Season Four

Episode Eleven: Crocodile Tears

By calUK

Part One

 


“Just say when, and you'll stop the pain of your life, bring it to an end. Just say when, and you could make amends, just say Hello, say Hello again...”

The thin voice wound up into the dusk, into the silence that hung heavy on the air where the bullfrogs and muskrats should have filled it with raucous life. The sky burned bloody, shreds of cloud catching the dying light of the sun, streaking copper and gold across the vault of the sky. The terminus chased the sun, an arc of bruising that swept over the marsh, scattered stars in its wake, mirrored in the muddy water and on the small, glossy black device that lay, caught in the reeds, half submerged.

“...lo again, it's not tha...ard. No dead ends, even wi...the scars.”

The screen glowed eerily, flickered as water seeped in through the casing, found the electronics inside and the music stuttered out of the headphones, dangling, trailing through the broken stems.

“You ha... no home... lost your throne, where ... Well... could all co...ack, but you're be... led by the walking dead. You s...umble an...crack ...ground, you're pinned down...”

The faint glow wavered one last time, died with a final hiss of static and a low, tinny squeal of feedback. When it faded, the marsh was silent again, air dank and oppressive as the clouds covered the sky, smothered the stars and the thin moon.

In the darkness, the spark was easy to see.

Cold white, it grew, shifted, pulsed in rippling waves until it danced lazily above the rank water, the size of a man's head, glowing fitfully, trailing short streamers of pale gold with every twitching motion. The reflection beneath it was darker, the light in the water a sullen orange, a banked fire simmering below the surface, distorted by the waves that spread from a shadow, apropos of nothing. It reached out, the light spitting and hissing as it followed the shadow, until the cold glow fell across something white in the water, caught in eyes stretched wide, a rictus grin. A hand, that stretched up, rigid and motionless, fingers locked into claws that grasped helplessly at empty air. A few, tiny bubbles drifted between bared teeth, trickled up through the shredded weeds and silt to the surface.

~~*~~

This had to be in the top ten.

Sam peered dubiously at the tiny room, wrinkled his nose as he filed it in his list of the Worst Motel Rooms Ever. The walls looked like they'd been painted with nicotine, wallpaper peeling away in ragged strips from the damp patches along the ceiling, the largest of them spreading out like wings from the bare bulb dangling on its cable. The beds were pressed close together, as if they were huddling away from the walls, just the smallest cabinet he'd ever seen tucked between them, missing its drawer, and the gritty, sticky carpet kept sucking at his boots every time he moved. Not that he dared move far; perching on the wobbly, least questionable chair by the listing table, the laptop open on top as he wondered just how far out of it he'd been the night before, for this dump to look appealing.

He tried not to look at the bed. The thought that he'd slept in it, woken up with his face buried in the gray, singed pillow...

Clenching his hands into fists, Sam sat and waited, wincing when the stitched and bandaged slash across one palm twanged with pain. He checked his watch, couldn't hold back the tut that echoed quietly in the silent room.

“I won't be long, Sam. Just gonna run to the diner down the block,” he muttered to himself, rolling his eyes with the memory of his brother's words. “Gimme a minute,” he'd called after Dean, hurried out of the avocado bathroom to hear the Impala roar away with a squeal of tires. Desperate to get out of the room, just for a minute, he'd actually chased out into the parking lot wearing just his jeans and a faded t-shirt, and watched as the classic fishtailed onto the road.

Dropping his head into his hands, he sighed, gritted his teeth and wondered if he had time to pour the peroxide from the first aid kit into Dean's shampoo.

“Hey Sammy.”

A bag slid across the table and thumped into his elbow, almost before he'd registered the fan of weak light spreading across the floor. He shot to his feet.

“Dean! You could've waited, man!”

Sam winced at the whine in his voice, folded his arms across his chest and scowled. His brother stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame, a half-eaten burger in one hand.

“Sorry, dude. Didn't think you'd want to come.”

His lips pursed against the huff that built up in his throat. Dean just shrugged and rolled away from the frame, taking another bite of his lunch as he headed for the table, mumbling something incomprehensible around the mouthful.

“How does it take two hours to go to the diner down the block? Two. Hours. Dean.”

“Was it?”

“Yes.”

“Dude, I had to do something. You got any idea how boring it is, sitting here, watching you sleep 'til noon? How's your head, anyway?”

“It's fine.”

It was, he realized. The headache that had plagued him for the last three days, ever since they'd put the Mexican border in their rear view mirror, was gone as if it had never pounded at the back of his eyes.

“Good.” Dean sounded satisfied. “Told you you just needed sleep.”

“What I need is to get out of this dump,” Sam grumbled, dropping back into his chair with a sigh and reaching for the bag. He almost smiled when he found the neatly wrapped bagel inside, sniffed appreciatively at the grilled cheese oozing out over his fingers.

“Well, I think maybe I found us a gig.”

The younger man nodded, mouth full of cheese and ham, tilted his head to one side at his brother. Dean smirked, eyes warm for a moment before they slid away, down to the hand that sneaked into Sam's bag and came back with a fistful of fries. “Long Neck Village, Delaware. There's an old cannery there, been haunted for years, according to local legend. You know, weird lights, strange noises, usual kind've thing. Only now, word's gotten out and they decided to turn it into a tourist trap.”

Sam winced around another mouthful of bagel.

“Anyone hurt yet?”

“Yeah. A tour group went in there, four of 'em had to be carried out. The guide was pretty cut up, Casey said he was in hospital for a couple weeks.”

“Casey?”

“Chick at the bakery. Her uncle's sister in law's third cousin, or something, was on the tour.”

“Vengeful spirit?”

“That's an affirmative. I talked the clerk into letting us check out late, so we can hit the road soon as we're packed.”

He raised a brow at that. “You managed to convince the clerk of this crap hole of a motel into letting us check out late? As in; not pay for another night?”

Dean grinned.

“He's Casey's step-brother's uncle twice removed. I think.”

“Huh.”

The older man screwed up his empty wrapper, tossed it over his shoulder and rose as it rolled around the rim of the trashcan. Sam stuffed the last bite of his bagel in his mouth and followed his brother to the beds as he chewed, crouching down to heft his duffel onto the mattress. There wasn't much to pack. They'd hit the motel so late he'd barely even taken the time to kick his boots off before collapsing into sleep and all he had to do was fold the clothes he'd woken up in and stuff them into his bag.

And yank them back out again when the phone he'd forgotten he'd left in the pocket of his jeans started buzzing inside the bag. He felt Dean's gaze shift to him, glanced up and watched the older man still, one hand buried in his own duffel, knew it was wrapped around a knife or a gun. Dean just blinked at him, calm and outwardly so relaxed that Sam wondered if he really did see the edge of naked distrust in his brother's stare, of innate suspicion, directed at whoever was on the other end of the phone.

He looked down, only realizing his shoulders had hunched when they dropped at the name on the screen as he answered it.

“Hey, Bobby.”

“Sam. How you boys getting along?”

Dean grinned quickly, tension bleeding out of his eyes as he started packing again.

“We're good. Just heading out, actually. Gig in Delaware.”

“Anythin' important?”

His spine stiffened at the edge in the hunter's question and he straightened.

“Couple of victims, no fatalities. Why?”

“I can get someone on it. Could use you boys on a job up here.”

“Sam?”

He put one hand across the speaker, looked up at his brother again.

“Bobby's got a job he needs a hand on. He'll put someone on to the Long Neck thing.”

Dean nodded, slung his bag over one shoulder.

“I'll get this out to the car.”

Sam mirrored the gesture, turned back to the phone.

“You got us Bobby. I'll e-mail you the info once we're on the road.”

“Good. That's good. Thanks, Sam.”

“So what's the job?”

He tried to keep it casual, but Bobby's thanks and edgy pressure grated against his nerves.

“Out East, in Wisconsin, place called Horicon Marsh. Got a long history of disappearances, but nothin' too unusual. Always kept my eye on it, but I never thought there was anythin' to it. Jus' bad luck or bad plannin'.”

“They've picked up?” Sam guessed, scanning the room for a pen and paper, finally grabbing one of the tattered take-out menus on the table and diving into his satchel for a stub of pencil.

“Yeah. Seven folk gone missing over the past year. Only the last few've been found, first time it's happened. They were torn up some. Cops haven't released details, but I got a hold've the ME's report. Says they died of natural causes, heart attacks and the like, and their hands were shredded. Like they'd died clawin' at somethin'.”

His stomach churned as he scribbled notes in the margins, between meatloaf and minute steak, on the other side of an old memory; his brother's fingers, battered and bleeding as Sam dragged him from the ground in Elicott City.

“Report puts the time of death at two to three days after the vics went missing. Cops are putting it down to people getting lost out in the marsh, saying the higher rainfall this year has made it more treacherous, but that's a load've crock. Somethin's out there, taking folks.”

“Yeah. You got any idea what it could be, Bobby?”

He could almost see the grizzled hunter's annoyed shrug, jumped a little as the front door banged open and Dean stomped inside, headed for Sam's clothes, still strewn across his bed for the second time in as many hours.

“Nothin'. There's a ton've lore came over with the Europeans who settled the area, and then some more from the tribes who lived there before that, but nothin' seems to fit the pattern.”

Sam grinned wearily at the edge of petulance in the older man's voice.

“Okay, well, we'll figure it out as we go along. Thanks for the heads up.”

The mechanic hung up with a muttered grumble, and Sam snapped his phone shut, leaned back in his chair with a sigh. Lifted one hand to press it across his eyes, pinching at the bridge of his nose. He listened to the soft rustle behind him as clothes were rolled and stuffed into a duffel, denim scraping at canvas. His brother's ring chinked quietly against the small cabinet between the beds, gathering his belongings. Sam felt Dean watch him as he packed, gaze still for a long moment before he spoke.

“What's Bobby got for us?”

“People disappearing in Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin.” He sat up, pulled the laptop closer to him across the wobbly table, pecked at the keys, calling up a favorite mapping site. “It's near Beaver Dam. Looks like about four hundred miles.”

He could hear the frown in his brother's voice, but squinted at the screen, rubbing absently at the dull ache in his hand.

“He hasn't got anyone closer than us?”

“We've driven further for less,” Sam murmured.

The older man muttered under his breath and he grinned, powered the laptop down, sitting back with a wince. Rolling his head, his neck cracked and he stretched, peering round at his brother. Dean slung one duffel over his shoulder, hefted the weapons bag in one hand and looked steadily back at him.

“You sure you're up for this?”

Sam ticked one shoulder up in a shrug, nodded.

“Yeah. I'll be fine.”

“That's my line,” Dean growled, heaved out a put-upon sigh and trudged to the door, shifting the strap over his shoulder. “You comin' or not? I wanna get a few of Bobby's four hundred damn miles behind us before we stop again.”

“Get us checked out. I'll be right there.”

He waited for his brother's answering grunt, for the door to click shut between them before he propped his elbows on his knees and his head into his hands. His breath stirred his bangs, slow and even until he held it, lips thinned together. Heat pricked at the back of his eyelids, burned in his throat and he swallowed hard, let air out with a whoosh, emptying his lungs until they ached.

Sam listened to the familiar creak of the car doors, stared at the shapes drifting behind his eyes, tried not to see a figure with tiger-striped skin peeling away from its flesh sneering at him in every last one of them. He jumped when the door slammed shut outside, smiled weakly, knew his brother was trying to give him space and still keep them functioning. Doing their job.

Levering himself to his feet, he wobbled for a moment, caught himself against the edge of the table, waited for the world to settle again before he stuffed the laptop into its bag and tucked it under his arm. He walked slowly to the door, stopped at the small, fly-speckled window and peered out as Dean shouldered through the office door, jogged down the steps and paused at the bottom, staring at their room. Even across the lot, Sam could see his brow crease, one hand worrying at the ring on the other. He wondered if his brother even knew how easy he was to read.

He sighed, pushed away from the wall in the same moment that his brother started walking again.

“You want me to drive?”

Dean just looked up at him as they neared the car from opposite sides, one brow quirked. Sam huffed and folded himself into the passenger seat, slouching as the car rocked a little beneath him. Their doors groaned shut in unison, the engine rumbling to life with a quick twist of the older man's wrist, the radio burping static at them for a beat before Dean snapped it off with a growled curse and sat back, fingers wrapped around the wheel in the corner of Sam's vision.

They didn't move.

He stole a glance sideways, saw his brother's clenched jaw.

“Dean?”

The older man didn't answer for a long time, just stared through the windshield, white-knuckling the steering wheel. When he finally spoke, his voice was carefully neutral, rigidly controlled.

“You think Castiel really... turned back time? Just to give Ernesto another chance?”

Sam hesitated, felt the tension settle between them again. Remembered the ice in his brother's snarl when he'd held a gun levelled at the priest's head, Dean's eyes too dark in his pale face, even when he let the gun drop. And he wondered who'd really been given the second chance in Ciudad del Maldecido.

“Yeah. Maybe.”

There was more to the question than an old war hero's conscience, he knew, could almost see the shape of it in the half-glance Dean shot his way as he nodded slowly, dropped the car into drive. Almost, but not quite, and all he could do was watch the scenery slide past, wet fields turning to forests, to lakes and wide plains, stretching horizon to horizon.

The car slowed, woke him from a doze and he blinked at flickering strip lights, peeled his face away from the window.

“Need gas,” Dean muttered as the engine rumbled into the quiet buzz of insects. Sam nodded, yawning, rolling his shoulders as he followed his brother out of the car. The older man left the pump working and headed for the office, boots quiet against the forecourt.

Sam leaned against the car, elbows on the roof, buried his hands in his hair, fisting them tight in frustration. His hair caught in his fingers, tugged at his scalp until it itched, the stitches Dean had carefully placed in the cut on his palm stinging as they pulled beneath the bandage. He huffed out a slow breath, pulled in another and let his eyes drift shut. The pump clicked off in the same moment that his phone buzzed inside the car, and he reached in through the open door, snatched it from the seat. He scanned the screen, flipped it open as he headed for the trunk and hefted the nozzle out of the car, hooked it back into the holder on the side of the old pump.

“Bobby, hey.”

“How you boys doin'?”

“Uh... we're at...” he craned his neck back, squinted at the sign above the door, so faded he could barely read it. “Lake Puckaway. Some fill-up joint.”

A hinge groaned loudly and for a moment he blinked stupidly, sleepily at the front of the car, half expecting to see his brother there, leaning on the open door.

“So you're a couple hours out still?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess.” Sam frowned, fingers splayed on the roof of the car tightening. “Why? What's happened, Bobby?”

A heavy sigh crackled down the line and the furrows in his brow deepened, eased as a long tongue of light spread across the dark lot and he followed it, saw a broad shouldered silhouette swagger through the noisy door and head for the car. Sam smiled a little, relaxed into the metal, saw his brother's head tilt to the side.

Bobby, he mouthed, turning so that the older man could see his phone. Dean nodded as he neared the car, folded his elbows against the roof.

“Whatever it is out there, it's steppin' up its game. Took someone else last night.”

“Damn. That takes the body count to eight in the last year?”

Sam watched his brother straighten, jaw tight, eyes flat and hard.

Yeah. Someone's gonna notice soon, Sam. We gotta stop it before a posse of damn fool civilians head out there, thinking it's a rogue bear or somethin' and get themselves killed for their trouble.”

“Okay. We'll get there soon as we can, Bobby.”

The hunter thanked him gruffly, left him with the dial tone buzzing in his ear.

“It's taken someone else?”

Sam nodded “Last night.”

Dean pushed away from the car, yawned, digging in his pocket and tossing the keys to the younger man. Sam quirked a brow at him.

“You okay, dude?”

He smiled at his brother's snort, felt the expression tighten when Dean yawned so hard his jaw cracked, strolling around the car to shove lightly at Sam's shoulder.

“Your drivin' better be better than your snoring, Samantha.”

“I don't snore.”

The hunter smirked, folding himself into the passenger seat.

“Like a freakin' grizzly in winter, man.”

“Uh uh, no way.” Sam grinned again as he trotted to the drivers door, hauled it open and peering in at his brother, already slouched against the other window, squirming. “Must be echoes from your side've the room.”

Dean huffed, amusement sparking in heavy-lidded eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever lets you sleep at night, princess.”

The younger man rolled his eyes, slid behind the wheel and almost missed his brother's easy sigh as he turned the key, the engine growling to life with a throaty roar. He startled, scrabbled wildly at the radio as a guitar howled through the speakers and shot a glance across the car, expecting to find Dean laughing at him, a curse ready on Sam's lips. It softened as he saw his brother, head tipped back against the seat, oblivious. He left the music screaming as he pulled out onto the interstate again.

~~*~~

Slap.

“Freakin' mosquitoes.”

In the corner of his eye, Dean saw his brother's mouth twitch. He rolled his shoulders, scratched at one wrist. “You're sure Bobby didn't have anyone else who was closer than us?”

“Yeah, man. I'm sure.” The younger man shook his head, bent back into the trunk and the duffel he was packing, propped against his hip. “Like you would've said no anyway,” Sam continued in a low murmur. Dean scowled, threw a glare over his shoulder as he stomped to the edge of the parking lot. He crossed his arms and glowered out across the marsh, watching the dusk creep towards him as the sun dipped to the horizon at his back, stars fading in across the sky, reflecting faintly in the water.

It seemed to go on forever, stretching away and he wondered how many ghosts wandered out in the marsh, never finding their way home.

“Place oughta be crawlin' with spooks,” he murmured, felt his brother's gaze brush across his back. Chewed at his lip, shuffled his feet as something fluttered along his nerves.

“Dean?”

The hunter stared out at the twilight for a moment, until his eyes burned, trying to place whatever it was that had him on edge but there was just mud and water before him and mosquitoes whining around his head.

“Dean, you okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, 'm good.”

Sam stepped up to his shoulder, peered uncertainly at him. The older man swatted another bug trying to land on his arm.

“Freakin' bloodsuckers,” he muttered, grabbed the duffel from his brother and headed for the narrow path winding out of the lot. “You comin' Sam?”

He could almost hear his brother's eyeroll and grinned. They walked in silence for a time, boots thudding softly against the path, picking their way through sections where rain and people had trampled the dirt to mud.

“Hey, Dean.”

Dean answered absently, watching a firefly waver in the distance.

“Yeah?”

“You think Bobby knows?”

He frowned, looked back over one shoulder.

“About what?”

Sam ducked his head, rolled his shoulders uncomfortably.

“About the dimensions. About us.”

Somehow, he wasn't sure his brother was talking about the weak spots they'd helped create. About us, Sam said, loaded the pronoun too heavily for him to miss it. About them, the others, us in parallel dimensions. Wolfed out or Yellow eyed.

“Sam,” he started, didn't get any further before Sam looked up at him, past him, eyes widening, a light in them that for a second, just for a second turned them pale and yellow and his heart stuttered, skipped back into rhythm as his brother lurched past him and started running. “Sam?”

Dean was already turning, pushing off, barely dodging around a patch of mud taking up half the trail but the younger man's long legs and longer stride were carrying him away, Sam sprinting after the light that dipped and bobbed in front of him. No firefly, too big and too damn smart, he thought, watching it weave away across the marsh.

“Sam!”

His brother yelled something back, indecipherable above the pounding rush in his head, damp air sawing in and out of his lungs.

“Dammit, Sammy! Stop!”

Breaking every rule in the book, Dean knew it, rushing headlong into who-knew-what, gray curling around the edges of his vision as he tried to suck in enough oxygen with the taste of swamp and the mosquitoes that had been an annoyance before were suddenly vital, lodging at the back of his throat. He choked, hacked it clear, eyes streaming so much that he never saw the dip in the raised pathway, the boardwalk following it faithfully, some recent flood leaving a coating of slime across the wood. His feet just went out from under him, too much momentum to control the fall at all and he hit hard, skidded and rolled straight over the edge of the walk, head clipping the railing as he spilled out into the marsh.

Water fountained around him, crashed back down and he sputtered, flailed at the trailing weed that tangled around him, pulled him down until he couldn't tell air from mud. Dean shook his head, blinked the stars out of his vision, came back to himself crouched in the edge of the marsh, side throbbing dully, his temple sparking with brighter pain. He probed it, hissed as his fingers pressed a lump already swelling in his hairline, a thin trace of blood on the tips when he peered at them.

“Damn,” he mumbled, panted, still breathless from the spring and the fall but already crawling for the raised path bed. Mud slipped through his fingers, ground thick and gritty into his skin, clogged his nails as he dragged himself up the bank, wind biting through his wet clothes and he shivered when he finally rolled onto the path, breath clouding in front of his face, thick fog that billowed against the stars. With a whispered curse, he rolled to his knees, flicking crud from his fingers and staring out across the marsh.

Something called, out in the distance, thin shriek of something dying, something else surviving, but there was nothing to see, no light dipping and weaving across the water, no tall figure loping away from him.

“Dammit, Sam.”

No one to answer the quiet prayer that slipped past him as he sank back to the ground, eyes pinned helplessly to the empty horizon.

 

Continue...

Comment/Review the episode here

E-Mail the Author!

The Winchester Chronicles

Supernatural is ©2005 The WB Television Network. Other content is copyright the original owners. Original content is ©2005 Supernatural.tv/Virtual Season. This site is best viewed in IE (Internet Explorer) version 4.0 and up and Netscape 6.0 and up. Best resolutions 800x600 or 1024x 768.