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We are Both Afraid Before the Dawn

Chapter Text

"Sammy, it’s the middle of the night. Turn it off."

"It wasn't a fire alarm," Sam snapped.

"What the hell else would it be? Shark alarm? The Russians are coming?"

"We're in Tornado Alley, Dean."

"But not a trailer park. Go back to bed."

Sam glared and turned the radio up louder. Dean tossed an arm over his eyes, trying to block out the light, the radio his brother currently had tuned to KYW--and Dean thinks anyone whose voice sounds that barking loud shouldn't be in radio, let alone nighttime radio--and the rattling wind on all sides of their house.

Outside, the sound of a siren war-whooped, and a voice began commanding over a speaker. Sam got to his feet and started for the living-room, but Dean ran a quick intervention.

"No way you're heading out there."

"Dean--"

"No, Sam. Dude, what the hell is wrong with you? Cops plus Winchesters equals lots of fast-talking."

"Something's wrong. Please, just go look?"

And damnit, Sam had his great big brown eyes doing that damn stupid sad little please-please-please thing that had been wrapping his big brother around his little finger from the day he was born.

"Fine. Just...sit down and shut that thing off." He stomped out of their room, passing their father's empty one--John had taken off to investigate an old theater with a ghost that was vying for Phantom of the Opera level-notoriety with its chandeliers--and through the small living room to the front door. The block was made up of small, one and two story rentals, all with old looking clapboard and ratty front lawns. It felt more like some backwoods hillbilly hole than a few blocks outside of a clean, suburban, Midwest town, but John felt it far enough off the grid to rent out for the summer, and Dean had to admit, he actually liked being in one place for awhile. They knew the neighbors’ names and, once Dean oh-so-casually-mentioned that their mother had passed away and his duty in life was to watch out for his brother, they were always kept in a running supply of casseroles and pies and cakes and standing invites to "wander on over" whenever the barbecues lit up.

Sam, of course, did what Sam did best, which was try to kill the mood. He bitched that the carpet was ugly--okay, it was--and the pipes were rusty--and the water was too cold, but still--and they were perpetually out of milk—Dean didn’t have a car for grocery runs, that was hardly his fault--and it was five miles to the library.

Dean loved his brother, God knows he did. But every once and awhile he ached for Sammy to get to an age where Dean wouldn't feel guilty for wanting to pound the bitch out of him.

Dean opened the door and jumped--some strange kid stared back at him.

"You scared the shit out of me," the kid said. He seemed way too young to be using that kind language, but Dean's already got one little brat's mouth to watch and doesn't need another.

"What do you want?"

"Mama sent me over. Said to tell you to git in to town. They're settin' up the station and everybody goes."

That's when it finally clicked in his sleep-deprived brain who this kid was--Timmy, or Jimmy, or Tommy or something, one of the litter of Texas brats that ran around next door for hours after it got dark. They were overseen by their mother, Sal, a large, loud, but sweet woman who held down two jobs but "still sets the whole family down to supper together and has the best-behaved boys in the whole dang town at the Sunday sermon." If there were a southern stereotype factory, she'd have been fresh off the assembly line. But Dean liked her attitude, Sam liked her cooking, and John actually smiled when she scolded him for not "walkin' right over and introducin' himself," so as far as they were concerned, she had the Winchester stamp of approval.

"Station?" Dean asked. He glanced to the street, where people were loading up in cars and trucks and hauling tossing backpacks in backseats.

"Twister comin'."

"You've gotta be kiddin' me."

"Ain't got time to kid. Happens every summer. Once or twice if you're lucky."

Damnit-to-hell. Sam was going to be gloating about this for weeks. "Where’s the station?"

"High school. You'll see the cars. We all clear out."

"Tell your Mom thanks."

Timmy-Billy-Jimmy-Tommy-nodded and took a running leapt off the porch and back toward his yard. Dean shut the front door and bolted back inside.

"Hey, Dorothy!" he called. "Best grab what you can carry."

He stopped, surprised Sam was already dressed and quickly packing two backpacks.

"There's small ones all over the state," he said, his voice remarkably calm, though his hands shook. "But they say something big's on its way here. Might not develop, but we're still going to get a really bad storm."

"Alright." Dean forced down the sudden wave of nerves and assumes his solid, calm, watch-out-for-Sammy-face. "Make sure you grab the small guns and the salt shaker. I'll call Dad, let him know where we'll be."

Sam nodded. Dean grabbed his clothes from the previous day, but they smelled so much of training he tosses them aside and opts for clean ones. While he changes in John's room he leaves a short message--it's 0143 hours, there's tornado warnings, we'll be at the high school, I'll watch after Sammy--and met Sam in the hallway.

"Do you think Dad's okay?" he asked.

"He's hours away, bud."

"Where are we going?"

"Shelter at the high school."

"Will we get there in time?"

"Dude, it's not math class," he knuckled his brother's head, dodging the question. "C'mon, gotta move fast."

They locked the front door and joined a few families on foot. Cop cars circled the block, bellowing out orders to proceed in a calm and orderly fashion to the nearest Emergency shelter. The wind was already twice as bad, and Dean could smell rain from the dark sky. Lightning flickered off in the distance, but it was still so bright that, for a second, the Winchesters could see as clear as 2:00 in the afternoon rather than 2:00 in the morning. Sam walked a little closer than usual, and Dean rested his hand briefly on the back of the kid's neck, giving him a reassuring squeeze as they follow the cars and other people on foot out of their neighborhood.

"Dude, my bag weighs a ton. You smuggle Toto in there?"

Sam snorted. "You realize if I'm Dorothy, you're Auntie Em."

"Hell no. I'm the badass farmhand who jumped into the dogfight to save the screaming damsel."

"Dogfight? What Wizard were you watching?"

"In the black and white part. Dorothy's all 'Ms. Gulch is a fugly' and then falls into the pen with all those dogs, and the one guy leaps in and carries her to safety. That dude was badass."

"Those were pigs, Dean."

"Pigs?"

 "You know. Oink, oink?"

"She was screaming about pigs?"

"There were a lot of them."

"They're not exactly carnivores."

"They couldn't have Dorothy ripped up by mad dogs in the first five minutes."

"It would've been a better movie. Friggin' melt the green bitch witch? With a bucket that just appeared? How easy would that make our lives?"

"You really need to stop thinking about this," Sam grumbled. Dean rolled his eyes as a deep thunder rolled over them. Dean felt it in his chest. Behind them, a kid started crying. Sam shivered and Dean bumped his side against his brother's shoulder, a casual attaboy.

"Seriously, dude. This thing is bulky. What did you pack?"

Sam shrugged in a way that supposed to look casual. The kid was the worst liar. Dean and John could make up stories as easy as breathe. Sam, for all his brains, wouldn’t be able to lie about hiding grass in a goddamned field. "Changes of clothes, and stuff."

"What, you cram the sawed-off in here? You make another library run without telling me?"

"No, just...grabbed, y'know...some extra shirts and all. And your jacket, in case we can't get back for awhile."

"It's 85 degrees, man."

"I know, but..." Sam was definitely turning red. Even in the dim streetlamps and flashes of the squad cars, he could tell that. "I know it's...your favorite. And it was Dad's. And if...something happened, you know...it'd be hard to find one just like it."

That's when he realized which coat he meant: the old leather one, the one their father had given him when he turned seventeen. It was badass, smelled of years of smoke and gunpowder and was broken in across the shoulders and elbows in all the right places. Dad had worn it on endless hunts and it resisted everything--dirt, rocks, trees, blood. He loved that stupid coat. And in moments like these, he loved his stupid brother more than anyone on Earth. More than Dad, more than their Mom, more than their car. This is what, in John's own words, turned him into a "lousy, ignorant sap."

And yeah, Dean did have a tendency to let Sam talk him out of drills to go to the movies, but it's not like Dean didn't want to sit in air conditioning and eat junk food for the afternoon, instead of sprinting and sparring in the hot sun. And so what if they neglected Latin to watch sports, or went swimming instead of running? So what if he liked seeing his brother be goofy and smiley and just a normal twelve year old? So what if he felt pride when he was able to give him that? It didn't mean Dean was soft. Sammy was just a kid.

Okay, fine—so Sam could turn him into friggin' Julia Roberts. Sue him.

The wind picked up so suddenly and savagely that Sam was thrown into him, and Dean was half thrown into the road. The school was half a block away, and those who could run took off. Several policemen leapt out of their cars and started hollering that women and children should get in. Dean gripped his brother tightly and prodded him into a run, making sure to keep pace with Sam's shorter legs. He'd saved his brother from a fire and the angry undead, he sure as hell wasn't going to lose him to a goddamn bit of wind on 'roid rage.

But this wasn't just wind. This was some kind of Old Testament vengeance. And weirder still, running over it was the sound of a train, like some crazy speeding engine was trying to beat its way down the tracks. Sam gasped as screams and more crying started up around them, and Dean set his jaw and half dragged, half carried his brother the remaining distance to the high school doors.

 

Chapter Text

If the crowd outside had been crazed, inside the school was pandemonium. A bunch of volunteers and policeman were shouting at them to proceed orderly and calmly down the stairs to their right and into the gym, and Dean was hanging on like he hadn't since Sam was much, much younger and crowds were an even greater threat of separating them than social workers.

The gym was built partway into the ground, and windowless. It smelled like only hot and sweaty teens could and made Sam want to gag. Dean found them a spot in a shadowy corner by some old bleachers and dumped their bags. They were both wet, and despite the heat of the room, Sam found himself shivering. His brother handed him a dry shirt and blocked the view while he changed, then, in typical Dean, changed his own shirt in full view of the crowd, tossing a wink at some blonde across the way.

"Gross," Sam mumbled.

"Hey, if it's our last night on Earth, I'm going out with a bang."

Sam tried to catch the hitch in his chest, but Dean heard it and winced slightly. He scrubbed a hand through his hair to dry it, then slumped back against the seats and extended his arm, letting Sam scoot in next to him.

"Hey," he said, softening his voice. "We're good. Like you said, Tornado Alley. They're like a well-oiled machine here. Timmy-Tommy-Johnny-or whatever his name is said this happens at least once a summer."

"Did you hear it? It sounded...that was no small thing, Dean."

"It'll pass. These things don't go on forever. Few minutes." Sam nodded. "Hey--we get a day off tomorrow, huh? Think we've earned it. I need my beauty rest. This face doesn't light up by itself."

Sam snorted. Dean was so corny sometimes it was kind of embarrassing. But endearing, too.

Maybe a little more of the latter.

The walls of the gym began to shake slightly. Above the sound of breaking glass and banging metal began, and suddenly the swarm from the lobby came pouring in, confused and shouting and carrying two bleeding men on a stretcher.

"Heads to the wall!" one of them bellowed. And the lights went out.

***

If Sam thought it was loud before it was Biblical now. Every kid with a working voice-box let it loose at full volume. Some of the women were crying too, and one screamed "It's in the school!" which set off the other half. It seemed like most of the men were cursing, praying, or some combination of the two. And over all of it, volunteers were shouting "heads to the wall, heads to the wall!" and making do with one or two flashlights. The horrible train sound was back, and what sounded like rocks pounding down somewhere far too close above them.

"Dean?" he asked, but his brother was already grabbing him, flipping Sam onto his stomach. Sam made a noise of protest and tried to roll over, but then Dean was crawling on top of him, pinning him to the floor, shielding his head with his right arm and--thankfully--cutting of the noise of some rabid banshee next to him.

"Just a minute or two," Dean said, breath hot on Sam's ear. "Over before you know it."

The whole room rumbled. Overhead came the sound of more shattering glass and screeching metal and banging doors, and the feeling of raw, unleashed violence. Sam could feel it in his chest. He could feel it in his guts.

Dean's left hand rested lightly on his hair, his brother's body strong and warm covering his own. If Dean really didn't think this was a big deal, why was he on top of Sam, risking a lifetime of teasing? If it passed so quickly, why was it taking so long? It if was this strong, could it spread? Spawn others? Was Dad out in it? Would he and Dean be caught up and tossed miles apart from each other, leaving their father to drive around looking for their bodies?

Someone else started screaming that everyone in the gym was going to die. About ten others responded with "pray, pray." Sam felt a chill despite the humidity of the room. He believed in God. He also believed God tended not to interfere. Their mother was proof of that. Their father had long ago taught them to be scared of the dark, to always have a way to see their threat, to know how to cripple an enemy. They had guns and knives in the backpacks, crucifixes and holy water, and Dean knew enough moves to keep their father on his toes when they sparred, but none of that was any good against something...natural. They were at this thing's mercy. Even Dean was freaked.

He couldn't hold back a shiver.

"Hey," his brother's voice came in, low and soft and too close to his ear. "It's gonna pass. A minute or two more, and it'll have had its fun and moved on. Don't listen to them. Listen to me. Everything's going to be okay." He squeezed Sam's trembling shoulder. "I gotcha, little brother."

Sam reached out, found Dean's sleeve, tugged, and clutched his brother's arm to his side. Hell was raging and screaming above and around them, and the dark was swallowing him up from the inside out, but Sam had his big brother, and his big brother had Sam wrapped in his arms, and so he closed his eyes and held tight and listened to Dean's soft reassurances as the world crashed and clattered and rocked and wailed and prayed its way down around them.

***

The gym gave one great big final shudder and slowly settled. As the roar drifted away, the mayhem around them began to quiet, people thanking God and their neighbors and shushing their still wailing children. Dean stayed on top of him, but lifted his head up to try and peer into the pitch.

“Okay,” he said, dropping back close to his brother. “It’s moving off, see? Give it a minute or two and it’ll be long gone.”

“And we wake up in Oz?” Sam asked, hoping his voice didn’t shake that badly. Dean chuckled—Sam could feel it through his back. Saying it was weird was an understatement.

“Better not, because I will own those friggin’ Munchkins. They give me the creeps.”

“There’s something wrong with you, you know that?”

“Make a list, bitch.” Dean’s left hand ruffled his hair. Some more flashlights winked on across the gym, and Dean muffled a curse when one got him in the eyes. “Someone better start working on power in this place.”

“The wires are probably down.”

“You pack a flashlight, Einstein?”

“Yeah, but it needs batteries.”

“Dad left us some.”

“And you put them in the remote control.”

Dean’s curse was abruptly drowned out by the terrible, twisting shriek of metal and a deafening roar of something collapsing. All flashlights suddenly went up toward the ceiling, and Sam’s stomach lurched at the thought that the damaged school could cave in on top of them, burying them alive in the pitch dark.

A deep, furious shudder roared through the floor and walls. And then, ever-so slowly, the roar flowed to a shriek, and then a slow, stuttered slide, that groaned out to silence. In its wake, an uneasy semi-calm began to seep back into the huddled families.

“Alright now,” Dean said softly, slowly easing himself off of his brother. “It’ll be alright now.”

Sam’s death-grip on his brother’s arm prevented him from sitting up, but it was only with Dean's gentle prodding that he released him. He scooted up into a sitting position, relieved when his brother’s arm dropped automatically over his shoulders and pulled him close.

A flashlight from across the gym began making sweeping motions as someone walked among the crowd. A few seconds later they heard Sal’s tell-tale drawl as she called “Sam and Dean!” and then “no thank you, honey,” and “do I look like I don’t know who I’m looking for?” and then “Sam and Dean of 1628 Lilac View Way!”

“Sal!” Dean called, and their neighbor gave a great huff and made their way toward them.

“Didn’t anyone ever teach you to answer the first time you’re called?” She passed the light between their faces, blinding them both. “Well, good on you for getting here. Teddy ain't my brightest but God bless him, he does what he's told.” She yanked the flashlight and it popped open like a mini-camp lantern, which she set at their feet. “This here’s for you. Gotcha some water and something to snack on.”

“Are your kids okay?” Sam asked.

“They’re just fine, you sweet thing. This ain’t their first rodeo and it sure as hell ain’t mine. Last time a twister this bad came through it it ripped up our house from the ground up. Since then they have full bedrolls with three sets of clothes, soap, toothbrushes, batteries and flashlights, and I’ve got a big ol’ bag of everything that can’t be replaced and off we go. Where’s your Daddy?”

“He went to check on our Grandma,” Dean lied. “She’s a couple hours away and doesn’t drive much. He didn’t realize how bad it was gonna get here.”

“Well you tell him to stay put. Power lines and trees and God knows what else are going to be down all over, and mark my words, by tomorrow we’re gonna have a three ring circus out in those streets. Don’t you worry, they’ll be plenty of food and water to go around, and places to sleep if we need ‘em. You need anything you just let me know. And if anyone comes poking around asking who's looking after you, you just point them my way and I’ll run them off.”

At that moment, Sam was 99 percent sure Dean had fallen in love. “Thanks, Sal.”

“You boys get some rest. Find me if you need me.” She left them with a bottle of water, two sets of peanut-butter crackers, and two granola bars. Sam felt too shaken to eat, but he knew he’d feel differently come morning. Dean, of course, dug in like they’d been gone from the house for days instead of less than an hour.

“You think Dad’s okay?” Sam asked.

“Sure he is.”

“What if he was driving?”

“He’s hours away, Sammy. And even if there was a twister, it’s not like he’s going to drive toward it.”

They both fell silent at that. Fact was, if anyone decided to play a game of chicken with a violent natural disaster, it’d be John Winchester. Especially if his sons were on the other side.

Dean reached for his pack, pulled out their Dad's old jacket, and nudged Sam out of the way. Then he lay it out, interior side up, and pulled his brother down on top of it, letting Sam rest his head on his thigh and tangle his fingers in the denim over his knee.

“Try and sleep,” Dean murmured, patting Sam’s back. “I got it from here.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Dawn came and went. Dean couldn't tell the difference. The gym was still pitch black, though the light Sal left them made a warm little circle around him and his brother. Sam's hand had gone lax over his knee over an hour before, and his brother's breathing was easy and deep. Dean wanted sleep: or, even better, a beer. A couple beers. And a real bed. Sitting on the floor, back against the bleachers, was sending protests through every inch of his spine. But shifting might wake Sammy, and he didn't want to wake Sammy. Kid had been through enough that night.

Then some idiot got on the intercom and started bellowing that it was safe to go upstairs, and to proceed in a calm and orderly fashion, and Sam jolted awake and sat up anyway. Dean tossed him a grin and yanked his coat out from under him, knocking Sam on his ass and earning himself a few bruises on the shin as Sam retaliated. The people around them clapped and cheered.

"Time to bust out of here, huh?" Dean grinned. Sam mumbled something Dean's fairly certain their Dad wouldn't allow, but hell, he just wants to get back to the house and sprawl on his bed and sleep until he can't anymore.

They joined the procession toward the stairs, then up them, then slowly out the doors and down the front lawn and into a mess of chaos. Some of the hysteria from the night before, it seemed, was more than justified. Half the school was gone, and Dean guessed the sound of collapsing metal and debris was a good section of the roof making its way down on top of the remnants of the first story. A little more to the right, or a slightly different angle of collapse on the base of the school, and--don't. It hadn’t happened.

Some of those still-annoying volunteers were directing people forward, where a line of camera crews and cop cars and rescue vehicles cluttered up the block, parked at crazy angles, making it clear no one was driving anywhere in town. Trees were uprooted as far as they could see—some had fallen into houses, others into cars, and there were sirens. A lot of sirens.

Sam was knocked sideways by someone in the crowd, who barked at him to quit standing around, and Dean surged forward, yanking his brother to side and calling a few of his favorite expletives at the man’s retreating head.

“Okay,” he squeezed Sammy’s shoulder. “Let’s head back toward the house, and I’ll see if we can’t get a signal to let Dad know we’re alright.”

Sam just nodded, eyes on the wreck of the school. Dean gave him a tug and started them away from the wreckage and down the block. Kid didn’t need to be staring at that, calculating fractions of seconds and whatever else his big dork brain would cook up about how close, statistically, they’d come to being buried in wreckage. And Dean couldn’t think about how little he’d been prepared for this. How he didn’t take Sammy’s nervous nighttime vigil seriously.

Dean shook off these thoughts and focused, just like his Dad had taught him. Later, he could debrief, analyze what dangers weren’t anticipated and how the response could have been different. In the moment, he needed to focus his thoughts and energy on the threats and challenges before them, and try to see any and all possible dangers to Sammy. So he kept his eye on shaky trees and livewires and still-more rescue vehicles trying to barrel down the roads.

Sal was right though—there were already vans full of food and water, and Dean even managed to score some food stamps and a couple mini first-aid kits—always useful in their line of work. The going was slow, the percentage of cops and social workers and emergency crews way beyond Dean’s comfort zone, and if he kept an arm a little too tightly around Sammy, it was for his brother’s benefit. Not his.

Sam was eerily quiet, a bit wide-eyed, and looking much, much younger than usual. Dean wanted to shield him from the families wailing and sobbing when they saw their wrecked houses, or the bruises and bloodstains covering victims seated in the back of open ambulances, but there didn’t seem to be any way of avoiding them. The tornado hadn’t heard the calm and orderly commandments and had apparently touched down near the high school and whipped seemingly at random back and forth across the streets, annihilating rows of homes and taking chunks out of others. The further they went, the longer the stretches of destruction became, until it was all too clear that their own block hadn’t been untouched.

They’d made it to the head of their street when a scream sounded at such a volume Dean honestly thought, for a second, that it was another siren. Dean turned in time to see some rescue workers working extricating a woman from under what was once a staircase, but she appeared to have some kind of bloody towel wrapped in her arms that she wasn’t giving up.

It took a few seconds for him to realize that it wasn’t a towel, but a baby blanket, and he grabbed Sammy and whipped him away from the scene. A second too late.

Sam went very, very white. Than a little green. Then took two steps out of the way and dry-heaved. Dean caught him before he went down on his knees on a mess of porch, fearing he’d land on nails or glass.

“Alright, easy, easy, take it easy,” he murmured, rubbing the kid’s back with one hand while forcing him to stay upright. “It’s okay, they’ve got her.  She’ll be fine.” The woman chose that moment to let out another banshee-worthy shriek and begin to sob “my baby, my boy!” Dean was going to lose it himself in a minute or two. “C’mon, buddy. Let’s get out of here.”

Sam nodded, a final shiver going through him, and dug his fingers into his brother’s arm. Dean patted him on the back and kept an arm around his shoulders, squeezing him briefly before they worked their way down the final few lots to their rental.

***

Their house was gone.

It was the rough outlines of their house--the lines of concrete brick foundation,  in the shape of all their former rooms, the ugly, weak clapboard blown into the holes where floors should be, and that butt-ugly green carpet spread all over everything--but if you hadn't known it used to be a house, you'd say it was a scrap heap, complete with old pipes and a cracked toilet tumbled pathetically over on its side.

Sam's fingers curled around the hem of his shirt. Dean couldn't think of anything to say or do but drop his hand to the top of his brother's head and pet him like a puppy. He couldn't even quite get his mind around what was in front of them. And then, like Divine Intervention, they heard Sal bellow "why you sonofabitch!" and he and Sam trailed into her backyard.

Sal stood there, hands on her broad hips, glaring down at a plot of massacred Earth. "Tore up my tomatoes," she roared. "That damn thing took about five weekends of hard work and drilled it all to hell!"

Dean had no idea what to say. The only thing left standing of her house was a few scattered rooms on the far side from what had been the Winchester's rental, and even what was left was such a mess of debris it couldn't possibly be salvaged. Yet Sal was pacing the backyard, swearing about wrecked flower beds and the cost of fertilizer.

Fortunately, where Dean failed, Sam took over.

“I’m sorry about your house, Sal,” the kid offered.

“Oh hell, honey, I’m not. The damn thing was on its last legs. You watch, this whole block will be built back up by the end of the month. In the meantime, the kids get farmed out and the Daddy Warbucks’ of this country are putting me up in a great big hotel, and I plan to make the most of it. But my tomatoes? You know what it takes to grow good tomatoes? It ain't science. It's smarts.” She sighed and shook her head. "You boys, you need to head on back and get yourself a bed at the shelter. They'll fill up fast. You talk to your Daddy?"

"He's on his way," Dean lied. If Sam's grip tightened slightly on his shirt, he didn't notice. Not a bit.

"Well good. I'll keep an eye out for him. Gonna be hell getting through town. You boys get yourselves a bed and some food and sleep, and if you need anything you call. Got me?"

"Um…" Dean glanced awkwardly at the house. Sal huffed and rolled her eyes.

"Call my cell, boy. It's the only number I gave you. You try getting a message with six children answering your phone."   

Dean's hand found Sam's hair. Sam's hand pulled a little tighter on his shirt. In unison, they turned back the way they came.

 

 

Chapter Text

Sam knew Dean's lame excuses to get them to try other blocks as they wound their way back to the school and the shelters was a ploy to protect him. And he really felt for his brother that, no matter which way Dean steered him, there were endless lines of destruction, the thirsty, the hungry, and the bleeding.

By the time they made it back to the school, it was clear at least fifteen were dead, and thirty "missing." AKA--lost in the rubble.

Dean talked his way up one street and down the other. He told Sam stories of people surviving without water and food for weeks at a time, and how awesome rescuers were.

Sam understood what he was doing. But honestly, he just wanted quiet, somewhere, to try to think through what had happened.

They were directed away from the high school and into the VFW, which had a tree across its walkway but, other than that, was in solid shape. The inside was a mess of cots and volunteers and crying/wailing/barking children, but Dean scored them more water and food and a few blankets, and settled them in on the floor in the back. He'd been trying every half-block since they'd left to get a signal on their cell, but it was clear that, not only were they not getting one, but the battery was dying. By night, they'd be back in the dark, relying on flashlights, and wondering about their Dad.

All his life, Sam had wanted normal. And now that he was surrounded by families who'd known it, he wanted nothing more than to be in some crappy motel with Dean and their Dad.

 It made Sam shaky and sick. When Dean finally stepped away to try and barter the use of a landline from a cop, he up and slipped out the door and wound his way to the back. There, he could hear sirens, and some odd voices here and there, but mostly, what he heard was the breeze: soft, warm, and gently teasing at the odds and ends of wreckage, the leaves and flowers not yet shredded by debris. For two months, they'd had an address and a neighborhood. For two months, Sam had had one bed to sleep in, one door to unlock.

He'd seen former almost-homes taken away abruptly--because of hunts gone awry, or new-hunts heard of, or social services circling a little too closely, or reasons no one bothered to give him. But this was...well...normal. Like some nasty spit in the face.

"Hey. What the hell, Sammy?"

And damnit, why could Dean never just leave him alone?

"I called Dad," Dean continued. Sam didn't answer. "Jesus, what is with this vow of silence? Sam?" Sam glared. Dean sighed and leaned against him, nudging him lightly with his shoulder. "Hey. I get it. It was freaky. But--"

"I'm not freaked, Dean."

"Then?" Sam ignored him. "Sammy," he said firmly.

"Our house is gone."

"Dude, you hated that house. All you've done since day one is bitch about it."

"I know!" Sam snapped. "I know, alright! It doesn't make any sense!"

"Good, we agree. Now c'mon. Let's go back inside and--"

"No--Dean, you don't get it."

Dean sighed. "Well you're not making it easy for me here, kiddo."

"I hated that house. It smelled weird and the lights didn't work unless you flicked the switches a bunch of times and the porch was falling apart and the shower took forever to heat up and we weren't near anything fun. But--it was the only one I ever had, Dean. It was the longest I was ever in one place. And...when I saw it..." his throat ached. He swallowed hard, keeping the tears down. Dean gave him a reassuring nod. " You didn't believe me when I said that storm was coming and no one ever listens when I just want to stay in one place long enough to finish a grade. You and Dad think it's some kind of... freak thing  that I just want us to be safe and normal. And then we finally get a little bit of what I want and it's...it’s…gone Dean. It's like we'll never be safe."

And God he didn't want to cry. Not when they'd made it through this and he should just be grateful they're alive and haven't lost everything like so many surrounding them. But it hurt, damnit, and he couldn’t pretend it didn't hurt, not when Dean stared at him in that I'm listening way of his that always got Sam babbling.

"Hey," his big brother said. Sam turned, but Dean didn't say anything else, just opened his arms, palms out, a pillar of unconditional understanding. One that no storm could ever touch. Sam vaulted forward and burrowed into his brother's chest, letting a few small sobs out into the muscles beneath Dean's heart, feeling the amulet bump his forehead as encouraging arms came around and held him tight.

"Whatever we are," Dean murmured, "and wherever we'll be, I'll be right there with you all the way."

And, okay—maybe it wasn't fair to say he never felt safe. And maybe Sam should try and find the words to tell that to his brother. But from the way Dean stroked Sam's hair and rubbed his thumb along his shoulder, it seemed like he understood just fine.

***

Dean woke, highly unwillingly, because his brother's razor-sharp elbow dug into his stomach. He huffed and pulled away, only to get a kick in the shins and a brother who didn't seem to realize the room was stifling hot. No, Sammy’s determined to roll over and burrow into Dean like it's twenty-one degrees and he's some kind of human heater.

So Dean let him. Because he's the best big brother ever.

He rubbed at his eyes. He liked to think he could sleep anywhere, but the floor was getting old. He stretched out an arm for his phone and checks for missed calls or messages, but there's nothing. The old excuses run through his mind—he's on a job, he can't get service, he trusts Dean to handle it--but damnit, he wants a bed and a hot meal and a tiny bit of reassurance himself, thank you.

Sammy sighed and stretched an arm out over Dean's stomach, wedging himself even tighter against him, and Dean reached down to scratch his brother's head. Sam could have an eerie sixth sense about his big brother’s needs sometimes. Dean liked to think it was because he was so awesome.

"Dean!" someone bellowed. Dean jumped, instantly assuming soldier mode, sitting up so fast he knocks Sammy with his arm and gets the kid whining something incoherent. "Sam!" the same voice followed, and just like that, his brother is upright at his side, looking around a bit bewildered.

"Dad?" Dean called. The boys got to their feet, and Dean didn't even feel completely balanced before John wrapped both his boys in arms and hugged them fiercely.

"Oh, thank God," their father whispered. He thumped Dean hard on the back, then pulled away to cup Sammy's chin. "You boys okay?"

"We're fine, Dad, are you?" Dean asked. John nodded.

“I set out as soon as I heard, but everything was down. Your phone said it was out of service. I had to hit it on foot the last ten miles, and they weren't even letting anyone down the street." His thick, heavy hand landed on Dean's shoulder. Dean's seen his father after dozens of hunts, good and bad, and through flus and benders, but he can't ever remember seeing him this drawn and stressed and downright thankful. "Sammy. Your brother take care of you?"

"You know he did, Dad. We...I was worried about you."

"Spook go down easy?" Dean asked, trying to avoid an overemotional moment from his brother. John nodded.

"Was in the car on my way back when I heard. They're calling an F4. When I saw the house..." he stopped himself, rested his hand briefly on each of his son's cheeks, looking from one to the other. "You got here in time," he said, as if it's not obvious.   

"Yes, sir," they said. John nodded and stayed silent for a long moment, then clapped both their shoulders, and squeezed.

"You feel up to a walk back to the car?"

Dean glanced at Sam. Sammy looked up at him with that look he gets, the Julia Roberts one, full of gratitude and affection and hero-worship that makes Dean feel ten times his own size and willing to take on anything just to keep that smile on his brother's face.

"Yeah Dad," Sam said, leaning into Dean's side, "we're ready."