A/N: Written for spn_summergen on LJ, for Kris Atta. Last story in fandom, methinks.
December 22, 2006
Depoe Bay, Oregon
Brutal wind whipped against his face and tasted of salt and wet from the sea crashing against the shore. Ahead of him, she drifted slowly, her pace steady and deliberately away from him. Her movements were fluid and graceful, like she was part of the sea herself. She left no footprints. He felt like he was in a dream, there but not truly there at all. In the back of his mind, the part that was only partially working, he knew he had to be sleeping. It couldn't be real because she was no longer his, hadn't been for years. The connection remained between them, he felt it every day. That feeling was stronger now than ever. He dreamed of her often, but never quite like this. He began to dream walk faster, his own limbs loose and wobbly in the sand. He felt like a puppet on a string.
As he drew closer to her, he saw her dark dress was loose fitting and flowy, the extra material waved like a flag. Her hair spun and whirled in the wind, black locks shone with a hint of blue. Everything was blue, dim, actually. It was night, he realized and she had always looked so beautiful by the moonlight. She turned slightly, but did not face him fully. He swore he saw the curve of a smile on her lips before she turned again and continued her path away from him. He couldn't help but follow, had never been able to do anything else, and now felt as if she had him on a string. She was his everything. He'd follow her to the end of the earth, beyond if it were possible.
The water lapped at his ankles, numbed his feet quickly. He was so close now. He extended a hand to touch her shoulder. He needed to touch her, his lost love who he missed so. It was all he wanted. He felt detached from it as if he were watching someone else's hand moving slow and uncoordinated. The hand was covered in age spots, wrinkled beyond recognition. That wasn't right. He wasn't an old man, was he? Dreams were like that, he reasoned, but when his fingertips brushed against her it was as real as anything. Her skin was cool and damp, smooth and supple. Still young and beautiful, as she would always remain.
Water now lapped at his thighs. It chilled him to the bone, impeded his already sluggish motion. He only knew he couldn't stop, not with her so close. He loved her too much to let discomfort stop him, but the pleading began in his stomach, bubbled up through him like a live thing and he could not stop it. Desperate to make her stop moving away from him, the words fell from his lips.
"Baby, wait," he said, "please wait for me."
At his words, she turned fully at last and his dream world flipped upside down. The soft, warm love he'd felt, the anticipation of being with her again, vanished and in its place was stark horror.
He'd been so wrong, it wasn't her. It had never been her. It wasn't even a woman. He gasped and recoiled slightly. The hair around the equine features was tangled with sand and seaweed and the teeth were large, sharp and gleaming. He yelled, tried to yank his hand away and couldn't. The thing, not her not her, lunged for him and wrapped its arms around him, squeezed air from his lungs. In that fraction of a second, he realized it was not a dream. Real. He was pulled deeper into the icy water and no matter how he struggled he could not break free. His screams were swallowed by the wind, never made it to the shoreline, somehow so far away. Intense pain bit at his shoulder, his side, muscles and flesh shredded. His blood blackened the frothing water.
The thing submerged and took him with it.
February 20, 2007
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Dean hated Oregon. It came a close second to Florida as far as states he never wanted to visit again, yet there he was miserable, damp and cold. He could lie to himself and say that seasonal affective disorder had set in the second they'd crossed the border from Idaho, but that illusion wouldn't last even in his own secret thoughts. He doubted Sam had forgotten the last time they'd been in this godforsaken state only a couple of months ago; he'd been infected with a nasty demon virus and Dean had made it clear when there was no miracle cure coming that he'd rather go down with Sam than continue on alone. The memory, like so many of theirs, wasn't a good one.
He stared out the diner window into the gloom. It looked like early evening; it was only noon. For a change, he wasn't that hungry. The stop for food felt like habit. It all felt like habit lately, and he was weary to the bone. Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. The thing was, he wasn't sure what the worst of it was. The hunting and never seeming to make progress, the looming problem with Sam's weird … abilities or the weight he still carried about Dad telling him he was probably going to have to kill his own brother were all strong contenders. He didn't need a damned psychology degree to know that. Somewhere deep down, he knew saving people still mattered. Somewhere else deep down, he didn't think there was a point.
"Hey," Sam said, as if he were just joining Dean, not coming from the restroom. He slid into the booth, knees knocked against Dean's.
"Watch it, Sasquatch," Dean said.
"You're still in a bad mood, then." Sam fiddled with the small dessert menu board, flipped a few of the laminated pages. "Must be low blood sugar."
He knew Sam knew his mood had nothing to do with blood sugar. It was written all over his damned face, that half hopeful, half sorry expression Sam whipped out often. That was another thing Dean was tired of. He didn't dignify Sam's remark with a response other than to curl his lip a little and return his attention to the window while they waited for their food.
Dean glanced at Kim the waitress and nodded. Coffee was the only way he was keeping warm. He'd been through nearly every state, but none of them chilled like those in the Pacific Northwest, especially on the coastline. It was a pervasive coolness. Even with moderate winter temperatures, the dampness seeped into a person and wouldn't relent. He wrapped his hands around the cup as soon as she withdrew the pot.
"Thanks," Sam said and slid his cup a fraction of an inch toward the edge of the table with a half-smile.
Kim practically melted into a maternal puddle of goo right there on the floor. Dean got the hot ones, Sam got the ones that wanted to hug and squeeze and protect. Both sometimes ended up getting them free dessert. In Sam's case, that was literal. In Dean's, it was more of a creative interpretation. That he didn't even have interest in either so much anymore was a huge mental red flag. He just didn't know what to do about it. There was no figurative magic button to push to put things back the way they were before, and that was what he truly, deep down, wanted.
"We're going to need something to break soon," Sam said.
Dean blinked for a second, wondered if Sam had somehow developed the ability to read his mind. As if Sam's regular freakiness wasn't unsettling enough. It was only when he looked up and saw his brother was peering at his laptop intently that he realized Sam was just talking shop.
"So basically we've got a day or two to find this thing before someone else disappears," Dean said.
"If we're lucky. There hasn't been a fixed number of days between disappearances, or a definite distance in the migration north, just approximately a month, and approximately sixty miles. We're right on target, but there are lots of little resort towns along the coast."
The deaths and disappearances had started down coast. None of the victims had any obvious similarities. A high school girl in Florence. An eighty-year-old man in Depoe Bay. A middle-aged bank executive at Tillamook. Whatever this thing was, it didn't discriminate in its victims. It took what it could get. To be honest, he wasn't one hundred percent sure there was an it. Sometimes tragic accidents actually were accidents.
"Are we even sure there's something here to hunt?" Dean took a swallow of coffee, flicked his eyes away from Sam to avoid seeing the inevitable hurt look.
"I dunno, Dean. I know it's vague. I just have a feeling."
"A feeling feeling, or a, you know, feeling?" Dean asked the question that had been in the back of his head for days. The taste of it was as sour as the look Sam gave him. "Sorry."
"It's not like before. It's not about …" Sam paused as Kim returned and plonked their plates down in front of them, waited and watched her leave before picking up again. "It's not about the demon that killed Dad, or my whatever. It's just a basic monster. There's something. There's a commonality with these people, I, we, just haven't figured it out yet."
"Yeah." Dean halfway wanted to believe that. He did. "Okay."
Not only was this case in Oregon, if it was anything, it was definitely a water monster of some sort. Water monsters were always messy to deal with, and very rarely easy. The sheer number of possible types made them a challenge, and even after they pinned down their cryptid, fighting something that could disappear into the sea wasn't fun. All three victims had been last seen heading toward the ocean, though Dean didn't know why anyone would do that right now.
The pattern that had brought Sam and him by association to Cannon Beach wasn't an obvious one to the untrained eye, which was why there hadn't been any civilian chatter about it. Marine deaths weren't uncommon on coastlines like this, especially during certain times of the year. The ocean was choppy and harsh in the strong winter winds, could kill easily in a very short period if anyone were to get caught up in it. So far, that was all they had. When they were connected to the ocean rather than a river or lake, as it seemed to be here, it was almost not worth the effort. The pool was too big to go splashing around in.
Of course, Dean couldn't honestly say the thought that this was a waste of time was legitimate or if it was a symptom of him not wanting to be here, doing this, anymore. He felt a little like he was only hunting anymore under duress. Not that Sam was guilting him into anything, it was more an internal panicked feeling that he needed to be near his brother. And if his brother wanted to exorcise his freaky demons and the premonitions that came with them by hunting evil things, then that was what Dean would do too, until. Until what Dad had told him either came true or didn't.
"Dean," Sam said, voice sharp.
Dean straightened and blinked. "What?"
"Are you okay, man? It's not like you to not wolf your food down the second it's in front of you."
He looked at the burger with no appetite, picked up one of the fries and shoved it his mouth with a pointed glare. Sam, in turn, lifted his hands as if fending off an attack and shrugged. Dean saw the dark, haunted concern in his eyes, though. Like everything else in his life, there wasn't much he could do about that, so he simply shoved more fries in his mouth and made as many disgusting sounds as he could while he was at it. The fries were actually pretty good, which surprised him. Food was just food lately. Sam seemed to relax, at any rate. Small victory in a huge war, but Dean would take it.
"I figure we should check out the beach after lunch. Maybe we'll be able to find something concrete to go on," Sam said. "Maybe check out Ecola State Park too. We should be able to scope out a wide area from the bluffs, catch sight of something in the water."
"Mmmph," Dean said.
Maybe this and maybe that was no way to go about a hunt. Sam had a feeling. Well, so did Dean, and surprise, surprise, his and Sam's feelings didn't match up at all. Dean's was one of impending doom, but it hardly seemed worth mentioning. His probably wasn't related to the hunt. He'd had it for months, after all, with no end in sight. No end he could see, only knew was there as sure as he knew he should be dead and his Dad should be alive.
Sam finally took the hint, though, and stopped trying to engage him in conversation. They ate in silence and the ambient diner noise from the handful of other customers and the staff. There was comfort in it, small town diners a close second to the Impala to evoke a feeling of home, and how jacked was that? Dean knew it was, knew that it was all because of how their father had handled things. But he still missed the guy, hated knowing Dad was at least partly to blame for the dysfunction of their lives now.
By the time they were done eating or pretending to eat and Kim had delivered the dessert they hadn't ordered – a piece of strawberry shortcake for each of them – the sun had miraculously come out. More accurately, the cloud cover had thinned just enough so that the gloom was slightly brighter and it no longer looked like it would rain at any moment. It didn't mean Dean had any real desire to take a stroll along a windy, cold beach. They'd get damp, rain or no rain, as the strong wind would kick up ocean spray. He turned up his collar before sliding from the booth, a preemptive attempt to ward off the clammy weather.
"You know, if you want I can do this alone," Sam said quietly as he fished out five bucks for a tip. He plopped the cash on the table and scooped up the laptop, held it out. "You can take the laptop back to the room, see if you can figure out what I can't seem to."
Despite his reluctance to let Sam out of his sight these days, the offer tempted him. It being a resort town during off season, they'd managed to get a room on the beach. In fact, they could see most of the sand and surf from there. He thought about mentioning that to Sam. Both of them could stay inside. He could play with the binoculars while Sam geeked on the computer. Dean did not enjoy sand in his boots. Wet sand was even worse. That was a petty argument, and he knew he was going to have to suck it up and ignore the lure of the room and its baseboard heater. Chances were before this hunt was over, wet sand in his socks and in between his toes was going to be the least of his troubles. Dean shook his head.
"No, it's okay. We should stick together. I don't want to drag your sorry ass off the bottom of the ocean."
Sam smiled, the relief in his eyes as evident as the lingering concern.
Dean remained unconvinced it was worth the effort to comb the beach, until they actually neared it – it was deserted – and heard the shouting. It was a woman's voice and it wasn't the kind of screaming he associated with those he heard from people being chased by physical monsters. There was emotional terror in it, though. He and Sam broke into a run at the same time, honed in on the distressed calls.
Sam reached her first where she ran at the edge of the beach, her hair whipping this way and that. She was young, Sam's age. She wore a uniform under a large knit, ugly sweater, looked like she worked for one of the larger chain resorts lining the whole beach. Her face wore an expression of concern that would ratchet to panic with very little prompting.
"Ma'am," Sam said. "What's wrong? Who's Edgar?"
Please let Edgar be a dog, Dean thought, please let it be a stupid Shih Tzu.
"My son. Eddie. He's out of school today, sick with the flu," she gasped. She clutched a hand at the base of her throat, fingers twisted into the starched collar of her uniform. She straightened suddenly, squaring her shoulders. "I can't afford the time away, not during the off season. I had to bring him with me."
"Lady, we ain't here to judge you," Dean said, and thought of all the places their father hauled them. "How long ago did you notice he was gone?"
"I went in to scrub the bathroom. I told him to stay right there. I couldn't have been in there more than a few minutes. When I came out to the room, he was gone and the patio door was open."
"How long ago?" Sam asked again, voice all soft and caring to counter Dean's gruffness. "And how old's your son?"
"Ten minutes, maybe. He's … he's almost six." Her lip started to tremble, and whatever strength she'd garnered to defend herself against their potential condemnation oozed right out of her.
Jesus, six. She'd been a kid when she had her kid. The detachment Dean had felt with this case before vanished for pure, cold anger. He hoped this was just a case of a boy wandering off, but his gut told him otherwise. His gut said this was the perfect time for a new victim with their water cryptid, and like hell if he was going to let some innocent child die on his watch. He glanced at Sam and his wide eyes, all empathy and concern, and his brother still seemed child-like sometimes despite everything they'd seen and done. He knew he projected half of that.
But no one was dying on Dean's watch. Not today, not any day.
"He couldn't have gone far," Dean murmured to Sam.
"He wouldn't have to." Sam's head swung toward the water, eyes flicking north and south along the shoreline. "It's broad daylight, but there's no one close enough."
There was some fool running along the barren stretch of sand, a good three quarters of a mile away and headed the opposite direction. Dean sighed.
"You go right, I'll go left."
Sam nodded and took off. Dean made to follow suit, but a hand tugging at his elbow stopped him. He turned, half expected the girl to be their monster. Her face, streaked with tears and grotesque in her fear, was wholly human.
"I don't even know you," she said.
"I get it. I'm Dean. Me and my brother – Sam – we just want to help, okay? I swear, we just want to find your boy for you." Dean put out a hand, but didn't touch her. "What's your name?"
"Patrice. Should I … shouldn't I call the police?"
"Let's see if we can track him down first, okay, Patrice? He's probably real close."
She shook her head. "He won't … you're strangers. He knows better than to – "
"Presumably he knew better than to wander out of the hotel room too. Give us fifteen minutes. If we're not back with your boy, call 'em."
"I need to come with you," Patrice said.
No. It was unfortunate enough there was a kid out there tempting fate. He shook his head and shook her hand off his arm.
Any arguments either he or Patrice were going to make halted before they formed, when the faint sound of Sam shouting hit their ears. Patrice gasped. Dean ran. It was instinct as much as it was him recognizing the tone in Sam's voice. The sand made running awkward, more difficult than it had to be, and he couldn't quite determine from where Sam's shout had come. He didn't need to know. His brother staggered toward him, a wet bundle in his arms.
"Eddie," Patrice said as she pushed by Dean.
The wet bundle made a squawking noise and wriggled in Sam's hold, hands reached for his mother. His face was white, except two fever-bright spots high on his cheeks. His mop of hair was plastered against his forehead, partly covered his eyes.
"Mom, it was Annabel," Eddie said, sounding miserable and cold, but alive. "It was her."
"Oh, honey, I told you," Patrice whispered. She scooped Eddie from Sam, hugged him close and wrapped her sweater around him. "She's gone."
"No, she wanted to play with me in the water. She said it'd be fun."
Dean focused on Sam, who was pale and shivering himself. His brother pursed his lips and gave Dean a frown. Normally he could peg Sam's frowns and assign meaning. For some reason, he couldn't tell what Sam was saying with this one.
"Sweetheart, no." Over her wet, shivering child, Patrice said, "Annabel's imaginary. I thought he'd outgrown her. Thank you so much."
"Happy to help. Keep an eye on him, huh?" Sam said with a nod.
"I won't let him out of my sight." Patrice smiled nervously, walked backward a few steps. "I … thank you. I have to get back to work and Mr. Edgar here and I need to have a long talk, but, thank you."
Patrice hustled away, pulling Eddie to her even tighter. She wasn't ungrateful. Dean knew that. It was just … people tended to know, whether they knew they knew or not, when things that happened to them were not quite normal. People trusted Sam and Dean, but were wary at the same time. He watched Patrice and Eddie disappear through an open patio door, watched it slide shut so that all he could see was the reflection of grey sky and beach. He turned to Sam.
"You see it?" he asked.
"No, it … no," Sam said. He didn't sound convincing. "It was already in the water. The kid, too."
Dean would have pushed, but Sam stood there with hunched shoulders and shivering visibly. Instinct, again, had him say nothing more but urge Sam toward their own motel.
"Come on, let's get you warmed up. We can do some more research, and still keep an eye on the beach from the room," Dean said.
Sam cast a long look to the ocean, nodded and followed him.