Title: That Were
Genre: hurt/comfort, character study, pre-series/Stanford!era (Dec. 2004/Jan. 2005)
Characters: Dean, Roy and Walt (the guys from 5x16), Sam by default
Rating: a thematic R
Word Count: ~11,300
Warnings: suicidal ideation, suicide/suicide attempt
Summary: 31 December 2004, 9:52pm: Death is not the only consequence of drowning.
Notes: Thank you to vie_dangerouse for cheerleading and betaing, and dealing with me for the last four months (lol). <333
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Walter Ariel had a bad cold, is why they called Dean up. Actually, first they called John up, on account of John owing them. Not specific on that front, and not too pleased about Dean's smartass comment about blowjobs, blind dates, finding each other. But Dean's kinda hopped up on DayQuil, which is mixing with the rest of him in a really weird way, so he's got a good monologue rolling before Roy can tell him to fuck himself.
"Money in it, kid; don't act like you're too hot for that."
Dean flicks the thermometer. Even hundred. Not too bad; down from yesterday, though yesterday was what had freaked him into buying the thermometer in the first place. Still, money's convincing, and Dean has none.
California, says Roy. Just south of El Granada. "You nearby?"
El Granada's a straight shot up 280, then over the reservoir. It's sick that he knows that. It's sick that he's even here. "Gimme an hour."
"Where are you?"
"Better make it half. Selkies drownin' good men out here."
Dean nods into the phone, in an attempt to ditch the haze the DayQuil isn't shaking. The floor screams up and back again like a wooden tidal wave, but nothing changes.
"Drowning all the ones who suck at poker, huh? I hear you. See you in an hour, Roy."
Credit to the cold he's trying to ignore right out of existence, he doesn't realize he's going down until his chin smacks water and his sinuses crystallize. The pressure is glorious at first. Like the ocean and his body strike an equilibrium--the pounding in his head and the ocean swells, the sticky weight in his chest and the hard thrust of the water forcing him down.
He hits bottom quickly. The water's only eight, nine feet when the waves are in. Half that when they leave. He feels the sand rip against his neck and shoulders, sift down the back of his shirt like tiny searching burning hands.
Burning. The water burns. So do his lungs. He's four, five feet underwater and he's gonna drown anyway. Scraping bottom means he knows which way is up, but it doesn't mean he's any closer to making it to air. He can't--kick off, he can't get his body to move. The water's a cold fire; it hits his heart and it's basically game over.
That's when he knows that it's going to be the hardest thing he's ever done, drowning.
It's probably been eight, nine seconds tops when the water subverts gravity and Dean starts to lift from the sand. That shouldn't be a bad thing when you're six feet underwater, but fuck if Dean's okay with not knowing which way's up. It's always been the spiral he can't stand. Gravity-less helplessness.
He means to let the air out slowly, let it peel from his lungs, form an anchor in its absence. Instead he coughs, explosive, frothy, silent. Sucking in is reflex.
This is the most lucid he's been in days, right here, right now, and the only thing he can think as the water rushes in, unsoft and unpeaceful:
It's motherfucking cold.
Yeah, so Roy's right; could probably make that in thirty. But Dean can't get packed. Razor, sink. Razor, hand; razor, duff--
Knives, bed. Knives... sink.
His thoughts aren't following start-finish, and it's starting to piss him off. (You think you can just take off whenever the hell you feel like it?) The room spins.
A shower, a change of clothes--all great ideas. But if he strips down now he's not going to make it out the door in the next week. If he's sweat-itchy and rank as mold, it's not like Roy and Walt are gonna be any better.
He runs cold water over his hands for too long, then splashes it into his face. Up his nose. He coughs, sputters exhaustively. He tries to transition into eating some kind of hard peanut nougat bar, but the thought is nauseating. Apparently he's skipping breakfast. Lunch. He doesn't know what time it is. Late.
He can't find the keys in his pocket on the first dig. Which means he loses. Game over. Too late.
Dean grips the sink until the unfinished edges cut. Deep breath. He hates being sick; it makes him feel blind and slow in ways that never let him sleep. It psyches him out. And that just makes him feel moronic. He has a job to do.
He and the sink go another round, he punches out the last of the DayQuil, pops some Tylenol for good measure. He experiments with the thermometer again and when now it reads 102, he throws it out.
Outside, a light mist grays Stanford's city limits. Every street light frames what is obviously one dazzling fucking farewell tour. He envisions Sam: Argyle sweater. Herbal tea. Legal tome. Never mind that the last time he saw Sam, dude was in sweats and nursing black coffee. College changes people. It's only a matter of time. (What did third-years wear? Ascots, maybe.)
Dean takes the highway at speed limit seventy. Dizziness makes the road flicker like a mirage it's forty degrees too cold for. But air helps, and Dean breathes in ice, lets it push him back to working order. The Impala's headlights rip the fog away, and they cut through a white that curls from the Impala's bulk like burning newspaper.
Still, there's nothing but white if Dean tries to see beyond the halo. He thinks, once, that there could be a cliff. Right there--the edge of a cliff--and he wouldn't even know till he hit bottom. It'd be white the whole way down.
The windows smudge and fog with his breathing and probably his radiating, and he leans over the wheel to wipe at the condensation with this jacket sleeve. The distraction makes him swerve. That he jumps up and finds himself still in his (back in his?) lane probably isn't a good sign, but the Impala staggers off the freeway and over the reservoir, down the remaining wet, white miles to El Granada without further incident.
The rendezvous is a building built into the cliff face--bar facing streetside, what looks like half an observatory and half an inn up top. The rain makes it gray, but Dean doesn't think it needed any help with that. Zilch on curb appeal, but for once he's not carded in this sissy, paranoid state. It probably doesn't say good things about the state of him, but if it means he doesn't have to swim through his wallet for a valid ID, he's sure his vanity's willing to take one for the team. And anyway, Dad's always said that no ID is the best fake one. If nothing else, makes it harder to identify the body.
"Yo," says Dean, and coughs. His voice is going.
The barkeep doesn't hear him.
Upside down and curved like the bottom of a hole. Like he's at the bottom of a hole. He takes one breath before he recognizes he's not making any damn sense, but there is no second chance. Beneath the surface everything is slow and silent. The water knocks at his shoulders like sheetrock instead of wildfire, and all sounds mellow into far-off detonations.
There is no air. He feels like there's a coral reef in his chest, and when he tries to scramble to his knees his motions are retarded, sloshing, like running in a dream. There's sand beneath his fingernails. There's a whisper of whiskers at his cheek. He remembers where he is. And he knows he's dead, or should be. Figures it'd take a long damn time to finish the job.
Dean's cheek hits sand just ahead of the realization that he is falling, and he drowns all over again. (Sideways now, and flat like the bottom of the grave.) This time, he can see the other bodies, pale and moon-pocked. Fishermen, all; they've still got their bibbing on. Bulbous eyes stare from behind stretched, limp eyelids. A slick film, thready and hairlike, coats their skin. Small fish nab pieces from between the bodies' teeth, from beneath their fingernails.
Which is great, really. Dean'd hurl if he thought that were still an option. But there's something inside him waiting to crack through and split him from the inside out--a cough that can't be satisfied. And when it goes, he's pretty sure his whole body's gonna blow like a minefield. Not that he knows this from previous experience, but what can he say? Extrapolation's a gift. A gruesome, fatalistic gift, but Dean is nothing if not well-trained. He takes a deep breath of water at the bottom of the ocean and finds it's not that far removed from trying to breathe in a motel room in Palo Alto.
The bodies shouldn't be this well-preserved; they're spread in rings like yellow-billed gnomes in an octopus's garden. They're being kept--cultivated, even. Fucking selkies. Dean flounders over them, bone fingers catching in his nose, shriveled skin feathering at his arms and ankles. They all still look like people. Even one of the older bodies, skin sloughed off, a thin bloodless membrane separating bone from vision, skull shaved into a crown like a river carving a canyon, still looks like a person. Hell, that's person enough Dean could probably pick him out of his high school yearbook back up topside.
--Where he's not going, he realizes. Where he is never again going. There's a beating in his chest that is not his heart. The thrum of the ocean in his lungs.
This is it.
This is all there is; this is all that's left. He is over. Maybe he's done, maybe he's not; he's over either way.
Dean's not sure what to think about that. He's pretty sure he'd at least slow down at the edge of the lethe if he didn't half-think his life had already just been one big river. But he's at the bottom of the ocean, so sue him; everything feels a little like drowning. All he needs to do is find the selkies, do his bit, get on with life. Or, you know, whatever. After that, he probably won't be able to think about this at all, which means he won't have to; and that sounds like a win-win.
He turns onto his back, nested in the arms of Fisherman #14, and looks up. He doesn't see much; there's no moon, no stars. There's not much light, period. There are motes of fisherman in the murk, shifting before him like a particle storm--danse macabre. Dean'd laugh if he thought someone would hear him.
He can laugh at whatever the hell he wants to. He can do whatever he wants. He could do the stupidest, stupidest shit if he--
Dean doesn't see the selkie until her skull makes contact with his chest like a battering ram. The countdown stops, and the mines inside him blow. His body tries to cough and comes up second best.
He's not sure what to think about that, either.
First thing's first. Dean offers up one kernel of (Dad's) eternal wisdom: "Selkies only go Nessie when a landlubber's done some stupid shit." Then he orders another whiskey, like he's trying to burn his sinuses back into working order.
Roy and Walt award him with mutual peculiar expressions. Finally, Roy says, "Landlubbers?"
And Walt says, "Kid, this ain't Muppet Treasure Island."
Dean's lost the thread of this conversation. He hopes his places does IOUs, because he's just remembered he's out of cash until they tear down the selkie thing. He's too tired for billiards and poker seems like a lot of work. And fuck them for not humoring his jargon. They're the ones who need his ass. When he's done with his whiskey and his mouth feels as dry as his stores of good humor, he rasps, "Let's just do the"--fucking, and a cough--"job."
"Fishhead's gutted the wrong animal," Walt admits. He honks into a gray handkerchief. "So yeah, some stupid shit was done."
"By them over there. Burning the skins, so's they can't go back. Eating 'em, whatever. It's immaterial. Anyway, Roy's got a trap set. We just need the manpower and this can end tonight. Don't gotta wait for anyone else to drown."
"So what's the plan?" One more, even though the alcohol's making him feel like shit faster than anything's ever done in his life. Yeah, this is good. This is awesome.
"I'm gonna watch, make sure nothing happens to you," says Roy.
"What's Walt gonna do?"
"He's gonna watch me."
And when Dean says nothing, Walt says, "I got a bad cold."
Roy says, "And I have a niece."
(You are worthless.)
Which seems harsh, coming from a fucking seal. Her snout slides from his lips and down his neck, his chest, and his body jumps and twitches in spite of himself. Whiskers walk across his ribcage. Up to his collarbone. He can see the sinews between her teeth.
Please, he thinks. It's a word that has not served him in the past and does not serve him now. She nips at his chin and lips and he tastes blood, then fire. All-consuming fire: black oil, clear fat. Thick grey fur. Everything burning. He tries to close his hands around her snout and push, but he can't get a grip. His mind is slow and his fingers are shaking, rheumatic. Her teeth relinquish his mouth and the fire vanishes.
Then she's at his stomach. He feels the scrape of stubble, fur and whiskers and thick blubbery lips. He hopes this isn't what a fish feels like before it's gutted, because that experience ain't exactly on his bucket list. Whiskers again, then pain--someone else's pain. The leftover smoke in his throat dissipates and he tastes blood.
The flash of steel: Subsequent blossom of adipose pink, watery red ribbons that twist in the froth. Chum in the water. Then it's a sensory rat maze of fiberglass cracking, the crackle of hard rain on a fisherman's coat, the soundless drowning of the man. The screaming of seals. Selkies. The quiet finality of skin ripping away from the hilt of a blade, ribs twisting, the slow deflation of veins and arteries and finally the heart.
Dean opens his eyes to the dull nearsightedness of the bottom of the ocean. He's sitting as he was, black selkie eyes staring him down, far below the tumult of the surface. He realizes for the first time that the frenetic motion of the wall behind him is not the swell of the sea, but the swell of a body in pain. Dean doesn't need to look past the sharp definition of the knife protruding from the selkie's cavernous ribcage, just inches from Dean's head, to know he is their king. He is their king, and he is dying.
Tough shit, he offers in consolation. When the seal in front of him bares her teeth, he can only guess she understood him. He wasn't expecting that.
And because he doesn't know what else to do, he turns to the king, looks him straight in one of his big, glazed eyes, and winks.
There's a jab at the small of his back and he pitches forward. The king shudders at his touch. They're blood close.
Dean can taste it.
Roy and Walt dress like the Montana transplants they are. Blood red deerstalkers and waterproof Carhartts and strong leather work gloves.
"Got a trap set up." Roy motions down the cliffs. Dean doesn't have a deerstalker, or a hood, and he doesn't wear leather in the rain if he can help it, but he and Roy are gonna go down and man the trap, deal with whatever it catches. Walt's gonna stay at base camp. Base camp being the old tourist viewpoint atop the bar, ocean-facing walls one hundred percent window, to capture the scenery it doesn't have.
Dean doesn't see any trap, but he nods anyway. Ultimately, it's immaterial.
At that moment the entire building sweeps forward, pitches down the ocean crag, and Dean makes a wild grab for the viewpoint handrails, knees bent and ready to roll. He feels the sweat trickle back up his neck when they go over the edge and--
Nothing. The horizon's flatlined. Roy hasn't moved. Dean blinks blearily up at him. Roy may be a coward and a sleazebag and more than a little trigger-happy, and hell, he is an idiot, but he's not blind. Still, he doesn't call Dean on this shit. He's not Dean's family.
"Me and you are gonna man the trap," he repeats.
"And Little Mermaid over there's gonna be our eyes from inside, I got it. What's wrong with him, again?"
"Mermaid?" says Roy.
"What?" Walt, this time. Walter Ariel. They're not really picking up on this; he's not sure why. He's clear as crystal.
"Watch more porn," says Dean. Then he asks again, "What's wrong, Walt? You not into swimming?"
"He has a bad cold," Roy repeats. And Walt nods. He wipes his nose on his sleeve and holds up a battered walkie-talkie and cheap binoculars.
Dean's starting to feel dizzy and overheated again; he slouches coolly against the handrail--or tries to. He slouches gratefully against the handrail and blinks Walt and Roy back into focus. And if he's transparent as he feels, so are they. We are afraid, say their Adam's apples, their gloves rustling through gear and clothing and air. We are afraid of what's out there. We are smart enough to be afraid of what's out there. Dean, on the other hand, counts himself among the lucky few who know their worst has happened. (That whole deal's usually called freedom, because losers like winning, but Dean's not really feeling euphemisms this year in the same way he's not feeling the Top 40, so whatever. He figures freedom and bad fucking luck are on the same par.)
Walt stays, and Roy leads, and Dean lets pain spread over him in fractals, from his temples and down his neck and shoulders. He follows Roy into the 'out there', where Stanford's mists give way to their punk cousin in El Granada, rain in high wind that slaps salt water tracks against his face.
His lips sting. He sees the world through his eyelashes, like prison bars of wet black kelp set before his eyes. He can't feel his cheeks, hot or cold, but every step aches and they've still got a mile before the winding beach cliff trail drops them at sea level. He crashes down a path of packed dirt and wooden braces; it wreaks havoc on his knees and jars his headache, but he's convinced it's helping him breathe. Knocks the congestion loose. Or something.
Still, he's trailing an easy twenty steps behind Roy, who keeps glancing back and barking shit at him. But Dean can see unease zipped into Roy's coat along with the bright orange life jacket he has on. He's making Roy nervous and he knows it.
And if he doesn't take something off he's going to pass out. He feels hot and thick and the rain's just not doing it. He fumbles with the buttons down the rest of the tier of steps. Then the path banks a sharp left and continues down the cliffside at an angle. While he's struggling with his sleeves he trips, goes down in a cascade of broken shell, sandstone, and smooth rocks. Roy asks him what the shit he's doing.
His head pounds. He tries to cough from the back of his throat when he finds his legs, and he leaves his jacket in the mustard, so cloyingly thick in the air even Dean can still smell it. He coughs again. But the world feels cooler and lighter and that much more manageable without all the layers. He can do this. If he's gonna break from the inside out, at least it won't weigh anything.
Roy scowls. "Gonna catch--"
"What, a 'bad cold'?" Dean rasps as he sidles past Roy and keeps marching downward, hungry for the wind. He can feel it whistle through his bones, make them cold and clean, practically airborne. "Pick up the pace, Flounder."
"Do you know what you're doing?" asks Roy.
Dean knows exactly what he's fucking doing.
Dean's been around ghosts long enough to know that death is rarely the worst of anyone's problems. He's not about to condone I told you soing a harem of seals, but these are stone cold facts. Death happens; the best you can do is make sure it doesn't happen slow.
(Yes) says the selkie at his shoulder. Dean doesn't know how up selkies are with Merriam-Webster, but her tone does not convey agreement. Neither of them move.
The king lets out a wheedling moan, like he's trying to coax his own life out of him with the sound.
The other selkie nips at Dean's shoulder, pulls him back. She means to leave. She wants him to leave.
Dean stares at the king, who stares back. They're going to leave him here. Just like that, they're going to abandon him and let him drown. He'll float to the surface, land in Roy's trap; he'll die and it will all be over. They'll turn their backs and let him drown.
But he needs you, Dean thinks furiously. The argument feels out of place, a pocket of air just waiting for the pressure to atomize it, but he keeps going. Because this is bullshit. He needs you, he repeats. The selkie understood him the first time, and he can only hope she hears him now; she goddamn better. He's your family and he needs you. He needs you. How can you just--
His tirade dislodges. He can feel his synapses flutter: life, death; thought, blackness. Breath and water.
(Death will end it all. It is a deal with fate.) She bares her teeth like she's not going to take argument for an answer.
But Dean's not done yet, because fate is bullshit, too. Dean's certain of that much; nothing this messy's got a master plan written in the stars. There aren't any stars down here, anyway. But, it dawns on him, you don't make deals with the infallible; you make deals with the winning team. And if the tracks are gonna end, death's probably the best place to do it. It's a little messy, but it'll work; death can end it. Death can be a choice. That choice is just an on the QT deal with fate. That's all.
Dean can live with that. Or, you know, whatever.
The selkie winks.
For that one moment, everything is very clear. And Dean's always been the guy to run with that, for as long and as hard and as far as he can. His arms skip beyond where his thoughts can carry them and he takes the knife in hand, regards the selkie king, still blood close.
If you wanna die, then don't fucking wait around, he says, and pulls.
Shocked muscles twist into one another, rip with the tension; they lock and click. There's a pain in his chest like a knife. A roaring in his ears, and a silence everywhere else. Dean pulls. And it's like he's pulling the world around him, the way everything spirals in like a nautilus. Electric pain stripes the landscape green. When the knife pulls free he turns the blade and plunges it deep into the neck of the selkie king without hesitation. The king screams and his eyes roll back until they're like soft white pearls.
The taste in Dean's mouth at the end is something like blood and bloodlust, steel and resolution. Heady satisfaction. Perfect conviction before an equivocal epilogue, the inevitable spiral. Then Dean coughs, eruptive, waiting, and his world splits open.
He has one last thought before his nerves derail and that's what it is. Fucking eloquent.
Dean shatters the moment he hits water. He's one of those rubber balls he and Sam used to drop into dry ice whenever they scored a little extra cash. Then they'd throw them against the wall and listen to them sing like glass. This was, of course, long before Sam figured out the science behind it all. The majesty was gone after that, though Dean will always remember the sound. He swears that's the sound he makes when the waves catch him in the thigh, drown his boots, sweep away the sand from under him. He gasps, then doubles over coughing. Might've been a wet cough back at the dive bar, but with the ocean swelling all around him, rain coming down in needles, all it feels like to Dean now is glass in his throat.
His knees ache. The muscles in his calves and thighs twist with the shock of cold, tighten and shrivel. Then the waves come back and the sharp pain dances back through his joints, squeezes through his muscles. Back and again, with the tide.
"Need to go out further," shouts Roy. "I got this end." And he does. He has his gloves around the edge of a big wide net that Dean's past understanding. He doesn't think Roy actually has a plan; and if he does, it's a shitty one. By default it's a shitty one, because he's Roy Meeker, the sonuvabitch.
He doesn't think he can go 'out further'. He can't think straight enough to even decide which direction that is; and maybe that's the whole damn reason he's out here at all. The spiral.
Nah. Dean spits out rogue sea water. He'd be out here no matter what and he knows it. He doesn't even need to lie his way through all the 'becauses' because there is a razor, and this is the edge. And this is the only tightrope he's ever gonna walk.
He feels the current grasp at his cramping calves and lets it take him. The ocean sucks him further, provides the impetus Dean lost miles and miles ago.
Then the water hits dick level and Dean reconsiders this plan in an instant.
Because there are no second chances.
The realization pitches him dizzily sideways, and he gasps for breath he doesn't get till he's coughed up half a lung, and all the seawater he swallowed with the trying. The water swallows the depth from dick to neck faster than Dean can register; his legs are impossibly weak for one crucial moment, and then they don't exist at all. Credit to the cold he's trying to ignore right out of existence, he doesn't realize he's going down until his chin smacks water and the cliff face he's been following drowns.
The back of his skull cracks against rock. His vision flashes the full spectrum of color before fading back to the coastal grayscale, the white of froth and black of water. There's a moment when the current throws up high, skating just below the surface of the ocean, and he can see in the cloud-bloated moonlight and the weak lighthouse trickles the sweep of a flipper right over his face. His mind flashes selkie before all his attentions settle on cold and drowning, but when he closes his eyes the blackness there still screams selkie, selkie, selkie. The dark gets darker, and then he doesn't care.
This is a razor, and there was the edge.
(Go deo na ndeor, Dean. You have seen forever and this is what it looks like.)
Dean floats up.
"Hey--hey there. Hey--" And it's like Roy can't figure out what to call him. Finally he just says, "Dean." He says Dean, and Dean, and then Dean again as his hands crawl wildly up Dean's torso to check for breath and then to his neck for a pulse. A wave crashes over them in the meantime and Dean inhales--by his watch, right on schedule--and he thinks, This fuckin' idiot.
Roy gets the clue when Dean starts coughing and sputtering like it's going out of style, and stops trying to puncture Dean's carotid with his goddamn fingers. Dean feels a sharp tug at his left shoulder and suddenly he's face-down in the wet sand, invertrebral shrapnel cutting into his cheek. One more wave up and over and the sand and all its flotsam rush into his hair as the ocean pulls back, form a crust at his eyeline. He coughs until it's long past hurting.
"Dean," Roy says for the thirtieth time. "Dean--hey. Winchester. Hey, man. Hey." Back down the verbal funnel. Apparently 'Dean' didn't quite fit right. And damn straight it doesn't, because he's Roy goddamn Meeker, and if Dean's never said his name without a healthy side of condescension, then Roy shouldn't be saying Dean's at all. The idea of Roy's incompetence is irritating until Dean realizes that he can't move his arms, his legs. Can hardly breathe.
Then Roy's got him by the collar of his flannel, heaving him vertical, and Dean remembers that Roy is strong. He hears threads snapping with the stress, and in the thick haze of everything, it sounds uncomfortably like it's something else collapsing.
Roy balances Dean against his chest, his chin slung over Roy's shoulder, legs sliding wetly against legs. It's humiliating until Roy tries to sit him up and Dean just pukes more salt water down his back. Then it's pathetic. Roy's jiggling like a vibrator, a twelve-year old on speed; every time Dean opens his eyes the world is a dark, matte smudge of jittery gray on gray.
"You're shivering," says Roy. And Dean's all set to growl no fucking shit! but his teeth are clattering together too dangerously for that kind of lingual expedition. The agency flip flops in his mind and yes, he is shivering. He's the one shivering. Not Roy. He nods, his head heavy and disobedient, headache apparent again now that the ocean's not around to match its pulse. Roy says something about sea legs, and laughs at his joke the way no one was around to laugh at Dean's. Dean throws up more salt water, just enough to dribble down his chin, his neck. It's warm.
"Jesus shit," says Roy. Probably about the blood. Always freak when they see blood.
You'd think you'd never stabbed a selkie king before, Dean figures he doesn't actually say. Roy rewards him with his fucking glove hands all over Dean's torso, peeling up the few layers Dean's left with until Dean's positive the shock of the wind chill's gonna kill him then and there.
"You hurt?" Roy asks.
It's a mile and a half up the cliffside to base camp.
"Dying," Dean says.
Roy either doesn't hear him or doesn't care. Something heavy's tugging at Dean's shoulders. The wind is gone.
"Selkie's dealt with," Dean says.
"Selkie's dealt with," Dean repeats. The words are wet and heavy, and his tongue feels atrophied.
Roy regards him with confusion, then shrugs. "Got a mile and a half up that cliffside to base camp," he says, and it's gonna be long night. "You got legs?"
Apparently, Dean does. He's on the ball for even less of the trip back up than he was on the way down, draped over Roy like he's some kind of personal escalator, but they walk. Through a fever dream of bright pointillized mustard blooms and thick gray brambles, they walk. Sand and sandstone, the slippery shattered skeletons of black-purple mussels and white nautili. The rain stings. Everything is hot again.
"Selkie's dealt with," Dean says.
"So you keep saying. Watch it, you're bleeding."
Dean shakes his head. It's not the worst plan he's had tonight, but it jars his stomach up to his throat. He gags, and Roy swears.
"Don't you go yakking on me again. Already got your blood on my goddamn gloves."
Fucking Roy. "Told you already, 's not mine--selkie's. Selkie's dea--"
"It's yours," Roy snaps. "Most of it's yours. Hit the cliff like a fucking shipwreck in that wave. Thought you were gone for good."
"But the selkie--he's the king, he's--"
"Think we got a body, yeah. Walt'll have to give 'im a look."
"I thought he had a bad cold."
"Fuck his... his fucking cold. And don't-- Don't puke."
Roy keeps talking, mostly about Walt once the subject of Dean's bodily fluids has exhausted itself. Then he talks about California, and the crazy breeding out here. But he doesn't need to tell Dean that. Roy doesn't even talk about Stanford, keeps to the mountains (not like Montana, not even in the goddamn winter) or the coast (which takes some getting used to), but Dean knows that Stanford's the seat of it. It has to be. Even Roy's gotta know that. There are Sam-shaped gouges bleeding California dry, and Dean can't be the only one who sees that. Sam's gotten so tall; Dean can't be the only one who sees him.
He'd almost forgotten about Sam. Huh.
"Selkie sorta rhymes with Sa--"
"Shut the fuck up, Winchester."
"Because you nearly died out there; act like it. And I'm still talking."
Roy's still talking. Right. Walt's got family over where you were, Roy informs him. Sunnyvale, or something. Dean slurs, "Sunnydale?" and Roy gives up quickly thereafter, leaves his mouth for spitting and panting. Dean coughs, and his throat burns. The rain does not relent.
They all but slide into home plate. Roy drops him against the side of the building, bent and gulping air. Dean tries for the same and just coughs more, mucous and throaty.
"Clothes off," says Roy.
Dean tries to imagine himself not half-dead and not sprawled across wet gravel. Plush king size, extra pillows. Casa Erotica. Champagne truffles.
Nope, still blows. "Just 'cause we're in Cali doesn't mean we have to be ga--"
"Wet clothes off." Roy thumbs around Dean's torso again, extricates the walkie talkie. It buzzes to life.
"Walt, get your ass out here. And bring dry clothes."
That gets Dean moving a little quicker. Roy Meeker is not going to fucking undress him, and Walter Ariel's not gonna watch.
He feels like he's spilling out of his skin, jellied and water-bloated. Every movement leaves trails, white-hot ghosts of overexposure falling from him as he peels his shirts from his back. Everything is heavy, and at this point he can't even tell if he's hot or motherfucking cold. Someone hands him a shirt, and he almost doesn't know what to do with it.
"Oh, hell no." He feels phosphorescent under the building's single lightbulb, pale and clammy and still shivering. He pulls Walt's too-large shirt over his head and clasps his arms against his body.
"Just take him downstairs," Walt sniffs, wiping his nose down his sleeve. It makes Dean feel slightly less good about his borrowed shirt. "He'll warm up."
Roy thrusts a gloved hand at Dean anyway. He glances back at Walt, then leans in close. Whispers furiously: "Listen, Winchester, this is me helping save your ass, so drop your pants and get in these"--black sweatpants, probably Walt's again, now glistening with rainwet--"or so help me, I--"
Dean takes the hand but not the change of clothes. The lurch upward nearly sends his stomach up his throat again and his head swirls like a fishbowl. "Could use a drink," he pants, finally.
"We should just get him a drink," says Walt.
"You should make sure we have a goddamn selkie," says Roy.
"But I have a--"
Walt sneezes and Roy shrugs his coat back on. Dean and Roy take the narrow stairs back down to the bar and the streetside like stiff, gawky birds. Roy slaps Dean's back. "You better make sure we have a goddamn selkie--'cause there ain't gonna be any second gos," he calls back to Walt. He slaps Dean on the back again. Tempo beat: Not with this one.
Dean sets his jaw. Twenty steps and they're golden. He can do this.
"Twenty minutes," Roy assures him. Twenty minutes and their payroll walks through the door. Walt verified Dean's insistence about the selkie. He'd been back since hours ago. Maybe. Dean's mental clock is fucked and hell if he can read the spindly hands on the timepiece barside. He thinks it's supposed to resemble some kind of mermaid, elongated tits counting hours, minutes, but that seems a little bizarre. A lot bizarre. It's a lot bizarre, right?
He's also added another couple whiskeys to his tab; the first was iffy, second and third in quick succession were fantastic. Now he's nursing the fourth and thinking maybe the whole thing had been a bad idea. Roy's packed in close, with Walt beside him--row of heavily clothed sardines all down the bar. Busy night. Roy steals glances but leaves him to the company of the napkin dispenser, bowl of toothpicks, whatever the hell else is shoved off to the side. There's roaring conversation going further down the line, but Dean's having enough trouble tracking his own thoughts to handle keeping up with the peanut gallery.
He looks down at his glass, amber diffused in the gray shine of half-gone ice cubes, and swims in it, head dropping lower and lower--four, five, six seconds--before snapping back to reality.
Roy turns to him again. He's down a half a pack of Cloves, and halfway through regaling what Dean can only assume is a harrowing tale of their swashbuckling fun. He's not sure how Roy's telling it, and he doesn't care. Selkie's dealt with. That's what matters.
Roy blows smoke between gap teeth, and words pour out, too. "You okay?" He's backed off of names again.
Dean coughs. He images his chest cavity as one of those cement trucks, churning and heavy. It hurts. And he's fucking cold again. His skin stings and burns at his waistband and groin, anywhere the salt and the denim and the sand aren't mixing well. And Walt's shirt is just too damn big. "Where's my jacket?"
Roy nods outside. "Couldn't find it. Must've blown off somewhere."
Fuck. There goes one jacket, six lockpicks, and two--no, three--switchblades. Not to forget the selkie knife, rusting in the deep. That could have been useful.
I killed the selkie king for you, he thinks.
I killed him for them. I killed him for him.
I killed him for me.
Roy takes another drag, but Dean's lungs jump the gun and start coughing before his exhalation.
Hot again. He shifts miserably in his jeans. "Where's your guy?" he manages. He wants to drop his head to the table and just pass the fuck out. And he'd do it, too--fuck them all. They can say whatever they want. But when Roy says any minute now he's coming, he'll be here, he don't rush on no one's account, Dean says, "You said he'd be here in twenty."
Roy lights another cigarette instead of responding, but even Dean knows that came out mewling, pathetic. Jesus christ. Pull it together, Winchester. He wants to die. And he'd do it, too--fuck them all. Fuck them both.
He blinks. He thinks maybe the 'they' had shifted there. He doesn't remember deciding it was gonna do that. That was really. Bendy. ...And.
He really just needs to shut up, is what he needs to fucking do. Shut up and see this through. He finds his glass with the hand that's not keeping him upright. "Gonna get another one," he mutters.
"You want a hangover on top of that?"
Pull it together.
"Thank you, Dr. Quinn." Dean toasts to Roy's new cigarette, and calls for the barkeep. "Your concern is heartbreaking."
Just then a sharp gust of wind orders a salute from the hairs all down Dean's back and arms. Boots plod in and the door slams shut, and Roy says, "That's our guy." If the last 'twenty minutes' spanned what feels like half Dean's goddamn life, he loses the next thirty seconds completely. He blinks and the guy's packed in inconspicuously with the rest of the sardines and there's a wad of cash staring him down beside his ice cubes. He has no fucking clue what's going on. He doesn't even know what 'our guy' looked like. The room spins.
Roy's fingering a pretty bundle beside him. "Round on Walt here, for victory's sake?" he says to Dean, nudging Walt with his elbow.
The barkeep's already back with Dean's drink.
Dean's chest aches and his eyes feel rawer than his ass. He's sweating again. He shakes his head (bad move, as always) and staggers from his stool and for a split second everything drops from under him. It's solid again in an instant. "Room," he says, and wipes his hair--salt-stiff or fever limp, he can't tell and he doesn't care--from his forehead. "Three nights," he says to the barkeep. "And not a soul knocks, cleans, or fucking breathes on that door."
When that door finally closes behind him and he's left to slide down the wall in the comfort of still-loud, still-hot, still-mildewed solitude, Dean can't remember being happier in his life. He must lose time, because when he opens his eyes again everything aches, is so tight he can barely rise to confront the sink.
Talk about not liking what you see. He doesn't look any better than the bodies the selkies were keeping hostage. Pinker, though. The freckles in sharp relief around his eyes lose distinction at his cheeks, lost in the flush and shine of fever. There's a small cut below his right eye, probably from the face-down portion of tonight's program. His lips look gnawed on. Part of his hair is gruesome, in ways that don't look the part so much as they define it utterly. Roy missed it in the dark, but he was right. The blood's everywhere.
Dean coughs into the sink and spits white-green. Tries to remember when this all started. Dad's First Aid 101 was biased in more practical directions--how not to bleed out, how to set a fractured wrist, how to relocate a shoulder--but poison ranked, and there was something about fevers, something about them being bad motherfuckers after a point. Dean doesn't think his brain's about to boil, but he also didn't plan to spend his evening drowning in 50 degree water, so what does he know. He looks back at his reflection. Common colds: knock you on your ass then let you get fucked harder. Fucking--everything.
His hands coast along the counter (empty) and his shirt (not his; pocketless) for a thermometer, toothbrush, anything. He feels like something should be here. But they're not, either back in the car or back in Palo Alto, or along whatever trail he's made from there to here, he's alone, and he's just going to have to deal.
Death is a deal with fate: It is a choice. Death can end it all.
Dean deals by dropping prostrate onto the bed, covers made with mildew and sheets sewn from sweat, and lying like that until he can't breathe. He coughs violently this time, coverlet like a silencer, and turns onto his side. He shivers. Walt's shirt sticks to him. When the chills stop Dean feels hot enough to spontaneously combust. Like the friction of his throat against itself, the rush of blood through his temples, is enough to birth the spark. The (glorious, miserable) reality of the cover and sheets, Walt's thick shirt and his own wet jeans starts to slip away. And he knows, he knows, that if he lets it disappear completely, there's a good chance he's not going to wake up.
There's cold lead fear knocking around his liver, his kidneys, that lets him know that's not really what he wants, not right this moment, but he figures maybe he'll warm to the idea if this keeps up. Seems like that's where it's headed. Hell, warm to it's still funny. But he doesn't laugh. He breathes in as deep as his cough will allow and lets the fever backdraft run wild.
If he's finally going down after all this, he's gonna go like a motherfucking firework.
He does. Consciousness isn't the most constant bedmate (fuck her), but whenever she shows up Dean feels the world like fire under water. Coughing hurts the worst, and sometimes it's so hard to breathe he's sure it's not worth the effort, but Dean knows it'll be the fever that kills him. He's so hot he could irradiate the western seaboard on his own.
And he is alone.
Then he's shuddering, shivering so hard his teeth hurt. His jaw hurts. His lymph nodes hurt. 911 occurs to him exactly once. But his phone's locked in the Impala and when he tries to get up he can barely lift his head and he's too dizzy to roll to the ground. He couldn't find the edge of the bed if he tried. That was the razor, and there goes the edge. And then he forgets, in the surge of needling starbursts just above his browline and the pain in his abs as his muscles cramp.
He dreams of water. The sheets are wet warm waves of water.
Sam has a big straw and a bigger jug of water. He's eleven, even though Dean knows he's not. He's eleven and he's twenty-one all at the same time. Dean walks out to the beach where it's raining and when he comes back Sam is drowned. It was too big, you told him it was too big; he'd never get the suction to move water up that fucking straw. And he said, yes, yes he could and he'd gone and done it and now he's drowned. Dad was the last to see him, it wasn't even Dean, and Dean asks him over and over again, why did you let him? How could you let him? What did you (didn't you) do? He did everything; he says he did everything and Dean doesn't have a choice but to trust him because he's Dad and that's what Dad knows and there's no way Dean could question that. But there's Sammy, all small and drowned and not even twelve (even though he's twenty-one)
and then Dean dreams of strippers, fever-warm and glittering. He dreams of smoke and heat and fire.
Then there's water in his eyes, pooling in the sunken hollows that are his eyes, awakening the cracks in his lips and sliding down his neck like cold fingers. Suddenly there's water pouring into his mouth, down his throat, and he thinks, he is drowning. All over again he is drowning. His voice cracks over the please he tries to invoke, which does as much as it ever does (please, Sammy).
"--Too much water," says a voice he doesn't recognize, and Dean's inclined to agree. If 'inclined' means 'sob angry disapproval'.
"You've lost too much water," says the voice. "You need to drink. Calm down."
Dean does not calm down, because that's not under his control. Fever fills his thoughts with fire, and then they are ash at the back of his throat and he coughs. Pressure cycle.
Dean dreams of a woman named Belladonna, who tells him he drowned. But he doesn't think he did, not really. because evidently he's still here, and he's boiling out of his skin, and lying here not dead is a hell of a lot harder than drowning ever was. He's changed his mind about drowning; not drowning is a thousand times worse.
He feels bristles against his face, half-forgotten seal kisses, and hates what he thinks is about to happen. Belladonna is gone. Instead there's a seal. She puts her mouth to his forehead, wet and cool. Dean takes his lucid moments where he can get them and asks the most important question that he can think of. "So are you actually a seal or not?"
The seal lifts her head and climbs on top of him, ocean-cold and too heavy and smelling like fish. Then her skin drops off like the drowned sailors beneath the waves,
like Dean's does in his nightmares,
like Sam's does when Dean forgets to save Sam isn't around to save Sam and Sam burns down with everything else.
Belladonna drops her skin like a coat, oily dark and sussurant, and fixes him with her breasts like they're two pearly eyes. Somehow that's worse. And not the kind of stripper he was dreaming about.
Dean says, "Belladonna doesn't sound that Irish."
I am the Lady of the Rocks, the lady of situations, and I have many names, she whispers, and sinks into Dean's chest. He doesn't think there's really room for her in there. She is ocean-cold and heavy, and she smells like fish.
Then he's dreaming again.
A long time ago that was also yesterday, he and Sam break everything they can find, send a hundred rubber balls to their deaths and leave them to melt back into nothing in the sun. Everything shatters and Dean feels gloriously free, but not as free as Sam does.
Dean coughs back into awakeness and as the shards melt in his mouth he thinks maybe that wasn't such a great idea after all.
Belladonna drowns him with more water. She's a seal again. She says she wants to break his fever.
No, don't, he tells her. Because then he'll just cough it up.
Téigh i do chodladh, she says. Then she says something in English that makes just as much sense.
In his dream, he's swimming. He is not drowning, or burning. He swims like he was born to it. He swims until he's so small and far away that no one can find him. He is strong, and fast, and he doubts nothing.
When he wakes, Belladonna is counting down from one hundred and six. She stops at 99.2 and finally Dean realizes what she's counting. He realizes that for the first time since--well, hell if he knows--he's not dying. Then he coughs like he's choking on razor blades, like there are bombs detonating in his lungs, and wishes he was.
I came to save you, not to fix you, she says, and lies back beside him, fur cool and soft against his cheek. She thanks him for saving her brother.
He's pretty sure he killed her brother.
Yes, she says. You saved him.
There's something about that that doesn't sit well with Dean, but he can't make his brain move. It rolls around in his skull like seasick dead weight. And he can't chalk that up to fever anymore, so he blames it on being really fucking wiped. Spend a couple however-longs in the stratosphere of 106 and Dean feels like that's justified.
How much do you know about your brother?
Always Sam. He's fucking tired of thinking about Sam.
"Not nearly enough," Dean says. But that's a lie. He used to know Sam so well he could've built him out of sand and starfish if he'd had to. Now he knows Sam's address, and he knows the kid's probably not wearing an ascot, but that's where the line falls on for-sures. Sam could be anything.
(And that's what Dean hates. The spiral. It's not about the knowing at all. It's the spiral.)
60/40 they never speak again. If Dean could nudge that statistic in either direction, then at least he'd know what to do. He closes his eyes. "You're a happy seal. How 'bout some answers? Where's the buried treasure?"
He doesn't know what she'd offer, and he doesn't expect that she would, but the dark, heavy silence is exhausting and he doesn't want to dream.
Why are you here? she demands, instead of giving.
Dean coughs. Swallows. "Because Roy Meeker--is a fucking douchebag."
Belladonna slaps his chest with her flipper, and he coughs again. It hurts this time.
"Because no one told me you were supposed to choose lifelines that didn't have minds of their own."
This is not his goddamn fault.
Why did you come?
This is not his fault.
What did you think you would do.
Pearls for eyes, she says. If that's what you think, no one can help you.
He waits for her to add the magical --but you. No one can help you but you. Hell, he wants her to. He wants to call her bullshit. He's heard it from a million different mouths that all think they're saying it for the first time. Well, he's heard it from Dad. The other ninety-nine percent is an assumption based on Dad. He'll give her that. Either way, he's tired of this power-military, greeting card, spiritual oneness alpha male yoga crap. Because he's pretty sure he can speak from experience: It sucks, and he ain't buying it. 'You' is the last place you should be going to for help.
But she doesn't add. She doesn't croon. She says: You will drive.
You will drive as far from the sea as you can get, as far from any life that leads to drowning. You will stand at the tops of mountains and never recognize how high you've climbed. You will walk caverns and never admit how low. You will lash nets from lifelines and telephone wires. You will drag them behind you, however far you go. And you will go far--farther than most dream of, farther than even their fear can imagine. You will march with lead boots, an unstoppable force. A freight that melts the iron that guides it. A stampede of metal and blood and resignation. In the end, you will always end up here. A thousand times and you'll end here, no matter who saves you; no matter what you pretend to forget; no matter how many lies you tell. No matter who believes them.
She looks at him then, dark eyes gel-like and glistening. Her blubber sags. I have seen your death, she says. Which means I've seen your everything. And I know you: You will carry a net. You will live as though you cannot see it. And then one day, eventually, finally--you will drown.
You will drown.
Dean runs his hands through his hair and thinks about gouging out his eyes. And he wishes there were not a goddamn seal in his bed. His voice snaps like driftwood. "How--is knowing that supposed to help me?"
Belladonna licks his forehead with a leathery tongue, and he knows it's not.
Then she is human again, folding her skin like a flag. She has his duffel slung over her shoulder. She puts his phone by his head. "But I bear gifts," she interjects, like she hasn't just dropped bombshells. (And maybe she hasn't. Maybe it's nothing new. Isn't that why you're here, Winchester? Why you came? What you thought you might do.)
She offers him her skin. "This is for you."
"Okay, that's creepy." Not that anything else hadn't been--well, whatever. Creepy's relative and Dean's trying to get back on track, here. Here and now here and now here and now.
When she doesn't respond, he looks harder, and sees it is not her skin. This one is different. This one's folded in squares. This one's for him.
"No," he says.
"We saved you," she says. "But you drowned, and you will always drown. We did not fix you."
Panic, to add to confusion. Delirium. This isn't happening. It is fucking surreal and it is not happening.
She shakes her head. You drowned, remember? I told you. Did you think that was going to disappear?
This isn't happening.
He makes a weak swipe under his pillow for the knife that's not there, knocks the phone from the bed in the downsweep.
She picks it up, places it atop the pelt. "You shouldn't wait for him. You don't know how many people have waited for their lost lovers, their lost selves, and turned to stone. Take what we offer you. Come with me. You know you cannot escape. Come with me. Come now."
He's spent about a million years struggling with that same damn insistence; but he hears it from a selkie and all he wants to do is tell her she's full of shit. (Which is probably a lie. It's less clarity than it is belligerence. But Dean figures he doesn't really care. Belligerence is a balloon, a lung that fills and carries him.)
He glares at the thick, oily skin. It's rippling, like it's matched its breaths to his shaky own. "I don't know what the hell you think I'm gonna do with that. Put it on the blackmarket?"
She doesn't force him. She doesn't fight. If she doesn't fight then there is no fight. If there is no fight, then there's no fight that Dean can win.
"I am the Lady of the Rocks," says the selkie. "The lady of situations. You have seven years. That's the rule." She says it like she knows she'll see him again.
Dean hates foresight.
"Now, téigh i do chodladh."
And in his dream, he tells her to suck it. Seven years, he'll probably be dead anyway.
Sam called. Dean slept through it, but Sam called. His phone's LCD blinks accusatorily at him from what's serving as his bedside table (two apple crates), a green-white duet that alternates between LOW BATTERY and 1 MISSED CALL - S. His phone's also telling him it's 11pm on January 3rd, which means he's been asleep for four days straight.
If it counts as sleep; he's exhausted. And freezing. He makes a fist around the comforter and rolls onto his stomach, creates a warm cocoon that smells more like stale sweat than even mildew at this point. Sweat and selkie--one guess who's notably missing from the picture.
"Bella~donna," he says, and tests his voice. He's not gonna charm any cheerleaders out of their panties with it, but death threats are probably still on the table. Since downstairs money's on needing that one more than the former, Dean figures that's acceptable. His cough's even worse, like whatever's clogging his chest has gone SeaMonkey on him. It starts as a thunderous rumble in his chest but snaps up his throat like jagged lightning. He wonders how long he's going to keep this one.
When he tries to sit up, every movement orchestrates itself under lead curtains. The unwilling slowness of something that, oh, hasn't moved in four days. Or of the dead. If he were dead he wouldn't feel like absolute shit. His vision blacks as the blood rushes from his head. He's hungry. Even further across the ether than his musculature is his stomach, the dull clang of its emptiness feeding him echoes. Like hell he wants to eat, but his body apparently has other ideas. It'd be nice if once in a while they could be on the same page, but people and same pages aren't as common as you'd think.
As he tests his legs (arms passed the threshold for movement, failed everything else), he plays Sam's message. It's a bad idea, 60/40 it's a bad idea, but it's Sam. Sometimes Dean bets on 40.
Sorry I didn't call earlier, Sam says. Had a wicked cold. Getting better now, though. (Who the fuck says 'wicked'?)
I dunno where you're at, but um. An inarticulate pause, incomprehensible muttering, static. He's interrupted; a muffled explanation, hang on I'm leaving a message, okay? and more stalling. Well, jus' wanted to say ha-- welcome to 2005. Hope you have a good one. Also, I figured I'd mention your birthday in advance, so...yeah. Call me back. Or I'll call you, or. Something. Bye, Dea-- I'll call you. Bye.
He can stand. Everything's tight from disuse and he's already tired all over again, but his knees only balk once. He's pretty sure everything's raw from the waist down, jeans dried in waves and cracking with salt every time he moves. He doesn't feel the need to trade words with the mirror this early in the morning (midnight, it's almost midnight), but he can see from here his hair is pointing every fucking way. Figures; he thought the point of keeping it short was being able to avoid this Sammy shit.
This Sammy shit. Welcome to 2005.
But whatever, that's enough grooming. He doesn't have the energy to think about this. He leans against the door of the room he realizes he hasn't paid for and deletes the voice mail. He'd call back but he doesn't know what he'd say. 'Hey man, I was probably fucking a seal when you called, but I just wanted to mention your birthday in advance'?
Probably time to start missing Sam's phone calls on purpose, anyway. Dean figures it'll keep the suspicions at bay when someday he stops calling.
He coughs his way down a set of narrow, creaking stairs he doesn't remember going up and ends up center stage in the world's emptiest bar. Sardines must be out at sea. Dean doesn't even want to think about what's at sea.
"Roy." He's sitting at the bar smoking Cloves, right where Dean left him. He's wide-eyed now, because he's spellbound by the Ressurection, he's appalled by how much shit Dean knows he looks, or because he's trying to catch enough light to see anything in this stupid bar. Dean's pushing for Door Number One, because he still needs to believe that death is at least slightly badass. It's a choice. It can end--everything. It's a deal with fate. It's as close to winning as you're ever gonna get.
He drops onto what is apparently now his regular stool and coughs. "Whiskey," he says to the barkeep in coda.
When he recovers himself: "So Walt, how you been?"
Walt smears his nose into his sleeve and honks. He's chewing on a spoon. "You know. Working."
"Somethin' about Chinese turtles."
"Well, that explains why you're still here."
The barkeep returns with a cup of water, no ice, and oyster crackers.
"What am I, an invalid?"
"Bar tab's maxed out," the barkeep explains. "Little water's good for you, though."
Roy shrugs. "Sucks, man."
"You can have this," adds Walt. He slides a half-empty can of watery soup down towards Dean, steamless and cold. "S'good with the crackers."
Walt stops chewing on his spoon and offers that to him, too.
("Thirty for the booze, fifty for the room," the barkeep whispers, when Walt's distracted by his spoon and Roy's messing with his lighter. "Crackers are on me.")
So much for making a buck off this job. Think fast, Winchester.
"Hey Walt, you up for some darts? Hundred bucks says I bull's-eye from here."
Walt shrugs approval.
The darts are sitting in a tall cup next to the napkin dispenser. Dean throws--wide. Clearly-I-must-be-hustling-some-idiot wide. Except for the clearly he's hustling someone part. "...Best out of three?"
Walt takes his soup back. "Don't wanna take money you don't got," he says, around fatty cubes of chicken and limp noodles. "Give me my shirt back and we'll call it even."
Dean turns away to cough. "Fine--two shots, a hundred dollars, and either way I keep the shirt. Final offer."
"Your funeral." Only too true.
But Dean throws--motion unexpectedly, miraculously smooth--and there's his bull's-eye. Dean grins in spite of himself. His lips crack and his cheeks feel stretched. Walt concedes defeat and hands the prize directly to the barkeep.
"Owe me twenty," Dean reminds him, lucid with victory.
"Whiskey?" says the barkeep.
"Gas." There's a clawing in his throat. "Getting as far away from this fuckin' coastline--this entire fuckin' state--as I can. No offense." He steels himself for the cough, gets bent double by the clusterfuck regardless.
"Uh, Dean--" Roy, this time. "You sure you don't wanna stick around? Storm's going outside, and uh--the soup's not bad."
Dean leans into Roy, close enough to brush stubble. "Roy," he says, just notches above a whisper. "We ever meet up again, do me a favor and just shoot me." He claps him on the back, and raises his voice. "Better yet, have Walt do it. Hiya, Walt."
"Dean. You did--you did good with us." Which Dean's parsing as the hey-I-do-have-balls version of, You shouldn't be alone.
Dean swallows down phlegm. He can save his cough for the storm. Takes his twenty, shakes the packet of oyster crackers, and makes for the door.
Roy reiterates: "You shouldn't be alone."
There's a seal skin shoved across his dash, quivering with breath and making condensation like it's a being all its own. You will lash yourself a net. And eventually, finally--you will drown.
He has his cell in his pocket and his brother still on speed dial; hell, it'd be faster than EMS.
And probably just as helpful. Dean lets desolation outweigh inclination, doesn't so much as twitch his fingers. He feels an opportunistic cough gnawing at this tonsils. He holds his breath, until it crawls rejected down inside him. Then he snatches the pelt off the dash. He's got seven years. So learn to swim, Winchester. Learn to fucking swim.
On the other hand--seven years. That seems tedious as fuck. He remembers the white white white of Highway 280. Invisible cliffs. Impossible speed. As of ten minutes ago, he's settled all his debts.
But across the reservoir, there's Stanford. He could make it in like half an hour. Winter quarter hasn't even started yet; he looked it up. He remembers staring at the calendar and thinking, you could be around for that. You could still be here. If you didn't have anywhere else to be. You could still be here.
You will lash yourself a net. And eventually, finally--you will drown.
Fuck. He doesn't know. He can feel the violent desperation fading. White fog thinning. Self-preservation knocking. But it's not a slide back to peace. There is no peace. It's just him, in his car, alone.
And eventually, finally--
He still has Sam on speed dial. Three seconds to dial. Two for Sam to pick up--if he picks up. He said he'd call; he hasn't yet. Historically, he doesn't.
--you will drown.
Pelt, far back of the trunk, behind a barricade of salt tins and funeral shrouds. Phone, on top of that. He can't look away until the trunk lid springs give under the weight of his hands and the trunk begins to close. Black gives way to white white white.
Then Dean's phone rings.
+ Epigraph, bad colds, and all of the water courtesy of T.S. Eliot and "The Waste Land." Selkie mythos borrowed from A. Asbjorn Jon, who suggested that selkies are formed from the souls of the drowned. Roy's surname is courtesy of Ralph Meeker, best known for his role as Mike Hammer in the 1950s noir film, Kiss Me Deadly. Walt's is courtesy of The Little Mermaid.
+ This story is dedicated to Season 7.