Dean was sitting in the small trailer that he’d been using as a base of operations for the last few weeks. The hunter-militia had been Bobby’s idea and pet project, but now that the old hunter was dead, the responsibility of leadership had fallen on him. Personally, it didn’t seem like a good fit. He was barely holding together. Bobby was gone. Castiel was nearly having an existential crisis thanks to his family ties and weakening powers. And speaking of family, Sam was estranged—exiled for his own good. All in all, Dean didn’t feel like the kind of leader capable of standing up to the forces of Lucifer, but it wasn’t like he had a choice. Someone needed to try and fight the fucking Apocalypse.
He was still working on sorting through the mountain of intel that Bobby had left him. Precarious piles of papers covered in hastily scribbled intel littered his tiny, built-in table. He was adjusting one of the piles so that it wouldn’t tip over when his cell phone started buzzing. It was Jo. Picking up his phone, he leaned over to the nearby radio, turned off the news, and answered the call.
“What’s up, Jo?” He could hear her breath hitch, but wasn’t sure if that was from crying or an injury. Sitting up in his chair, he asked, “Jo, talk to me. What’s wrong?”
After several agonizing seconds, she managed to say: “I…. She….” Her voice was shaky and ominously quiet. “Mom’s dead.”
He felt like all the air had been knocked out of him. If he’d been standing, he very well may have collapsed to his knees. For a moment his mind was filled with static, but then he remembered Jo. She was out there in that shitty world after having lost her only family.
“Where are you?” he asked her. When she didn’t answer right away he told her, “Listen to my voice, okay? You’re probably in shock. I’ll come get you, but I need you to tell me where you are.”
He held his breath waiting for some sign that she was at least well enough to communicate. After a few beats she said, “Sweet Dreams Motel, room 18. Edmonton, Kentucky.”
“Are you hurt?”
“My… my arm’s cut.”
“How bad is the cut? Do you need to go to the hospital?” He immediately thought better of his suggestion that she was capable of evaluating her own needs right then. “If I had that cut, would you call me a baby for whining about it?”
“Yeah.” That was a relief.
“Are you safe at the motel?” He started putting on his jacket and grabbed his keys. “Is anything coming after you?”
“I’m coming to get you. I want you to bandage your arm and stay right there, you hear me?”
“Dean….” She sounded beyond devastated. “I couldn’t get the body.”
He rested his forehead against the wall of the trailer. It took him a while to fight through the tightness in his throat. “It’s okay, Jo. That’s okay.”
He drove as fast as he could; speed limits be damned. Not that anyone enforced things like traffic laws nowadays. It was the Apocalypse, after all. To the extent the police actually showed up to work, it was to prevent murders or defend densely-populated areas. That had always scared the hell out him. He, Castiel, and Bobby had managed to delay the disbursement of the Croatoan virus on three separate occasions, but with Bobby’s death a couple weeks earlier, it was only a matter of time before the virus was unleashed. Meanwhile the majority of the nation’s peacekeepers were fortifying in places that would shortly become a shitshow of the highest order.
Under normal circumstances, the drive would’ve been nine hours long, but he made it in six. After parking diagonally across two spots he got out and ran to room eighteen.
“Jo, it’s me.” He knocked on the door, then decided to just try the doorknob. She hadn’t even locked it.
Jo was curled up in the fetal position on one of the queen beds. There was a little tacky blood on her cheek and discoloring her blonde hair. Her dark blue jeans and pink t-shirt were similarly stained, but they hid the blood better. Her left arm was wrapped in a bloody towel, but thankfully it wasn’t nearly soaked through. When he walked in, her eyes followed him, though she looked to be in too much of a daze to do much more.
He crouched down in front of her, then gently placed his hand on her shoulder. “Jo, I’m gonna look at your arm, okay?”
Her head slowly nodded, so he gingerly unwrapped the bandage. The slice wasn’t very deep, but it still needed stitches. He went to the bathroom, grabbed some damp towels, then got the first aid kit from the Impala. It took several minutes to delicately uncoil her from the balled-up state on the bed and stitch her wound. He noticed her grimace slightly as he sutured the cut, but he couldn’t tell if her silent tears were from the physical or emotional pain. When he was done, he helped her up and guided her to the bathroom so that she could clean herself up.
As he started the shower, he told her, “I’m gonna be right outside. I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”
“Okay,” she replied, still not entirely together.
“If you need help, just shout, okay?” He took the few remaining clean towels off the top shelf, then put them on the counter for her. “Don’t be stubborn and go passing out in the shower on me.”
She nodded, then assured him. “I’ll shout.”
He left the bathroom, closing the door behind him, then paced the motel room. It’d been the better part of a year since he’d seen her. They’d kept in touch, but their paths hadn’t really crossed all too often since Lucifer had been released. She’d spent her time on the road with her mom, and he’d stuck to helping Bobby and running occasional hunts or missions with Castiel as his support. Until she’d called it hadn’t even occurred to him how much he’d missed her, though maybe some of the longing could be explained away as her being one of the few remnants of older, better times. Either way, it was bittersweet to see her again given the circumstances. God, he could use a drink.
About thirty minutes later he could hear the shower stop, then she came out of the bathroom wrapped only in a towel. Her hair was damp and her skin was covered in goosebumps from the comparatively cold room. She sat down on the edge of the bed, unsure what to do next. Under different circumstances, being alone with a scantily-clad woman in a motel room would’ve been a welcome development, and maybe he’d occasionally had a thing for her, but it was such an inappropriate time for him to even think about her that way that the thought didn’t register in his mind. Instead of gawking at her, he grabbed a spare blanket from the closet and draped it around her before going to turn up the thermostat.
He knelt down in front of her so that they were eye-to-eye. “If you want, we can stay here tonight,” he suggested. “Or I can take you somewhere.”
“I don’t have anywhere to go.”
He nodded with profound understanding. For the last few years her life had been on the road, traveling from place to place, working jobs with her mom. Now she was alone without her mother or her mentor, and God knew Dean wasn’t about to hand her any assignments while she was in such a vulnerable state. She was a hunter set adrift. She’d lost her home when Ellen had died.
“You can come back with me,” he told her. “It’s not much, but there are about eight of us staying at an RV park. We can find you a place to stay there until you get back on your feet.”
The optimistic statement pained him, like telling her a lie to protect her. For as long as he’d known her, she’d been a bit headstrong with something to prove. She was tough-as-nails for sure, but having independence and the respect of her peers had been something she desperately wanted. He didn’t doubt that someday she’d recover from her grief and, probably spurred on by her loss, go on to become an incredible hunter— But he didn’t have much hope for the situation improving enough for her to go off on her own. The world was quickly becoming no place for a functional member of society, and even hunters rarely traveled alone. Yet in that moment, he didn’t want to tell her that. He didn’t want to let his pessimism rub off on her. She’d just been through hell and needed something to hold onto.
“Can I stick with you?”
“Yeah.” His hand rested on her covered knee, reassuringly. “We’ll stick together.”
On the way out of town, Dean stopped to get gas while Jo slept in the backseat. While filling the tank, he silently cursed the sign listing standard unleaded at $7.63 per gallon. Everything was getting so expensive. Leave it to humans to spend the last few months or years of their species’ existence price-gouging. In an attempt to not dwell on the looming bill, his eyes drifted around the commercial area he’d stopped in.
Half a block down the street there was a dead body wearing a devil Halloween mask strung up between two telephone poles. As humanity started coming to its inevitably violent end, murders were becoming more common by the week. Sometimes they were mundane, but occasionally there were theatrics involved, especially when accusations of devil worship or demonic possession were thrown around. Unfortunately, of the minority of humans that even believed in demons, most of them didn’t have the slightest idea of how to deal with them. Looking at the corpse that had clearly been shot to death, Dean felt the briefest pity. Knowing how overwhelmed emergency services were, it’d probably be another few days before anyone came to take the guy down. God knew that Dean wasn’t about to climb the damned telephone pole to retrieve the body. He stared at the devil mask for several seconds, hating himself for the fact that it reminded him of his brother.
For a fleeting moment he thought about telling Sam that Ellen was dead, but the truth of the matter was that he didn’t know how to reach his brother without shaking a lot of trees. He’d lost Sam’s phone number two years earlier. Bobby had known it, but the number had vanished with the old hunter’s death. Given enough time and pulling of strings he could probably find some hunter who had heard about Sam’s recent whereabouts…. Well, maybe not.
Sam wasn’t exactly Mr. Popular with the hunter crowd. There were a few rumors that he’d flipped the switch on the Apocalypse, and that had left him on the outs with a fair amount of the community. As far as Dean knew there weren’t any threats on his life, but it was unlikely that they had any overlapping circles. The closest thing he had heard to a lead on Sam was that he’d been hanging out with some half-witch, half-hunter kids that kept to the fringes. It was probably for the best. Sam had always leaned towards the witchy persuasion and the periphery was at least out of the eye of the hurricane. Let the kid kill rabbits and burn sage, just as long as he was out of the way.
He wouldn’t attempt to hunt down Sam to let him know. It was better than he didn’t know about Bobby or Ellen. The news would just add new pain and drama to an already fucked-up situation. God forbid he’d ask for Dean to meet him. The thought was agonizing even as a hypothetical. Hearing his little brother’s voice begging for him to let them reunite after the deaths of two of their loved ones….
Dean felt his legs go a bit weak with grief, so he leaned against the Impala and tried to catch his breath. When he felt a bit more stable, he glanced down to check on Jo. She was still sleeping peacefully in the backseat. Maybe he couldn’t do much, but he could try to take care of her. It’d been weeks since he’d really helped someone in need. The thought gave him some small feeling of comfort and familiarity. He finished pumping the gas, then quietly got into the car and took off before she could wake up to see the body hanging nearby.
When they got to the RV park a few hours later, he assigned an underling to go find her a trailer that was as close to his as possible. While Jo examined her accommodations, he went and chopped some firewood, which he assembled into a small pile. When he spotted her cautiously exploring the camp he waved, calling for her.
“What’re you doing?” she asked while joining him.
“We might not have a body, but we can still pay respects.”
He could see the look of shame on her face as she realized what he’d been making. The logs were arranged as a miniature pyre without a corpse.
“Dean….” Her lips trembling, but she didn’t start crying. “She isn’t even….”
“I’m doing this with or without you,” he told Jo in an attempt to lessen some of the emotions that were weighing down the traditional goodbye. “I’d rather do it with you, so I didn’t chop down a tree for only my own melodramatic ass.”
She pulled her sweater tighter to herself, then nodded. “Okay. I’ll stay.”
He took a photograph of Ellen from his pocket and laid it on the wood before drizzling the pile with a little lighter fluid. After waiting a beat for Jo to change her mind or say something, he lit a matchbook, then tossed it on. The flames engulfed the small pyre in no time.
“She was so fucking proud of you,” Dean said as he watched the flames. “Every time she talked about you, it was so obvious.”
“I saw her body. If I’d have tried, maybe I could’ve…. But I just left her there.”
“You survived, when hotter heads would’ve gone back and gotten themselves killed,” he countered. “She’d want you to be okay, no matter what else. You did right by her.”
Jo wiped some tears from her eyes and hugged him. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her for a long while. They both silently watched the fire turn to embers, then ash.
It was a tragedy that had brought them together after nearly a year. He hated how it had come to pass, but it’d been so long since he’d been held. The weight of the falling-out with Sam, Bobby and Ellen’s deaths, mixed with the desperately needed tender embrace—he cried for the first time in months.
Sam had said yes.
Dean had no idea how or why or when. There was no warning. One moment everything was the typical, pathetic status quo, then the news slowly started coming in over the radio.
Detroit had lost power throughout the city, but as a few survivors escaped, reports were relayed out to the rest of the world to be consumed in confused horror. There was some sort of magical battle in Midtown. Bystanders were being killed, often from the spontaneous explosion of their bodies. Demon clouds flowed through the streets, smothering people without even bothering to possess them. Many civilians tried to flee the city, but the drivers of cars at every road out were killed in their vehicles by demons in order to stop traffic, trapping their corporeal prey. Some people had tried to escape by jumping into the frigid river, but they quickly succumbed to hypothermia and the current. And at the center of all the madness was a tall, caucasian man with chin-length brown hair.
He knew it was Lucifer before anyone else. The magnitude of the destruction had been telling. The physical description of the suspect had been disheartening. But the moment he knew was when Michael visited his dream to inform him: “It’s time.” He’d jolted awake in a moment of panic, knocking his pistol and clock off the nightstand.
He’d barely had enough time to get out of bed before the pieces clicked together in his mind and he was overwhelmed. Maybe he’d passed out, or simply blacked out, but he was suddenly on his side on the ground. He was lightheaded and nauseous. His body was trembling as his mind tried to fight past the terrible fog that was forming in his head. There was an oppressive feeling, and some old fearful reflex suggested an angel might be trying to communicate with him—Michael might be coming for him despite the anti-detection warding on his ribs. But the sound flooding his thoughts wasn’t an angelic assault. It was only him. It was his brain screaming.
Sam had said yes.
His brother was gone.
Lucifer had his true vessel.
Everyone would die.
And he couldn’t stop it.
Some time later there was a knock on the door, then it opened. Castiel walked in and saw him lying there on the floor in his state of shock. The angel hurried to his side, touching his neck to check his pulse.
“Dean?” Castiel asked while looking him over for signs of trauma: physical, emotional, or maybe even something specific to his unique relationship to the recent development as an archvessel. When he didn’t react, Castiel tried again. “Dean, can you hear me?”
Part of him wanted to reassure Castiel that he was alright, but that was a fucking lie. He couldn’t find the words nor the energy to open his mouth. Putting on a brave face was not only out of the question, it would also be woefully ineffective against one of his best friends. Instead of speaking, he managed to grip the sleeve of Castiel’s jacket, then he shut his eyes and nodded. He could feel Castiel’s hand gently squeeze his shoulder in a gesture of comfort.
In a soft, knowing voice the angel said, “I’m sorry.”
Dean didn’t know how to react to the expression of sympathy. He didn’t want pity or condolences. He didn’t want anything except for the last few years to be undone, for all his mistakes and their consequences to be stripped away. The sort of comfort that Castiel was trying to give him was for someone more deserving. As he lay there, Jo knocked, then entered.
“Oh, Jesus!” She scrambled over to Dean’s side. “What happened?”
“It’s Sam,” Castiel explained, unhelpfully. When he saw her confusion he clarified, “Detroit.”
Her face turned slack as she started piecing together what he’d just said. She must’ve been aware of the reports coming in. There were people running around outside relaying new details. She’d probably come to him to find out more about what was going on, only to find Dean incapacitated and have Castiel suggest that Sam had betrayed them.
“Sam wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t do that to us.” Jo shook her head as her eyes started watering. When she stopped, she looked suddenly very pale. “I know things aren’t great, but he…. He wouldn’t hurt anybody, not like that.”
Dean didn’t have the clarity or confidence to either argue or comfort her. His mind was too full of static to even properly process the thought that Sam might be gone. Never mind what his absence meant for the big picture.
Castiel helped pick Dean up and sit him down on the edge of the bed, then said, “I’ll go get our people running down any lead they have on Sam. Maybe we’re wrong.” He didn’t look remotely optimistic about that possibility. “If not, then it would be worth finding out everything we can about the circumstances of his consent.” The angel hesitated for a moment, worried about leaving his best friend in such a distressed state. “Jo, can you stay—“
“I’ll stick with Dean.”
“Jo.” Castiel gestured for her to join him on the other side of the trailer.
The two of them huddled for a few minutes having a whispered conversation that barely registered to him. They were concerned about leaving him alone, for fear that he might have some sort of emotional or mental break, potentially even resulting in him saying yes to Michael. Aside from that extremely slim risk, they were also worried about the impact on the camp if the others saw how devastated he was—it was bad enough that his brother was likely dead, but from Sam to also be a traitor, or at least so reckless that he’d damned the world twice…. It didn’t reflect well on Dean or his ability to shoulder such an emotional burden and command an opposition force. They needed to try to get him through the worst of the shock before propping him up on whatever crutches were necessary to avoid an outright mutiny.
When they were done with their whispered conversation, Castiel left to go get whatever updated information was available, leaving Jo to stay with Dean. She cautiously settled down on the edge of the bed beside him. They sat there in silence for a long while, neither really sure what to say.
After what felt like a small eternity, she said, “I’m sorry… if it was Sam.” She thought better of her qualifier. “I mean, I’m sorry either way.”
He wanted to tell her to not say that stuff to him. His instincts made him want to argue and scream, to lash out at Sam, himself, and anyone who would offer him their pity. He didn’t deserve sympathy or help. If he had his way they’d leave him to wallow in his despair—
Jo put her hand on his knee. Looking up at her face for the first time, he could see fresh pain in her eyes. There was something disarming in her sincerity. She was mourning too. Maybe she didn’t feel the guilt, but she’d been close to Sam. She probably knew just as well as him that she might someday feel the pain of coming face-to-face with Lucifer, and seeing a loved one’s eyes staring back without an ounce of warmth.
After gathering some courage, he muttered, “He’s dead.” Dean swallowed hard. “I should’ve done something. I should’ve stopped this.”
She wrapped an arm around him, pulling him into an embrace, even guiding him to rest his head on her shoulder. For a moment he thought about pulling away in his shame, but he needed that soothing touch so much. He needed that unspoken acceptance in the form of that platonic intimacy.
“Don’t,” Jo told him as she rested her cheek against the top of his head. “Don’t do that to yourself. You didn’t want this.”
“It was my job to protect him. I didn’t know how to— How was I supposed to protect him when we’re supposed to end the world together?” He covered his face with his hand. “I couldn’t protect him or the whole fucking world. It’s all my fault.”
“Sam was an adult.” Her voice caught slightly on framing his younger brother’s life in the past tense. “You didn’t make him say yes. How long has it been since you two talked?”
“About three years.”
“A lot can happen in three years. He was his own man with his own friends and resources.“
“He wanted to reconcile,” Dean admitted. Yes. It was an admission. He was confessing that while his brother had wanted to make things right between them, he had kept his distance. Maybe that’s what had done it. Maybe in their separation Sam had grown bitter or jaded and finally given in to the other side. He had toed that line before with Ruby. As much as Dean didn’t want to imagine it, maybe him not taking Sam back really had damned the world. “I said no.”
“Sometimes we don’t get our way, even Sam,” she replied. “I know he was your brother, but that doesn’t mean that you had to cave every time. And if you stick to your guns, it doesn’t mean that that’s what made him say yes.” Her hand slowly moved up and down his arm, gently rubbing him. “You’re always allowed to say no to people, even if you love them.”
He considered her words for a long while. Rationally it made some sense, even if the hurt was too new for any lessons to take hold in him. He wasn’t free of his guilt, but it was ever so slightly dulled enough for him to start processing their new reality, as daunting as it was.
“I knew we wouldn’t be able to see each other again,” he told her. “But for him to be dead, and if that really was Lucifer…. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do.”
In a voice that somehow conveyed both her conviction and the terrifying magnitude of the task ahead of them, she said, “If it is Lucifer, we’ll fight him every step of the way.”
Dean tapped out the beat to “Highway to Hell” against the steering wheel as he drove. Castiel was riding shotgun with his angel blade and sawed-off at the ready. In the backseat, Jo intermittently hand-pressed salt shells while casually double-checking the camp’s ammunition inventory records.
They were the eighth car in a caravan of thirteen, headed in search of a new place to settle. It was the third time in four months that their little resistance group had to relocate. After possessing Sam, Lucifer had made a point of figuring out what had happened to Michael’s vessel. Lucifer’s people knew about the little hunter-militia and were actively pursuing them. The camp was slowly picking up warding magic here and there through research, but their command of the craft wasn’t yet strong enough to allow them to stay in a single place long-term.
Until they found a sufficiently defensible new base of operations, they would spend nights in small, lightly-infested villages. The presence of Croats meant that they usually had to blast away a few dozen infected upon arrival, but once they had cleared the area the looting was generally fruitful. They collected whatever they might need — food, gasoline, additional ammunition, personal hygiene supplies, medicine — then rested for the night. In order to accommodate their large group, they would locate a hotel, hospital, barrack, dormitory or other moderately-sized building, then blockade the first-floor windows and doors with security bars or sheets of metal temporarily bolted to the studs in the walls. It seemed to take an average of about five days of traveling around like that before they found a good roughly-month-long solution. The whole process was stressful and tiring, but at least so far it had proven to be a good way of loading up on resources.
As they cruised along some no-name highway in Missouri, Jo huffed an unamused laugh. Dean glanced in the rearview mirror to see her shaking her head while looking at her notebook.
“What’s up?” he asked her.
“Morales’ numbers are complete shit,” she replied. “The guy is going through almost twice the average rounds and I’m not seeing any difference in the Croat counts for his missions. No big swarms or nothing.”
“He doesn’t have as much experience with semi-automatic weapons,” Castiel observed aloud. “He could probably use some more training.”
“Good luck telling him that,” Jo muttered. “That dick has the nerve to tell me how to shoot and he can’t even hit the side of a barn.”
“You want to be the one to tell him he’s benched until he gets more training?” Dean suggested.
“He’d fucking love that.”
“You outrank him and he’s wasting valuable resources.” Dean barely hesitated. “If he gives you shit, pistol-whip him or kick him in the balls, then tell him he’s benched again.”
“You’re making me really hope he gives me shit.”
“This goes for both of you,” Dean told them. “You’re my two and three. I don’t care if these are ‘our people.’ They’re a bunch of scared killers. We can be nice when things are good, but they need structure and a chain of command to fall back on. The second someone really threatens your authority, you give ‘em hell. It’s our job to keep them feeling like shit’s under control even when it’s all falling apart. Understood?”
“Yeah,” Castiel and Jo replied.
After another half hour of silence only broken by the cathartic sounds of AC/DC, there was a loud squeaking sound under the Impala’s hood and the engine suddenly died. As the car started coasting to the shoulder, Dean picked up his walkie-talkie and radioed to the rest of their caravan.
“Dean here. I’m having some kind of car trouble. I’m gonna pull over.”
“Copy that,” replied the lead car. “Everybody’s taking a piss break.”
The parade of assorted vehicles stopped at the side of the road, allowing people to get out to relieve themselves or stretch their legs. Meanwhile, Dean checked under Baby’s hood.
He barely needed any time at all to find the problem. The timing belt had snapped. Repairing it would require parts and equipment that he didn’t have. He gripped the edge of the car for support as he looked around at the dozens of people that needed to find shelter before sunset in a few hours. There wasn’t time to fix her now, and leaving almost certainly meant never returning, but he couldn’t put everyone’s lives on hold for even something so precious to him.
Dean held the walkie-talkie to his mouth, then announced, “Baby’s dead.” He paused a moment before saying the words he’d never expected to utter: “We’re leaving her. I need a hand transferring supplies to other cars.”
After all of the supplies were cleared out, he asked for a moment to say goodbye to his home. He sat in the driver’s seat, trying to savor the soft touch of the upholstery and the scent of decades of gun oil mixed with leather. It was heartbreaking to know that this would be the last time he sat in her. She’d never purr for him again.
He walked around to the back to take one last look at the initials that he and Sam had carved in their youth. His fingertips traced the rough edges of the gouges. Those were more innocent times, before everything had gone wrong, back before monsters had even been real in his brother’s mind. Now Sam was lost to the biggest monster there was. The thought somehow made the sweet memory turn deeply painful.
Dean gave the Impala one last caress, then got down to the painful work of giving her a proper hunter’s funeral. He checked the gas tank, which was only a quarter full. After spraying some lighter fluid into the passenger cabin, he inserted a rag into the gas pipe, then gave it a small squirt of accelerant to make sure it would catch. When the other cars and people were all a safe distance away, he lit the rag and moved back to a safe distance. The flame hit the gas vapors in the tank, blowing up the back half of her and igniting the interior.
He watched her burn for several minutes before he turned and headed for a nearby SUV with a spare seat. During the drive, he barely listened to the conversations his subordinates were having. All he could think about was the fact that he’d lost Baby. The fiery end felt preferable to leaving her to slowly succumb to the decay that was overtaking the rest of the world. But regardless of how she went out, she was still another victim of the Apocalypse. Another victim of his brother’s choice and his own helplessness. He pulled a small flask from his jacket, then took a few long pulls before trying to fall asleep.
That night they found an empty motel to stay in. As the doors and windows were being reinforced, Jo walked up to him.
“Hey, Dean.” She indicated that she wanted to talk to him off to the side for a moment. Once they had a little more privacy, she reached into her pocket and handed him the plastic toy soldier that had been stuck in the Impala’s ashtray. “It was small, so I pried it out. Maybe you don’t have to leave everything, just what we can’t take with us.”
He looked down at the toy resting in the palm of his hand. All that was left of his family was a lone, plastic soldier. That felt apt. It had belonged to Sam when they were children. The emotional fatigue from the difficult day and the fresh reminder of his little brother gave him pause.
Their intel had long ago confirmed that Sam had agreed to possession by Lucifer. Piecing together communications with a few fringe hunters, magic shop owners, and evidence collected from what had been an apartment Sam had apparently shared with the Banes twins, there had been some sort of plan that had gone wrong.... Well, considering the plan had been to recklessly say yes to Lucifer, it had at least worked to a point. Sam had been secretly running missions involving magical rings that were supposed to do something against archangels, but the details were fuzzy. He had left a note reading, “If you’re reading this, I’m gone. If I failed, I’m sorry. If I succeeded, I’m still sorry.”
The goodbye note and apology didn’t bring any comfort or insight aside from the fact that Sam had been attempting some kind of plan. The sentiment may have been sincere, but whatever reasoning the kid had been using was so far removed from common sense— Dean just couldn’t wrap his head around what had happened, why his brother had chosen such drastic measures. And Sam had specifically done it without even a warning or a chance for him to be talked out of it. He had taken away Dean’s last opportunity to save him.
“Lucifer took every one of them,” Dean said quietly while looking at the lone toy soldier. “My mom, my dad, Sam—I couldn’t stop him.”
“Dean.” Her voice was so soft that it hardly registered. She closed his hand around the toy, then lowered his arm and she said, “It’s not your fault.”
“Then whose is it?” he asked. “Someone is supposed to do something. Someone has to stand up to him. Meanwhile, my family, they’re dead because I couldn’t save them from Lucifer. And I have almost seventy people looking to me to save them from Lucifer.” He gestured to the soldiers diligently working to fortify the motel. “I’m not the person they think I am. I’m not a leader.” His voice started shaking. “It’s not my job to take care of everyone else! They’re asking for everything from me and I have nothing—“
She slapped him in the face.
“What the fuck?!” he exclaimed, touching his lightly stinging cheek, having been completely derailed.
“You don’t have nothing,” she told him indignantly. “You aren’t the only one who lost almost everything—“ When he opened his mouth to correct her, she quickly clarified “—yeah, I said ‘almost everything.’ You haven’t lost Cas and you haven’t lost me. And in case you hadn’t noticed, we’re taking care of you too. We’re your fucking lieutenants. We’re your support. You don’t have to be perfect, not with me, not even with them. Just don’t write yourself off. Fuck being a good commander; you’re too good a man for us to lose you.”
He tucked the plastic soldier into his jacket pocket, then wiped a bit of moisture from his eyes. “I don’t know how you can put up with me.”
“You’ve got soft, plush lips and an ass like a prime cut,” she replied, earning a reflexive chuckle. Her hand reached out and settled on his shoulder. “You’re the strongest person I know. Even if you don’t see it right now, I need you to believe me when I say that. Cause we both know I ain’t an idiot and I won’t take you calling me a liar.”
“You see the best in people,” he replied. “Maybe even people who don’t deserve it.”
She caressed his arm slightly in a gesture of reassurance. “I’m smarter than you, asshole. Say it.”
“You’re smarter than me.”
“And you can count on me,” Jo’s voice wavered with emotion. “Say it.”
“I can count on you.”
Dean and his party of nine other soldiers walked through the small town looking for supplies. Their assault rifles were drawn as they marched with purpose, quickly checking and clearing building after building. It was a dangerous and annoying chore, but it had become necessary to do roughly each week. Their rebel camp was fairly self-sufficient, though some things like medical supplies they just needed to get directly from the remnants of civilization.
Scavenging supplies was often easier than trying to interact with survivors. It was becoming a pain in the ass to consistently find other humans, and many of them would rather shoot than negotiate. Never mind the fact that there was always the risk one of them would recognize Dean and turn him in to Heaven, so any attempts at diplomacy almost meant handing over the reins to someone else.
Their scavenging party dragged a large wheeled cart, which they loaded with whatever valuable things they could find. They were raiding a pharmacy, which was thankfully largely untouched. Jo dumped in several plastic packages with frilly, hot pink decoration, each containing a small, curved, rubber cup the size of a shot glass. Dean picked one up and furrowed his brow at the odd design.
“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” Jo said with a nod to the cup.
He shrugged, then threw it back into the cart, before leaning over the counter to the back to talk to the team grabbing prescription medications. “Doc, how much longer?” he asked while checking his watch to see how long they already been in that store. “Three minutes and counting.”
“Dean, this place actually has a good stock of antibiotics, so you want this to take a few minutes,” Mia replied without looking at him. She was too busy pointing at collections of bottles for the other soldiers to gather up for her.
“We only have another hour before we should be heading back.”
Their resident doctor waved her hand and muttered, “If you give me three more minutes without interruption I’ll be able to get some antivirals and finally treat your clap.”
Dean flipped her off, but left her to finish up her work. Having been reminded of another common human impulse, he went off to find some condoms. He grabbed the remaining fifteen boxes that were on the shelf, then dumped them into the cart.
“Feeling a little optimistic, aren’t you?”
He looked up to see Jo staring at him with an armful of gauze.
“Oh, you’ll see,” he replied while reviewing his shopping list. “In nine months when the camp isn’t covered in babies I’ll be the hero of the day.”
“Just be sure to keep one or two for yourself.”
Dean raised an eyebrow at the ambiguously suggestive statement, but when he turned to look at her, Jo was already off helping another soldier sorting through personal hygiene supplies.
He blew off the comment as nothing more than a joke about his sex life. The whole thing was a stark reminder that he hadn’t had, let alone really pursued sex, in a couple years. Things had just been too complicated and stressful with the Apocalypse— That was an understatement. Independent of whether he could even find a woman that would sleep with him considering his unpleasant associations with Lucifer’s vessel, Michael, and the end of the world, he wasn’t sure if he was ready for sex. When it came right down to it, his chronic depression and low self-esteem had a way of sapping his lust. At least things were simpler that way. He pushed the entire train of thought from his mind, then went to go check and see if there was any booze left in the place.
When they were done raiding the pharmacy, they packed up the last of their supplies, then began carefully exiting the building. Two soldiers took point slightly farther down the road, and two others watched their rear. There was a hardware store several doors down the block that had looked promising, so their group began moving that way in formation.
As they walked, one of the soldiers ahead of them raised her hand to indicate that everyone should hold position. Dean mimicked the signal for anyone that couldn’t see her. The whole group froze. He strained his ears for any unusual sounds as he readied his assault rifle. There was a strange rustling sound that he couldn’t pinpoint. He held up his hand in the shape of a gun, silently ordering his team to prepare for a fight. His hand had barely returned to his weapon when a mob of maybe two hundred or more ravenous bodies began pouring around a nearby street corner and started running down the road at them.
“Croats!” Dean shouted. “Auto!”
The two soldiers on point ran back and to the sides in order to clear the line of fire, then everyone began unloading their semi-automatic rifles into the crowd. Many of the infected kept coming at them after being hit, but they’d eventually fall. The street was becoming littered with corpses, some piled several bodies high in areas, providing cover to the advancing Croats. In the crowd Dean spotted four or five people who didn’t seem to notice their mortal wounds; they kept moving forward among the tidal wave of zombies.
“Blades!” he yelled to his people over the sound of the weapons fire. When those few approaching attackers disappeared before their eyes, he repeated the order, “Blades!”
Only four of the soldiers in the party were equipped with the scarcely-found, highly-effective weapons, but that would have to do. He dropped his assault rifle and drew his angel blade, then hastily looked around for the sneak attack. The ambushers appeared interspersed among his team. He lunged forward, stabbing one through the heart before she could strike Mia from behind. The strike produced white light from the enemy’s mouth and eyes.
“Angels on rear!” he barked.
When Dean turned around, an angel swung her blade at him, but quickly recognized his face and tried to avoid a lethal blow. Despite her attempt to spare him, her weapon dragged along his throat. Stinging heat spread across his flesh, but through some miracle she hadn’t nicked the airway. He suddenly felt hot and dizzy. His legs began wobbling as he watched the angel get stabbed through the back of the chest, making her eyes and mouth flash with white light. When her body collapsed to the ground, he saw his savior. Jo’s eyes widened in horror at the sight of him. She caught him and helped lower him to the ground.
“Mia!” she screamed. “We need help!”
Mia hurried over and frantically began working on his neck. For a split second he saw an alarming amount of fresh blood on her hands. While the doctor worked, Jo held him steady and tried to keep his focus. His eyes tried to linger on her, but he kept becoming distracted by the people urgently running around him and the stitches being sewn into his neck. Once he was somewhat stable, he was lifted into the cart of supplies and rushed back to the cars. He was quickly transferred to an SUV, to be returned to camp as soon as possible. He had no idea what had happened to the other half of his team.
“Let’s get his head elevated,” Mia instructed as she climbed into the car after him.
Jo volunteered while following them. “On it.” She took her seat and began cradling his upper body as they sped off down the road.
During the drive, Dean weakly reached up and caressed her cheek with his hand. His thumb slid down to rest softly on her lips. She took his hand, without pulling his touch from her, and gently squeezed.
“You aren’t going anywhere,” she told him. “So no cute one-liners.”
He nearly smiled at her, but the movement would be too close to his injury for him to attempt it. Instead he just lay there, struggling to stay awake through the pain-induced exhaustion. Dean didn’t want to risk scaring her by falling asleep. He weakly squeezed her hand and didn’t let go for the rest of the ride.
When they reached camp, he was carried back into his cabin and laid down in his bed. Jo immediately ordered a few subordinates to find Castiel. Mia continued to examine his vitals while Jo and a couple others hovered anxiously. After a few minutes their resident angel ran into the room.
Castiel studied the wound for a beat, then said, “I can try to heal him.”
His voice wasn’t particularly confident. He’d been gradually losing his powers and it wasn’t clear what he could do. He laid his hand on Dean’s throat, producing a warm tingle. When he lifted his hand the bloody slice was replaced with a bright red, fresh scar. Had he attempted it a year or two earlier, there wouldn’t have been any trace of an injury. Instead it was merely healed beyond the point of danger, but with nothing done to treat the shock or trauma to the system.
Despite his fatigue and the lingering ache, Dean tried to sit up, but the others held him down to the bed. He would live, he reasoned to himself. There was work to be done. He needed to find out what happened to the rest of their party. Was anyone else injured or dead? Did they lose any weapons?—God forbid any of their limited number of angel blades had been left behind. But the three of them were practically dog-piling him.
“No,” Mia told him. “No way. You aren’t fully healed. You’re staying in bed until I say so.”
He wanted to argue about how they weren’t really a military organization where she might outrank him in cases of a medical emergency, but the prospect of having to argue with her gave him pause. The truth was that he was pretty exhausted.
In a weak, hoarse voice he whispered, “Cas... can you... take over.” He gripped Castiel’s pant leg to emphasize the importance of his next order. “Miller… Rojas, check them…. Check everyone.”
With so many Croats being shredded by a huge number of bullets, there had been blood everywhere. Miller and Rojas, the two soldiers on point, had been closest to the carnage, making them the most likely to become infected—if they had even survived. But as a precaution, every member of the team would have to be checked for the virus and potentially killed if found to be infected.
Castiel nodded in understanding of the order. He promptly reached out, touching everyone in the room who had been on the supply run. Dean held his breath while he and Jo were being examined, but the angel moved on from them without incident. When Castiel didn’t immediately snap anyone’s neck, they all let out a collective sigh of relief.
“Second and third cars should be arriving any time,” Jo told Castiel, who nodded, then turned to go meet the returning soldiers.
Dean looked to Jo, then said, “Go help—“
“You two,” she told the two subordinates lingering in against the far wall. “You go help Cas.”
“Yes, ma’am,” both of them muttered as they hastily followed Castiel out of the room, preferring the possibility of seeing an infected peer be executed rather than getting caught in a spat between superiors.
Once they were gone, in outright defiance of Dean’s impending order for her to leave, Jo immediately pulled up a chair next to his bed and sat down on it. “I’m sticking with you,” she informed him while crossing her arms. “I’m not leaving until you can kick me out yourself, so deal with it.”
Despite the insubordination, the corner of his lip curled up slightly. In his position as the commander of the camp she could be a pain in his ass, but on a personal level he was grateful to have someone in his life who was so stubbornly defensive of him. Through the discomfort of speaking he said, “Fine. Get ready... for a wrestling match… maybe tomorrow.”
She grabbed a light blanket to make herself more comfortable and replied, “Bring it.”
A few weeks later, Lucifer killed fifteen of their people on a single mission. Their bodies had been flayed, probably while they were still alive, and their blood had been used to write the message: “Dean, you can stop this.” The report had come in and was thankfully delivered directly to its intended recipient instead of being announced to the entire camp, in a move that might’ve very well led to his ousting. He instructed the scout to keep the message to herself and asked for her to give him some time to decide how to proceed. After she closed the door to his cabin on the way out, he fetched a bottle of whiskey from his footlocker, then sat down at his desk to drink himself numb.
Dean was pouring his fourth shot when there was a knock on the door. He didn’t even have a chance to tell whoever was there to go away before Jo opened it and walked in. She looked him over, then sat down across from him.
“How much have you had?” she asked, nodding to the bottle.
“Not enough,” he replied while picking up the small glass of amber liquid.
She reached out, took the shot glass from his hand, tossed it back in one gulp, then put the empty back down on the desk. He refilled the glass and attempted to drink it, but once again she stole the pour from him and drank it.
Jo picked up the whiskey bottle to look closer at it. She examined its half-drunk state. It had been full not long ago. She rested the bottle on her thigh as she asked, “It was him, wasn’t it?”
She didn’t even have to say Lucifer’s name. They both knew such a horrific moment could only be him. Heaven was bad, but they didn’t yet bother with showmanship.
“It always is.”
He reached out to take the bottle back from her, but she put it on the floor behind her chair.
“Drinking isn’t gonna save their lives. It isn’t gonna bring Sam back.” She met his eyes. “I know it hurts, but this isn’t a way to make it better.”
“It works well enough,” he countered while standing up and moving around the desk to retrieve the bottle. “I’ll take it.”
She stood to block him. “This can’t last. You’re gonna run out of whiskey.”
“There’s always that god-awful moonshine,” he countered.
She reconsidered her argument. “There are other, healthier ways to deal with the pain.”
“What if I don’t want therapy?” He tried to reach past her, but she moved to intercept him.
Her hand settled on his chest. “I’m not trying to be your therapist; I’m trying to be your friend.” They were face-to-face, only a few inches apart. She swallowed hard, then in a softer voice said, “I’m trying to be….”
She looked up at him with a sweet concern on her face, the expression of someone who really cared. He could feel his stomach knot as her palm slid up his shoulder while she subtly leaned forward. His hand settled on her lower back, gently pulling her closer to him as he went in for the kiss. Her lips were soft and warm. The whiskey was the furthest thing from his mind.
She wrapped her arms around him as they kissed. His hand slid down her back to grip her petite, firm ass. He held her close, but she lifted a leg, hooking it around him so that she could start grinding against him. They tumbled back a bit and the back of his knees hit the side of his bed. He hesitated a moment, unsure if inviting her to sit down would be a step too far. But to his surprise she pushed him back onto the bed, then climbed on top of him.
His pants were getting tighter by the second. She was grinding against him while they kissed, only stopping briefly to strip off their shirts and her bra. When she leaned back down to kiss him, her bare breasts rubbed softly against his chest. He gripped her, pulling her more tightly to him, dying to do something about their shared sexual frustration.
She nibbled his earlobe before whispering, “Do you have condoms?”
His heart nearly stopped at the unexpected forwardness… and his own lack of preparation. “No.” In all the chaos after his neck injury and his own self-pity, he’d never actually collected any of them.
She pulled back far enough to stare at him in pointed annoyance. “What the hell did I tell you.”
He rolled his eyes at the I-told-you-so. His dick was hard and he was struggling to figure out what to do without contraceptives. He wanted to keep going, but didn’t want to suggest going bareback after he’d so spectacularly failed on a task as simple as keeping a condom or two for himself.
Without explanation, Jo said, “Okay.”
For a split second he had a moment of panic at the thought that she’d actually just start riding him without protection, but instead she moved farther down his body. As she pushed down his boxers, he thought about apologizing for it having been three days since his last shower, but he reminded himself that she was under the same water-rationing measures. Maybe going forward they could redeem their turns together and get twice as—
He groaned as she took him into her mouth. It had been so long since he’d been with a woman that he almost immediately came, but he managed to make it last a bit longer. He unconsciously gripped the back of her head as she gently used her teeth. With a firm purse of her lips and some well placed strokes of the tongue, she broke him. After he finished he laid her down, stripped her, and diligently returned the favor twice over. They both fell asleep in his bed, thoroughly spent and content.
With the levee of sexual tension finally broken, they began spending at least some time together most nights. Dean had managed to scrounge up a handful of condoms, but the two of them had rationed them out like any other rare commodity. For the most part they stuck to heavy petting and oral. After a few weeks, they became more daring, stripping naked and grinding against each other while making out. On a few occasions Jo rode Dean, straddling the shaft of his dick, rubbing both of them until completion, despite the risks of him cumming so close to her pussy.
Two months into their new, sexual relationship, they were naked in his bed, grinding against each other. In the frenzy, his dick slipped a couple inches into her, startling them both. They just stared at each other, watching to see if the other was about to pull back. Instead Jo gripped his ass and cautiously pressed him deeper inside of her.
He wasn’t quite sure what that meant, how far that invitation extended, but he started fucking her with more enthusiasm. She was so warm and wet. Each thrust made her perky, little breasts jiggle by the lantern light. She looked just as incredible as she felt. He could feel himself getting dangerously close to cumming, but he wasn’t sure if she was okay taking it.
“Should I pull out?” he asked through the thick, euphoric cloud forming in his mind.
“Only if you want,” she replied.
To his surprise that might’ve been the hottest thing he’d ever heard. He looked at her flushed cheeks, leaned down, and kissed her as he started fucking her harder. She wrapped her legs around his back, holding him tight to her as she came. Feeling her unbridled pleasure—he couldn’t hold out any longer. He pressed into her hard, clinging to her soft flesh as he finished inside her. They both collapsed, completely flush and panting on the bed.
“Are we doing this now?” he asked her, unsure if the unprotected sex was a one-time lapse in judgment while temporarily without a condom. In theory there might be a few unused condoms somewhere in camp. “I can see if I can find some rubbers. There might be some left, or next time there’s a supply raid we can look for more.”
They both knew that all man-made resources were beginning to become harder to find. Before too long those little packets of latex would be nearly impossible to locate, let alone finding ones that hadn’t expired.
She rolled over on top of him, legs spread so that she was straddling his dick. Her body grinded against him, making him start to get a little bit harder despite him still recovering. The head of his penis gently pressed her and she hummed, “If we can find some condoms I absolutely won’t say no, but when we don’t have them….” She furrowed her brow slightly, trying to recall some piece of information. “I think there’s a schedule thing, where it’s like x days on, then y days off, or something. If we avoid a specific time, then we’re good.”
“Did we avoid it?” he asked, referring to them blowing caution into the wind not ten minutes earlier.
“No clue,” she replied. “I’m not sure how the calendar thing works. I’ll talk to Mia about it.”
Dean absentmindedly chewed the inside of his lip. He didn’t know what to make of the situation. “And you didn’t tell me to pull out?”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “You didn’t think I was suddenly on the pill or something, did you?”
“And you didn’t pull out,” she pointed out his own recklessness. After several seconds of awkward silence, her face scrunched up slightly as she tried to articulate her feelings. “Maybe life’s too short nowadays to not say fuck it and indulge every once in a while.”
They both knew the risks involved in periodically having unprotected sex. He wasn’t sure that he was ready to take a gamble on having a kid. It had never really occurred to him as a possibility while out on the road hunting, but now he was in a little community that had been settled in the same camp for about four months. Even if he had no idea what he was doing, there were still people who maybe weren’t as big an idiot as him.
Jo wasn’t an idiot. She was probably the most capable person he knew. She was smart, funny, and had a sort of optimism that somehow endured in spite of the whole world falling apart. He admired the hell out of her. She somehow managed to make him smile. If there was anyone he’d share a reckless indulgence with, it was her.
“Every once in a while,” he said in agreement as he slid his hands up her thighs to grip her hips. “We aren’t trying to make anything happen.”
“Definitely.” She began rocking back and forth to try making him hard. “But as long as we already blew it tonight, might as well get our money’s worth.”
Dean was sitting at his desk, reviewing the latest maps of the surrounding area. The intel that they’d gathered over the last few weeks indicated a moderate Croat presence to their north and west, which combined with the map of places they’d already raided, left only a few narrow avenues of scavenging. The goal was to find some more salt and shotgun shells in order to stock up on dwindling anti-demon supplies. They were overdue for a run-in with Lucifer’s troops.
The whole thing was an awful headache. Their targets were far enough away that the raiding party would probably have to spend the night away from camp, which meant that they’d need to take additional resources. Also, since they were headed in the opposite direction from known Croats, that meant that he would have to leave extra soldiers behind to defend the camp in case of bad luck resulting in some of the infected stumbling upon their base. He’d probably only be able to take six soldiers with him on the supply run. He finished his shot of whiskey as Jo entered with a soft knock.
After carefully shutting the door, she approached his desk, then anxiously repositioned her maroon sweater to cover her front. “Dean, we need to talk.”
Without looking up from his work he asked, “Is it about tomorrow’s run?”
“We’ll talk later.”
Dean grabbed the bottle of whiskey and poured himself another shot. He picked it up and like so many times before Jo reached forward, intercepting it. She took the glass from his hand, moved it to a few inches in front of her lips, but instead of drinking it she poured it on the dirty hardwood floor. He was dumbfounded by the waste of the rare resource, and could only watch as she put the shot glass upside down on the desk in front of him.
He was just intoxicated enough that he didn’t visibly react. His brain was struggling to crawl out of the alcohol and shock, to reach any sort of intelligent thought, but all he could manage was to repeat, “Pregnant?”
“Yeah, Dean. You know, ‘when a man and woman love each other very much they do a special hug and then a stork brings them a baby.’”
He tried not to roll his eyes at her patronizing explanation. In all fairness he’d walked right into that one.
“Cas confirmed it.”
He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his face. So not only was it a verified fact, Castiel knew about it. Thankfully, the fallen angel was discreet when it mattered. After taking a little time to let it sink in, he asked, “Do you want to keep it?”
“I wouldn’t have told you about it if I was dead set on not keeping it.” She grabbed the bottle of whiskey from the desk in front of him and held it up to make a point. “But I’m not having a kid whose dad has a drinking problem. My mom couldn’t stop that, neither could yours, but I fucking won’t do it. So you’re gonna pick and you’re gonna do it now, because either you need time to dry out or I want this over with before I change my mind. You hear me?”
He sat there, stunned by the news and the ultimatum. Personally, he didn’t think he had a drinking problem. He drank regularly, but only really when he was stressed or depressed. Glancing around the mountain of responsibilities surrounding him and reconsidering the emotional toll that the last few years had extracted…. Yeah, maybe he drank more than he’d initially thought. It didn’t help that he barely even kept track of when he sampled the moonshine, since it wasn’t as rare a commodity as the five and a half bottles of assorted whiskeys he had tucked away.
To his own surprise, in a subtly vulnerable voice he asked, “What if I’m not sure if I’m ready?”
“I’m not sure if I'm ready either, but the way things’re going, waiting for the stars to align probably isn’t happening.” She gave him a small sympathetic shrug. “You can have a week or so to think about it, but I need an answer by then or I’m deciding on my own. It’s a yes or no. I’m not gonna try to talk you into anything you aren’t comfortable with.“
“Is it safe?” When she furrowed her brow at him, he swallowed some of his nerves and clarified, “We don’t have a hospital or anything. If you have the kid, are you gonna be okay?”
She put the bottle down, then went around the desk to hug him. He let his normal confident exterior fall and held her.
“I can’t promise you that it’s gonna be okay,” she whispered. “You know this world. None of us can guarantee that we’re safe. We take risks everyday. This one is just for something new.”
He rested his nose in her hair, breathing in her scent. It was familiar and comforting. If he could have his way, that odd, simplistic peace would stretch from then into eternity. Despite her soothing presence, there was a lingering fear and intimidation about the possibility of having a kid. Yet there was something in her words that washed over him as an epiphany. If they chose to have the baby, they’d be taking a risk for something new. For the first time in years, they might have something to look forward to. They might have some good in the world, the kind that was worth a little fear and risk. It seemed like a pipe dream now, but he could imagine the smile on her face as she played with their child. His heart ached a bit at the idea of having that joy in his life every day, to make it a reality rather than a fleeting glimpse of happiness that would be hastily dashed away.
He wasn’t an idiot. He knew that it wouldn’t be that easy; nothing in this world was easy anymore. But looking in Jo’s eyes, there was a glimmer of hope. It was the enduring resilience and gruff optimism that he’d grown to truly treasure. He wanted to have that confidence, that faith. He wanted to find it in the world and himself, not just in her. Maybe the world—his life needed something new, a source of joy and hope. His hand cupped her face as his thumb caressed her cheek.
“Give the rest of the bottle to someone else and tell them I said to keep it away from me. It’s theirs.” He shuddered slightly at a thought, then added, “And tell Chuck to keep his fucking moonshine out of my sight.”
Her brow started to furrow at the apparent non sequitur, then her face relaxed as she realized the implications of what he was saying. Her lips curled into a smile before moving to meet his own. After kissing for several seconds she pulled back and asked, “Is that a yes?”
He nodded, then pointed at her. “You’re off field missions, starting with tomorrow’s run,” he told her. “I don’t want to hear any argument about that. We have enough other people who can go.”
She cocked her head while putting her hand on her hip. “You tryin’ to say that now that I’m pregnant I’m not as good at my job?”
“Fuck, no,” he assured her. “I just don’t want to be worrying twice as much while you aren’t letting me drink.”
“Fine. I’m off field missions for now,” she conceded, then dragged her finger along the still-fresh scar across his neck. “I get that you have to be out there. I know you have to lead these people, but don’t stick your neck out. Don’t go looking out there for a way to end the pain real fast. You got people depending on you now, and not in some inspirational-martyr way. Because if you die dumb out there, I will search the whole continent for a K-Pop CD and teach this baby to love it. Understood?”
Dean smiled helplessly at the threat. “Yes, ma’am.”
He stared at her lower abdomen for a moment. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, they were gonna have a baby. It hadn’t really sunk in, and it probably wouldn’t for several days or weeks. It definitely wouldn’t sink in until after he’d figured out his new equilibrium without chemical crutches…. That was a disheartening thought. He had no idea how far along the pregnancy was and therefore how much time he’d have to get his shit together before Jo was counting on him to be there for her and their kid.
In a quiet, sincere voice he asked, “How long do I have to fuck this up?”
“You won’t. I promise.”
It was shortly after figurative lights-out throughout the camp, but Dean was fairly sure that his and Jo’s cabin wasn’t the only one with a lantern still dimly burning. He lay beside Jo in their queen bed, bundled in a few heavy blankets. The first snowfall of winter had settled over the base, making the two of them even more inclined to relish the warm comfort. His hand moved along her soft, bare skin, settling on her belly. He felt a small reassuring shift.
She had moved into his cabin a few weeks earlier when she was around six months pregnant. It was strange to be living together, but it was kinda nice. Falling asleep beside her every night brought him a strange sort of peace. He’d never really had that before.
Jo reached up, dragged her fingertips along the back of his hand, then, in a sleepy voice asked, “If it’s a girl, how about the name Ellen?”
“Sure,” he replied, sincerely fine with naming a daughter after her mom. “That sounds good.”
“What if it’s a boy?”
Truth be told, he hoped it’d be a girl. He’d been burned a few too many times by the men in his family. Ideally, the kid would be a Harvelle instead of a Winchester. Unfortunately, the Apocalypse didn’t really give a damn about surnames. Regardless of whatever name was picked, his child and any future children would still carry the burden of his bloodline. But at the very least he could spare the kid a daily association with that unpleasantness.
“No family names if it’s a boy,” Dean said firmly. “We leave all that mess behind.”
She nodded at the general sentiment, then asked, “But you’re fine doing a family name for a girl?”
“I liked your mom. She scared the hell out of me, but I liked her.” He thought for a moment, then corrected himself. “Actually, maybe that’s why I liked her.”
“That sounds more like it,” she agreed. “So what’re we doing for a boy?”
He thought for a minute before replying, “What about Connor?”
“I like it, but it’s kinda random…. Or is it—” She glanced back over her shoulder at him. “Is that from Highlander ?”
“You’ll never be able to prove it,” he whispered.
“You’re an idiot.”
He smiled a bit as he began singing from the soundtrack. “Here we are, born to be kings. We’re the princes of the universe. Here we belong, fighting to survive. In a world with the darkest powers—”
She elbowed him in the ribs. “I could seriously smother you in your sleep.”
“Was that a no?”
“Was that a real suggestion?”
He reconsidered his own idea for a moment to figure out how much of it was a joke and how much was sincere. “Yeah. Turns out, yeah. I like it.”
She rolled her subtly eyes while muttering, “I kinda like it too, even with the dumb reference.”
“It’s a name with a rich cultural heritage—”
“Pop culture doesn’t really count.”
He thought about how few in numbers the humans were and solemnly said, “There’s no one left to prove us wrong. All us humans have left is what we’re holding onto, as little as that is.”
She took his hand. “Maybe we don’t need to know fancy name origins or Scottish history. You can teach the kid all the Highlander movies; maybe that’s enough.”
He felt a bit guilty that he’d never learned that kind of stuff. Sam had always been the bookworm and he was the grifter. At the end of the world, there was no one left to charm, short of the camp full of soldiers that he’d somehow managed to convince that he was a leader. He didn’t have the kind of education that military leaders usually had. Didn’t they normally study old battles and stuff? He was just some guy who knew how to fight dirty.
“I wish I knew more, to teach the kid,” he confessed. “You know, like real stuff.”
“I don’t care if you didn’t go to college or whatever. You’re the smartest guy in camp. Hell, for all we know you’re the smartest guy in the world—“
“Well, that’s horrifying.”
“—Don’t kick your own ass.” She lifted the back of his hand to her lips, then kissed it. “You’re gonna be a great dad.”
The labor was probably the most terrifying experience of Dean’s life. Castiel did what he could to lessen Jo’s pain, but they still didn’t have anything close to an epidural. He sat beside the bed, holding her hand throughout. As tough as he knew she was, hearing her groan and scream through the contractions was agonizing. His fear kept getting the better of him, whispering that their selfishness would get Jo killed; she’d die along with the baby. By the twentieth hour he was convinced that something was wrong, that it was taking too long, but Mia kept reassuring them that it was fine. Then, twenty-two hours in, Jo was given the instruction to push. It had taken so long to get to that point, and then all of a sudden it’d happened so fast. With three strong pushes the baby was out and crying. Dean cupped both of Jo’s cheeks, then gave her a kiss before whispering assurances and praise. After taking a moment to clean up and wrap the newborn, Mia handed him their son.
Dean held Connor with an awestruck reverence. He had fine blonde hair and light eyes. Some morbid part of Dean was relieved that his son didn’t resemble Sam; that would’ve been incredibly painful. Instead Connor looked like a perfect mix of his parents. If that held true for the baby’s personality, then the two of them were in for a hell of a lot of trouble a few years down the road.
“You’re a dad,” Jo told him. Her voice was incredibly fatigued but happy.
“You’re a mom,” he replied.
He carefully sat down on the bed next to her, then positioned Connor on her chest. She gently touched their son’s back, causing him to let out a tiny huff.
“We did it,” she said with a smile. “You and me—us combined— We made the most stubborn pain in the ass in the world.”
He leaned over and kissed the top of her head. “You’re damn right we did.”
A few days later, there was a little celebration in their camp. It was so infrequent that anything good happened that the birth of a child was well worth a couple hours of merriment. Connor wasn’t the first child born in the camp; that honor belonged to Margaret eight months earlier. But his birth carried a small measure of additional excitement, since he was the firstborn of the first and third in command of their rebel group. The party was not only for him, but for his his parents, two of the hardest working people in the camp.
The gathering was fairly simple. There was a minor bonfire and chairs set up in the middle of their camp. Several hidden stashes were raided for refreshments. Someone even managed to collect a decent selection of music in the form of CDs that were played over a discman that was hooked up to a set of computer speakers held together with duct tape. The music was an uncommon treat, even if the selection was a bit of a bizarre variety.
Fairly early into the evening, someone played “Der Kommissar.” It was a bit of teasing at Dean’s expense, earning a few good-natured laughs. During the moments when he’d crack the whip, his subordinates would occasionally call him that (among other authoritarian nicknames). He didn’t actually mind as long as they followed their orders, which they did so far without hesitation.
Jo didn’t bother dancing since she was still recovering, but she lounged in a chair with Connor, enjoying the show. Dean moved around the party accepting congratulations, but once the alcohol started flowing, he retreated to sit with Jo and watch the majority of the festivities from a safe distance.
He couldn’t help but smirk at the sight of Castiel talking up two soldiers. The fallen angel had recently begun exploring sexual pleasure, quickly earning him the reputation of being an easy lay. Thankfully, everyone understood that he wasn’t currently interested in exploring romantic or long-term relationships, and he didn’t give any favoritism towards subordinates that he’d fooled around with. Early on, Dean had sat Castiel down to make sure he wasn’t accidentally pressuring anyone into sex via his rank, but after investigating the issue a bit, it became obvious that the guy with inhuman stamina, who could survive indefinitely with his throat blocked, who practiced pulling out with 100% accuracy, and had no strings attached, was a highly sought-after partner independent of issues of rank. But with the party in full swing, Castiel and his two temporary partners wouldn’t be the only ones getting some that night.
Dean watched a few of the other random couples displaying candidly flirting body language. He turned to Jo and muttered, “If we have a party every time a kid is born, we’ll be doing this every nine months.”
She shrugged indifferently. “Somebody’s gotta repopulate the Earth.”
“We’re soldiers. We can’t be dragging around a full-on daycare center.”
“You’re a soldier. I’m a soldier. She’s a soldier.” Jo waved her hand around to indicate the whole camp. “ We’re friends, couples, and families. Yeah, we all got a job to do. We got rank and missions, but we have lives too.”
“So this is what passes for human civilization these days?” Dean mused aloud. “A bunch of pirate-soldiers drinking moonshine and having hook-up babies?”
Jo visibly mulled over a thought in her head before leaning over to him and seemingly randomly saying, “Fuck it. Wanna get married?”
“‘This is what passes for human civilization these days.’” After quoting him she added, “We’re it. And maybe some of the superficial stuff means something because it reminds everyone that we’re more than ‘a bunch of pirate-soldiers drinking moonshine and having hook-up babies.’ We’re people, living what’s left of our lives.” She looked down at Connor almost bashfully. “And maybe I want to live what’s left of my life with you.”
He was struck by the confession of love and commitment. There was something going on between them; they’d both known it for over a year. But they’d never come close to saying anything like that. It was silly and dumb to think that a few words changed anything. Some tough, rational side of him knew that they were just words articulating something that had already been there, but it still made his chest tight. Yeah, they’d been there for each other in so many ways, but hearing her say that she wanted that and more—it fucking meant something, something that made his heart skip a beat.
Unaware of his feelings, she continued. “And maybe they’re just words—”
“Yeah,” he replied, then realized that her lack of a reaction probably meant that she thought he was agreeing that marriage was just some superficial words, so he tried again. “Yeah. Let’s do it.”
She slowly looked up at him in stunned silence.
Dean summoned some courage and said, “Maybe I want to live what’s left of my live with you too.” He could feel his ears turning pink, but he had to get the words out. She deserved that much humility from him. “You’re it and I want everyone to know it. These ‘soft, plush lips and ass like a prime cut’ are yours.”
A grin spread across her face at the fact that he’d taken the old compliment to heart. “Oh yes they are,” she agreed while grabbing his shirt and pulling him into a kiss.
A few days later Dean took one of the trucks about twenty minutes out of camp. He had originally intended to make the trip alone, but Jo came with him, either to provide backup in an emergency or maybe just as emotional support. He stopped along one of the nameless backroads at no point in particular. It was better that way; he wouldn’t be able to change his mind later.
The mild spring breeze seemed almost cleansing as he got out of the truck. He knelt down beside the road, dug a shallow hole in the dirt, and placed the toy plastic soldier in it. For a brief period he’d considered burning it, giving it and Sam a hunter’s funeral. But he wasn’t mourning Sam the adult, the man who had for whatever reason chosen a path that had damned the world. He was finally mourning his little brother, apart from all the confusion and the pain, the kid who had been lost long ago to the brutality of their lives.
The toy soldier had been a gift from their father. It was some fanciful thing to idolize, a heroic figure as their dad had been. Now Dean was the husband, father, and soldier…. He didn’t want to give his son the same burdens and curses that had been laid upon him and Sam. He wanted to bury the past, as much as this world would allow, even if only with a small gesture.
Brushing his hand over the loose dirt, he covered the toy in an unmarked grave on the side of the road. When he was done, he stood up and turned to face Jo, who was standing behind him, holding Connor. They were his family and his future. She handed him their son, then kissed Dean.
“Is it done?” she asked.
“Yeah. I think so.” He looked down at the sleeping newborn. “I think this really is our fresh start.”
“Good.” She took his free hand and said, “Come on. Let’s go home.”