Title: Radio Nowhere Recipient:zubeneschamali Rating: PG-13 Word Count or Media: 7125 ; one mini title banner (jpg) Warnings: some language, semi-violent imagery [Spoiler (click to open)](monster death, character death but happy ending!!) Genre: angst, mystery, Frequency!AU, family feels Author's Notes: My dear SPN giftee, I know what you’re going to think at first, but trust me. I read your sign-up carefully — just trust me. ;) Major thanks to my excellent beta!
Summary: Dean finds an old radio and someone to connect to on the other end. Funnily enough, so does Sam.
This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there? -Bruce Springsteen, Radio Nowhere
Dean glanced over his shoulder and picked up his pace, noting the way the sun edged towards the horizon line at his back. It wasn’t a good idea to be out after dark in this area, though he knew how to handle himself against pretty much anything that might come his way.
He adjusted the strap of his pack, but the ache in his shoulder didn’t really ease. The bag was heavy and full, and some of the cans dug into his back. His tired legs protested more than his shoulders with each step. Thankfully, he didn’t have much farther to go.
The sound of his boots on the worn, dirt path was the only noise that broke the stillness. The old boarded up diner looked exactly how he’d left it two weeks ago: shabby, faded, and ringed by rusted out old cars. He wanted nothing more than get inside and stop moving, but habit and hunter vigilance made him do three circuits of the place before he approached, weapon out, just in case.
Dean edged open the back door and ventured inside. The store room was empty, the corner of the kitchen counters had a pile of clothes and locked box, stationed beside a sink full of dirty dishes.
“Crap,” he murmured. He’d forgotten about those — they were going to be a bitch to clean, especially since he hadn’t been able to find much soap out there.
With a sigh, he dropped the backpack in the storeroom — he’d refill the shelves after he slept a little — and walked out into the main diner area. Dean paused in the doorway, casting a frown at the place. It’d probably been nice, once, with clean tables and cushy booths, and tasteful, homey decor.
Now it was deserted, dusty, and dead empty. Slivers of dying sunlight crept between the boards nailed over the glassless windows. The tables were gone, the fabric from the booths stripped long ago. All that remained of the diner’s original decor was faded shapes burned into the paint by a thousand sunny days.
He’d tried to make the place a little more homey for himself with whatever he’d found over the years. The far wall was dotted with some vintage hubcaps, while the shelves behind the serving counter — once filled likely with glasses and mugs, maybe souvenirs — held an array of bottles, tin cans, hood ornaments, and even old dvds, though he had no way to watch them. An ancient ham radio on the counter completed his collection of recovered odds and ends. It still turned on at least, unlike the mp3 player he still owned.
No, the place wasn’t much, but it was home.
Before he let himself turn in for the night, Dean checked through the rest of the diner. The bathrooms were empty and dark, as was the employee’s break room. Nothing was amiss. Satisfied, Dean barricaded the back door and crossed to the thin cot in the far corner, shielded from the boarded windows by one of the old booths.
Dean tugged off his boots one by one with a sigh of exhausted relief.
He laid down on the cot and shimmied under the lumpy blue comforter without bothering to change out of his clothes. He dug in his pockets for a few folded up photos that he never went anywhere without, and propped them against the booth so he could see them as he fell asleep.
His weary eyes glanced over Dad, looking more at peace than Dean had ever seen him. He looked over Mom, golden and soft and beautiful, her arms curled around himself as a boy. Over Bobby, looking irritated but his eyes crinkled with a hidden smile, and over Dean standing with Sam — laughing, smiling, so much younger and unbroken. Before everything went wrong.
“Good night, Sam,” Dean mumbled.
He couldn’t remember when he’d started saying it. Somewhere in the thirteen years since Sam died, it’d become a habit.
When Sam had agreed to help Bobby clear out one of the old sheds on the property, he hadn’t really thought it’d be so much work. He knew Bobby collected and stored a lot of junk, and had inherited a fair amount, too, but still. He hauled another overflowing wheelbarrow outside into the hot sun, grunting with effort.
“How much stuff do you have?” Sam complained. He pulled the wheelbarrow to a stop in front of Bobby, who was almost finished sorting the crap from the last few loads.
Bobby shrugged, tossing a rusted out engine part into the garbage pile. “Told you — most of it ain’t mine. My grandad stored all kinds of things in there, and one of his brothers and a cousin, I think. Then my pops added to it, and I really only used the front part for tools and such.”
“You didn’t think to clear it out sooner?” said Dean, dropping an armload of rotten cardboard onto the pile slated for burning. He swiped his arm over his sweaty forehead.
“I’m clearing it now,” Bobby replied irritably.
Sam rolled his eyes and headed back into the musty shed, Dean on his heels.
“It’s just never-ending crap in here,” Dean growled, gesturing wide.
They’d cleared out almost half the place since lunchtime, but the shed was deceptively deep. There were still shelves crammed with boxes from forty, fifty, and who-even-knew-how-many years ago. Sam could see what looked like an old mannequin propped up somewhere back there beside what maybe was some tractor parts and a broken bike.
“Let’s just get as much done as we can before supper,” said Sam. He flexed his fingers in his gloves and marched forward.
Dean exhaled in a huff and followed.
So far they’d found mostly junk and garbage — water-damaged furniture, rotten boxes of stuff, moth-eaten and rat-chewed clothes, rats and moths themselves, and a wasp’s nest (Sam won paper-rock-scissors on that one, so Dean had to dispose of it). They also discovered some salvageable car parts, tools, and more. An antique wardrobe wrapped in plastic and bedsheets seemed to have miraculously survived for the most part, as well as an old scooter, a record player, and a box of dusty camera parts.
As the afternoon wore on, it was pretty much more of the same — a lot of crap with the odd decent find. Sweat coated Sam’s back and dripped off his face as he dug out box after box. One heavy box snagged on some crooked nails poking out of the shelf, and Sam spent a good ten minutes wrestling the thing down. He sneezed as a huge puff of dust came with it.
Sam popped open the top to check the contents, curious why it was so heavy. “Huh,” he mumbled. It looked like an old ham radio, with all its parts and cords. That probably was worth quite a bit, if Bobby wanted to sell it.
“Find anything good?” asked Dean, dragging a ripped tarp across the floor.
Sam brought it out into the sun and set it in the grass with the rest of the things still needing to be sorted by Bobby, then headed back into the shed.
By the time they called it a day, they’d made huge progress. Bobby estimated they’d only need another half day to finish emptying the shed, then another day or so to deal with everything that’d come out of it. While Bobby went inside to make them all something to eat, Dean and Sam brought the salvaged goods to the garage so they weren’t damaged by the forecasted overnight rain.
Sam unboxed the old radio and set it out on one of the workbenches. It was cool — a bunch of dials, a speaker, switches and knobs and a faint yellow light…
He narrowed his eyes. Light? That was impossible—not only was the thing not hooked up to an outlet, it had to be twenty or thirty years old at least, if not more. That little knob absolutely could not be emanating light, even on a battery.
Sam cupped his hand around it to cast the knob into shadow, and sure enough, there was the faintest glow against his palm.
“No way,” he murmured and his brain raced into overdrive trying to figure it out. Some sort of phosphorescence? A solar light, somehow? Some sort of—
“You coming?” Dean called.
Sam jumped away from the radio. “What?”
“Dude, I called you like fifty times. Supper.”
“Sorry, yeah.” Sam hurried after his brother. He cast a curious look back at the radio and decided he was seeing things. There was no way an ancient radio like that had any juice in it.
Dean sorted the cans he’d scavenged, lining them up on the shelves of his hollow storeroom. He spread them out a little to make them seem like more, for all the good it did. Some of them were unlabelled, so those were going to be interesting. The last batch he’d scrounged up had included canned beets and something fishy smelling he couldn’t (and didn’t want to) identify.
He added the bag of potatoes he’d traded for in Colorado and sighed through his nose. Two weeks of scavenging and this was all he’d managed. He scrubbed his hand over his face and wondered if there was any chance on earth he could turn some of those potatoes into a garden. Given that it was already August, he doubted it. Getting through the winter was going to be a bitch, unless he could find one of those pockets of people who didn’t want to knife you for a can of beans. Last he heard, they’d migrated to biggest airports in the country — none of which he was anywhere near by.
“Don’t know what they’re waiting for,” he grumbled aloud, slamming the store room door with unneeded force. It wasn’t like a plane had lifted off in six years—maybe five. It was hard to remember now.
Dean let out an exhausted sigh that dragged through his bones from his heels to his throat. The diner didn’t look any better in the daylight. He spent some time dusting, for all the good it would do. One good windstorm and the place would be filthy again.
After a lunch of cold canned beans, Dean sat down on the wooden chair behind the serving counter. Despite the food, he still felt hollow and empty — a feeling that had persisted for years on end.
He stared at the old radio, a terrible symbol of hope and constant disappointment. There was a small light on the upper right that had glowed faintly yellow ever since the day Dean had dug it out of the dirt. At first, he’d been ecstatic — he could contact someone, he could talk or get help or maybe even just listen to music. Nothing else in the world had power anymore, but this, this had power. He didn’t know how, and he didn’t care.
He’d tried every frequency, desperately calling out for help. It’d been stupid, Dean realized only a short time later. Everyone needed help and there was no one to help. Every plea and shout and curse went completely unanswered. All he ever found was barely audible static, so quiet he wasn’t sure he could hear anything at all.
Dean flipped the switches and dials at random, always irrationally hoping one day he’d find some magic combination that brought him anything other than dead air.
“Hello?” he mumbled into the mic, his voice rusty and cracked. He waited, caught somewhere between knowing no one would answer and his heart racing, wishing, hoping against all hope for a reply.
Once, he’d picked up a batch of moonshine, that probably could have doubled for fuel, from a group living in the husk of a McDonald’s. Drunk on the stuff, he’d cried into the radio, screaming for an answer. To someone else, somewhere, who was as desperately alone in this hellish, empty world.
Of course, nothing ever came.
Nothing ever did.
Thunder rumbled softly in the distance, and Dean turned away from the radio. Disappointment stabbed through him, but he simply got up and walked out of the diner. After hundreds of days of this, of nothing, he was used to it. Used to being hollow and achingly alone.
Dean surveyed the horizon and the dark clouds simmering there. If the storm was a bad one, he’d need to make sure the boards on the windows would stay put. He didn’t want a repeat of last year’s storm: he’d woken to find the wind whipping tree branches and debris into the diner with such force, he almost got himself knocked out trying to get out of his bed and into the safety of the storeroom.
With another ragged sigh, he got to work.
The forecasted overnight rain turned out to be a wicked storm that battered Bobby’s house mercilessly. Sam shot bolt upright in bed, yanked from sleep, when a severe clap of thunder shook the walls. He tried to doze off again, but it was no use — the storm was too loud.
Grumpily, he plodded downstairs only to find Bobby and Dean both awake as well. Bobby looked up from the desk, dotted with tall, lit candlesticks.
“It’s a mean one,” he grunted.
“No kidding,” said Sam.
Dean laid on the couch, headphones on and his face buried in a thick graphic novel.
“Power’s out,” Bobby told him. “But there’s more candles in the cupboard over there if you want to read or something.”
Instead, Sam padded to the kitchen and made himself some cereal. He jabbed Dean’s shin with his foot to get his attention and motioned for Dean to make some room on the couch. Dean startled and scowled, but pulled his knees up so Sam could sit down.
The storm raged on, and Sam tried reading, as Bobby had suggested. The noise and light made him restless — he’d never been afraid of storms, but something about the ferocity of this one bothered him, and he couldn’t sit still. He wandered the house aimlessly and wound up at the garage.
Catching light out of the corner of his eye, Sam turned his head, wondering if the power had come back on. Instead of the overhead lights waking up, however, the light he’d seen was coming from the old radio. From inside the radio. To his surprise, it didn’t just have one glowing knob anymore, but the whole display was brimming with light. Sam scrunched his brow and leaned close to inspect the machine.
“What the hell?”
He twisted the radio around, peering at it from every angle. It had no obvious power source, no way it could be on, yet yellow light spilled from the cluster of wires on the back and lit up the panel depicting the frequency settings.
“How are you doing this?” he murmured, tracing his fingers over the radio’s dusty edges.
He fiddled with the largest dial and watched the needle move between the different frequencies. Outside, the storm tapered off to soft rain and suddenly Sam could hear static. He quickly ticked up the volume, sure he was imagining it, but no. Static.
Sam grabbed a stool and sat down in front of the radio. He tinkered with all the knobs and switches, trying them out in different sequences to see what happened. He flicked through the frequencies to see if he could happen on some music or voices — truckers used an updated version of these radios after all — but without a visible antennae, Sam had no idea what kind of range the thing had on it.
Or if he’d in fact fallen asleep on the couch and was just dreaming this.
He was tuning the radio, and yanked his hand back in shock when he heard a snatch of a voice.
“No way,” he whispered, his face cracking into a smile. How cool is this? He leaned close to the mic. “Hello...? Is anybody out there?”
Irritated and dripping, Dean threw his soaking wet coat onto the hook by the back door. Despite his earlier preparations, one of the boards had still managed to come loose. Rain had poured in and the wind kicked debris inside. At least it hadn’t been too close to his bed, but he still had had to go out in the storm and fix the damn thing.
Dean cursed and shucked his wet shirt. I should probably sleep in the storeroom tonight in case the storm decides to pick up again. He searched behind the serving counter for the sack of clothes he’d last cleaned at the river, and that’s when he heard it.
It was scratchy and distant, but loud enough that Dean nearly smashed his head on the counter his haste to dive for the knife nearby and point it in the direction of the voice. He whirled, but nobody else was in the diner. Just him and some wayward twigs, tossed inside by the storm.
His heart slammed against his ribs, water pooled on the floor beneath his wet jeans, but there was no other sound except the rain and the radio’s static.
Dean frowned. He’d turned it off earlier, so why was it making noise now? He waited a beat — had the voice come from the radio? — but nothing happened.
“You’re hearing things,” he grunted and reached out to flip off the radio.
“Is anybody out there?”
He forgot to breathe.
“Holy shit—” Dean snatched up the microphone, tossing the knife aside, and pressed down the talk button. “Hello? Hello!? Is somebody there? Hello?”
The pause could’ve only been a second but it was agonizing.
“Please,” Dean whispered, touching his head to the mic.
“Hello! Wow, I honestly didn’t think this thing was working — it’s ancient,” said the male voice on the other end, tinny and far away.
“Where are you?” Dean demanded. The radio worked — someone else had one — what if that meant there was power somewhere — what if that meant there was hope, the nightmare might be finally coming to an end, what if, what if—
He took a shaky breath, forcing himself to slow down.
“Uh, South Dakota,” said radio guy. “Sioux Falls, actually.”
Dean laughed in pure surprise, the movement and noise deeply unfamiliar to him. It made sense — an antique like this couldn’t have much range.
“Me too,” he answered.
“No way! What are the odds?” Radio Guy laughed in return, and his laugh was easy and warm, and reminded him of…
Dean’s mouth curved up, the muscles rusty — who was this man who could laugh like that in today’s world? Who could manage to sound like they weren’t exhausted to the core and dead inside? Dean hadn’t met anyone like that in at least a half dozen years, if not more. Even the people who banded together and tried to start new lives, even the travelling musicians, or the kids who’d never known any other life.
“What part of town?” Radio Guy asked.
Dean furrowed his brows. “There is no town.”
“Well, sure, it’s small, but I think it still counts.”
Dean stared. Was the guy nuts? “Dude, there hasn’t been a town here for like nine years. I don’t think there are any towns anywhere any more. Nothing like before the apocalypse, anyway.”
There was literally no way anyone on the planet had missed it. Half the people on it had been wiped out in a manner of months and everything had fallen to shit since. Now the world was made up of pockets of people doing their damnedest to survive, and lone wolves like Dean who holed up or wandered from state to state or country to country, forever in search of something better.
“Sorry,” prodded Radio Guy. “It sounded like you said ‘apocalypse’.”
“Uh, yeah,” Dean replied. “I did. You call it something different where you’re from?”
“Look, who are you?” asked Dean. Suspicion snuck down his spine, much as he tried to banish it. Radio Guy’s voice niggled at him, something was off — he sounded so familiar, but wrong, and how the hell could this dude have missed the damn apocalypse?
“My name’s Sam. What’s yours?”
Dean blinked. No.
“Hello? Did you catch that?”
“What’s your last name, Sam?” Dean bit out. No, no, no.
“Um…” Radio Guy took a long pause here before finishing, “Winchester. Not that it’s any of your business.”
Dean stood, knocking over his chair. Anger pulsed through him. He didn’t know who this joker was, but Dean was going to find him and kill him. Even if he had to trek across the entire country and tear him apart piece by piece.
“You need to get off this radio, whoever you are,” Dean growled. Of course, of course his one, single ray of hope in this endless shitshow is some asshole masquerading as his dead brother, of fucking course.
“Wait a minute, Dean?” Radio Guy chuckled. “Okay, har-har-har, very funny.”
“Who the hell are you?” Dean thundered. His heart crashed against his ribs. This was not possible, it couldn’t be, there was no way in heaven or hell—
“Yes, Dean. Funny prank — I’m laughing, really.”
“Stop screwing with me and stop impersonating my brother!” Dean bellowed, slamming his fist on the counter.
“Dean, I get it,” said Radio Guy — Dean refused to believe it was Sam, it couldn’t be, it simply could not be. He sounded exasperated, and the familiarity of it cut deep into Dean, touching memories he’d forcibly buried.
Dean’s fingers shook as he depressed the talk button again. “Are...are you a ghost?” After all he’d seen, maybe it was possible.
“What? Dude, give it up. I got the joke. You almost had me going with that apocalypse bit — almost. How’re you doing this, by the way? Bobby got another one upstairs or something?”
Dean stepped back, raking his hands through his hair and settling them over his mouth. He fought against the hope swelling in his chest — the dangerous, lethal hope that whispered that maybe this was impossible, but completely real.
He leaned to the mic. “Which one was my favorite tape?”
Dean swallowed. “My favorite tape. I used to — we used to keep a shoebox of old mix tapes in...in the Impala. There was one that I played all the time and you even sang along to most of the songs on it.” He sucked in a shuddering breath. “Which one was it?”
“I dunno, Dean, you have a lot of tapes.” Radio Guy — Sam? — sighed. “Is this really relevant at four in the morning?”
“Just answer the question, damn it.”
There was long pause, and Dean listened to the white noise with his stomach in knots, every second worse than the last. The connection was lost, Sam was gone, was it even really Sam…
“It’s the one called Summer Mix or something,” Sam finally answered — oh God, Sam! “The one with Mr. Blue Sky and Don’t Stop Me Now, um, that Bruce Springsteen one and the ZZ Top one.”
Dean covered his eyes as they burned with tears. He wished he could remember how those songs even went — he hadn’t heard them in a decade and couldn’t recall their melodies.
He couldn’t fathom how this was possible and didn’t want to — somehow, he was talking to his brother. He thought his heart might burst out of his chest as he cleared his throat and talked into the mic.
“Sam…” Dean swallowed and tried again when it came out as a croak. “Sam, listen to me, this is important. What year is it?”
Sam sighed. “Dude, what the hell. Are you seriously still pushing the apocalypse bit?”
His heart raced. “What day is it?” he demanded.
Another exasperated sigh. “It’s July 12th, 2006. Happy?”
Dean shut his eyes and struggled to find the words to say next. He took long enough that Sam checked twice to see if Dean was still there, before Dean was finally able to speak.
“Sam...I don’t understand how this is happening, but...I’m in 2019. I’m living through the apocalypse. You died long before it even happened.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “You die tomorrow, Sam. Not far from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.”
Sam needed a lot of convincing.
At first, he got up and left the garage, in search of his idiot brother who clearly thought this was such a hilarious joke. He stormed into the living room where he’d left Dean and Bobby almost an hour ago. Bobby had gone to bed after putting out all the candles, the vague smell of smoke still lingering in the air. The power had come back on, as the lamp beside the couch washed the room with warm light. Dean snored lightly, his graphic novel open on his chest and his headphones still on.
Sam smacked his brother’s foot. “Cut the act, Dean.”
Dean snorted awake and glanced around blearily. “Dude, what the hell,” he groaned, tugging his headphones off.
“Where’s the other radio?” Sam crossed his arms over his chest. “Telling me you’re from the future and I’m going to die tomorrow is a really stupid joke, even for you.”
“What?” Dean blinked up at him, squinting in the lamplight. He was good, Sam had to give him that. He looked genuinely confused and half-asleep.
Sam rolled his eyes and stormed away.
“Dude!” Dean called, irritated.
“Go to bed, Dean,” Sam barked over his shoulder. He marched into the garage and reached for the light switch, when he heard Dean shouting frantically over the radio.
“Sam? Sam! Hey, are you still there? Come on — answer me, damn it!”
Except…Sam could still see and hear Dean, here, sleepily trudging down the hall and up the stairs.
He looked back at the radio, his heart slipping up to his throat. Could he be...real? He shut the garage door behind him and ran back to the radio.
“Sam, thank God. Don’t do that — don’t leave.”
“Sorry, I just…”
They spent some time trying to figure the how before realizing they couldn’t. The best explanation Dean had was “freak magic” and Sam, in the end, had to agree. How else could they be more than a decade apart in time and yet talking to one another?
Dean was reluctant to go into much detail about the world he found himself in, but the sparse comments he did make were enough to paint an ugly picture for Sam. His gut churned, picturing his brother so alone, with no end in sight.
And finally, they came back to the thing that made Sam grip the stool with white knuckles.
“I need to know, Dean. How do I die?” he asked in a terrible whisper, as if saying it aloud ensured it would come true.
Dean’s voice came back jagged and thin. Hollow. “There’s a job. We were in the middle of helping Bobby clear out this giant, craphole shed. Somebody called a job in to Bobby and he passed it to us, since we were there. An hour away, a quick gig. Clear out a beastie that’d gutted a couple out on a nature hike.”
Sam listened, chills trickling over his skin.
“We thought it was an easy job, tracking down a chupacabra. In and out.” Dean sighed shakily. “I...I turned my back on you. I ran after it. And there was…there was more than one — it wasn’t a chupacabra. I came back and you were...”
Sam’s shoulders sagged. It hadn’t even happened yet, but he could picture it. It was the risk they took as hunters — any job could be their last. Just because he and Dean were luckier than most in that regard didn’t mean they were invincible.
“I tried to get you help,” Dean went on, his voice so quiet that Sam had to crank the volume dial to make him out. “You bled out before I could get you to the car.”
They fell silent as Sam processed this. He couldn’t see Dean, but based on the heaviness of his voice, Sam could imagine the guilt that etched lines in Dean’s face. How does he look now? Sam wondered. Thirteen years older, sure, but what else was different?
“It’s not your fault,” Sam offered. It hadn’t happened yet, but Sam knew it wasn’t, couldn’t be. Dean would have done all he could.
“It was,” Dean grated out. “I left you alone, I turned my back…”
“I can—” Take care of myself. Sam frowned. Clearly, I can’t.
When the silence grew too long again, Sam broke it.
“Okay, well, look — this is good. You’ve told me what happened, so just, you know, give me all the details. I can just avoid it — hell, we won’t even take the job! We don’t have to go.”
“It doesn’t work like that,” said Dean.
“Why not? I’ll just make sure we don’t take the job.” Sam shrugged. “Then I won’t die, and that’s it.”
It had to be that simple, right?
“It doesn’t work like that!”
“How do you know?” Sam demanded. “And don’t say time travel movies, because they’re all different, and I’m pretty sure this — this, whatever this is, has never actually happened, so we can’t possibly know how it works.”
“Because you’re not here!” Dean shouted.
Sam frowned. “Well, maybe the effects aren’t instant. Or maybe…”
“Or maybe, time is set in stone, and even though I’m telling you this, I’m still going to watch you bleed out in my arms.”
Sam shook his head and stood, taking the mic with him. “You said, I die on the job. All I have to do is not go on the job.” He paced back and forth. “But then if you go alone…” He released the talk button.
“I die,” Dean finished for him. “Honestly, after all the hell I’ve been through…”
“Don’t...don’t finish that sentence.” Sam plopped back onto the stool. Dean sounded like he was barely living without Sam — but how did he expect Sam to do any better without him? He pressed the heel of his hand to his eyes. “Tell me more about the apocalypse.”
Dean snorted. “Seriously? Death, destruction, some more death. Typical apocalypse.”
“Well, I figure we gotta talk about something. Other than one of us dying. So yeah. Tell me about the apocalypse.”
“Won’t I rip a hole in time or something by doing that?”
“More than you have already?” Sam shrugged.
If Sam was able to change the future, it wouldn’t matter what they talked about. He didn’t dare voice that if he failed and died anyway, it still wouldn’t matter what Dean told him.
He learned that Dean had spent the first few years of the apocalypse trying in vain to keep the Impala alive, but then there was no fuel left anywhere and he couldn’t keep her on the road. He lived in her for a few months until winter hit and he had to leave her behind to find proper shelter. Sam’s heart broke for his brother — he knew how much Dean loved the car. Truly, how much they both did.
The sun came up, washing the garage in blue then orange and yellow light. They reminisced — stories that made Dean laugh, and it broke Sam’s heart even more to hear how brittle every laugh was, like Dean hadn’t had cause to since he lost Sam. They talked about Dad and about Bobby, about Baby and the hunts they’d been pulling since Sam left Stanford.
Sam heard Bobby clanking around the house preparing breakfast and he finally had to break off talking to Dean.
“We just won’t go,” he told Dean. “I promise.”
“Got a job for you boys.” Bobby set a legal pad covered in scribbled notes down on the coffee table.
Sam swallowed, staring at the paper. This was it, this was the job Dean-from-the-future had warned him about.
“Couple of hikers dead in the woods, ‘bout an hour northwest of here.”
“Animal attack?” Dean asked and slurped his coffee.
“Looks like a chupacabra,” said Bobby slowly, studying his notes. “But...something’s fishy about it. It sounds too big for a chupa — too much blood at the scene.”
Sam twisted his fingers together and his heart sped up. Future Dean’s words echoed through him: We thought it was an easy job… It wasn’t a chupacabra. I came back and you were…
“It’s not a chupacabra,” he said.
Bobby glanced up. “What makes you think so?”
“I just...I have a feeling.”
“Well, I’m with you there, Sam.” Bobby sighed.
Dean downed the last of his coffee and set his mug on the table. “We’ll go check it out. C’mon, Sam.”
“We should all go,” Sam blurted. “Let’s all go together on this one.”
“Naw, I need you boys to go get the lay of the land — talk to witnesses, the usual gig. I’ll stay here and search the lore.” Bobby got up and went to his desk. “Call me with whatever you find and we’ll go from there.”
When Dean stood, Sam jumped up as well, his pulse racing.
“Send somebody else,” he said quickly. “There’s gotta be some other hunters who can take this one. We should — we should stay behind and help you research.”
“C’mon, Sam.” Dean rolled his eyes. “If it’s just a chupa, we can take it, no sweat.”
“It’s not,” Sam insisted.
“And if it’s not,” Dean relented. “Then we’ll see what we see and report back to Bobby.”
“We’re the closest ones to this, Sam,” Bobby told him. “We gotta gank the thing before it kills again. There ain’t time to call in another hunter.”
Sam clenched his jaw. He didn’t know how he could convince them, tell them why he was being so stubborn about this.
He couldn’t bring himself to explain. His throat had stopped working.
“We going or what?” asked Dean, digging out his car keys.
“Yeah, get on the road,” Bobby put in and waved his hand at them. “Be careful, and call me.”
Sam stood rooted to the spot and Dean left the room. Bobby flipped open a thick tome but stopped thumbing through pages when he noticed Sam still standing there.
“Sorry, I’m...yeah, I’m going. I just, um…” He hurried out of the living room and ran for the garage and the old radio.
“Dean, are you there?”
“I’m here. What happened?”
Sam winced. “I’m...we’re going. I couldn’t get us out of it.”
“What? No way — Sam, you can’t.”
“I know, but I have to.”
“No, Sam! Look — let me talk to…me.”
“Are you kidding? If anything is going to screw up the universe, it’s you talking to your own future self — no, not happening.”
“Dean, I’ll be careful.”
He shoved the mic away and closed the garage door behind him.
He sat by the microphone as the sun trailed across the sky. He left only briefly to grab some food and take a leak, but he rushed back each time, heart thudding in his throat with the fear that he’d missed Sam. With each hour that trudged by, his worry grew that he’d failed, again, to save Sam. His one, completely miraculous, impossible second chance, and he’d failed.
Of course he did.
Dean paced the diner, staring at the radio, terrified that the magic connection had been lost. He twisted his fingers through his hair and tried to remember how long it had taken them to find the monsters, all those years ago, but he couldn’t be sure.
All he remembered was rushing through the trees looking for Sam after he’d killed the beast — some sort of ugly hybrid thing he hadn’t seen before or since — and finding his brother on the ground, gut shredded. He remembered the blood and the way his world shattered and the terror coursing through his veins as he pulled Sam to the Impala and the moment when Sam went limp within arm’s reach of the car and…
Dean slowed, covering his eyes with his hands.
In the evening, the sun painted red and orange lines on the faded walls. Dean kept pacing and stressing. By the time it’d dipped down to bleed into the horizon, he knew the worst had come true.
Sam should’ve been back by now. Dean didn’t know what to expect if Sam lived, but there was no rush of memories, no miraculous change in his surroundings. Maybe he’d watched too many time travel movies once upon a time, but nothing happened. Nothing changed. He was still hollow and empty and desperate and hungry and alone.
And Sam was still dead.
“God…” Dean sank to his knees, his body wracked with sobs. The pain of losing Sam reared up around him, drowning him, fresh as it ever was. It was like losing him twice and Dean couldn’t bear it.
He slammed his fist against the floor, hard enough that pain exploded up into his forearm. He did it again, and again, just to feel something other than the loss of Sam.
Dean forced himself to his feet and blindly bolted for the front door—suddenly the diner was suffocating and he needed to get out. His shoulder crashed against the door, banging it open, and he stumbled out onto the grass—
Dean stopped breathing.
Instead of an expanse of grass overtaking decaying pavement, there was a parking lot. Instead of a several rusted, burnt, dead cars, there was a dozen cars and trucks that were new and functional. Instead of a dirt path and a copse of trees, beyond which lay desolate hopelessness and dead towns and an endless nightmare…
Sam. Leaning against the Impala.
“You good?” he asked, as if nothing had happened at all.
And Dean remembered—
He ran after the beast, telling Sam to wait. Sam ignored him and followed.
“There’s more than one!” he shouted.
They burst through the trees together, and in a flurry of guns and knives, punches and swipes and claws and shots, they had the monster down. Together, they hurried to the original scene of the crime to find a second, even bigger monster rushing towards them, jaws and claws extended. Sam and Dean leapt forward, weapons blazing.
When the thing was dead, sizzling and oozing at their feet, Dean stumbled back, panting and spattered with monster blood.
“How the hell did you know there’d be two?”
Sam panted and grinned. “You told me.”
He rushed across the pavement and enveloped Sam into a massive hug, tight enough that Sam swore and tried to shake him off, but Dean wouldn’t let him. His eyes burned and his mind raced with a thousand new memories that flowed in like water, snaking around all the gray, dying ones. He saw him and Sam taking on beast after beast, he saw angels and demons, he saw the apocalypse — and they won — and so much more.
“Dude…” Sam coughed and Dean stepped back. “Are you feeling okay? That burrito mess you up, or what?” He chuckled.
Dean cleared his throat and studied his brother’s face — God, he had missed him, so damn much, he couldn’t put it into words. He gripped Sam’s shoulder, reluctant to break contact.
“You’re freaking me out here — something happen?”
Dean dashed his sleeve over his eyes. “You remember, um...that old radio you found at Bobby’s?”
Understanding dawned on Sam’s face after a confused second. “Did that just…?”
Dean glanced over his shoulder at the diner he’d been living in on and off for four years — no longer a boarded up husk, but a bustling eatery, with customers and staff and a blazing neon Open — Come On In! sign in the window. People moved and breathed and filled the place — so many people. He remembered sitting on the dirty floor, choking down canned sardines in the dark but he also remembered sitting at the counter, enjoying fluffy pancakes and passing Sam the syrup.
He let out a shaky breath, trying to get a grip on himself, on the memories that flowed through his veins and over the darkest years of his life.
He faced Sam and had never been more relieved to see his brother. “Yeah.”
Sam’s brow crinkled with sympathy and concern. He hesitated, unsure what to say. “Do you...want to talk about it?”
“Maybe someday,” Dean replied honestly. He had the urge to hug his brother again, fingers squeezing his shoulder, just to double check that he was real, and that some damn magic radio had actually brought Sam back to him.
Sam smiled and he held out the Impala’s keys. “You still remember how to drive?”
Dean took the keys and circled around the car. He climbed into the driver’s seat and he had never felt more comforted and home than that moment, as he started the car, and Sam settled into the passenger’s seat. The engine roared to life and Baby rumbled and purred, just like he remembered. He slid his hands up and down the steering wheel, hardly daring to believe this was real, and he wasn’t just having a crazy, vivid dream.
Don’t wake up. He breathed in and out.
He glanced over at Sam, at his brother, real and safe and alive and right there. Sam smirked a little under Dean’s emotional gaze.
“Hey, no chick flick moments,” Sam warned. “Your rule.”
Dean’s lips curved up. He reached for the radio, but Sam leaned down and pulled a tape out of the shoebox by his feet and held it out to Dean. Dean’s soft smile turned into a wide grin as he pushed the Summer Mix into the tape deck. He cranked the volume, relishing the way music — music! — filled the car and his chest.
He pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the highway (Sam had to remind him how to actually drive to the highway, since Dean had only been short-cutting around it on foot for years). By the time they hit the city limits, he’d remembered the words to Radio Nowhere and sang it out loud with Sam at his side, the Impala racing through the moonlight.
(A/n: Inspired by Frequency, Station Eleven, and “Radio Nowhere”.)