There was a discordant sort of peace to be found in the waves' violent and repetitive suicide attempts as they dashed against the shore. The waves came rhythmically, a constant ebb and flow, created their own form of music. The caps dissolved into sand, painted the beach and deposited bits of sea grass and driftwood, a masterpiece in the making. It was beautiful here even in the dark of a winter night. He couldn't tear his eyes away, stood at the sliding glass door and watched the water foam blue in the pale moonlight. Sleep would not come to him, so he waited and watched. He didn't mind doing some of the heavy lifting. All things considered, it was only fair. The least he could do was pick up some slack on a hunt.
His mind wandered, as it often did when he was left alone. More often than not, his mind didn't go to happy places. Happy places were few and far between, for him. For both of them, he amended, and glanced at the huddled form beneath a mound of blankets on one of the beds. For them, happiness was a few uninterrupted hours of sleep, and wasn't that one of the most mundane, saddest things ever?
He thought of the boy from earlier that day, the way the little arms and legs flailed at him to let go, as if the boy had wanted to walk straight into the ocean's depths, the fever heat of his forehead, the clammy cold of his hands. After he'd scooped the boy up and brought him out of the water, little Edgar had stretched his arms out over his shoulders and Sam had had to twist and look. He had seen … something. He'd told his brother he hadn't. It had been no more than a flash of white, maybe a hint of smooth skin. He'd blinked, and it was gone from sight but not from his other senses. Not from his head. He couldn't be sure in the end, though, if he'd seen anything at all.
Just at the memory, yearning built up. The feeling he knew, on some level, was not quite right. But then, he was not quite right. He'd understood for a long time that he was not normal, before he was told by others, by people who loved him. He'd known it was true, but he'd hoped. Oh, he'd hoped. Having his freakiness confirmed made it worse, made the looks on his brother's face when he thought they went unnoticed too much, too painful, too real. So those looks, he pretended he never saw them. Sometimes it was easier to pretend there was nothing there.
Behind him, Dean snuffled and shifted on the bed. Sam knew his brother would wake up in an instant at the slightest movement, but the temptation to leave the room was strong. He wanted to be out there, in the open air and moonlight. He wanted to feel the sea spray on his face. Shivering, he crossed his arms and tucked his hands against his body. He scanned the shoreline, knew he was looking for something specific. All of a sudden, he couldn't remember what, but it was important. Standing guard was important. He withdrew a hand from its warm pocket and scrubbed it down his face. He tried to keep his eyes open.
Monster. That was what he was looking for. They were hunting a monster that wasn't him, that wasn't quite the same kind of twisted thing he was. He didn't even know what he was. He thought Dad had known, but hadn't shared. He and Dean, they were going to find out the hard way. Sam blinked. They were not hunting him here, or anyone that might be like him. He had to remember that, always. He didn't know what they were looking for, only that it came from the sea. In his mind's eye, he saw flowing golden hair and a smile just for him. Sam knew in his gut that there would be no monster sighting tonight, but he watched anyway.
From their room, they had a direct line of sight on most of the beach. Dean had reasoned, far too reasonably, that staying inside where it was warm was better than freezing their 'nads off on the off chance their monster lured someone else out in the middle of the night. The likelihood of that was slim – who would go wandering on a beach in a colder climate, in February? Of course, Sam knew the answer to that. Old Walter Collins had left his room in the assisted living facility in Depoe Bay and traipsed away. No one knew where he'd ended up, except Sam knew something in the sea had swallowed him.
Sam also knew who it would try to swallow next. He'd seen her, before, he was certain of it now. He'd felt her presence. He missed her, more than he had in a long time. He knew he would be with her again, soon. He now found himself dwelling on the past, things he could never have, had never even had a real chance at anyway. He saw a bright smile and eyes full of love. Maybe there was a way to get what he always wanted. He kept his attention on the rolling waves, felt lulled by them.
Minutes turned to hours, hours to the whole night. The sun never broke to signify dawn. There were no bursts of pink and orange, simply a gradual dissipation of black to a degree of grey. All there was here were degrees of grey. He pressed his forehead against the sliding glass door, three spots of fog appearing at every exhalation. Two smaller, one larger, together they formed a ghostly mask that stared back at him.
"No sign of Sigmund, huh?" Dean asked.
Sam twisted to look at his brother, who stared at him blearily, already up and dressed and at the maker brewing a pot of crappy motel coffee. He didn't know how that happened. His brain felt foggy. His heart sped up, panic.
"Uh," he said. "No."
"We know it's out there somewhere. You think maybe the aborted kill yesterday was enough to move it up coast?"
No, Sam didn't think that. He also didn't think of Edgar as the aborted kill. He was a hunter now. It was what he did, who he was. But Edgar was a little boy with the flu, a person. Sam chewed his lip for a second, didn't answer Dean's question. There were a few joggers running up the beach now, bundled head to toe in dark clothing. He felt like they couldn't stop surveilling, even though he knew it was pointless. He knew. The knowledge burrowed under his skin and built a nest. It itched, a constant sensation in his brain.
"Watch while I go get cleaned up," Sam said.
"Give me five minutes to snag breakfast and some actual coffee first, not that piss in a pot. I'll get you the junior plate to go."
It wasn't a question. Dean had his jacket on and was out the door as he said the word plate. Sam's stomach felt uneasy, the kind of unsettled that he couldn't tell between hunger and upset. He rubbed it absently, watched a gender-indeterminate person toss a stick and a sweet mottled grey and black mutt tear after it. It reminded him that out there was normal. In here, in his own head, was not. He knew Dean thought he was being gung ho about hunting these days as some sort of homage to Dad, but his intentions weren't so noble. There needed to be balance, and if he couldn't come by it naturally, he'd try to make it. Hunt evil things to keep him from being evil.
Of course, it didn't work that way no matter how much Sam wanted it to.
When he saw Dean approaching with breakfast and his cell phone at his ear, Sam gave up his post. He wanted to make sure the connection between previous victims was more than just in his head. He needed to concentrate on something solid, something he knew was real. He wasn't sure it was important; none of the many water cryptids or spirits seemed to have this particular MO. He knew better than anyone that common knowledge was flawed. Survivors of supernatural experiences often got things confused, possibly a defense mechanism to keep them from going nuts. Even the detailed journals hunters kept had gaps.
The thread, now Sam knew to look for it, was glaring. He hadn't had to look past the obituaries.
"Yeah, okay, hold on," Dean said as he entered. "I'm back now, I'll put you on speaker."
"Good, I didn't want to go through this twice," Bobby's no-nonsense voice broadcast from Dean's phone.
"Yeah, yeah." Dean plopped the food on top of the files Sam had spread open, and set the phone next to it. "We're both here now."
"Well, I've got good news and bad news. Something cropped up that I think is relevant to this hunt of yours." Papers rustled in the background. "I don't suppose you two watched the news last night."
"We were busy."
"Yesterday, the Portland medical examiner's office identified remains that washed ashore after the disappearance in Tillamook. Part of a liver, one lung, some intestines. DNA matched one Ellis Parker, the victim." Bobby let out a long breath. "The other victims' body parts probably didn't make it to shore."
Something clicked in Sam's head. He flipped the laptop open and pulled up their list of suspects and cringed.
"So the good news is the bad news," he said.
"Got it in one," Bobby said. "I cannot stress to you how important it is you be careful, boys."
"One of you want to clue me in here?" Dean asked around a mouthful of something full of strawberries and whipped cream.
"You're dealing with an each uisge."
"This is no joking matter, you idjit. Each uisges are nasty pieces of work. Once one gets its hands on a person, they're stuck like glue. It drags its victims to the depths and tears them apart, but obviously doesn't go for the internal organs so much. Strictly flesh."
Sam slid the laptop for Dean to see for himself. He stood and went to the glass doors, stared at the water again. Deep within, the urge to leave the room was growing. She was out there, waiting. He took a breath instead, turned back to the phone.
"Bobby, is there anything in the lore that makes it select certain people?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Like, how a vengeful spirit sometimes has a type of person they target. I couldn't find anything to suggest it in the lore, but …"
The smell of syrup and sausage nauseated him all of a sudden. He cracked the sliding door open a notch, breathed in the briny air. Sam wanted to walk to the beach. He wasn't sure how long he could resist, and he couldn't not tell Dean and Bobby what he knew.
"But what?" The talk of flesh eating and gore hadn't put a damper on Dean's appetite, but Sam's unfinished thought made him drop his fully loaded fork into the cardboard take-out box. "Sam?"
"Spit it out, kid," Bobby said.
He shut the door, turned to look toward his brother but not at him.
"It's just … okay, so each of the victims had all lost someone they loved to tragedy at some point." Sam stared bleakly at Dean, then, before he flicked his gaze at the ocean for the millionth time, searched for a glimpse of blonde hair. "Even the little boy yesterday with his imaginary friend, for all we know. The girl in Florence – her boyfriend was killed in a car accident this past summer. The old man lost his wife to ovarian cancer thirty years ago. The banker lost his boyfriend to a hate crime and only moved out here to get away from the memory."
"Lots of people lose people they love," Dean said, in denial mode already. "What's it got to do with anything?"
"Look, each uisge means water horse. It used to take the shape of a horse, and hundreds of years ago that would have been a much more effective method of capturing its prey. Before cars and planes and you know. It wouldn't have been uncommon to come across a horse on a road."
"I see where you're going with this," Bobby cut in, sounding all kinds of unhappy. "It's had to adapt to survive. Makes some sorta sense, I guess. That's evolution in action for you; even monsters can't fight it."
"Wait a minute."
Dean stood and stalked over to Sam, grabbed his arm and spun him so they were face to face. He looked pissed and sad and worried all at the same time, a look so unique to him it almost broke Sam's heart sometimes that he was the one to put it there.
"You think you can get the thing to go for you next," Dean said. "That's what this is about. You want to be bait, is that it?"
"No, Dean, I … it's not that I want to. It makes sense, though."
"It makes as much sense for me to be bait. You don't corner the market on losing people, Sam." Dean's eyes widened and he clamped his mouth shut, had obviously said more than he intended. He rubbed a hand down his face, across his mouth and exhaled loudly. "No. Forget it. You're not doing it."
The problem, Sam thought, was twofold. First, he didn't respond well to absolutes like that and Dean knew it. Second, he more than thought he already was the bait. He struggled to find a way to mention that, saved by Bobby clearing his throat.
"It don't matter which of you it is. If you can't think of another way to lure this thing out, then you gotta do what you gotta do. Better you than a civilian, right? Whatever you come up with, just do it careful," Bobby said. "It ain't gonna be easy. If the thing touches you, either of you, you're as good as glued to it. If it touches you both, you're both screwed six ways to Sunday."
"You're so uplifting, Bobby," Dean grumbled. He glared at Sam. "This isn't over, Sam."
"Dean – "
"Boys. Focus now, bicker later."
"I don't suppose you have any helpful hints on killing this ech-ooshkya thing."
"I'm not your fairy godmother, boy. I've never hunted one of these bastards." Bobby huffed, and the sound of pages turning came over the phone. "Looks like most of the lore suggests you can stab it to death. Pretty standard. It's a physical being, you can kill it."
"Oh, we'll kill it."
"First successful kill was supposed to be hooks a blacksmith forged and heated red-hot. Not sayin' you have to do that, but I do think you're going to have one shot at this, so make it count. I'd recommend using iron, just to be on the safe side. Call me to let me know you haven't gotten yourselves killed."
With that, Bobby hung up. In a way, Sam was relieved. He knew Bobby cared, in his gruff, understated way. It also meant he only had to confess to Dean, which would be … not easier. Definitely not that, given the glower on Dean's face at the moment. Sam looked at the water, wished he could smell Jessica's neck, her hair. If he tried hard enough, he thought maybe he could. He reached for the handle, kept it there but didn't pull the door open.
"You're not doing this, Sam. I don't even know why you're thinking it. You're not going to walk out there like a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter."
Sam didn't completely know why he was thinking it either, but there he was, longing for a touch he knew was impossible but also knew was completely possible. It didn't make sense. It was becoming more difficult to know which was truth, even standing there next to the only actual true thing he'd ever known in his life. He needed Dean to stay true.
"Dean," Sam said, "I think I already am."
"I wasn't sure, before." Sam had to force himself to go deeper into the room. He went to the table, flipped open the box meant for him and wrinkled his nose. There was no faking appetite. "Yesterday, I mean. In the water. I think it, when I pulled Eddie from the water … I think it's already me."
"Wait, wait, wait," Dean said. "Hold up. What are you talking about?"
"Dean, I keep having these urges to go out there. To the beach. All night, I had to force myself to stay inside. I want to leave right now."
"So now you're saying you think it's got mind control too? Fantastic. This is great. No, really, I'm glad you finally decided to tell me this thing whammied you yesterday, even though you know for damn sure you should have mentioned it then."
"I didn't know, Dean," Sam said softly. "At least, I wasn't sure. But I keep thinking about her. Ever since I saw her yesterday…"
"Who? Saw who?"
To that, Dean didn't have a thing to say. He simply clenched his jaw so tightly he might have cracked a few teeth and looked angrier than ever.
"I didn't ask for this, you know," Sam said after a beat. His voice was distant, not quite right, and he knew it. "Not any of it."
Dean's head snapped his direction at that, and Sam could see in his eyes that he knew what Sam was actually saying. His whole life, he'd felt like he'd had a target on his back, felt out of step with Dad and Dean. Now he knew why. Now he knew why it sometimes felt like the monsters they hunted honed in on him, even though he was sure that his father and brother had seen just as much of that as he ever had. Now he knew how wrong he was on the inside, so it made total sense the each usige would find his pain and exploit it.
"I know that, Sam. Don't you think I do?" Dean let out a bitter laugh. "Our lives, man. They're so fucked, and near as I can figure none of it's our fault."
Dean moved back to his strawberry filled whatevers, pushed them around the box with his plastic fork for a moment before he threw it down.
"Okay. Forget all that. Can you describe what it feels like when the urges hit you to, you know, toss yourself into the ocean? Maybe we can interrupt them somehow."
"I dunno, Dean. It's like I'm in there, but I'm not driving. I know exactly why I shouldn't follow them." Sam stood and walked to the door, stared out. His face looked wrong. He ran his fingers through his hair. "At some point, I don't think I'm going to have any control over it. I'll go. I know I will, it's just a matter of time."
"That's why I'm here," Dean said. "I'll chain you to the damned pipes if it'll keep you from wandering away."
"Dean, it doesn't…" Sam drifted off and looked at his brother sadly. "I'm going to take a shower."
"Great. While you do that, I'll see if I can come up with a way to gank this thing without putting you in mortal danger."
"Go, Sam." Dean waved his hand. "And you're eating some damned breakfast after that."
Sam nodded in acquiescence, though the food wasn't happening. He felt chilled and weary, and at the very least a shower would help with one of those things. He hoped it would ground him a bit as well. He stared at the grey skies through the glass doors, heard the splashing waves and needed to drown it all out. He spun and made his way quickly to the bathroom, locked the door and started the shower. When steam began billowing out of it, fogging the mirror, he stripped off his clothes and stepped under the hot stream.
He knew it was a mistake the second his muscles, including his brain, started to relax. It was the strangest thing, being able to feel his thoughts fogging over just like the mirror. He wanted to reach his virtual hand up and swipe away a spot of clarity, but he couldn't. Sam remembered sharing showers with Jess. He closed his eyes and heard her. Felt her. She was close. He wanted to see her again. Had to.
"Jess," he whispered.
The cool air made gooseflesh break out and the damp sand beneath his feet startled him. Dully, Sam looked down. He was naked, outside, and that was wrong but she was there. He saw her, at the water's edge. She waited for him, a hand outstretched. They were meant to be together forever, nothing could prevent it. Not angels or demons or death, and that, no, no, but yes. He needed to go be with her.
"Sam," someone said, from far, far away.
He turned, on instinct, only to be met with a face that was not Jessica's and a fist that sent him to oblivion.
Dean wouldn't have thought it possible, but he hated Oregon more today than he had yesterday. That pit in his gut, the one Dad had put there the second he'd dumped an unreasonable, inexplicable burden on him, had faded a little after he'd broken down and told Sam the news. Being told that chances were he'd have to commit fratricide were good wasn't the kind of thing that would disappear on its own, after all. Now, though, it was back, bigger and colder than ever. His job of keeping Sam safe was difficult enough without his brother going off on a suicide run.
To say Dean was freaked was an understatement. From his spot by the glass doors, he stared at Sam for a second. His brother had been out for hours, most of the day, and far longer than Dean's fist to his jaw should have caused. He was grateful for it, though. Unconsciousness seemed to prevent whatever the hell it was that had gotten Sam outside from happening. As far as he was concerned, Sam could stay asleep all night. Somehow, he doubted he'd be so lucky. He scanned the beach in the ever-darkening daylight for signs of their monster and saw nothing. He wondered what, if anything, Sam had seen this morning.
Truthfully, he hadn't quite understood what Sam meant by the each uisge's influence even as his brother had tried to explain it. Seeing it firsthand brought Dean up to speed in a heartbeat and, well, scared the everloving shit out of him. His heart pounded a little faster just remembering it, and he regretted thinking Sam was perfectly safe in the shower and going to the car for weapons.
At the root of it was Sam, under some other influence. It was terrifying. To see Sam so outside of his own control, soaking wet and naked as the day he was born with eyes only for the water, had brought Dean back around to what Dad had told him. It all came back to that goddamned thing and with all of this unplanned time alone, it ran through his head a million times. Don't worry, Dean, Dad had said, as if that were even remotely possible given the circumstances. He supposed it was meant to be a declaration of faith in Dean's ability to save Sam. It was faith he didn't deserve.
The pressure felt physical, pushed at his shoulders and his heart and he was so tired. It felt like this hunt was a dry run, even if it wasn't an exact match. Save Sam, or watch him die. The only difference was that Dean wouldn't be the one to have to pull the trigger here; he'd kill Sam by failing to protect him only. Like there was an only about it. Dean scowled and ran a hand through his hair. If he lost Sam, he'd be alone with the guilt of Dad's sacrifice and Sam's loss and just the thought of it was too much for him to take at the moment. He wasn't ready to face the idea of life without his brother, without anything at all. He felt like their lives were on timers, and Dad had been the one to start it counting down. So, yeah, scared and tired and fucking angry seemed about right.
Sam moved on the bed, his feet and hands shifted under the sheet as if looking for purchase. One moment he had his eyes closed, the next he appeared wide awake. The sheet fell away when he sat bolt upright, one leg over the edge of the bed and a foot on the floor.
"Whoa," Dean said, across the room in two long steps. "Sam, hey."
For one horrible moment, the blankness on Sam's face was exactly as it had been hours ago. He didn't look at Dean, he looked past him to the beach, though there was no recognition in his eyes even for that. As frustrating as Sam was at times, Dean didn't actually enjoy concussing the guy to keep him from doing something worse to himself. He'd do it, though, he'd punch Sam's lights out again and he'd keep on doing it until he stabbed the each uisge to death with every sharp implement he could get his hands on. He had his hand balled in a fist, but then Sam gave a full-body shiver and looked left, right and front.
"What?" Sam asked. "Whu…?"
"You with me?" Dean leaned closer, put a hand on Sam's shoulder. "Hey, stay with me here."
"Dean?" Sam blinked a few times, intelligence coming slowly into his eyes. "My head hurts and it's cold."
"Yeah, you might have had a little run in with my fist earlier," Dean said, with a laugh he couldn't quite make sound like a laugh at all. When Sam looked at him with wide eyes, he lifted the hand from his brother's shoulder and held it palm out. "You were in la-la land. Had to do it. As for being cold, maybe it'd help if you put that thing away."
"Put wha …?" Sam glanced down then, turned bright red and grabbed a pillow to shove over his lap. "Jeez."
Dean took no pleasure in bringing Sam up to speed as he dressed, limbs sluggish and shaky at the same time. For a good few minutes, Sam stared down at his bare feet as he absorbed the story, as if he couldn't quite grasp what he must have looked like all space cadet. Truth be told, Sam continued to look all space cadet, a fact that worried at Dean's gut. What also worried him was that he hadn't been able to find one damned alternative to Sam playing bait that didn't involve literally chaining him up to keep him safe. He'd been half kidding about that before, but now. Now he had chains at the ready and told Sam exactly that.
"Dean, no," Sam said. He fiddled with the sock in his hands for a second, before bringing his right foot across his left knee and pulling it on. "It … no."
"We keep you from going to it. It comes to us, and it's an easier kill to control. So why the hell not, Sam, huh?"
Sam again looked beyond him at the water, as if even now he were being beckoned to it. He probably was. He definitely was. Being face to face with it, Dean now knew what it looked like, and it wasn't good. That yearning for happiness was an illusion, like it always was. He had to make Sam see it.
"Because hasn't been a valid reason since you were five," Dean said, unwilling to let this go. He couldn't. Sam couldn't have any idea how much Dean just could not relent.
"Dean, listen to me while I can still … "
Sam's eyes went unfocused, almost crossed, for a moment and he tilted his head, like he was already hearing something only meant for him. If it had been strong in the morning, it would only get worse at night. Two out of three disappearances had happened at night, that was one thing Dean had been able to learn while Sam was out. He watched his brother carefully as he shook himself out of the trance before Dean had to do it for him. He cleared his throat and looked dazed, stupidly young.
"If I don't do this, it won't come to me. It'll go after the boy again. I know that in my gut. He's just a kid. We cannot let a child be put in danger when there's another option."
Dean knew Sam was right. He'd spent nearly every second of the day watching out for the each uisge himself. He'd also spent all day watching for anyone like little Edgar wandering off in the same kind of stupor Sam had been in. And that Sam was still in the grips of that stupor meant everyone else should be safe. His conscience could barely take all the crap it had to deal with on a regular day, and Sam was right.
"Dean," Sam said and then sighed. "I think eventually you're just going to have to let me go."
Dean had a horrible feeling Sam wasn't talking about the here and now anymore and this was not the time for it.
"Shit," was the only acknowledgement Dean was interested in giving that.
The plan seemed obvious after that, and inevitable. Dean hated it. It sucked. He hadn't been able to offer anything else, and so he sat three hours later, alone and waiting.
He stabbed one of the cast iron pokers into the flames he was stoking in the motel's beachside fire pit, something the night auditor had made a point of mentioning usually only got used during high tourist season, and waited. It wasn't ideal being out in the open like this, but building an unregulated fire on the beach would only call even more attention and he sure as hell didn't want to risk the weapons not working if unheated. So sit and wait were the only things to do, until it was time.
Dean eyeballed the distance between himself and the route Sam was most likely to take, clocked it in his head. The timing would have to be pretty much perfect. He could not let the thing get close enough to Sam to touch him and he also could not count on Sam to help prevent that. He shivered. It wasn't entirely due to cold, but he hunkered down and leaned into the fire. He itched with the need for this to be over. He had no idea how long he'd been out here already, how much longer he might have to sit before anything happened. His chest felt tight, uncomfortable as the day's worries dogpiled on him.
He saw the each uisge before he saw Sam. It came from the water slowly, didn't venture deep on to the beach. The mental control must have made the hunt so much easier. He hoped that meant it would be easier to kill as well. Dean straightened, hands reached blindly for both of the fire pokers they'd stolen from the large fireplace in the lobby of a more upscale hotel down the beach. His proximity to the fire hampered his vision a little, too bright against the dark backdrop, but from a distance the creature didn't look like much. For one thing, it looked absolutely nothing like Jessica Moore. It didn't look even a little human and for a brief flash Dean wondered if it would be able to whammy him before he could get to it and make him see Dad or Mom, or if that undocumented trait had to be focused on the victim to work.
That was something he should have considered before the fucking zero hour, but it was too late. He wasn't going to get compromised because it simply wasn't an option. Dean pulled his weapons out of the fire, saw out of the corner of his eye that they glowed orange and hot. They'd cut through the monster like it was butter, and that part of him that used to thrill at the hunt rekindled. The temptation to rush ahead was strong, but he had to wait until Sam was far enough out to prevent drawing attention to them. Sam hadn't made an appearance yet. Dean hesitated, gloved hands clenching around the hot iron pokers.
"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to extin … "
Bill the night auditor's voice pulled Dean's attention, and a beat after that the horrified look on the guy's face was the first in a series of events that would only lead to clusterfuck in a hurry. Dean focused on Bill, lost sight of the each uisge as he tried to look harmless. Judging from the way Bill pretty much pissed himself, it didn't work.
"W-what the hell? What are you doing with those?"
The fiery glow was rapidly bleeding out of the iron, but Dean knew they'd retain the heat for several minutes.
"Go back inside, Bill. I'm just going to brand some driftwood, okay? It's … art. Part of the process," Dean said. Off to the side, he thought he saw a Sam-sized shadow. "You know us artists."
Bill took a stumbling step. Dean didn't wait around to see what Bill would or wouldn't do. He didn't want witnesses for what was going to seem very much like murder, but it was that or let Sam … shit, where was his brother? Dean sought the place the each uisge had emerged and it wasn't there. For a fraction of a second, panic stabbed through him as if he'd tripped onto the weapons he held. In the dim moonlight, he couldn't see well, but the beach was empty except for two shapes a good quarter of a mile up toward a large haystack rock a couple hundred feet offshore. He bit back Sam's name, already on his lips, and ran.
The sand made it impossible to move as fast as he needed to go. His movements felt hindered, wrong, as the wind cut through him and the sting of salty air made his eyes and lungs burn. The closer he got, the more those things threatened to keep him from saving Sam and he knew it was mostly adrenaline and panic. He saw Sam's lips moving, saying a name Dean didn't have to hear, and a hand was outstretched. The monster crept backward into the surf inch by inch, and rage took over for the panic. Sam was not dying on his watch. Not tonight, not ever. He was fifteen steps away when Sam gave a sudden lurch and his hand caught the monster, stuck there.
"No, Sam," Dean shouted at the top of his lungs and pushed himself to move faster. "Sammy."
Sam didn't respond, but the each uisge reacted to Dean's yell. Unfortunately, that reaction was to pull Sam with frightening speed into the water. They were waist deep before Dean got there, pokers up and ready, but he didn't have a clear line. Sam and the monster were too tangled and it was too dark and the split second of hesitation cost Dean. Sam screamed, as large, horsey teeth clamped into the bared skin at the base of his neck and shoulder. In one heartbeat, Dean saw Sam look straight at him, completely himself.
Completely ready to fight. Despite being glued to the thing, gnawed on, Sam bucked hard enough to shake it away. It only gave Dean half a second, tops, but he went for it. Both pokers, still warm but not hot, sliced into the beast.
Black blood spurted out of it and the each uisge howled its pain and anger. It thrashed, did not let go of Sam as it went under.
Dean followed, no hesitation that time. The saltwater stung his eyes, and it was dark as pitch. Though he was right on top of them, he couldn't see what was Sam and what was the monster until a warm hand latched onto him. Dean acted on instinct. He dropped the poker in his left hand, grabbed Sam and pulled with all his might while he jammed his right hand forward. He hit flesh, yanked back and thrust it in again and again, but then Sam's hand weakly flapped against him and his priorities righted. Sam. Save Sam. Get Sam out of the damned water.
He didn't know if it was because the thing was dead, but Sam came free easily. They were only shoulder deep in the water, and Dean struggled to get his feet under him. He finally did, and it was then he noticed how limp Sam was. It spurred him, or must have, because the next thing he knew, he and Sam were sprawled wet and shivering on the sand. Dean choked and spluttered, shook Sam's shoulder harshly and was rewarded with the most beautiful hacking cough he'd ever heard in this life.
"What was that?"
Bill stood above him, face ghostly white and eyes huge beneath his glasses. Dean shook his head.
"You don't want to know, man," he said.
"Okay, sure." Bill chewed his lip for a second, if anything growing paler. "It's why so many people have gone missing this winter, isn't it?"
"You're pretty smart there, Billy. Yeah, people should be safe now." Dean squinted at the wound on Sam's neck. "Help me get him back to our room?"
He and unexpected ally Bill half carried Sam to their room and dumped him unceremoniously on the bed. Bill scurried away without waiting for any explanation. Dean was grateful for that, and he was grateful the guy hadn't called the cops. Yet. Sometime between stripping himself and then Sam out of most of their clothes and tending to the ugly bite on Sam's neck – dodged a fucking bullet with that, it didn't hit any major blood lines – and tucking Sam under blankets, Bill brought them microwave bowls of ramen. It was the thought that counted. Sometimes people ran from things they didn't understand. Sometimes they made awkward gestures with bad soup.
Exhausted, Dean aimed for his own bed only when he was absolutely sure Sam was okay and not going anywhere (for now). His head had barely hit the pillow when the bundle of blankets that was his brother moved.
"She seemed so real," Sam said. His voice was small and weak, but it was real. He was all Sam, heartbroken all over again. "I miss her."
"I know you do, but it wasn't her."
"Deep down, I know that. But it still hurts like she just died yesterday." Sam shifted, hissed in discomfort. "And t-thanks for not letting me go down tonight."
Dean bit his lip, stared at the ceiling. Thanks weren't what he wanted or needed.
"If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times," Dean said after a moment. "As long as I'm around, nothing bad is going to happen to you."
Dean wished he could believe that himself. As he drifted to sleep his last conscious thought was the hope for no dreams in which he put a bullet in his own brother.