Music played from somewhere very far away.
It was sluggish, and distorted, and reminded Sam of the time he had been left at Bobby's house as a kid, and Dean had let him mess about with the record player. He'd found it endlessly entertaining to switch the RPM speeds.
It warped and whispered, and was vaguely familiar. Every time Sam thought he knew what it might be, it changed.
The music faded away, or rewound, or warped… the endless white sky he looked at buckled and burned, like a film of white sand hitting a celluloid jam. It gave way to impenetrable black fog, filling Sam's eyes and ears, blocking his senses out, one by one. He reeled, biting his lip so hard he could almost feel the flesh tearing. He couldn't scream. If he screamed, he'd let Them in.
Figures that were simultaneously ultimately bright and completely dark.
Figures that were not just big, but more vast than any scope his mind could handle. Sam shut his eyes, shielding them from that which they were never meant to see. His body was heavy, and at the same time, lighter than air. Everything was free of place and dimension. All he knew was burning pain, searing and cutting, twisting and scraping, his skin trying to crawl into his body, his insides twisting and writhing like trapped snakes.
He felt like the very centre of his being was being crushed and torn, images of everyone he had ever known, every smile he'd ever seen, every scowl he'd ever known, all drifting, leaping in front of his vision, reaching out to him, begging him to hold on just a little longer, begging him not to give in as they were dragged painfully from him… or was he being dragged from them…
The pain began afresh, peeling, clawing, pounding, stabbing, stretching, twisting, tearing, howling.
He choked, he whimpered, his jaw clenched, every muscle in his body tensed. It was not an act of defiance. It was an act of pleading. Not again. It hurts. I can't go through it again. It hurts. It hurts too bad. Please, don't. It hurts.
It was more than violation, because he knew from their noise…
They didn't howl, or roar, or even shout. They made noise beyond anything he had ever heard, their voices making his brain boil and his heart rip itself out. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. He knew from their noise that they weren't enjoying it either. It was more than violation; it was not a means to an end. It was just an action, for action's sake, for reasons that he couldn't gather the strength to understand.
Sam! It hurts. Wake up, Sam.
Wake It hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts. up.
"Up, Sammy, you're scaring the shit outta me." Dean's face loomed over him in the half light of dawn. They say you only dream for the five seconds before you wake up. Sam highly doubted that.
He gasped and choked, gripping the edges of the motel bed.
"It's ok, Sam. Sammy… Sammy, look at me. You're safe." Dean laid a hand on his brother's shoulder, staring him in the eye. Sam, after a moment of catching his breath, managed to nod. He remembered. The motel was there. It was real. He was on Earth, with Dean, he had his soul. They were helping Hella.
He pressed his hands into his eyes. Dean poured him a glass of water from the tap.
"Nightmares?" He said, redundantly. Sam had no idea how his nightmare had made him sleep, but all his muscles ached now and there was a cut on his hand. He had lockjaw, too.
"Yeah… guess I better get used to that."
"Were they…" Dean handed him the glass, looking awkward. "Do you remember?"
Sam nodded, drinking gratefully, and trying to unclench his jaw.
"Did you have nightmares? After you came back?"
Dean nodded for a moment, suddenly looking very weary.
"It's Hell, Sam. Not the sort of place you're supposed to have fond memories of."
Sam drank his water, and settled back in the bed, glad of the comfort, but knowing there was no way he was going back to sleep now.
"What time is it?"
"A little after four. You thinking about getting up?"
"I sure as…" He stopped. Dean couldn't blaspheme. Sam wasn't sure he could name the Pit right now, either. Funny how strong words are. He half smirked at Dean. If nothing else, the last few years had given them a real appreciation for dark humour.
"I'm gonna head down the street to that all night gas station." Sam pushed the covers aside and stood up. "See if I can't find something to microwave for breakfast."
"You ok to go on your own?" Dean was already half asleep. Sam smiled.
"Don't worry about it."
He threw on a hoodie and a pair of sneakers, and walked out into the oddly muted predawn. He could almost believe there was no one alive but him. That this sunrise was just for him. That somewhere, out there, someone was giving him this moment, just to remind him that he had the whole earth at his disposal once more. It was… good.
It was close to ten when they pulled up on the sea front, staring out over the slate-grey waves. There was a man painting a boat nearby, listening to the radio. It danced with a static-ridden track of "My Baby Just Cares for Me". They had followed the roads based On Hella's whim and intuition. They still weren't sure how they were going to find the final brother as, if there research had told them right, Jörmungandr, who Hella had informed them preferred to be called Jög or Jör, was a giant sea serpent. But then, Sam had retroactively looked up Vali, and he had been described as a wolf, so maybe it wasn't as simple as that.
"So… Hella." He decided he may as well ask. "We're looking for… what, a sea snake?"
"Maybe." She reached into her pocket, and took out a bar of dark chocolate. He kept almost forgetting she could do that. She didn't turn her gaze away from the sea.
"Whaddaya mean, `maybe`?" Dean leant against the Impala, looking out over the rapidly darkening sky. Hella shrugged.
"He's described as a Sea serpent in the myths, but he's not… he's kind of…" she paused, mid-nibble, to consider her words. "He has the mannerisms and abilities that would remind someone of a serpent. But he's not always in that form."
"Mannerisms of a snake, huh?" Dean grimaced. Sam didn't know what Dean was looking so sour for; he was the one who'd had to deal with the last unpleasant brother. Hella looked at him, first confused, then incredulous.
"You guys are so Bible-centric, you know that? One serpent in the garden of Eden, and the rest are given a bad name for all eternity. Sea Serpents are more like dragons, anyway."
"Ah, crap." Dean growled. Sam was inclined to agree. Dragons were trouble. Hella rolled her eyes.
"You don't listen, do you? I said "like" dragons. They're usually pretty laid back guys, if you don't stop them from getting into the water."
"Oh, you've met one?" Dean intended it to be sarcasm, but Hella nodded.
"Nessie. He was very polite, and made the best fish and chips I have ever tasted."
That shut Dean up, for a while.
"So Sea serpents are… kind of like the old myths about mermaids? Human on land, but they change in water?"
"Pretty much." Hella shrugged.
"Did I hear you talking about Sea Serpents?" The boat painting man looked up, curious. Hella nodded. He pointed his paintbrush further down the dock.
"You go that way, there's a library of sorts. It's just built for tourists like you."
"Do a lot of people come here, talking about Sea Serpents?"
"A few." The man shrugged, and grinned. "Enough to keep that place open. It's one of our claims to fame, I suppose." The man went back to painting his boat. Figuring it was better than nothing, they wandered down the dock, until they came to a little stone cabin. Over the door hung a sign, with the words "Cape Ann, MA, home to America's first Sea Serpent".
Well. Thought Sam. No shit. He resolved to put more trust in Hella's instinct in future.
They entered the cabin, and saw it was full of supposed "evidence" of the sea serpent, and overpriced copies of documents, books and photos. It was, in short, a tourist trap.
Hella's curiosity was instantly peaked, and she wandered off behind the rows of shelves. Sam and Dean examined another couple of displays, when a man came from the office near them He was as tall as Sam, had dark auburn hair which sat in a messy mop around his head, and a scruffy beard. He wore three quarter length pants and a hoody, despite the cold.
"Shop's closed for lunch, come back in a half hour."
His accent was thick Boston, so much that Sam couldn't understand him at first.
"It's ten o'clock." Dean, apparently, had not appreciated being woken up so early, and was now being argumentative for the pure fun of it. The shop owner turned on him.
"An' I decided to have an early lunch, what's it to ya? Was thinking of taking a late lunch as well, you got a problem with that?"
"Whoa, hey…" Sam stepped between them, cursing his brother's ability to find the one other person in the vicinity who was spoiling for a fight. "He didn't mean anything by it, so we're just going to… go…"
"How many lunches do you need, douche?" Dean sidestepped Sam. "Maybe if you wore some actual clothes, you'd stay warm, wouldn't need to eat so much?"
"Look, guy, I don't know what your problem is…"
"Hey, look…" Sam pulled Dean's shoulder so he was stood between the two angry men once more. "Ignore him, he's just a bit stressed, you know?"
"Yeah well I don't appreciate people coming in here tellin' me how to run my business, see?"
"Well, we're not going to…"
"I really don't appreciate it."
Wow, this guy was more obstinate than Dean. Sam was debating exactly what to do, when the guy suddenly fell forward, eyes wide with surprise; he turned around, looking for his assailant. Hella grinned up at him, her arms wrapped around his waist.
He was still for a moment, frozen in uncomprehending shock. Then, in one movement, he threw his head back, laughed, gripped her under the arms, and spun her around.
"Hel!" he grinned, and the two began chatting excitedly in Norwegian. Sam and dean exchanged glances. After a while, Jög turned to them.
"I'm so sorry, I had no idea…" His accent was completely different, the thick Bostonian replaced with Norwegian. "Come into the office, we will all have lunch."
"Weren't you just going to lunch?"
"I was only going for a swim. It can wait."
They sat in the rather spacious office, eating the sandwiches and donuts Jög kept there. Seeing Hella with her (apparently) eldest brother was odd. As much as she had gotten on with Fen, and as much hatred as there had been with Vali, Sam had not expected to see Hella so babied and fussed over by the supposed sea serpent who, the more Sam looked at him, resembled a double sized Gabriel.
"You finally stopped messing around with Baldr, then, hmm?"
"Oh, shut up, there was nothing going on."
"Not if I'd have anything to say about it." Jög exchanged dark glances with Sam and Dean, and Sam smiled weakly. Hella had a scary powerful family, it seemed. Not that she wasn't powerful herself, he supposed, although they'd yet to see her physically fight anyone.
"You've got Valkyries after you." Jög tutted. "They came here a day or so ago, demanding to know if I'd contacted you."
"Bitches." She scowled. "Did they tell you?"
"About you getting on to some hare-brained scheme to bring Dad back, you mean?" He raised his eyebrows at her, and Hella looked honestly bashful. Jög took a bite from a donut. "You're stirring up trouble, Hella. Maybe… maybe he's supposed to be dead."
"I don't think so." She shook her head. "The Christian faith is…"
"I know. The whole apocalypse-ascendency-whatever the hell. It's no concern of yours."
"But Dad could fix it."
"Or he could make it worse."
"Jör…" She looked at him, turning on an impressive pair of puppy dog eyes. Dean shook his head. She was worse than Sam had been as a kid. Jög seemed to agree, as he sighed loudly and covered his eyes.
"What do you need me to do?"
"We just need some hair, or some sort of D.N.A."
"Well, if that isn't a chance to show what I think of Dad… fine. Scissors?"
She closed her eyes and concentrated for a moment, before pulling a pair of scissors from her pocket. Jög cut off a lock of his hair, and handed it to Hella. He raised an eyebrow at her, cocky grin in place.
"I love you!" She grinned, hugging him. He hugged back, and rolled his eyes.
"You guys ever get sick of her, come tell me; we'll go drinking and share stories."
Sam laughed, and they agreed to meet again soon. They had all started to leave the office, when they heard a few people enter the shop. They pushed out to see the group of three men moving around the shop. Jög was not impressed.
"Sorry." The Boston accent was heavily back in place. "Shop's closed for lunch."
"Oh." One of the men, heavy set and bald, grinned at Sam and Dean. "This won't take a minute." His eyes turned black.