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As it turned out, the devil had been right: whatever they did, they would always end up here.

Not everything was the same. Night instead of day, clear moonlit skies instead of clouds and lightning, and 2014 had come and gone a few years back. But there were still roses in the garden—Dean could smell them, the heavy musk masking everything else, even the ever present stench of the old dead. It was still just him and the monster that Sam had become.

++

They were in Boston when the news broke. A small column in the Denver Post on the fourth of May: fevers and violence and people drinking blood. They circled it and tucked it away for later; nothing but some sloppy vampires they'd agreed. If the story had hit print a week earlier when they'd been in Wyoming, they probably would have gone. Probably would have died for their troubles, too. But Sam had wanted lobster for his birthday so they were on the other side of the country, neck deep in a case about a murderous ghost ship that popped up every fifty years or so instead. By the time the Abel E. Babcock had been sunk for good a week later, Denver was lost.

Lost, but still broadcasting if you knew where to look, which Charlie most certainly did. Her girlfriend had ended up with a poltergeist a few years back and it'd been enough to convince her to lend a hand now and then. She sent Sam and Dean a steady stream of links and files, civilian and government and otherwise. Grainy photos of streets littered with broken glass and bodies. A shaky cell phone video of a distant man tearing off his shirt moments before making an impossible leap onto the roof of a two story house. Pale green movies with cheap night vision capturing blazing white streaks of movement and a chorus of screams. Black and white photos of patients shot in their beds. Suicide videos of the ill and the terrified bidding their loved ones farewell.

Dean made himself watch them all.

++

The fight lasted for hours, days if you counted the sulking. Everything in Dean demanded that they head for Colorado. Monsters were killing people and dealing with that shit wasn't just what he did, it was who he was. Sitting around doing research while people were being massacred made Dean want to punch something, primarily his brother's face.

Sam was adamant though, a mountain of stubborn topped with the chill snows of logic, impervious to Dean's rage because he was right and they both knew it. The military was already in the Rockies with more manpower and bullets than the Winchesters had ever been able to muster. The casualties among the soldiers were hideous at first. It turned out this newest big bad had skin tougher than Kevlar: videos shot with thermal imaging showed the bullets literally bouncing off of them. But not getting eaten was excellent motivation for figuring out how to kill the things and in short order the word went out: shoot them in the breastbone, eyes or mouth and they died, no special ammo required. Which meant, as much as it rankled, that Sam and Dean wouldn't be doing anything that wasn't already being done.

More to the point—and this was the one that finally made Dean head south instead of west—if the past was anything to go on and this was another monster apocalypse, then they needed to find the boss in order to stop it. And that was something only they could do; they had resources and contacts that other hunters could only dream of. Better yet, they had a reputation for walking a darker line than most. Their friends and family may be gone and the remnants of the hunting community might be more likely to shoot at them than talk, but they still had lots of enemies that knew they were willing to deal.

++

Crowley was first because he was the easiest: he came to them, no hunting required—just a little vandalism. Sam and his freaky monkey arms disabled the fire alarm and then started chalking the summoning symbols onto the cheap formica table. Dean set about ruining the warehouse floor with the devil's trap; they hadn't parted on good terms the last time, so it was better to be safe than sorry.

A flash of fire, some puffs of smoke reeking of burnt blood and sulfur, and there Crowley stood with his tumbler of Craig in one hand and a bloody knife in the other.

"Hello, boys," he said, practically radiating irritation. "How can I assist you this fine evening? Because of course I have nothing more important to do than cater to your every whim."

It was going to be like that then; Dean was glad they'd taken the time for the trap. He decided to cut to the chase. "Yeah, yeah. Just tell us what you know about Colorado and then you can scurry on back to Hell."

"Ah, yes that. Honestly, I was expecting this days ago. Getting a little slow in your old age, hmm?" Crowley leaned against the table and took a sip from his glass. "But things out there are a little more serious than I'd like, so here it is: I don't know a damned thing. Never seen anything like them before and neither has anyone else I know. Are we done now?"

"You don't know anything?" Sam repeated, clearly doubtful.

"If I did, I wouldn't need this now, would I?" Crowley said, raising the knife and flicking drops of blood at them.

Sam caught Dean's eye and raised an eyebrow at him: do we believe him? Dean shrugged and pulled out his own knife, crouching down to start scraping at the paint. Believe Crowley or not, clearly they weren't getting anything more out of him tonight.

++

The next morning they split up. Sam went chasing after their next best bet, the alpha vamp, and Dean scrounged after the smaller fry. Sam was steadier when he could just focus on one thing without distractions—Dean included—and locating the alpha was likely to take a while; he had the inconvenient habit of going to ground. Neither of them expected much from Dean's leads, but they couldn't risk not following them either, just in case.

It was a pain in the ass. Dean had never missed Cas more from a purely logistical standpoint; he could have just popped over to Colorado and told them what was going on. But Cas was gone, locked in Purgatory with the other angels because they'd finally cracked under all that free will and that had been the only way to keep them all from going the Lucifer route. It had seemed like a good idea at the time—saved New York and possibly the world—but Dean still wasn't quite convinced it had been worth it.

By the time Sam had a bead on the alpha, Dean had blown through everyone still willing to talk to them. Dean wasn't really expecting that much from the alpha either, but he was the last lead they had.

Charlie had managed to piece together a good likeness of their newest monster from the videos and photos: human in outline but filled in all wrong. The glowing orange eyes topped the freaky features list, followed closely by the teeth, long, thin needles crowding the mouth that were nothing like fangs or anything else Dean had ever seen. Densely muscled and completely hairless with smooth bland faces like a baby's, the overall impression was as if something had buffed the humanity out of them. The two inch long claws on their hands and feet were just icing on the cake. In short, they didn't look human, which meant they didn't look like vamps either.

And yet, the papers called it the vampire virus for a reason. Bloodlust, light aversion, passing the infection along through bites in the neck—whether they looked right or not, vampires were the closest match so far. Maybe it was a new strain gone bad, maybe it wasn't. But even if the vamp angle didn't pan out, the alpha knew monsters better than either of them; maybe he could at least give them a name.

They'd saved the world with less.

++

The alpha's trail pointed west, right into the heart of the infected zones. It had taken Sam a week to piece it together, another day for them to provision up, and by the time they hit the road Salt Lake City had turned into a monster plagued ghost town. Time was running out and Dean was long past ready to get going already. A sentiment which lasted for about twenty minutes, and then they hit the edges of the biggest traffic jam the world had ever seen.

A drive they should have been able to do in two days took a week. The freeways were impassable and the state and county highways weren't much better. The entire country was running for their lives, a tidal wave of humanity clogging up every road from St. Louis to the coast. The press of eastbound traffic crept into the westbound lanes and they spent an inordinate amount of time bouncing through drainage ditches because there were three lanes of traffic going the wrong way. Things got worse as the gas ran out, miles and miles of parked cars and stranded, hungry families. It was worst road trip of their lives, hell on earth on the highway.

Once they cleared Kansas City though, the freeway emptied out entirely and Dean opened her up, just for the sheer joy being able to go at last. Two hours later, they could see the the alpha's home base from the highway. A mega church of all places, rising like a bloated pimple from the prairie, five stories tall and dead ugly. In the daylight it looked deserted, but they took precautions anyway. Parked the car half a mile out so the sound wouldn't carry and walked in.

Up close the church was even uglier, everything that was wrong with modern architecture rolled into one giant package—though Dean had to concede that the smooth, windowless facade did make it highly defensible. He hadn't been expecting it to be so big, though, and they were cutting the daylight mighty fine by the time they had finished their preparations. This was going to have to be a very short talk.

They didn't even bother trying to force open the doors. Anyone with half a mind these days would have barricaded them to kingdom come. Instead, Sam slapped the last of their C4 onto the silver monstrosities and put in on a thirty second trigger.

The resulting explosion was deeply, deeply satisfying. Both of them were grinning like loons as the walked towards the hole that used to be a door, waiting for the welcome wagon to wake up. It didn't take long. Ten pale faces were soon filling the doorway, sounding like a pile of snakes as everyone of them hissed in discomfort at the sunlight on their skin.

"Knock, knock, bitches," Dean said, a devil may care grin plastered all over his face. "We got dead man's blood—" he waved his machete "—and dead man's switches," he brandished his left fist with his thumb clamped firmly down on the remote detonator "—so keep it in your pants. Now take us to your leader."

++

The alpha met with them alone in sacristy. Even though it was little more than a glorified closet with a sink, Dean felt infinitely less claustrophobic as soon as the door closed. The church was crammed to the rafters with vamps—he wouldn't be surprised if every single one in the country was stuffed into this place—and the weight of all those hungry stares made his skin crawl.

"Ah, the Winchesters," the alpha said from his chair at the far end of the room. "There's no need for those, you know." He waved contemptuously at the detonators and machetes in their hands.

"I think it's been a long time since any of you saw a fresh meal," Sam said, positioning himself as far away from Dean as he could to make it harder for the alpha to take them both out at once. "A little insurance doesn't seem unwarranted."

"You really think those would stop me from killing you?"

"No," Dean answered honestly. He remembered all too well how ungodly fast the alpha was. In a room this small, he could probably kill them both without releasing the switches. "But I think stopping your competition from taking out your food supply might."

"Yes, that just might," the alpha conceded. "Honestly, I was expecting you sooner."

"What can I say, traffic was a bitch," Dean said with a shrug, wondering if there was some secret bad guys appointment calendar out there that no one had bothered to share with them. "Point is, we're here now and I think we all know why. So let’s just skip all the posturing shit and you just tell us what you know."

"Nothing," the alpha answered immediately, nearly cutting off the end of Dean's last word.

"What," Dean said in a spasm of willful disbelief, though in his gut he already knew, had always known.

"I know nothing," the alpha repeated, drawing out the words like they were stupid. "These virals as you call them, have nothing to do with me and mine. Nor have I ever encountered them before on any plane. I know no more than you, perhaps even less. You came for nothing."

"Shit," Sam muttered, neatly summing up the feelings of the room at large. The silence hung, heavy with disappointment and defeat.

Sam's watch beeped and everyone started. "We'll be going now, then," Sam said. "You gonna give us trouble?"

"No, but there is a favor I'd ask of you before you go," the alpha said.

"No, you cannot have a drink," Dean said immediately, unable to help himself.

The alpha snarled and both of them took an instinctive step back in the face of all those teeth. Their fear seemed to mollify him, and after a moment the alpha continued: "Do you know what it's like to starve?"

It said something about their lives that both Sam and Dean had to take a moment to consider before shaking their heads no.

"I know you've felt our hunger Dean, but that, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Another few days and the need would have had you happily ripping out your brother's throat. It is an awful thing, hunger. More so perhaps for us because we cannot escape it through death as humans can. It drives us mad eventually, burns up the mind until we are just fangs and appetite."

The alpha fell silent, eyes fixed firmly on the floor. In Dean’s head the minutes were ticking down, but he held his tongue. He had a pretty good idea what the favor was, but some things needed to be said aloud, some acts required explicit permission.

"The last of our food ran out a week ago," the alpha admitted. "The humans are gone or dead or monsters. The livestock and large game have all been eaten. Prairie dogs and field mice can't sustain us, not for long. In a year, I'd be very surprised if there was more than a handful of unchanged humans left, and all of them locked down tight.."

He looked up then, and very deliberately met both of their eyes in turn. "Death is better than eternal starvation. The boon I would ask of you is to let the bombs blow after you leave."

++

Once upon a time, there was another apocalypse, another plague of viral monsters devouring the world. And in that story, a band of scrappy survivors made an abandoned summer camp their home. Fortified it and used it as a base of operations in their fight against the devil.

The croats, Risa and Cas, the broken wreckage of himself, they were nothing but a memory now. A future that never was, though Dean sometimes wondered if it wouldn't have been better than what they'd ended up with. The croats had been a hell of a lot easier to kill, for one thing.

But fairy tale or not, Dean was pretty sure Camp Chitaqua was still around, just a few hours south. Their entire reason for coming out here was smoking up the sky a mile back and they were out of leads. More importantly, they were almost out of gas. Wherever they holed up in the next day or so, they were probably going to be there a while.

Camp Chitaqua had been home base once, Dean didn't see any reason why it couldn't be again.

++.

Meg turned up like the bad penny she was, too late to be of any use.

She knocked on the door two hours after sundown and scared the shit out of them in the process. Virals could be clever when they needed to be and until she waved at them through the window, making sure they could see her face and her full head of hair, Dean was half convinced they were about to get eaten.

While he'd never admit it, Dean was glad to see her. It was good to see a face that wasn't Sam's, even hers. Still, a less dramatic entrance would have been nice.

Though Meg assured them the area was clear—she'd spent those two hours after sunset making the rounds, Dean still wasn't happy stepping away from his watch. He didn't trust her, but the lure of information was too much to resist. If the virals came, then they'd deal with it. In the meantime, he wanted to be able to see her face so he'd have a better chance at spotting the lies.

Sam lit a candle and they all settled around an ancient wooden table for story time.

"So what have you boys been doing during your summer vacation?" Meg asked, leaning back in her chair and smirking, taking far too much pleasure out of stringing them along.

"Committing genocide against the vampires," Sam snapped and her eyebrows flew up in surprise. "Now cut the crap and get on with it."

"Spoilsport," Meg said, thankfully letting it slide despite her obvious curiosity. "But enough about you, lets talk about me.

"On my summer vacation, I went hiking in the mountains of Colorado. Beautiful country, but with a bit of a pest problem. Kept having to swat nasty things out of the trees." Meg looked pointedly out the window at the towering, moonlit pines.

Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, we know. Just, get on with it already."

"Fine. I won't bore you or me with details of the hunt." She bent over in her chair and started rummaging through her bag. "Trees, trees, and more trees. About as entertaining as watching a coma patient sleep. Oh, snap, I've already done that, too."

Meg sat up, a bright pink computer sleeve in her hands. "Here we are, then," she said, pulling out the tablet, turning it on and setting it on the table.

"Is that an iPad? Seriously?" Sam reached out and Meg slapped his knuckles hard enough to make him wince.

"Don't even think about it." She tapped open the photo viewer and flicked through a few before opening one up and turning the tablet around so they could take a better look.. "And there it is. Ground zero."

The scene was dominated by the mostly burnt out husk of some large structure: judging by smoke stained stucco and exposed beams on the only mostly undamaged wall, it had been some sort of large tudor-style hunting lodge. Behind the ruin were smaller buildings, simple cinder block construction, and scattered around it all were destroyed military vehicles and mummies in fatigues and jumpsuits: a warzone left to rot.

"Where is this?" Sam asked, leaning back in his chair, frowning.

"The back of beyond and then some. Southwest Colorado, maybe ten miles outside of Ouray."

Dean took a moment to place the town on his mental map of the country, and yeah, it really was the middle of nowhere; no wonder it had taken her so long. "What the hell was the military doing out there?"

"Absolutely nothing good," Meg said and flicked to the next picture. "Look."

She flipped through the first photos rapidly, mirroring her journey into the ruin. A few pictures of the burnt out ground level, no bodies but plenty of half melted assault rifles, the occasional charred dog tag. A shot of large hole in the floor and then one of its flash lit depths: concrete walls, warped girders, snapped steel cables. An elevator shaft, or what was left of one anyway.

The pictures took them through the complex floor by floor going down. The first floor was hallways and offices. The hallway carpet was black with dried blood and the soup of rotting flesh from the bodies littering the floor. All the doors were open and the offices were mostly untouched; these people had been running from something.

The second floor down was mostly labs. Biology or chemistry, but it was hard to tell amid the destruction. A sentry post stood guard where the elevator used to be, the wall behind it splashed with blood and the sentry on the ground in front of it, face down like he was kissing the floor.

The lowest floor had even more security, several checkpoints, thick steel doors. The remnants of terrible violence everywhere. And then there were the cells. Cages really, with steel dividers that could be dropped down from ceiling and powerful light arrays along one side. One picture showed a close up of the cell floor, which was littered with the distinctive needle like teeth of the infected.

"Jesus," Sam said softly. "They were studying them?"

"Mmm hmm, and something even better." Meg snatched the iPad off the table and played around with it for a minute; when she put it back down, a video was queued up.

It was a video of a video, a shot of a computer monitor as it moved through what looked like security footage. There wasn't any sound except of Meg breathing and working the mouse and keyboard. There didn't need to be.

A small black man was tied to a bed, clad in jumpsuit in prison orange, People in lab coats moved around the room—one of the cells with the teeth actually—hooking the man up to IVs and monitoring equipment. Fast forward, the time stamp flying by one day, two days, three. The man was obviously ill now, fevered, shaking. Time whizzed by again to the very last days of April, more than a month since the first shot. The man opened his eyes and they were orange: viral.

"Motherfuckers," Dean hissed, angrier than he'd possibly ever been. He watched as, in the space of seconds, the man broke free of his restraints, leapt upon one of the fleeing men and ripped him open from throat the crotch with a swipe of his claws. He crouched over the body and drank, ignoring the gunshot peppered at him. Drank and drank until they used the lights to drive him back and shut the inner gate.

The video ended, the infected man's eyes glowing at them from the screen. "Like I said, absolutely nothing good."

"They made them. They fucking made them," Sam said, dropping his head into his hands.

Dean stared at the video, fury draining out of him as he worked through the implications.

This was no ancient evil dredged up from the past, there would be no lore hinting at its weakness. This was new, this was science, this was the apocalypse with Made in America stamped on the bottom. This was nothing they could conquer, nothing they could beat back into the dark.

This was the end of the world and there wasn't a damn thing they could do to stop it.

++

Everyday around six, an email with links to all the news stories of the day hit Dean's inbox. Something automated Charlie had set up when the normal lines of communication had started to fall apart.

They'd wait until after the sun had set and then Dean would read the highlights out loud while Sam stood first watch in the front room with Dean and Meg looked out the kitchen door in the back. The news was never good per se—it was the end of the world after all— but for a little while it seemed like the army had managed to stop the advance. For one whole week the quarantine line held steady and strong around Chicago. Long enough to make Dean wish he was there, because if that was where the tide was going to turn, he wanted to be a part of it.

On July 10th, not quite a month after Denver, Chicago was overrun in a massive coordinated attack.

Three million infected.

Thirty million dead.

Outbreaks reported in Charleston, Tallahassee, Vancouver and Guadalajara. Three hospitals in Paris under a military lockdown that many felt had come too late after the botched Flight 782 rescue operation. Rumors of cases in Shanghai, but the Chinese government wasn't talking, big surprise.

The American quarantine line moved back to Highway 75.

Dean shut his phone and threw it into the fire. He knew a death knell when he heard it and he didn't want to listen anymore.

He stood up and brought the whiskey to the table, every single bottle they had. Sam leaned his rifle against the wall and grabbed some glasses. Meg came in, twisted open the Jameson and poured them all a round.

They were completely vulnerable, but Dean couldn't bring himself to give a damn the virals took them. Not tonight, maybe not ever again.

Sam walked around the table and sat down next to Dean, shoulder to hip to knee. The warm line of their bodies standing as a pitiful defense against the dark.

Dean raised his glass, Meg and Sam following suit, and they drank the dying world away.

++

Dean always forgot how fast the virals were until they scared the shit out of him.

When two of them leapt out of the store Sam had just walked into—Feelmen's Army & Navy Surplus Serving Kansas City Since 1972 according to the sign—Dean stopped breathing. Choked on the scream in his throat because waking up the entire city wouldn't help anyone, least of all Sam.

Dean raced for the store, grabbing his gun from its holster because nine times out of ten these fuckers traveled in threes. Two had flown the coop and that left one with Sam, even odds as to who would win. A knife in the sweet spot worked just as well as a bullet, but they were faster and stronger with plenty of claws to go around.

He was ten yards away when the third viral appeared. A silhouette in the doorway, the perfect shot, just not for long enough. Dean had barely managed to bring his gun hand forward before it jumped away, Sam's limp body dangling from its hand. One leap, two, and then they were gone.

++

Whatever choices they made, whatever details they altered, they would always end up here.

Dean had to pass the day somewhere after all and he was done fighting against the inevitable. Been there, done that, even thought he'd won for a bit: beat the devil and the angels and every monster in between. But here he was again, with the world in ashes, sitting in a rose garden waiting to kill his brother.

Fate's bitches, every one of them. No matter how much they'd changed, it always circled round to the same bloody ending. To Hell and back again and none of it mattered. Once the sun set, it'd be done with soon enough. Sam would come back to him, he always did.

The last blush of dusk had barely faded from the horizon when Sam dropped out of the sky. He landed on the edge of the weed-choked fountain, claws gouging into the stone, naked and almost unrecognizable between the glowing eyes and the lack of hair. For an endless second, they did nothing but stare at each other, still as the statues around them.

Looking into those hellfire eyes, Dean wondered if Sam hadn't said yes to this, too. If he hadn't seen the virals napping in the store and thought: enough. They'd both seen the bodies dangling from the rafters, in the red stained bathtubs, in chairs with their brains dried to the wall behind them. Seen the cribs with pillows stained black from the tiny corpses rotting beneath them. Sometimes death was a gift, a mercy. Heaven had been promised to them after all, so why not just go? They weren't doing anyone any good here, least of all themselves.

Enough.

Dean raised his gun and nodded. Thought he saw Sam nod back in the instant before he leapt, fast as lightning into Dean. When they hit the ground, Sam's needled teeth were already tearing into his throat. But it didn't matter, this was the end and Dean was ready. The gun was between the, barrel pressed right up against the sweet spot. Time to give it up.

He squeezed the trigger, once for Sam, once for himself.

++ the end ++