notes, disclaimers, etc.: See first chapter.
Sam clawed out of the darkness to find himself staring down a gun barrel at his own brother. Bang, splash, and Dean was gone. A loon called. Meg laughed and laughed in his head, and Sam thought why, why wouldn't he shoot, why—
—and then he was underwater, so so cold, and Mallory was holding him down, Mallory was saying I know what you did.
I know that you killed him.
Sam woke up struggling to breathe, his face pressed hard into his pillow. He jerked his head up, gasping, coughing out the memory of water filling his lungs. His dream lingered; when he closed his eyes he could still see Dean falling from the dock, surprise flashing across his face before he disappeared.
It was morning; pale light was just beginning to filter through the blinds. The room was freezing. Dean, who at some point had kicked all his blankets off onto the floor, was curled up in the middle of his bed, one hand tucked palm-up beneath his cheek. He looked all of seven years old. When Sam tossed the blankets back over him, he curled tighter and mumbled something about a chupacabra. Sam smirked while he went over to turn the heat back up. That was one hunt Dean would never forget.
Sam had decided to let Dean sleep as long as he wanted, but the puddle of blankets stirred after just a few minutes, and Dean's prickly, tousled head emerged. " 'S cold," he mumbled.
"You made me turn the heat down last night, remember?"
Dean looked puzzled; his three functioning brain cells evidently couldn't grasp such an advanced concept. It was all they could do to produce a slurred petition for "Coffee?"
"Not yet. We'll get some when we go for breakfast."
Dean gave a longsuffering sigh and sat all the way up. The blankets slid down to his waist, revealing crisscrossed scars and a clean white bandage on his shoulder. There would be one more marker written on Dean's skin, one more inscription for his Book of History: here, the demon that killed my mother wore my father's face and tried to rip my heart out from the inside. Here, that demon's daughter wore my brother's face and shot me off a dock in Duluth.
Sam looked away. There were so many scars, and a few of them told stories he didn't know. He'd learned long ago that some questions were better left unasked.
Dean stumbled through getting dressed, and they headed for the diner. After breakfast, Sam called Bobby to find out the best (and fastest) way to bless water. Bobby wasn't sure about the scope of the ritual, but he didn't rule out the idea that it might bless an entire lake. He called it a "damn fool plan", and Sam quickly volunteered that it was Dean's. Bobby snorted. "And you couldn't come up with anything better?"
Sam's silence was answer enough.
"Just be careful," Bobby said. "I know it's a lot to ask, but try not to get yourselves killed."
The clouds had moved out overnight, and the sky was so blue it hurt Sam's eyes. The lake was choppy, driven by a strong north wind. Despite the wind, the sun felt warm on Sam's back. He squinted across the lake; he could just make out the trees on the other side.
Dean was antsy, even before they walked out onto the sand bar. He checked his shotgun half a dozen times on the walk from the cabin. "You sure you got that ritual written down right?" he asked.
"Yeah." Sam held up a spiral notebook, his own version of a hunter's journal. "I had Bobby read it to me twice. He said it was a ritual Dad used to use."
Dean nodded, satisfied. Dad was gone, but Dean still trusted him absolutely — if it had been Dad's ritual, then Dean believed that it would work. Sam had spent most of his life equally confused and frustrated by that blind trust.
Dean stood back while Sam got ready. The ritual was relatively simple — no symbols to draw, no trap to set, just the words and the beads and the crucifix. Sam knelt at the edge of the water, put his shotgun down beside him, opened his notebook, and began.
"Exorcizo te, creatura aquæ..."
He got out exactly four words before she showed up. There wasn't much warning — just sudden cold, a blast of wind that ruffled the pages of his notebook.
Then Dean shouted "Sam, down!" and fired twice, the second shot close enough that salt burned the side of Sam's face. He ducked and rolled away, hanging onto the notebook and the rosary beads.
"Keep reading, I'll keep her busy!" Dean sounded out of breath. He fired again, the shot followed closely by a solid thud. Sam kept his eyes on the page, words flowing from his tongue. He willed Dean to fire again, to say something, to be okay.
The wind picked up, whistled around Sam's ears, threw sand into his eyes. He clung to the fluttering pages and kept reading, raising his voice against the storm. Mallory didn't like what he was doing, and that was good enough for him. He could feel the anger, her fury building as she regained strength.
Where was Dean?
The air crackled, buzzed with static that raised the hairs on the back of Sam's neck, and Mallory appeared a few feet to his left. Sand swirled around them, cutting off Sam's view of the world outside. He held onto the fragile paper with stiff, blistered fingers. Tried to keep reading, but his voice cracked, the cadence lost.
Mallory walked forward, and Sam went down, choking. His throat was on fire, and he couldn't draw breath into lungs that seemed filled with sand. His fingers closed over his own gun, but lack of oxygen left him too weak to lift it. The world swirled with black spots—
And then Dean fired, three times in quick succession. Sam flattened himself on the ground, knowing Dean couldn't see what he was shooting at. One of the shots must have found its mark, because the wind stopped suddenly and the swirling curtain of sand fell back to the ground. Sam sat up, scrambled for the notebook. It was at the edge of the water, half-buried in sand. He pulled it out, shook it off, and started flipping pages, searching for the ritual.
"Finish it, Sam!" Dean called. A quick glance showed Dean hunched forward, left arm held against his side, right arm rigidly pointing the shotgun. Sam looked back down, found his place and picked up where he'd left off, voice stutter-starting and then falling back into rhythm.
Wind gusted, and Dean yelled, sudden and wordless. Boom, boom, and Sam looked up, saw his brother turning, firing into the gale. Then the shotgun was torn from Dean's grip and he flew back, hit the ground with an ugly crunch. His boots jerked and his fingers clawed at the sand as he twisted weakly, trying to get his feet under him, get up, get to his gun.
Sam kept going. Just a minute, just one more minute...
Dean gagged and wheezed, and his back arched as he tried to draw a breath. His thrashing slowed until his boots were still in the scuffed sand. Sam's eyes flicked to his brother, then down to the Latin words that could end this. Focus, Sam. You have to focus.
A flicker of motion brought Sam's gaze back up. Mallory stood between him and Dean, head lowered. She looked up and blinked, and her eyes went black for an instant. Sam fumbled for his gun with his free hand, but he had lost track of it during her first attack. The spell was the only weapon he had now.
"Stop!" Mallory said, and Sam gritted his teeth as her voice vibrated inside his skull. Her eyes flickered, greenblackgreenblack. She wasn't human anymore — wasn't anything that had ever been human.
Dean was totally still now. There was blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, and Sam could hear him trying to breathe from twenty feet away.
"I'll kill him," Mallory said, her eyes like coal. "You stop, or I'll kill him."
You'll kill him anyway, Sam thought. His throat felt shredded and he could taste blood on the back of his tongue, but he raised his voice anyway. "Per invocationem sancti tui nominis expetita, ab omnibus sit impugnationibus defensa."
She shrieked, and a shock wave hit Sam in the chest. He lost his hold on the book but clung to the rosary, tangled it around his fingers as he flew back toward the lake. "Per Dominum, amen!" He shouted, a second before he went under. He lost his grip on the rosary, but it had found the water, and that was all it needed.
Sam surfaced, gasping, water streaming into his eyes, and the first thing he heard was Mallory's scream. Her face distorted, and for an instant Sam saw a hideous form superimposed over her own. Her phantom body sizzled, skin melted from bone—
And then she was gone.
Sam was still for a moment, stunned that it had worked, half expecting her to reappear. When she didn't, he got his feet under him and splashed to the shore, tripping as soon as he hit dry sand. Dean. Oh God, Dean.
He couldn't hear the labored breathing anymore.
"Dean." Sam dropped to his knees beside his brother, hands out. Dean was lying on his back, face turned up, eyes closed. Sam reached out a trembling hand to feel for a pulse. "Dean, hey, come on..."
Dean's head rolled to the side, and he drew a shallow breath, then another. His eyelashes fluttered, and he squinted at the bright sky. "Di'we gi'er?" he slurred.
"Yeah." Sam sat back, light-headed with relief, starting to shake as cold overtook adrenaline. "Yeah, man, we got her. You were right — the ritual worked."
Dean nodded, then grimaced and spat out a mouthful of blood. Up close, Sam could see the deep cut in his lip, the fresh bruising along the side of his jaw. His skin was grayish and his breathing still shallow, but he was awake, was conscious and talking, and that was the important thing.
The wind had slowed, but there was still enough of a breeze to plaster Sam's wet clothes against his skin. He shivered, and Dean caught the movement, recognized the reason for it. "Took another swim, huh?"
"Yeah, seemed like a good day for it," Sam said. He clenched his jaw to stop his teeth chattering. Tried to suppress a cough, but it broke loose, tore through his raw throat like razor wire.
Dean tried to sit up, sank back down with a groan. His face went white and he squeezed his eyes shut as sweat gleamed on his forehead.
"Your shoulder?" Sam said, already reaching for it, pulling back Dean's jacket to look for blood.
"Shoulder's okay," Dean said breathlessly. "Ribs not so much." Well, that explained the shallow breathing.
Dean held out his right hand. "Help me up."
"It's just a couple of cracked ribs. Nothin' I haven't had before." Dean swallowed, scrunched his eyebrows together. "Dude, I feel like I've been gargling sand."
Sam snorted softly. "Me too." He took Dean's outstretched hand and pulled him up. Dean bent over, hand against his side, breathing in choppy gasps.
"You okay?" Sam said.
"Yeah... just... gimme a minute." Dean straightened a little, his left arm still bracing the broken ribs. "Man... she was... a bitch."
"No kidding." Sam coughed again. She'd done a number on his throat.
"What happened to your face?" Dean asked.
Sam reached up to touch his cheek; his fingers came away slightly sticky. "Oh, that. You grazed me with rock salt when you were shooting at Mallory." He gently poked at the inflamed skin. "It'll be okay."
"Sorry, there was a lot of sand flying around. I guess we're..." Dean trailed off and tensed, staring at the lake. "Sam!"
Oh, no. No no. Sam turned. Both of their shotguns were lost in the sand, and if the ritual hadn't worked...
There was a body in the water at the edge of the lake, face-down, bloated and decayed. A few strands of matted dark hair floated around it like rotten seaweed. It drifted with the wind, nudging up against the shore. White bone showed through the sparse hair, through holes in the disintegrating clothes. The smell of death hit them in the face.
"Well, now we know where the body is," Dean said.
Sam took a few steps closer to the corpse. It didn't move, except to rock gently back and forth with the motion of the water. "We need to salt and burn her," he said.
"First things first." Dean moved up beside him, placing each step carefully to avoid jarring his broken ribs. "You're freezing, and it's windy. We need to get you dried off and warmed up before we do anything else."
"No." Sam set his jaw against the tremors that threatened to rattle his teeth together. "I'm not leaving here until I know she's gone."
"She's gone, Sam! You said it yourself, the ritual worked."
"It worked on the part of her that was demon, but we don't know that that was the only thing holding her here." Sam shook his head stubbornly. "No. I want to be sure this is over."
"Fine," Dean snapped. "At least take off your jacket." Slowly, with much grimacing, he peeled off his own coat and jacket and tossed them at Sam.
Shivering, Sam took off his layered shirts and put on Dean's dry clothing. Then he dug their shotguns out of the sand while Dean walked back to the edge of the woods, where they'd left the duffel bag. Dean came back a minute later with lighter fluid, salt, and matches. "Gonna take the whole damn bottle to toast her," he muttered. "Now, who's gonna get her out of the water?"
"I will. My pants are already wet anyway, and I don't have broken ribs." Sam stared at the corpse, disgusted. "Can I just... I'll find a stick or something to drag her in. I don't want to touch her."
"Don't blame you," Dean said.
Sam made his own trek to the woods, had to stop once to have a coughing fit. The pain in his throat was easing, but he still had the leftover congestion to deal with.
He came back with a long, forked pine branch, which he used to drag the body up onto the beach. The corpse rolled over, showing empty eye sockets and darkened teeth beneath gray tatters of rotting skin. Jacket sleeve over his mouth and nose, Sam moved back while Dean soaked the body down with salt and lighter fluid.
Dean had always been a bit of a pyro, and he liked to do the corpse-toasting whenever possible. He lit a match, raised his hand to throw it, and then just stopped.
"Dean?" Sam said. Flame crept down the matchstick toward Dean's fingers, but he didn't move. Sam took a step forward. "Dean?"
Dean cried out and stumbled forward, both hands going to his head. He dropped the match, and it sizzled out on the sand. Dean fell to his knees, eyes squeezed shut, still clutching his head. A nebulous gray haze hung in the air around him, too close for Sam to shoot at it unless he wanted to blow off the back of his brother's skull.
"Dean!" Sam moved without thought. He dug the lighter out of his pocket, flicked it on, and threw it at the corpse. The lighter fluid ignited with a whoosh, and the mist hanging around Dean's head disappeared. He stayed on his knees, only a few feet from the burning body, until Sam pulled him up and guided him away.
"Hey, hey," Sam said, "you with me?"
"Yeah." Dean lowered his hands, but kept his eyes closed. "She said..."
"She said thank you."
"That — that was to say thank you?"
"Yeah, she has a weird way of showing gratitude." He eased his eyes open, squinting against the sunlight. "But she was glad... to be free. She wanted us to know that."
In a weird way, Sam understood. Even dead, Mallory hadn't been rid of the evil that had crawled inside her skin. Just the thought of existing that way — dead, still possessed, trapped between worlds — made his skin crawl. He stood close enough to be warmed by the flames, and watched Mallory's body burn to ash.
"Come on," Dean said. "Now we know she's gone. It's time to get back to the motel, get you into some dry clothes."
"You need a doctor," Sam said. Dean still couldn't straighten all the way; he was trying to pretend that he was fine, but the pain lines in his forehead said otherwise.
"No, I need to not have a ghost crawling around in my head!" Dean glanced over his shoulder, toward the choppy water. "And no more goddamn lakes. I hate lakes."
Bang, splash, and Dean was gone.
"Yeah," Sam said. "Me too."
By the time they reached the Impala, Dean had stopped to throw up twice, and spikes of his sweat-soaked hair were plastered to his face. Puking was miserable enough without broken ribs; with them, it was agony. He was still refusing to go to the ER, but he had agreed to visit an urgent care clinic, just to verify that Mallory hadn't scrambled his brains and his broken ribs hadn't poked holes in anything vital. In return, he was insisting that Sam had to get his cough checked out.
Sam got his brother settled into the passenger seat, then went around to the driver's side. He put the key in the ignition, then stopped, staring at the cabin. Those dingy walls had sheltered hunters, a family of people who knew what was in the darkness and dedicated themselves to stopping it.
"Hell of a way for them to end," Dean said quietly.
"Yeah," Sam said. A hunter's child becoming the hunted... it hit a little too close to home.
Denim rasped against leather as Dean shifted, angled his body to face his brother. "We won't," he said.
Sam glanced up, pretty sure that Dean was continuing a conversation that had never been started. "Huh?"
"End like that. We won't." Dean grinned, wide and cocky, and for a moment the pain lines on his face melted into eye crinkles. "If we go out, Sammy, it'll be in a blaze of glory. Together, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Hell, they'll probably make a movie about us."
I'll save you, he didn't say. I'll protect you. No matter what happens... you won't end up like her. I'll make sure of it.
He didn't say it, but Sam heard it anyway.
"Yeah." He couldn't help but smile back. "Yeah, that sounds about right."
"Now let's get the hell out of here." Dean eased back in the seat, settled sunglasses over his eyes.
Still smiling, Sam shook his head, and started the Impala with a roar that drove birds out of the pine trees, sent them flapping up and away into a clear blue sky.