There's not much to see in the ocean--not when it's night, and dark, and deep.
But there's plenty to hear. There's knocking and clicking and rumbling and screaming and it echoes through passages and melon chambers in Dean's head and the world fans out before him in a soundscape. He can hear speed, and spines, and he can hear the memory of color and of course, music. Thwaking boats above him, the peal of tiny, austere bells below. He can't see a thing, but he feels the space around him in his jaw and up to his brain, and it's clearer than anything he's ever known on earth before. There's nothing to see, so Dean feels everything. If it weren't so cold, if it weren't so his, it would remind him a lot of Hell. But maybe this is just what it feels like to be at the top of the food chain.
Below him he hears screaming. The sound of bright pain and dark fury. The screaming forms and archway and it beckons, the sound reaches out for him--with such strength Dean turns toward it, against the current, and plunges toward its depths. He's full of water and then, suddenly, he's full of sound, and then panic. And what does he do?
He fucking runs.
The ocean pitches vertically, and then Dean's hands are under the tap, and he's splashing water onto his face.
It's artificial-bright, there are walls on all sides of him, he is human. Right, it's a bathroom. He's in Sam's jacket and not a whole lot else. They're at--whoa, marble countertops.
They're at some kind of ritzy hotel.
The sea is probably miles away.
Dean's not entirely sure how they got here.
His hands are covered in blood and mucus, and there's black under his fingernails. He scrubs until his knuckles are pink and raw, and then gives up. He looks at himself in the mirror; he'd need a three-day shower to come clean from this one. And he's had enough of water.
He feels...not right. He wipes a hand across his stomach and nearly gasps at its tenderness; everything from his ribs down feels misshapen, disorganized. His abdomen is ridged and herniated, and the realization makes him feel overheated and dizzy. His back is fucking killing him.
And he doesn't know what to do.
He hadn't planned this far ahead. He's not sure what he'd expected to find in the ocean--and still isn't sure what he did. It's all a froth in his head, an unbearable wall of sound he cannot penetrate. But whatever it was, he knows he ran from it.
Which fucking figures, because it's a little late for cold feet now.
There's an aching in his jaw and screaming in his head, but there's no blade, and there's no end, and he figured he'd find one or the other--and neither of them involved coming back. But here he is--for now, at least.
He puts a hand to his back and tries not to hyperventilate. Then he pitches forward. He concentrates on the rush of the tap down the sink and back, back all the way to the ocean.
Not good. Not good at all.
His arms shake as he props himself up over one of the double sinks. He should be puking in the toilet but that would require getting much lower than he's willing to manage right now. Wincing, he takes off Sam's jacket arm by arm. The mark is still an angry red, spider veins running away from it and down his arm. There's a darker network spilling out deeper under the skin, and these trace down to his wrist. But it doesn't... it doesn't push him, or call out to him--not like the things in the sea, or the ringing in his own head. It seems more like evidence than actor.
Dean wonders what that says about him.
Passive or not, the Mark isn't above splintering his arm with a gnawing (marrow-sipping) pain. He tries to lean low enough to at least get it under some cold water, for all the good that won't do.
His fingers feel like overfilled sausages, but he paws at the crumple of clothing on the counter and manages to pull on a T-shirt (also Sam's); his own flannel; and his own jacket, still damp, its pockets emptied. The jeans are a harder sell. Something low in his back protests vocally as he steps into them and tries to get close enough to the floor to pull them up. He feels just as likely to topple over.
Then there's a pressure behind him. A thing standing too close. Dean's awareness spikes and he feels a laciniate shudder down his spine as every muscle primes and tenses.
"Bend from the hips," says Crowley.
Dean does his best to fuck instinct and fail to react. He won't give Crowley that satisfaction. "I'm a little busy," he rasps.
But Crowley shuffles Sam's jacket off to the side with a sweep of his foot and settles in. He peeks in the mirror over Dean's shoulder.
Dean feels like the only real way to describe Crowley in that moment is way too fucking close. "Touch me, and I kill you."
"But would you really? You put your cells in my hands, Dean. I'm the only one who knows what I did to them."
"You can't fix any of this." If he could, Sam would have seen that he did. "You don't get points for being redundant."
"What is it with you two and negating my obvious necessity? Does it make you uncomfortable?" asks Crowley. "Who do you think pulled your mucky ass out of the water and dragged you up here? Any of this ringing a bell?"
Sam, he'd assumed. Sam had. But apparently he was wrong.
If Crowley reads the confusion on his face, he doesn't comment. He nods toward the faucet, which is still running. "Perhaps you should drink some of that water rather than beautify in it. Your significantly less large, less impressive human kidneys aren't quite caught up with your diet of salt and salt water."
Dean doesn't want to hear this sick bay crap, and definitely not from Crowley. If it's gonna be anyone, it should be Sam. Sam should be here with him; Dean should be falling apart, and trying not to fall apart, and doing that whole dog and pony show, and zipping up his fucking fly with Sam, not Crowley. Or not Sam; maybe Sam's not a 'should' anymore, just a wish. They've hit the end of the road, and all of that is nothing more than a wish.
"Semi-human kidneys," Crowley clarifies, because Dean hasn't moved. "As one might imagine, your body is a mite panicked at the mo'. Just remember--Moose is the one who rushed the spell."
"Keep Sam out of this." It should not be you.
"Seriously? Now you're hardline about being a lone wolf? I saw how well that worked for you last time. Drinking, brawling, dubious tattoos--"
"Crowley," Dean says. And Dean turns on him, quicker than Crowley clearly would have given him credit for. But it's not so hard if Dean shuts himself down. If he lets go of a day from now, or ten minutes from now, and Sam, and his body, whatever the fuck is happening to his body. If he lets go of pain--cautionary red flag that it is--and just listens to the ocean beat against him, flow through him as he sucks it down. Hell, forget the finish line. Forget Abaddon, and Metatron, and possibly most of all Gadreel. Forget Cas, wherever he is; forget Sam, and that look he gives Dean without even realizing. Forget self-pity and hurt and fear and hatred, and all the rest of his bullshit. Let the ocean fill the vacuum. All that matters is what's right fucking in front of him, the surge it kicks through his body. And Crowley needs to go.
He grabs Crowley by the tie and slams his back against the edge of the marble sink. Then Dean pulls him in close, and makes sure Crowley meets his fucking eyes.
Crowley's gaze travels all the way down Dean's arm before Dean slams him back against the sink again with an audible crunch. "As far as you're concerned, I'm doin' just fine. Blade or no blade, fucking try me."
"So I see," Crowley says carefully. He adjusts both his suit and his spine and rolls out a crick in his neck. "I'll be waiting in the cafe, then. Oh, and just because we're besties, tell Sam I've ordered him up some room service. I assume you're not hungry."
Then Crowley vanishes with a crack. Dean feels the pulse of the sound in his bones.
Dean's fine. But, threat dispatched, he backs up against the wall.
He braces his hands against his knees as he concentrates on breathing. It's one of those things that's been some kind of Herculean task altogether too many times this weekend. He lets himself sink all the way to the ground.
The tile beneath him is cool and hard.
If he thought yesterday was shit, it's a wonder what twenty-four hours can do.
He's not even sure if this is or is not what he'd hoped. All of his expectations had, in a general sense, been accurate; but bracing yourself for a downward spiral was sort of like planning for water to be wet.
He'd hoped for a miracle. He'd hoped for oblivion. He'd hoped that Cas would show, that he and Sam would find their stride again. That'd he'd wake up one morning forgiven, that he'd know how to apologize in a way that mattered to him and Sam both, that he'd learn how to fucking let go of shit and that Sam would too. But more realistically he'd hoped that everything would throw itself to the fire. That they would break in ways that begged no further scrutiny, that left no doubts and no wishes as to where the next step led. If he's gonna sink, then let him sink. He just wants to drown quickly.
Because maybe it's called tenacity, or resilience, or something. In some circles, maybe it's even bravery, this fucking commitment to hanging on to the belief that he and Sam, they're gonna be okay. Maybe it's supposed to be heroism, this never giving up on family--or never giving up on the world-saving thing, or the vengeance thing, or whatever it is they're supposed to be in the middle of right now. But Dean can see it for what it really is, and it's drag. Bottom-trawling. And there's nothing brave or heroic about being stuck like this.
He needs help.
He passes a tentative hand over his middle, which is lumpy and tender and hot. It's probably the least of his problems, his body, but it's still a bad move. His stomach lurches, he feels a tightness in his chest and heat on his cheeks and whatever in the name of god was in his stomach comes up for inspection. From the taste (and whose palate is this, exactly?), Dean blearily guesses porpoise. Fuck.
He wipes the worst of it from his front and swipes his sleeve over his chin. What a fucking mess. He should really stop putting things in his mouth. This is completely fucking pathetic.
And he really, really needs help.
But he just--
He's on his hands and knees trying to get back on his feet.
The bathroom opens out into a vast penthouse space, with the kind of furniture that makes you realize how shit normal furniture is. Everything has an executive gleam to it, exorbitant jewel tones with glimmering industrial flourishes, and Dean knows exactly who must have set them up here. He doesn't want to think about what must have happened that Crowley got to be their travel agent and Dean's nursemaid, but the west wall is floor-to-ceiling glass, with a panoramic view of the black ocean and the constellations of light that form the city below, and he almost doesn't have to. There's the rush of the sea in his bones and a vibrating in his jaw, a tingling in his arms, and he almost doesn't have to come back to anything else.
Sam's folded himself into a defensible corner by the wetbar, away from the great window and the openness of the rest of their space. He's on the phone, and for a moment Dean thinks maybe he's finally gotten ahold of Cas. But "Bungalow Jim's" hold music is so loud even Dean can hear the repetitive jingle. The lyrics are "bungalow," "Jim," and "Canadian"--which seems like a stretch, rhyme-wise.
Sam just wants a new motel.
When Sam catches sight of him, he appraises Dean silently, as though he's not sure who or what he might be looking at. Dean doesn't give him any clues, which is probably identification enough. Instead he weaves his way through their bulging suede sofa set and drops onto the edge of the coffee table. It's glass etched with corals and seagrass.
He's asked Sam for too much already.
Because Dean appraises Sam, too. Sam scans the room constantly; and sometimes his focus alights on Dean, and sometimes it doesn't, but he never falls away from red alert. Maybe orange. But Sam hates the room and he hates the window; and it's not just the insinuation of Crowley in all the furnishings (though that doesn't help; if Crowley owns Canada, clearly he owns this penthouse, too. And it's probably not Crowley's gold-hearted goodness that's gifted them with any of the above).
This is exactly the kind of room that they don't touch, in the same sense that Crowley's not someone they work with and Dean's not something Sam should have to worry about. That is, Sam's freaked. He's uncomfortable in his own skin, and his own room, and all of these massive spaces that should be his alone to rule.
And for some reason, 'hey Sammy, what's going on with you? are you all right?' has been redacted from Dean's vocabulary.
Instead he sits, and he aches, and he half-memorizes the lyrics to Bungalow Jim / Canadian / he's an honest fellow / if you think the prices in Hell are low / you must be a comedian / and then something about beating him violently. But maybe Dean's making that up.
He runs a hand through his tacky hair and lets it rest at his nape. His back--or his kidneys, Dean supposes--throb.
Sam's domino number one. If Dean addresses one thing, there's no way they're getting away without having the whole fabric of everything come down on them--and these are the kind of dominoes that spill both ways. It'll probably kill them both if they're not ready, and maybe even if they are. Of course, Dean's not sure if he doesn't want that. It'd be easier.
"Hang up the phone," Dean says wearily. But even tired has an edge, and Sam's attention snaps away from the front door and back to Dean. He continues, "Bungalow Jimmy clearly ain't picking up for you. If you don't like this room, sorry pal. Get over it. Shitty penthouse, differently shitty bungalow--it doesn't matter."
Sam looks shocked, and then hurt, and then he doesn't care. "What, you want every odd stacked against us? That's your big plan?"
"Hang up the phone."
Dean is tired of trying to make the right choices. He's so far down this road there aren't any left. And all this waffling, the second-guessing and the hoping and the dumb fucking hanging on to Sam, is just screwing everything up more. No matter what he does, it's like climbing a mountain in a landslide he set off. And he is so tired of walking away from what feels good. (Well, "good." Dean has low standards.)
But the Bungalow Jim song cuts out and there's the tromp of Sam's boots across marble, and Sam's voice somewhere in front of him. Which doesn't really feel good at all but fuck, Dean wants it. He wants Sam.
Sam wants specifics. "What's wrong?" he asks, the way Dean fucking hadn't. Of course, he probably could have phrased it better. At this point, what wasn't wrong?
Up close, Sam looks clammy and ashen. His hair's full of sea gunk, and when he sits down in the vast chair across from Dean, he lets out a sharp yip when he sinks in too deep. He's as much a rollercoaster of masks as Dean is, and they keep missing each other. But at least Sam has a hand out. It's wrapped with a haphazard scrap bandage; Dean's pretty sure he recognizes the shirt it came from.
"And what--" Sam starts.
"It's not mine," Dean says, pushing Sam's hand away from his shirt, which is crusty now with salt and animal blood. "I ate a porpoise. And then I threw it up."
"Oh, if that's all," says Sam.
Sam takes a deep, shuddering breath, and the energy in the room kicks down a notch. They're back to a tired, low-grade panic, empty of bravado. "Seriously, man."
Sam's holding himself so tenderly, and he's so, so done. (And whose fault is that.)
He does not need to hear that Dean's a fucking mess; that's been obvious since god knows when, and Sam has his own hurt to nurse. He doesn't need someone to tell him how bad it is, whatever they're deep into (and only halfway though)--it's bad. He just needs to know what their timeframe is, how much time and juice they have to work with.
Dean fixes himself on Sam with something like intensity--intensity, if it were scribbled in the dark.
"We're going to need to track down Abaddon sooner rather than later," he says.
Sam is quiet.
"Okay," he says, eventually. He looks away, and comes back around all business. He nearly chokes on the transition, but once he's in the game, he's in the game. "Okay," Sam says again. "So do you have the blade?"
He's so far in the game Dean realizes he's going to have to scramble to catch up.
Because Dean doesn't know what he has. As far as the First Blade goes, obviously he didn't jump out of the ocean with a sword in hand. But he feels different; he's pretty sure he feels different.
Well, honestly he hasn't been that great at keeping track lately. And anyway, maybe that's just organ failure. There's killing intent in him for sure, and he's ready to waste something--he almost doesn't care what. But that's not necessarily new, and "ready" don't guarantee a whole lot, results-wise.
"I--" he stalls.
When he tries to backtrack, re-trace his steps, Cain and his metaphysics get in the way, or Crowley and his bargain bin spell fall short, because Dean gets as far as ocean, and wet, and really fucking loud, and he can't--he doesn't know how to hold on to being whale. He can't grab hold of it anymore, and when he tries there's that pain between his eyes, the kind that you get when you're trying to run through a life-or-death scenario on too little sleep and you can't for the life of you ever get past step one or two, and pushing any further just socks you in the face. All his efforts dribble out, hemorrhagic defeat.
He remembers freedom. He remembers power. He remembers turning tail. "I think," he slurs, "I talked to a porpoise."
"Hey, hey. Stay with me. And then what?"
Dean feels Sam's hand squeeze his shoulder.
"And then I ate it."
"Uh, why? I mean--never mind. What'd it say?"
"I was a whale. Whales swim around and they eat things. I don't know what else to tell you, man."
Actually, in flashes, one thing he does remember is tearing that porpoise apart. That had been bright clear fun. But push farther than the freely given and it's just blank pain.
Mostly, he remembers running the fuck away.
Dean's hands find a distraction.
There's a remote on the table. Weird, since there's no TV that Dean can find.
When he punches it on, all the lights in the suite exchange themselves for a scattering of rotating stars. Sam startles when Dean drops the darkness onto them. Then sound erupts from all sides--ambient guitar riffs.
The next channel boasts dock sounds, and flashing pointillizations of light that are meant to recreate the glint of the sun on sleek boats, or maybe flashbombs. Dean's not sure.
The next goes underwater. The light from above attenuates and refracts. The noise filters into the room round and whole.
Leave it to Crowley to deck out his penthouse with the most involved nightlight in the entire fucking universe. Of course you should be afraid of the dark.
Sam's less than interested in the toy, though. "Dean, focus. You gotta give me more to work with."
"I'm doing the best I can."
"I'm doing the best I can. Catch up. What else do you remember? You were gone for hours, and... you know, you came back pretty freaked."
Blood in the water, he thinks. No big--the porpoise's. Then the brightness from below, the screaming. The brightness and the screaming, that had been something. Obviously. But fuck, his head, and his everything. It's like all of that, in the ocean, wasn't his anymore. He can't read it, he can't handle it. And, Dean realizes, he fucking wants it back. Because of what he remembers, it had felt pretty damn good.
He must say this, or part of this, to Sam, because Sam starts in on this thing where he wants him to imagine being back and just walk it through. Sam wants him to use the night light or some shit to get him in the zone.
"I'm pretty sure we had this unspoken promise where we get through this without any New Age-y dreamcatcher crap," Dean interrupts.
"I will get out the ouija board if I have to," says Sam. "If the shoe fits. And you're the one playing with the--with the fucking--"
"--disco ball in the first place. I'm just saying, the memories are there--even if they don't feel like yours. And we need them, so."
"So go get them!"
Dean lifts his head enough to quirk an eyebrow at Sam. If Sam thinks that's supposed to sound like it's even in the ballpark of easy, he's being really obtuse right now. "Dude, that's like asking someone what they did at Burning Man. I can't."
"This isn't some fucking drug trip. Take some responsibility, Dean. I mean, christ--"
If that doesn't feel like being called out, Dean's not sure what does. But he's just trying to make it to the finish line. By whatever means necessary, he needs to make it to the finish line. (Except, he thinks, at the bottom of the ocean--at the bottom of the ocean, it hadn't mattered. He hadn't cared. When he lets himself go under then the finish line doesn't matter. Everything had just been power and sound and the sound of power. It had all seemed so beautiful but when he thinks about it now, right here, he's scared. His jaw aches, and so does his throat.)
If Sam wants responsibility from him, he can show him goddamn responsibility. He starts from the top. "Look, man. After that church, and you were in that hospital--I just. Yeah, I made the shitty decision where you live. I knew was going to lose you either way, so I made the shitty decision where you live."
And he did lose him. Sam's still sitting right in front of Dean, but in the slowest possible fucking way, Dean lost him.
Sam looks more surprised by the change of topic than he should be. Dean can't imagine a world where Sam's not thinking about this every single time he forgets to keep himself preoccupied. Sam's silence makes him uncomfortable, so Dean keeps talking. "Don't tell me I wasn't thinking about the consequences--I was. Everything's got consequences; that's all we ever get."
Dean's a poor loser, even when he expects the outcome; and expecting loss doesn't mean he'll take it any better. But if Sam thinks he honestly saw them headed anywhere else, he must come across as more optimistic than he'd thought. A regular bucket of sunshine.
Sam purses his lips. Something illegible crashes through him. When he surfaces, he says, "What about the Blade? How much do you know about those consequences?"
What was this, Nuremburg?
No, he hadn't asked specifics of the Mark, or the Blade, or this whole whale thing. Because if he had, he might not have gone through with any of it; he might have just stalled out (and he still fucking did, he thinks; he got all the way to the edge of the ocean and he still choked) and let things happen around him. And he's not supposed to do that.
He's not even sure how that got decided, but it's in him, and like so many other things, it's not letting go.
He doesn't answer, but Sam presses forward anyway. It's like this relentless stream of questions Dean can't swallow, and they pile and pile up. "Do you know what Crowley put in his spell?"
No, Dean doesn't. Again and again, no. But now that Sam's forced the contemplation, Dean has a fair inkling. It's the First Blade and the Mark of Cain, after all.
"I don't know what you want from me," he mumbles, finally.
Sam just looks at him like he wants more. Dean's not sure if he can give that. He and Sam can talk double standards and reckless, stupid things until they're blue in the face, some part of Dean still believes that if he throws himself down hard enough, he might bounce. If he drives hard in any direction, he'll find paved road again. If he kicks up enough momentum, he'll know what to do. Maybe this is how you save yourself.
On the other hand, he's not even sure he knows anymore the difference between acceptance and apathy, or driving hard and driving away. No matter what he says or what he does, the damage's done; it doesn't undo, just accrues in fractals, in every direction. And if Dean feels sick about anything, it's that this isn't rock bottom. Fucking somehow, he can actually still do worse by Sam; and he still has more of Sam to lose.
He doesn't know what he's doing anymore.
"Then follow my lead," says Sam. They're sitting in the dark with this ridiculous fucking soundtrack going, and Sam says follow his lead. The light slips over his face and something about him seems calm.
"Where's Cas?" Dean asks instead. "Have you heard from him?"
Sam's calm tessellates, and his pain and his exhaustion show through a little too much to sell the veneer, but all he says is, "I'm here, Dean. Let's start with that."
It seems a little bit late to be starting anything. But Dean wipes his hands down his face and takes a great, steady breath. He rejects the nausea quickening in his stomach and ignores the bleating of his kidneys and he fixates on the cool, dark feeling rolling at the back of his head. He feels out the pain and he lets himself dip into its nothingness, its dissociative confusion of sensation. It distills, refracts, and scrambles, and it sounds like bells. If he's gonna make it through this, this is the only way. He's so sorry, Sam.
What Dean wants is to be on the road again. He wants Sam to be happy. Or he wants Sam to stop looking at him like that, to stop having to look at him like that. He wants clarity, or he just wants something to be easy for once. And maybe Dean doesn't know what he wants--just what he'll settle for. (Except he's not supposed to settle.)
He lets the sound of the ocean beat against his ear drums.
Really, though. He wouldn't mind the road; the Impala was power and freedom without the price tag. But mostly all he thinks of now is the clear peal of that underwater bell, the hum of tuning forks, the cool, blue thing in his head and his insides trying out new configurations. Driving through Wyoming and wishing it were already the sea.
He can feel that again, that change. Like he's backsliding. But maybe he's grabbing for it, because when he gives himself to the ocean inside himself, he feels awake, directed, real. He feels right. And he can speak. "All right, let's do this."
"There should be something bright," says Sam.
"Loud," Dean corrects. But Sam's right, too--it had sounded bright. It had been bright. Dean wonders what kind of freakish websites Sam had even unearthed, to know that.
Then he gives himself to the ocean and doesn't let the thought derail him. There should be something bright and loud.
"Fine, loud," says Sam. "So you saw it then, or--heard it, whatever. I think that's what we're looking for."
"Well, we're in trouble if the Blade is a shiny sound at the bottom of the ocean."
"I don't think it's the Blade," says Sam.
Dean knows it's not the blade. The more he lets the ocean come back into him, the more certain he is. He can feel the ringing in his jaw and the playful bloodlust in all his teeth and he's pretty sure now that the Blade isn't in the ocean any longer. Why was the sword never an actual goddamn sword? Dean twists uncomfortable in his skin and half expects it to be turning black and fatty.
Sam's still fixated on the bright and deep. "I think it's a door," he says. "We might not even need the blade. We--"
"Sam, what--" Dean stops. Suddenly the ocean is fear all over again, because he needs to be him, he needs to be here, he needs to be here for Sam-- "Where are you getting this from?"
(But you can't be any of those things. Don't you know that by now?)
Sam regards him with that illegible expression of his. It's something hungry and desperately hopeful and by grace of that hope, it's twisted. Dean doesn't like it.
Then it's gone, and Sam's just Sam. "Dean, please. Just trust me."
And Dean almost does.
It feels for the tiniest moment like maybe there's a way out. If Dean would just say yes, and if he could get on board with this and grab ahold of it and make it work, if he could be certain that he and Sam could make it work, then maybe they'd be okay. He could close the doors on the Blade welling up inside of him and the ocean pouring back into them. He could back out of everything and trust Sam when he says that they're going to be okay. But every time Sam says 'follow my lead' and Dean listens, they follow it into a muddy dead end. They follow it into sharp gravel. They follow it into rain. They can follow it into a church in Nowhere, New York, a cemetery in Kansas, a liberty bell in South Dakota. They're all the same place. And Dean won't go there again.
He doesn't want a way out, anyway.
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