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Rising Tide

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Streaming version of the podfic:



June 2, 1990 – Dennis, Massachusetts

The morning sun warmed Dean’s face with a brightness that chased away the last remnants of sleep. His eyes were still closed as he gave a lazy stretch. Slowly, he straightened his stiff neck from its awkward angle.

His legs were tucked beside him, pinned by something heavy. Dean’s lashes fluttered and he rubbed his eyes. When he looked down, he saw Sammy curled up on the couch next to him, half collapsed over his lap. His brother’s floppy hair was a rumpled mess and, like Dean, he still wore yesterday’s clothes.

Saturday morning cartoons played loudly on the television. The TV had been left on all night after they’d both fallen asleep watching some movie. Dean didn’t even remember what movie they’d seen, but there were enough candy wrappers crumpled up on the coffee table to remind him how much fun they’d had.

It was the finally the weekend.

Fridays and Saturdays were the only nights Sammy would stay up with him instead of doing his homework and going straight to bed. Since part of Dean’s job was to make sure that Sammy kept up with school, it wasn’t like he could talk his brother out of it, but it left Dean bored out of his mind during the weekdays. With Sammy’s self-assigned scheduled, they could usually only go out for an hour or two after school.

Sammy was seven and Dean had been watching his little brother since he was that age. He should be able to leave Sammy at the apartment while he went out alone. Only he couldn’t, not after dark, not since the night he’d returned to their room to find a striga hovering over Sammy’s bed.

Dad had never forgiven him, probably never would.

So every night, while Sammy did his homework, Dean sat in the room, staring out the window and watching the silhouetted seagulls fly across the sunset. He’d tried to get Sammy to do his homework at the docks so he could watch the boats, but his brother had said it was too distracting.

A distraction was exactly what Dean needed to stop himself from wondering if Dad was okay. He wished Dad wouldn’t hunt alone or that he’d at least call every once and a while. It had been over a week since they’d last heard from him.

There had to be something Dean could do to help besides sit around while his brother read about what a bunch of dead people did a hundred years ago.

Dean had been ready to talk to Sammy’s teachers about giving him too much homework until he’d figured out that Sammy was working weeks ahead in his textbooks. Sammy had been so proud of himself that Dean hadn’t had the heart to tell his little brother that they would move on to another town before his class caught up to him.

At least if the next school was further ahead, Sammy wouldn’t have to worry about catching up. Dean didn’t care where his own class was because, unlike Sammy, he got that it didn’t matter.

He leaned back on the couch and watched Sammy sleep. Sometimes, he wondered if his brother really cared that much about school or if he was just avoiding having to hang out with him. He couldn’t blame Sammy for getting bored of him, but other times Sammy followed him around like a shadow. Dean didn’t know what to think.

After a tired sigh, he shook Sammy’s shoulder. “Dude, wake up, I can’t feel my legs.”

“What’s wrong with your legs?” Sammy asked sleepily, with an edge of concern to his voice.

“Your fat head used them as a pillow all night,” Dean said.

He rolled his little brother off him. Sammy’s eyelids were still droopy as he sat up on the couch, crossed his arms over his chest and gave an indignant pout. “My head’s not fat.”

“Sure it is.” Dean unfolded his legs, which were beginning to tingle. “Where else would you put that giant brain?” Dean snickered as Sammy tried to decide if he’d just been insulted or complemented. “Dibs on the bathroom.”

Sammy scrambled off the couch. “No. I gotta go!”

“We’ll just see who gets there first,” Dean said, as he jumped up and skidded across the apartment after Sammy.

Dean’s legs were nearly twice as long as Sammy’s and even though his feet were still half numb, he could’ve easily ran there and back before his brother made it. He would’ve, if Sammy hadn’t been bumming about sucking so bad at tryouts for some stupid elementary school olympics.

He still tackled Sammy at the bathroom door. They fell to the floor with Sammy squealing, “No fair, Dean!”

Sammy was giggling too hard for the reprimand to be convincing. His flailing feet kicked up into Dean’s gut as he wormed his way out from beneath him, crawling away before bounding back to his feet inside the bathroom.

Dean flopped down onto his stomach in feigned defeat. “You totally kicked my butt.”

It was hard not to smile as his little brother stood over him with a victorious smirk. Dean rolled out of the way so Sammy could shut the door.

“Don’t take forever, you girl,” Dean said.

Sammy yelled back from behind the door, “I’m not a girl!”

Dean chuckled. He sat on the floor, leaning back against the bathroom door. His fingers laced behind his head as he stared up at the ceiling’s wood beams. “Do you want cereal, pancakes or elephant ears for breakfast?”

There was a long gap of silence as if Sammy was giving it some deep thought before he replied, “Elephant ears.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“And I wanna build a sandcastle,” Sammy said.

Dean furrowed his brow. “Okay, Mr. Random.”

“There’s a contest. Everyone’s gonna be at the beach today making sandcastles.”

Dean needed to get out, and he wanted to spend the day with Sammy, but he didn’t want to spend it with a bunch of other people too. Crowds made him uneasy when he was the one watching his little brother. Most monsters hid in the dark, but some came out during the day and looked just like people.

“Screw that,” Dean said. “Only girls build sandcastles.”

“Do not! Lots of boys make sandcastles too. Please, Dean. I really, really wanna make a sandcastle.”

“Fine,” Dean huffed in reply. “Then we’ll go make sandcastles, but we got plenty of beaches around here. We don’t gotta do it with strangers.”

“But...” Sammy suddenly opened the bathroom door and Dean just caught himself from falling backwards. “If I make the best one I get a prize.”

Dean couldn’t imagine what kind of prize would have Sammy so gung-ho to pile up wet sand. Unless his little brother just wanted to hang out with people who weren’t him.

It didn’t actually matter since Sammy was looking down at him with that big-eyed look that would melt an arctic glacier. They were going, not that Dean was going to let his little brother know he’d won that easily.

“What’s the prize?” Dean asked. “All the textbooks you can read?”

Sammy looked away, scuffing the toe of his sneaker over the linoleum. “A kite.”

“Huh?”

“You told Dad you wanted a stunt kite and he said we didn’t have the money so I thought if I made the bestest sandcastle then I could get you one.”

Dean lowered his head, rubbing the back of his neck. He couldn’t believe Sammy remembered him saying that. It had to have been a few years ago. By now, Dean got that money wasn’t for buying stuff that wasn’t weaponry or food. He’d stopped asking for anything that wasn’t for Sammy.

“It would fold up and fit under your seat so it wouldn’t even take up any room in the car,” Sammy continued, as if Dean needed convincing.

Before another word left Sammy’s mouth, Dean was on his feet with an arm wrapped around his brother’s shoulder. Sammy smiled up at him while Dean led him to the apartment’s door.

“I know your castle will be the best, but judges can’t always see what the coolest one is. Like that stupid P.E. teacher of yours,” Dean said. “We’re only going if you promise not to get bummed out if they can’t tell yours is the most awesome.”

“I won’t,” Sammy quickly answered. “I promise.”

Dean ruffled Sammy’s hair. “Let’s grab some breakfast and then we’ll show them how this sandcastle thing’s done.”

~~~

Dean wiped the sugar crystals from his hands onto his swim shorts. He dropped their daypack onto the spot of sand he’d claimed for Sammy before digging out a bottle of sunscreen and squirting a greasy dollop into the palm of his hand.

Sammy swallowed another bite of his elephant ear before looking at Dean’s hand and scrunching his nose. “I don’t want any.”

“Too bad,” Dean replied before spinning his little brother around. “I don’t wanna listen to you cry all night.”

“I don’t cry.”

“Yeah, right,” Dean snickered. He slapped a messy pile of sunscreen onto Sammy’s back and rubbed it over his shoulders. “Last time you got a sunburn you cried like a baby.”

“Did not!”

By the time Dean spun Sammy back around, his brother’s lower lip was jutted out. Dean smirked and smeared a thick glop over Sammy’s nose. “Dude, you were fried. I would’ve cried too.”

Sammy’s pout shifted to uncertainty then broke into a smile as he plopped down into the sand. “You want the rest?” Sammy asked as he held the last quarter of his elephant ear out to Dean.

“Only if you don’t.”

When Sammy didn’t take back his offer, Dean didn’t hesitate in snatching it. He could eat a hundred of these and still be hungry. Dean needed to get a job so they’d have enough cash to buy burgers at the diner. He was too old to be eating SpaghettiOs every other meal.

“Eew gross,” Sammy whined. “They’re kissing.”

Dean momentarily forgot about food and turned to follow his brother’s stare. Two guys were lounging beneath a beach umbrella with their lips locked together. He watched them for a moment before looking down, a slight blush warming his cheeks.

“So?” Dean asked.

Sammy grimaced. “Kissing’s gross.”

“Whatever.”

Dean chomped down the last of their breakfast in a couple of giant mouthfuls. His brother was already mounding up sand by the time Dean kneeled beside him.

“You gotta make one too,” Sammy said.

“No, I don’t.” Dean flopped down on his butt, crossed his legs and rested his elbows on his knees. “I’m just gonna watch you.”

He wanted to tell Sammy that he wasn’t making one because it was a little kid’s thing, but most the people here making sandcastles were adults. Weirder yet, the beach was jam-packed with people milling around just watching others build sandcastles. They were even taking pictures.

Either no one in this town had a life or some freaky coven was working some kind of mojo. He placed his bet on the coven theory when he really started looking at the insanely intricate sandcastles being built around them.

A lot of them weren’t even castles and they sure couldn’t be made of only sand. This freaking contest was rigged, by witches nonetheless.

He really did need to keep an eye on Sammy.

“Please, Dean. You could make a really cool one.”

Dean rolled his eyes. It was pointless to pretend he wasn’t going to play along. It didn’t matter what Sammy’s castle ended up looking like - he was totally going to lose. Dean at least needed to make this fun for his brother.

“We’ll do it together,” Dean said. “You make the castle, I’ll make the car.”

“Car?” Sammy stopped piling the sand and stared up at Dean. “Castles don’t have cars.”

“Who’d wanna live in a castle without a car?” Dean asked. “You’d be stuck there all the time. You could never just go.”

Sammy frowned. He dropped his eyes and worked on shaping one of his towers before speaking again, “I don’t wanna go.”

“What?”

“I like it here, Dean. I wanna stay. I wanna do the spelling bee and you should join the swim team.”

Dean bit his lip. He scooted down to work on his sand pile and to buy himself a minute to think. Whether or not he wanted to stay wasn’t something Dean had ever considered because it didn’t matter. It wasn’t their choice.

“Those things don’t start until the fall,” Dean said.

“I know. That’s why I wanna stay. We could keep coming to the beach every day and you could teach me how to fish and Dad could stop by whenever he gets a chance.” Sammy’s eyes wandered up from his sandcastle to settle on Dean. “Does Dad sell vacuum cleaners?”

Dean stopped molding the hood of his sand Impala to stare at his apparently brain damaged little brother. “Why the hell would he sell vacuum cleaners?”

“I saw a movie with this vacuum cleaner salesman and he traveled around all the time. And Dad, he-”

“That sounds like a really stupid movie,” Dean interrupted. He returned his attention to crafting the right angles, ignoring the fact that his brother’s eyes were still fixed on him.

“Well, does he?”

“Uh, no.” Dean quirked his brow. “Don’t you think if he did the car would be full of vacuum cleaners?”

Sammy gave a little shrug. “Not if he was good at his job.” His little brother shoved around some more sand before looking up again. “Does he sell makeup? There’s this girl at school and her mom-”

“Oh my God, you’re such a dork,” Dean groaned. “Dude, the only one who wears makeup around here is you.” Before Sammy could whine about the insult, Dean threw a fist full of sand at the sagging mound that was supposed to be his sand car’s trunk. “Freakin’ sand! Who invented this whole sandcastle building crap anyway?”

Sammy tilted his head, giving Dean’s work an evaluating look. “You need more water.” Part of Sammy’s newest castle tower crumbled when he tried to stack it higher. “Me too. I used all the wet stuff.”

“I’ll go get us some water. Don’t you move,” Dean said, pointing a warning finger at Sammy before climbing to his feet. “Someone’s gotta protect the castle.”

After getting an affirmative nod from his brother, Dean headed towards the water. He weaved his way through the maze of people and gaudy beach umbrellas, glancing back towards Sammy every few steps. His brother stayed where he was told and just kept meticulously smoothing the base of his castle.

Dean stood at the water’s edge, the waves lapping at his bare feet where they sunk into the cool moistness of the wet sand. Around him, kids were squealing, splashing in the water and floating around in brightly colored inner tubes. He tried to ignore them.

Kids Sammy’s age almost never came here alone. While they played in the water, they always had their parents waiting for them at the shore.

Dean wished Mom was here waiting for him to get back.

He shook off the thought and focused on the hunt at hand. They didn’t have a bucket, but luckily a lot of other people here did. Dean was just borrowing it, but he still knew better than to snatch anything from someone who was too much bigger than him.

A group of boys just a little older than Dean were busy throwing sand in each other’s faces. Their blind stumbling had kicked their sand toys around and their bucket had rolled far enough away that Dean could claim ignorance.

He skittered in and quickly snatched up the bright red pail before returning to the waves and scooping up a bucket full of water. Dean walked as carefully as he could back to Sammy, trying not to slosh the water as he dodged beach balls and slipped between sandcastle gawkers.

His brother grinned as Dean crouched down in front of him. “I made a moat,” Sammy said proudly with a wave towards the circular pit around his castle.

“Awesome.” Dean poured some of the water into the moat. “Now you just need an alligator.”

“Hey, that’s our bucket!” one of the older boys shouted at Dean.

“Chill out, dude,” Dean replied without even bothering to look over his shoulder. “I’ll give it back when I’m done.”

“You’ll give it back now, ass wipe.”

The answering voice was way closer than Dean had expected. Leaping to his feet, he spun around only to have one of the boys shove him hard, knocking him backwards. His arms flailed as he tried to reclaim his footing in the uneven sand.

Dean found himself staring up at the sun, trying to draw air back into his lungs. It took him a moment to get his bearings enough to realize that he’d been pushed down on top of Sammy’s sandcastle.

“Son of a bitch,” Dean hissed.

He only caught a glimpse of the wide-eyed horror on his brother’s face before he surged to his feet, throwing himself at the gloating boy. The jerk wasn’t laughing when Dean’s fist busted into his nose.

The kid’s hand flew up to cover his face as tears began to well up in his eyes. “Mom!”

When Dean jabbed the kid in the gut just on principal, the other two boys moved in. Dean shook his head as the first douchebag scurried off hollering for his parents.

“You two are next,” Dean warned.

One of them kicked at his Impala while the other looked down at Sammy, whose lip was quivering. “You gonna cry, little dork?”

Dean was the only one who got to call Sammy a dork.

He clenched his fists, standing between his brother and the older boys. Their snickering stopped when they met the fury in Dean’s eyes. Blood from their friend’s nose was smeared over his knuckle. Both turned to run, but they’d missed their chance to get off that easy.

Dean tore down the beach after them, kicking up sand in his wake. They clamored over several dunes, leaving the crowd behind and reaching an empty patch of beach. Dean skidded to a stop, forgetting about the boys who were running back towards the town.

Crime scene tape was stretched over part of the shore where several police officers were standing around talking. Dean tried to quiet his panting breaths as he snuck closer and tucked down behind the slope of one of the dunes.

Beach grass rustled against his cheek while he watched a body bag strapped to a stretcher being loaded into a waiting ambulance. He strained his ears to hear over the ocean’s breeze.

“Fourth one this week,” one of the officers said. “Damndest thing too. It’s like they just walked out into the bay. Or like something pulled them into it.”

~~~

Dad was right; cops were morons.

Dean had stayed to listen before running back to Sammy because he’d thought maybe the officers actually had a clue. Not even close.

The cop’s great theory was that the something pulling people into the ocean was a rogue riptide or some kind of freaky undertow from passing ferries. Dean might not be as smart as Sammy, but he knew people didn’t just walk into the sea to get swallowed up by singing riptides.

While Dean watched, the cops stood around joking about reports of mesmerizing songs, witnesses who had seen people walking like zombies into the water and a lady who had sworn she’d seen a woman rise from the waves to drag her husband to his death.

If they’d ever actually seen a mermaid, they wouldn’t be laughing. Despite what Sammy thought, mermaids weren’t hot cartoon chicks who floated around the ocean singing to their pet fish. He still couldn’t believe Sammy had made him sneak them into that lame movie.

He knew they weren’t dealing with loud stereos, sleepwalkers and crazy people. There was something here. Something that sounded so familiar Dean knew he’d read about it in Dad’s journal or overhead Dad and Uncle Bobby talking about it.

“Dean, are you done reading that stupid paper?”

With an annoyed sigh, Dean glared at his little brother over the top of the newspaper he’d snagged from the magazine stand. Sammy did homework non-stop and Dean almost never complained, but now Dean wanted to read a newspaper for five minutes and Sammy couldn’t deal with it.

The wind blew the paper back against his face. The breeze was picking up, which was why he was using his little brother as a giant paperweight to hold down the rest of the newspapers. They’d dug through the recycle bin until they’d come up with almost a week’s worth of news.

Eleven people were missing and only four battered bodies had washed up. The papers reported them as only drownings. Nothing he read was helpful aside from a short interview with the lady the cops had been laughing about, Mrs. Rhynard.

In the Monday paper, she’d warned everyone to stay away from the water. Tuesday, an editorial said the only thing Mrs. Rhynard needed to stay away from was the wine. Dean hadn’t found a Wednesday paper, but Thursday someone wrote in demanding that everyone leave the poor old lady alone. By Friday, it seemed to have been forgotten.

“What are you doing?” Sammy asked again. “You only ever read the cartoons and only when Dad tells you to shut up.”

“Shows what you know.” Dean didn’t bother to glance at his brother. “Just let me read the paper for two freaking minutes.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sammy lift his butt to pull out one of the crumpled newspapers he was sitting on. His brother unfolded it and tried to hold out the grimy sheets of paper that were wider than his arms could reach.

“Just tell me what we’re looking for,” Sammy said. “I can help.”

“No. Geez, Sammy, just shut up already!”

This was important. People were going to die if Dean didn’t figure this out and the last thing he wanted was for Sammy to know anything about it. Sammy loved the ocean. Dean wasn’t going to be the one to tell him that there were monsters in it. He was going to make the monster go away so Sammy wouldn’t have to be afraid.

Sammy lowered the paper and dropped his head, letting his bangs flop over his eyes. He kicked his legs and stared down at his feet. The quiet only last a minute before Sammy leaned back on the bench, peering behind the newspaper Dean was using to block his annoyingly twitchy brother.

“Are you mad I didn’t win you a kite?”

“What? No, I’m not mad.” Dean tried to mask the concern choking him before lowering his paper to finally meet his brother’s eyes. “It was totally awesome that you tried. Besides, it was my big butt that crushed your castle. Why would you think I was mad?”

It only took a second of running through the possibilities for Dean to figure it out for himself. Dean often wondered the same thing when Dad ignored him to focus on reading about a hunt and Dean knew what Dad was doing was important. Sammy didn’t know there were lives at stake.

“Forget it.” Dean took in a heavy breath then sloppily folded the paper. “I can read it later.”

“What did Dad say when you called?” Sammy asked.

Dean glanced down. “He hoped we were having fun.”

Sammy must be some kind of freaky psychic. Dean had dropped his brother down into the recycle dumpster before he’d called. He hadn’t even spoken because Dad hadn’t answered. It had gone straight to voice mail and Dean hadn’t known what to say.

Dad was already on a hunt. He’d probably be mad if Dean called to bug him about another one. Their dad could do anything, more than any stupid comic hero, but sometimes bad things even happened to heroes. Dean didn’t want to distract him. He didn’t want to be the reason Dad got hurt, if he wasn’t hurt already.

This was what Dad had been training him for anyway. Dean could handle it. He could save people and watch his little brother. He wasn’t going to screw it up this time.

“I guess we’re having fun,” Sammy said. “But I really wanted to win you that kite so you could teach me how to fly it.”

Before Dean could think of anything to say, Sammy leaned over and squinted at the newspaper Dean’s hand rested on. It was opened to the last article he’d read.

Sammy jabbed his finger at it and his face lit up. “I know her.”

Dean tilted his head to look at the black and white photo of Mrs. Rhynard. He gave his brother a skeptical look. “Seriously?”

“She works at the salt water taffy shop, remember? She’s the one that gives us extra and she says you have cute freckles – like fairy dust.”

Dean glowered at his brother before ducking his head to hide his cheeks. “If you ever repeat that to anyone else I will end you.”

“Why? It kinda does look like a fairy danced on your nose.”

Rolling up the newspaper, Dean took a whack at his brother. “I swear to God, Sammy...”

Sammy had already slid off the bench and ran around the backside, giggling as he ducked out of sight. Dean couldn’t retaliate further because he had to rush to grab the papers before they blew away. He stuffed them into their pack before slinging it over his shoulder.

Dean darted around the bench and grabbed Sammy in a head lock, grinding his fist into his squirming brother’s hair until it was a frazzled mess. “Now you look like a fairy.”

Sammy slapped at Dean’s hand, but smiled as he ran his fingers through the tangles. “I wish I had freckles like you.”

“No, you don’t. You’re awesome just the way you are.” Dean threw his arm around Sammy’s shoulder, letting his brother lean against him as they walked down the street. “Do you wanna get some taffy?”

“Really?” Sammy pulled away far enough to hop excitedly. “I though we didn’t have anymore taffy money.”

“We don’t. We’ll have to skip lunch, but we can have two cans of SpagettiOs for dinner.”

“Or macaroni and cheese?” Sammy asked hopefully.

Dean ran a hand over his hair. He wished Dad would call if only to let him know how long the money needed to last. “We’ll see, okay?”

While Dean’s stomach twisted in knots over what he would feed his brother, Sammy skipped ahead of him into the taffy shop.

The storefront was tiny, more like a big closet, but Dean was pretty sure it had every flavor of salt water taffy in the whole world. Bin after bin of different flavors lined the walls in a rainbow of taffy. Sammy didn’t hesitate to grab a bag and start scooping in his favorites.

“Don’t get too much,” Dean said.

Leaving Sammy to fill the bag, Dean turned his attention to the lady behind the counter. It wasn’t Mrs. Rhynard. This lady was probably fifty years younger and only had a little grey hair. Soft wrinkles creased the corner of her eyes as she smiled down at him.

“Do you need something, sweetie?”

He needed to be old enough for people not to call him sweetie or cute. For now, he’d settle for information. Dean leaned over the low end of the glass top counter, rubbing his fingers over a smudge, while deciding what angle to take. He didn’t have any fake IDs so he couldn’t go with Dad’s usual cover story of being a cop or FBI agent.

“We’re looking for Mrs. Rhynard,” Dean said as he looked up. “Does she work here?”

“Why yes she does, but she’s home sick today.”

Dean shot a glance over his shoulder to make sure Sammy was busy picking out his candy before continuing, “Do you know where she lives? We’re boy scouts and we’re working towards our community merit badge. We heard what happened and wanted to bring her some cookies.”

“That’s so nice of you to offer. Unfortunately, I don’t think she’s up to company.” She looked Dean over and he gave her his best smile. It always seemed to work for Dad. “She does love kids...oh, I think you might be just what she needs.”

The lady turned over a business card and wrote an address on the back in big swirly letters. She slid it across the counter towards Dean and he snatched it up, stuffing it into his pocket before Sammy came up behind him.

“Thanks,” Dean said, “and we’ll take these.”

He stepped aside to let Sammy reach up to plop his colorful bag of choice taffy onto the counter. It was way fuller than it should be, but Sammy knew Dean would never make him put any back once he’d picked them out.

It was also hard not to notice that Sammy had poured in twice as much of Dean’s favorite flavor. He squeezed Sammy’s shoulder and his brother beamed up at him. They were popping the soft, sweet treats into their mouth before they even made it out the door. Dean’s stomach might be twisted in knots, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still hungry.

The streets were full of tourists and Dean kept Sammy close because he didn’t know which ones were witches. Sammy was oblivious, just munching on taffy and stuffing the wrappers into Dean’s pocket.

When Sammy abruptly froze beside him, Dean squared his shoulders, looking around warily. He followed his brother’s line of sight to a gift shop window. Sammy’s gaze lingered on a kite display, complete with dangling cloud cut-outs and a nicely handwritten sign announcing a sale.

He hadn’t been able to figure out what to do with Sammy while he interviewed Mrs. Rhynard. This was perfect.

Dean dug the dwindling wad of cash from his pocket and counted it. If getting him a kite meant so much to Sammy, they could eat a little less and hope Dad showed up next week. Worse case scenario, Dean could end the school year early and get a job at the taffy shop.

After a moment’s hesitation, he pulled out enough for the cheapest kite listed. Sammy wouldn’t know it wasn’t a stunt kit.

While his brother looked the other way, Dean tucked the money into Sammy’s hand. Sammy startled at the contact before looking down to see what Dean had given him.

“Really?” Sammy clutched the money tightly, jamming it into his pocket like he was afraid Dean might take it back. “But you can’t look. I want it to be a surprise.”

“Okay. I’m going down the street for a few minutes, but don’t leave the store until I come back, you got it?”

Sammy nodded, pushing the taffy bag into Dean’s hand before running inside. His little brother would take two hours weighing the pros and cons of each kite even if there were only two crap choices. It bought Dean some time.

Mrs. Rhynard’s house was only a few blocks away. Dean stood on the flowery welcome mat of the little beach cottage before he realized he didn’t have any cookies for his cover story. He dug through the bag of taffy and pulled out Sammy’s favorite flavors, dropping them into his pack before knocking on the door.

He became anxious when no one answered. This might be his only chance to do this interview. Dean knocked again before ringing the bell. Finally, he heard footsteps. A moment later, a tired old woman stood in the doorway. Her face warmed to a sad smile when she looked down at him.

“Mrs. Rhynard?” Dean asked.

“Yes, dear. What can I do for you?”

“I’m a boy scout and uh...I’m sorry about your husband. I brought you some taffy.”

Dean held out the bag and hoped his offering would be accepted. He became unsure when she just stared at it, but he recognized the brightness in her eyes and knew she was composing herself. It was something he’d seen Dad do and this lady had lost her husband, just like Dad had lost Mom.

“Thank you.” She took the bag from his hand and stepped aside. “Come on in, darling.”

The moment he walked through the door, Dean’s nose identified the comforting smell that had been hard to make out mingled with the fishy sea air. It was fresh baked cookies. Dean’s rumbling stomach warred with the ache in his heart. He missed real cookies.

Mrs. Rhynard must have seen him staring towards the kitchen. She turned that way and waved her arm for him to follow. “Thank goodness someone came to eat these. Baking gives me something to do, but my appetite’s gone. They’ve just finished cooling.”

She grabbed a spatula and began loosening the cookies from the tray. While she neatly piled them onto a plate, Dean’s eyes wandered around the small, but tidy dining room that overlooked the bay. He hopped up onto a chair so she wouldn’t think he was in a hurry to leave.

Dean dove in the instant she set the cookie plate on the table in front of him. He closed his eyes as he took a generous bite of the still-warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie. They sat in comfortable silence while he chomped it down.

“These are really good,” Dean said as he swallowed the last bite and grabbed another before remembering what he was actually doing here. “Can I ask you something? I was at the beach and I heard this song-”

“Oh goodness.” Panic flashed over her eyes. “You have to stay away from the water.”

“Why? What did you see?” Dean reluctantly set down his cookie as Mrs. Ryndard took a seat next to him. He watched her anxiously, pushing further when she remained silent. “Did you see a person in the water? ’Cause I think I did.”

Her breath hitched and her hand came up to cover her mouth. Slowly she stood, walking toward the picture window and looking out towards the beach. “I’m not crazy?”

“No, you’re not crazy,” Dean assured her.

The sunlight caught the trail of tears rolling down her cheeks. Dean slid from his chair and went to her side. He said nothing as he wrapped his arms around her waist, like he’d done before with Mom and wished he could do with Dad. He wanted to stop this thing, but he didn’t want to make the nice old lady cry.

“Really, it’s all right, Mrs. Rhynard,” Dean said. “I saw it too.” She pulled her arms around him and Dean tightened his grip to let her know it was all right. He looked up at her. “Can you tell me about it?”

~~~

The pack hung heavy on Dean’s shoulder as he jogged back towards the gift shop. When he came around the corner, he saw Sammy standing outside. His little brother held his arms behind his back, squinting against the brightness of the sun while looking up and down the street.

Dean snatched Sammy’s arm. “I told you to wait inside the shop.”

Sammy’s smile was unfazed, his expression pure innocence. “I’m right next to it.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” Dean said. “Everyone can see that.”

“So?”

“So I don’t want anyone to see you.”

“Why not?” Sammy’s face wrinkled in confusion. “They can see you.”

Something could snatch Sammy and it would be all Dean’s fault. They were apart at school, but there were a lot of other people watching there and Dean checked on him every chance he got. No one here was watching out for Sammy when Dean wasn’t. His brother didn’t even know how many things were out to get them.

It was dangerous for Sammy not to know, but Dean wished he didn’t so there was no way he was telling his little brother. Eventually, Sammy would figure it out, but Dean wanted him be unafraid as long as he could. Dean would just have to be there to watch him.

“’Cause you’re gonna scare everybody away,” Dean replied.

“I didn’t scare nobody,” Sammy insisted. “They thought I was cute.”

That was exactly what Dean was afraid of. Some witch could walk by and think Sammy was an adorable little kid to roast up in a pie or sacrifice to some pagan fertility god. They’d tell Sammy they had macaroni and he’d happily follow along.

“You shouldn’t talk to strangers,” Dean said.

“Why not? You do.” Sammy lifted his chin defiantly. “Besides, they talked to me first.” Dean couldn’t come up with a reply before Sammy changed the subject. “Guess what I got.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “A fire truck?”

“No,” Sammy laughed. “A kite!”

Sammy pulled his arms from behind his back to make the great reveal. Dean had been expecting one of those flimsy plastic pieces of crap with a picture print on it, probably of kittens, but this was actually a nice kite. Really nice. It was still rolled up, but the fiberglass frame pieces and the sheen of the blue and white polyester fabric said it was expensive.

“Did you steal that?”

Dean’s question wasn’t accusatory, only curious, and a little concerned. If Sammy had swiped it, they shouldn’t be standing in front of the shop waving it around.

“I didn’t have to,” Sammy said. “You gave me money.”

Dean scoffed. “I didn’t give you that much.”

“I told the nice lady it was your birthday and that you’ve always wanted a kite that did tricks. This one was on display a really long time ago. It doesn’t have a storage bag anymore or instructions and one of the pieces was missing, but we found a piece to fix it and she said I could have it for a really, really big sale.”

There was a moment’s hesitation before Dean accepted the kite. He unfurled it to admire the sleek delta triangle shape and ran his hand over the hefty, but lightweight material. The string reel had straps for the dual lines so the kite could be steered into flips and dives.

It was actually the kind of kite Dean had wanted and knew he would never have.

“Dude...” Dean didn’t know what to say so he settled on the obvious. “This is so awesome.” He winked down at his little brother. “Even if it’s not my birthday.”

“Yes it is,” Sammy insisted. “We skipped your actual birthday so it’s your birthday until you get a present. That’s the rule – you told me so.”

Dean shook his head as he re-rolled the kite. “For your birthday.”

“Just ‘cause you’re old doesn’t mean you don’t need presents.”

“Thank you, Sammy. I got something for you too.”

Dean slid the pack from his shoulder and knelt down beside it. There was so much stuff in it now it was hard to unzip. When he got it open, a container of cookies and a couple boxes of pasta spilled out. The bag was crammed full of food.

Apparently, the actual boy scouts were running a canned food drive and Mrs. Rhynard had some food to donate to the hungry. Dean wasn’t totally sure what a canned food drive was, but he was hungry.

“Macaroni and cheese!” Sammy said excitedly.

“Yeah, but you gotta try some of these.”

Dean pulled open the Tupperware container of Mrs. Rhynard’s home baked cookies and held one out to his brother. Sammy was busy figuring out the puzzle on the back of the macaroni box until Dean snapped his fingers.

When Sammy looked up, his eyes went wide. “And cookies!” He quickly snatched it from Dean’s hand. “I thought we weren’t having lunch.”

“Now we are.” Dean stuffed the pasta boxes back into his pack, but left out the cookies for snacking. “Come on, I know just the place to fly this kite.”

They’d been in town long enough that Dean knew the names of all the local beaches, but it took some searching to find the landmarks Mrs. Rhynard had told him. She’d given him specific details so he’d know where it was. He’d fibbed with his promise not to go near that shore. It wasn’t really a lie because scout’s honor was only for actual boy scouts.

Dean stood on the secluded patch of beach and did one last visual survey of the area before he was satisfied. This was the spot where Mrs. Rhynard’s husband had been taken. He shouldn’t have brought Sammy here, but he needed to see the place in the light.

“Are we there yet?” Sammy asked.

His brother’s skipping had deteriorated to trudging. Sammy was barely picking up his feet anymore, leaving long drag marks in the sand behind them. Even after Dean was pretty sure he’d found the right spot, he’d walked them around again. He needed to wear Sammy out.

Dean held up his arm, letting the strong breeze rush between his fingers. ”Yep. This is the spot.”

Finally, Dean dropped the loaded pack. The only bad thing about tiring out Sammy was that Dean was also getting tired. He had to save energy for the hunt.

The moment Dean sat down on a large driftwood log, Sammy climbed onto it too. His little brother gripped the smooth surface of the gnarled wood for leverage. He picked a high spot so his feet dangled off the ground and grinned when his perch let him look down at Dean.

“You wish,” Dean chuckled.

Sammy slid down the slope of the log. He settled beside Dean so his shoulder was tight against Dean’s arm and he was again looking up at him. “Someday I’m gonna be as tall as you.”

“Maybe.” Dean shrugged. He gave the waves a suspicious look, making sure nothing was rising out of them, before holding his hand out to his brother. “Let’s get this thing put together.”

It took a couple of tries to figure out which frame pieces fit together and where to tie the lines. While Dean worked, Sammy held the unassembled parts and handed them to Dean as he needed them.

They exchanged grins when the assembly was complete and it actually looked like a kite. Dean tied on the lines then stood.

Sammy dropped down onto the sand next to him. “Make it fly, Dean!”

With the steering straps wrapped around his wrists, Dean handed the kite to Sammy. “Take it down the beach and don’t let go until I tell you.”

His little brother pouted. “I’m tired of walking.”

“You wanna see it fly or not?”

Sammy took the kite from Dean’s hands. “I’m going.”

Dean spooled out the line until they reached the end then shouted over the wind to his brother, “Okay! Hold it up and let it go.”

He should have also told Sammy to get out of the way because the truth was Dean had never actually flown one of these things. Dean only knew about stunt kites because he’d watched a competition on television and it had looked really cool.

The kite caught the wind, but when it dipped low to the ground, Dean jerked hard on one of the lines and overcorrected. It dove down, the nose burying into the sand. Sammy just managed to scramble out of the way. Once he was back on his feet, his little brother crossed his arms and glared across the beach at Dean.

“Almost got you,” Dean shouted back smugly to cover the fact he had no freaking clue what he was doing. “All right, I’m done screwing around. Hold it up again.”

Sammy ran over to recover the kite, shaking off the sand and standing with it held over his head. Dean stepped back until the lines were taut and told Sammy to launch it once more. This time, he let it find the wind and get some real height before he started playing with the lines.

Dean felt the tug of the wind and listened to the flapping of the kite’s fabric as it surfed the air currents. He jumped when Sammy was suddenly back at his side.

“Make it do something cool,” Sammy said. “And then show me how to do it.”

After demonstrating a few flips and an aborted figure-eight, Dean directed Sammy to stand in front of him. He bent down over his brother so his arms were on either side of him.

Dean transferred one strap to Sammy’s hand. As soon as he was sure his brother had a firm hold of it, he gave him the other one too. Dean’s larger hands wrapped over Sammy’s. Anytime the kite got too close to the ground, Dean gave a subtle tug to pull it back up.

Sammy leaned his head back into Dean’s chest, looking up at him with a giant grin. “Dean, I’m flying a kite!”

At some point while they flew, the sun sunk from high in the sky to settle low on the horizon. Panic flared in Dean when the sky’s shades of pink finally registered. Sammy couldn’t be out here at night.

“Time to head back,” Dean said, trying to sound relaxed.

Sammy was sitting by Dean’s feet watching the kite fly while munching on a cookie. At Dean’s word’s, he threw himself backwards into the sand, his arms flopping dramatically beside him. “But I’m having fun and you’ve wanted to stay out late all week.”

“Don’t you want some macaroni and cheese?”

In an instant, Sammy wasn’t only sitting up again, but was scrambling to his feet. He ran out to catch the kite where Dean set it down. Soon, they had it reeled in, disassembled enough to roll up and were heading back up the beach.

He’d almost had to carry Sammy for the last bit, but they finally made it to the street. The sidewalks were emptier now, though on the waterfront, they still bustled with people heading out to the fancy restaurants for dinner.

Dean kept Sammy close to his side, rubbing his brother’s arm to keep him warm as the breeze turned cool. He didn’t let go of Sammy until they made it to the vacant sidewalk leading to their apartment.

They raced each other up the stairs to their room. This time, Dean let himself win because he was the only one with a key. He ushered Sammy inside, latching the security chain and bolting the door behind them before heading to the kitchen.

As he unloaded his pack, Dean waved Sammy towards the bathroom. “You need to take a bath while I cook dinner.”

“Why?” Sammy asked. “I don’t smell any worse than you.”

“You so do and I reek. You can wait until after I use all the hot water if you want...”

It was enough to get Sammy running down the hall. Dean waited a minute before creeping towards the shut bathroom door, listening for Sammy to turn on the tub. Once the water was running, Dean rushed back to the kitchen and grabbed the phone. He dialed, impatiently listening to the ringing.

“This better be damned good,” the gruff voice on the other end of the line grumbled.

“Hey, Uncle Bobby.”

“Dean?” Bobby’s tone became instantly welcoming. “What are you up to?”

“I just have some question about what kind of stuff lives in the ocean.”

Bobby cleared his throat. “I’m guessing you’re not meaning fish.”

“No, sir.”

It was silent for a long moment before Bobby continued. “Why don’t you ask your daddy?”

“He’s not here and he’s the one that told me to learn about it, but he took all the books.” Dean leaned against counter while he chose his words carefully. “Have you heard from him?”

“Not since last month. You boys aren’t alone there, are you?”

“No,” Dean replied easily.

It was true, he had Sammy here with him and Sammy had him. Dean was worried about Dad, but telling Uncle Bobby that Dad had been away so long wouldn’t help. Last time he had, Uncle Bobby had spent hours yelling at Dad when he did get back from his hunt.

He wasn’t sure what Uncle Bobby had been so mad about. It wasn’t Dad’s fault that some hunts took a long time. Dean didn’t want to make them mad at each other again.

“Dad’s just been out for a while,” Dean continued. “So anyway, what kind of singing things would live in a bay?”

“Could be lots of things I suppose,” Bobby said. “Mermaids-“

"No, it looks like a lady, but it doesn’t have a tail.”

“This ain’t something you’ve seen, now is it, boy?”

“No, sir. Just...let’s just say it doesn’t have a tail and it can walk like a person and maybe shapeshift, but not like a skinwalker.”

“That’s one damn specific theoretical question.”

“Dad’s testing me and I wanna get it right. It can’t be cheating to call you. He does it all the time.”

“Your old man would want you using the best resources available,” Bobby agreed with amusement heavy in his voice. “Mythology would say it could be a siren. Less common in salt water, but it all flows together so we could be talking nixie.”

Dean mulled over the unfamiliar word. They’d watched The Odyssey at school so he knew what a siren was, but he’d never heard of a nixie. “Can a nixie shapeshift?”

“So the story goes. Never seen one myself and don’t think your daddy has either.”

“How would I know if it was siren or a nixie?” Dean asked.

“Nixie is the only one that’s gonna be literally singing for you and, unlike the sirens, they do keep to the water. What’s up with John’s study quiz?”

“Just trying to keep me out of trouble, I guess.”

“That working out?” Bobby asked with a knowing chuckle.

“Not really,” Dean admitted. “If it is a nixie - that Dad’s asking about...how would you kill it?”

~~~

Dean lay in the dark as he listened to his brother’s gentle inhales and exhales. Sammy’s expression was peaceful and his body relaxed while Dean’s mind raced. He clutched the sheets while fighting to convince himself it was okay.

Wherever Dad was, he was alive. No matter what happened, Sammy would be safe too. Dean would make sure of that.

He slowly turned his head until his gaze rested on his curled up little brother, who was almost entirely buried beneath the blankets. It didn’t look like Sammy was faking it, but Dean had to be sure.

“Sammy, you sleeping?” Dean whispered. “I’m gonna go get some ice cream.”

His little brother didn’t even twitch.

After one more steadying breath, Dean solidified his resolved and forced himself to slip from beneath the comforting warmth of the covers. His eyes remained on Sammy as he tugged on his jeans. It wasn’t until Dean slid into his jacket that Sammy shifted.

Dean froze. Even his breath went still in his chest until Sammy again relaxed. His brother mumbled softly before going quiet.

Crouching on the floor, Dean slid his hand beneath the dresser. He fished out the pistol he’d loaded while Sammy had been taking a bath. Dean tried to think of what he was forgetting as he stared down at the gun resting in his hand.

He should leave a note. Dean was confident in the training Dad had given him, but he was also pretty good at screwing things up. If something went wrong, Sammy would be left here all alone.

They didn’t know when Dad was coming back. Even though they had food now, Sammy didn’t know how to cook and the cookies wouldn’t last long. Dean had already eaten more than half of them.

Sammy needed to know that he should call Pastor Jim if Dean didn’t come back. It wasn’t like he could just leave a note somewhere obvious though. Sammy had drank a lot before bed and would probably wake up to go to the bathroom before morning. Dean didn’t want his brother stumbling on the note if he didn’t need to.

He settled on leaving one in his bag where Sammy would have to look for supplies anyway. It was more of a message to tell Pastor Jim to call Bobby. Sammy wouldn’t learn about the monsters just by reading it.

Dean tucked the gun into the back of his pants just like Dad always did. The steel was cold against his skin and its weight tugged down his jeans. He jerked them up, tightening his belt a notch before sneaking to the door.

He checked the salt line hidden beneath the mat and then the lock, about half a dozen times, before heading down the hall.

The spot of beach Mrs. Rhynard had unknowingly led him to had been hard enough to find during the day. Tonight the stars were out, but the new moon left the night dark. Dean had to count his paces to make it back to the same site.

His worn sneakers skidded over the sand as he half walked, half slid down a dune. The sporadic dock lights and soft glow from the town were barely enough to let him see his own hand in front of his face.

Even the soft lapping of waves had him jumping at his own shadow.

A gust of salty marine air filled his unzipped jacket and he shivered. Instead of pulling it tight, he pushed it aside to pull out the pistol that was weighing down his jeans.

It had never looked so heavy when Dad carried it.

He hunkered down behind the large piece of driftwood he and Sammy had built the kite on. His breaths were shallow and quiet as he listened to the sounds of the night. Dean hoped the bullets he’d loaded were really silver.

Mostly, he wished he was back at the apartment sleeping beside Sammy. He wondered if this was how Dad felt when he went on hunts.

Despite his anxiety and excitement, his nerves could only remain on edge for so long. Even while he sat alone in the dark, the rhythmic splash of the waves soothed him. He was so tired.

As minutes spread to hours, Dean’s head nodded to the side. He jerked up, looking around wildly.

At least his vision had adjusted to the dark. There was nothing to see, but he wasn’t sure how long he had fallen asleep. He could have missed the nixie taking someone else. He sat up straighter and tried shake off exhaustion.

His heavy eyelids had nearly fallen again when he heard it.

The song drifted on the wind. At first, it was too quiet to make out over the waves. There were no words and it seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. Dean wasn’t sure if it was being sung aloud or if it was only in his head.

He peered over the top of the log to see the next set of waves rise without falling. They twirled up in a turbulent column of water that nearly instantly solidified to look like a real person.

It was a lady - a really hot lady. She wore a dress that clung so tightly and transparently to her she might as well have been naked. Dean would’ve really liked to see her naked.

The thin, white dress flapped in the wind, but unlike the kite, the fabric’s rustling was silent. Long blonde hair, as bright as moonlight, danced around her porcelain face. Water dripped from the hem of her dress. Just looking at her was making Dean cold.

She didn’t so much walk, as flow across the shore. Even though Dean was all but out of sight, she was coming right at him. He sucked in a breath then pushed to his feet, abandoning his cover.

He stood with a wide stance and leveled his gun. Dean was half way to squeezing the trigger when the nixie’s serenity shifted to confusion. It was like she didn’t even see him.

She glanced around the beach before her gaze leveled on Dean. Amusement touched her lips. “You’re the presence I sensed? Such a large essence for such a small package.”

Dean tightened his grip on the pistol as she swept closer. “I’m not gonna let you hurt anyone else.”

“They come to me, child.” She tilted her head curiously down at him. “You’re precious. I think I’ll keep you.”

The nixie closed the distance between them with all the power of waves breaching the rocks of the shore. When she stilled again she was nearly pressed against him, close enough to steal the heat from his body.

Her fingers were icy and wet as they ghosted over his cheek. He stumbled backwards, falling into the sand.

She leaned over him and the water dripped from her, soaking through his shirt and chilling his skin. “I have a song just for you.”

As she opened her mouth, Dean raised his gun and pulled the trigger. The shot echoed over the beach. Her smug certainty shattered and her expression twisted to shocked horror.

The silver bullet spread veins across her face as if she was cracking apart. Dean threw his arms up protectively as she began to fall. Before her weight collapsed onto him, she exploded into a shower of water.

Dean was knocked back. His shoulders impacted the log and he slid down into the sand, momentarily stunned. He gasped for air. The gun was still clutched in his hand as he struggled to sit up. He was drenched to the bone and shaking.

He winced and rubbed his sleeve over his face to wipe away the water, but only smeared sand into his stinging eyes. Every inch of him was gritty and gross with the sand clinging tenaciously to his wet clothes.

After blinking his eyes clear, he scanned the beach. It was empty without any trace that the nixie had been anything but a nightmare. He could barely hear the waves over the pounding of his own blood.

Dean stared into the darkness of the sea, not sure what he was looking for. His eyes wandered over the gleaming lights of other cities and towns that lined the shore. They were the porch lights of houses where people were just sleeping in their beds.

The thought of Sammy sleeping in his bed and the realization that someone could have heard the gunshot, forced Dean to his feet. He stumbled before getting his footing.

His eyes wandered down to the gun. None of this felt real. He checked the clip to be sure, and there really was a bullet missing from the chamber.

He shoved the gun into his jacket pocket. Then he ran.

It was slow progress on the sand, but became a full out sprint when his feet hit the pavement. Tearing down the back roads, he soon collapsed behind the apartment, not quite ready to return to Sammy.

His legs trembled as he pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. It didn’t help warm him any as the cool breeze continued to bombard him and salty water still dripped from his hair.

With heavy gasps, he tried to catch his breath. He was too spent to stand, but too wired to hold still. His legs twitched as he rode the last wave of adrenaline throbbing heavy through his blood.

He’d just completed his first solo hunt.

Dean wanted to shout it from the rooftops. He wanted to run in to wake Sammy and to call Uncle Bobby to tell him that silver really did kill nixies. Now Dean knew stuff that even Uncle Bobby and Dad didn’t know, which meant he wasn’t just a cute, freckle-faced kid. He was a real hunter, just like Dad.

More than anything, he wanted to tell Dad. He wanted Dad to have been there to see him, to pat him on the back and tell him what an awesome shot it had been.

But he couldn’t tell anyone.

No one would ever know what he’d done and, the weird thing was, it didn’t even matter. No one else was going to die like Mrs. Rhynard’s husband and Sammy didn’t have to be scared of the water.

His body still hummed with excess energy as he made it up the stairs to their apartment. There was no way he’d be able to get to bed. It was hard enough to calm down just to keep quiet while he snuck into the room.

The door was barely closed before Dean stopped in his tracks.

Sammy was silhouetted by the streetlights spilling in the window. His little brother sat up on the bed. He was on top of the covers with his arms crossed over his chest.

“Where’d you go?” Sammy asked.

So many answers ran through Dean’s mind. Despite everything he wanted to tell his brother, there was really only one thing he could say. “I just went for a walk.”

“It’s the middle of the night, Dean.”

“Then why are you awake?”

Sammy nodded towards the phone. “’Cause Dad called.”

Relief came first, in a flood that left him light headed. An instant later, Dean’s stomach plummeted and he was thrown into panic.

Dad had called. Dean had been by Sammy’s side for the entire month and a half they’d been here and Dad had called during the few hours on the only night Dean had left his little brother.

“What’d you tell him?” Dean asked numbly.

“That you taught me how to fly a kite and that we built sandcastles,” Sammy said with a grin.

“And...”

Sammy looked confused. “What’d you want me to say?”

“You did great, Sammy…but what’d you say about where I was?” Dean asked.

“That you went to get ice cream.” Sammy’s tone was totally matter of fact like of course Dean would seriously go out in the middle of the night for ice cream. His brother gave a sleepy yawn and stretched his arm out to pass Dean a torn sheet of paper before falling back onto the bed. “Dad wanted you to call when you got back.”

“Crap,” Dean whispered beneath his breath. He could barely breathe as he dialed the number Sammy had scribbled on the paper. “Dad?”

“Dean?” Dad sounded disoriented, like Dean had woken him. An instant later, he was all business and Dean snapped to attention. “Where the hell have you been?”

Dean could ask Dad the same thing, but he didn’t. He only lowered his head and looked down at the floor, running his still gritty sneakers over the wood boards.

“I just went out.”

His dad deserved a better explanation than that, but what could he say? There was no excuse and no way Dean could tell him the truth with Sammy sitting three feet away. He opened his mouth to apologize but then Dad spoke.

“You locked the doors and checked the salt lines?” Dad asked.

“Yes, sir.”

The confusion was heavy in Dean’s voice. He’d expected a firing squad, but instead of laying into him, Dad skipped over it like it didn’t even matter. Dean blinked in disbelief and tried to focus on the words Dad did say.

“I got a missed call from you. You know better than to call me without leaving a message. What am I supposed to think?”

Probably the same thing Dean had been thinking about Dad for over a week now. “Sorry, Dad. I was just...I was worried, but I didn’t wanna bug you.”

There was a weary sigh and a long stretch of silence on the other end. “I should’ve called. This hunt’s gotten out of hand.”

Dean’s stance straightened. “Do you need help?”

Because Dean could help. He could kill monsters all by himself. Still riding the wave from his first kill, he was equal parts thrilled and terrified at the prospect of another hunt.

“No, I got some help here, but I’ve had to chase this thing to Colorado. I’ve been in the backcountry, just stopped in town to get to a phone. Anything I need to know about there?”

Dean wanted to tell him, wanted to tell him more than anything, but Sammy was perched on the end of the bed staring anxiously at him. “No, sir.”

“Sammy’s all right?” Dad asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Money’s holding out?”

Dean bit at his lip. “Um…we’re doing okay.”

“Dean...”

There was a warning in Dad’s tone and Dean cleared his throat. He didn’t want to admit that he wasn’t managing their money well enough. “It’s getting pretty tight.”

“That’s all right,” Dad said. “Caleb’s working a hunt in Rhode Island. Give him a call and have him drop off some more cash.”

“Don’t you owe him by now?”

“Not nearly.” Dad’s chuckle flowed into a reprimand that knocked the smile from Dean’s lips. “This isn’t spending money. No more kites.”

“I know, sir. Sorry about that.” But it was a lie. Dean wasn’t sorry, not with the memory of Sammy’s big smile staring up at him. “So...you’re still gonna be a while?”

“You know how these things are, Dean. We could nail it tomorrow night or we could still be a couple weeks off.”

Dean glanced towards his brother. “Take your time. This place is really nice.”

“Ask him if we can stay,” Sammy whispered a little too loudly.

“Don’t get used to it.” Dean wasn’t sure if Dad’s answer was directed towards him or if Dad had heard Sammy. “Unlike Caleb, the apartment manager only owes me this one favor. We’re not making a habit of waterfront housing.”

“Yeah, I know, but if it takes you a while it’s okay. Sammy and I are good here. Just be careful, Dad.”

By the time Dean hung up the phone, Sammy was bouncing excitedly on the bed. “So can we stay?”

“Until Dad gets back.” He gave Sammy an apologetic shrug when his brother’s shoulders slumped. It was the best Dean could do. “But he might not be back for a while.”

“Like a couple of years?” Sammy asked hopefully.

Dean sat down on the floor. All the energy had suddenly gone from him, but he was still wet down to his underwear and didn’t want to trash the bed. “It’s not gonna be that long.”

Sammy climbed off the bed and sat down on the floor beside Dean. “A couple of months?”

“Maybe a couple weeks. Depends how many vacuum cleaners he has to sell.”

“I knew it!” Sammy stretched then tipped over to lean against Dean. “I hope he has a lot.” Sammy sniffed then leaned away, staring at Dean while he brushed sand from his pajama sleeve. “Did you fall in the ocean?”

Dean sat up enough to peel off his shirt, which was just making him cold. He heaved it over the bed in the general direction of his bag. Laundry was so on the agenda for tomorrow.

“I just went for a swim.”

With the sopping shirt gone, Sammy nestled back into Dean. “Will you take me swimming tomorrow?”

If Sammy had asked him that earlier in the day, Dean would’ve had a panic attack. Now, he just smiled easily down at his sleepy little brother.

“Sure thing, Sammy.”

“I don’t care where we go,” Sammy said.

Leaning back against the bed, Dean slid his arm around his brother’s shoulder. “Cool. We got lots of beaches to choose from.”

“I mean it’s okay if we gotta go when Dad comes back.”

“Really?” Dean quirked a brow at his brother. “I though you wanted to stay.”

“I do, but there are lots of places to fly kites.” Sammy gave another yawn and closed his eyes with his head resting against Dean’s arm. “As long as you’re there, I don’t care where we go.”

Dean felt yet another weight lift from his shoulders. He couldn’t express to Sammy what that meant to him both because he was unable to find the words and, if he did, he still wouldn’t say them aloud. They’d make him sound like the girl.

His little brother was already drifting off beside him. Dean was too tired to get himself up into bed, let alone lift Sammy into it. He settled for tugging down the blanket and pulling it around them.

Sammy slumped against him, shifting around drowsily until he had his head cushioned on Dean’s thigh. Dean’s legs would again be numb by morning, but he didn’t care. He just tucked the blanket around Sammy.

As long as he had his brother at his side, nothing else mattered.