Kalliel (kalliel) wrote,
Kalliel
kalliel

Fic: Dry Salvages, Part 1


1.



Sam wakes down out of a dream. 4AM is far enough from midnight; Sam's willing to call it morning.

He never sleeps under the covers, and he has no bed to make, but he stoops down anyway and pulls the coverlet tight and perfect. He snaps his pillow back to factory setting, until it's free of depressions and has no memory of his ever having been. He erases himself from the room and tries to scrub the nightmares out. He runs his hands across the knotty wool blanket, and with his touch talks his subconscious down from the imprint of those same hands against a forehead. He talks them away from Kevin burning, blood and sclera flaky and charred. He talks them down to the reality of his quiet bedroom and the sticky innocence of night sweat. Away from Gadreel and down to Sam. Just Sam.

His stomach burns with what might be hunger. He hasn't eaten since his lunch break at that weight loss resort, and that, he wagers, had been only marginally more satisfying than Dean's roofie pudding. He listens for Dean in the next room, but the bunker is quiet.

It doesn't matter; he's looking for breakfast, not Dean. Just breakfast.

It's mornings like this Sam realizes how completely cut off they are from the outside world. There's no traffic off the Interstate, no buzz of next door's television; no kids making a game out of the ice machine, like he and Dean so often had. No late night motors running, no buzz of moths and beetles hitting bug lights; no electronic buzzer in the kitchen announcing his entrance--that two-tone step down of every mini mart in every state. Sam hated all of that then and almost misses it now.

It's thick and empty here. Whatever goes down hangs in the air and the echoes never quite stop.

Dean's not in the kitchen.

Dean's glass is in the sink, though, and rinsed; so there's that. Sam's not sure if the grave quiet means Dean's asleep or just gone, but Dean has a tendency toward entropy. Even inside the bunker he could be anywhere; at any given moment it's a decent bet he's partly in all of the rooms at once, like he's wandering through some kind of existential circuit. He'll turn up. Dean is not the issue here.

Food is another story. To Sam's dismay, none turns up in the kitchen. He'd finished off their corn flakes before Stillwater, and the milk had already been AWOL then. The fridge yields an empty six-pack yoke and half a bottle of ranch. No coffee, either.

It's possible that's where Dean is now--a supply run. Maybe. Even though La Dow's doesn't open for another couple hours and using a Love's to stock a kitchen is actually a height of desperation they haven't yet hit. Lately Dean's supply runs tend to run anywhere from a trim thirty minutes to meandering six- or seven-hour black holes, though; if the latter is the case Sam may not see him until lunch.

There's tea in a cupboard--circa 1950s, unopened. Sam considers it with trepidation. They've learned the hard way that although the Men of Letters loved meticulously filed paperwork, their jars of magic were hazardously poorly labeled.

(To the left of the Coffeemate, a questionable centrifuge; to the left of that, a kettle. One of these is not like the others. Water, boiling beside questionable centrifuge. Its contents have reacted to the heat of Sam's kettle, are turning green).

Of course, Sam hasn't labeled anything he's added, either. He figures if you don't know what it is, you shouldn't have it in your hands.

(Sam's tea tastes like fifty years of dust.)

He chokes his first gulp down. It's too hot and he burns his tongue, but maybe that's for the best; he's never liked that herbal taste. He just needs something in his stomach. The caffeine is a welcome bonus.

Sam wanders.

He wanders until inevitably, he's standing before Kevin's final resting place--an otherwise unremarkable corner in the War Room. Equally inevitably, Sam takes his tea in his left and puts his right arm out straight, the space of a human skull between his fingers and the wall. Sam wonders if Kevin had been unsuspecting then, had trusted him right up until the moment he realized he shouldn't have.

He wonders if Kevin had tried to run.

Sam should have known. He should have fought. You're supposed to know.

Dean had known enough for the both of them, apparently.

And fuck, at the very least, he should have pressed Dean. Sam's thought this a thousand times in the last few weeks, and the rush of shame and rage and devastation never abates. God knows Dean had been acting strange enough; Sam should have pressed him hard instead of tapering off, the way he always does. But he'd been afraid, he thinks. He'd been afraid the way he's always been about Dean's erraticisms, tailspins, darker ideations, and of finding something at the core of his brother that he could not trust, could not fix, could not defuse.

Which in the end, of course, he had. It just hadn't been at all what he'd expected.

Or maybe it was. Or maybe it all went hand in hand. Sam doesn't know.

He lets his hand drop. He may never know.

Sam takes another mouthful of his tea, crocodile green. Over the rim of his mug he notices Dean's coat lying in a haphazard pile near Kevin's corner. Either it had slipped from the back of one of their chairs or Dean had skipped that step entirely. Again--somehow he's in every room, all at once. Sam kicks the jacket out of his path and recommits to his rounds.

Dean's in here somewhere, and they need to talk. Now.


--



Sam finds him hanging over the mainframe, in the room where Charlie set up their angel-tracking headquarters. They'd outgrown any use for that in five seconds flat, which is typical of their breakthroughs. But of course Charlie was in Oz now; so there wasn't really any next step to take. Instead the whole outfit just sat and blinked, as useless as, well, a mainframe.

Dean doesn't look up when Sam enters. Useless or not, Dean's transfixed by the frenetic pulse of LED lights the mainframe scatters across one of the bunker's many maps. The lights coalesce and extinguish and Dean's eyes twitch like seismic needles registering the impact of each extinction. Maybe he enjoys that sensation of utter futility.

"Hey," says Sam, but Dean still doesn't look up.

"We're out of coffee," he says, louder this time.

Sam waits for the span of one more gulp of tea and receives more silence.

Dean is welcome to ignore him all he wants. Obviously last night's conversation hasn't quite ended yet on his end, either. But groceries are a part of their machine and not their brotherhood. If they let that get sloppy too, someone was going to end up dead.

Sam clears his throat. "I said, we're out of coffee. So I'm gonna--"

Screw it. What did it matter where he went, or who he told. "Find anything interesting?" he asks.

Dean looks up slowly, and when his gaze meets Sam his eyebrows raise, as though he'd just now realized he wasn't alone in the room. He's wearing a blue pallor that makes his age stand out.

"I'm looking for the douchiest-looking blip on the map. That's where Gadreel is," he explains simply.

So no, then. Nothing interesting. "What are you even doing in here? And when's the last time you slept?"

"That pudding knocked me out pretty good."

"That doesn't count."

"Do we still have passports?" Dean asks, and he sounds lightheaded. It's like he's looking for a tangent to collapse onto. "Nah, Frank burned 'em, right? Fuck."

Sam does not approach the mainframe, but he does look down. There's a decent concentration of red lights in the lower 48, but there's also fair distribution across Australia and what on this map is still technically the USSR. Dean fingers what may or may not be Angola and mutters, What are all these countries, anyway?

The bunker has twelve LED maps of the globe on its premises, and Sam still can't tell him what country that is. They are trying to save a world neither of them have ever seen.

Still, they've seen plenty. Dean puts a hand to his stomach, and Sam thinks that perhaps a fateful day has finally come--when Dean's diet of no sleep and no food and just liquor finally catches up with him. But Dean's head is bowed again, and he's watching the flex in and out of his hand as his breathing--which hadn't been even before, Sam realizes--evens out.

"We're gonna need passports," Dean announces hoarsely. "Otherwise we have a problem."

As if they didn't have a full cornucopia otherwise.

Dean's free hand taps the space that probably isn't Angola. It's a berry cluster of lights, and then it's empty. It's either a massacre or the LED's shorted out. Same difference, really. They can't fix it. Sam presides over the map in silence and watches the lights flicker out in bundles--extinction as seen from above. Of course it would be difficult for God to care, he thinks; the map isn't exactly drumming up his finest sympathies, either. But the whole angel thing is personal these days, and Sam's biased against them.

Sam listens to the sound of Dean's breathing. Speaking of personal.

"I don't think passports are our biggest problem, Dean," he says, finally.

"Yeah, I know, we're out of coffee."

"Uh, Dean. Are you--"

For a moment, Dean drops out of the room. His gaze dilutes, and he loses Angola in favor of some other vision. Seconds tick by, and the bright lights dance over the electric map. Then Dean's back, refocused and solid. For now.

"We're out of liquor, too. So what's that?" He gestures with his eyebrows, then prods tenderly at the back of his neck. He dry-swallows.

You mean, what was that, Dean? What's going on with you? Sam doesn't ask. He can't deal with this right now, not on top of everything else; neither of them can afford to fall into this kind of shitshow right now. Not at four in the morning. Sam does his best to put it from his mind, grimaces, and sniffs at his steaming mug. "Fifty-year old tea?"

"Huh." Dean's wraps his hand around his neck again. "That's what happens when you go to fat camp instead of the grocery store, I guess."

Dean fades again, into a sketch of someone Sam once knew. He seems almost transparent--except if he were, Sam would know what was going on. He'd be able to see something; he'd be able to do something to help. He'd be able to say something better than, "Dean, you really need to get some sleep."

Dean is not in favor. "You should--" He swallows. "You should leave. I'll finish up here. We can go grab breakfast-- or something-- While we figure out-- While we--"

Even barring present circumstances, Sam would have said no to that. No, no we can't, Dean. Not anymore. He can hear his own voice, soft and sad and firm, echoing out of counterfactual imagination. "Hey," Sam says gently, in the real. "You should drink this."

Dean doesn't look up. "Keep your mummified tea."

Sam knows where this is going, and Dean must know it, too, because he asks Sam to leave again. And when Sam doesn't, it becomes an order. "Get out."

Sam doesn't get out, and Dean abandons the sentiment in favor of something new, like he's jumped an orbital. He babbles. Or schemes. Whichever. "We could throw him in Pur--we could throw Gadreel in Purgatory, even if we can't get close enough to gank him, bastard wouldn't be expecting that, we could just open the gates and close them the fuck behind him. Throw Abaddon in, too. Hell, throw everything in, everything we don't need--"

Haphazardly, like all he's operating on is carryover from some earlier momentum, he picks up the pace: "Refrigerator's locked from the outside, no ticket out, plenty of Leviathans still hunting angel ass, Purgatory's the answer, Purgatory's the key--"

"Dean, you're scaring me," he says, though he's not scared, not yet. But for some things, it's just better to get in front. It's not as though revenge and bloodlust aren't common security blankets--because it's not like salted caramel pudding has ever done the trick--but more and more it's like he's not even talking to a person anymore, least of all his brother. Like an automated message.

"Okay." Dean stares him down expectantly. Okay, Sam, you've aired your grievance. Now that that's taken care of, are you gonna get on board or not?

Okay, so business then. He actually expects Sam to take this tangent seriously.

Sam sighs. "Purgatory's not a viable plan, Dean. 'Refrigerator locks from the outside'? I dunno if you've noticed, man, but outside's kind of the problem here. Metatron would spring him in what, a nanosecond? I mean-- Cas got pulled. And we already know the angels are bribing reapers. That's all they'd need--"

"Oh, that's all." The sound he makes is somewhere between a gasp and a chuff. "Back in my day, you went to Purgatory, people left you for dead."

Sam goes rigid. Okay, so not business. This is personal, after all. Sam's mug feels too hot in his hand, and his joints are sweaty.

"Is that what this is about," he says.

This is the problem with him and Dean. You can't say anything without it popping out hysterically overdetermined. You can't be sorry without apologizing for your entire life, or someone else's; you can't be wrong without becoming pointless. You can't be angry without it boiling over into hatred, or self-loathing. Because when he thinks about why he came down here in the first place, it's not like he can itemize and discuss the great Winchester fiasco of 2013 chapter by chapter. And when he looks at Dean, and he tries to piece together what it is he's even walked in on, it's not about how Dean spent his morning, or what Sam said last night, or anything with that comforting sense of linearity. They are a kind of haunting, him and Dean--or they exemplify a kind of haunting. If Sam sat, and Dean sat, and they managed to disentangle everything between them without strangling themselves, that'd be ideal.

But they're the strangling type. Suddenly, Sam can't breathe.

And then he's down the hallway, he's back in the War Room; he's lacing his boots, his mug is lost somewhere, he's tripping up the stairs to the front door. His wardrobe haphazard--track pants, hunting boots, T-shirt. It's probably balls cold outside, but Sam needs out right now. He needs to get out now.

Sam leaves.


--



It is cold. The temperature hits him like a shock. It's raining lightly. He's shaking, he realizes--and it's all he can do to force his body into motion and let the exertion marshal his breaths, because clearly his brain's not up to the task.

He shouldn't have left Dean like that. But something--it's like the logic wasn't there anymore. All the surety he'd felt--his place with respect to Dean and Dean's with respect to him--got knocked off its foundations, and everything just misfired. Instead of simplifying and ameliorating, they congealed, and now everything's all just double-edged shame and hurt and betrayal.

Sam runs. One foot after the other, something--an alien reassurance--wells up inside him.

The rain is like a sea mist, he thinks. The numbness in his calves is like breakwater.

And he thinks, he loves the sea.

Well, he doesn't. Sam doesn't. Gadreel loves the sea. Sam's just the one who remembers it.

If spending time with Dean is like a haunting, spending time on his own feels like too much company. Memories, impressions, Sam's not really sure what to call them. But it's like Gadreel dumped a box of them all over Sam's head.

They're nightmares, usually. But sometimes it's somatic, a magnetic kinesis that draws Sam, for instance, to Kevin's corner. Other times, it's like grabbing a gun in the dark--a gun you cannot see but have been told was there. Subliminal quantities decorating his headspace just out of his line of sight. It's gentler than the memories that slipped through Death's Wall all those years ago, gentler and more innocuous. But that's always been Sam's least favorite form of haunting. They are the sudden appearance of stranger's photograph above your mantle; they are an ocean where there isn't one; a vacancy where there used to be family. A preference you don't remember having.

Gadreel's grace is gone, but he's left other things behind. Hell at least had felt like penance, Sam thinks bitterly. This was erasure. This was use. It was someone else's guilt.

Gadreel loves the sea. Good for him.

What's laughable about this, of course, is that the reason it's so stuck in Sam's head like this is that Gadreel doesn't actually understand love. If the world goes quiet enough, Sam can hear the pulse of his own blood vessels constricting on the angel's thought process. He'd been trying to unravel love, finds its pieces and translate by triangulation--love is duty; love is loyalty; love is devotion; love is certainty; love is pain; love is sacrifice--but Gadreel's an angel, and from what Sam can tell, an outdated one. He never gets further than:

love is sacrifice
love is sacrifice
love is sacrifice.

Sam figures next time he'll be more selective about whose prayers he answers.

Gadreel's been in his head, sure. But there's a difference between presence and understanding. There's a difference between objective and effect. And if Gadreel left with the impression that he knew Sam at all, for the record, he fucking doesn't. Gadreel had never meant to hurt him, but that doesn't mean jack shit to Sam.

Violation is violation--triangulate that.

Of course, it's not as though Gadreel had been acting alone, Sam reminds himself. All of this, it's probably not about Gadreel at all; he was just a parasite acting like a parasite.

There are other culpabilities to consider.

Sam realizes his arms have begun to ache, and then he realizes his fists are clenched tight. He releases them and for a moment splays his arms out wide before snapping into better form. That's the problem with running; it's so easy to get lost in your own head. It's something Sam's loved about the act for his entire damn life. Now, he can hardly stand it.

He will find a new way to run.

Fuck it, he will find a new way to run.

Sam enjoys the Kansas scenery about as much as anyone else--which is to say, not at all. There's a river behind the bunker, which Sam would touch only if someone's life depended on it, but it lends their road a little more terrain than average. Head north and get free of the river, though, and everything's flat. It's stereotypical Kansas, broken up only by scatterings of frosty walnut trees and other scrub, though Sam's not sure if they're natural or just sound barriers. There aren't any trucks and there aren't any buildings, but maybe a long time ago, Lebanon had had other plans.

Sam focuses on the slap of his boots against pavement and the ache of night air in his lungs--because it's night still, isn't it. Almost any other household this early on a Saturday, and it's still night.

He picks up the pace. Warm-up, those first few minutes of harried jogging, are tight and obnoxiously slow; once he gets away from Gadreel his body reminds him how sore he is. Their basement altercation up in Minnesota had gone typically, if minorly, awry, and their straight-shot drive back south hadn't done him any favors. His boots, relative to his running shoes, are clod-like. It feels more like he's on the job than on his own.

But the faster he goes, the better it feels. His breath materializes before him as a white haze and everything feels a little wet. His body heats up and the world stays cool around him and he takes a longer stride, drives harder.

It's one of this favorite feelings in the world, that contrast.

Sam flies down the highway, arms and thighs and quads pumping faster and faster until he's at a full-on sprint, which is unstoppable and eternal and feels like nothing at all.

Sam's breath comes in rapid, even puffs. He feels himself smack through an errant drizzle, then abandon it.

He outruns the whisk of frost across the pavement. There'd been some light powder earlier on, and what hadn't melted away picks up easily in the wind.

Sam runs.

And gradually, reluctantly, he comes down.

He can't sprint forever.

Of course part of him, defiant, is almost certain that he could. He could if he tried, and he pushed and wrenched though that danger point, only to come out the other end, perpetually at top speed. But the rest of him knows he can't afford to try it. Because naturally the moment he does will also be the moment shit hits the fan and he'll need to be ready to fight for his life. Or something. Something like that. They need to be ready for the job. It's like a shackle; his legs beat against it restlessly but it just makes him feel like a child.

Still, it's barely 6AM in the middle of nowhere. Belligerently, Sam runs at pace for another couple miles before that recklessness sours his mood and his brain circles back to Gadreel again, and angels again, and Dean again.

He shouldn't have left Dean alone like that.

Oh, hell with it, Dean hadn't wanted him there in the first place.

Sam lets himself come all the way down to a near shuffle, like so many of the joggers in city parks. He's not going to think about anything; not out here.

Not out here.

The first thing he can think of: The winter wheat's been a problem child this year. Not for them. But when the local papers aren't flustered by strange deaths and disappearances, the front pages talk non-stop about the weather. They talk about the wheat, and the sugar beets, and the hailstone damage and so many things Sam really cannot help. Even in the dark the field on Sam's left looks thatchy and brown in places, just like the pictures in the Billings Local Weekly, or whatever he'd picked up at that one gas station. In the Kansas real-time, the wheat peeks through its light frost cover in disordered clusters misaligned with the rest of the field--as though someone had opened fire, and panic had ensued.

But this is not Sam's purview. It is not Sam's problem, and it's not Sam's fault.

Forget about the stupid wheat, too.

Sam takes in a deep, aching breath of cold air.

Usually he just hops in a car and the country bleeds into even streams of color as he passes through it, marked occasionally by billboards, reflective driving instructions--wear your seatbelt; road closure: take detour through Lawrence--and people afflicted by some kind of supernatural disaster. And if they're not homicidal or deranged, the people are great. They are. But drive-by humanity skews normal and it skews responsibility and Sam is now one hundred percent convinced that really fucks with you. But Sam is not going to think about that out here.

So, Kansas. Kansas, defined in terms other than straight, flat, or frigid. There's a puzzler. Sam picks up the pace and widens his stride, because his calves are starting to protest his sluggish crawl. As he runs, he catalogues. It's not just the winter wheat; there are the walnut trees between the fields, black fixtures against stormy twilight. There are puddles from the earlier rain and the melting frost, which backsplash on his pants. There's sloughy gray-brown snow in the irrigation ditches adjacent the road. And weeds, roadside weeds crawling up through everything--yellow tansy-mustards standing out like a shock against blacks and dark greens, serrate pepper-grasses vying for dominance. Other plants Sam doesn't know the names of.

Sam doesn't care about any of that, exactly. But it's important--it feels important--to know something outside of the maelstrom. Details, heterogeneity, complex systems--they're all good things to remember. He's not gonna take up flower-pressing or anything, but he'll take equilibrium wherever he can get it.

Up ahead, 281 intersects some farmer's driveway. Over the summer, the farmer had a musty picnic table set up at the crossroads, where his kids peddled produce (which wasn't as cute as it sounds; it wasn't actually their produce. The family business was winter wheat, and spring wheat, and then more wheat. Sam remembers feeling obligated to buy a handful of strawberries anyway). The kids are gone, but there's someone sitting there, legs crossed--and, Sam squints to make out, hands folded, maybe thumbs twiddling--someone waiting.

Waiting, in the dark, at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere. That's always a good sign; and so much for equilibrium.

Sam feels exceptionally unarmed. He has his phone in his pocket and a knife clipped against his ankle, but that's about it.

He shouldn't have left the bunker like this (he shouldn't have left at all; but damn it, he'd had to).

His caution is misguided, though. A few more strides, and Sam's alarm bells syncopate and desist--anticlimax. The sunrise suggestively tinges the flat, straight, frigid Kansas horizon behind the figure, and they regard each other in silence for a moment. Sam's chest heaves and his stranger flicks the dew from his shoulder. He's going to have to find a new jogging route.

This one's haunted, too.

"Crowley," Sam says, after catching his breath. "What the hell are you--"

Crowley puts a silencing finger to his lips and smiles. Then he withdraws his cell, taps the screen once, and, in orchestrated fashion, brings it to his ear. Sam can hear it emulate a rotary phone.

Without taking his eyes off Sam, Crowley says, "First ring. Impressive response time, my very dear, very dead, friend, Kevin."

Leave it to Dean to answer Kevin's phone but never his own. At least that explains what Crowley's doing all the way out here. "The GPS on Kevin's phone is turned on, isn't it. You want to know where the bunker is."

"Secret bases don't stay secret forever, moose. It's been hounding me ever since your brother and your angel took me for that joyride, when we had to go looking for you." Meaning Gadreel, Sam does not correct. Gadreel, not him.

Crowley pauses to respond to something Dean says, something Sam can't hear. "I know what the junction at 36 and 81 looks like. King of the Crossroads, remember? Lovely diner there--Bel Villa. I recommend the steak."

Crowley has the doggie bag to prove it, Sam realizes. It's crumpled and wet, but he and Dean are indeed familiar with Bel Villa's. The restaurant's about fifty miles east of the bunker. Right now they're six or seven miles north, which means Crowley's been getting closer. Triangulating.

Everyone is always triangulating. Sam's about as comfortable being stalked as he is inhabited.

"Have fun geocaching, Crowley. It's not happening." It's been nearly a decade since a demon walked into his home under its own steam, and Sam will not let that happen to his family again.

Crowley regards Sam with something that is either sympathy or mirth; it's impossible to tell in the dark. He puts his cell on speaker. (Speaking of triangulation.) It's Dean.

"--Mark me, I'll kill her. I'll kill you. And if I come home to a horde of your demons on my doorstep, I will slaughter every single one of you. Then I'm gonna step inside, I'm gonna drink a cold one, and I'm gonna sleep like a baby."

"What, with colic?" Crowley answers.

"You come and fucking try me," Dean replies.

"Always so hospitable," Crowley says, this time to Sam. "Your brother should compose professional housewarming invitations.

"I hope you're invited, too."

There's a crackle of static, the subliminal blue of burning sulfur, a drop in barometric pressure.

Then Sam is alone. Pepper-grass, mustard, wheat, a picnic table. He turns back toward his own muddy tracks. He's alone.

See, it's exactly shit like this Sam always makes sure he's prepared for.

Sam runs.


--



It's effort wasted. Sam comes home harried and rain-soaked, hair stringy and his entire body coated in the marshy slickness of sweat; everything burns and he needs very badly to piss. And although Crowley's making himself at home at the head of the War Table, he and Dean are both still there, and they are waiting. Dean is slumped in one of the chairs off the left, waiting.

Sam's not sure why he thought Dean wouldn't be, except Dean's already walked out on him once this month, to say nothing of other betrayals. But damned if you do, damned if you don't; it's not relief Sam feels as he staggers down the bunker stairwell. He's somewhere between panic, endorphin-punchy, and dislocated fury and also, he really needs to piss.

But that will pass, it will all pass.

He locks his hands over his head and takes a deep breath.

He drips muddy, swamp monster puddles all the way to the War Table.

"What is this, sloppy Saturdays? Are you legacies or fraternity brothers?" says Crowley. He lounges.

"Get your feet off my War Table," says Sam.

"You're the one who wanted the VIP backstage pass, Crowley." Dean sounds burnt, and Sam can read his exhaustion in the lax, implosive comportment of his body plainer than speech. Dean keeps talking, though. "We're out of mini cheesesteaks, and you gotta pay extra for photo ops. Deal with it."

"At least pretend you're ready to do your job and get dressed. This is bad, even for you two."

Dean is exactly how Sam left him this morning. Black T-shirt, with his jacket still on the ground near Kevin's corner (don't look). When Dean knocks his gaze up to the ceiling and takes a shuddering breath, Sam catches the deep cast to the bags under his brother's eyes. At some point Dean had given up the dead guy robes and stopped mentioning the water pressure after every single shower he took, returned to that perpetual frenetic readiness to keep on the go. Except for the part where they're not going anywhere; they've slipped a gear. It's actually impressive how not ready they are.

If they go out like this, chances are Abaddon won't even need to worry about them, or the First Blade; they'll just wrap the car around a tree before they get anywhere near her.

But then Sam wonders: If it had been a different morning, or a better morning, would Dean have left? Taken Crowley and some mythical blade, left him to an empty Batcave and a switchboard of flickering lights? It wouldn't be a first; Dean has patterns. And at the height of this one, he does leave.

"You don't have the blade. Where the hell would we be going? Disney World?" Dean mutters darkly. He turns to Crowley, sluggish and unguarded, and the motion is too familiar with the Devil for Sam to stomach.

If Crowley doesn't have anything useful, he shouldn't be here. Actually, he shouldn't be here, period. Crowley doesn't move, but suddenly Sam can't help but see him as a saturation, something that finds corners and sucks the air from them, teases memories from shelves and plants new ones in every cranny. And Crowley needs to get the fuck out of Sam's bomb shelter.

"Sam," Dean barks, a sharp warning, and Sam startles.

His fists are tight and his heart's racing.

But when he looks up, he can't read what Dean must have seen in him. There's something there, though, beyond exhaustion and self-pity.

Dean looks away.

Crowley snaps up their beat of silence. "Well, if you've finished your morning dramas now..."

It's clear Crowley half expects it to continue, because he pauses. When they don't say anything, he restarts. "All right, in any case: It's a riddle, Cain's ocean. And when Cain chooses to throw something to the bottom of it, depth--I've had the pleasure of discovering--is a primarily metaphysical construct."

"Of course it is," they respond in unison. Sam looks at Dean again, but his head is bowed and he's rubbing his eyes, elbows propped up on his knees.

"Nevertheless I come bearing gifts," Crowley assures them both, though it's Sam who feels his gaze. I am a gracious guest, Sam. "Yours truly has divined the answer to your riddle--and, of course, all your roaring feelings of species dysphoria."

"Our what?" Dean asks blearily. If he's trying to wake up without ever actually going to sleep, Sam thinks, he's failing.

Crowley edges his Bel Villa doggie bag across the table. "Auto...zoophilic passions, as yet unaddressed? No?"

"Our what."

Crowley turns to Sam. "Help an old chum out, Sam. Explain this to your brother."

"Our what?" Sam parrots.

Crowley looks disappointed. "Must I write it out? Given your taste in monstrous women, I always assumed there was something more interesting going on upstairs for you. You know, sexually. The books play with so much more innuendo than you broadcast in person."

"The books?" Sam's voice is tight.

Crowley stands and quests about the War Room (he pauses for a moment in Kevin's corner--don't look) as he explains. "Since I heard so much about them in the Winchester Dungeon Book Club, I felt obliged to download the full set."

Sam closes his eyes. Those books were never going away, were they. And Crowley's quest for literacy is another of too many violations of his privacy this year.

"Have you sampled the transformative works online, Sam? Because personally, I've found I like my Samn'Dean naughty, deadly, and hopeless."

Oh, for fuck's sake.

Sam retaliates. "Yeah--I wrote one called 'Fuck Your Apocalypse."

"Mine was 'Purgatory and its Angel: Raider of an Ill-Conceived and Mismanaged Heaven,'" Crowley counters, with a manual flourish. "A noir epic."

"Crowley," Dean interjects. He's moved into Crowley's vacated chair and dumped out the Bel Villa bag in lieu of having to admit those books were real. His voice has a matte finish, uncadenced and steely. "What is this."

'This' is a piece of meat, gamey and fat-striped. Oxygenated gray in some places, but mostly a deep elk red. It's not a steak. Not from Bel Villa's, in any case.

"Ever your loyal comrade, Dean, I took the time to dig up a myth," Crowley begins. "Not Biblical, and not European pagan, mind you, so it took some time. We all have our specialities. But the ocean is always, and to whomever, primordial space."

Sam feels a tidal wind against his cerebellum, the magnetic compulsion to sway with the force of water surging past him, cresting into a wave and losing form somewhere far beyond himself. Gadreel's keepsakes, ever-eager to express themselves: The ocean, the ocean, full of amino acids forming, small organisms linking. Nutrients settling into the sea and life springing forth from them--slowly, slowly--

Crowley continues, and speaks of the birth of the ocean, and the subsequent birth of man. There is a tribe of him that have a pact not with the Devil, or with Cain, but their own mythic beast--their Chief--deep in the ocean. Those who are able to find its lair will feast with the Chief. And he will give them power beyond earth and ocean; the privilege of his songs; the honor of his crest. That is, the mark meets its reason--the blade that cannot be stopped.

"Sound familiar?" he finishes.

Sam fixes his gaze on Crowley to stave off the motion sickness; it's not difficult to find a mask of skepticism, frustration and distaste. "That could be anything," he points out.

"Anything? Seriously? That ocean is stuff of legend, even in Hell--undoubtedly in Heaven, too. Think of it as the Higher Order's summer robot film--press releases for millenia. If this is 'anything,' then you don't know Cain at all."

And no, Sam doesn't. He hadn't been invited. But from what he can gather now, the whole thing almost adds up: Eschatological ecotone. Genesis of genesis. Philosophies not co-evolved but mutually derived (because we all came from the sea, Sam; amino acids, sediments and sifting nutrients. spiritus, animus, we all came from the sea) It's possible. It could be possible. Sam scrambles, and attempts to synthesize, analyze, problematize.

But Gadreel's ocean screams frothy and unrelenting against some imagined cliffside and Sam admits, yes. Yes it does feel right.

Dean pokes at the steak in front of him, raw and elastic. "Right, so... what is this, exactly?"

Crowley rolls his eyes. "Allow me to simplify: In a manner Cain finds suitably swashbuckling, you need to take your VIP tattoo down into the deep blue and curry favors. This is a prime cut of killer whale, seasoned and spellworked by yours truly. This is what you'll eat, what you will become, and how we're going to win this war."

"Absolutely not," Sam says, at the same time Dean says, "A whale? That's idiotic."

"The Kwakwaka'wakw beg to differ," says Crowley.

"Is there a reason you haven't done this on your own, then?" asks Sam.

"What part of Kwakwakwaka'wakw don't you understand, Sam? I'm a demon; my very existence hinges on Judeo-Christian dualism."

"And ours don't?" He gestures between himself and Dean. Because between angel grace and demon blood, Sam feels pretty damn dualistic.

But Dean says, "Well, we did do that dog thing."

"Why don't you just possess a whale," Sam asks, without interlude. "That's easier. And possession's always the best solution, isn't it?"

Dean has a lot to say about that, Sam can tell. But Dean doesn't come up with the words fast enough, and he gets left behind.

"Now you're just misunderstanding the art, Sam. Possession is a very particular skill; it takes a deft hand. You're lucky the average demon has the IQ of a tether ball, because if possession were easy, we'd have taken this rock over long ago. And remind me how many oceans you've had to save from the clutches of evil? No, truly, how many cases have taken you to sea?"

Nothing Apocalyptic; Sam will give him that. And anything else has been sort of low priority for a while.

"Regardless of one's deftness--unparalleled, by the way--or one's penchant for rugged maritime adventureship, possession remains a strictly human art." Crowley circles back around Dean. "Post-lapsarian red tape--no animals. No demons in the deep sea. This is why it has to be you, Dean."

"That's convenient," Dean manages, finally. It's almost a growl. "Whales, great. Sounds foolproof. But I have one more question for you, Crowley." He scrapes his chair backwards, a keening sound the echoes in the hall and reverberates through the War Table. "You're the King of Hell. But you can't kill a Knight, and apparently, you can't get the blade that can.

"Are you useful at all?"

Crowley regards him coolly. Sam watches as Crowley's lips crinkle at the edges, and the skin around his chin flexes into a faint, well-practiced smile. He sucks and swishes at the saliva in his mouth, as though he is taste-testing Dean's slight. But there is more triumph there than fury.

"I'd have taken your soul for dear Kevin's. Had you offered to sell."


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Tags: fic: spn
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