A/N Once the idea of Dean and Sam encountering Slenderman crossed my mind, I couldn't let it go. So this is what came out. I love feedback!
Rated M for rather graphic gore
Disclaimer I don't own Supernatural or any associated characters, events, etc.
But what is this that I can't see
With ice-cold hands taking hold of me?
When God is gone and the Devil takes hold
Who'll have mercy on your soul?
Dean Winchester's feet are on fire. Dashing through blades of dry grass that feel like lightning bolts, tearing forward through the frosted breeze. There's blood between his toes, where the skin of his feet rubs too hard against the rough material of his shoes, which are probably ripping themselves apart at the speed he's going.
He's not breathing anymore. He's movement; just movement. No breath, no body, no thoughts. No pain.
It's in his mind, though, the one thing that he can't shake loose, as though it's clinging to him with the garroting tendrils of pale darkness that protrude so unnaturally from under its silken sheath of a suit, writhing and twisting about its featureless, expressionless face. Sucking everything else away, consuming the colors until all that's left is a blurred landscape of gray.
Sam's still out here, somewhere. He has to be. Unless—but, no, he can't have already killed him.
There's no way.
Dean trips; he's not even sure what on—a stone, a tree root, nothing at all. But then he's on the ground, he can taste the dirt in his mouth and a shout in his throat, he's probably bleeding in a thousand and one places but it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter anymore.
He warned me.
"Sam," he says, or maybe he doesn't say it at all. Maybe the name is in his head, like everything else. Sammy. He needs him. Needs to know whether he's still alive, whether his heart is pounding or lying on the ground next to him, still wetly pulsing with its last efforts to keep him going.
A fuller image swims uninvited into Dean's mind, so vivid that he gasps, choking on the frozen mist in the air. He can see it as though it's right in front of him—Sam's body, the eyes gaping black pits, brimming with blood that trickles like cracks down his snowy cheeks, limbs broken on the ground, hair gore-matted.
No, he doesn't want his brother to die in fear, he's tried so hard to protect him—Dean's thoughts are shards of ice, slicing like blades through his mind, trailing franticness.
He can't think. There's only the fear, everywhere, the fear, tearing him apart, destroying him—"Sam," no, there's nothing anymore, he's going to be here, soon, Him, the Pale One, the Operator, Der Ritter.
Then the noise comes.
Crackling, singeing, ripping apart the nerves in his spine so that he's sobbing into the earth, his chest a gaping void of pure terror, fingers clawed at nothing and spine arched away from the ground.
At the beginning, it had seemed normal.
Like any other job.
"Have you ever heard of the Slenderman?" Sam asked.
Dean wasn't listening much. He directed a slightly sideways look at the rather dry burger in his hands, evaluating whether or not it needed more ketchup. He carefully gave it another nip, then grimaced at the lack of juice, throwing it down in disappointment and lacing his hands behind his head. "Well, we're not coming back here again," he grouched. "Worst-made burger I've had in years…"
"Are you listening to me at all?"
"Nah, not really," he shrugged. "What'd you say? Skinny man?"
"Slenderman. An internet legend, or, well, supposed to be... it's a sort of ghostly thing that hunts down children, takes the form of a faceless man in a suit with a freakishly long and slim figure…"
Dean raised an eyebrow. "And?"
"Here, look at this." He paused, waiting, and when Dean didn't join him by the screen of his laptop, he issued a long-suffering sigh before continuing. "Children disappearing, all around a certain stretch of woods in northern Minnesota. None of them have turned up, but there's one witness—well, if you can call her a witness."
"Her?" Dean clarified, his interest slightly more piqued with the guarantee of an abnormal mystery.
"A six-year-old girl. Her name's not released, but apparently she's in the hospital… with her ribcage torn open." He's speaking through a grimace now, notable disgust etched over his face. "All she says is that it was… him."
The air-conditioned diner suddenly seemed much colder than before. Dean glanced around, making sure that their conversation wasn't attracting any unwanted attention, before continuing. "So… you think it's actually this Slenderman dude? He can't exist, can he? What do you think he is—a Tulpa?"
"I thought of it, actually," Sam admitted, "but it seems like something else. If you look all the way back…" He clicked busily away at his laptop, his frown deepening almost imperceptibly. "There are legends—German, mostly—ancient stuff. And the article draws a few parallels to other cases, only about three or four over the last couple of centuries, but huge deals at the time. If this really is a single creature, then he only feels the need to attack once in a very long while."
"Well, there's nothing better to do, let's give it a shot," Dean complied, scooting back his chair, which screeched loudly as it grates on the linoleum flooring. "Met the Slenderman—now, that'd be quite a story to tell."
"Fine. Let's go back to the hotel, though, I want to print out as much information as I can get on this creep."
Discovery, research, pursuit, triumph. The usual routine.
Just like any other case.
The branches stir over his head, and he feels the previously numb tears now, cold streaks on his heated cheeks. It really is cold, a distant part of his mind reminds him, enough so for his fingertips, limp in the dirt, to be going numb.
Why is he taking his time?
To steep the fear, surely. Let it stay inside of him, spin and knot itself up into a churning mess of agonized desperation.
Sam. Sam doesn't deserve to die.
Didn't deserve to die, because maybe he is already.
He's crying like a two-year-old girl, clawing at nothing in his need to get away, get away from it all. Maybe it'll be better after he's dead. Maybe it'll be quiet. Will he go to Hell, after all this? Does he deserve it? Deserve it for letting his brother die?
Yes… yes, he definitely deserves death at this point. Agony. Eternal agony.
But Sam better not go to Hell.
He forces himself to take a long, shuddering breath. Sam can't go to Hell.
And then, with an energy that he can't possibly contain, he's on his feet again, even as every muscle in his body screams with the effort of running so far, so blindly, because he needs to see, needs to find Sam and make sure he's alright.
He wants to be able to call, but he can't. Shouting will only attract him, him who Dean can already hear approaching, the static buzz of his nearness filling his ears. Any moment, and he'll feel the cold burn of the sharp-tipped fingers piercing through his skin, coiling around his ribs and pulling him back, back so that he becomes the White King's feast of flesh.
"Dude, are you totally sure we're up against the actual Slenderman? I mean, come on, that doesn't seem even a little far-fetched?"
"I don't know, man, it seems like it has some real mythology behind it. Apparently he was first 'sighted' in Schwarzwald—the Black Forest, that means, it's a place in Germany."
"Well, we're sure as hell not going to Germany now." Dean swung his legs onto the bed and settled back fully, folding his hands behind his neck.
"No, of course we're not. It looks like he's come west since then. These disappearances are in Minnesota, like I said…" He closed the computer with a snap. "I guess the only thing we can do now is go ask the little girl what she saw. Find a way to give her a… an interview, I guess."
"Wait just a sec." He squinted over at where Sam gazed at the wall, trying and failing to see through the impenetrable expression cast over his brother's face. "Say we are up against this actual Slenderman dick, then what are we facing? What's he supposed to do, other than kill kids?"
"He stalks his victims." Sam speaks delicately, as though the words are footsteps on a narrow bridge. "Sometimes for hours, sometimes for years. He terrifies them and psychologically tortures them, and then one day… just gone. He might feed on the life energy or something, everything about that is unclear—but it's pretty obvious that he doesn't keep the kids alive. As for what he does do to them, there are all sorts of stories—stuffs their guts into plastic bags, hangs them from dead trees, carves out their eyeballs—"
"Okay, yeah, I get the picture," Dean winced. "Minnesota it is."
Maybe he really will make it.
Maybe, if he runs fast enough, it can't catch him.
But he can still hear it, its ragged whisper like the garbled tune of a macabre carnival. Practically woven into words, but it's nothing resembling English, and maybe it's all just in his head. Maybe the whole damn thing has only ever been in his head.
The girl was pale, skin stretched tight across her face like a skeleton, forearms emaciated and cream-hued where they lay on the snow-shaded sheets.
"I don't know anything else," she breathed, her parched lips dark, almost purple against the rest of her. "But—he's coming. He's going to come back to me." Her eyes peered out from over her gaunt cheeks like sparkling nickels, giving her the look of a particularly eerie porcelain doll. "Once he sees you, he… he never stops. That's what happened to Allie. She saw him a long time ago, and he always came to her at night. But he didn't take her away until now. He took her, and he took George too, and then it's gonna be me."
"What does he look like, June?" Sam asked gently, quickly checking the clipboard at the base of the sterile hospital bed for her name. "Is he just a person?"
"N-no." Impossibly, her skin grew even paler, until it looked like literal wax, poured over the sharp contours of a skull. "He's tall. Really tall. And he wears a suit, like my daddy's, but fancier. He has—t-too many arms, and they're so long, they reached Allie all the way across the street… and he looks at you even though he doesn't have eyes… and his voice is like a telephone, and—and…"
She ceased talking. Just like that, as though her voice suddenly disappeared from her throat. Her body went stiff against the mattress, eyes frozen, so suddenly that for a split second Dean thought her to have experienced some sort of attack, until he focused on the barely visible shift of her chest, gently up and down.
"Let's go," Sam said quietly, and then the two of them were out of the room, thanking the wide-eyed nurse parked in the hallway, and hastening down the stairs. Dean reached up to loosen the tie around his neck, fingers brushing against the perspiration that had risen there.
"Holy shit, dude," he muttered as they reached the lobby. "Talk about freaky. That kid looked like some sort of ragdoll."
"I hope she makes it," was Sam's terse response. "She definitely wasn't doing well."
"Yeah, well, we're gonna make sure of that, right? Find the thing before it gets to any more kids. Somehow I'm getting the vibe that her friend Allie isn't doing so well. Guts all over the forest floor, probably, or rotting at the very least—"
"Stop," Sam implored, glancing over and meeting Dean's eyes for a strong moment. His own stare was surprisingly wide, almost vulnerable-looking. "Just… don't say that, okay? We have to stay hopeful."
He stopped walking, overtaken by incredulity for a moment. "Hopeful? Hope's got nothing to do with it. Chances are that the kid's dead by now, and there's no reason to pretend otherwise, is there? We just have to focus on making sure that the other one stays alive."
"Fine…! Okay? Fine. I get it. Just… yeah. Whatever. Let's go."
When they drive home, Dean pretends not to notice how often Sam glances out the window.
He almost literally stumbles onto the body.
At first, he doesn't realize what it is, but then he sways dangerously close to the ground, and he can see the blood, nearly black in the cloud-darkened moonlight, glistening like tar as it spreads out in a clean pool from the broken shape of his brother.
He barely has time to dodge aside before the vomit is in his mouth, hot and revolting, bitter and sour and liquid. It seems like he retches endlessly into the dry ferns, his stomach contorting and heaving, until there's nothing left but thick saliva, splattering the brush. The image will never leave his mind, whether or not he does make it now, and now he almost wishes he won't—
Sam is unrecognizable, his whitened throat battered with violet bruises and his neck clearly snapped, bent at an angle that's chilling in its unnaturalness. His chest is torn open, as if done so by a feasting lion, ribs bent away as easily as straws, mangled muscle clinging to the bone in slimy red strips. The few organs still inside of him and not scattered about the tiny, bloodstained clearing are torn into bits, churned up into an unrecognizable mass of flesh and gore.
But the worst part is surely his face, because not a bit of it has been marred; it's perfectly intact, eyes glassy, jaw wide to expose the scarlet liquid pooling inside of his mouth.
It's destroyed him.
Dean feels like he might faint, or wishes that he could, but his senses force him into reality, into the tears merging with the sick crusting on his lips, the wild nausea of his stomach and the whispering voice of Slenderman himself seeping ever closer.
He fell asleep that night with the unshakable feel that someone was watching him.
There's nowhere to go. Forwards is Sam, and backwards is him, and he's trapped, he's trapped, he's trapped; he's going to die next to his brother in the middle of this damned forest at the skeletal hands of a creature who's haunted children for centuries.
They never even figured out what it is, really. Will he ever know? Or is he to die in utter ignorance, killed by a specter whose existence is surely impossible, who is elusive and twisted enough to slide under the notice of any sort of hunter for all of its abnormally long life?
Maybe it's some sort of god, his dazedly irrational mind offers him. Maybe it's beyond any human, any monster that he's ever encountered before. Maybe it's materialized myth, the personification of fear.
There's not long left now, he reminds himself as his legs give out, as he sags limply against the tree trunk. Soon enough, it's all going to be over.
The last thing he'll see is him.
"Sammy, what the hell is wrong?"
"I saw him, Dean. I—I saw him. At the window. Just now."
"Don't be an idiot. There's nothing there."
Sam was paralyzed, his chest heaving, eyes stretched wide with the sort of fear that Dean only knew him to experience when confronted with clowns. "No," he half-laughs, hysteric, "he was there, just like the pictures, just like they say… he—he was there… he went to the woods…"
"Then we have to follow him," Dean reasons, matter-of-factly, reaching for his salt-bullet gun and a spare knife. "We might not get another chance like this."
"No—no, we have to go, we have to get out of here, Dean…"
And then he realizes that Sam's crying, that there are faint but definite tear trails inching down his cheeks, to his chin.
"What the hell's gotten into you?" he demands. "We've got this, okay? We've got to kill the thing before it gets any more kids. That's our job."
"To hell with our job, I'm not going in there!"
He wonders if there will be footsteps, or if it'll simply melt into existence before him. Maybe he won't even see it. Maybe there will only be pain, and then nothing.
He closes his eyes and counts his breaths and promises Sam that it won't be much longer.
They stood on the edge of the woods, across the street from the neon-lighted hotel, peering into the murky darkness. Sam was shaking, whispering desperate, inaudible words under his breath, but Dean didn't speak. "We have to go," he reminded him, and Sam nodded, moaning slightly nonetheless as they stepped into the wavering shadows.
It was soundless in the forest; no crickets, no owls, no frogs. Utterly silent save the crunch of their feet on the dead leaves below, and the harsh movement of Sam's lungs.
"He's going to hear us, he's going to come…"
"That's what we want," Dean reminded him, insisted. "Come on, let's go deeper."
The shadows are shifting now, as he sees when he dares to crack his eyes open ever so slightly. Bending in ways that surely don't belong to tree branches, twisting and weaving as the gabbling static presses in on his skull, threatening to crack it.
He's sure he can see it now. That must be it, that creature like a spider with too many legs, walking upright, its limbs whisking over the ground and its featureless face tilting slowly, staring straight into him with its ivory glow.
"Oh, just do it, you son of a bitch," he groans, and there's nothing left, anyways, nothing but vomit and blood and tears and shadows. Nothing left to hold onto; even reality has left him, left him in this nightmare.
"Just fucking do it."
Sam was gone all at once, and Dean didn't notice it until he realized that he was the only one breathing, that the air next to him had lost its warmth. He froze, glancing around frantically. "Sam?" he hissed, barely daring to go above a whisper as sudden fear set in, fear that he'd managed to hold back before. Nothing should be able to sneak up on him like that—on either of them. He raised the flashlight in one hand and the gun in the other, slowly swerving around. Chills were pressing in on his spine, and something was rising inside of him, a primitive sort of terror—like all the resilience he'd built over the years was being stripped away. An effect of the creature. It had to be. He bit down on his lower lip, trying desperately to hold himself together.
His light caught on something, a tree trunk, and he hurried towards it, squinting at the crooked lines etched into its rough bark. Some sort of circular figure, struck through with an X, and words. All capitals.
YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO GET HIM BACK.
Something inside of him collapsed.
He began to run, and he didn't stop.
His feet were on fire.
He coughs, once, slowly, and its head oscillates even farther, to an angle that should rip it apart.
Static rasps from nothingness.
"You killed him," he breathes, "so what are you waiting for, bastard?"
It's not waiting for anything.
It doesn't hesitate.