Title: A Hundred Years on Stygian Shores[Spoiler (click to open)]
Rating: PG 13
Word Count or Media: 14000
Warnings: language, horror, non-linear storyline,
temporary character death
Author's Notes: Set sometime after 11x04 and before 11x09. I tried to play with a couple of your prompts, lovely recipient—1) Winchesters staying somewhere lonely and being watched, and 2) Sam and Dean meeting their younger selves in some way. I hope you enjoy this thing!
On a lonely cape, Sam and Dean investigate a case they left abandoned years ago. But did they? Sam doesn’t remember any of it, and Dean only remembers vague details. Like how there was a boat with bobbing lights, in the middle of the sea. Like how he waited alone in a boat in the midst of a storm. Like how, maybe, Sam almost drowned…</p>
This town they’re in is the last on the map before the land opens up into the sea, although there are some farther still, empty towns with witchcraft carved into its ancient histories.
Last night, half dozing, Sam came up with stories of women cursing fishermen out at sea on their dragger-trawlers; men letting their dogs run free until the creatures grew feral and turned on them. These things happened, sometimes, in forgotten places to forgotten people.
The Bunker and the landscape that reminded them of the Darkness was a way behind them, and that had made them both go slightly crazy at the same time. Sam propped a bottle of whiskey between his knees, and didn’t descend into melancholia as usual, instead pointing out strange service routes that took them past a bridge with the moon floating in the river beneath them, a graveyard for drifters, and a rocky road where three bobcats were holding parley in the middle before being rudely interrupted by the Impala’s horn. Dean watched him out the corner of his eye, oddly jubilant, wondering how it was that their lives seemed to misalign every so often, grinding and sparking against each other and wearing them both down, before the teeth of its gears fell slotted again, and they were good.
“Real Shakespearian land,” Sam muttered; a soft, stray thought that he didn’t take up further. Dean hmmed, seeing it, old Banquo rising ghostly from fen marshes, witches and cauldron-bubble and the mud-flat river-rot stink of death.
“Professor Waithe,” spoke Sam again, his eyes closed, passing lights smearing thumbprints of neon against his skin, “and his cry of help to the Bunker. Doesn’t it feel strange to investigate a case based on the word of some random panicky dude on a hundred year old phone?”
“Hey. You wanted to come here,” said Dean, “I was all right with laying low, learning somethin’ on Amara—”
“Watching Netflix? Eating tortilla chips for breakfast?” Sam snorted. “Yeah, Dean, we were stewing in there. We found a straw, I wanted to take it.”
“So quit complaining, Abby.”
Sam huffed, impatiently. “But it’s weird, Dean. I looked up this guy, and he has to be a hundred years old now.”
“What does he teach again?”
“Paleobiology,” said Sam, taking another sip from the bottle. “It’s the—”
“I know what it is,” Dean scoffed, rolling his eyes. “We’ve done a case before where we met one of those.”
“What? A paleobiologist?”
“Yeah. You don’t remember? Young-ish black guy. Right around here, too. I don’t remember the details, but it was a little after Dad, you know—”
“Here, in MA?”
Sam looked out the window for several minutes, his brow puzzled. “Why don’t I remember—”
“We had a lot on our plate, man. Your freaky visions, Dad’s death, the yellow-eyed demon…”
Sam hummed and fell quiet at that, turning his eyes outward again. The roads were deserted. Sometimes they would pass billboards, parts of it resolving itself into a puzzle over low, dark buildings and moist sea-drenched air. Sometimes they would pass churches, and Dean would try to not think of that strange feeling of being stretched thin, pulled taut, this journey taking him farther away from her.
Dean blinked. “Well, what?”
“What were we hunting? Back then, with Mr. Paleobiologist.”
Dean scowled. “You know what? I don’t remember it that well, either. Maybe we didn’t finish the hunt.”
Sam’s eyes were huge and glittery from the alcohol. “But we never—”
“I don’t fucking know, man. We probably got called away. Or something. In fact, yeah, I remember we went straight back to Bobby’s.”
“Don’t sound so suspicious. We bugged poor Bobby a hell of a lot back then.”
“Huh.” Sam looked unsettled. “I don’t remember it at all.”
“Did you hit your head hard one too many times?” Dean teased, trying to ignore the sudden crawl in his skin. “Growing senile on me?”
“Shut up,” Sam said, shaking his head.
They drove in silence for a while again, windows down and letting the crisp night air bring with it strays: scraps of paper, the smell of the Merrimack River, the occasional wail of some plaintive night animal. Dean watched landmarks pass on the mirror; house turning as if by alchemy to a geometrical blot, boat to a bobbing speck, each thing reduced immediately into memory once past the rear view mirror.
Dean worried idly about memory. Sam and Dean didn’t write diaries, didn’t keep track of their hunts the way their Dad had. Sam still scribbled a note or two sometimes, but they were each other’s ready reference. He thought of that winding down, looking to each other for a folder the other couldn’t find, and coming up with dust and a vague reel of images flashing past car windows.
And maybe one day they’ll stop, stare at each other, and remember nothing more than that they had to keep going, moths drunk on one sunset and seeking another, no other purpose except the purpose of the road.
Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. Not with him and Sam.
“You really don’t remember,” Dean said, but Sam had fucking dozed off again, head pillowed against the little hump between the seats. The exhaustion of the last year that he’d been carrying on his face—painted lilac around his eyes, gray in the gaunt hollows of his cheeks—seemed softened a little in sleep, and Dean stole a few glances at Sam as he drove, before rolling his eyes at him, irritated by this maudlin mood.
“You’re useless when you’re drunk,” he said, sliding the GPS out of Sam’s lax grip. They couldn’t be too far from Gloucester now, and even if he remembered nothing else, Dean remembered the fifty-dollar motel out on the town’s main street, and the old restaurant by the harbor. Good chowder; coconut rum. Neither of these things were things you could get by watching Netflix or substituting guacamole for some travesty called I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter! in an underground hideout in good ol’ Kansas.
Maybe this wouldn’t be a waste of time after all.
“Professor Waithe,” says Sam again, now that they’re parked outside a diner that looks out at the harbor. The sky swoons blue over the sea, and an anarchic array of boats bump against each other in the lazy rhythm of an early morning. Dean’s not usually the type to wax poetic about scenic beauty, but here you go. Anyway, the Winchester that usually exalts over nature is divining secrets from the dregs of his coffee cup. “You think it’s the same guy we met then?”
Dean sighs. “You said you looked him up—that he was probably a hundred years old.”
“Well, yeah, he served during the World War.”
“That won’t make him a hundred.”
“The first World War.”
Dean gapes. “That makes him fucking ancient. Jesus, they let them teach that long?”
Sam shrugs. “But you said we met a young black man.”
Dean takes a large bite out of his breakfast roll. “Sam, you’re freaking out about nothing.”
“I don’t like holes in my memory.”
“That’s not a hole, Jason Bourne, it’s a goddamn pinprick. Do you remember every vampire nest we ever took down?”
“So maybe it’s just that—a blip of a hunt, before we moved onto something else.”
“Feels like more,” Sam rubs at the back of his neck. “Like it’s important, and now we’re just going in blind.”
“You were the one who wanted to get out of Kansas, dude,” Dean says, “Don’t tell me you’re flaking out on the promise of a beach.”
“Not exactly the kinda beach that inspires, is it?”
“Hey, don’t diss the beach,” growls Dean, “Shut up and eat your—whatever that is.”
Sam doesn’t, though. In typical Sam fashion, he peers at his laptop instead, shuffling through pictures of old academicians and a large granite building with imposing gambrels and widow’s walks looking out over the sea. Dean remembers that place. Like a cathedral, so quiet and infused with a strange sort of holiness. Or maybe un-holiness; it was quite hard to tell between the two. The hush, the cold, the unearthliness were all the same. You’d just have to wait and be surprised at what it is that taps at your shoulder.
The school is farther from the town than they expect. It looks over granite quarries and old moraine paths, and the wind assaults them as they cross the quadrangles to pass into the hallowed halls of higher education.
It is as Dean remembers: the students are a quiet few, the silence is heavy. From the way Sam’s face falls into lines of alarm, he thinks he is not the only one who notices it.
“It’s like a freaking graveyard.”
“Maybe it’s term break,” says Sam, “This isn’t a very large school anyway.”
Sam and Dean are not pretending to be anything today. Professor Waithe had called the Men of Letters for help: he knew what they were. Sam knocks on a door marked with a plaque—Howard Waithe—and smiles absently at Dean as they wait. He’s in a good mood—God knows what brought that on, probably the waitress from one of their recent cases. What was her name? Pepper? Piper? Sounded like a jailbait name.
“Hello, Professor. We’re Sam and Dean Winchester,” says Sam, as the door opens.
Dean’s breath catches for a second in his throat. It’s him, he thinks, the same guy they’d met back then. Easily six feet, dark-skinned, pleasant and soft-voiced.
“Hullo,” he says, shaking Sam’s hand, “Thanks for coming. Again.”
Sam opens his mouth as if to say something, but settles for just following Waithe into his office instead. Waithe does preliminary stuff that lets him check the boxes of hospitality. Great weather to be here; fierce dogs aren’t around anymore; I’ve arranged a stay for you boys with the old cabin by the beach. Dean hums along, but Sam’s not paying attention. Sam’s gaze roves the office walls: the mahogany fixtures, the wainscoting, and the pictures in the frames. A deep frown moves to settle on his face.
“Honestly, boys,” Waithe says, adjusting his glasses on his nose, “I wasn’t sure you two would come, after last time.”
When Sam continues to admire the paintings, Dean speaks instead.
“It’s no biggie,” he says. “What’s the problem, again?”
“Same as the last time, I’m afraid, boys. A little worse this time: it feeds on more and more people every month, and we’ve had a few townspeople dream of it coming out of the water.”
Sam exchanges a glance with Dean, alarmed.
The last time. What the fuck was it the last time?
Fortunately, Sam whips out a Dictaphone. “Professor. If you don’t mind, for the sake of our archives—could you elaborate?”
When Waithe tells the story, Dean remembers a bit of it. Yes, there’d been a beach. Dead people on the beach, weird patterns on their skin, and strange lights at night over the sea, hanging solitary. He remembers fixing up a broken motor-boat. He and Sam had rented diving equipment. Dean remembers the cold rush of water hitting his skin when they’d dived in. The murky blues of the sea beneath.
They’d felt, at night, an intense sort of loneliness, knowing the nearest town was several miles away, and that there was no one here for company save the couple on the ground floor of their cabin who they never saw.
They’d played Monopoly.
It’s the weirdest thing: remembering all this ephemera, this surface dressing of the last time they’d worked this same case. Remembering the blue of the water and the weird glowy underwater fauna, but not the actual monster they’d come to hunt. Having a memory for the smug grin on Sam’s face when he won the stupid game, but no memory for the reason why they’d left, case unfinished.
“—and then one of you called me one night. You said you were leaving.”
Sam leans forward in his chair. “Did we tell you why?”
Waithe looks embarrassed. “The same reason why everyone who comes to help this town leave.”
“Professor,” says Sam, quietly. “For the sake of witness accounts—”
“Oh. Well,” says Waithe, removing his glasses now, rubbing them fiercely on his old-fashioned waistcoat. “One of you saw it.”
Waithe swallows, looking from one of them to the other, uncomfortably.
“Death,” he says.
“So—what? It could be like a possession, sort of thing?”
“Might explain why we don’t remember anything. You—uh, you have memory gaps from the time…”
Sam inhales, sharply. “The angel was in me. Yes.”
Dean considers it, the idea that one—or the both—of them had been something other, the last time they had been here. That they hadn’t known, nor remembered later, whatever it was that had crawled into their brains. Demons, angels, Khan worms—there were many things that could make your body its home. That could make you jerk like a puppet on a string.
Somehow, he thinks of Amara again. Amara, who grew from baby to child in the blink of an eye, who must have grown into a woman by now. Amara, with the strange thrall of power over him that he tries hard not to think about, and harder still not to let Sam know what he thought about.
“Hey, Dean,” says Sam, stirring the soup with a frown on his face. “Do you remember staying here?”
The kitchen in the cabin is warm and rustic, quite unlike the hostile coast right outside. It’s a stretch to call this place a cabin, though—it has two floors, a basement that can house boats, and a private road to the beach. Outside, the granite cliffs are arranged in a strange shape, sort of like an apostrophe. The sea isn’t visible from the kitchen: the views are from the bedroom, and Dean wishes it weren’t. There’s something strange about this beach, something not quite right. He and Sam can’t put their finger on it. They just agree that it unsettles them, draw curtains against the windows, and leave it at that.
It’s a graveyard, not a beach, Professor Waithe had said. People—things—come here to die.
Walking across the beach earlier, Sam and Dean hadn’t found anything particularly morbid. There were rocks, and rock pools with tiny red crabs in them. They had found a couple of strangely marked shells, arranged in patterns in a couple of places. The water had washed over them in an alternate wave cadence, which was a little spooky, as though whoever had put it there had precisely measured how the ebb and the tide of the water would lick at the stones. Sam couldn’t figure out what the markings were, or even if it resembled any language known to man.
The house had featured shells of the same marking buried in the sand, leading all the way to the door. There were grooves, carved into them, one-two, one-two-three like some sort of semaphore code, or like veins.
The entire time they’d been out, though, Dean had felt watched. More than one pair of eyes followed their movements. More than one pair of eyes stalked them quietly in this deserted beach.
“I’ve never seen it before,” says Sam now, looking around at the kitchen, worry still gnawing at the edges of his eyes, “This house. And I mean it. Not even a speck of déjà vu.”
“It…looks familiar to me,” shrugs Dean. “But, hey, that don’t necessarily mean jack. Every motel with a Tiki theme looks familiar to me, whether it’s in Texas or Montana.”
“Let’s go over this once,” says Sam, turning around to lean against the kitchen counter, “You and I came here, on the back of a newspaper clipping about ritualistic deaths in this beach. We met Professor Waithe, we did some research, we tried to figure out what was going on—and then something happened. And we left. Waithe thinks one of us tried to—um, kill ourselves. You remember anything else?”
“I remember a storm,” Dean says, hesitantly. It had come to him when they’d walked along the beach today: the crack of thunder, lightning, rain so thick he could barely see a thing. “I remember waiting.”
“I don’t know. I remember being on a boat, waiting, that’s all. Wasn’t fucking nice enough that I’d care to remember more of that.”
“Where was I?”
“I don’t know, man,” says Dean. “You weren’t with me. I can’t remember it.”
Sam nods, and looks back at the bubbling soup. “There’s something else that’s weird. The people who died… there are no obituaries. No records of driving licenses, no credit card trails. It’s as if they didn’t exist.”
“We saw a body, though.”
“Sure we did. Lila Waters. Her family stays in Rockport. Only, they don’t, according to records.”
“Dodgy,” Dean agrees. “But Sam, we gotta treat this one like any other case, man. If we start getting paranoid about this—”
“Yeah, I know. People can’t keep dying here.”
Sam doesn’t look so sure. But saving people is a drum he keeps beating on, so he sets his jaw and goes back to his soup.
Dean returns to studying one of the shells. What could they mean? Whoever had planted it, he wonders what strange magic they hope to wreak.
There’s a thump from above them, and Dean looks up at the slats on the ceiling. Professor Waithe hadn’t mentioned anyone staying above them, but the caretaker had hinted at a couple, scholarly-type, here to study something. “It’s kinda weird, huh? We’ve been out all day, and we never ran into them at the beach. You’d think if they had come all the way out here…”
“We could go up,” Sam suggests, “Say hello. I’d rest a little easier knowing who it is in this house with us.”
“Paranoid much, Sammy?” Dean grins. “They’re probably debt-broke student honeymooners. Probably just stay up there and screw all day long.”
Sam makes a face. “Anyway,” he says, ladling the soup into bowls. “The university is showing a documentary on the tribes and clans that used to live in this place tomorrow. Algonquian history, among other stuff. I was thinking I’d go, check it out, see if I learn something about all this.”
“Knock yourself out; I’m gonna go out to that lookout post we saw today.”
“Keep a look out for those stones. We might be on to something there. And Dean?”
“Are there squid boats in this area?”
“Beats me. Why?”
“A memory,” Sam says, hesitantly. “Maybe.”
Lights, bobbing in the sea. Beneath the sea—flickers of it showing through waves, loud shouts. Had they watched it from afar? Everything was vague in the memory, hazy like looking through a storm.
“Yeah,” Dean says. “Maybe.”
Dean takes the beach at a leisurely pace the next day.
It’s cold; the wind that blows in is salty and deafening, and he draws in, pulling his jacket collar up around his chin. He carries a flashlight—things get misty around here, and fast—and a packet of rough-cut meat for the dogs. That’s courtesy of Sam, who’d insisted that the dogs are feral around here, wild, bleached of all the stains of domestication. He also carries his gun, obviously, but he’s not going to shoot a freaking dog.
This place is desolate and lonely. Quiet beaches often are, Dean’s noticed, the world of land and sea commingling to create something that doesn’t truly belong to either. The surf crashes against rocks, whirpools in little nooks. After a while, Dean gives up on the experience of having his shoes sink deep into sticky sand, and takes the beach on barefoot instead. He talks to Cas, who is still on a Netflix-bender, and marvels at this weird quiet between one mess-up and another. And then Sam calls, to let him know that he’s picking up lunch from town after his documentary flick.
Something about this case leaves a bad taste in his mouth. He thinks back and there’s water and fear and loss in his memory. He’d been waiting not just for something like he’d told Sam. In the middle of the sea, in that storm, he’d been waiting for Sam.
Sam, who’d seen a monster under there and was trying to take an underwater torch to it. They’d flipped a coin, and Dean had had to stay on the boat with the gas canisters for the oxy-acetylene, while Sam went to find the monster. And Sam had—
Something. When he tried to remember anything after that, there was only fog, and them showing up slightly shell-shocked at Bobby’s. Maybe Bobby would have known this story better.
The bottom of the derelict old lookout is strewn with rocks, and water pools in muddy cracks, full of silver fishes darting. Dean climbs the stairs and steps into the room at the top, peers at the blue sea peeking through the wooden slats of the walls. The floor is half-rotted, pieces of wood still attached to some of the metal strips making up the base. He steps carefully, until he reaches the edge of the wall, to where he can see everything: the beach, the sea, the cabin that he and Sam are staying in. There are two men on the far side of the beach, leaning over something. Probably their upstairs neighbors: they carry notebooks and pens, and what looks from afar like some sort of blocky equipment to read the sand. The fog obscures them quickly, and Dean turns his attention elsewhere.
Behind the lookout, he notices, is a road that leads around the face of a cliff. It is not visible from elsewhere. Squinting, Dean can make out smoke rising from the other side. A building, maybe? Just on the corner, hidden from view.
A church—he realizes, when he climbs down and turns the bend. Although the steeple is half broken, and the wood is salt-bleached to a worn white pallor. Inside, the silence is heavy.
He calls out, but is answered with nothing but the drip of damp from somewhere he can’t see, and the scuttling of rats worried into motion by the sound of his shoes and his voice. The altar has been torn down, he notices, and something else erected in its place. A sheet of some smooth mineral, marked with the same glyphs as those on the shells. It shines, nacreous, the way insect carapaces do.
“Cults,” he mutters, noticing strange offerings at the bottom of the tablet. Bowls of sand, varicolored, probably collected from multiple states and multiple beaches. Seashells. There are some scrolls, with some of the words visible: the world began from Nothing and will end in Nothing. Dean unrolls another and finds it written in an almost unintelligible hand. All the First Born will rise at the Call.
He clicks a picture with his phone—Sam’s gonna want to see this immediately, and he’d rather Sam sees it from the safety of the cabin than brave the fog later on in the evening—and then he reaches out to touch it.
Something…happens. It’s not immediately perceptible: a feeling, a sick miasma in the air that wasn’t there before, a thrum of energy crackling beneath his skin. He turns, suddenly sure of eyes on him, and catches the hint of a person disappearing past the edge of the door.
“Hey!” he yells. “Stop!”
There’s no one outside by the time he gets there, but everything has gone dark. The sea spits froth in the distance like a mad beast. The sun’s gone, not just hidden beneath the clouds: gone. A wave of icy air hits him and nearly forces him back into the odd little church.
Someone stands at the waterline. A man. No—not any man, it’s himself. Like a mirror image, only different somehow, taller, something about his posture more relaxed, surer.
Dean reaches for his gun, almost as if he’s been planning for this moment, planning to take down this stranger who is him or will be.
His hand doesn’t even shake.
And then there’s a sharp pain in his head, the ringing that comes from a heavy blow, and darkness.
The documentary, Sam decides, had been unsettling to say the least. He’d watched grey water slap against grey sand, the soundtrack the primal sound of waves and cicadas and strange nocturnal animal noises. The voice-over had spoken about how people had always feared the night—the coming of the dark, that strange time when the lines of reality could be blurred into something fierce and un-godly. Nearly every theology and every mythology in the world underlined two constants: the Great Flood, and the End of Times. End the world however you want, said the documentary, in fire or ice or plagues of locusts: the world, at the end of its destruction, belongs to the Eternal Night.
In this coast, there was a boulder a little out in the sea. It has been there, said the voice-over, for centuries. It has been worshipped several times over the centuries, by several different types of people. In times before settlers had made landfall in what would later be called the Massachusetts Bay Colony, there had been people here, worshipping this God-Unknown who had his lair in the sea. In later times, there had been sightings of sea monsters, creatures of the deep dark, cousins of the legendary Leviathan. They wouldn’t walk in a world that still had the sun—they would wait, for that Eternal Night.
Sam might be over-analyzing the doom-and-gloom tone of the myths itself, because most of the actual content was on anthropological findings, students’ work in determining ancient hieroglyphic languages lost to man, and how the myths later fed into the area’s sea-faring, witchcraft peppered history. He’d found himself wondering in between if the narrator was, in reality, an actual angel. He’s got flummox-marks around the eyes, which could be indicative of the early days when his vessel walked around being constantly surprised by diapers or ducks or cartoon porn.
Still, Sam couldn’t help correlating things in his mind. This fight against this adversary they knew nothing about, this Darkness, and how fear of her had played a major part in the formation of so many belief systems. Could this really be connected to her? Would her presence on Earth wake things up that had been sleeping so long?
But it didn’t make sense. They’d been here before; worked the same case. The Darkness hadn’t been around then, and people had still died.
He squints at the sunlight when he walks out of the audio-visual room at the university, thumbing his phone near-blind in search of Dean’s number. He would call ahead to let Dean know he was heading back; they could finish up with lunch and get down to figuring out how to check out this boulder.
He walks towards where the Impala’s parked, and slowly becomes aware of eyes on him. He slows, and sweeps his gaze across the quadrangle. Not one pair of eyes—multiple. The girl under the façade of the Science building is leaning against a wall, staring right at him. There are faces hidden in the shadows of the upper floors of the buildings, watching from shadowed corners.
A slow chill works its way up his spine.
This is strange. This must be—what? At least twenty people, just waiting and watching.
Sam pushes his hands into his jeans’ pockets, slouching, making himself look non-dangerous. The weight of his gun at the waistband of his jeans is a comforting thing, and he knows he’ll be able to make it out of here if someone jumps him. The Impala is right here, five steps away. He just doesn’t want to get into a fight—things are strange enough with this case as it is.
And then a man steps out from around the Impala.
“Mr. Winchester,” says the man, in a bored voice. “I’m Deputy Jake Wilson, from the police department. We’d like to speak with you.”
Sam smiles, puzzled. “Can I ask what it’s about?”
Wilson’s watery blue eyes alight on Sam for a minute before drifting away. “You’re not in trouble or anything. We just wanted to know why you’re back here.”
The lie comes easily. “Oh! Yes, my brother and I, we’re doing some research. Marine life. We’re just here to gather some data.”
The wind whispers. Sam has a vague feeling that the people watching him do too, exchanging whatever strange tidbits of information they were gleaning from this conversation.
Wilson raises an eyebrow. He’s a particularly unpleasant looking guy, Sam thinks suddenly. He smells strongly of wintergreen and mothballs, an old-man smell, and his thin face is strangely familiar: maybe they’d met him the last time they had been here. The time Sam doesn’t remember. He hates this shutter over his memory. All he can make out is vague impressions: a boat a-lit with swinging lamps, dark water, and fire. He’d been annoyed at Dean for some reason, and angry: they’d tossed coins for something and Sam had rigged it in his favor.
Wilson doesn’t believe Sam’s lie. He can see it in the man’s eyes. “Last time this research nearly killed you, didn’t it, Sam?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t—”
“Oh, you’re probably thinking, who’s this lunatic, what does he want—,” Wilson drones, “But let me tell you this. Last time, this place really did a number on you, didn’t it?”
Last time. Last time is fog, drenched up from memories now buried under layers of other memories. Last time is the taste of salt, a vague sense of unease, water closing over his head.
“Mr. Wilson, whatever you think we’re here for—”
Wilson blinks, owlishly. “Oh, we know why you’re here. We just don’t know why you came back.”
Sam keeps his tone light. “We’re somewhat a bit of risk-takers, Dean and I. You know—no pain, no gain. In fact, there’s a lot of pain for little gain in what we do, but the job sort of needs to be done.”
“Last time things didn’t go well at all,” says Wilson, jabbing a finger in Sam’s direction. It shakes like an old man’s atrophying digits, in contrary to Wilson’s somewhat youthful appearance, “We didn’t expect you to come back.”
“Last time,” Wilson says, stepping closer to him, “it let you go, because you were kids who didn’t know what they were dealing with. It won’t be as kind this time.”
It, Sam thinks, noticing the change. There’s something here that’s beyond these townspeople, even.
“What are we dealing with according to you, Deputy?”
Wilson doesn’t miss a beat. “Things way bigger than all of us.”
“That’s kind of our specialty,” Sam says, levelly. “If you know who we really are, and what we’re doing here, you’d let us do our job, Mr. Wilson. For your own sake.”
Wilson kills his fake smile. “Waithe is a fool. And you’re fools for coming here and thinking you can help us. No one has helped us in centuries. No one could. You’ll stir things up, and then you’ll leave, and we’ll be here to take the brunt, as always, would you like that?”
“We’re not here to stir anything up,” Sam says, in what he hopes is a reasonable voice, “With any luck, we’re here to end this…whatever is happening here.”
“What do you think is happening here?”
“Something terrible,” says Sam. “I know you’re scared. I’ve spoken to Professor Waithe, and he tells me that the thing that lives in the sea comes into your dreams, shows you things—”
Wilson pales. “Shut up. Don’t talk about it.”
“You don’t have to worship it. It’s not a God, it’s just a piece of shit monster that we’ll deal with—”
Wilson lunges at him, suddenly. “Is that why your brother is messing around in our church?” he yells, and Sam takes an involuntary step backward, dodging the man’s fist. “We caught him, you know, looking through our things.”
Sam feels a sudden chill. “What church?”
Wilson grins, a flash of derangement crossing his face. “We hope his head doesn’t hurt too much.”
“Get out of my way.”
Wilson mock-bows, and steps away.
Sam dials Dean’s number, with no luck. By the time he takes the last road at a squealing, screaming-brakes pace, he’s quietly sure that Wilson hadn’t just been saying things to freak him out. He takes the twisting, derelict paths to the beach at as fast a run as he can without falling off the slopes, and by the time the cabin comes back into view, he’s gulping in huge, terrified breaths.
Too many times. The last few years, they’ve lost each other too many times in too many different ways for any hint of trouble to be less than terrifying now.
“Dean?!” he yells, finding the door open, but no sign of Dean anywhere in the front room. Out on the beach, there are two men standing at a distance, talking quietly, and Sam yells at them, waving, have you seen my brother? One of them turns to look towards the cabin and Sam hesitates—something, something about him isn’t right. He stumbles back inside, and almost runs smack straight into Dean. The breath goes right out of him. “Dude, what the hell!”
“Sam. Why’re you screaming?” Dean blinks blearily, rubbing at his head. “What the fuck happened?”
“You—look like crap. Shit,” Sam says, running a hand through his hair in aggravation. Dean does the same and winces. “You don’t remember anything? The deputy of Silent Hill told me they’d found you in a church or something—”
Dean’s eyes grow wide. “Someone knocked me out!”
Sam grabs Dean’s shoulder, afraid he’s gonna pitch over with that look on his face. “Do you—are you seeing things right? Do you think we should—”
“How the hell did I get back here? Did they bring me back here after knocking me out? Are they fucking insane!”
“I don’t know,” Sam sighs. “Maybe you should sit down, let me take a look at where they hit you. You remember everything?”
“Their creepy church and lunatic religion? Yeah, you bet!” Dean says, furious. He tries to go out the door and Sam blocks him. Dean gives him a distracted, ineffective shove, “They snuck up on me, the bastards.”
“I think you can rule out a concussion—stop pawing at me, Sam!”
“I would if you stopped acting like you want to bolt out there and shoot them all.”
“No bolting, I swear. My God, Florence.”
Sam roots through the cooler for an ice pack while Dean sits down and swears and tells his story. He stops suddenly after the point where he’d touched the stone and seen the world gone dark, and Sam turns to look at him, sharply.
“What did you see?”
Dean looks out through the grainy window, thoughtfully. “I don’t know. I thought I saw me.”
Dean waves an arm. “Me. I saw myself. Standing by the water.”
“But it wasn’t…me. It was something different, Sam. Something was strange about it. Like maybe it was..something bad.”
Sam passes him the ice. “Do you mean, like a monster wearing your face? Or were you the monster?”
Dean gives him a stricken look. Sam shrugs, pulling a chair up to sit on it the wrong way around.
“Well,” says Dean, “I wanted to shoot it, whatever it was. Isn’t that strange? I see something that looks just like me, and all I want to do is end it, no questions asked. I mean, you wouldn’t do that.”
Dean’s still sloughing off the effects of the Mark. Sam doesn’t need him to say it; he sees it in the way Dean acts around people, throwing more of the reins of social interaction to Sam, who hasn’t taken them in years. There’s a part of Dean that will never change—and Sam’s glad for that, wouldn’t know his bearings without that—but there’s a part that now looks too deep within himself, trying to find the source of the rot.
Sam can see that; he spent most of his life doing the same thing after all. This is his narrative, has been for years, and Dean had dealt with it mostly through denial.
Sam tries, instead, to be honest.
They’ve walked the line between good and evil too many times now for them to feel comfortable even talking to this other self, this version glimpsed if only through a glass, darkly. He thinks of the man at the beach, turning to look in his direction, and that split-second moment of terror when he thought it had been himself. Sam, standing by the beach, turning to look at Sam, in the cabin. Would he have shot at the man if he hadn’t been worried about Dean?
“I probably would,” Sam says. “Every time I’ve been something else, it felt like a violation. Like it deserved death.”
“But not me, not when I tried to barter your life, with Death back there,” Dean asks, sharply, “You seemed sure I could be good again, you told me—”
“You were still you. You were fighting. You had a choice.”
You could see what was right and wrong. Sam still didn’t know if he could. Would he have released the Darkness to save Dean from the Mark of Cain, knowing he was dooming the world? Probably not. But there was no way to really know, because things hadn’t worked like that, and they would always put each other first in the face of muddy consequences. Maybe they could change. Maybe it was too late.
“I have news,” he says, to stop his brain from following this train of thought. “The ones who that church belongs to—same good citizens who just hit you over the head with a plank— want us to get out of here, thinks we’re the pesky Mystery Inc kids here to break up their nice little cult.”
“Cute. What else is new?”
“Um. We might need a boat. There was something interesting in the documentary.”
“Waithe can give us a boat.”
“Yeah, I’m gonna call him now.”
“Do you think,” Dean says, slowly, “that this case has something to do with her?”
“What makes you think that?”
“That monster wants to walk in a world of Darkness. The church talks about a world steeped in the dark. Just a hunch.”
Sam purses his lips, thinking of earlier, when he’d told himself that he had to be over-reacting. This could be any monster living in the shadows, not necessarily the shadows themselves. This place has been under this creature’s thralls for centuries, if Wilson was to be believed. The Darkness had been locked up for centuries, so didn’t that rule her out? Although, said a little voice in his head, the Devil had been locked up for centuries as well. And that hadn’t meant that he didn’t have lackeys listening and following his whispered orders, all that time.
“I don’t know,” says Sam, honestly. “I have a feeling it does.”
The water is all around Sam, an incessant, murky, colorless wash. He pushes his tongue against the breathing tube, blocking it, holding his breath in until his head is underwater, and the headlamp cuts through the marine snow to let him make out shapes. He blows out through the tube, searching all the while, hallucinating ghosts drifting under the sea.
Underneath, it’s quiet. He has found this coast a terrible, hellish place—given to foraging, hungry dogs and imposing cliffs, choppy waters, and skies that sometimes were colorless and sometimes crimson, dead and carnivorous at the same time. They’re far away from other people, and at night all this open space feels like it will crush Sam to the ground, shatter him with its impossible hugeness.
This case grates at them. It doesn’t make sense. The church with the strange beliefs of some creature that walks in a dark world; the victims that have no marks on them except a strange pattern, like the coils of a snake. The longer they stay the worse their tempers run, and Sam is running out of things to research. Something is wrong, he keeps thinking, something is wrong with the two strangers he sometimes sees on the beach, something is wrong with the church, something is wrong with the people who have died here.
He swims farther out, slowly, focusing on his breathing, unsettled by the rattle of the regulator. The sea floor is un-littered, fish darting in and out of Sam’s field of vision. He twists in all directions, looking for something, and that’s when he sees the ink.
Dim, sinuous creatures flash and dart through the depths, following a stream of thick black. He follows it, and now the murkiness of the sea gives away to a greenish hue, as though the sun is shining in, haloing the waters an otherworldly color. The sea creatures that swim frantically to the source of the ink are not jellyfish, but something alike—translucent, bodies stained with the black in places, and Sam makes a mental note to look them up later.
For now, he follows the tendrils of dark.
He finds the boulder that it originates from easily enough. It’s enormous, lying at a point where the ocean floor drops sharply off to greater, dizzier depths. He’s probably come too far in, already, Sam realizes, suddenly light-headed at the thought of all this deep water that still claims hundreds of seasoned fishermen every year.
But the ink. It leaks out from beneath the boulder, and Sam wonders, oddly calm whether if, if it is biological, it’s a thing of botany or zoology. He would rather the former, although when the boulder moves, and something slithers out, he knows instinctively that it’s the latter.
The black thing slides over the ocean floor, snake-like. It doesn’t look like a tentacle any more than it looks like gemstones, and Sam can’t truly describe it, this thing that’s lain here for how many ever centuries, waiting for some day to come, some invitation to arrive so it may roam free. Asking for sacrifices; showing some townspeople visions of a dark world; leaching the life out of three entire towns that had previously tried to settle here, closest to the Atlantic that they may live off the ocean.
It seems to notice him.
He doesn’t even get a chance to try escaping before it strikes out, quick as lightning, to yank him down.
Water floods his mouth.
It goes up his nose and down his throat, and it burns. He tries to kick up to surface, the sky above clear blue and the water now like glass, newest glass before there are even fingerprints on it. He kicks, gets dragged sideways, and is yanked down fighting against gravity. And then he hits bottom.
Air rushes from his mouth, his nostrils, and floats thirstily up towards the surface.
The monster pins him down, and where its strange limb wraps around his skin, he sees blood bloom. Everything warps, and then he’s not looking at the monster anymore.
He’s looking at Dean. Only, it’s not Dean, not really—his eyes are black and there’s something wrong with him, something—
And there’s a strange trilling sound, loud now, a rushing in his ears and a high, shrill sound like nothing he’s ever heard—and he sees things, terrible things—fire, and Hell, and his own eyes going black—
Sam, Dean’s yelling. SAM. Sam, Christ, wake up. Breathe, goddammit, SAM!
But that’s from long ago, Sam thinks. All this—from so long ago.
Something thumps against his back, pressure against his chest, and he comes to, coughing and gasping, on his back in the floor of what looks like the bathroom in the cabin.
“What was that?” Dean demands. He looks scared, which is so strange. His hands are all over, checking Sam for injuries, and Sam starts a little when he realizes that he’s drenched.
“Hey,” says Dean, grabbing his face now to force Sam to look at him,“Hey, man, you okay?”
“Y-yeah, yeah. I’m fine.”
Dean barks a frightened little laugh. He’s got one arm around Sam, his hold tight. “That was not good. That was crazy.”
Sam coughs again, a little more water trickling out of his mouth. Dean slaps his back, again.
“Goddamn it, Sam, don’t do that to me.”
“I don’t know!” Dean says, pulling Sam up so they sit, side by side, dripping saltwater and—in Sam’s case—racked with shivers. “I woke up and couldn’t find you, and the door was open so I thought you were in here, only you took forever. You weren’t responding to my call—”
And so Dean had come in, only this looked nothing like the room he knew. For one, there was water, as high as the ceiling or even beyond. Tinged the same murky colors of the sea outside, and self-contained, not spilling into the rest of the house and not swallowing him whole.
“Did you see the monster? Did you see—”
You, Sam doesn’t want to say. It looked like you.
Dean frowns. “I just saw you. You were drowning. You were off the floor, you were drifting—it was weird as fuck, Sam.”
“And the water?”
Dean shrugs. “I don’t know. I was sort of freaking out about you.”
“I don’t think it was just a dream—” starts Sam, and Dean nods quickly. “It’s happened before, hasn’t it?”
“Last time,” he says. “I remembered. You disappeared underwater when we were looking for the lair. I had to drag you out. And you said you saw the monster—you said you saw things.”
“The future. My future, that is,” Sam laughs, shakily. “Hellfire, the demon blood, Lucifer—”
Dean’s quiet for a minute. “You didn’t tell me that the last time.”
Sam snorts, and wipes water out of his eyes. “I think that was a singularly bad time for me to even consider that I could become any of those things.”
They stare at each other a minute, and Sam wants, very badly, to just disappear into the floor all of a sudden.
“You’re more than those things, Sammy,” Dean says, softly.
“We wanted to torch the lair, didn’t we?” Sam says, quickly. “We took an acetylene torch down there the next time, and everything.”
“Yes. You were pretty adamant about smoking the shit out of that thing, once you came outta there. We went the very next day.”
“You cheated on me with a biased coin, I remember that,” he sighs. "We didn’t get the monster, Sam. You got pretty freaked out by it—I was supposed to give you thirty minutes before I tried my turn, but I kinda had to drag you out, twenty minutes in.”
Sam shakes his head. What had he seen under there, that they’d left the job without trying again?
“Obviously, that plan didn’t work. Sounded like a good plan, though.”
“Burn everything? Sounds like my kinda plan.” Dean pats Sam’s shoulder, and climbs to his feet. “Give it time. We’ll figure out something. We always do. I’m going to put on some coffee, man, not gonna get any sleep after that.”
Sam stares at the puddles of seawater, all around him, and shivers.(Part Two)