RATING: pg 13
GENRE: Angst, H/C
SETTING: Sometime between S2 and S3
A/N: An old SPN Summergen fic. For the prompt: Dean and Sam get into a fight. Sam doesn't realize how strong/big he's become and ends up hurting Dean.
SUMMARY: At the tail end of a hunt, the boys find a small oasis from their troubles. But it's just a place, and there are troubles you can't escape. They'll find you, sure as the tide rolls in.
The tide is going out. Dean watches it pull at the dark sand between his toes, each wave taking less and less with it. It's left behind a chunk of blackened driftwood which he holds in his right hand and rubs with his thumb like some kind of primitive rosary. The air smells of cold salt water and balsam and smothered campfire and for a moment Dean can imagine himself living out the rest of his days here. Alone. Subsisting on fish and fiddleheads and birch-bark tea like a crazy old hermit. Never speaking to another human being again.
On the last day, he would sit here in the pine-needled sand, just like this, and stare out to the edge of the ocean, waiting to be taken. He'd have a beard and a walking stick carved using the pocket knife Dad gave him for his tenth birthday. A few yards behind him, his lean-to would be set ablaze, as a smoke signal to the underworld, telling them, ”I’m ready, you bastards. Come and get me."
But this isn't his last day, and he isn't alone. Out of the corner of his eye he can see his brother walking down the beach towards him, his red sweatshirt bright like the sun against the overcast morning. Dean tosses the driftwood back into the water, squints to catch the small splash.
"Aren't your feet cold?" Sam asks, standing next to him now, looking out at the water as if he wants to see what Dean sees.
"It's a nice distraction from the pounding headache," Dean tells him.
It's a lie. He feels the sharp invasion of numbness in his toes and the incessant throbbing of his brain with equal intensity. But he'll be leaving soon. And it's a long way to the next ocean. He wants to feel it one last time.
Sam looks down at him and winces a little. Says, "Did I say I'm sorry?"
"Not in the past ten minutes."
"I really screwed this whole thing up for you, didn't I?"
"You didn't mean it."
"I know. I just wish..."
"Don't, Sam. It's not gonna be perfect. It's just life. The universe doesn't give a shit if it's my last year of it."
"Well it should," Sam says, lowering himself to the ground. He sits next to Dean, examining rocks while Dean's feet dry and a sandpiper hops along the water's edge, plucking bugs from the depths of the earth.
They're finishing up a hunt in Brunswick, a pair of Wendigos picking off folks straight out of their backyards. Cocky suckers, holed up in the basement of an old sanatorium outside of town. Dean's pretty sure they must have been a couple of patients that refused to leave after they found their cure in Soylent Green instead of the evergreens. When he tells Sam this, Sam smirks, but doesn't argue.
The smell of the Wendigos smoldering on the basement floor is strangely organic, like piles of burning leave in the fall. Sam busts open a couple of little windows to let the smoke out, and Dean nudges the bones of a human victim out of the way of the flames with the butt of his shotgun. There are more where that came from; the bastards have been at it for a while.
The two survivors they’ve freed from the moldy sailing rope in the basement’s dark hallways are waiting for them outside on the sanatorium’s crumbling front steps when they’re finished: a young teenage boy in plaid pajamas and a tough old lady named Eloise who insists on shaking Sam and Dean's hands before they disappear. The brothers apologize for having to leave them there to wait for the paramedics alone, but old Eloise rubs her hand up and down the boy’s back and insists they’ll be fine. Dean’s got no choice but to believe them. The giant bear story isn't going to fly this time, and they need to be gone before the cops show up asking questions about kidnappers and alibis and why they look an awful lot like the guys on that FBI wanted poster hanging in their office over the water cooler.
And so they run. The sanatorium is on a huge property right on the coast, surrounded by dense spruce forests. They carve their way through it, planning to loop back to the tucked-away clearing where they left the Impala and wait for all the cops and paramedics to leave.
Maybe they get disoriented for a minute. Maybe it's the adrenaline. Or maybe it's not really accidental. But they end up on the wrong side of the forest, where the trees break off suddenly in favor of low brush and wild blueberries, where the sky is half the world and the ocean gleams bright blue under a perfect summer day.
Dean isn't sure it's real. Can't make sense of the geography, like it might be physically impossible for something so beautiful to have been so close this whole time without their knowledge of it.
Sam pats him on the back. "Looks like a decent place to wait," he says, and leaps off the low, grassy dune onto the more even sand below. He starts wandering towards the waves.
Dean feels beads of sweat trickle down his back. Feels the sun pulling the freckles out of hibernation on his nose. Sam looks back at him to see if he's going to follow. Dean laughs. He lets the weapons bag fall to the ground and starts unbuttoning his shirt.
"How's the water?" he hollers.
Sam swishes his hand through a wave as it laps up around his boots. "Perfect."
The lure is strong, and Dean stumbles down towards the ocean, shedding clothing piece by piece, hopping along as he unlaces his boots and tugs off his sweaty tube socks. Once he's down to just his boxers, he sprints down the uneven beach past his slightly bemused brother, and sloshes through the water until it's knee-deep, and dives.
There's an initial shock that's to be expected; a tightness and tingling of the skin. A skipped heartbeat. The low roar, like a tractor engine. But it's colder than he's ready for, and he thinks he hears himself yell underwater, feels the air bubbles float past his cheeks, and when he resurfaces he can hear Sam laughing on the shore.
"Son of a bitch!" he blurts out, wiping salt-water from his eyes and finding his footing on the rocks and pebbles.
"How is it?" Sam asks, nice and dry and warm.
"Friggin' perfect," Dean grunts. But he rubs his goose-bumped arms and lets out a vivid, creaky exhale like the kind that come with back-stretches after extra-long car rides, and feels his muscles loosening and his lungs expanding and maybe it isn't so bad after all. Maybe it feels pretty good.
"What did you expect, man? It's Maine, not the gulf of Mexico."
Sam is smiling a huge smile, watching Dean as he brushes his wet hair off his forehead and contemplates ways of drenching his brother before he can even see what's coming.
He wades his way back to the beach, acts casual about it.
"It's not too bad, actually," he says, glancing further down the coastline, where forested inlets and peninsulas jut in and out and a couple of yellow kayaks are just visible, the size of horseflies.
"Yeah? I guess I might..." Sam starts, but doesn't get a chance to finish, because it's then that Dean pounces, trips him as the tide is slipping under his boots again, making it that much harder for Sam to maintain his footing.
Sam doesn't fight back as hard as he could, and Dean suspects it's out of pity, but it doesn't bother him enough to stop. He needs this. And maybe Sam knows he needs it, but it doesn't matter. They're here. Now. And Dean's not about to fuck with a chance (maybe his last) to horse around with his little brother in the Atlantic ocean on a perfect summer day because of pride.
Sam hoots and hollers and calls him names as Dean tightens the head-lock he's got him in and pulls him further out to sea. Dean laughs and Sam spits water up into his face.
"Quit squirming you little bitch!"
"Lemme go, jerk-wad!"
Sam's wet through-and-through, his clothes clinging to his skin in uncomfortable-looking wrinkles, so Dean finally lets go, leaping backwards like he's just lit a stick of dynamite. Sam splashes him in the face as soon as he's free, but Dean's expecting it and his eyes are already closed.
When the second, bigger splash doesn't come, Dean opens his eyes, one at a time, to see what Sam's up to.
"Shit," Sam says. He's staring up the beach about 200 yards, where a white van has just appeared. It's one of those old Volkswagen Westfalia campers, a later model from maybe the late 70's or early 80's; a little less Brady Bunch without the big round headlights.
"Relax. It's probably just some pot-head teenagers or somethin'," Dean says.
They stand there, waist deep in the ocean, waiting for something to emerge like Dreyfuss in Close Encounters. If there's any kind of hassle, they can come up with some kind of bullshit story about hiking and losing the trail, but then they'll probably have to leave because Dean's pretty damn sure this is private property, even if no one seems to give a shit about it anymore‚ and Dean doesn't want to leave. He wants to swim in the fucking ocean with his fucking brother and have a really nice fucking day. He wants it so bad he can taste it, briny and cool on his tongue.
The door clacks open and a slim guy hops out. He's about their age, with a beard and dirty cutoff jean shorts that look a size or two too big. A girl pops out the other side, dragging some kind of blanket with her. Her strawberry blonde hair shimmers in the sun. She looks out at the water and spots them. Says something to the guy she's with and points.
Dean looks at Sam, shrugs, and waves at them.
They wave back.
"Alright then," Sam says, and lets himself fall backwards into the water. Dean practices his breaststroke and leaps over waves while Sam heads back to shore to shed a few layers and chat up their beach mates.
"They're cool," Sam says when he gets back. Which is code for: there's no way in hell they're about to chat with any kind of local authority. Dean nods, watches as Sam swims out a ways, and follows him soon after. It stays relatively shallow for quite a while, and as far out as they've gone, Dean's still able to touch the bottom with his big toe without putting his head under.
Sam throws a long slimy wad of seaweed at his head and Dean dives under to grab Sam's boxers. Soon, they're wresting again, dunking each other's heads under and stuffing seaweed down each other's waistbands. But Sam is still taking it easy on him, and Dean can tell. He wants the challenge, though. Wants to know how strong Sam really is. Wants to know Sam's strong enough.
"Don't hold back, Sam. Come on!" he yells. "Show me what you've got, damn it!" And he thinks back to the fist time he wrestled with his father and thought he might be strong enough, skilled enough, to take him down. How terrified he was to actually do it. Dad had yelled at him not to hold back, too.
"You asked for it, man!" Sam says, throwing himself over Dean's shoulders from behind like a gymnast on the vault. Dean's face smacks the surface of the water and the impact sends bitter salt water up his nose. He feels it burn his throat, feels his head rushing towards the ocean's bed, feels Sam's huge hands pushing down on his shoulders, his knees pressing into his back. There's a sharp burst of pain behind his ear and then he feels sick and dizzy and can't tell where the surface is anymore. He opens his eyes, and the water burns them, so he squeezes them closed again and everything feels black and further and further away, and he can't hold on to anything. It's all slipping away. It's all slipping away so goddamn quickly.
There's an eruption from inside him; air and water burning a path through his lungs and esophagus. His body is pressed against hot sand and debris, bared to the sun like a pagan sacrifice.
"Breathe," Sam says. "Breathe." And he holds Dean on his side and tugs at his wet hair as Dean coughs and digs his fingers into the mud that's formed from the water he's let go of.
It's cooler and darker when he wakes again. Smells like mildew, herbal tea, and incense. His head is aching and his throat feels like it did back in eighth grade when he had strep throat. But he's on soft things; old sheets and flannel sleeping bags. The ceiling is low, and there's some kind of skylight above him, where the golden glow of dusk sneaks through in long triangles that hold dust motes and tiny grains of sand.
The room barely fits the bed he's lying on and when he tilts his head back and spies the small square window with the chrome handle below it, he realizes he's not in a room, but rather, in a van. When he closes his eyes and listens he can hear waves crashing softly on the shore, the crackle of a fire, and Sam's voice, along with those of a man and woman he doesn't know, speaking softly, peaceably.
He recalls telling his brother to stop holding back, recalls the sick, disorienting darkness of the water. It's hard to imagine himself drowning. Just like that. But then he considers his headache, pounding wildly like Bonham's drum solo in Moby Dick, and he traces his fingertips carefully along his skull and finds a nasty bump behind his right ear. It tingles painfully when he scratches at the bits of dried blood, so he leaves it be and lets out a sigh, somewhat relieved to realize he didn't randomly forget how to hold his breath.
He pushes himself upright slowly, allowing himself time to breathe through the waves of dizziness that come with the change in elevation. The bed is low and close to the door; Dean holds the unzipped sleeping bag around himself like a wizard's cape, and finds his way out with little effort.
Sam is sitting by the small fire pit next to the van people. He has the nipple of a beer bottle in his mouth and when he sees Dean, he cuts his drag on it short and coughs.
"Hey. You're up," he says, planting his beer in the sand as he rises from the long log the three of them have been using as furniture.
Dean leans back against the van, squints through the flames at the strangers who watch him with the same kind of pitying curiosity that, when he was a kid, always made him glad to move to another town where the gossip about Those Poor Little Winchester Boys hadn't made its way around yet.
He feels nauseous.
"How you feelin'?" Sam asks.
"You need anything?"
"Come sit with us, man," the skinny, bearded guy says. The girl scoots closer to him, smiles kindly at Dean and whispers something into the guy's ear.
Rationally, Dean knows they're probably decent folks. Sam seems to be getting along with them, and they've let Dean sleep in their bed. He should be grateful, and he is. But he's in no shape to make small talk and weave fairytales with Sam about their life on the road. He's too fucking tired. So as inviting as the warmth of the fire is, he says, "I'm good, thanks," and smiles.
"I'm August," the girl says, as if knowing their names will solve some kind of problem. "And this is Peter." She tilts her head and brushes her hands from her knees down her long printed dress, its fabric so thin it looks like it might melt from the heat of the flames.
"Thanks," Dean says, "for, you know..." He casts his eyes down at the sleeping bag he's pulled tight around his shoulders and August nods.
"You're welcome. And hey, you can stay the rest of the night in there, if you want. I think we're going to sleep under the stars."
Sam takes his eyes off Dean for the first time then, tilts his head towards the heavens and Dean does the same. The moon is a thin crescent, and stars blanket the sky with a density the likes of which Dean's seen only a handful of times. But he doesn't just see the beauty of it, he sees endlessness. And to be reminded in such a tangible way of the vastness of space and time, when his time here is nearly over and he has an eternity waiting for him somewhere he'll never see the stars again? It makes him feel like he's drowning all over again. And soon the stars are just wobbling little blurry things, pulsating in time to the ache in his head, and his chest feels tight and he can't breathe right and the sleeping bag is too heavy for him to hold anymore and he presses his hand against the cool, white van and tries to forget that stars ever existed at all.
"Dean? Hey," Sam says. He's right there next to him now, with a hand curled around his chin and cheek, another squeezing his bare shoulder. Dean hates this... this having to hold onto his little brother to keep himself upright, but he does it anyways because there's no one else.
Sam bends over slightly and Dean presses his forehead into Sam's shoulder blade as Sam scoops the sleeping bag off the ground. When Sam rises he shrugs Dean off gently and wraps an arm around his waist, says, "Come on. Back in bed, okay?" and Dean nods and clenches his eyes shut.
"Is he going to be alright?" the guy named Peter asks.
Sam opens the back door of the camper, says, "I've got it covered." Dean imagines what it might be like to truly believe such a thing, to not hear that telltale crack in Sam's voice when he says it.
Once they're inside, Sam's concern is less measured. He fumbles to help Dean into bed, reaches around in the dark for pillows. Dean curls onto his side and drapes his arm over his head, hoping to regain some sense of being fastened, steadied.
"Fuck," he breathes.
He feels the bed dip where Sam sits on the edge. "Dean," he whispers. "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."
"It's not you're fault, Sam."
"I didn't mean to... to..."
"I know. Hey," he says, peeking up at Sam's dark outline. "Remember that time... that time you made me spar with you? You musta been thirteen. I sprained your elbow. You wouldn't talk to me for days."
"Shit. I'm sorry."
"Stop sayin' sorry. You're missin' the point."
"No, I... I get it."
"Good," Dean sighs, closing his eyes again. "'Cause my brain hurts too much to explain it."
Sam tugs the sleeping bag up over Dean's shoulders, exposing Dean's feet at the other end of the bed. Sam doesn't seem to notice, and Dean doesn't complain, and Sam says, "You should get some sleep. We'll hike back to the Impala at dawn, if you're up to it."
Dean tries his best to seem asleep so that Sam will allow himself to leave. Many minutes pass until Sam finally seems convinced and Dean feels him move off the bed. Before he leaves, though, Dean feels his breath on his face, and then a couple of fingers slip through his hair above his forehead. "Thank you," Sam whispers.
Dean knows exactly what Sam's thanking him for, although it's the first time he's done so. And the impact it has on Dean is fierce and unexpected. For some reason, it feels as though these two words have sealed Dean's fate more so than kissing the Crossroads Demon. And when he hears the door slide and clack and Peter offer Sam another beer, Dean lets out a single sob, and wipes the tears off his face for hours afterwards. The Salt water that he couldn't manage to cough up when Sam pulled him out of the ocean finally finds its way out of his body.
He's getting used to the feeling of drowning though.