A Hundred Years on Stygian Shores, Part Two
Sam’s got a table full of paper clippings, research notes, and his laptop whirring by the time Dean finishes with the coffee. It’s still dark outside, and quiet, and there’s a tremble inside of Dean that’s been there since the ceiling-high water in the bathroom dissipated and Sam had fallen to the floor in a tangled, suffocating heap. He’d coughed up so much fucking water before he even swam into consciousness. And how far was this place from a hospital? From the car?
Maybe this is why they’d left. This pressure of being alone, away, tucked into some godforsaken corner of the world where the only things that existed were crazy ocean cults and rabid dogs and the motherfucking Creature of the Blue Lagoon.
“You find anything?” he asks, more as a throwaway than an actual question, setting a coffee mug in front of Sam.
“Maybe,” Sam mumbles. “But it makes no sense. I’ve just looked at the victim profiles again. You remember Michael O’Keefe? He’s the one who had died around the time we came here last time. This is O’Keefe, at the St. Peter’s feast in Gloucester the year he moved to Massachusetts.”
Sam points to a man, holding a giant fishing-boat oar, a beaming smile on his round face.
“And this, the girl standing left to him, is—”
“Lila Waters. Who died two weeks ago.”
“Yes. But Dean, Lila Waters cannot be more than thirty. This photo was taken in 1992. She would have been a kid then.”
“Maybe a sister?”
“No, the caption mentions her by name. This local paper is the only thing that even mentions any of these people—like I told you, they have no paper trails. Anywhere.”
“So, what? Lila Waters was immortal?”
“I don’t know. But look at this. I dug up a photo of the school—where Waithe works—from a forum on the internet trading vintage photographs. This was taken on the day the foundation stone was laid. Look at this guy.”
“That’s Waithe. And does he look like he’s always looked, even in 1958.”
Sam nods. “Something freaky is going on here. Earlier when I met the Deputy, I noticed something strange about him, something old, even though he looked young. It’s like, time doesn’t move here, or people don’t…”
“Maybe that’s their cult. They sacrifice their own once a year for their wiggly sea-god, and it lets them live forever.”
Sam frowns. “But it doesn’t eat its victims.”
“Maybe it doesn’t need to,” Dean says. “Maybe it just feeds on something we can’t see.”
“Soulless people don’t die.”
Dean kicks lightly at Sam’s ankle. “I don’t know, Sam. What the fuck, it’s monster psychology. Maybe it’s just doing it for kicks. Proving a point.”
“You think it’s that smart?”
“It knows the fucking future, Sam.”
“Great,” Sam rolls his eyes. “We gotta go see if it’s still there—you know that, right? The monster.”
Dean sighs, taking a sip of his coffee.
“You said the same thing last time. And then you almost drowned.”
“Well, then,” Sam says, lightly. “We’ll just have to make sure it doesn’t happen this time.”
Waithe gets them a boat.
Sam sucks in a sharp breath when he sees it—the dangling rows of jigging lights, the peeling red paint, and the chutes stained with old squid ink. He closes his eyes and sees the same boat in his memory. Out on the sea, lights flickering, bobbing like a toy far away in the waves. Had they been standing on the beach then, gazing out to sea? Or had they been in the water too? Things are coming back to him, in bits and pieces, and now he see Dean in his memory, standing next to him, younger, something shadowed in his eyes.
They were not working this the way they usually did. They were closing in on the monster blind because Dad had said something, done all the talking before he died, and after that Sam and Dean couldn’t find words. Looking at his brother, wondering if he would be the one to end Sam’s life, had been horrifying in a way Sam couldn’t begin to put to words. Not Dean, he’d kept thinking, although the visions were getting crazier and more frequent, and he’d felt more and more like a powder keg waiting to blow. Still: not Dean, not his brother—what evil could he possibly become that it would be Dean, in the end, ridding the world of him?
Sam remembers the knife of it: the promise of evil that he thought he could feel in his veins. Not so much now, not after everything that happened and they got beat down again and again. He’s changed his wiring and his instincts and the lines he would draw. He’s culled out his temper and forced down his nightmares and learned to live with the phantom crackling in his palms beneath which Kevin had fizzled out. But back then—all his strength, all his anger; he’d thought he was feeding the monster. And Dean…had Dean watched him closer, stubborn in his quest to save Sam from the evil he wasn’t yet?
“Attack of the déjà vu,” Dean mutters now, making wriggly creepy-movie fingers. He yanks on foul-weather gear, but leaves the buckles unstrapped so that he looks quite like a traffic cone with arms. “You know how to sail this thing?”
Waithe’s boatman, who had introduced himself as Tom, nods. “Weather’s going to get rough, though.”
“Wouldn’t be like us if we didn’t do stupid things in stupid weather,” grins Dean, elbowing Sam lightly.
“Not funny, dude,” says Sam, unhappily.
He stands at the edge of the skiff, watching whatever sunlight can pierce through the clouds gleam off the water. Tom starts the motor. In Sam’s memory, he sees the monster again, that first time he’d gone in, the black marks it had left on his skin. He and Dean had bought the acetylene torch the next day. No other way, he remembers himself saying, we just gotta burn it out. Dean hadn’t liked the plan, but Dean hadn’t seen the monster. Hadn’t seen what Sam had, what he now knew to be visions of their then future.
He’d wanted that thing to die. Maybe, stupidly, he’d wished that that would undo those visions of the future, give him a clean slate unmarred by destiny.
Behind him, the coast rapidly disappears, and right before the mist hides it entirely, he sees the two strangers again. Dressed in cheap diving suits; preparing a motor boat.
He swallows down his unease.
Tom steers them to the co-ordinates Sam has triangulated in less than thirty minutes.
“I’m going in this time,” Dean yells, over the waves and the water spraying them both.
“Dude. That’s not what we agreed upon.”
“What we agreed upon was bullshit,” Dean says, grabbing haphazardly at whatever scuba gear they’d got. “You fucking win at rock, paper, scissors every time.”
“So we’ll toss a coin.”
Dean smacks Sam’s shoulder. “Ha! I remember what you did the last time with that fucking coin. How many times have you pulled that trick on me?”
“Yeah, because that’s what matters right now. My stupid party trick.”
Sam grimaces. “I’m not staying here on this boat and letting you go down there.”
“Tough luck,” Dean shouts. He makes his way over to Sam, swaying slightly with the boat. “Look, Sam—I need you up here. You—well, if this is about her, you gotta be here to fight it. I have a feeling I can’t.”
“You can’t what?”
Dean pulls the goggles over his head and puts the tube in his mouth. He leans down to pull on the diving fins, and Sam kneels next to him.
“I’m coming after you in twenty minutes,” he hisses, and gets nothing in return but an eye-roll.
Dean looks at him, like you’re seriously gonna trust Tom to wait here?
“I’m serious, asshole. And take the fucking torch.”
When the black water closes over his brother’s head, Sam leans against the side of the boat, feeling wrung out. Like a spell crushed into him, tore at his very atoms. He draws a breath of cold air that settles in his chest like broken ice.
Somewhere out in the fog, he hears that motor boat.
There’s no past, no present, no future in the depths.
Only the soft churn of waves at the surface, and the tug of currents from the bottom: a dance, interplay, and anything getting caught in between would just have to go along.
There are a few moments underneath, when there’s just the vague menace of something ancient hiding out here and the promise of a boat waiting just above. Dean looks around, trying to ignore those initial surprise sounds of his inhalations through the regulator, the way everything looks magnified under water. He thinks of the last time—waiting out on the boat the way Sam’s waiting for him now, watching for any sign of a flare, heart in his mouth. Thinking he shouldn’t have sent Sam down there: the exploration the time before had been bad enough, and Sam had almost drowned. Thinking he shouldn’t have let Sam flip that coin. Thinking Sam, you stupid son of a bitch.
And Sam had seen something, then: it all comes back to Dean now, with the water pushing at him and his eyes searching for the monster. Sam had seen something fucked up, something he couldn’t explain. He’d surfaced, gasping and yelling. We should head back. Right now—Dean, we need to go. The weird fog had come in then, warping everything, and Dean had been frozen, staring right into it.
At lights, bobbing in the fog, at something—
But right now: writhing sea-grass, and greens like watercolour daubs. Right now is where he needs to focus, where the monster is. He floats, weightless, surprised when something passes overhead like a long, white shark. Another boat, maybe.
And then he looks back down and sees the dark rushing at him.
He feels it pry his jaw open—can’t taste it, because there is so much of it; can’t breathe, because it rushes him, forces his lungs full with its filth, crushes into every vein and artery. It speaks like an ocean tossed by thunder, a muffled heartbeat. It sounds like gallons of saltwater through fluid and flesh and bone. And then it tastes like nothing, speaks nothing, sounds like nothing—but he can feel it settle within him, rippling waves, tremors pushing outward from a screaming centre. His tongue goes silent. He goes blind. A warm wetness, a weighted dark, folds around him.
This thing has been sleeping here for centuries. For aeons, even: in flashes of color, Dean sees visions of the coast, as it were.
Nothing but sea and sand and seasons flashing in the blink of an eye; then the first signs of men. They feared the monster, hiding away when the sun went down, thankful for the sureness of sunrise every morning. The settlers who came later feared it too—saw it in their dreams, promising to walk on a world steeped in darkness. Those that took ships to this part of the sea saw it, at times, went back home agued with what locals began to call witchcraft. It wasn’t until the last century that something tried to hunt it down, though. Waithe and some townspeople, armed with latest technology, trying to burn it down just like him and Sam. Their monster that lives here under the sea.
It paid them back thought, didn’t it?
Dean feels the triumph of the monster, its sick joy. Time, and space, none of that meant anything to a creature like this. The offenders stewed in a world where they didn’t move forward in time. Once a year, the monster drove them to sacrifice one of their own. Days repeated; years. No one new moved here and stayed for too long.
He and Sam, the first time they’d come here to hunt this thing, had no clue what they were up against. A mysterious foggy coast, some strange details about the nearest town they couldn’t really wrap their heads around, and some fucked up visions: wasn’t much to go with.
But Sam had come down here. With his acetylene torch and his anger and his fear of the future—
He’d been shown something, something awful.
And now, nearly ten years later, they were back, in their squid boat, Dean holding the torch this time. He turns the valve, thinking burn the monster, but where would he aim? This thing, he thinks, is in my head.
But also somewhere in the water, because the monster wraps a dark tentacle around his leg and yanks him up. Bad, Dean thinks, struggling. Coming out of the water that quickly would be bad, he’d probably die. But the weak light’s getting stronger now, and he’s powerless, caught in the grip of this thing, and his lungs are probably going to explode the moment he hits surface. He tugs at the tubes connecting the oxy-acetylene torch to the boat, hoping Sam would notice, but it’s no good. The monster is too fast.
You’re hers, the monster says in his head. I won’t kill you.
His head breaks the surface, and Dean gasps, air rushing into his lungs like a plume of flame.
Something is wrong.
The world is wrong.
Everything looks darker. The sky is red, and the sun looks like it is dying. Sam is nowhere to be found.
Shadows crawl at the coasts. Dean looks around, dizzied and wild, recognizing nothing.
This is not his time.
Sam gazes at the motor boat in the fog, worrying at his lip with his teeth. Ten minutes have passed; things are quiet. He resists the urge to go after Dean.
He looks, instead, at the bright bulbs swinging from the metal skeleton of this boat, calling out to squid, gauzy in the mist. The last time they’d been here, a similar boat had floated ghostly in the sea while they yelled at it for help. Its lights had bobbed like jellyfish, drifting luminous through the smoke-screens of the Atlantic. Sam had a head-wound; he remembers being cold, wet and terrified, blood dripping into his eyes.
He had just been dragged back into the boat by Dean. Spluttering on water, gasping for breath, yelling at Dean to get them out of here. I don’t want to see any more, he’d gasped. But what—what future had the monster shown him that was worse than Lucifer, worse than the demon-blood?
For a moment, the fog clears. Sam sees the motor-boat, clearly, the wo+++rried stranger leaning over the prow of it to stare into the water below.
Dean—ten years younger, Dean—looks up and sees him too. His face isn’t clear, but his mouth moves, and Sam knows, instinctively, what he’s saying. Sam.
It’s like time has no meaning here. All of a sudden Sam knows—this boat, they’d glimpsed at this very boat back then. The monster under the water had shown Sam pieces of the future, had re-created the ocean in their bathroom—why would this not be possible for it?
Sam starts when cold water starts pelting his skin. Rain.
The water ripples. He waits, eyes peeled for Dean, and not twenty feet and ten years away, Dean does too. I remember waiting in a storm.
Across the distance, Dean’s pinging something with his torchlight. He looks halfway freaked out of his mind, his eyes darting between the dark water and the darkening sky. His torch asks, hesitantly, in Morse: S-A-M?
Cas told them every time they went backwards in time that nothing would change, even if they tried to make it. Things would, somehow, eventually, loop around to the same outcome. But standing here, looking at this younger version of his brother, it’s difficult to not shout out warnings. Would Dean have still gone ahead with his deal to resurrect Sam had he known all the dominos that decision would let fall?
Yes, Sam thinks, looking for his own torch. He’d probably do exactly the same things. So would Sam. Their big plans and contingencies finally came down to things as simple as a game of Snake and Ladder. You either climb, or you get eaten. Time and fate and universe roll the dice. No premonitions, no messengers from the future would really matter with that kinda bottom line.
He wasn’t going to change a thing by shouting at Dean through the storm to just let him die in Cold Oak.
It’s been twenty minutes. Twenty minutes since Dean went down there. Twenty minutes and ten years since Sam did, over by that boat. And now the rain’s coming down in earnest, lightning striking the coast. Had Dean waited this long, last time? Had they communicated like this, across time? What had Sam told him?
And now Dean looks worriedly over the edge of the boat. His windbreaker flaps in the wind. He checks his watch, and so does Sam. Twenty minutes.
Ten years ago, Dean hadn’t given Sam half an hour in the water. He’d dragged Sam out of there twenty minutes in. Why was he not moving?
Sam begins to pull on his own diving gear, hurriedly. He has to go after Dean.
Sam remembers being angry.
Under the water, with the monster swimming somewhere unseen and close, he remembers being angry at the visions that the monster had shown him. Destiny, or bad choices: whatever it would be, it felt like something concrete. Something that he couldn’t escape by his will alone. What he could do, was kill this thing.
Everything looks magnified under water. Vision changes, warps the vista. In diving classes, they tell you to touch the walls of the pool and other things around you, to get you used to it. Underneath, you’re not really supposed to touch anything, because this isn’t your world. This green land of drifting seaweed and luminous water is something alien, something to observe.
That Sam of ten years ago, he’s somewhere down here too, but he’s not of Sam’s world right now. That time is only observable. Dean is part of his world.
Only—where is Dean?
Fucking great, Sam thinks, looking around frantically. The regulator sounds too loud to him. The light too bright. Somehow, everything starts taking on a menacing look when you can’t find what you’re looking for.
And then he sees something. Another light. Another person.
Dean, Sam thinks, swimming towards him, and then no.
This screwed up monster is showing him himself, younger Sam, and now their eyes meet, and it’s worse than seeing Dean up above. Younger Sam’s eyes go wide behind his mask. He stops moving completely, and just stares. He probably thinks Sam’s a vision, what he’ll grow up to be, and he isn’t really wrong, is he? Sam wishes he could show him, everything that he becomes. Like a warning.
A warning. Fuck. He’s not the monster here.
Except, maybe, he might just be misconstrued as one. Is this what he’d seen, ten years ago? Something that looked just like himself, something that he thought was a vision?
There’s a change then, a rumble, a perceptible shift in the water temperature.
Sam sees everything like daguerreotype stills—his younger version frozen, staring, at something behind him; the flotilla of bubbles turning his vision into slices of photospheric brilliance; Dean, behind him.
Only—which Dean? This thing probably got the real Dean. This Dean looks like the Dean of the year before. The Dean who chased Sam around the bunker with a hammer. His eyes are dark and he blazes, strangely, standing out against the dark of the ocean.
Something shimmers in his grasp: a knife.
And suddenly, Sam remembers.
(I saw me, Dean. And you. You know what Dad said? That you might have to kill me? I just saw you do it. I was something else. I—)
And Dean, spluttering, indignant, had turned the motorboat around.
(I’m never going to hurt you, Sam.)
But he was wrong. It’s Dean who’s lost to the Darkness this time, Dean who has more or less been acting like he expects this to happen. And now here’s Dean, or some version of him, set to follow a preset algorithm put inside of him like a virus. Here’s Dean, and here’s a knife, and Sam too shell-shocked to do anything.
He still has the canister of oxygen. He struggles to grab hold of it, the weird buoyancy of the water working against him. By the time he gets hold of it, something else grabs it, a shot of something dark from deeper in the sea. It falls away, and he sees it do a ricochet in mid-trajectory, fly straight at Younger Sam. He tries to get out of the way, but Sam knows it’s gonna slam into him, make a cut, that at least for some moments he’s going to be inconvenienced.
It’s strange how Sam actually doesn’t care. This is a strange level of dissociation, not being concerned about your own past self, but who is that person anyway? He’s young, and angry, and he’s going to make bad choices. He’s going to end up in Hell. He’s going to burn, and he’s going to drown, and he’s going to let a lot of things out of holes where they’d been put into for a reason. He’s going to be an asshole, and he’s also going to be a hero, and more than anything, he’s going to stay Dean’s brother.
And somehow, somewhere, he’s going to turn into Sam. Who needs Dean and his stupid fatalistic attitude to remind himself why he cares. What he cares for. Without Dean, the bumper sticker of saving people, hunting things might as well be the line for a Byzantine canto that no one understands.
Odd. Sam has, in some dark moments, thought about what he would have done if he could have gone back and fixed his mistakes. What he would have told that kid of ten years ago. All he wants to say now is get back into the fucking boat. Let it all happen the way it did.
In the end, you just try to do everything you can to move forward, and hope that’s enough to get you through. And you try to keep the people who you love while you do what you got to.
Maybe all Sam really wants to tell that kid is: I’m sorry.
It’s just him against this monster who looks like his brother. Or the brother who’s wearing the guise of a monster. There’s a thin line between the two, somewhere, and a whole lot of fucked-up history to thank for it. It’s all about the context in this game.
He looks down at his arms and there’s dark creeping over his veins, visible even in the ghost-light of the subsurface. Long, black marks like the grooves in the seashells. The skin of the victims.
Younger Sam, blood swimming away from his forehead in tendrils now, is gaping at him. He probably thinks Sam’s turning into something evil. (Fuck it, he probably is.)
He’s not sure why he never made that connection: The Darkness is strong with this creature. It’s a cousin, or a creation, or maybe it’s just a little piece of Amara that didn’t make it to the whole. Sam knows how some things can be in pieces and still work as a person, or a creature, or whatever she was.
Or maybe this is a vision, too, one that he’s living right now.
Dean’s hand comes up to rest against Sam’s heart, heavy and hot. Sam puts his own hand on top of it and can feel his heart beat, rhythmic and even, everything that is right and ordinary with this world.
Sam thinks, you can’t wear his face and get away with it. The thought becomes rage; too many times in the last year he’s looked at Dean and seen something else looking back, and they paid a large price so Sam didn’t have to anymore. And now, once again, here’s something wearing his face.
Dean smiles and presses a finger to his lips, like sshh, this is a secret, you can’t tell anyone else.
Dean’s knife doesn’t cut him. It cuts his oxygen.
Water floods the tube.
Sam yanks the mask off his face, remembers to not breathe in. He goes for the surface, but the monster drags him back down. (Or maybe it’s Dean, it’s hard to tell the difference.) He swims for the gas canister instead, and the monster follows him. They’re stuck in a dance, and this same thing would be violent back on land, only down here it’s kind of beautiful. Or maybe Sam’s starting to feel the lack of oxygen.
Dean’s foot kicks out and connects with Sam’s ribs just as he grabs hold of the gas. He exhales, and suddenly there’s water rushing up, down, drowning him. He coughs and more water rushes to fill his lungs, and he sees, for a moment, his own self ten years younger, watching.
(I was something else. And I burned.)
Sam knows what he has to do.
He chokes. He lights the torch.
He feels the heat, the sparking of the two gases, and he closes his eyes.
White fire erupts around him.
Dean stands at the water line, looking at the ocean. The sky is red above him, and the sun is gone. Long ago, when he and Sam had first come after this creature, they’d driven right into fog. Thick, and dark, and even then, Dean had felt drawn to it.
When they came out of it, they were oddly clear on what to do next. Get out of this place.
It’s strange. Being a Winchester, things start looking like they’re always surmountable. There’s no price they wouldn’t pay, in the end, to triumph over the demons, or the Devil, or the angels, or a millennia-old curse. There’s no price they wouldn’t pay to triumph over the Darkness, when it came to it.
To leave somewhere, without completing a job, then: that wasn’t them. Something had told them to leave, and they had listened. They’d forgotten this place, because someone had made them.
And now Dean stands at the shore, watching the red sea come in, and wonders if it was her. The Darkness, roiling across time and space, pushing them away from this case that could kill them. Or it was just her lackey monster, who knew they’d do this in the future—let its mistress out, let her walk the earth, let her take the earth. The monster who had spared them back then so they could do it this favor in their future.
It didn’t need them anymore. At least—it didn’t need Sam anymore.
Dean’s not sure what to make of that. What that makes him.
He isn’t even fucking sure what year this is. There’s no internet. There’s no Sam, either, maybe hasn’t been for a while.
He feels it in his bones.
He needs Sam. He doesn’t care as much without Sam—can’t get anybody to care without him.
He goes back to the cabin, and finds Sam’s research gathering dust on the table, his phone still plugged into the charger where he’d left it back when, his laptop still closed and on the table. He stands in that quiet, suddenly cathedral-like space, and thinks of what Sam said he saw, long back.
(I saw me, Dean. And you. You know what Dad said? That you might have to kill me? I just saw you do it. I was something else. And I burned.)
In this time, Dean had managed to swim back to shore. The shore he didn’t dare leave, because God knows what time he’ll step into if he goes out of the sphere of the monster’s influence. He can guess what’s going on, though. Amara’s winning. The world is in the thrall of the Darkness. And without Sam, Dean doesn’t think he can even hope to go against her.
In the sea, there’s no monster. It burned: he knows that much. Dean went down and the monster threw him into some time he didn’t know. And Sam probably went after him and got the monster.
The idiot, Dean thinks, and the world feels like it is closing in on him, ready to crush him. Sam hadn’t liked this case from the start. And this case had sunk its teeth in him, dragged him away, because he wasn’t important to Amara’s grand plan in whatever stupid, awful way Dean was.
He can’t get to Castiel.
He can’t get to anyone.
And so he waits by the shore.
Dean feels it when it happens, like a frisson under his skin.
He turns and begins running, towards the old church, towards where his other self stands, gaping at him. The Other Dean has a gun, pointed at him. The Other Dean has just touched the stone tablet, is just seeing this vision of a world steeped in Darkness. It hasn’t happened yet in his time. Sam’s still alive in his time.
Alive and watching a fucking documentary somewhere, away from this place.
“Look out!” Dean shouts, and the Other Dean turns, the barrel of his gun slamming hard into the skull of the guy who’s been creeping up behind him. The guy drops. Other Dean kicks him lightly to check if he’s conscious, and the man’s head lolls on his shoulder. Okay, then.
“This better be good,” Other Dean says, immediately turning the gun back at Dean. “What is this, is this some kinda—,” he scrunches up his face, thinking hard, “uh—”
“I can’t remember that movie, either, the one you’re trying to remember,” says Dean. “Though, if you wanted a point of reference, you’d probably refer to Season Apocalypse. You know—when Zachariah sent you tumbling through to the future where Palin was President and it was Z-Nation on the streets.”
Other Dean’s eyebrows arch. He doesn’t lower the gun. Smart.
“Who are you?”
Dean swallows, hard. “Past self, meet future self.”
“You’re me, in the future.”
“Don’t sound so incredulous. Do I have to talk about Rhonda Hurley’s panties again?”
Other Dean blinks. Something seems to go crashing inside him, a sense of comprehension maybe. He looks around.
“I don’t—what is this place? Where’s Sam?”
Dean says, in an exhale, “Earth, post Darkness.”
There’s not even any inflection. He’s not surprised, which he feels should be a strange thing, but his emotions about the Darkness really are sort of like a free-spinning radio dial. Dean looks at the red sea and the red sky, and wonders how he got to be this, this person who’s halfway sure that he’s fighting a losing battle already. You have Sam, he wants to scream at this Dean. Funny how things always seem terrible and then they get worse.
“Not if you can help it,” he says. “You need to leave this place.”
Other Dean scoffs. “Yeah, okay.”
“I know what you’re thinking. That I’m probably something the monster conjured up, to get you to leave. That I’m the same thing that got you to leave the last time. That scaring you by showing you a world where Amara wins is the best thing an enemy would do to get you to leave it alone. But dude—you don’t want to end up in this place, in this time,” Dean says. He hopes he sounds desperate. He feels desperate. Should he throw his hands out to look desperate? That’s more of a Sam move, “This is not the weirdest rodeo you’ve ever seen, Dean. This doesn’t even come close.”
“We can’t leave, just like that. This monster, it screws up people—”
“A very small set of people, who have relatively more or less figured out how they’re going to deal with it. Look, Dean—I’m gonna tell you this in the language I know we understand. You stay here, this happens. You stay here, that thing in the sea takes you for a merry little ride, and drops you in this time, where you’re powerless to do anything to stop Amara.”
Other Dean shakes his head. He’s probably thinking, this can’t be the reason we lose. Not this case, in this stupid coast. This can’t be how we lose against her.
They’re human. They’re vulnerable to the fallacy that bigger things won’t fall down all around them, crush them beneath, and that would be that. This is not a plot. This is not a contrivance, a bucket in a narrative to tick off while they move towards the big resolution.
This is them being human, and dying, and the world continuing to turn on.
There’s only one language to get to Dean.
“Look. You don’t get out of here, he’s gonna die.”
Other Dean splutters. “This is—what, this is about Sam now?”
Dean rolls his eyes. “Everything’s about Sam. In one way or the other. That’s how we work.”
Other Dean looks around, like he expects future Sam to be hiding behind a rock or something. “I don’t—”
“I’ll break it down for you. You go in there, looking for the monster,” he points at the red sea. “It throws you here, in this time. He goes after you, and he gets the monster, but it gets him too. Okay?”
Dean’s surprised at how calm he sounds. Maybe empty is a better word.
(Is that where Sam is—the Empty?)
“You don’t get out of here, Sam’s gonna burn up down there in the ocean. You know how fucked up that sounds?”
He looks away then, and at the moon. It hangs helpless in a miasma of light pollution, tiny tonight, revolving at a cold and lonely perigee from the Earth. The ends of the horizon are going dark, in weird pixel blocks.
“You can’t get him back. If he goes, this time, you will never get him back.”
Dean looks back, and Other Dean nods, quickly, his eyes still quizzical.
The guy he’s knocked out has a bat, and he sneaks up behind him. Dean doesn’t warn him.
“We need Sam,” he says, instead. “She’s going to win without him.”
The bat rises.
Bits of the ocean disappear. And the land. The Other Dean disappears as well, sucked back into his time, or gobbled up by whatever is erasing this landscape. His own legs disappear, and then his hands.
Dean’s not startled. He just stands there for an interminable time, feeling like a man on the plank, pirates at his back and ocean in front. There’s an odd, ineffable feeling in him.
It feels like—
He screams for Sam. There’s no answer. Most often than not, based on a screwed up scale of probability, he screams for Sam and there’s no answer, and a clusterfuck follows.
He’s in the cabin. His head hurts. Someone probably took a bat to it.
His throat burns. Something scrapes in his windpipes like August dust. He thinks momentarily of the road running like paint and his eyes full of grit, low hills and cows and UFO ramblings on the radio. He thinks momentarily of the sun streaming through Sam’s hair, and the ghostly afterglow of gas stations.
You have to get out of this place.
“Sam?” he shouts. “Sammy?”
Sam sounds scared. He’s yelling, throwing open doors.
“We gotta go,” Dean says, the moment he locates Sam. The relief is indescribable. Dean stands there with his skin tingling. His fingertips feel alit with possibility. He feels an urge deep inside of him, an ache, and it starts with his teeth and crawls all the way down his spine. Something stirs in his heart, tar-like, an unholy creature. He grabs hold of Sam’s shoulder, and squeezes hard.
“Ow. What the fuck, Dean.”
Sam gapes at him. “Dude, what— the deputy of Silent Hill told me they’d found you in a church or something—did they hurt you?”
“Get your stuff. We’re getting out of here. Now.”
“Oh God, Dean, do you have a concussion?”
“Never mind about that. We have to go.”
“What’d you mean we have to go? Go where?”
“Back to Lebanon,” Dean says. “Or somewhere. Next case. I don’t know. You pick. We have to go, Sam. We’re in danger here.”
The sky is grey outside. It has a pre-dawn composition, which is funny, because it should be gunning for four pm brightness right now. Thunderheads roll over, limned with gold. At least everything isn’t ash-grey, the way it was in the Future.
The Dean in the future had worn the dark well. It was hard to explain it, but somehow, it had fit him. And maybe that was why he’d insisted that they needed Sam. Sam wouldn’t let it come to that, wouldn’t let Dean be that.
Sam complains, a lot. But he grabs his stuff, pulled along by whatever madness he sees in Dean’s face. They walk all the way to the car, and Sam demands, and then he yells, and then he wheedles. He asks a ton of questions, none of which Dean answers, so he settles for sulking instead.
“Did you see something? A vision?”
“I promise I’ll tell you everything,” says Dean, exasperated. “Now please, Sammy, seriously.”
The Impala shines except for a spray of mud along her side. It’s shaped like a starling. Dean’s happy to just see her. Sam dumps his stuff on the ground next to the Impala, and folds his arms.
“Okay. What’s this about?”
“Get in the car, Sam.”
“No. Tell me what’s going on.”
“I will. Can we please get out of here, first? This beach gives me the heebie-jeebies.”
“But the monster—what about—?”
“Hear me out. Then if you think you wanna come back, we’ll come back. Okay?”
“Okay,” Sam says. He looks at Dean with suspicion, but there must be something he sees, something that propels him into the car. “Okay, fine. You’re acting weird.”
He puts the car into gear, and tries to give Sam what he thinks is a reassuring smile. Sam just looks halfway pissed and halfway concerned.
“Sky’s blue,” Dean murmurs. Sam makes a strangled sound at that. Dean reaches out to pat his shoulder, just to make sure he’s there.
“You’re acting really weird right now,” says Sam. But he slumps in his seat, thumbs his phone, and settles in for the drive.
And Dean drives. When they get to the curve in the road from where they can see the beach, he slows. The two strangers from the beach, they’re by the shore. Preparing a motor boat.
“I was just thinking,” says Sam, following his gaze. “Do they look familiar to you?”
“No,” Dean says. “They’re no one. No one at all.”