.”

His eyes widened and he asked, “Please tell me they weren’t too far gone and-”

“They injured one and…killed one,” Ruby had to say it.  “I was on watch.  There were three of us, we didn’t understand.  We couldn’t comprehend why they were still working in a group, they should have eaten each other or-” she swallowed hard and tried to fight the tears once more.  “We got ‘em.  But not before they got two of ours.”

Benny looked horrified as he urged, “I’m so sorry.  I should have acted sooner, I should have known sooner, I-”

“You couldn’t be responsible for what that sick fuck did to your people.”  Ruby’s answer was final as she sniffed.  “What you did went above and beyond.  It was us, we should have-”

“Stop that!” Charlie whipped around and admonished Ruby, “If you blame yourself one more time-!”

“She’s right, cher,” Benny urged, “When the hell have we ever seen a group of CCI working together?  It’s insane.  Also, when the hell do we come across people anymore?  The entire situation was out of your control.  If you and your guards took down five of my men?  The odds were stacked to begin with.  We were Marines.  Please.  Please blame me, if you need to blame someone.”

“Let’s not blame anyone,” Charlie slouched in her seat, shaking her head.  “Benny, I like you.  What are you going to do now?”

He paused for a moment, looking deep in thought before honestly admitting, “I assumed I’d go down with the ship.  Never thought I’d make it out of that one.”

“Well…since you did…” Ruby began with a smile, “How about you go grab that machete and get your ass back in the Jeep?”

-------------------------------

The group jumped when Charlie’s voice came through on the walkie, telling them she was bringing back a survivor.  That no one was needed for guard duty outside anymore.  For everyone of them to head inside the building, because...

All the infected had been killed.

And that they needed to meet the person who’d taken them down.  

Just to reassure them, Ruby’s voice came through with a similar message.

After all, Charlie trusted everyone, and on the flip side of the coin, Ruby was a tough customer.  If she said this person was a go?  That bringing them into the group was a good choice?  That meant something.  So they waited in anticipation, even Meg and Dean, for the Jeep to come rolling back in.

They parked in the shade, well, as much as they could - which was half the vehicle.  It was odd to look through the salon windows and see three people getting out of the car rather than two.  Not to mention the fact that the newcomer?  Was probably the size of Charlie and Ruby, combined.

“Did they even think to mention their ‘survivor’ was the Hulk?” Jo grumbled and crossed her arms.  “I don’t know what the hell he did to get their trust, but this could be a set-up, guys.”

Sam agreed with her and added, “Don’t keep your weapons far.  Who knows, maybe he’s after our rations and has no idea how many he’s up against.”

Dean was eerily and deliberately silent because something in the man’s walk…was familiar.

So much so, he stood from where he’d been sequestered with Meg in the back and walked the aisle way to the front.  He had a single focus.  He was mesmerized and barely heard Cas call out his name from behind him.

As Charlie and Ruby entered the shop, they pulled off their buff head covering with a, “Whew!  Okay, guys, let us introduce you to-”

Benny?!” Dean demanded, even before he’d the chance to uncover his face.

But once he did, he looked upon the man in bafflement with a dropped jaw, “Winchester?!”  A flash of a smile lit up his face and he darted forward to hug him, but Dean had to put out his arms and pat his back instead.

“I, uh, made an amateur move,” he delivered sheepishly.  “Got some burns that are tryin’ to heal.”  He shook his head in amazement and patted the side of Benny’s face with sheer joy.  “The hell are you doing out here?  Shoulda known nothing would kill you.  Even the end of the world.”

“Could say the same about you, Dean,” Benny chuckled and it was only then that Sam interrupted.

“Wait, Benny?  Like, back in the day, Benny?”

Even Mary said, “Oh my God, I remember him, too!  Dean used to talk about you,” with a fondness beneath her disbelief and amazement.

“Yeah,” Dean nodded at his brother and then assured the group, “Ain’t got nothing to worry about with this one.  Promise.  He’s a good guy.  One of the best.”

“I’d enjoy a story,” Castiel said, coming up from behind and glancing at the newcomer.

“Benny, this is my overprotective boyfriend, Cas,” he leaned over and kissed his cheek, which was only met with a glare.  Dean totally expected it, which made him grin wider because Cas’ feathers were ruffled.  “Cas, this is Benny.  He…got me where I was before this.”

“Damn glad you did,”  He chuckled and turned to Castiel, trying to win him over, somehow.  “Dean’n me.  We met at the San Diego base when we were being trained, goin’ into the Marines.  We hit it off there.  But Dean,” he glanced at him with a kind smile, “he was just too damn smart for that.  Sure, he had the brawn, but his talent would be wasted there.”

“Woah,” Meg paused, “You started off in the Marines?” pointing at Dean with her good arm.

“Barely,” Dean scoffed.  “Benny, day after day, harassed the fuck out of me.  He pushed me and encouraged me that I was more than another body on the field.  More than another soldier.  Kept telling me to aim higher, and the next thing I knew?  I was at Quantico.”

“Hot damn,” Gabriel whistled, glancing at Benny.  “Takes a helluva lot to get through Dean’s thick skull.  I applaud you, sir.”

Ruby was staring down Benny with apprehension and confusion.  He could feel her heavy stare and didn’t bother with pretense.  “You’ve got something on your mind, cher?”

“Why didn’t you go with him?”  Ruby was just as direct.  “You’re obviously not just another body on the field.  Yer damn smart.  We saw that today in action.  Why push Dean and you stay?  I don’t get it.”

“She’s got a point,” Charlie agreed, although she wasn’t a blunt as Ruby.  “Unless you were higher up on the food chain, dude.”

Benny snorted and shook his head, “Nah, we were all just punk kids then, right, Dean?  I wasn’t anything special, I was just another grunt and-”

“I told you the same damn thing!” Dean threw right back at him and turned to the women.  “Good job on reading him.  I tried to get him to go with me, but he wouldn’t.”

“I…” Benny decided it didn’t matter, not now.  “I needed the physicality.  I wanted to be deployed, I wanted to be in the field, making a difference.  I knew some’a those kids with us would choke when faced a threat.  I wanted to be there to help them.  The guys we were with...I could pull the trigger when I knew they couldn’t.”

Dean stared long and hard at him and eventually said, “Well, I know I’m damn happy to have you back!  Holy shit, this…after everything we’ve been through?  Is a lucky break!”

The smile Benny gave in return was damn brilliant, and when Charlie went around and began introducing him, for the first time (because, hell, if he didn’t have Dean’s seal of approval) this man was welcomed.  He wasn’t surrounded by fear of the unknown.  It was nice and something they all needed.  Not to mention Charlie and Ruby?

They knew another CCI would never get through to attack the team again.  Not with Benny around.

-----------------------

Dean healed, Meg was nearly there, and Charlie was meticulously watching the screen.

Benny and Ruby had gone on an errand because behind the burned building Benny’s team had vehicles.  As long as they hadn’t caught fire, that meant a great deal; they could replace the SUV they’d lost in the sinkhole and they could siphon more gas from the others.

When the pair came back with both, they looked damn proud.

Dean also noticed that Benny and his mere presence did wonders to cheer Ruby up.  It was odd, but they were spending more and more time together.  And to be honest, he approved.  Dean didn’t know if she could recover after Anna, but maybe someone like Benny could pull her out of her head and give her something to live for.

He was doing a fuckin’ fantastic job so far.

Something Charlie caught sight of from where she’d been obsessing over the tech were the other land masses beyond their pitiful own continent shifting in towards Africa, as well.  Zooming in, trying to get an idea about what would happen with their (hopefully) final quake, their final shift, happened and she found two options.

And…only one that could work for them.

Because when Australia hit the Pangaea land mass and lined back up?  

Fucking hell-

It… sank.  

Like a modern-day Atlantis.  Charlie wasn’t sure if it was because of the impact, the angle of the plate, or what, but it was gone.  After seeing that, she couldn’t sleep that night.  Charlie had nightmares, because there was no way they could survive that scenario, they’d go down with the tides, there were no back-up plans that time.

Yet the other option, the one Anna and herself had hypothesized and hoped for came true with a different quake across the globe.  The land merge and the small mountain formation.  With this one, there were actually land bridges.  It wasn’t a massive, Mount Everest to scale, there were hillsides that glided together and ways to get through that were extreme rock climbing.

One, equaled certain death, but the other?  It offered hope.

They’d been here too long.  They didn’t know what would happen if the quake hit here, if another plate would slide over top of the next.  Charlie knew what they had to do.

They needed to hit the road.

They needed to travel East, now.

---------------------------

As far as Charlie’s new predictions went, they were nearly a week away.  That was the distance between quakes that had earned Jo a hell of a concussion and then the one that had swallowed Anna’s home.  Given the fact that they were closer and closer in nature?  It could be any day.  

That’s why they were cruising due East.

While the driving times had shorted as well as the distances, they’d put more between them and the coast due to possible floods and tidal waves.  It was a good plan too, seeing as how the previous wasn’t the final move for the land locked.  When they headed towards the coast, they weren’t sure what they’d find.

That was the mystery they were doing a glorified scouting trip to discover.

Ever since disasters had struck the coastlines, they steered clear of anything that could be water-logged in a big way.  Who knew what was left.  They knew of the state of the west coast - what had happened to the East?  Or even the Gulf Coast?  Charlie…didn’t want to think about it.  Not after her discovery about Australia.

She knew damn well they were headed for some wreckage, she simply wasn’t sure how far it extended or how heavily damaged it was.  Shit, would they even be able to drive through it?  Would they be able to cross when they were given the chance?

“You’re quiet,” Ruby commented from behind the wheel of the new vehicle.  Benny looked back at her from where he was riding shotgun.

Charlie was stewing in the back, a bundle of nerves, anticipating all the scenarios while Hannah (the normally quiet thinker) gazed out the window.  Although, now that it had been addressed, she glanced at Charlie, wondering the same thing.  Until now, it had been Ruby and Benny chatting away at the front of one of his own rigged-up monster trucks (it wasn’t really, but it was a Hummer that could bust through just about anything) that one of his guys had lifted.

Calling dibs and wanting to “drive the bus” right away, Benny let Ruby into the driver’s seat with a secret smile.

Oh my God, Charlie could see these two falling head over heels, they totally were already - they just need a little push.  But…that wasn’t what the question was.

“Yeah, sorry,” Charlie shook her head and tried to laugh, “I was, uh, just, ya know.  About the coast.  About how many times it’s been hit.  How much has been eaten up by the ocean.  Hell, which states we even have left over there and how many of them are flooded.”

She shifted forward until she was leaning on the center console and looked back and forth between the pair.  “I guess it’s time for me to do a zoom-in, ain’t it?”  With a curious gaze, Charlie had to tease, “What’s going on up here?  I’m quiet, you two won’t shut up!  The tables have turned!”

Ruby opened her mouth, but slammed it shut because she couldn’t come up with a good answer.

Luckily, Benny picked up the slack with his lovely accent and charmed the redhead with, “Sharing stories about the past.  The good ones.  Never a bad thing to recollect, right?  Remember where you came from, showing how it made you who you are today.  Too many people forget, they try to forget, but I like to keep hold of mine.  What about you?”

Charlie was actually pretty damn surprised by his answer, so much she recoiled before she really thought it over.  “Well…” she mused, “only time my past gets brought up is when people question my abilities.  When I gotta flash my résumé so people take me seriously.  Other than that, they’re…in the past.”

Purposefully, correct?” he inquired with a brow raised.

She nodded her response.

“From what you told me, we’re traveling to a new possible home.  A real one.  Now, it’s more important than ever to remember where we come from.  Think about it, Charlie.  Tell me a good story.”  He looked over his shoulder and pitched his voice back, saying, “Hannah, you, too.  It’s a good way to pave the road to tomorrow.  Keep the bricks behind us in good shape.”

“Huh,” Charlie wore a crooked grin.  “All right!  I’ve got a good one!”

-------------------

After an initial bickering session (Dean swearing he was aces, and bitching that he needed some form of autonomy, dammit!) Bobby and Dean flipped a coin to decide who would drive the Jeep.  And, naturally, Bobby fucking won.

For this round.

He’d called Dean an idjit and said if they needed to stop, fuel up, anything - they’d switch shifts and he’d have his turn.  And, fine, he’d live with that.  Besides, he could always curl up on Cas’ lap in the back while his Mom’s voice soothed him into a nap as she chatted with Bobby.

That was always one thing he was so fucking grateful for, something that no one else had.

Dean had managed to rescue his family.

The rumors had gone through the wires early at the FBI, but Dean never treated anything lightly.  So he broke a few codes when the government was urged by the EPA (who’d been denied funding decades ago) that the seismic activates and readings they were receiving all over the United States were nothing to scoff at.  Even though it was classified, Dean made the call.

He had a bad feeling, called his brother to get the hell back to Kansas and wait with Mom.

Turned out, Dean didn’t have anyone to report to for breaking the rule.

Once he turned his back, well, it was every man for themselves.

Not only had he gotten to his little brother and mom in time, along the way he’d found the love of his life and (apparently by complete accident) a boyfriend for his brother.  Like…there couldn’t have been a luckier guy on the entire dissolving planet, really.

Laying down, right now, his back was a mere irritation.  His mom’s voice always relaxed him, just the soft tone of it (even when she was mad, Dean couldn’t take her seriously which had been a problem growing up) was enough to lull him to sleep.  The comments Bobby made from time to time were enough to make him snort out in laughter, the cranky old coot.  God, did Dean love the shit that came out of his mouth.

But more than anything - the thing he loved the most?

Was the man whose lap he was pillowed on.

Cas would absently run his fingers through Dean’s hair as he looked out the window.  He’d rest his hand on Dean’s waist - mindful of his still healing burns and how they were now peeling off in friggin’ nasty-ass sheets.  Then every once in awhile, when Dean’s eyes were closed and he was feeling the rock of the Jeep, the thing that he felt even more intensely were Cas’ eyes on him.

It made him grin too wide, one time, and Cas asked an attempted bland, “What?” but Dean could tell he was smirking.

“You’re staring.  You’ve got this…hyper-focus.  I can tell.”  His eyes fluttered open and he looked up at his boyfriend in confirmation.  “Yer lucky you’ve got those gorgeous baby blues.”

“Or else what?” he challenged back.

Dean hummed, “Or else we’d have a problem with how much you stare.  But you’re pretty, so I’ll let you continue to be creepy.”

Oh, and that pulled a glare from the man.  He began to growl, “You cannot-”

Dean wrapped his arms around Cas’ neck, and even though the angle was awkward, he hoisted himself up and kissed him soundly.  It did a good job of shutting him up when he collapsed back into his lap with a shit-eating grin on his face and he winked.

“I’m giving you a compliment, Cas.  Suck it up.”

Before anything else could be said, it was actually Mary who interrupted and stated, “I apologize for not working with my son more when it came to the fine art of showing your appreciation of someone.  That’s just how Dean shows love.  By being a little shit.”

“Hah!” Dean was so surprised that a laugh exploded from his chest and he turned around to say, “Mom!  You’re supposed to be on my side!  For everything!”

She smiled impishly when she looked back and clucked her tongue, “Not when you’re behaving like a child.  I thought you’d outgrow playground flirtation.”

That was when the edge of Cas’ lips began to tug into something mischievous too and he glanced over to say, “Thank you, Mary.  I most appreciate it.”

“I’m protecting you both,” she stated, and went on to say, “God knows you’re capable of murdering my son if he goes too far.  And I happen to know that Dean just loves pushing the envelope.  I quite like him alive.”

“I concur.”  Castiel nodded. “We’ll have to keep him in line.”

“Balls!” Bobby suddenly exclaimed and everyone turned their attention to the road where none of it had been a second ago.

The Hummer had pulled to a stop, Bobby pulled to a halt behind it and Sam, no doubt, following suit.  Everything in front of them, well, it was a hazard zone.  They were on a plateau that dropped off, and underneath was nothing but water and the floating remains of cities, people’s lives and, no doubt, the bodies of the dead.

“Everyone got their coveralls on?” Bobby muttered as he noticed the group getting out of the vehicles, one by one.

“Fuck,” Dean sat up and grabbed his last head covering, “Yeah, let’s see what’s plan B.”

-----------------------------

Soon, everyone was looking off the cliff and down into the depths below.

The first question, the most important question, was voiced by Sam.  “Is this it?  Is this the ocean, or is this just another bump in our path?  Do we drive along the coast or…back up and wait?”

Charlie was furiously typing into her device, trying to find an answer.

Damn Benny had been so sly and got the whole car chatting and looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses that she hadn’t been doing her job!  She was supposed to check out where the coastline was!  What shape it was in, the distance between the land masses, figuring out what she knew about the size of the plates and now-

Now she was being rushed.

God, the last thing they needed, while peering over this deathtrap, was the final “shove!”  She needed to find the actual coast line, if this was it, if it was a flooded area, if…

Everyone was waiting, some with the fear of heights were backing off, others were crouched and peering down with interest.

“Wanna do a cliff dive, Sammy?” Gabriel wiggled his eyebrows.  “Bet it’d be a record-breaker!”

“Oh, I’ll alert the Guinness Book of World Records for your dumbass,” he rolled his eyes, but (ever since they were found out, they didn’t really hide ‘them’ anymore) grabbed Gabriel around the waist when where they were both kneeling and yanked them over.

Sam tackled him until they were laying on their backs, rolled to their sides and laughing.  There may have been a comment or two from the peanut gallery, but they didn’t care.  Sam wished he wasn’t wearing this stupid sun protection, because he really wanted to kiss Gabriel.  Feel his touch.

It had been too long.

Ever since the incident, he hadn’t merely taken over Meg’s duties with Dean’s burns, he’d been overly-cautious with Meg’s injury.  Because to be honest…hers was so intense, so vicious and gory, that, well…those were the kinds of wounds that people died from these days.

Whether it was the location and lack of sanitation, loss of blood, lack of knowledge of who was stitching the poor girl back together paired with no antibiotics, the incorrect medical supplies…and even then, there was the possibility of gangrene and so many other infections.  

Which caused Sam to hover.  

Constantly check her temperature.  Constantly re-dressing the wounds, because he refused to lose her.  It might as well have been a God-sent mission, but that left Gabriel in the dust.

Still, Gabriel understood - they need to keep each other alive and this one was at the top of the list.  That didn’t mean a little PDA wasn’t going to happen when they were sitting around with their thumbs up their asses with no direction.  This device was taking a damn long time to kick in after all.

At least they were a little ways away from the group when Sam whispered, “Miss you.”

“I know.”  Yet, when Gabriel said it, it wasn’t cocky or haughty, it was an acknowledgment and an honest answer because he felt the same.  “I also know I’ll get you back soon.  Cross your fingers we get good results on Char’s stolen merch.  Or…” his voice was full of trouble, “we tell people to avoid the SUV for the next hour or so…”

With a real chuckle, Sam grabbed Gabriel’s hand, tugging him even closer and groaned, “God, don’t I wish!”

“Soon.”  And he sounded so hopeful.  He only wished that Sam could see him smiling through the mask.  “Hey, wanna know a secret?”

“Sure.”  Sam ducked in closer to heard him through the barrier of the cloth.

Gabriel leaned as close as he could get when he said, “I love your giant Moose ass.”

Sam snickered and quipped, “Little blurry on the details.  Is it my ass that you love?  The fact that you think I resemble a moose?  So you love me?  Is this a bestiality thing, or-”

“Shut up, Winchester,” he punched him in the shoulder with the threat of, “I’m gonna kiss the fuck out of you the second I get the chance.  And then fuck the hell out of you, the second after that.”

“Mm, that better be a promise…” his voice dropped down in timbre and there was another thing he had to add before Charlie made the announcement.

“Dude.  Guys?”  She looked around the group, every last one of them waiting on bated breath.  “This is a cove, which is why we’re not getting the tides but…if we followed the land out and around, we’re here.  Like…there’s nothing beyond this.”

“This is the coast?” Meg echoed in disbelief.  “I’m gonna place some bets and say, since we were following the turnpike, New Jersey’s gone?”

Charlie sighed and nodded, “This.  Here.  This is the beginning of New Jersey.  All...three miles of it.”

“What do we do?” Mary asked the next question, ignoring the what-ifs, and getting them back on track.  “So we take it back a ways and wait?  We don’t want to be knocked down into that inlet.  We need to have solid ground under our feet when the continents collide.”

“I agree,” Hannah nodded at Mary, “But we can’t be too far, either.  We need to cross, get away from this place, move onward.  There’s nothing but desolation here.  Nothing but death is waiting for us. We can't survive another year, maybe even another month.  If we cross the land bridge?  There’s no way it’s worse than what we've been doing.”

“Couldn’t agree more,” Jo added, looking around to the group, but then something happened…and her eyes widened, “Oh, hell no-”

“Goddammit!” Dean shouted at the top of his lungs, “Everyone, back in the cars!  U-turn!  Get the fuck away from this plateau!  This is it, this is the quake!” he ordered as he moved.

Ruby added, “Don’t worry about following us!  Just punch it, we’ll meet up later!  Find a path, get the fuck out!

There weren’t words to describe the fear and the fumbling that went along with the speed and terror while they grasped door handles.  The double-trys at jamming the keys into ignitions.  The choice between frantic U-turns and shoving the gears into reverse.

Benny knew this Hummer, he was in, he was spinning his tires and ordered everyone, “Seat belts!  This is gonna be bumpy!” and he picked a clear field, riddled with rocks and debris that headed directly West.  He was going in a straight line away from the coast, getting the hell out of there and taking the girl’s protection as a life or death mission.

It was for those who’d saved him and he was going to return the favor.

Inside the SUV, Sam made sure not to repeat Jo’s mistake with his head colliding against the wheel.  But driving during this?  Was a whole new animal that tested every muscle and reflex he had in his body.  Sam retraced their steps, but as he drove he could feel the high speeds coupled with the quake and the entire ride hurdling off the ground to become airborne for a few passes.

It was terrifying, the ground jarring from under them as they crashed back down, the lightest reprieves when there was no cement or gravel under their tires and then the wind was knocked from their lungs as they landed on the Earth once more.

Holy hell, this was messed up-

But what laid behind them was even worse, whatever happened, they needed to escape!

Sam, always the EMT, ordered them, “Keep your joints loose!  No matter what happens!” because if he were honest?  He could feel it…

The way the tires weren’t holding steady with the wheel even as his knuckles turned white, trying to control the vehicle.  He could see it in the Hummer, too...the pulses were too strong, their traction too weak , and it didn’t matter how fast or slow they were going…

All it would take was hitting a patch of loose dirt, and they’d roll.  Fuck, there was no doubt in Sam’s mind with the way these were weighted, if they made it out?  One, if not all of them would be upside down from driving like maniacs during an earthquake.  Sam just knew it.  The group would be in need of him or Meg’s special eye, because these circumstances weren’t just dire, they were a whole new level of life and death.

Dean was shifting through gears like a mad man, watching where Sam had gone, and where Benny had gone, his mind working a mile a minute as he tried to process what their best bet was.  The Jeep was fucking awesome for off-roading, but these tremors?

That continued to build up, more and more, knowing they were headed for an actual goddamn collisions in the rear?  Dean felt sick.  Like he was going to puke.

Because, while everyone else was trying to get away from the water part of it all, he was two steps ahead.  It wouldn’t merely be the quake, they could do these in their sleep by now.  No, this would be two prehistoric land-masses hitting with such a force they’d be landlocked and joined back together.

The earthquake would be absolutely nothing in comparison.

So he continued to speed away, he continued to follow suit with the rest of his team, but they were too close.  They were in the hot zone, they would feel an impact felt around the world, except their proximity made them patient zero.

A strange calm came over him as he was tossed back and forth by the tremors because there was only two ways this could go.  Live or die.

And for once?  Ever since Dean had become their ‘unofficial leader’?  It wasn’t his call.

...He was free.  He wasn’t making any choices that could have saved or lost any lives.

This was all in mother nature’s hands, her call to either spare them or destroy them.

“Dean?” Cas’ voice was panicked, and he looked upon him in complete and utter shock to see he was so…peaceful?  “What’s going on?  Are you-?”

“I love you, Cas,” he said with a smile and shifted into top gear, flooring it.

Because in the rearview mirror?  There was a dust storm kicking up, and there was only one place that could have come from beyond the water...  

Africa.  The other side.  Their shift was slowly transitioning and the United States would give that final push to connect at any time…

Dean took in a deep breath, looked at Bobby, his mother, and the love of his life - not through the rearview mirror - but in the eyes just as the rumble grew greater and greater, the passengers unable to hear one another, so there was one, simple thing Dean could do.

He shouted, his voice hoarse and demanding:

“Hold on!”

Chapter Text

When the dust cleared, Dean slowly opened his eyes to realize he was laying flat on his back, staring up at the sun.

“Fuck!” he shouted, because he wasn’t even the healing burns that hurt, it was his entire body.

How fast had he been going?  Where was the Jeep?  Had it flipped over?  Where was everyone?

Dean tried as slowly as he could to get to his feet, but there was one arm that wasn’t budging.  Hell, he knew it was broken, but he couldn’t exactly take off his jacket to see if it pierced the skin.  The more he attempted to sit up, the more he realized - yeah, his ribs were also cracked.  But nothing was piercing his organs, it was from the brutal impact.

Every inch of his body felt like one giant, fucking bruise, but the adrenaline of finding the others, finding his family, was so much more critical than bitching about how much he ached.  God, hopefully some stayed in the car and weren’t flung out like he had if it rolled…

Everyone’s outerwear was thick, it was specifically chosen and designed not to tear under any circumstances.  Ones like this.  Some wore helmets to cover their heads they’d found along the way, which was perfect, others hats - but under those hats their heads were wrapped in buffs, eyes covered in glorified ski goggles with the UV tint Charlie mastered, saving their eyes.  No matter where they were, the sun shouldn’t (God, Dean prayed) be a problem.

He was on his feet, stumbling along and bracing his left arm, fighting tooth and nail against the pain as he looked for the Jeep.  The clouds were still puffing up, and he froze when he saw it.  And it sure as hell wasn’t the Jeep, no...

‘It’ was where the land had locked.

Above the settling debris and dirt, there was a small mountain range exactly where Charlie predicted.

His eyes quickly followed, there were ups and downs and hopefully they could find a land bridge and cross over.  Although Dean should be celebrating, should be jumping for joy and exclaiming with relief, that it was over - the earthquakes, the shifts, maybe all the goddamn Events - they had a new place to go - he couldn’t .  Not until he found his family!

He heard Cas before he saw him.

“Dean!” his voice was gruff, like he’d been shouting for a while and it made him wonder…

How long had he been knocked out?

What if the others were all right, and he was the odd man out?  That would be fucking amazing, Dean would eagerly take that roll if it meant everyone else was safe-

“Cas!” he shouted back, and, God, if he had never witnessed anyone moving faster in his life.

In a straight charge, the man was there, cradling his face tenderly and Dean wished he could see the expression behind the coverage.  But before his boyfriend had the chance to embrace him or say another word, Dean coughed around the dust and pleaded:

“Tell me everyone’s okay?  I-I think I am.  Just some road rash, broken arm and some ribs.”  With a heavy exhale, he couldn’t help but admit, “Motherfuck, it’s so good to see you.”  And while he couldn’t hold him, Dean could very well lay his head on Cas’ shoulder.

“I’ve damaged my hip and my shoulder, I’m assuming something’s broken, but that doesn’t matter,” Cas just rattled it off, per usual with Cas, even though Dean knew damn well that wasn’t the extent of the injuries but he was a pro at playing through the pain.  Hell, Dean had seen friggin bullet scars on Cas’ body one afternoon they had privacy and were making love!  And now that Dean thought about it, he was limping as he ran towards him.  Jesus, Cas was crazy.  “Bobby and Mary were strapped into the Jeep when it flipped.  They’re out and analyzing the...formation, only whiplash, their garb saved them from the broken glass.  Both were saved from any head trauma by the helmets.  We’re searching for the others.”

With a shaky breath, Dean nodded.  “When the dust settles…we’ll find them.”

He just hopped everyone was alive.  Maybe they’d gotten further away, maybe it hadn’t hit them as hard, maybe they were going at lower speeds, maybe-

“Dean, we will.  Don’t worry.”  His voice was soothing, “Come on, I need to bring you back to your mother and Bobby.  You flew straight through the windshield, I have no idea how you managed to only receive these injuries, it’s a miracle.  I-I was terrified.”

“Heh, who knows - I may have more than I think.  Once the freak out part evens out and the fight or flight high drops,” he admitted ruefully.  “Is the Jeep totaled?”

Yet, as they were walking, the unfortunate answer was laid out for them.

Mary and Bobby were waiting, one nervously pacing, the other arms crossed, and both jumped to attention at the sight of Dean.

Hell, Mary bolted, but Cas warned, “Broken arm and ribs,” before she could scoop him up into a hug.

“Oh, baby,” she let out the most massive sound of relief, and Dean could hear tears in her voice, “I was so scared…”

“I’m still scared, but thank God you’re okay,” he admitted and wrapped his good arm around her.  Dean turned to Bobby and said, “What do you think?  We’ll find the others, or they’ll find us.  But…we need to be ready.  Ready to cross over.”

“I agree,” Castiel approached the wreckage of the Jeep and began maneuvering the trunk around to open it.  “We need to get our backpacks.  Fill them with all we can carry.  No need for fuel, we can’t cross this with the SUV or the Hummer, if they even made it out.”  He was clinical and driven, exactly what they needed right now - someone clear-headed and in charge.  “Everything will be on foot.  Let’s get to work.”

-------------------------

Once the earthquake passed, Benny asked the women inside the Hummer, “Everyone okay?”

They’d driven as fast and as far as they could before he’d slowed down and shifted the gears into park.  From there, they’d crossed their fingers and rode out the rest.  They couldn’t risk the high-speeds in an escape, and while Benny was fan-fucking-tastic at driving the Hummer in any terrain, it didn’t count when the terrain was vertically fighting you.

More than anything, they needed to stay still, they couldn’t afford to wreck.  Charlie was holding the key to their future, she was protecting the tech with her small frame doubled over and covering it, so she was damaged before it was.

They’d jolted, they’d rocked, there were multiple times they thought they’d be thrown from the vehicle, but, because of the sturdy seat belts, they’d prevailed.  A number of times, that was the only thing holding them down from hitting the ceiling.  It was like a rollercoaster ride, except any wild turns equaled sudden death.

Ruby was the first to confirm, “Y-yeah, I’m all right.”

“Same here,” Hannah added, “just…really shaken up.”

Charlie peered up after examining the screen for cracks, for dents, for anything, “Fuck yes!  Me and my baby are safe!”  Then she turned around to see precisely what she’d predicted.  “Guys?  I think we’re gonna make it.”

“Then get on that damn thing and find us an easy pass over!” Ruby demanded and then turned to Benny, pulling down her mask and begging him with wild eyes, “We need to find everyone else.  God, we need to do it now.  And…” she bit her lip as she reached out and grabbed his hand, “thank you.  God knows what I would’ve done, I would’ve made a break for it, and probably killed everyone here, thinking distance was key but you…you saved us.  Dean was right, you’re damn smart, give yourself more credit, Benny...”

Benny pulled down his own covering down so she could see his sincerity as he held her hand with both of his.  “I’m glad I could be here, cher.  At least the Marines taught me something right?”  He quirked a smile, “High stress comes with the territory, and when you have something you’re fighting so damn hard for at stake, well..”

It was almost as though the last part slipped and Ruby couldn’t help but tease, “Something or someone?”

“I think it’s both,” he said confidently, finding his voice.  Then he countered, “That gonna be a problem?”

Ruby laughed and shook her head, “No, I think that’ll work out all right.”  She patted his hand and implored, “Let’s go find our friends and get the hell outta this place, what do ya say?”

“It’s a good plan, Ruby.”  

And just the way he said her name, it was different.  In a good way, she thought and smiled widely. 

In the back, Charlie and Hannah were looking over the new landscape, studying it carefully before the car jerked into drive.  It was Hannah who spotted it first, pointing to an area due south that looked right around sea level.

“What about here?  Could that be an option?”  She was used to seeing landmarks and scenery from the sky, she could pick out inclines and lower zones in the blink of an eye.  It came with the territory of her job.  

So much so that Charlie was damn impressed.  “Yeah, wow.  I didn’t even notice.  It’s about…” she did the math in her head, translating the kilometers into miles (since the programming was in metrics) and confirmed, “five miles away.  We can get there in no time if we-”

Hannah cleared her throat, and apologetically said, “We…still don’t know the status of the others.  We may have to walk it, but that’s not a problem.  As long as everyone’s able.”

“Shitsticks.”  Charlie slouched in the seat and felt her heart picking up speed.  “You’re right.  We all…fanned out.  We have no idea what happened to everyone, we don’t know if they’re okay, we don’t even know-!”

“Char,” Ruby turned around from the passenger seat and gave her a look.  “We can only do what’s possible.  So just take a deep breath in.  We’re gonna find them now, all right?  We’re here.  We’ve got a way across.  That’s a helluva great thing we have going.  The rest will work out.”

She nodded, trying her hardest to take the advice, but it was so difficult, even when Ruby’s optimism was a rare commodity.  This was family!  These weren’t just friends.  These people were her entire world and she had led them to this very place…if anything went wrong…

It would be on Charlie’s shoulders for navigating them here.

She didn’t know if she’d be able to forgive herself.

------------------------------

“Can we even get this damn thing’s battery to work?!” Dean groused, kicking the wheel of the Jeep.  “If we could just get the lights on, they’d see us through the dust or something.  I just,” he tried to crouch, realizing very, very quickly it was a horrible idea.

“Fuckin' hell!” he spat out as his ribs and arm felt like a livewire of pain, and Mary shot him an unimpressed glance.

“Idjit,” Bobby shook his head, watching Cas load up the bags.

Dean looked too and it appeared as though he was nearly on the fourth.  And they were filled to the brim.  It was a good start.  They had a lot of bounty from Anna’s and even though the entire situation still stung something awful, there was still so much good that had come out of it.  People needed to focus on that part...

Knowing her.  Charlie forming that relationship, getting that tech, hell - Anna had probably saved their lives.  And at least they’d saved her from rotting in the basement, given her another few weeks of not only friendship and hope, but something...real.  People who cared about her, since that douchebag on her team had turned his back on her in a flash.

Anna knew betrayal.

So Dean could say proudly that they yanked her out of the isolation, and showed her real companionship and love.  That random mixes and matches of people could come together and achieve amazing things.  That she was special and not just another brain working on a project.

Because of that, no, Dean didn’t feel bad about three of the backpacks full of rations from the house now collapsed in the sink hole.  They needed them to survive and food was so fucking difficult to find.  Plus, they had no idea where they were going, all they knew was the grass would be greener - it had to.  The climate was, hell, maybe they even had grass!

“There you go, boy.”

Bobby’s voice stopped his internal monologue and he spun around to see that not only the Jeep’s brights were on, but her hazard lights were flashing like a lighthouse out at sea.

“How did you do that, old man?!” Dean retorted with the easy banter they went back and forth with.

“Learned a few things back in my day,” he winked.  “Should be easy to spot us, now.”

“Damn right,” he shook his head in both disbelief and approval.  “God, I hope they spot us soon.  Or else I’m gonna head out and look for them.”

“Don’t be a fool.  They’ll find us.  We’re closest to the new... wall, ain’t nothing behind us but rock.  They’ve gotta head our way, no matter what.”

Sure, Bobby’s words were true - but they were best-case-scenario.  He didn’t mention anything about the possibility of their group being injured, needing help, nothing in the realm of crashes like they had.  And, yeah, it was a nice thought, but it wasn’t realistic.  Still, Dean would wait it out.  It helped that the Jeep was flashing.  Cas was almost finished packing, so once the rest arrived, they’d be close to hopping the border.

Holy hell, they were so close!

------------------------------

“Okay, Charlie.  Now that you’ve got our escape route plugged into your favorite toy, can you zoom in?” Ruby asked hopefully.  “Visibility is still shit, I don’t know how long it’ll take to calm down considering it’s falling from a brand-new freakin’ mountain range, but maybe a bird’s eye view will help us find them faster?”

“And make sure I don’t run ‘em over,” Benny added helpfully, yet with a wry tone.

It felt like they’d been circling for a while.

And, unfortunately, they always traveled in a caravan - which mean the SUV carried the gas.  The Hummer was slowly, but surely, running out.  And without a direction, this guessing game was either going to leave them stranded, or another group with bigger problems if they were injured or their car was totaled.

“Okay, just put her in park for a second, I’m already connected, I just need-”

“Wait!” Hannah suddenly interjected, “Holy shit, doesn’t that look like-”

“A fucking fire- ” Ruby gasped, her hand flying to her face and ordered, “Benny!  Get over there!”

Everyone braced themselves as he took off, and their hearts were in their throats.  Because just as they were speaking about running out of gas?  About how the SUV houses it?  It looked as though their supply wasn’t just dwindling, it had manifested into an entirely new monster.

Charlie even sat the GPS down when they got closer to the beginnings of the flames, because they could eat through the plastic and cause an explosion in no time.

“Wait, wait, why aren’t they out here?!  Why can’t we see them?  Where are they?!” she demanded, her focus dancing around in a full three-sixty as they approached the burning SUV, “Why wouldn’t they run?!  Did they run?!”

“Only one way to find out,” Benny put the Hummer in park so fast it made their bodies jerk, but no one hesitated.

They suited up, ran from the car, doors open, directly towards the flame.

While the fire was focused in the truck, it was slowly licking upward and it was the perfect environment for that blast.

Ruby had the longest legs and the easiest out, darting towards the vehicle laying on its side.  She yelled the moment he looked inside, her voice shrill with tension, “Everyone’s here!  Inside !  They’re all KO‘d!  Fuck, we need to get them out! ”

The sight made her stomach drop out.  All the glass was shattered from the windows and littering the inside - a blue-green shine of minuscule pieces landing everywhere.  Sam’s head, from the driver’s seat, was actually on the dusty ground from where the SUV must have come to rest after flipping so many times.

It was dented at every angle, it hadn’t rolled merely once; this was a massive accident.  There was no question as to why they were knocked out from the state of the mangled SUV.  From the friction of the road, the flying goddamn car and the gas cans probably caught fire from the shake-up and being in direct sunlight from the broken-in windows.  Now, after the horrible crash, they were sitting ducks!

Gabriel and Jo’s limp bodies hung in the air, only held by their seatbelts, and Meg was hunched over, head lulled between the front seat and the door.

Ruby was freaking out, she didn’t know if they could move them, she didn’t know the ‘proper protocol’ for this, Meg and Sam were the medical staff, not any of them!

When a hand clamped down on her shoulder, she turned to see Benny who ordered her sternly, “We need to get ’em all in the Hummer,” then pitched his voice to the other women, “We gotta be fast!  This here’s a tickin’ time bomb.  Now, Ruby and I are gonna get ’em out, one by one.  Charlie and Hannah?  Support their heads, look for bleeding, wounds, anything we need to be careful of and get them into the backseat!  Then…it may take all of us to haul Sam out.”

Everyone nodded, treating him like the leader he rose to be.

The first thing that happened in Ruby’s case was horseshit!  They couldn’t get the damn back door open, it was so fucking crunched!

“No jaws of life,” Ruby growled, “I’m going in.”  She looked at Benny and said, “Grab ’em so when I unhook the seat belt Jo doesn’t fall.”

“You girls ready?!” Ruby called out, and got back hearty “Yes, ma’am”s and “Of course!”

She easily jumped up onto the side of the SUV and slid down along the back of the front seats.  Ruby had to carefully place her feet because of where Meg’s head was, which made the fire inside her burn even hotter.  They needed to be saved - she could feel the actual, real flames from the back seat, so much hotter than the sun.

After seeing Benny gather his grasp and cradle Jo in the middle, Ruby clicked the button and she fell lax, supported in his arms.  Ruby held her head as he pulled her out of the wreckage and handed her off to Charlie and Hannah.  When Ruby looked back down at Meg?  She knew this would take more effort.

But it was just like those moms who lifted goddamn cars if their child was in danger.  She crouched down, seeing how none of Meg was actually being held up by the safety device and let it zip past right away.  She manhandled her friend from a crouch, draping the top half of Meg’s body over her shoulder as she lifted with her legs.

It would have been harder, but the solid ground underneath her gave her all the traction she needed.

And when Ruby stood up to her full height, Benny could scoop her up under her armpits.  The pair of women had returned and winced, because everyone saw, now that she was out from underneath, the blood matting her hair.

“We’ve got to hurry,” Charlie told them, “the fire, it’s spreading like crazy!  I don’t wanna rush you, but…” there was raw fear in her voice as they took Meg back.

Benny offered Ruby a hand to pull her out, and then they both turned to the front seat.  This time, thank God, they could actually open the door!  Benny went ahead and grabbed Gabriel while Ruby bent over and released him from his confines.

He warned the girls, “Got a little more weight to him.  But we’ll need to you back soon.  We’ve got Sam.  It’s all hands on deck.”

Ruby and Benny just stared down for a second.  It wasn’t merely a matter of weight, it was the lanky limbs, the promised head injury and the probability of even more.  If only the car had rolled one more time!

“I’ll get in the backseat,” Benny decided, “I’ll recline the front, see if I can’t get him out of the car.  You ladies pull.  Soon as he’s out, we all get ’im in the Hummer, abandon this time bomb.”

“I don’t like it,” Ruby said, “the leather behind the backseat’s already on fire-”

Just as the words left her mouth, he had jumped in.  “Dammit, Benny!”  But he wasn’t stopping, he continued doing exactly as he was asked, while Ruby held her breath.

“No family left behind, right?” he tried to laugh and keep it light, grabbing Sam’s side when the seat reclined to make way for him, holding the Winchester in place.  “Are the girls ready?”

“Hurry!” Hannah’s eyes kept flicking between the hungry fire, inching towards Benny while he rearranged Sam in a way where he could grab him under the armpits.

That’s how he offered the unconscious man to the women up through the open door.  Ruby took one side, Hannah took the other, and Charlie took his middle to move his away as quickly as possible so Benny could make his escape.

Once the man was out, they hurried to the Hummer, those still moving and awake hunched down on the floor boards while they strapped their injured friends in their seats.  They could watch them from underneath, too - in case they nodded awake, needed anything.

Except, as soon as Benny got in the driver’s seat, he took one look at the SUV and said, “Goddammit, hold onto ’em!” and spun his tires in reverse to get the hell away.

He knew the signs from his training - he knew when something was going to blow.  And as Benny drove at top speed, his eyes glued to the rear-view mirror, they couldn’t have cut it any closer.  All the canisters of gas lit up, one after the other into fucking fireworks.  They’d barely made it out; they’d almost lost their friends.

Charlie could feel tears well up in her eyes as she watched the sight and Hannah pulled her close.  She understood, being so near another death-toll would’ve ruined them.  All of them.   

It was a miracle, but still…looking up at the four, was it the accident that knocked them out?

Between them, their knowledge was shoddy.  They had a freakin’ flight attendant, a mechanic, a bartender and, now, a Marine.

Their EMT and nurse were among the patients and they couldn’t really ask…goddammit!

“Hannah, try talking to them.  See if you can get any of them up.  Just to see what happened.”  Benny suggested, then remembered, “Charlie, see if you can find Dean and his group.  We need’ta make sure they aren’t in the same boat.”

Both women agreed and tried until they were blue in the face.  The only one who was successful in the end was Charlie.

And it wasn’t completely because of her - it was because of the lingering glow of headlights, breaking through the dust and clouding debris.  Finally, they would be together!

-------------------------

When Dean spotted the Hummer, an actual moving, working automobile his eyes lit up like it was Christmas morning.  Except…when Benny got out of the front seat and no one else made any moves, the way he came towards them was…frightening.

Not because he was trying to scare them or anything; it was because he looked like he was gonna deliver bad news.

Which had Dean instantly demanding, “What’s wrong?  What’s going on?  Don’t you bullshit me, Benny!” while Cas had to physically hold him back.

He snorted and shook his head, “Dean, good news, bad news, all right?  Take a breather.”  Benny gave a significant look to Cas, making sure he didn’t fly off the handle.  “Everyone is alive, all right?  I got the girls with me, nothin’ but a case’a motion sickness.”

“That’s wonderful news!” Mary interjected, trying to take some of the heat off.

“What about Sammy?” Dean needed to know, because there was more to it, he knew it!  “Where’s the SUV?  Where’s the rest of the group?”

“They’re inside, all'a them,” Benny promised, “But…we ran into some complications.”

“Complications?”  It was Cas who made the demand this time, seeing as how his own flesh and blood was involved.  “…Is Gabriel?  Meg and Jo?”

“See, thing is,” he took in a massive inhale, “we really don’t know.”

Bobby snorted and repeated, “You really don’t know?  They’re inside.  There are ‘complications.’  But you don’t know what these complications are?”  He tried his hardest to keep his voice from being overwhelmed with a patronizing drawl.  Every one of them was at the end of their rope.

That was when Ruby swung out of the Hummer and turned to the rest of the group.  The window had been cracked for air flow, they needed to get something a little more fresh than smoke from the fire and to air out their lungs.  In the process, she heard the entire ‘investigation,’ (more like an interrogation).  And Ruby?  Wouldn’t step down or let them give Benny anymore shit.

“We found them the same way we found you,” she announced, going as far as to take a step in front of Benny and putting her hands on her hips.  “Except instead of your shattered headlight?  We were greeted by fire.”

She took in the dropped jaws with an affirmative nod and continued.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”  Ruby setup the scene with, “When the quake hit, Benny pulled over and we held on.  I’m guessing Sam was trying to outrun any floods or land masses like you guys were.”  She gestured to the shape of the Jeep.  “Except, they got hit.  And hard.  We don’t have any 'information' because all of them are unconscious!  The SUV was on its side and completely fucked.  The gas canisters had caught fire, we barely made it, getting them out of that damn car while the flames were eating it alive.  We made our grand escape just before it blew!  They’re still out.  But…” she waved Charlie forward, “there is good news.”

She emerged from the car, and in the process, Dean ran over to see his brother’s unconscious body.  “Fuck, Sammy,” he cursed, taking note of him and everyone in the car.  Hannah popped out, too, seeing that they may as well leave the doors open for ventilation and join the group.  Even though Dean wasn’t about to leave his brother’s side anytime soon, as he took his hand and pleaded, “Sammy, c’mon, wake up…”

Charlie cleared her throat and informed them, “Five miles away we found a spot in the new landscape that doesn’t require mountain climbing in our bag of tricks!”  She flashed a grin.  “But, like I said…it’s five miles.  Maybe we take turns shuttling people with the hummer, maybe we only keep the wounded in there, maybe-”

“…ean?” It was weak and it sounded so goddamned pained that Dean didn’t dare to overwhelm him.  Who knew all the things that had happened, that had-

“Hey,” his voice was pitched softly, barely above a whisper, “I’m here, Sammy.  How ya doing?”

“N-not good.”  Sam didn’t bother to hide it.  “I fucked up, oh God-” he jerked up to look around, but doubled over in pain, his limbs shaky but Dean didn’t know what to diagnose.  “No…” his voice was breathless, in shock as he caught sight of the other three.  “No, no, no, Dean, I-!”

Charlie sprinted forward, because she had been on the floor boards and taking vitals, “Sam!  Everyone’s alive!  Steady heart rate, blood pressure, you guys just got knocked around, all right?  You were actually the one everyone was worried about.  What hurts?”

“Head,” he blurted, “Ankle, foot, trying to, trying to get us to slow down.  Think I crunched it, somehow.  Might be fractures, maybe broke, I can’t tell but…Need to clean head, i-it's bad.”

As was his speech patterns and confusion.  It made Dean’s blood run cold, but he needed to help him.  “All right, all right, we’ll get around to it, buddy, guess what?  We’re gonna make the cross, soon as everyone’s ready, okay?”

Sam looked at him with confusion but said, “Good.  New start.  New life.  Not here, there.”

Dean turned his wild eyes back to Cas, trying to see if he was getting this, that he wasn’t crazy and his brother was speaking in broken English.  But it was Benny who actually squeezed Dean’s shoulder, “Brother, I’ve seen men who’ve gotten torn up from IEDs.  Takes ‘em a second to get their thoughts in order.  Could be the same exact thing.  Just let him be.”

“N-need to check others.  See their injuries,” Sam decided in the moment and shifted away from Dean in the car.

“Woah, woah, woah!  Easy, fella!  Hear what Benny said?  Sometimes you just need a second to get your thoughts in order.  Looks to me like it was a helluva crash, okay?  Just…let them sleep it off and you - relax.”  He turned back to the Marine and explained, “We already gathered the things we needed to backpack across the area.  Figured no matter how easy, it couldn’t be easy enough to drive over.  You and the girls wanna collect the stuff you have in the Hummer?  What we’re taking with us over to Africa?”

“Sounds good.  Let’s do it!”

Sam…his ideas, his process,  everything - it was jumbled.  He let his body just kind of hang there, it melted and became one with the seat but he turned his head, knowing he’d bled through the covering.  He looked at Meg, Jo, but more than anything, he looked at Gabriel.  If anything happened to him, and it was because he was at the wheel?

No, no, no, it couldn’t.

He reached out and grabbed his hand, hoping there wasn’t a break.  To be honest, with everyone unconscious and unable to tell their stories, Sam didn’t know what their ailments were, what to fix, or even begin to figure out.  But he needed Gabriel.  Hell, he hoped Gabriel’s hand was broke, and he jolted back to life in pain!  As long as he was awake, everything would be okay.

The rest of the world moved without Sam, and inch by inch he moved closer, he pulled Gabriel closer, until the man was resting against his chest.  It didn’t matter that it physically pained Sam’s body; he needed him.  He needed his presence, he needed him here, the exact fucking moment he woke up.

“Please, please,” he whispered into the man’s ear, “Gabe, come on and give me crap about my shitty driving.  Just…wake up.  Please.”

He’d try as long and as hard as he could.  That’s what love did.

-----------------------

The others moved (no matter how shaky or how much they had to push) to consolidate their things and make the transition smooth.  They knew they couldn’t carry all the water over, so they indulged, hoping there was more for them on the other side.

So much of it involved optimism and faith.  No one knew if it was a breath of fresh air, to hope for something good, or downright foolish idiocy.

Maybe they had their own ideas, but they wouldn’t voice it.  They just worked.

So far, only Jo had come to and she was in the same state of distress as Sam.

Confused, freaked out about Meg, but she didn’t appear to have anything minus a few bruises and scratches.  Nothing life-threatening, even though the insanity could take over soon.  No one said anything, but they were praying for the other two.  God, they should have stirred by now, they were ready to cross but the time that wore on…

It could indicate something more severe.

Some kind of a head trauma, some kind of hemorrhaging, something…no.  They couldn’t think like that.

Sam and Jo had already been given painkillers, the first being able to see a little more clearly and wrapping his ankle.  Although, when he shut the doors and took advantage of the shade within the Hummer to look at his wound…it needed stitches.  He needed Meg.

Although, he wasn’t even sure she’d be able to do them, given the condition of her arm.  Given the new hit (after hit after goddamn hit) she had taken.  But then…he got an idea.  Even though he was still refusing to leave Gabriel’s side, when he covered up and opened the door again to see everyone nervously whispering to each other and pacing, he pointed one specific man out.

“Benny,” he called, and in an instant, the Marine was at his side.

“Sam, what’s the damage?”  He was eager, having heard many stories about Dean’s little brother during basic training, knowing the kid was a damn angel.  It hurt to see him like this, hell, the man had been the first to vouch for him.  “Is there anything I can help y’all with?”

“Hopefully.” Sam slowly brought it up, even though he knew he was correct, “You were out there, fighting.  You’ve got a lot in your tool box, I’m sure.  Also got a feeling, especially if you’ve seen some guys blown apart by IEDs...you’ve also dressed your fair share of battlefield wounds.”

Benny bit his lip, not sure what Sam was asking.

But he plowed right ahead.  “Am I wrong?”

“Yer not.  But, like you said, it was battlefield wounds.  Nothing like what you can do, I-”

“Benny?  We were on a battlefield.  Every damn day, we fight for our lives.  There are no hospitals or real equipment anymore, hell, I never use real equipment.  Unless we get a miracle and it exists on the other side?  We're on our own.  But first, we gotta make it to the other side.  And my head?  It...isn't good.  I don’t even know if Meg will be able to handle it with her own problems.  I-I…need help.  If I unwrap it, you’ll see that I do, too.”

His gaze fell, but he nodded, agreeing, “We do gotta make it over.  Need to tell you, though, I can do it.  But it ain’t gonna be pretty.”

“I don’t need pretty, I need a job done.”  Sam sighed in relief, because that was a confirmation.  He would do it, and Sam wouldn’t need to walk him through it, step by step.  

After all, he was pretty sure he’d fail halfway through if they took that much time, the dressing he had covering the gash probably already soaked with blood.  It wasn’t clotting, dammit, it needed these stitches.  It was a big one, and Sam was beginning to get dizzy from the blood loss.

“Sam?  Hey, you still there?” Benny had a hand squeezing his shoulder and it took a second for his eyes to focus.

“Y-yeah.  Not sure for how long.  Have Dean get you our First Aid Kit.  He can help, we need to move.”

“Got it,” Benny’s voice was quick as though he’d been given an order, and he was falling back into his safe zone.  Mission-type work.  He could do this.

Sam tried to keep his eyes opened because he refused to sleep, refused to pass out, refused to even die until he saw Gabriel awaken again.  He needed him and that’s another reason why he refused anything sedating.  He needed to be alert for the internal war to stay conscious.  No matter how much the needle hurt.  Or Dean accomplish his wildest dreams of cutting a chunk of Sam’s hair from the side of his head - he needed to suffer through it.  For everyone.  

Especially when they woke up and needed him.. 

-------------------------

They couldn’t wait anymore.

By math, the numbers on the gas gauge, they figured they could take two trips.  And two trips with twelve people?  Was…very, very up close and personal.

The first group were the injured, plus Dean and Cas.

They both refused to leave their family, and Dean was part of that injured group, in a way.  Cas (who wouldn’t admit his own broken bones even though they were present) was there for so many reasons.  For protection, to care for them, out of love.

But his curiosity made him want to scope out the area.  He wanted to see just what he could with the line of visibility, but Jo snapped at him to get back to protect the others.

…so she would be able to run the errand, instead.

She was smaller, less threatening if they ran into others investigating from the other side, and could snipe an enemy down at a remarkable range.  Castiel knew that because he had trained her personally.  In the end, he begrudgingly agreed.

They waited, finding shade in the small valley of one of the massive mountains that had nearly killed them upon creation.  That was leaving Gabriel and Meg in limbo.  Castiel felt absolutely awful, because he could see the way it was destroying both Sam and Jo.

Sam was a shell of himself while Jo felt rage.  She felt the push to do something or else she’d go insane.  He let them both handle it their own way while Dean actually decided to relax.  His ribs and arm must really be getting to him, if that were the case.  Castiel wasn’t sure he’d ever witnessed him so…docile.

They waited.  Some spoke in hushed voices, but one thing that made Castiel curious, and then tune-in, was the sadness in the way Sam continued to speak to Gabriel.

Sam was pushing, trying to get him back, and the second-hand whispers he heard were all about Sam blaming himself for what happened.  Which was absolute bullshit.

It was enough for Cas to get to his feet, march over, and tell Sam as much.

He looked down on the younger Winchester, towering above him from where he was holding Gabriel’s lax form, and growled out, “Sam.  Enough.  Stop apologizing and get over it.”

That alarmed him so much that he startled and his jaw dropped.

But Castiel didn’t give him any time.  He dropped to a crouching position so no one else would hear them and declared, “You could not have prevented what happened.  No one is educated on how to drive in an earthquake during a tectonic plate collision!  If you know of someone?  Please inform me.”  He angrily pointed his finger and narrowed his eyes.  “Gabriel will wake up.  I’ve rendered enough people unconscious to know a knockout blow from a coma.”

The final commented made Sam stall and reminded him of just how dangerous both his boyfriend and Cas were, but he couldn’t help the blurted, “I can’t help it.  I-I…” with a violent head shake, Sam hissed, “He’s what pushes me to go on.  I can’t-”

“You will.  He will.  Just give it time.  And get over yourself.  Relax.  Tension will do nothing but hurt you at this point.  Now, Sam,” Castiel posed it as a question, “when we cross over.  Do you want to be one who carries our weak?  Or will you be the weak who needs to be carried?”

Castiel shot up to his feet and spat out, “Now is the time that will determine that answer,” and spun back around to join Dean.

Sam was frozen in shock.  But now that he had the time to take in all of Cas’ words?  As well as his hard-learned wisdom and experience?  He felt better.  He knew what he had to do.

Even though he had pretty much been friggin attacked, he figured with Castiel…that was basically his version of ‘it came from a place of love.’  A pep talk from that man wasn’t going to get any more sugar coated than that.

Sam set his jaw and decided in haste that he needed to make that change.  Even if it was a mental one, a switch needed to be flipped.  And he was doing it now.

-----------------------------

When the second half finally piled out of the Hummer, they all exhaled the deepest sigh of relief to the scene in front of them.

Even though everyone was resting, seated, or squatting, some going through their bags - double checking for the journey ahead, one fact remained:

Everyone was awake.

Hell, it was a sight that made Charlie, at least, want to sing up to high Heaven that the last pair had finally pulled through!  Their other halves not just attached to their hips, but freakin’ doting and holding onto them like it was their last day on Earth.

Because for a second…it looked as though it might have been.

Ruby had to know, as she strode over to Meg and Jo first, asking, “How’s our little doctor doing?  What’s the diagnosis?”

She peered upward and shrugged, “Helluva hit.  Everything seems to be in place.  Both me and Gabe.  But now that the vehicles here, before we hit the road, I wanna see Sam’s new haircut.”  Which obviously meant she needed to see the wound.

“Ditto!” Gabriel was eavesdropping and already getting to his feet because he wanted - needed - to see.

It looked as though Sam had been worried for nothing, because after puking from a bout of dizziness and then popping some pain meds, Gabriel…was back to being Gabriel.  There was no doubt about a concussion, but he’d told Sam that he’d had worse.  Which, after Cas’ intervention, he had no doubt.  Hell, Gabriel said Cas had even punched him once, about as hard as that car had sent him for a spin.

Dean was ordered to follow too.  They needed the shade for both Meg and Sam to look at his head.  Benny ran ahead and pushed down the back seats - making room for their very own cramped (but workable) little clinic, because they didn’t know what kind of terrain laid ahead.

Sure, Charlie could pull it up on the screen, but it didn’t do it justice.  You couldn’t gauge small distances, random rock falls and waterways in 3D on a screen like that.  You could get a picture, but nothing could prepare you for the actual travel.

Once the door was shut, Meg, Gabriel, Sam, and Dean spread out to the best of their abilities before Meg ordered a no-nonsense, “Show ‘em,” while she removed her face protection.

Gabriel did the same, if only to watch a bit better and breathe.  Yet, his focus was Sam and when he saw the massive chunk of hair that had been arbitrarily and haphazardly cut away his stomach dropped.  Mostly because all the surrounding hair was matted in blood.  That was when Meg actually pushed Gabriel to the side, letting Dean shimmy out of his jacket and shirt, grimacing, to see Sam.

“Fuck, kid,” she cursed as she got a good look at it.  “At least Benny stopped the bleeding.”  Meg’s eyes looked around and caught sight of the First Aid kit they’d left for her.  “The window didn’t break on impact, you broke it and rolled in it. ”

With pursed lips, she looked at Gabriel.  “My arm was bad before, but now it’s done for.  I’ve only got my eyes.  Can you be my hands?  Can you be steady?”

“Of course,” Gabriel fell into that serious, past-life version of himself that rarely showed its face.  “What do you need me to do?”

Meg reached out and pulled a patch of hair to the side.  There was still more of the wound that hadn’t been stitched, that wasn’t actively bleeding, but Sam hissed when she touched.  “There’s still glass here.  I don’t blame Benny for not noticing, he was probably only focused on getting the blood to stop, hell, it was probably like a geyser.  I need you to get the tweezers the pull the shards out.  They’re underneath the matting.”

Gabriel nodded deftly but before he grabbed the implements, now that both their faces were out in the shade of the car, he grabbed Sam’s chin.  And kissed him sweetly.

“Sorry I scared you,” he whispered to his boyfriend, “I mean it.  Now, this is probably gonna suck, so don’t hate me for it?  And…I’m also sorry about your poor hair.  Know you love your luscious locks.”

Sam smiled against Gabriel’s mouth before he laughed lightly, “Well, it was between my hair and dying.  I think I made a good choice, right?”  He turned to Meg and commented, “I wondered, you know?  Something, I don’t know…like, the pressure…where the fabric was against my head, it hurt.  Not because of the stitches against my buff, it was sharper.”

“Yeah, I know.  It’s kind of a mess up here,” Meg’s tone was sympathetic.  “We really need to wash it somehow.  We’ll figure it out, but we need shelter first.  Once we reach the other side, we make camp, we clean that wound.  First priority.  But…” her eyes flashed to Gabriel and back again, “you’re gonna hate your boy toy for a second, okay?   These shards, they were like little razors, small enough to cut through the barrier and then into your scalp.  He’s gonna be thorough, too.”

Sam forced a smile to the pair and agreed “I know he will be.  But it has to be done.  Can’t afford to let it lie.”  He looked down, already having taken his boot off, “What about the ankle?”

“Fracture or sprain,” Meg confirmed.  “Nothing feels broken.  We’ll wrap it, try not to put too much weight on it, but I think you can limp without worry.”

“Great,” Sam huffed, “God, what did I get myself into?” before he turned to Gabriel.  “Let’s get this over with.”

Gabriel nodded, kissed him again while he was poised with the tweezers.  “Remember, you love me.  Don’t break up with me when we’re so close to a happily ever after. Okay, kiddo?”

“Just get it over with.”

Meg smirked at the two before she turned her attention to Dean, freed of his jacket and outerwear..

She looked down as he did, they both looked up and when their eye met, Meg instantly blurted, “Oh-! ”

“Yeah…” Dean drawled out, because before, he hadn’t been sure.  Now that he saw it without all the layers?  “Totally broken.  Shit!”

“We need to set it.  You’re lucky it didn’t puncture through the skin, Jesus!” Meg actually reached out to trail her fingertips along the ulna in an attempt to figure out if there was more than the obvious, visible break mangling the straight line of his arm.  “How are you, like, so chill right now?” she asked out of sheer disbelief.

“I dunno…” Dean gaped openly.  “Seeing it is making me feel a little less chill, if I’m being honest…”

“I’ll say it again - we need to set this.”  Meg looked over her shoulder and asked, “Sam?  You said Benny did your stitches?”

“Ye- ow! ” he groused with a wince.  “Yes.  He did,” he responded fully with ground teeth.

“Benny could set this,” Dean agreed, but then said, “Cas could, too.  Gabriel, don’t you think-”

“Yeah, Cas’ definitely set his share of broken bones.  Probably the only reason he didn’t do Sammy’s stitches is because you guys asked Benny to.  Marine, and all.  But he could’ve.  Doesn’t matter, anyway.  God, babe, it looks like you made sweet, sweet love to a window display!”  The second half was aimed at Sam, before Gabriel turned his attention back to Dean.  “It’s all up to you, Deano.  Who’d you rather have crunching yer bones back together?”

He sighed, knowing the answer, “Cas.  He’d be more efficient, knows we’ve gotta get moving.  Because…we really do.”  Dean looked at Meg, “I know my ribs are bad, but those’ll just need rest.  You sure you don’t need anything looked at while Sam’s here?”

“I don’t.  Just a knock on the head.  Like you said, gotta keep moving, right?”  Her smile was forced.  “Everyone grab that blanket and cover up.  I’ll go get your man, we’ll finish you boys up and get moving.  Mentally prepare!”

“Goodie.”  Sam sneered, trying not to flinch away as Gabriel dropped yet another bloody fragment onto the floor of the Hummer.  “What a lovely day today is.”

“Shut it, Moose.  Today’s the day everything changes.”  He kissed his forehead.  “Today’s the first day of the rest’a our lives.”

Dean actually found himself smiling at the couple as he grabbed the old wool blanket.

He liked the way those words sounded and he could get behind them.  Especially since Dean never thought of Gabriel as an optimist.  Yet the man held feeling and conviction behind those words, which made it astonishingly more believable and was something Dean could almost feel in his bones.

Well, all the ones that weren’t broken.  Dean prayed that wasn’t a metaphor for what was to come.

Goddammit.

Chapter Text

There were a dozen backpacks loaded up for the dozen travelers.  Yet, not all of them were in any condition to be carrying them, so some (the lucky ones) doubled up.  Others were also helping those who could not walk on their own, so the backpacks turned into strange one-shouldered duffle bags.  And Charlie?

She was in the lead, trying to set a reasonable pace even though what she really wanted was to be sprinting down this cavern!

They had left the Hummer behind along with their old life of running from one natural disaster to the next and, hopefully, heading towards a better one.

After all, there had to be a reason for the Earth’s revision back to Pangaea, back to the beginning.

Like the story of Noah’s Ark, wiping the world of all evil, the vile creations that had overwrought it, and beginning anew from scratch.  Hopefully, their team, their little family, was part of that new creation.

They’d fought, dammit.  They’d overcome, they’d taken on anything and everything that had been thrown at them.  They were the good that was left in the world.  They hadn’t let it taint them or make them hateful and vicious.  Not only that, but they’d figured out the puzzle.  They could still be in Oklahoma, just waiting to run out of food and water - waiting to die.

But they weren’t the bottom of the barrel.  It wasn’t coincidence that they were alive. They were damn smart, too.  And, as most would agree, stubborn.

Which was why Benny was spotting Charlie as they made their way through a smaller chasm that dipped just below sea level.  It was a rock-climber's dream, but they needed to watch where they stepped.

Even though the location they’d found was mostly solid land, there were parts that held tricky obstacles - a walk in the park across a nice, yellow-brick road would be too damn easy.

By now, they’d ventured through some light gravel that helped them, prepared them like a warm up would.  However, the further they ventured, the higher the mountains grew around them and it looked...foreboding.  Even though they were almost certain (even though there was no precedence) that the earthquakes were over, it looked like one small move would equal disaster.

“What are the chances of an avalanche?” Jo asked conversationally, her words bouncing off the brand-spankin’ new stone as they griped against the walls to balance.

“Shhh!” Dean instantly hushed back even louder than her question had been.

With a heavy eye roll, the blonde hopped from one heavy rock to another, retorting, “It’s not like my voice is gonna cause one!  Jesus, ever since they let you booze-up from your injury you’re a little sassy-pants!”

“Hah, sassy-pants,” the man in question giggled under his breath.

Castiel heaved in frustration and asked again, “Who the hell decided it would be a grand idea to give my boyfriend liquor after opiates?!”

A resounding silence echoed through the rock walls.  All you could hear was the shifting of boots on the stones and the ruffle of heavy fabric.  Sometimes the shifting of bags, because that’s how afraid everyone was of Castiel in that moment.  More so than usual, in fact.  This was pissing-your-pants level of fear.

Dean was in excruciating pain after his bone had been set because it turned out there was more than one break.  And in his doubling over, his ribs inflamed, and another injury in his back flared up.  He couldn’t catch his breath, the pain killers just weren’t doing it, and half of their goods they were leaving being anyway so…

Someone had handed Dean their coveted bottle of whiskey.  They kept the vodka on them for sterilization, but the whiskey - it was for drinking.

And Dean had done just that.

Now, he was on top of the world, moving like a pro with his arm set, his ribs wrapped a bit and only needing Cas from time to time.  But he was pushing it.  Not to mention acting like a fool and as though he were invincible at times.

“This is your one chance,” Castiel looked in front of him and behind him.  “Come clean and there will be no repercussions.  But if I find out later-!”

“Oh, you are such a tight ass!” Gabriel spoke up.  “You didn’t see how much pain these kids were in before you swooped down and set his arm!  And then after and you swooped away?!  I was still pullin’ glass from my Samsquatch’s head and Dean couldn’t see straight, so we broke into the bottle!”

Mary’s jaw dropped and she demanded, “You got both my boys drunk, Gabriel?!”

“Both my patients?!” Meg added to the list

“When we’re making the most important, delicate, and unpredictable hike of our lives?!” Charlie finished.

“Uh…” Gabriel didn’t have a hint of remorse in his voice, since he obviously partook when he said, “Yeah.  I mean, this is obviously a stressful journey, the bros might not’ve been able to make it without some numbing, and I didn’t want ’em to be alone in it.”

Cas’ glare was deadly enough to kill when he coldly said, “I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Although,” he glanced at Sam, whose cheeks were stained with a light blush, that being the only thing to give him away, “yours does have a better poker face than mine.”

“Is that all I am to you?!  A belonging?” Dean dramatically asked as they all hopped down from the uneven and bumpy drop onto a new sandy terrain, still hidden deep between two summits.  “Well, I’ve got news fer you, Novak!”

Benny snorted out a laugh and it was contagious, watching Cas’ jaw drop as Dean came at him with all the theatrics and ridiculousness as a teenage girl, “demanding some respect.”

Yeah, he was a little on the tipsy side, for sure.  And Cas had absolutely no idea how the hell to handle him like this?!  At least all Gabriel had, once they trudged through the bothersome give of the loose sand, was Sam grabbing his hand and lacing their fingers together.  They shared a private moment as the rest of the group cheered Dean on, encouraging him to “tell Cas the way it was” and to “git it, boo!” from some of the girls.

Oh, Dean was about to be embarrassed the moment he showed signs of sobriety.

---------------------

They knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park.

Nor that it would be a short jaunt.

But, after fifteen miles, they were feeling the wear and tear.  Charlie was watching their progress and encouraging them, but it was getting close to sundown and making camp in the middle of a new structure was nerve-wracking.

To be honest, the fact that it was a newborn mountain range was the least of their worries.  The question of everyone’s mind was flooding.  This would be the perfect area for a river, having seen images of the wrecked coast, even the small mess of destroyed buildings, car parts and heavily decomposed people floating below the plateau they’d booked it away from the moment they first felt the initial vibrations.

Because…where had it all gone?

In Australia, the plate had sunk.  Or rather, it had pitched forward and drowned the continent.  Was that what the US was bound for?  Africa was solid, which was why they pressed on until they just…couldn’t.  But had the ocean between them simply funneled away to join the Great Sea?  Or was it underneath them, pressurized, and ready to blow at anytime?

“How much longer, Charlie?” Bobby was the one to ask, since there was a chance the device would go out soon from not only constant use, but the fact being it was solar powered and the night was falling.  “We don’t know what we’re walkin’ into anymore.  Gotta make camp, continue at first light.  Can’t go fallin’ into some kinda crazy pit we can’t see.”

“Or quicksand,” Hannah added at random.  “We have literally no idea what creation was built here.  Bobby’s correct.”

“Yeah…” she sounded genuinely upset.  “Okay, how does it look here?”

Everyone circled themselves and shrugged.

“Looks a lot like everything else,” Mary hummed out.  “I know one of the backpacks is nothing but blankets and camping utilities.  We made sure to keep that for cover and comfort.  Whose carrying that?”

“I’ve got it,” Meg crouched down, but swore under her breath.  She couldn’t open it, not really.  Fuck, she was struggling and she was sick and tired of not being autonomous.  It was actually beginning to get to her.  

She wanted to pull her weight, no matter the injury, so she was given this one, since it was on the light side, but bulk was bulk.  

Jo was at her side in a second and started pulling out items without question.  She said, “Okay, gonna have to share, though.  Not that it matters, I think everyone’s basically coupled off, anyway, right?” and there was nothing but mischief in her tone.  Although she did correct, “Even though Mary and Bobby will have to take one for the team, everyone else is nice and cozy.

Charlie smiled at Hannah and laughed, “Wanna cuddle?”

The woman tilted her head and said, “I wasn’t aware we were coupled off?”

“We’re not, Jo’s just starting shit,” she giggled, and then was hit in the face with a blanket.  “Plus, she knows that you’ll talk me down from the ledge when it comes to pushing forward.  I just…wanna get there.  Dammit, do I wanna get there.”

“I know you do,” Hannah said with sincerity, “But we need to stay strong.  Regain our composure, try to heal.  We can’t get there in pieces, Charlie.  Tomorrow’s another day.”

With those words, Charlie nodded her agreement and followed Hannah’s lead as they moved their backpacks around.  Everyone moved the breakables to the bottom of the bags and anything that could be used to rest their head towards the top.  At least here, they were more or less protected.

Well, in the way similar to how they’d be protected in an alleyway.  They’d hear attackers coming from either direction and be able to spring up at the drop of a hat.  It was narrow - probably the most narrow part of this passageway to date and a decently ideal spot for them to rest.  They didn’t bother designating guards or lookouts because…what was the point?

There was either salvation on the other side or not.  If there were people, they’d either be friendly or there wouldn’t be a point.

It looked as though the liquor was wearing off as Dean tried to situate himself and pulled Cas closer, grumbling some words under his breath.  They were things his boyfriend couldn’t recognize, so he had no problem pushing him.  Especially given today’s events.

His fear, his worry, his trepidation, and own hurt having to set the bones back in Dean’s limb.

So Castiel wrapped his arms around Dean from under the blanket and asked in a soft voice, “How are you feeling?”

With some minor bitching and moaning, he honestly admitted, “Like I wish I had more booze.  But I guess I should be sober the last leg, right?  Shit, this hurts though.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to get much shut-eye.”

“Because of the pain or because of what we have waiting on the other side?”

“Both?  Neither?  I don’t know, Cas.  I’m…I just want to get this hike over with.  There’s so much riding on this.  So much anticipation.  And I know we need to get some real space and a real chance to fix these bullshit injuries.  Fuck, did you see Sam?  It was like Gabriel was digging a bloody disco ball from his head!  I just hope-”

Cas moved quickly to roll on top of him and shut him up with a single kiss.  “Don’t think.  Do not worry.  It’s not helping anyone.  Now, sleep.  You heard them.  The rest of the journey, making the last part of the trek?  It’s pivotal.”  He pressed his lips to Dean’s forehead and asked, “What do you need of me?”

“Mm, more of that?”  He couldn’t keep the grin off his face.  “Still…you’re right.  Guess I should focus on headin’ off to dreamland, huh.”  It was a pathetic admission, but he knew the truth.  “Love you, Cas.”

“I love you, Dean,” he replied tenderly, brushing his fingers down the side of his boyfriend’s face, avoiding the bruising from memory since he couldn’t see in the dark.  “It’s a big day,” he reiterated, falling back down and holding Dean the best he could with the broken ribs.

That was just another reason he was so impressed and taken with him.  The way that Dean could play through the pain without hiding or denying it - it just was what it was, he was honestly on another level, he was elevated in his tolerance like no other.  It made Castiel proud in a strange way he couldn’t put into words.  So he held him and took his own advice, closing his eyes and falling asleep.

A few pairs down, Sam was restless because he wasn’t sure if either he or Gabriel should really be sleeping.  Like, really, really sleeping.  They were facing each other with their legs tangled together and their hands intertwined.  Although Gabriel’s energy feigned sleep, he gruffly sighed with a hint of frustration.

“Samuel.”  It was in a light, sing-song way.  “I can feel it, ya know.”

“Uh…feel what?”

“Your eyes staring at me,” Gabriel peeked one eye open to see that Sam, indeed, was blatantly gawking.  “Wanna tell me why?”

“I…well, we-” he cleared his throat and stated, “Let me start again.”

“I hope it’s something sexy, or else-”

Sam’s gawking easily shifted into a bitchface when he snipped, “Gabe.  I really, honestly, thought for a second that I’d lost you today, okay?  And now, after we both got knocked around, both suffered massive head injuries, I just don’t know if we should be sleeping.  Without someone waking us up.  So-”

“Mm, wanna play?  I can be quiet if you can…” Gabriel teased as he rubbed his leg up and down Sam’s.

Even though he wanted to admonish him, Sam knew well enough this was Gabriel’s way of taking his mind off it.  Of trying to pull him away from the fear and direct his attention elsewhere.  And it almost worked.

Sam played along for a second, shaking his head along with a, “God, I wish,” but added, “I’m just at a crossroads.  As a paramedic, you know?  But-”

“But, nothing.  We weren’t the only ones tossed around, remember?  And everyone else is happily off in dream land.  I dunno about you, but all this hiking wore me out.  Tomorrow is round two.  And, hell, there could be a round three and four and on and on.  We gotta take advantage of every break we can get, kiddo.  And the fact that we don’t need guards and I can openly cuddle your ass.  It’s fuckin’ awesome.”  He clucked his tongue, “’Cause it’s a damn fine ass.”

That’s when Sam remembered…when it came to Gabriel, he would never win.  No matter what the situation, no matter what the topic, his boyfriend would always come out on top.  Figuratively and literally.  That actually made him chuckle.

“What’s so funny?” Gabriel inquired, brows quirked in curiosity.

“Nothing,” Sam shook his head, but winced because it felt like his brain was rattling around freely without being attached to his skull in any way.  “Just.  You.  Good things, though.  You’re right, so...how about you cuddle my ass and I’ll be worried about our survival in the morning.  If we wake up, that is.”

“Wow.  Buzz kill, much?”

“I try,” he flashed Gabriel a smile and stroked a hand up his arm.  “Maybe, if everything works out, you and my fine ass will get some quality time.

“Oh, fuck, don’t tempt me!”  His voice was dramatic, and a wandering hand looped around and grabbed enough of Sam’s rear end to squeeze and make him unintentionally buck forward with a muffled gasp. Gabriel grinned impishly at the reaction, loving every second of it.  “Sorry, not sorry.”

“Don’t do that!”  Sam hissed as quietly as possible, then clarified, “Don’t do things you can’t finish!”

A very interested eyebrow was raised before Sam descended on Gabriel’s lips with shockingly fierce passion.  It completely caught him off guard and left him panting.  Even though it lasted all of three minutes, Gabriel found himself completely needy and hard in his pants, but Sam pulled away.

“Sweet dreams, Gabe.  See you in the morning.”  He kissed him sweetly and rolled over so Gabriel could spoon him, which Sam knew he had a liking for.

Except now, Gabriel was horny as hell, dick about to bust through his pants and the little shit had-!  Maybe he deserved it, but…he whined and ground against Sam’s backside, showing him exactly how hard that little make out session had made him.  All Gabriel received in return was a shark-like grin and another goodnight.  Well, here came the blue balls!

With a centering breath, Gabriel laid there a second but then noticed something curious as he tried to distract himself.

He could see stars.  

Not the ‘clocked upside the head’ or ‘been in a major car accident’ kind of see stars, but the actual constellations in the sky, see stars.  Holy shit, it had been...decades.  Even before things fell apart, it was when Gabriel was a child looking up at the night sky, that he remembered stars.  He was in awe of the brilliant long-forgotten image, shifting around slightly to peer upward through the gap in the cavern walls just to get a better view.
 
Before, all the smog and fuel emissions from the big POS companies, billowing out of their exhaust pipes into the air, had soon clouded the skies, the ozone, making it impossible to see the wonders of the universe outside their own little world.  Gabriel’s curiosity had him wondering...had Sam even gotten that experience?  Laying down in the grass with your family, pointing up and making shapes from the midnight stars?  Or was he too young to remember?  Gabriel always forgot about the age gap between them...

He wanted to shake Sam awake and show him, but if he’d actually managed to fall asleep, Gabriel wouldn’t take that away from him.  Sam needed it, poor kid and that goddamn head wound - it broke Gabriel’s heart when he had to dig into the thin flesh to pull out miscellaneous chunks and sizes of torture.

Gabriel was honestly worried what he’d find once they washed, disinfected, and looked at the wound.  It had been so caked in layers of blood that you couldn’t see Sam’s scalp (even though that part of his head was shaved, poor kid) just mountains of deep crimson crusting brownish red at the edges and the tied of loops of stitches.  Underneath it was a crapshoot.

Gabriel wouldn’t lie, it made him even more protective of his boyfriend…

Still, he had to change his outlook, and only he could do that.  So he did - focusing on the clear night sky from down here made him smile something huge.  



Something Gabriel couldn’t wait to show Sam was all the stars in the future.  He could point out all the constellations.  He could see the north star still out there, shining proudly…holy hell, it was beautiful!  Who knew such a small blast from the past would make him so giddy and genuinely happy?

Gabriel shimmied back down, rolled over and cuddled up against Sam, feeling that blossoming hope even a shade stronger now, if that were possible.  The signs were getting better and better and this was just another that made his hope concrete.

----------------------------

Charlie’s eyes never left the screen as she walked.  She had the device set on real-time and zoomed in on their location.  It was insane to think that, after they’d managed to scale past that chunk of uneven and rocky land of the makeshift bridge, they were in flipping Africa!

Everyone was winded, exhausted, and they faced yet another sun that was about to set, but they were out of the strange tunnel they’d been hiking through.  No one even wanted to know how many miles it was, but even those who were in perfectly fantastic condition were feeling it, let alone the injured.

They were falling apart at the seams.

Yet, now that they were out in the open with that huge rockwall behind them?

…nothing about this place looked like Africa.

Then again, this place was different from the US, even before the collapse of society, in so many ways.  

Africa didn’t have the bullshit commercialization of pipelines, fossil fuel, coal emissions, and everything poisoning their water supply, ignoring it for clean energy as the rest of the world had.  Hell everywhere except the US had green, renewable resources, whether it was water propelled, wind turbines, or solar panels.  It was the idiot government that had transformed from a democracy to a dictatorship with a swipe of a pen all those years ago.

Ignorance.  Sheer ignorance.

During those days, most of Africa had been a third world country.  After the United States made a mockery of themselves and wrote the book on “What Not To Do”, the rest of the world took note very seriously.  They worked to make every nation self-sustaining through renewable energy and now, (as far as Charlie knew headed into hell on Earth) Africa was thriving.

But they weren’t sure what they’d find here, whether it made a difference or not because of the damage their country had single-handedly accomplished.  Perhaps they had cleaner water?  Maybe they, as a center piece to Pangaea didn’t have the Events and quakes that the group did?  Maybe good and water wasn’t an issue, maybe-

“No one freak out,” Sam said to them all as he tested out a theory, and slowly adjusted his glove - letting about an inch of light shine down, directly on his skin.

“The fuck are you doing?!” Dean demanded while Gabriel shouted, “How hard did you hit yer goddamn head?!”

But when Sam and his boldness showed his uninjured skin, he smiled.  “Even though I don’t think we can be out for long periods of time,” he estimated dopily (it had to do with the meds and the trauma), he also strongly believed, “I think we can use sun block again.  And lighter clothes.  It’ll have to be SPH 100 or higher, but you guys, we’ll be able to feel the breeze again!”

Sam laughed and it was as though a weight had been lifted when he turned to Charlie, “You and Anna were on the nose about the coordinates.  Sun isn’t at its peak here anymore.”

“We’re all happy, trust me, Sam,” Charlie flashed a smile, because it worked!  That was already a step in the right direction.  Their predictions about where the latitude and longitude lined up, where the continents had been leading…

Hell, where the Earth felt life could begin anew.  Where Earth would allow the survivor to do just that.  The only point on the globe that the conditions weren’t hellish, were right here.  As Sam just boldly showed with his own skin.  And Charlie had to admit, the sun beating down on her back didn’t feel as intense as usual.  Not like she was gonna strip down anytime soon, but all good news!

They continued walking, supporting the broken as they staggered, taking in the different demographic of their surroundings (there were actual splashes of color around - real living, blooming plant life!) before they heard it-

The rumble of an engine.  That meant an approaching vehicle.

Instantly, they were all on guard and waiting, pushing those who couldn’t defend themselves to the back of the herd.  Yet no one grabbed their knives.  

This was a beginning, right?  They wanted to be approachable, they wanted information, to see what was going on out here.  Not to mention, someone with CCI wouldn’t be in any form to drive unless they were fuckin’ gnawing on the steering wheel with their deteriorating brain...

As the engine roared closer, their heartbeats raced faster with anticipation.  Charlie, just in case, hid their ace in the deck by sticking it back, inside her jeans, then maneuvered her heavy coat to cover it.  If they were looters, bad news for them - they’d didn’t have anything but what they could carry on their backs.  They were taking a risk.  Hoping the grass was greener over here because there was nothing left in America for them.

The stranger seemed to have the courtesy to brake early, so they didn’t get sand in their face.  A woman jumped out of the car and walked towards them.  

A single, lone woman.  Who wasn't covered in the garments they wore.  Hers were lighter, hell, she was wearing a hat to shade her face!

And she didn’t appear aggressive or dangerous at all.  She appeared...friendly?  Wow.

“Hey, sorry but you tripped our wires so I had to check you out, but it looks like you're good,” she greeted and took the time to look at each of them, with an obvious attempt to hide her own confusion over their garb.  “Scratch that, you’re looking rough.”  Upon closer inspection, glancing at those in the back sporting bloodstains, her eyes widened, “Crap, are you guys okay?!  What village did you come from?  Do you need help?”

“Village?” Dean echoed with utter shock, because that meant…

Civilization.  And lots of it.  Apparently, enough to have multiple villages.  Places where people had kicked up their feet.  They weren’t travelers, nomads; they had societies and, oh God, lives.  This was it, this was real!

Holy.  Fucking.  Shit.

“Uh, yeah.  I’m Jody, by the way.  I was going to ask if you guys needed trade but it looks like you may need medicine, or…?” she was looking for some kind of answer, and half the group just wanted to break down and cry at her feet.

The only one who could actually form words was Sam.  Yeah, now that he had Gabriel at his side and those latest round of meds kicked in.  Even though he was staggering a bit and looked like hell (probably a little psychotic with his height and excitement), he was practically fighting for this opportunity.

“Hi Jody, I’m Sam and we do need help.  Your village, is there room for more?  We’re travelers, half of us just wrecked on the other side, we don't have all the supplies we used to, to fix us this time.  We’ve been traveling, looking for a home for years and years.  We’ve never had much hope until-”

Her jaw dropped when she realized, “You...you came over from the United States when the final piece of landscape came together.”  She covered her mouth and paced, looking around at all the war-torn survivors and looked upon them in awe.  “We were told that the population, that the US was completely uninhabitable just around four years ago.  That there wasn’t a single soul living there.  The terrain couldn’t support life any longer.  How-?”

“Oh, it didn’t,” Dean scoffed and shook his head, “But us?  See, we’re pains in the ass.  We fought, tooth and fucking nail, to make it.”

“Wow!  Just… wow,” Jody’s voice held sheer disbelief and wonderment.  “I can’t even imagine.  All the things we heard, just-”

“Oh, they’re true.  Probably worse than you think,” Gabriel added his two cents.  “Just imagine your worst nightmares, combine all your favorite natural disaster movies, shake it up real good, and that’s been our lives for nearly ten years.  Even got some zombie-like fuckers thrown in the mix.  Except, they’re just human cannibals so no biggie, right?”

Jody looked aghast and almost reached out to Gabriel before the redhead interjected.  She was overflowing with emotions and hanging on these traveler’s every word - it was like a scene out of a movie, and they’d just arrived from one off the horror shelves.

Charlie had to ask, “Your land, it’s…livable?”

“Better than that.  It’s only the shorelines that look like this, and it’s from the tsunamis.  Those only happened because of all the others countries moving towards us.  Inland?  We don’t just survive, we live.  We have lives and privacy, jobs.  Yeah, it’s not quite like it was.  Not by a long shot, but we made the best of it.  Still, compared to what you were dealing with?  It’ll seem downright lavish.”  She shot them all a secret smile, “I believe you’ll be quite happy here.”

“You’ll let us come?” Dean’s voice almost broke, reaching out for Cas to make sure this wasn’t a dream.  When Cas took his hand and squeezed, he realized it wasn’t.  “We’ll pull our weight, we’ll help, we’ll-”

“You need to recover.  I’m not about to leave anyone out in the cold,” Jody pointed a finger before she waved them to the SUV, “especially if you made it out of the US alive.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around that one!  Now, you’ll have to cram together, but if you’d like, I’d be happy to take you home.”

Home.

That word resonated with all of them on a different level and it felt so...pure.  They made it, they were headed for somewhere great, and they’d persevered.  God, had they fought until their hands were bloody, their bodies exhausted, and their spirits a second away from breaking.  But they had solace in each other.  Even though they’d inherited the earth falling apart around them, they refused to fold with the hand they’d been dealt.  They’d play it out, even if they had to bluff.  

They had made something positive out of the regret of their forefathers...if they regretted any of it to begin with.  Fuck ‘em if they didn’t, this little family soared above it all.  Created friendships and bonds.  Met loves that would last forever.  Found a group who would die for one another, and pay it forward.  

Now, they had something to show for it.

Something great.  Their own little miracle.

With a collective sigh of relief and smiles on their faces, they watched out the window as they approached the village.

It was just as Jody said.

People living in peace, working, small houses, a community.  One they were about to join.  One that could aid them right now, but they were already ready to return the favor, to help them right back for taking them in.  They were ready to do it day after day, for as long as they could.  Given an opportunity like this, the community would never know how grateful they were.  

Hell, they never thought they’d make it this far.  Still, they never planned on giving up.  It was an interesting notion to both know that death was inevitable, yet refuse to play into its hands.  It all worked out, their stubborn notions and hope for more.  This was their reason, this was their reward for never relenting, never giving up.

Dean stole a kiss from Cas’ lips before they exited the squished-in SUV and whispered into his ear, “We’re home, baby.”