Genre: outsider POV, futurefic, series coda
Characters: unnamed OFC, Sam, Dean
Word Count: 1840
Warnings: Light gencest innuendo.
Summary: At the end of it all, Sam returns to California the same way he left it: On a roadtrip with his brother. Route 66, sand between their toes--it's supposed to be a new beginning. They just haven't quite convinced themselves yet.
Notes: Written for bratfarrar, and their gorgeous visual prompt, this photo of the Santa Monica pier, at the end of Route 66.
It's cold on the pier, Santa Monica-style. The way you get when you've spent a day in the sun, only to have outlived it; and now it's night, desert night, and you weren't expecting to stay that long. She should have brought a coat, she decides, but it was hard to believe she'd be here long enough to need one.
Her flip flops are still tacky on the bottom from melting to the pavement all day. It's not bubble gum. In youth, she was always the girl with the toilet paper tucked into her pants, the "Kick Me" sign on her back. 80s movie fodder that happened so long ago no one believes it was ever real. So she checked, as surreptitiously as possible, and to her relief, it is not bubble gum. It's just a casual reminder to keep moving, for the love of god keep moving, or this earth will burn you alive.
She bends to touch her toes--or at least, dangle her sausage fingers well above them--and her back twinges, her legs creak. She's not sure if maybe she should invest in orthotics if she's serious about this walking thing, or just keep buying her one dollar flip flops. Half of her wants to keep walking through fire.
Head between her legs (are these shorts too short? she thinks. Probably. She heard teenagers laughing near her seven times today, and no one in this day and age finds boardwalk games that funny) she discovers she is not alone on the pier.
Upright, she waddles toward them. Well, she means to pass them, but now her muscles have cooled, she's stood too long, and her body betrays her. She needs to stop and rest. At least they're not paying her any attention, she figures.
She takes a sip from her water bottle--which tastes like the pier bathroom, but hydration is hydration--as one of the men forces the other to do the same.
Give it a rest already, growls the hydration victim, as he bats the water bottle away.
I said, Cool it!
Okay, says the other, You can't say stuff like 'sand between our toes, let's go to the beach' and then walk around all day in three jackets. Heatstroke kills!
I don't have heatstroke, says the first. The words drop like stones, and the other backs off quick, like maybe they were supposed to be playful, and weren't; like there was supposed to be a bad joke there, but there wasn't. She's never heard a DIY medical assessment that sounded so much like a death threat.
I don't recommend the sinks in the west bathroom, she butts in.
For water, I mean.
Both men turn to look at her then, synchronized like cheap animatronics.
Um, hi, she says. Because this is her gig; she's the distraction to other people's important conversations, the third wheel that keeps the real gears from gnawing each other's spokes off. It's been her gig since the day she was born, because according to her sister, she could not possibly embarrass herself more than she already did, just by existing.
Curiously, the sentiment would later be echoed by her daughter. Like auntie, like niece. (She, dark and fat, was often mistaken for nanny.)
Is the pier normally this deserted? asks the water-giver. He has the look of someone just now confronted with his singularity.
He means hello, says I-do-not-have-heatstroke.
The pier's been closing earlier these days, she says, though the admission makes her feel ancient. Forget her girlhood of the 80s, so long ago now she's seen the trends pop back into circulation twice, three times again. She is as old as the boardwalk, as the sea. She is as old as the desert, as the dams on the Owens River, as the angels this city was named for.
She never expected to make it this far.
She wishes she'd brought a coat.
The water bottle man looks around, a singular person, on a planet with day and night. It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that it was night now, it was getting late. It's time to go to bed.
She resists the urge to ask if they are time travelers.
She's always hoped, a bit. In her favorite television show, girls like her met time travelers.
But they're just travelers, probably. The pier is, after all, a tourist trap; that's who comes here. Travelers, and her.
She's like the troll under the bridge, she decides.
Would you like a photo? she asks. She imagines what great restraint she must have; how disciplined and principled and powerful, to be the troll who chooses not to eat her travelers. Who takes photographs instead.
Absolutely, says I-do-not-have-heatstroke, at the same time the water bottle man blurts, God no.
Seriously? says Heatstroke, and Wait, what? says Water.
I guess not, then, Heatstroke revises. No picture.
Wait, Dean, I didn't-- Water objects.
He doesn't like taking favors from strangers, Dean explains. Who knows whose souls you've caught in that camera?
Water glares at him.
She wants to say it's strange, the way they act with one another--it's like a first date fifty years in. But she's familiar with the situation. They're just now learning each other in a new capacity. Her husband had sounded the same, prepping for his first date with her sister.
It's just weird, you know? he'd said to her, as she'd fixed his tie.
Yes, I think I know, was all she'd said then.
Is this your first time on the road? is what she says now. Sometimes people get strange on Route 66.
Water laughs, the kind of laugh that's been rolled flat by a Mack truck and repurposed for fuel on the Interstate.
On this one, Dean replies. Nascent concern deepens the creases around his eyes as he looks at his friend like, are you okay?
How long you been driving? she asks.
Water looks like he's about to lose it. Dean looks like he's not sure what's so goddamn funny.
Sorry, it's been kind of a long trip, Water explains, seeking composure. But for someone who barely understands night and day, time and space, she does not expect he'll find it.
Your name suits you, she says, before she remembers his name isn't Water.
Sorry, she says. I meant the name I gave you in my head. That's weird. I'm sorry.
Dean shrugs. He says, No worries. I do that to him all the time.
He claps Water on the shoulder, lets his hand linger.
According to the movies, each millisecond means something.
There's a movie, Chinatown, she says. It's about this place, sort of.
Isn't every movie about Hollywood? asks Dean.
This is Santa Monica, not Hollywood, but she supposes she started it. These days all of LA is mostly lump, anyway. They lost their neighborhoods when the city built its freeways, but it's taken until now for everyone to realize it.
It's about water, she says. Then she realizes that this is strange, so she says, I was just thinking about water, which made me think of the movie, so I told you.
Water, huh? Now I really wanna know what name you gave my brother, says Dean, and he straight-up leers at his friend. His brother.
We should let you get home, says Water, not unkindly. You look cold.
Did you still want that photo? she asks, because now that she's had it in her head, she can't let it go.
I'd like one of the pier, Water admits.
Dean looks at him strangely, and the expression on Water's face suggests he knows that's the case, though he hasn't looked back. Hasn't broken eye contact with her.
Could I, maybe, take the photo for you? she asks. Normally she wouldn't, she'd never ask anything of a stranger, but there's something about his eyes.
I majored in Photography, she explains, as she takes his proffered phone. But it was a long time ago.
So you've probably seen the world, then, says Water.
I took photos of kitchen appliances, she says, as she lines up the shot. Click.
Click click click.
Behind her, she hears Water whisper to his brother, in explanation, I'm gonna see you tomorrow; you'll still be around. I don't need a picture with you. But we won't be here.
Sure, Dean agrees, at normal volume. Good thinking. Now we'll always have...Pier Burger.
She turns back to them, gives Water back his phone.
Is this the end of the road for you? she asks, because they're not local, and they're definitely roadtrip material.
Water nearly drops his phone, as though he forgets she's handing it to him.
Dean shakes white, pale in a way that makes his sunburn simmer purple in the coming twilight.
They look, excuse her language, fucking terrified.
She closes Water's long fingers around his phone and tucks a limp piece of hair behind her ear. As she shifts her feet, her hips keen and her flip flops skritch, still tacky and half-melted.
You are the pier's last guests. And you have walked through fire.
Well, you have your coats, she points out. Don't worry.
You'll be fine.
They look at her strangely then, and it's the first time she realizes they hadn't been looking at her strangely before. She should probably feel pained, for making it so long before blowing it as usual, but the thought warms her.
They didn't think she was strange.
She'd explain about the coats, she would. But she'd have to tell them about the desert, the way night works. She'd have to tell them about the sweater her sister gave her once, when they'd spent too long out, and it got cold, and her foot-high Icee did her no favors. About the time in the bathroom at school, the ordeal with her camera in college; about the day she met her husband, and the day she lost him. Him coming home with his hand up her sister's skirt, and thanking her for her support. She'd have to tell them about birthing her child--four days, a C-section, fifty-seven worm-like stretch marks--and ultimately, losing her too. She'd have to tell them that she has Suzy every other weekend still, because the court decided she was at least that much a parent--a biweekend warrior--but not today, because Suzy has friends in Diamond Bar from camp and can't she stay with them this weekend instead, and mommy, you have to get your steps in and I don't want to walk. She'd have to tell them about the river and the sea, and the steel pipes that are even more important; she'd have to tell them about Los Angeles y los angeles, she'd have to tell them that she swears to God she never imagined she'd make it this far, or this long. She'd never expected to stay 'til night, 'til the fires were out, and she was not prepared for the cold. But they have their coats; they're ready. And they seem the type to appreciate a little mystery.
You'll be fine, she says again, and begins to stretch her quads.