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Paranormal

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The water had been calm when Bill had set out. You couldn’t have had a more perfect day for trawling: clear blue skies, still waters, the best forecast anyone could hope for. He’d only been out for an hour when the sea mist began to come in. It was a bad one: Bill could barely see his hand in front of his face and he could feel the boat buffeting beneath him as he made his way to check on the nets. All the ropes and fastenings seemed to be holding steady, though, which was something.

Even so, Bill had a bad feeling about this. He knew the Atlantic waters like the back of his hand, had been navigating them as soon as he was old enough to learn how to handle a boat. No other mist he’d been caught in had ever had quite the same unearthly stillness. The calm before the storm. As he made his way back over to the main cabin, wanting to mark their last known position on the chart so he’d know what to watch out for if they started to drift off course, he heard them. The singing. A choir of seals were alongside the boat, singing in mournful chorus. It was supposed to be lucky, having them follow the boat so close, a sign that a fisherman had been blessed by the sea. Bill paid it no mind: he’d heard the seals before, after all, and he’d never put much stock in old wives’ tales. So when he finally looked up from his charts, he was taken by surprise.

There was a woman on deck. Tangled, sopping wet hair trailed down her shoulders in loose waves as she stared back at him with soulful eyes. She had an unearthly beauty about her, something wild and untameable in her features, but that you couldn’t help being lured in by. Her expression might have spoken of sadness at first glance, but there was something else there too, something less friendly. If Bill had to try and describe it, he would say it was like the quiet flow of ocean waters just before a storm. He wouldn’t dare cross her, not if he valued his life. If he’d still been listening, he would have noticed the seals’ song had shifted, forming distinguishable words. Thief. Punish him. Payment for her who is lost.

“Did you take my sister?” If the sea could speak, this woman’s voice would be something close to it. He started to remember dim memories of old wives’ tales about the seal people and how any who dare cross them would be forfeit. He’d never believed, before. It was all just folk tales, nonsense. But in that moment, he couldn’t help but wonder.

Bill, struck dumb with fear, merely shook his head.

“Until she is returned, any man who dares to venture near our court will be punished.” She was smiling at him now, a mirthless cruel smile.

Bill tried to move, to head to his cabin where he kept an axe for emergencies, but his feet refused to cooperate and remained rooted to the spot.

Was it just his imagination or did her teeth seem longer than they had before?

He looked her in the eyes right until the end.

Blood splattered the deck and there was a thump as his lifeless corpse fell to the floor. The seals looked on, eyes cold and unforgiving.

………

When the trawler was found a few days later, there was no sign of his body.

……….

Per Iesum Christum, Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Sam’s voice barely stumbled as he read out the final piece of Latin, the words familiar from years of reciting spells and enchantments. He barely had to concentrate on the Grace, allowing him the time to stare out over the dining hall at his tutors and fellow students. Lamps flickered on the tables, casting some light into the dark gloominess that always seems to come with wooden panelled halls. Jess smiled encouragingly at him from the head of the table closest to him, her blonde hair forming a halo around her face. He shot a small smile back in return, the mere sight of her enough to improve his mood.

He should be happy. Most people were ecstatic to just get into Oxford, let alone get a bursary or the top grades in their exams needed to become a scholar, like Sam had done. He’d been given all the privileges the college had to offer: one of the best rooms in college; a fancy gown; not to mention getting to read the Grace before Formal Hall. He was on track for a First too, going by his high scores in collections and prelims. Just one last paper on Criminal Law, and he’d be free. Off to London to do a law firm traineeship. This was supposed to be Sam’s crowning glory, the moment where he’d finally proved that he deserved to be here, that he was one of them . He knew what his fellow students had said about him behind his back, when they’d first arrived in the dreaming spires. Everyone’s speculations about why he wouldn’t talk about his family or how he’d managed to get the top grades demanded for Oxford’s law course when he’d barely stayed at one school for a month, let alone a year. There were those who were more open about their displeasure too. Sam still hadn’t forgotten how some of his fellow coursemates had refused to talk to him at the freshers’ dinner, acting like he didn’t exist. Hardly worth the effort, mixing with someone who hadn’t gone to Eton or Harrow.

At the time, Sam’s only thought had been to prove them all wrong. The asshats who thought he was barely worth his notice, that he didn’t deserve to be here. Yet now, when he’d finally shown that he was just as good as any of them, he still wasn’t satisfied. Sam’s only thought was how he didn’t belong here.

You won’t fit in there, son. You’re no civilian. Don’t think those kids at that fancy university of yours won’t sense that too. They’ll hate you for it and you’ll come crawling back, sooner or later.

No. He wasn’t going to think about that night. Not now. Not when he was doing so well.

………

Sam had obviously not been as good at hiding his bad mood as he’d originally thought. After formal hall was over and they’d returned to the set they shared, Jess insisted on confiscating his law books and demanding that they spend some time relaxing together.

Jess was like that, great at knowing when something was wrong and how to help. It was one of the things Sam liked best about her. They’d met early on in Sam’s first Michaelmas term. Sam lived downstairs from her, so the two of them had got chatting during numerous trips to the communal kitchen and laundry runs. Jess was studying History, the only girl in college taking the course. She’d had to go through much of the same issues of proving herself to some of her more closed-minded classmates as Sam had. Too many boorish public school guys hadn’t taken her seriously, at first. More fool them. They found out soon enough that Jess wouldn’t just sit back in tutorials, more than capable of fighting her corner. Sam liked that about her, that she was never afraid to speak her mind. Pretty and kind, Jess had never pushed him to talk about his family either, always knowing when to stop asking about his past. It wasn’t much of a surprise that they ended up becoming good friends. Sam had liked her, but all the same, he couldn’t shake the feeling that this was all a bit too good to be true. Jess couldn’t be interested in someone like him, could she? They came from completely different worlds. She’d never known what it was like living on the breadline like Sam had. As for the hunting...Even if he did get up the guts to tell her, she’d probably never understand.

So they dated. Sam kept his secrets and she never pushed him to spill them.

It was easy for Sam to forget about his fears, watching trashy movies with Jess and munching on popcorn. All the same, he couldn’t shake the sense of foreboding that had plagued him all evening. When you’ve been a hunter long enough, you get that instinct. That sixth sense that tells you something big is going to happen and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You’ve just got to be ready. Sam had that feeling now.

He only had to wait a few hours. The bells had just struck one when he heard it. A few floorboards creaking in the next room. The light rustle of a coat brushing against the furniture to wake him. Jess was still asleep, thank God, so Sam didn’t have to waste time worrying her as he slipped free of her embrace and grabbed his cricket bat from its usual stand beside the bed.

Heading into the main sitting room, he soon saw the cause. A dark silhouette of a man leaning over Sam’s desk, idly flipping through the papers he had laid out there. Sam treaded closer, cricket bat raised, ready to strike. At the last moment, though, the guy turned, grabbing the bat and twisting it easily out of Sam’s hand before tossing it aside. Sam didn’t bother waiting for the inevitable counterattack, hands forming into fists and lunging at the stranger. Blocked again. Whoever (or whatever) this guy was, he was a fighter. The two of them grappled for a while before Sam’s assailant had him in a chokehold.

“Whoa, easy, tiger.”

Sam stopped struggling. He knew that voice. “...Dean?”

“The one and only.” Sam’s elder brother pulled away, grinning at him. “Good to see you, Sammy.”

“You scared the crap out of me!” Finally relaxing, Sam couldn’t help smiling slightly back at him. No matter how pissed he’d been at Dean the last time they’d been together, it was good to see him again. Sam really had missed his brother.

Dean shrugged. “You’re the one out of practice.”

Sam rolled his eyes, shoving him. “Like I couldn’t take you if I wanted.”

“You wish.”

There was an awkward pause. You can’t just wipe away three years of absence as though it had never happened.

“What are you doing here?” Sam asked eventually.

“Well, I was looking for some beer.” Dean shrugged. As if Sam could believe that. There had to be a reason. He wouldn’t have shown up after so long if there wasn’t something he needed. Dad wouldn’t have let him, for one thing. So Dean wasn’t going to admit why he was here. Fine. Two could play at that game.

“Just answer the question, Dean.”

Dean considered before sighing, “Look, we need to talk, okay?”

“You ever heard of email? Texting?”

“Like you’d have actually answered.”

Maybe he did have a point there. Before Sam could say anything, though, the door to his bedroom creaked open. Jess stood there, eyes blinking sleepily as she took in the scene before her. “Sam? What’s going on?”

Crap. Sam really hadn’t wanted the two of them to meet. “Um, hey, Jess. This is my brother, Dean.” Dean grinned lasciviously at her, eyes pointedly trailing down her body. Prick.

“Smurfs. Nice.” He gestured to her t-shirt. “You know, I’ve got to tell you. You are way out of my brother’s league.”

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Jess said coldly. “Just let me go put something on-”

“No need.” Dean interrupted her. “’Sides, me and my brother need to talk in private. Family business.”

“Whatever you want to say to me, you can say in front of her.” Sam moved over, putting an arm around Jess’s shoulders and giving her a reassuring squeeze. Please don’t be about hunting, please don’t be about hunting.

“Fine,” Dean sighed, making no attempt to hide his annoyance. “Dad’s not been in touch for a bit.”

“So? You know what he’s like. Probably had a few too many pints and forgot to call. He’ll stagger back sooner or later.”

Dean glared at him, before saying pointedly. “Dad’s on a hunting trip and he hasn’t been home in a few days.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

“Jess, excuse us. We need to go outside.” Sam eventually muttered.

………..

They’d decamped to the pub across the road from college: quiet enough that they could talk, but it wasn’t popular enough with the uni crowd that Sam ran the risk of someone overhearing their conversation that shouldn’t.

“I’m not hitting the road with you.” He might as well get that clear early on.

Dean scowled, “Haven’t even asked you yet.”

“But you were going to.”

His shrug was answer enough. Sam sighed, “You remember the kelpies in Cornwall? Or that haunting over in Birmingham? He was missing then too. He’s always missing and he’s always fine.”

“You can’t know for sure. What if this is the one time he isn’t? Besides, he’s never been this long without checking in. Now are you gonna come with me or not?”

“No.”

“Why?”

Sam kept his voice firm. “I swore I was done hunting. For good.”

“Christ, Sammy, this is our own dad we’re talking about. You seriously don’t give a crap? Like it was ever that bad when we were on the road together.” Dean snapped.

“Oh really? When I told Dad I was afraid of the monsters in my closet, he gave me a knife and taught me how to use it.” Sam quipped back.

“Well what else was he supposed to do?”

“Oh, maybe tell me not to be afraid of the dark? I was nine years old!”

“Of course you should be afraid of the dark. We know what’s out there.”

Sam should’ve guessed Dean wouldn’t understand. He’d always seen their dad as some kind of superhero, fighting off whatever went bump in the night. Hell, he’d enjoyed the hunting. Dean was never so alive as when he was off on the trail of the monster of the week. Not like Sam, who’d rather keep to his books, who’d thrown up the first time he’d seen a monster’s corpse. He still got nightmares about some of the worse hunts and he hadn’t even picked up a knife in the last few years.

“You think Mum would approve of all this?” He asked quietly. That was a low blow, and they both knew it. Sam felt he had to make Dean understand, though. He’d always been made for the hunting life in a way that Sam wasn’t. It wasn’t like he would get it, why Sam’s dearest wish was to be normal.

To his credit, Dean didn’t flinch. “Is that why you ran away?”

Of course he would want to talk about that sooner rather than later. Sam sighed. “I was just going to college. It was Dad who told me that if I walked out that door, I shouldn’t expect to come back.”

“Yeah, well, Dad’s in real trouble now. If he’s not dead already. I can feel it.” Dean paused before murmuring. “I can’t do this alone.”

“Yeah, you can.”

Dean looked away. “Well, maybe I don’t want to.”

There was an awkward silence, Sam weighing it all up in his head. He had until Monday, when his final exam was. Five days. They’d wrapped up hunts quicker than that before and if it wasn’t over by then, he’d just take a train home. Dean couldn’t argue with that. He’d have at least tried to help. It’d be good to spend some more time with his brother too, even if it was hunting. He had missed him, no matter how hard he liked to pretend otherwise. “What was the case?”

…………….

Jess was waiting up for him when he returned.

“Dean staying around for long?” She spoke almost as soon as he came in the door.

“He’s leaving tonight. Wants to go check on what might’ve happened to Dad.”

“You’re not going with him, are you?” His sigh was answer enough. She scowled at him, “Seriously? Sam, you told me your dad won’t even speak to you anymore, but now you’re just going to go trekking halfway across the country to check up on him? You’ve got an exam next week. Is it really worth it?”

“I know. I don’t want to go either. But Dean thinks it’s serious. He wouldn’t have come here if he thought he could handle it.”

Jess pursed her lips, “So he only bothers showing up when he needs something. That makes him as bad as your Dad.”

“I’ll be fine.” Sam assured her. “I’ll be home in a few days, I promise.”

“I’m not going to be able to talk you out of this, am I?”

“No.”

“Then I’ll help you pack. And you call as often as you can, okay? If they’re jerks, don’t bother hanging around.”

He laughed, “I won’t. What would I do without you?”

“Crash and burn.” She smiled back at him, lightly pecking a kiss on his cheek. “Stay safe, Sam.”

……………

Being in the car with Dean, it was like the past three years hadn’t happened. There was still an awkwardness there, hurt on both sides that couldn’t just be shrugged off, but they were doing their best to move past that. Besides, it was hard for Sam to be angry with Dean when he looked so happy, singing along to Dad’s old tapes and telling old stories about cases he’d worked. He’d been working solo more, a step away from the Dean who’d always been Dad’s good little soldier, backing him up on cases. The Morris Oxford was his now too, a present not long after Sam left. Sam couldn’t help but think bitterly that it was his reward, for taking Dad’s side, not Sam’s. He shrugged it off, though, focusing on talking about Oxford and catching Dean up on the last few years, and it was worth it to see Dean going into proud big brother mood.

Of course, because things couldn’t be simple just this once, John Winchester had to go missing at the other end of the country. It was a long night’s drive up to Oban, where they had to take a ferry over to Coll, and it was lunchtime before they arrived in Arinagour. Dean had talked Sam through what he knew of the case as they’d travelled. Several fishermen and trawlers had gone missing, all in the same area of sea around the Gunna Sound between Coll and another island, Tiree. Every single time, a sea mist had descended around the area around the time of the last contact. Nothing seemed to link the vessels: crews of different ages, nationalities; new boats, old boats. Only thing they all had in common was that all the boats were found not long after last contact, drifting loose with no signs of what might have happened to their unfortunate crews.

“We should probably figure out where Dad was staying first.” Sam murmured as they drove into town. “See if he left any details of the case lying around that might tell us where he went off to.”

“One step ahead of you. Found the B&B, booked us a room.”

“Wait, what?” Sam frowned. That was too quick, even for them, who knew all of their father’s habits. “How’d you do that?”

“Last thing he texted me. The name of some crummy B&B overlooking the sea and a word. Resolve . No idea what the hell he was talking about, though.”

“You never said you’d heard anything from him about the case. Just that you knew he was up this way.” The accusation in Sam’s voice was all too present.

Dean sighed, “I tried calling him but he hasn’t been picking up. You know what Dad’s like. A good hunter always answers his phone. He’d have sent a message if he was really okay.”

“Or he was just trying to get you to work the case. Hell, maybe he knew you’d come get me.”

“You just want to see the worst in him.”

“You know what usually happens when someone’s kid gets into Oxford, Dean? All fees paid too, bed and board? They’re proud. They don’t kick you out and tell you never to come back. You’re no better. You just stood back and let it happen. Only bothered to come and visit when you need me to work a frigging job.”

“Oh, so you’re gonna argue with me now, same way you did with Dad? Fan-frigging-tastic.” Dean scowled over at him.

“I wish you’d called by sometime, that’s all. I just assumed you didn’t want to see me either.” I thought you’d hated me too.

“I didn’t think you’d want me to.” All the anger faded out of Dean’s voice to be replaced with sadness.

“Dean…”

“C’mon, Sam. You had everything you wanted. Cushy uni scholarship, hot girlfriend, a normal life. Like you wanted your lousy drop-out brother around, showing you up.”

Sam wanted to protest, tell Dean just how untrue that was, but before he could, Dean pulled out a tape and shoved it into the player.

“Conversation’s over.”

Sam didn’t try and argue with him. He knew he wouldn’t get any more out of his brother, no matter how much he wanted to. So he sat back, closing his eyes as the familiar sound of The Smiths played on in the background.

……………

It didn’t take much effort to find Dad’s room. Sam charmed the lady who ran the B&B while Dean swiped the guestbook, looking for any familiar aliases and anyone who matched the dates John would’ve checked in. Only one fitted the bill, a Mr E. Morse in room 24. The room locks weren’t up to much, either, so it was easy enough for the two of them to break in.

Dad hadn’t left his notes out in plain sight. They’d be too easily found by anyone coming in to clean the room. Good thing the brothers knew what they were looking for and where. At the back of the room’s wardrobe, John had pinned everything he could find on the case: newspaper clippings, charts of the areas where the boats had gone missing, any next of kin. Every so often, there were some notes in his familiar messy scrawl, highlighting any information that seemed particularly noteworthy. It was an impressive lot of research, had to have taken him several days to put together. All the more reason why it was odd, him just up and disappearing in the middle of a case. Sam scanned through it all, looking for anything that might give them a lead on where John had been last. As he stepped back from the wardrobe, he saw a piece of paper had fallen to the floor. Frowning, he stooped, picking it up. A pair of yellow eyes stared back at him. Something about them felt just a little too familiar, a memory or dream Sam just couldn’t quite recall. He shivered.

He wasn’t left alone with his thoughts for too long, though.

“Hey, Sammy. Look at this.”

Hearing the note of worry in Dean’s voice, Sam turned around to see him holding an all too familiar plain leather-bound book. Dad’s journal. The record of every single case he’d worked. No way would Dad leave it behind, not unless he was forced to.

“He really is gone, then.” Sam muttered.

“Yeah, looks like. You find anything in his notes?”

“Maybe. It looks like there’s a pub near the harbour where all the fishermen hang out, The Cross Keys. We might get somewhere talking with some of the locals and get this, one of the vics was originally from the mainland. He’s the latest guy gone missing, a fisherman by the name of William Martin. We might be able to get away with pretending to be related to him, maybe see if that’ll get them to talk more?”

“Worth a shot. If nothing else, we’ll get a few pints out of it.”

……………

Sometimes, when working a case, the local pub was a goldmine of information, with chatty bartenders and locals all too willing to terrify unsuspecting visitors with ghost stories and superstitions. The Winchesters had solved more than one case in the past that way. The Cross Keys was not one of those pubs. From the outside, it just looked like some kind of shed, white paint peeling off of the brickwork with only a faded sign to indicate otherwise. Inside were dingy rooms, all nooks and crannies barely lit by small lamps, the light glinting off of the racks of beer and whiskey bottles behind the counter. As they entered and made their way over to the bar, Sam and Dean attracted their fair share of suspicious glances. The barman wasn’t overly friendly either, just grunting to show he’d heard their orders before starting to pour out two beers from the tap. Sometimes that was the way of it in smaller villages. The inhabitants might tolerate the tourists who wanted to traipse round their picturesque village, the money they brought with them all too helpful to the local community in less prosperous months, but that didn’t mean they had to be more friendly than necessary. Looking around the room, though, the crowded room told its own story. The pub was heaving with people. Too many people to be there on a day with clear skies and calm waters, perfect fishing weather.

The brothers exchanged a look, falling back into old habits almost naturally, before Dean moved over to where a pretty girl in her mid-twenties was cleaning tables. She glanced up, shooting him an easy smile.

“Someone’s new around here.”

“That obvious, huh?” Dean laughed softly, leaning against the table and sipping on his beer. “I’m Dean. You?”

“Eilidh.” She eyed him thoughtfully. “So, Dean, what’re you doing in a place like this?”

“Maybe I just wanted to talk to the prettiest girl in town?”

“Like that’s true.” She rolled her eyes. “Most tourists don’t come in here, too much local colour for their liking. Can’t blame me for being curious.”

Dean deliberately schooled his features into one of sadness. “Distant cousin of mine went missing a while back. William Martin? Me and my brother figured we’d drive up here, pay our respects.”

“Oh.” All the levity went out of her voice to be replaced by pity. “Yeah, I knew Will. He was a good guy, would come in here all the time. All of them were.”

“All of them?”

“Yeah. He’s not the first to go missing. A whole load of trawlers and boats have been showing up in the last month or so, their crews just gone. It’s not like they were out in rough waters either, most of them went out on days as clear as this one. That’s why it’s so crowded in here now: half of them are too superstitious to go back out on the boats. Curse of the sea, or something.” Eilidh made a face. “I don’t believe it myself, but Dad’s run this pub for years and I know all the regulars. It’s awful. A whole load of them were friends too, would meet here and go for a pint after work.”

“Any of them left? Me and Sam were hoping to talk to some people who knew Will, find out a bit more about him. We weren’t close. Weren’t exactly on great terms when I saw him last either.” Dean sighed, starting to get into the act now. “Not like I’ll ever get a chance to fix that now.”

She considered for a few moments, brow furrowed in thought. “You could always try Malcolm. He was always drinking buddies with Will, with the whole pack of them really. Not sure he’ll talk to you, though. He’s not been quite right, not since the first disappearance. Hasn’t been out on the water since.”

Sounded like their man. Whoever this Malcolm was, Dean’d bet the Morris that he knew something about whatever had taken those men. He shot Eilidh a grateful smile, “Thanks. Any chance you have his address?”

……………

Malcolm had a small whitewashed cottage on the other side of the island, just off of the dunes. Disused lobster pots, still covered in seaweed, were littered by the door and as the Winchesters headed down the garden path, they heard the sound of voices arguing. Before they even reached the front door, it burst open, revealing a haggard man with tousled messy brown hair and piercing blue eyes.

“I’m off down the pub, and that’s an end of it so if you-” He yelled back into the house, tailing off when he saw the brothers and glared at them suspiciously. “What the hell do you want?”

“Malcolm Buchanan?” Sam asked hesitantly. “Eildh from the Cross Keys told us to come see you. You knew a fisherman called Will Martin?”

“Never heard of him.” The way Malcolm’s expression became suddenly told a different story.

“We’re his cousins. She said you were friends and might be able to tell us more about what happened. We weren’t close, but he was family. You know how it is.” Sam did his best impersonation of a kicked puppy, eyes wide and pleading.

Malcolm remained unmoved. “I don’t have time to waste talking to prying outsiders like you. Go bother someone else.” He didn’t wait for an answer, slamming the cottage door behind him and stalking down the path in the direction of the pub.

“What a wanker.” Dean muttered.

“Yeah, you got that right.” Sam said, watching Malcolm as he stalked off. “But he knows something. You saw how spooked he got even hearing Will Martin’s name?”

“He was talking to someone, or I’d say we should check the house out, see if there’s anything in there. Guess we’d better go back to the lore, sort through Dad’s notes more.”

Sam nodded his agreement and they started back in the direction of the B&B. As they left, Dean caught a glimpse of a woman watching them from one of the cottage windows. She had to be one of the most beautiful women Dean had ever seen in an unearthly way, something about her not quite human. He couldn’t help but shiver, looking away. When he glanced back, she was gone.

……………

“Son of a bitch!”

Sam glanced over, sighing. He’d been expecting Dean to snap for a while now. They’d been at it for a few hours now, sifting through their Dad’s notes and looking for anything of relevance. It was a pretty thankless task. John’s handwriting was spidery at best and he had a bad habit of writing one word summaries by the newspaper cuttings he’d taken, which probably made some kind of sense to him, but were almost impossible to decipher. If anything, it was a miracle Dean hadn’t cracked sooner. He’d always hated research. Not like Sam, who was never happier than when he was nose-deep in some old book of lore. It was the one bit of hunting he’d actually liked.

“We could go out for a bit, walk down by the harbour. Maybe we-”

Dean cut him off. “Sam. I think I’ve figured it out.”

“Wait, what?”

“I could just be spit-balling here, but I think it’s selkies.”

“Half-human, half-seal.” Sam looked thoughtful, trying to recall the lore. “They’re meant to be powerful magical creatures, so they definitely would have the juice to take out a few fishermen. I don’t get it, though. We’ve never come across a selkie hurting people before. They’re usually peaceful.”

“Usually.” Dean shoved an old newspaper clipping across the table, a photograph showing Malcolm and the beautiful woman he’d spotted at his cottage earlier. He pointed to the woman in the photo.

“You don’t think..”

“You bet I do. That sly dog.”

……………

Malcolm used to love the sea. He’d go for a walk along the dunes every morning, the cries of corncrakes and the lapping of the water against the sand the only sounds disturbing the tranquil quiet. His father had been a fisherman, and his father before him. From as young as he could remember, Malcolm had been out on the water, learning to swim and fish. He’d learned all the legends too, stories of the merpeople and selkies. They were as changeable as the water, quick to anger at any disrespect, but willing to help those they considered friends to their kind. He’d heard the other stories too, about the ethereal beauty of the selkies when they shed their skin and became human. How if you took a selkie’s skin, they were bound to you and could never leave, not until they reclaimed their skin again. Young Malcolm had been entranced. He’d spent long hours as a child searching, just in case he could find one. Something about it fascinated him, having something that old and powerful under your control. That was why, when he found the seal skin on the beach, he took it. It was all just old wives’ talk, he knew, but something about those old legends called to him.

So when the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen showed up on his doorstep, staring at him with sad eyes, Malcolm didn’t know how to react. He should have said no, then, looking back. Given her skin back, let her go. But instead, he refused. Told everyone that he’d met someone from the mainland and married her, a whirlwind romance. Hid her skin somewhere she’d never get at it. Every day, he left the house and prayed she wouldn’t find it. At first, it was alright. Mhari was sullen and quiet, gazing longingly out to sea every chance she got, but Malcolm figured she’d get used to it in time and learn not to miss her old home so much. He was good to her, in his way. Sometimes he’d coax a smile out of her and even if it did seem a bit forced, it’d make his heart swell in pleasure. Then, a few days after he’d found the skin, the first disappearance had been reported. Malcolm had known them all, every single one of those that had gone missing. He’d seen them around the pub more than once, bought them drinks a couple of times. That was the problem of bad fortune in an island as small as Coll. Everyone was affected.

Malcolm had come back, blind drunk that night, to find Mhari sat at the table, waiting for him. She was smiling, a cold, bitter thing. “You did this.”

“Don’t say that.” His voice was slurred from drink, but the menace there was all too clear.

“My sisters won’t rest, not until they find out who stole me away.”

“I said, be quiet.”

“No, I won’t. You might control me, but you do not own me, no matter how much you try.” Her eyes flashed with anger. “They’ll find you, eventually, and they’ll make you pay.”

He slapped her, hard across the face. That shut her up alright.

But her words kept going around Malcolm’s head. He knew she was right. This was all his fault. He was in too deep now, though. He couldn’t just give her back her skin. No way would he escape without some kind of retribution being enacted on him. He’d read enough of the legends to know that much. So instead he stayed away from the sea and prayed for a miracle.

……………

The Winchesters decided to go for the simple approach. The selkie had to want to escape, after all. Malcolm was keeping her against her will so it was at least worth their while trying to talk to her. If it went south, well, they’d just have to deal with that. So the two of them watched the cottage from a safe distance, waiting until Malcolm stormed off in the direction of the pub before approaching the house and knocking the door.

She answered almost immediately, eyeing them warily.

“Hi. I’m Sam and this is my brother, Dean.” Sam did his best to be reassuring. “Can we talk?”

“Are you friends of my husband’s?” Her voice was full of suspicion.

Sam laughed softly. “No. He hates us. Look, I’m not going to lie to you. We know what you are and we’re here to help.” He made sure to look her in the eye, let her see how sincere he was.

“We’re hunters.” Dean elaborated.

The shock was visible in her eyes. “Oh. Well, then, I guess you’d best come in.”

She led them into a sparsely decorated kitchen, fidgeting nervously as she sat down at the dining table. “Are you going to kill me?” She said eventually.

“No?” Sam frowned. “Why would we do that?”

“I’m a monster. It’s my family who are killing those people. I know how these matters usually work, someone has to pay for the deaths.” She sighed. “Just…make it quick.”

“What’s your name?” Sam said, his voice quiet and gentle.

“Mhari. At least, that’s the closest human version. You wouldn’t understand our language.”

“Well, Mhari, I’m guessing if we find your skin and get you home, the killings’ll stop, right?”

“If we find it.” Mhari sighed, still looking uncertain. “I’ve been looking for weeks and there’s nothing.”

“Then we’d best get going.” Dean shot her a grin. “Malcolm won’t be at the pub for ever.”

Mhairi was right, as it turned out. They spent hours tearing the place apart, looking everywhere they could think of. Nothing.

“You think he could’ve put it somewhere outside the house? We’ve tried everywhere else.” Sam asked, bending over to catch his breath.

Dean shrugged. “Maybe. Wherever it is, though, it’s not gonna be far. He wouldn’t run the risk of someone else finding it and realising what it was, I reckon.” He glanced over at Mhairi. “Can you think of anywhere?”

She considered for a few moments. “He’s got a boatshed, not far from the harbour. I’ve only heard him talk about it because he doesn’t like taking me in town, too worried I’ll say anything that’ll give him away. No one would go in there either without his permission. I would have searched it sooner, but he never leaves me on my own long if he can help it.”

“Got it.” Sam indicated to Dean that they should get moving. This sounded like the best lead they’d got and it couldn’t be long now before Malcolm decided to come home. “Hey, I don’t suppose you know the name of Malcolm’s boat or anything? So we’ll know which shed to check.”

“Of course. I think it’s called the Resolve ? There’s a picture of it on the mantelpiece somewhere…”

Resolve . Dean’s mind flashed back to the last text John had sent him. Their dad had given them everything they needed to solve the case. The B&B, so they would be able to find his research, and now the name of Malcolm’s boat. He had to have almost cracked the case before he vanished, to have put that much together. John just didn’t have time to finish the job off. Something more important had come up, perhaps, so he’d had time to warn them. But that didn’t sound like Dad either. He never liked to leave a case unsolved.

No point worrying about it now, though. They had a skin to find. Dean pushed his worries away, going out to join Sam and Mhairi in the car, driving off to Arinagour. There were hardly any proper roads around here, the bumpy tracks playing hell with Baby’s suspension. Dean would have to check her over, when they got back to the mainland. All the same, he managed to get them back into town in record time, skidding to a halt just by the main clump of boatsheds. Malcolm’s was the last in the row, with the faded inscription of Resolve to point the way. Inside the shed, it was a mess. Piles of damp rope and discarded tackle, all with the distinctive strong reek of fish. Dean wrinkled his nose in disgust as he entered, but soon got to sorting, rummaging through the empty boxes stashed there. Sam and Mhairi got to work too, each of them taking a corner and trying to sift through it all in something vaguely logical to make sure they didn't miss anywhere. It didn't take long before they struck gold. A locked chest, carefully hidden beneath an old tarp.

Mhari knelt down next to it, touching it almost reverently. "It's in here. I can sense it."

Dean and Sam exchanged a look before Dean crouched in front of the chest, extracting the lock-pick he kept on him at all times from its hiding place up his sleeve and starting to jimmy the lock with practiced efficiency. It wouldn't be long before he was able to break into it. The lock wasn't a hard one and Dean had picked worse.

"Stop."

The three of them turned at the sound. Malcolm stood there, eyes full of fury and fists clenched. His face was red and even over the shed's strong odour, the stench of beer was unmistakable.

"Oh yeah?" Dean raised an eyebrow. "You gonna stop us, then?"

That was the wrong thing to say. Malcolm took a swing at him and Dean, crouched over by the chest as he was, wasn't able to dodge the blow in time. He fell to the floor, losing his balance. Malcolm tried to make another swing at Dean, knock him unconscious, but Sam blocked his path, getting in a hit of his own. The two of them sparred, surprisingly well-matched. Malcolm might be drunk, but he was desperate and had obviously been in a fight or too. Besides, Sam was rusty. There hadn't been much call for bar-brawling at Oxford and he'd got out of practice. He had the advantage of his size, though, and he was still stronger than Malcolm. Jab, thrust, block. Malcolm was at the point of being overwhelmed when he reached for his pocket and Sam saw the glint of silver. A knife, a small blade like you'd use for gutting fish. More than enough to do some damage, though. Sam's eyes widened and he stepped back, narrowly dodging Malcolm's attempt to stab him in the chest. Malcolm swung again, going too wide in his desperation. Sam moved fast, grabbing his wrist and twisting. With a cry of pain, Malcolm's grip loosened and the knife fell to the floor. That didn't stop him trying to break free, the two of them struggling for dominance.

"Hey, Mhari! Catch!" Dean shouted and tossed something in her direction, which she easily caught. Sam had kept Malcolm occupied for long enough that he'd easily picked the lock, free of any distractions. Malcolm stopped struggling, eyes widening as he realised what had happened. He made to cry out, but it was too late. The small lightbulb that lit the room started to flicker and Mhairi's features began to twist into something more inhuman.

"You can't hold back the sea forever, human." She spat out the word, as though it was an insult.

Sam dropped Malcolm, stepping away, the brothers allowing Mhairi to confront her captor. It wouldn’t do to cross her, especially not now she had her powers back.

"Please...don't kill me." Malcolm fell to his knees, begging. "I...I didn't know what I was doing."

"You knew exactly what you were doing." She bend down, moving to caress his cheek in a mockery of affection. There was no love in the gesture, only hate. "You knew what I was, what would happen to all your friends if you kept me back. Instead, you were a coward. You sat back and watched them die."

"I'll give you whatever you want. Please! Just don't kill me. There's got to be something."

"You could have freed me, when I begged you!" She all but screamed, voice full of emotion. "Instead, you kept me prisoner. You knew how much I hated it here, how much it hurt to be away from my family."

He closed his eyes, ready for the final judgement. He was shaking.

Mhari watched him for a while, her expression unreadable. It was hard to get a read on what she was planning to do.

Finally, Malcolm opened his eyes, staring at her. "You're going to let me live?"

"You're not worth the effort." She met his gaze with a level stare. "I'll show you mercy, just this once. There's no reason why I should stoop to your level. But if you ever dare set foot on the ocean, I swear to you, Malcolm Buchanan, my sisters and I will come for you."

"But the sea's my life! It's my work! You can't take that from me!"

"You should have thought of that, before you took me captive." She turned to face the Winchesters. "You, however...I'm in your debt. Believe me, it will not go unthanked. If you ever need aid, my people and I will give it. No more fishermen will die, not now this mistake has been rectified. You have my word."

They nodded their agreement, following Mhairi as she moved to leave the shed, leaving Malcolm as a crumpled mess on the floor.

The two of them watched silently as she made her way down to the sea. As she approached, several seal heads popped up from the water, watching her with sad eyes. That was when they heard it. The sound of seals singing. This wasn't the funeral chorus the fishermen had heard as their last refrain, though. Instead, this was a joyful anthem, the selkies celebrating the return of their sister. Mhairi wrapped the sealskin around her then her human form was gone, another seal sliding into the ocean.

"Dude had what was coming to him. You don't mess with the supernatural like that." Dean muttered, Sam nodding his agreement. It wasn't their place to question Mhairi's judgement. They'd only tried to stop the deaths. What Malcolm had done...It was Mhairi who'd had to suffer the consequences after all, not them.

……………

“We made a good team back there.”

Sam’s heart sank. He’d been worried about this, ever since he agreed to trek across the country. “Yeah, we did. Thing is…Dean, I can’t keep doing this.”

Dean didn’t take his eyes off of the road, face expressionless, though Sam was sure he had seen the hint of hurt in his eyes for a moment.

Sam sighed, “I never liked hunting, not the way you did. I’ve got a normal life now, a girlfriend, a cushy lawyer job lined up. I can’t throw that all away.”

“And there was me thinking Dad was the reason you left.”

“I never liked hunting. Not the way you do. I’ll keep in touch this time though, I promise. I shouldn’t have cut you off to begin with.”

“You think I like hunting? You’re not the only one who had dreams, Sammy.” Dean scowled.

Sam couldn’t help being taken by surprise by that. His whole life, he’d seen Dean as some kind of knight-errant, dedicating his life to wiping out any supernatural threat. Dean had never seemed to object to the hunting life, never complaining, following John’s orders with the diligence of a soldier obeying his commanding officer. If anything, he seemed eager to work more cases, dropping out of school as soon as he was of leaving age. Could Sam have been wrong about all that?

Seeing Sam’s expression, Dean sighed. “This is bigger than us. Finding Mum’s killer, making sure no one else has to go through that kinda pain, that’s the important thing here.”

“Don’t we deserve to be happy too? This is my chance, Dean. I can’t give that up.” Sam hesitated, not sure how much to say. “Thing is…when my exams are over…I’m gonna ask Jess to marry me.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. I picked out a ring and everything. It’s not like it’ll come as too much of a surprise to her, we’ve been talking about moving in together after graduation, but still.”

“Well, congratulations.” Dean grinned over at him. “She seems nice. Way too good for you, though.”

“If you weren’t driving, I’d make you pay for that.”

“Yeah, yeah, nerd boy. Seriously, though. You deserve it.”

“Thanks, Dean. Good luck finding Dad, okay?”

“Sam…Do you think he’s still alive, somewhere?” Dean’s voice was hesitant, lacking his usual confidence.

“He’s Dad. You know how good a hunter he is. He’ll be fine, I’m sure of it.” Sam was reassuring himself as much as Dean.

When they were just a few hours away from home, Sam texted Jess. They’d been talking through most of the days he’d been gone, him letting her know a suitably edited version of their search for John Winchester and her updating him on the latest college scandals. He’d promised to let her know, when he was nearly back. She hadn’t said as much, but he could tell that she was worried. No wonder. He’d never told Jess much about his family, but what he had said hadn’t exactly been flattering. Especially not when his dad was concerned.

That’s us nearly back now. Just passing Birmingham. SW

I was worried. You’ve got your exam tomorrow, after all. Going into that after trekking across half the country isn’t exactly great. JM

You know me, I’ll be fine. Just had to finish up some stuff before we came back. SW

You found your dad then? JM

Nope. But Dean reckons he’s got some leads he can check up on. He’s gonna let me know how it all goes. I’ve told him I’m not coming along. SW

That sucks. I’m sorry. JM

It’s okay. Dad does this sometimes. SW

You’ve got to be worried, though. Got a surprise for when you get home, though, to take your mind off things. JM

A surprise ;) ? SW

Not that kind of surprise! Although maybe afterwards… I got Brady to sneak me into Aldates so I can use the kitchens, make that cake you like so much. Don’t think I’d forgotten what day it is tomorrow. We can celebrate your birthday properly, after your exams are over. JM

Have I ever told you how much I love you? SW

All the time :P Love you too, Sam. JM

……………

The college bells were ringing out their usual doleful chorus as they arrived back in college, just in time before the porters locked the gates.

Sam got out of the car and headed towards the gates, but before he could, Dean called out to him, “Hey, Sam!”

Had he changed his mind? Sam stopped, turned back.

“Happy birthday, little brother.” Dean got out of the car, pulling out a pack of beers that he’d stashed in the backseat, obviously picked up at one of the service stations along the route and smuggled into the car. “Like I’d forget what day it is tomorrow. It’s not much, but it’s the thought that counts, right?”

“Thanks, Dean.” Sam smiled warmly. “It’s awesome. You sure you don’t want to come up for a drink or two? Jess’d like to meet you properly, I bet.”

“Nah.” Dean grinned back at him. “No need to pretend you want me around as a third wheel. Go have your quality time with your girlfriend.” He leered suggestively.

Sam punched him playfully on the shoulder, “Shut up, jerk.”

“Ass.” Dean stepped away, moving back towards the car. “See you around, Sammy.”

Although he didn’t say it, Sam was sure Dad was another reason for Dean’s eagerness to leave. Dean wouldn’t be satisfied until they knew he was okay, would hit the road until he found another clue about what had happened to him. He wouldn’t be going through it alone, though. Sam would make sure of that, even if he couldn’t be out there hunting with Dean. The college was quiet as he walked through the quad, full of a kind of eerie stillness. If Sam had been paying attention, he might have picked up on the sense of foreboding that filled the air, the hint of an unfriendly presence in the familiar walls. But he was tired, and thinking of Jess. He really had missed her. When he came into their set, there was no sign of Jess, but there was a beautifully decorated chocolate cake, complete with an iced “Happy Birthday Sam”, on the long oak table. Sam couldn’t help but grin at the sight of it. Where was Jess, though? She said she’d try and wait up for him and it wasn’t that late. As he frowned, thoughtful, a creak of wooden floorboards came from Jess’s room. He moved over to the door, knocking quietly.

“Jess?”

He heard a faint noise, a moan maybe. Turning the handle, he stepped inside. Nothing. Strange as Sam had definitely heard something inside the room. What the hell? As he stood motionless in the doorway, he felt something hot and wet fall on his cheek, moved up a hand to wipe it away. The tips of his fingers smeared red with blood. That was when he looked up. Sam’s eyes went wide and he stumbled back, recoiling with horror from the sight that awaited him.

Jess was laid out on the ceiling, some kind of supernatural force holding her in place as she weakly tried to struggle against it. There was a cut across her stomach, the blood soaking through her nightgown and falling to the floor in slow drips.

“Sam…” Her voice was barely a whisper as she looked down at him with pleading eyes. As he watched, stricken, a plume of flame burst from behind her, setting her alight.

“Jess, no!” He tried to move towards her, pull her out of the way maybe. Trying to do something, anything , to save her. But strong arms gripped him from behind, dragging him out of the way, as the room burst into flames, the wooden panelling charred to a crisp in moments. Sam struggled, trying to break free, but it was useless. There was no saving her now. If there had been a chance Jess had survived before, it was gone now, the room an inferno of fire. He allowed himself to be dragged out of the room and out into the safety of the quad, too out of it to really take in the ringing of the fire alarm and the huddles of students clustered out on the grass, staring around with frightened expressions. Sam slumped to the ground, curling in on himself, trying to shut out the awful knowledge that she was gone, and there was no way she was coming back, somehow. He felt the light touch of a hand on his shoulder and Dean crouched down next to him, face ashen.

“The radio starting going static after you left. Same kinda bad mojo as when Mum died. Dad’s told me about it enough times for me to know the signs. I tried to get there in time, but…”

Sam barely heard him, too consumed by grief.

……………

Later, much later, when all the police had gone and finished with their questions, the two of them were left alone. Sam was drained, face pale. He’d gone numb with shock, still struggling to take in what had happened. Dean wasn’t faring much better, consumed by guilt and pity for his brother. They sat in silence for a long time, both too consumed by their own concerns for conversation.

Finally, Sam muttered. “They’ll have the funeral soon or some kind of memorial, I bet. I’ll stay for that. Then we can leave.”

“Leave?” Dean looked surprised.

“Well, yeah.” Sam frowned. “I can get a year or two out. The college are usually okay with rustications, especially after something like this.”

“Sam, you’re not…”

“We’ve got to find her killer, Dean. What…what happened to Jess was definitely something supernatural. Whatever monster did this, we’re finding it and I’m putting a knife in it.”

“You know, the way she flamed up like that…It was just like Mum.” Dean said slowly. “I…I think I remember it, sometimes. ‘Sides, it’s just how Dad described it. Mum stuck to the ceiling by some supernatural force, a gash across the chest, then all those flames…” He fell silent, eyes downcast. “This isn’t going to be easy, if it really was the same thing that killed her. Dad’s been hunting it for years.”

“Then we’ve got work to do.”

Chapter Text

JESSICA LEE MOORE

Beloved Daughter

January 24th 1984 – May 2nd 2005

The words were newly etched into the granite, so very final in their definiteness. There was a picture propped up against the grave, a black and white photo of Jess laughing. Sam had taken that one of her. It had always been one of his favourite pictures. A picture was nothing though, compared to the loss of her, her smile, her laugh. All that was left now was this grave, a few wreaths scattered at its foot in remembrance.

Sam had brought white lilies, Jess’s favourite. The ring too. He’d spent hours choosing it, had eventually seen the perfect one in the window of a second-hand jewellers. He’d planned out the proposal too: a trip to the botanical gardens. Sam was going to tell her when they sat down overlooking the river on one of the benches, where they’d gone on their first date. Jess had always loved that spot.

Sam pulled the small velvet box out of his pocket, staring down at it for a moment before taking out the ring. He tried to smile, but it came out wrong somehow, broken.

“This wasn’t how I planned on giving this to you, but…” He tailed off, voice choking in his throat. He turned away from the grave for a moment, trying to compose himself. “Jess…oh God…I should have protected you. I should have told you the truth.”

Sam knelt down next to the grave, arranging the bouquet of flowers on the fresh mound before disturbing the earth a little, laying the ring to rest alongside its rightful owner. As he finished arranging the soil back in place, though, something shot out of the earth and grabbed his wrist in a tight grip. A hand, cold with death. He tried to struggle free of its icy hold, but it was too strong for him. Sam felt himself being dragged down, the hand trying to pull him beneath the earth.

He tried to struggle free, but it was no use. He fell down…

And down…

And down, deep into a black pit…

“Sam! C’mon, man, wake up!”

He jerked awake to find Dean standing over him, eyes full of worry. “You okay, little brother? That looked like one hell of a nightmare you were having.”

Sam shrugged, deliberately forcing a smile. Dean was worried enough about him already, with all that had happened the last few days. No need to make it worse. “I’m fine.”

Dean didn’t look convinced, but didn’t push the subject, for which Sam was grateful. Instead, he glanced down at the stacks of paper strewn around Sam’s desk. “Whatever. How’s the research going?”

He’d fallen asleep at the dimly lit desk in the room the college had given them, same as he had every night since Jess’s death and the funeral. Sam had been going through all of Dad’s journal, seeing if there was any kind of pattern he could put together. No luck as yet. There were years of notes there, haphazard in their theories about what the monster that’d got Mum and Jess could be. It was hard to know what might be useful and what John had long ago discounted as impossible. There was a stack of local newspapers from the past week or so too. Sam had been seeing if there was anything strange going on locally, the kind of thing that’d usually alert them to a case. Whatever had got Jess had to be powerful mojo, it’d leave a trace. He just didn’t know what yet. It was hard to look for something when you weren’t sure what it was exactly. Not much luck there either. At least, not until last night.

“Yeah, actually. I think I’ve found something.” He shoved over his sheet of notes, letting Dean look through it before starting to explain. “It didn’t look like much at first, but there’s a pattern. Students flipping out, attacking their closest friends with no warning. All of them seem pretty normal too: Oxford Union President; Captain of the college Boat Club; this girl got top grades out of everyone in their course… They all say they were elsewhere too, but there’s plenty of witnesses positively identifying them as being the ones at the scene of the crime. I’m not sure if it’s connected to Jess, but it’s definitely worth checking out, right?”

Dean let out a low whistle. “You bet. There’s definitely a case there and some of this looks nasty. You know any of them?”

Sam nodded. “I vaguely knew the guy from the Union. He was a friend of a friend, all the political hacks seem to know each other. It wouldn’t be hard for me to get talking to some of the people he knew, see if they know more about it. I remember reading about the case in the paper when it first started a few weeks ago and thought it was a bit weird. I ignored it, though. I wasn’t exactly eager to get back to hunting stuff…” His shoulders slumped. Maybe it wasn’t connected, but he couldn’t help but wonder, what if? If he’d gone out and tried to solve the case then, maybe none of this would’ve happened.

“Right, then.” Dean’s voice cut across Sam’s macabre thoughts. “You deal with the folks you know while I hit the bar of the college where the last attack happened. It was only a few days ago, so they’ll probably still be gossiping about it. Capiche?”

“Yeah, sure. Meet you back here later. Try not to flirt with too many girls while you’re gone.” Sam smiled feebly, trying to cover his momentary lapse by teasing Dean.

“Since when did I ever flirt too much?” Dean smirked back at him.

 

……………

 

Sam was not okay. Sure, Dean hadn’t seen his brother in a few years and he couldn’t pretend that he always understood the guy, but it wasn’t hard to see how much all of this was getting to him. It was understandable. After all, Sam had watched as his girlfriend burned to her death had seen most of his possessions go up in smoke, and along with it, the chance that maybe he could live a normal life. Even so, the way Sam was acting scared Dean a little. He’d seen that obsessive look before, in their father’s eyes. He’d been too young to understand much of what was going on at the time, but he could still remember their father falling asleep over dusty lore books, spending his every waking moment trying to hunt down the thing that had murdered Mary Winchester. He’d become a shadow of his former self, consumed by grief and the desperate desire to hunt whatever had done this to them down. That had been in the early years, back when John’s search had been at its most desperate. They’d gone from state to state, barely stopping as he hurtled after any possible lead. Sometimes he’d left the boys at other hunters’ homes, when he’d built up a network of people he vaguely trusted. Dean hadn’t known what was worse, John off hunting God knows what with no certain chance that he’d come home alive, or being sat for hours on end in the car with Sammy crying and John’s taciturn silences. John had described it as an adventure when he’d first tried to explain what was going on to Dean, made it sound like a quest out of the King Arthur legends Mum used to read to him. The way he’d explained it to Dean was that a bad man had hurt Mum and they were going to make sure other people wouldn’t get hurt too, so Dean would have to be brave and help look after Sammy, while John was away hunting monsters. Dean had believed it at first. It wasn’t so exciting, though, when they were in a dark and unfamiliar room and Sam was crying for their Mum, and Dean wanted to as well, only “Big boys don’t cry, Dean.” Dean had stopped speaking for a while back then. It was too much, dealing with his mum gone and while Dad was there most of the time, it was like there was a part missing. John had been in so much pain and consumed by grief and all Dean had wanted when he was little, more than anything, was to help make it better. So seeing Sam like this…It brought back bad memories. Dean would do whatever it took to make sure he wasn’t consumed with revenge, the same way as Dad was.

At least for now, though, he could relax. Knock back a beer or two, pretend to be normal for a while. It was a bit of an effort, conning his way into college, but a quick flash of a fake university ID was enough to convince the porter. They probably had their fair share of students from other colleges sneaking in for a quick drink anyway, Dean reasoned, and he couldn’t look that far off of the right age.

It wasn’t really a proper bar so much as a few crowded rooms with rude cartoons telling the history of the college doodled on the walls, a selection of dubious looking cocktails and cheap shots available from the bartender. Dean decided to try his luck with whatever the hell a “Balliol Blue” was, hoping to figure out a way of getting chatting with some of the students and reckoning he stood a better chance if he attempted to blend in. Everyone seemed to be in small clusters, hanging out with their own friends and it was hard figuring out a way to but into the conversation. Then Dean spotted the pool table. There were two guys finishing off a match there. Looked like the one guy was having his ass thoroughly beaten too, probably wouldn’t be up for a second round. Dean’s eyes lit up. Yahtzee. He moved over to the pool table, watching as the two of them took the last few shots. As predicted, the one guy didn’t sound too eager to have a rematch. The other one started to protest. That’s when Dean stepped in.

“Hey, if you want someone to play with, I’m game.”

He turned around, examined Dean closely as though trying to size him up. He was a classic hipster, with ratty jeans and thick-rimmed glasses, artfully styled black hair flopping over his face. Whatever conclusion he reached, it was a good one as the guy held out a hand to Dean, ready for him to shake. “Sure. I’m Tristan. Who’re you?”

What the hell’s up with the names around here? Dean shot him his most winning smile. “Dean. I saw you playing before. You’re decent at pool. Reckon I’m better, though.”

“We’ll see about that.” Tristan raised an eyebrow. Competitive too, then. Awesome.

Dean didn’t put much faith in God or religion or any of that crap, but if there was someone upstairs, they had to be smiling down on him that night. Tris (no way was Dean saying fucking Tristan every time he wanted to use the guy’s name) was not only happy to talk, but he actually knew the girl who’d flipped out. She’d been acting weird that day, but no one really paid it any heed. Finals stress and all. Everyone was acting weird, this time of year. No one knew anything was wrong until she went over to her boyfriend’s and beat him to a pulp.

“What’d you think pushed her over the limit?” Dean asked, leaning over to take a shot and potting a ball easily into one of the baskets. “The two of them have a fight or something?”

Tris shook his head, looking thoughtful as he leaned against his cue. “They used to be the golden couple of college. I never saw the two of them apart. Not that you always know what people are up to behind closed doors, but still…” He sighed. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say it couldn’t have been her. I thought I’d seen her working in the library, right when they said the attack happened, so I didn’t believe it at first.”

“What changed your mind?”

“They got a picture. There are cameras all round this place, in case people try to break in or something, so the police just checked the footage. Lily looked right at the camera. Really clear picture too, couldn’t have been anyone else.”

Something else for Dean to do while he was here then. Shouldn’t be too hard to sneak into the porter’s lodge and steal the footage.

Tris shivered. “It really makes you think. I’d heard all the horror stories about finals, but this number of people…Everyone’s freaked out.”

“Yeah, my brother said. He knew one of the other people who flipped.”

“Doesn’t surprise me. Colleges are small enough, most people seem to know at least one of them.”

Dean took his last shot, sinking the last ball and winning him the game. “Speaking of, I should be heading home. Good game. You’re not a bad player.”

“C’mon, it’s not that late.” Tris protested. He shot Dean a knowing look before smirking. “Hey, if you stick around, I could show you just how well I know how to handle balls.”

Was he hitting on him? Dean spluttered a laugh, suddenly awkward. Flirting with girls, fine. But put him in front of a hot guy and he became a nervous mess. “Man, that was awful. You really need to work on your game.”

Tris’s grin widened, something predatory in his smirk. “You offering or something?”

Dean thought for a few moments, considering. It had been a while since he’d had picked up a guy. He had to be a little careful, wouldn’t do to draw attention to himself when working a case. Then there was the chance Sam could find out somehow. Dean was in no way ready to have that particular conversation with his brother, especially when the two of them had only just started talking again. He didn’t want to think about how many ways that could go badly wrong. But Tris was cute, in a nerdy kind of way. Dean had enjoyed hanging out with him. Not to mention it would be nice to just forget about everything for a while: Dad being missing, Sam’s grief over Jess, the knowledge that whatever had killed his mother was still out there, had hurt them again.

“Maybe.” Dean grinned back at him suggestively. “Let’s take this someplace else, though. Your room far?”

“Just across the quad.”

“Perfect.”

As they left, he sent Sam a quick text.

Won’t be back tonight. Interrogating a witness ;) You gonna be okay? DW

TMI, Dean. I’m fine. See you tomorrow. SW

 

……………

 

Sam didn’t have so far to go to do his own investigation. The college had moved him into one of the other quads for accommodation so now Brady’s room was only a few doors over. Despite doing the same course, the two of them were unlikely friends. Sam was always the quiet and studious one, whereas Brady liked to party hard, frequently scolded by his tutors for never getting essays in on time. Yet the two of them had banded together not long into their first Michaelmas term. Brady had been having a rough time dealing with being away from home and had got into some bad habits. Sam was one of the people who had helped him through it, made sure he got the help he needed. In return, Brady had become one of his best friends. He’d even introduced Sam to Jess, at one of his parties.

When he answered the door and saw Sam standing there, Brady’s face split into a warm grin, his American drawl full of affection. “Heya Sam. Not seen you round in a few days. I was getting worried.”

“I’ve been busy with the funeral and everything. Would’ve talked sooner, but…”

“Say no more, I get it. Sorry about Jess too. I still can’t believe that happened.”

Sam shifted uncomfortably, not wanting to dwell on it all. Even if Brady was trying to be sympathetic, talking just made it worse. Forced him to think about how much he was to blame for Jess’s untimely death. “Yeah, well, that’s not why I stopped by actually. You were friends with Andy MacIntosh, right?”

“Yeah, back from my union hack days. He’s Union President now. Well, he was. His girlfriend went to the police a week or two ago, said he attacked her. Why’d you ask?” Brady frowned, suspicion creeping into his voice.

“I heard the rumours and like you said, we’ve not talked in a while.” Sam pulled out his best innocent look. “Figured you might want to talk about it, if you knew him.”

Brady visibly seemed to relax. “Why don’t you come in for a bit, have some tea or something?”

He grabbed two mugs and started to brew some Earl Grey as Sam got settled on the sofa, talking while he did so, “Andy was a decent guy. Well, about as good as any of the real Union hacks are, but he was a laugh. No one saw him as the kind of person to try out a bit of assault.”

“What’d you think happened?” Sam asked quietly.

“I saw him that night and there was something off about him. He was on edge the whole time we were out at the pub, snapped at little things. Not like him. Andy was usually so laid-back. He left as soon as he could make his excuses. We just put it down to finals, but something must’ve really been wrong. Always worse realising afterwards that you could’ve done something and stopped something bad happening, right?”

Sam squirmed, Brady’s words hitting a bit too close to home. “Yeah, I know what you mean. You got any pictures from that night or anything?”

“Look at you, Inspector Morse. Sure I did.” Brady handed over his phone.

Sam swiped through the photos. At first, there didn’t seem to be anything particularly special about them. Just a group of guys hanging out at the pub. But as he scrolled through, he spotted it. At first, it looked just like a camera flare over one of the guy’s eyes, making them look white. Once would’ve been coincidence. But they were in every photograph, over the same guy. Andy MacIntosh, the guy who’d only a few hours later gone home and beaten his girlfriend nearly to death. What’s more, Sam thought he’d seen something like this before.

“Mind if I take a copy of these?”

“Yeah, ‘course.” Brady frowned over at him. “Sam, what’s this about? Is it to do with Jess? ‘Cause you know that was an accident, right?”

Sam flinched, remembering Jess’s bloody body going up in flames, how she’d stared down at him with pleading eyes. “I need to go.”

He stood up, barely bothering with a goodbye as he fled the room.

 

……………

 

Dean showed up late the next morning, hair all mussed up and looking way too pleased with himself.

“While you were out getting laid, I was doing some research.” Sam barely glanced up from his research when Dean wandered in, not in the mood for his post-sex smugness. “I know what’s been causing the attacks. “

“Me too. I got lucky at the bar, met a girl who knew one of the students. Apparently they were acting weird the day of the attack, like they were possessed or something. Got lucky in more ways than one too. She really knew how to blow a guy’s mind.”  Dean leered.

“Gross, Dean.” Sam rolled his eyes. “That fits with what I found out too. One of the other vics was acting strangely the day of the attack too. Got some pictures from that night and get this, there’s what looks like a camera flare in every one over the guy’s eyes. Like the camera’s seeing his true face or something.”

Dean frowned, Sam’s words bringing back a distant memory. “Didn’t Dad work a case like that once? I remember him trawling through surveillance tapes for hours.”

“Yeah, exactly. I looked in his journal and it all checks out, same kind of thing going on. People acting weird, the lens flare. My bet is we’ve got a shapeshifter on our hands.”

Dean nodded, looking thoughtful. “What’d you reckon their game is? Nothing really links the vics. They’re all at different colleges, different groups of friends. Only thing they have in common is that they went home one day and assaulted someone close to them.”

“Yeah, well, I think I’ve got the answer to that too. All of them were high achievers. Boat club’s tough to get on, let alone become President. Same with the Union. Whatever it is, it looks like there was some kind of resentment there, probably wants to take those people down a peg or two.” Sam sighed, “All we need to do now is figure out where its lair is and stop it from hurting any more people.”

Dean rummaged through Sam’s stacks of papers before finding what he was looking for, a map of the city. Painstakingly, he started to mark the sites of the attacks with a pen. Balliol. Brasenose. Hertford. “Gotta be somewhere central. It’s going for all the colleges along these roads here. From what I remember last time we hunted one of these things, they like to hide out underground. Maybe the sewers?”

“It’s not in the sewers. It’s here.” Sam leaned over Dean’s shoulder, pointing to the Bodleian complex on the map, right in the middle of all the colleges affected.

“The library?” Dean raised an eyebrow, unconvinced.

“Sort of. The Bodleian has got a whole stack of books underground, whole floors of it. It’d be easy enough for the shifter to slip in there. I mean, who’s gonna stop a student going into the library?” Sam checked his watch. “It’s not far off closing time. We can sneak in, see if we can track it down.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

 

……………

 

It wasn’t too hard to break in. As Sam predicted, a quick flash of some ID (fake, in Dean’s case) was enough to get them inside. After that, it was simple enough to find a quiet corner to hunker down in until all the staff went home and they were locked in. The stacks were eerily quiet, their torches illuminating long clinically white corridors lined with rows of books.

Dean gestured down one corridor before pointing at Sam, preparing himself to head in the opposite direction.

Sam frowned. “Dean, if it is a shifter, you really think splitting up’s the best idea?” He whispered.

“This place is so massive, we’ll be lucky to find it at all. You got a better idea of how to search for it?” Dean quipped back, equally softly. “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. I think I know the difference between a shifter and my own brother.”

“Fine, fine.” Sam did as Dean suggested, heading off along one of the corridors.

Dean headed down his own corridor, moving cautiously in case the shifter tried to jump him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of movement. A figure leaping out of the stacks, ready to attack.

It wasn’t long before Sam found something. Or, to be more accurate, he nearly stepped in it. A puddle of goo lay across his path. As Sam knelt down, he could see fragments of skin and blood. The shifter had shed its skin. Wrinkling his nose in disgust, Sam carefully stepped over it, readying his knife. The goo looked fresh and the library staff hadn’t discovered it yet, so it had to be after closing time. The shifter had probably been here not that long ago. More than that, it’d changed its form. Who had it decided to become now?

“Sam!” Dean’s voice broke the air, calling out in panic. Sam made a run for it, darting down the corridors in pursuit of the sound, not caring how much noise he made.

The two of them nearly ran into each other, meeting at a crossroads. Dean bent over, trying to catch his breath. “You took your time. Shifter tried to jump me.”

Sam was panting as well. “Yeah, well you try finding your way round here quickly. This place is a maze.”

“Damn right it is. You reckon it’s still here?”

Sam shook his head, “Nah, I think I saw a flash of something running past me, when I was coming towards you. Looked like it was heading towards the exit. It knows we’re here, after all, and are armed. Probably doesn’t want to take its chances.”

Dean swore under his breath. “Looks like we’re onto Plan B then.”

The two of them were way too good at dodging cameras for the security system to get a look at them. If they had shown up on camera, though, there would have been an unmistakable flash of silver eyes. Neither of them noticed the unconscious body either, stashed just out of sight behind the stacks.

When they reached their room, Dean fumbled in his pockets for a few moments before sighing. “Must’ve dropped the keys when we were chasing that damn shifter.”

“Never mind, I’ve got them.” Sam handed a set over. His voice just failing to be casual, he asked, “Hey, where was it Dad dealt with that shifter again? Manchester?”

“Blackpool. He took us to the pleasure beach after, remember? You cried when you saw the clowns.” Dean turned to look at him, unimpressed. “You think I’m the shifter. Really, Sammy?”

“Doesn’t hurt to be careful.” Sam shrugged.

Rolling his eyes, Dean turned back to focus on unlocking the door. He didn’t see the blow coming, didn’t stand a chance of dodging it.

The shifter grinned down at Dean’s unconscious form. “Guess you never heard of the double-bluff.”

 

……………

 

When Dean woke up, he was tied securely to a chair. Whoever had done it knew their stuff, he wasn’t escaping any time soon. The shifter stood in front of him, Sam’s face twisted into a bitter smirk. He had a knife in his hands, twisting it in his fingers with practised ease.

“Had you for a minute there, didn’t I?”

“What the hell did you do with my brother?” Dean snarled, fighting against his bonds as though somehow, that’d be enough for him to break free and punch the shapeshifter in its smug face.

“I wouldn’t be worry about him. I’d worry about you.”

“Tell me where he is, you son of a bitch! If you’ve hurt him, I swear, I’ll-”

“He’s fine. For now.” The shifter laughed mockingly. “And I thought my family had problems. I swear, the more I learn about you two…” He broke off speaking, moving a hand to clutch his forehead, wincing in pain. Dean frowned, watching to see if he had an opening to attack somehow but before he could act, the shifter relaxed. “He’s sure got issues with you. You let Dad throw me out, didn’t even try and stop him. Didn’t bother to call for years either.”

“Stop talking like you’re him.” Dean snapped through clenched teeth.

“But I am him. You just don’t like what you’re hearing.” The shifter leaned in close, all but whispering the poisoned words in Dean’s ear. “Poor Dean. You’ll always be the freak, putting Daddy’s wishes before anything you might think about wanting. That’s why everyone leaves you. Not like me. I got a life. At least I did, before you came along and messed it up. Would Jess be dead if you hadn’t come calling? I don’t think so.”

Dean spit in his face. “You’re not him. Sam doesn’t feel that way so quit pretending he does, douchebag.”

“Not yet, maybe, but I’m becoming him. I don’t just look like your brother, Dean. I can see his thoughts, his memories.” Another stab of pain, the shifter closing its eyes as it rode it out. Its face split into a slow smile, the kind of triumphant grin Sam usually wore when he’d just figured out some critical detail on a case. Dean took advantage of the opportunity to scan the room, search for something, anything, that’d help him bust free of his bonds. The chair he was on was rickety, could probably be broken apart with a few well-placed blows, but the shifter would be on him in moments. That was when he felt it. A nail, jutting a few inches out of the chair’s. It should be sharp enough to saw through his bonds, given time.

He had to keep up the show of being defeated for now, though, keep the shifter distracted enough that it wouldn’t realise what he was up to. Dean scowled. “What?”

“Just figured something out. Part of why you worry people think you’re a freak.” It stepped back, examining him closely. “How many people know you’re into guys?”

Silence. You could have heard a pin drop.

“Sam knows?” Dean asked eventually, voice cracking.

“No, I don’t think so. ‘Course, he wouldn’t pick up on the signs. He doesn’t know what it’s like to have to hide what you really are, not like I do. Takes one to know one, right?”

“That why you’re doing this? ‘Cause you really need to sort out your anger management issues, pal. Killing people ain’t the answer.” Dean snapped.

“Maybe not, but it’s fun. Besides I’m just getting justice. They’ve got everything I’ll never have. I’ll never be normal, why should they get to be either?” The shifter shrugged. “My dad was a professor at the university, did you know that? I was just a kid when he found out and he kicked me out. So I said I’d show them. I’d show them all. You should understand that. I can’t see Daddy Winchester being too sympathetic if he found out that his son was a faggot. He would have kicked you out too if he knew, I bet.” He paused. “I was going to kill you. Pin it on poor grieving Sam, driven mad by the loss of his girlfriend. But I like this life. Maybe I’ll stay like this for a while. Might even spare you, if you play ball. I would be a better brother than he was. You wouldn’t need to hide what you are from me.”

“Like hell you will.”

Finally free of his bonds, Dean launched forwards, getting in a solid right hook that sent the shifter tumbling to the ground. The knife was knocked out of its hand with the force of the blow, skittering across the floor. A well-placed kick to his shins sent Dean sprawling too. A glint of silver caught his eye, though, as he went tumbling to the ground. The knife. It wasn’t far out of reach and if he got it, the blade looked like silver. He’d be able to kill the shifter. Too bad that the shifter spotted it too. They both dived for it, shoving each other out the way as they desperately tried to reach it first. Dean grabbed it first, triumphant, wheeling round to brandish it at the shifter.

“You can’t kill me. I’m your brother.” The shifter’s face shifted, eyes wide and pleading in a perfect impersonation of Sam’s puppy dog eyes. It was enough to make Dean pause for a moment. Only a moment though.

“No. You’re not my brother. You’re a monster.” Dean plunged the knife down, deep into the shifter’s chest. There was a gasp of pain, then the expression flickered out of its eyes. Dean collapsed back on the floor, not looking at the body. It hurt, seeing Sam like that, even if it wasn’t really him.

“Dean?” Sam’s voice.

Dean sighed in relief, sitting up to see his brother standing in the room door. “Was worried that freak of nature had got you.”

“Yeah, he had me tied up for a bit. Wasn’t too hard to get out. Got here just in time to see you stab it. You doing okay?” Sam looked pointedly over at the body.

With a groan, Dean hauled himself to his feet. “It wasn’t you. I just did what I had to do.” He sighed. “It was freaky, Sammy. He didn’t just look like you. He was doing this Vulcan mind meld thing, saying all kinds of crap only you’d know. That’s why I didn’t figure out what it was sooner.” He looked away, not meeting his brother’s eyes, not wanting him to see the guilt and pain there.

Sam knew that look. He’d been on enough hunts where the monster of the week had decided to take a few verbal potshots at them before kicking the bucket. It never got any easier to deal with. “Dean…whatever it said, you know it’s probably not true, right? Monsters lie, like Dad always said.”

“Dad always said a lot of things. Didn’t mean all of them were true.” Dean muttered. He moved over to the body, bending over to examine it. Rule One of the Winchester School of Repressing Emotions: Focus on the hunt. “Not important now, though. We’ve got work to do. I’m not explaining why there’s a dead body that looks like you on the floor to the college and it’s almost light. Easier to sneak it out now.”

Sam didn’t push the subject. He never did. That was the sure way to end up having a fight, not a meaningful discussion. Besides, it wasn’t like he was innocent of pushing aside subjects that were unpleasant to him. He’d been avoiding Dean’s attempts to talk to him about Jess for days. But as they bundled the body up in a roll of carpet and headed towards the stairs, Dean said quietly, “I’m sorry, okay? It looked like you had a great life here. Me coming just messed it all up.”

“You didn’t mess anything up. Whatever killed Jess did that.” Sam muttered.

“But what if I hadn’t come to ask for help. Maybe I led the damn thing here.” Dean didn’t look at him.

“Yeah, and if I’d told her about monsters, maybe she could have defended herself. If anyone’s to blame for this, it’s me, not you.” Sam sighed. “There’s something that’s been bothering me, though. There’s been no sign of that thing for as long as we’ve been hunting, none Dad bothered to tell us about anyway. Why did it come back now?”

“You think there’s something big going down?” Dean frowned, considering the possibility.

“It all fits. What if that’s why Dad went missing too? The timing’s just a little too good for it not to be connected.  Besides, you know Dad wouldn’t just leave the journal, his life’s work, lying around any old place.”

“I’d been thinking that too.” Dean admitted. “Didn’t say anything, though, with you about to go all Inigo Montoya over any lead.”

“It’s all I can think about, Dean! Of course I can’t get it out of my head. I need to find Jess’s killer, can’t you understand that?”

“Yeah, I do, actually. But I’d kinda like to come out of this alive too. If we rush into this, we’re only going to get ourselves killed. This thing might have Dad captive, okay? He would’ve got in touch if he could otherwise, wouldn’t just leave us going after this thing alone. So if Dad didn’t stand a chance, neither do we. He’s been hunting this thing for as long as I can remember and no leads. He’d want us to wait it out, be smart about this. Do a few cases along the way, if we could. You go off half-cocked, you’re just gonna burn yourself out, Sammy.”

“How’d you stand it? The waiting.” Sam said quietly.

“The people we save, for one. I figure, our family’s screwed to hell, so we might as well make sure that doesn’t happen to anyone else. Makes things more bearable.” Dean forced a grin, glancing down at the roll of carpet in their hands. “Killing as many evil sons of bitches as I can helps too.”

“We’re going to get the bastard in the end though.” Sam said quietly. “But okay. I’ll try doing this your way.”

“Thanks, Sam.”

Chapter Text

Ian turned his collar up against the wind, trying and failing to ignore the cold sea breeze. It wasn’t far back to the B&B where he was staying, but it still seemed an eternity away. Henrietta Street was deserted, most people too sensible to brave the cold sea air at this time of night. Too bad really or he might have a little less reason to resent the biting wind: Ian knew just how Byronic he looked in his long black coat, the tails billowing out behind him as he strode along. Not that it had done him much good. He’d had no luck at the pub that night with any of the girls who had come up for the festival, wrecking his plan of trying to get laid that night.

“Sir?”

A woman’s voice. She had to be calling out to him. There was no one else around, after all. Ian stopped and turned around, eyeing the newcomer appreciatively. Maybe tonight wasn’t going to be a washout after all. He guessed she had to be here for the festival too with the way she was dressed: hair done up in a tidy bun to stay out of her eyes and a plain black corseted dress that rustled as she stepped forward.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes…Please. I’m lost.” She looked around, eyes full of confusion. “Do you know the way back to Arundel House?”

“Yeah, of course. I’m staying there too, actually.” Ian held an arm out to her. “C’mon, let me walk you back. Isn’t safe being out here at this time of night, you don’t know who you might meet.”

She slipped an arm through his, shooting him a slight smile as they walked back towards the B&B together.

“You staying up here long?” Ian asked, by way of trying to make conversation.

She nodded. “I live here, up at the house.”

Strange. Ian didn’t think he’d seen her around before and he thought it was just Miss Wilson who ran the B&B. He didn’t dwell too much on it, though. “I’m just up here for a few days, for the festival, you know?”

“The mistress said we were having some guests.” The girl looked suddenly nervous. “We shouldn’t be talking. I’m not supposed to mix with house guests.”

She was staff, then. Miss Wilson didn’t seem like the type to be strict about such matters, though. It wasn’t like they were stuck back in the Victorian age or anything.

“What she doesn’t know about won’t hurt her.” He said, voice soothing. “What’s your name?”

“Elizabeth.” The girl murmured, still looking uncertain. They’d reached the guest house now, stopping outside on the front step. She’d not run yet, which Ian was taking as a good sign.

“I’m Ian.”

“It was nice to meet you, Ian.” Elizabeth glanced at the front door, turning away from him. “I should go. We can’t be caught.”

As she moved to leave, he grabbed her hand, stopping her from going. His tone turned persuasive. “Stay, please. There’s no need to leave yet. The night’s barely started.”

“I can’t. If the mistress finds me, I’ll lose my job.” She tried to pull away, but Ian had a tight hold of her hand.

“Screw her. Besides, I’ll take care of you, I promise.”

“Why?”

He didn’t answer, just leaned in to kiss her tenderly on the lips. She froze, trembling with fear, but didn’t pull away. “That’s why.” Ian murmured when they parted.

“You like me?” Elizabeth watched him closely, face unreadable.

“Yeah. You’re gorgeous. Why wouldn’t I like you?”

She smiled slightly back at him, “We should go inside.”

Elizabeth took his hand, leading him inside and upstairs, towards his room. In retrospect, that’s when he should have started to wonder, question how she knew where he was staying, but his mind was too clouded with desire to properly think. He didn’t notice either when she shut the door behind them, the lock clicked shut, too focused on starting to unbutton his shirt. When all the buttons were all undone, he tossed it aside and finally turned back to face her. He gasped, frozen with shock. Elizabeth’s once pretty face had changed to that of a rotting corpse, skin peeling off her face to reveal the raw flesh beneath. There was the stench of decaying flesh and as he watched, a maggot slowly wormed its way out of her eye.

She reached out to him with a hand, her nails now more like claws. “Don’t you like me anymore?” He flinched away from her touch. Elizabeth scowled, stepping in closer towards him. “I knew it. You’re just like the rest. You men, think you can treat a girl like dirt and not have it come back to bite you. Even if I am just a maid, that doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings.”

Ian backed away from her, eyes wide in terror. That was why he didn’t see how close the window was, not until he’d smashed through it. He tried to regain his balance, attempted to grab onto the window ledge somehow, but it was all in vain. He fell to the ground, there was a loud crunch, then silence.

Elizabeth stood in the window, reverting back to her former appearance as she stared down at Ian’s body with expressionless eyes. Then she faded away, like smoke.

 

……………

 

Ian Hale. Whitby. JW

Dean stared down at the text, rereading it for the hundredth time and trying to ignore the feeling of bile in his stomach.

He didn’t bother to glance up when Sam walked into the room, carrying a bag full of takeaway. It took two attempts for Sam to get his attention.

“Yeah, what?”

Sam’s brow creased in worry. “You look pissed. What’s happened?”

“Take a look at this. So much for Dad being missing.” Dean handed the phone over.

Sam’s confused expression soon turned to a scowl as he read the message. “What the hell?”

“I tried calling him too, but no answer. Looks like Dad’s too busy to talk.” Dean’s voice was dripping with sarcasm. “Checked out Ian Hale, though, looks like it might be a case. The guy jumped from a window, smashed clean through it. Police are calling it suicide, but why would he smash the window up? He could’ve just opened it. My bet is he was running from something.”

“It’s barely a case, Dean. We wouldn’t investigate it if it wasn’t for that text. Besides, why should we just go running because Dad said so? Not going to happen.” Sam muttered stubbornly. It was like when they were teenagers again, Sam wanting to do the exact opposite of whatever John had asked of them, just on principle. Maybe with good reason this time, but Dean couldn’t help but sigh in annoyance, wanting to vent some of his own frustration with the whole situation.

“It’s a case, Sam. And yeah, I don’t like it either, but he texted us for a reason, so we should go check it out.”

Sam was quiet for a while, starting to pull out the various takeaway cartons then starting to munch on his own meal. Dean didn’t push him to answer. Sam had to be just as pissed as he was, if not more so. Finally, Sam sighed. “Tell me about the house. Old with a history of being haunted, I’m guessing?”

Dean nodded. “Yep. Georgian built by some old local family, the Campions. It’s on however many most haunted lists, paranormal activity recorded in every room. Doors moving by themselves; footsteps on the stairs when there was no one there; disembodied voices. Looks like one of the Campions died bloody and got restless. I say we head on up there, scout the place out and burn some bones. Not like a salt and burn’s gonna take us that long.”

“Sounds like a quick enough case to deal with.” Sam agreed reluctantly. “Looks like we’re going to Whitby then.”

 

……………

 

Whitby wasn’t what Sam had pictured. He’d had a sleepy little seaside resort in mind, not unlike some of the others they’d had to visit for cases. Instead, as they drove into town, he couldn’t help but be struck by how many people there were about. The crowds weren’t the only striking thing either. Most of them were wearing black, some of the outfits looking like they’d walked out of the Victorian era with corsets and tailcoats in abundance.

Sam frowned, puzzled. “What the hell?”

“I thought the festival was an April thing. Guess not.” Dean muttered, glancing around at the crowds as he drove.

“You know what’s going on here then?”

Dean shot him a look. “Um, yeah? It’s got to be the Whitby Goth Weekend. You know, the music festival? Kinda a big deal?”

Sam’s eyebrows raised in surprise.

“What?” Dean challenged.

“Wouldn’t have thought it was your kind of thing, that’s all.” Bowie and the Electric Light Orchestra were more Dean’s kind of thing, not Joy Division. Sam had sat through enough hours of rock music to know that much.

“I’ve hung out with one or two people who were into that kinda music.” Dean said, his smile turning into more of a leer. “Turns out goth chicks love it when you know a load about vampire lore.”

“And that’s more information than I ever needed to know about your sex life.” Sam rolled his eyes, while Dean just laughed.

As it turned out, they got lucky. Most B&Bs and hotels were too full with people there for the music festival to squeeze in another two people. Dean had figured they’d have to sleep in the car (wouldn’t be the first time that had happened), but upon arriving at Arundel House, the proprietor couldn’t have been more pleased to see them. She’d had some cancellations after Ian’s untimely death, not to mention his old room was free. So not only did they get a bed for the night, but they would be right on the scene to investigate if anything really was going on at the B&B. A quick EMF reading and they were even more sure they were on the right track, low level readings showing that the building definitely had paranormal activity. Now it was only a matter of finding the right grave. They agreed to split up so they’d cover more ground, Dean making a start at one of the local pubs and Sam talking to the landlady.

Luck was on their side. Miss Wilson was the kind of landlady who was more than happy to spill the beans on some of the local lore too, a motherly woman who could talk for England if you let her get started, and the B&B had to make a tidy profit from people coming for the local legends, if the hordes of ghost tour flyers on the welcome desk were any indication. There was only one story that fitted the bill too, of all the ghosts who supposedly haunted the B&B. Elizabeth Hardy. She was a maid who’d worked at the house, back in the Campions’ day. The way the story went, she’d got friendly with a gentleman who’d been staying at the house and wound up pregnant. The man scorned her and she lost her position. Out of options, she threw herself from one of the windows. The same window Ian had fallen from.

 

……………

 

Unsurprisingly, by the time Sam showed up at the bar, Dean had settled himself in, charming the pants off of a pretty girl.

He waved Sam over, “Heya Sammy. This is Lydia. Lydia, meet my little brother.” Dean had an arm around the girl’s shoulder and she’d leaned in close to him. It didn’t take much to guess where their evening was going to end.

“Hi.” Lydia shot him an appraising look. “My friend Crystal likes them tall. I can introduce you, if you want?”

“Um, no thanks, I think I’m good.” Sam beat a swift retreat, leaving Dean to make his excuses. “I’m going to go get a drink.”

Heading over to the bar, he sighed as he sat down. This whole hunt was getting to him. Everything that had happened with Jess was still all too painful, not to mention the whole mess with Dad. Sam might have had his bad patches with his father, hated how John treated the two of them more like foot soldiers than children, but he’d always hoped that wasn’t the whole story. Now, right when they needed him most, John couldn’t even be bothered to show. Just send through his orders and expect them to jump into action. Sam could see Dean hated it too. He might act like the dutiful son, but there was resentment there too. Not for the first time, Sam wondered what happened while he’d been gone.

“You look like you could really use a drink.”

Sam turned around to see who’d spoken. The guy was leaning against the bar, watching Sam with a cocksure grin and eyes full of playful amusement.

“Excuse me?”

“You look like you’ve had a crappy day and my friend’s ditched me.” The guy nodded in the direction of one of the groups of goths. As he did so, a dark-haired girl with a series of raven tattoos glanced over at them, rolling her eyes when she spotted them staring. “Morri thinks I’m cramping her style. So what’d you say we grab a drink, whinge about life?” The guy raised an eyebrow, questioning.

Sam couldn’t help but be taken off guard. Most pubs, there was an unwritten rule that you don’t go and just randomly approach strangers, let alone suggest having a drink with them. But it wasn’t like he had anything better to do, Dean already occupied, and the guy seemed like he might be a laugh.

“I’ll have a beer, thanks.”

The guy nodded, putting in the order with the bartender as well as a Bailey’s for himself. Sam barely hid his smirk, just thinking about what the guys he usually ended up drinking with would say about such a “girly” choice.

Obviously not well enough, though. “Judging me already, Sasquatch?”

“Most guys I know stick to beer, maybe a cider.”

“They don’t know what they’re missing out on. Nothing better than whiskey and cream.” He held out a hand, “They call me Robin.”

“I’m Sam. You from around here?”

“Hell no. Just passing through. Morri wanted to see the Goth Weekend, so here we are.”

“Huh, me too. I’m here with my brother.”

“Ken-doll over there, I’m guessing?”

Sam laughed, “Yeah, that’s Dean.”

“Brothers, huh?” Robin shot him a knowing look.

“He’s not so bad. It’s my dad that’s the real pain in the ass.” Sam sighed as he took a swig of his beer, not wanting to elaborate.

“Yeah, I know how it is. My dad didn’t give a damn either. Asshat big brothers too, always fighting. So I upped and left.” Robin’s voice was full of bitterness.

“I’m sorry.” Sam said quietly. That story sounded all too familiar. He knew what it felt like to want to escape your own family.

“Hey, it’s in the past now. Got my own life now, carved out my own little corner of the world.” “Doesn’t make it any less painful.” Sam muttered, before admitting, “I ran away too. Dad wanted me to go into the family business. I didn’t want to, so I left.” He usually didn’t talk about it all. Jess and him had, but she was gone now. Dean was usually too loyal to Dad to really understand Sam’s point of view. Robin seemed like he might understand, though. After all, he’d run away from home too.

Robin looked at him curiously, “You think it was worth it?”

Sam had once thought he knew the answer to that question. “I don’t know. I got to live my own life for a bit but…Dad was right. There was a cost.” He couldn’t help but remember Jess’s lifeless eyes, staring down at him as she burned.

“There always is.” Robin said softly. He turned away, not looking Sam in the eyes. “We got to live life the way we wanted to, though. I’ll drink to that.” He raised his glass in a toast.

Sam moved to raise his glass too, but his attention was caught by some drama going on over by the bar. The barkeeper was gesticulating at a scruffily dressed man, reporter’s notebook in hand. “I told you not to come in here anymore. Get out, before I make you.”

“All I wanted was a pint or two. I’m sure my readers will be thrilled to learn all about your ‘local hospitality’. You really want that?” The man spit the words out, full of hate and bitterness.

“Like I care what anyone who reads your rag thinks. Get out. Now.”

The man stalked towards the door, swearing under his breath.

Sam watched him go curiously, wondering what all the fuss was about.

Robin followed his gaze. “Ah, some more local drama.”

“You know what was going on there?”

“He’s a reporter. Runs a blog that tries to debunk conspiracy theories and stuff. This time he’s going after one of the main local legends, the ghosts over at the abbey”. Robin’s voice was full of barely-suppressed anger. “I hate wankers like that. Thinking they know better than everyone else what’s out there.”

“People like that always pay for it, though. Then they have to open their minds a little.” Sam had been on enough hunts where they’d had to deal with people who were so certain ghosts didn’t exist, only to find themselves in the middle of a haunting.

“Yeah, they do.”

Not much later, Dean came over. “C’mon Sammy, we need to go.”

“What about that girl you were with? …Lydia?”

“Gonna see her later. Right now, we need to work.”

Sam sighed. He’d just started to enjoy himself, the first time he’d really felt relaxed since Oxford. But there was no point arguing with Dean. He knocked back his pint and stood up. “Guess I’ll see you round then, Robin.”

Robin nodded, though his eyes focused on Dean, shrewd and assessing. “See you, Sam.”

“What’s up?” Sam asked quietly as they headed out the pub.

“You said in your text that you’d figured out who the ghost was, right? Well, I know where the cemetery is. A load of the people here for the festival go up and take photos there. Didn’t take much to find out where it is.”

 

……………

 

Grave-digging was always one of Sam’s least favourite parts of hunting. It was hard work, you ran the risk of getting on the wrong side of the law and the smell was something awful. Plus you never knew if the ghost could show up, pissed that you’re trying to dig up and burn its bones. Just to make the whole experience even more unenjoyable, Dean was getting on Sam’s nerves. After several coded questions about Robin, he sighed, “What’s this really about? I figured you’d be happy I’m not just focused on the hunt.”

“Well, yeah, I am.” Dean looked uncomfortable. “Just thinking you guys looked pretty friendly, that’s all.”

That was when it clicked. “You think I was chatting him up?”

“I wouldn’t be a dick about it, if you were.” Dean didn’t meet his eyes.

Sam straightened up, resting against his shovel. “Dude. I’m not gay. You’d know if I was.”

He hadn’t thought it was possible for Dean to look even more uncomfortable. Sam’s first thought was that it couldn’t have been easy for him to say. John Winchester hadn’t exactly preached love and tolerance, not to mention the hunting community’s casual homophobia. Dean wouldn’t exactly be the first in line to throw a Pride parade. All the same, Sam couldn’t help but wonder what had made Dean make that assumption in the first place.

Obviously keen on distracting from the sudden awkwardness, Dean looked down into the grave. “I’m sure we’ve dug more than six feet. The coffin must be buried deep.” As he did so, he rested a hand on the gravestone.

He frowned, “Wait a second.”

Sam looked on, confused, as he rapped his knuckles against the gravestone. Instead of the dull thud that you’d expect from a granite tombstone, there was a hollow echo.

“It’s wood.” Dean said, stunned. “The grave’s a fake.”

Sam went over to the next tomb. Same result. “I think it’s the whole cemetery. But what the hell? Why do they have a load of fake graves?”

“Don’t ask me.” Dean sighed. “Frigging goths. This must be part of the festival somehow.”

Sam lifted up the shovel again. “So we have to put all this earth back before anyone comes along and we’re no closer to finding the grave? Great.”

“Too late.” Dean pointed down the hill to where there was the faint gleam of torch beams. “We need to get out of here.”

“Shit.” The two of them didn’t hang around, grabbing their stuff and getting out of there.

 

……………

 

“Dean, have you been using my laptop?”

Sam scowled at his screen. It had frozen on the homepage of one of Dean’s personal favourite porn websites and no matter what he did, he couldn’t get it to work.

Dean wandered out of the bathroom, “Um, no. Why’d you ask?”

In response, Sam turned the screen to face him. Dean smirked, “Didn’t know you were a fan, Sammy.”

“Piss off.” Sam muttered. “I told you not to touch my stuff.”

“Yeah, and I didn’t touch it.” Dean protested.

“No one else could’ve messed with it, and it sure as hell wasn’t me.” Sam grabbed his laptop case, shutting down Dean’s arguments. “I’m going out. See if I can find anyone who can fix it.”

Whitby wasn’t the best equipped with computer repair shops, but Sam did finally manage to find one that reckoned they could fix it for him, albeit for a massive bill. Dean would have to be the one to pay that, Sam thought bitterly. He’d forgotten just how annoying his brother could be at times. Wanting to stay out for a while and cool his head, he wandered down to the harbour, sitting down on a bench and watching the waves lap the shore.

“Heya Sammy.” Robin flopped down on the bench next to him. He had an ice cream in hand, one of the old-fashioned whipped cream cones that seemed ubiquitous at seaside resorts.

“Hi,” Sam smiled back at him. “Your friend ditch you again? Morrigan, was it?” The unusual name had stuck in his memory.

Robin nodded, “Not really my scene. But the people are cool and there’s plenty of hot girls around so I think I can cope.”

“You sound just like Dean. Always off with another girl.” Sam’s jaw clenched in annoyance.

“Family troubles?” Robin raised an eyebrow.

“You could say that.” Sam sighed. All the rage and frustration he’d been feeling the last few weeks finally came spilling out. “Dean does his best, I know, but he doesn’t get it sometimes, you know? Doesn’t get that maybe he’s not the only one who knows what’s best for me. And Dad…he’s never here. Not when we need him.”

“You sound like my brother.” Robin muttered.

“What’d you mean?”

“Luke was…” Robin seemed to be choosing his words carefully. “He was always Dad’s favourite. So when they fought…think apocalyptic. Then Mikey would get involved and it’d get worse.”

“Sounds awful.”

“It was. That’s why I left. I couldn’t stand it.”

Sam glanced curiously over at Robin, “What happened to your brother, in the end?”

“Some people don’t want to be saved.” He sighed, “Well this is getting depressing. Let’s talk about something else. Did you hear about that reporter?”

Sam still had so many questions, but he played along. He knew a deflection away from an unpleasant subject when he saw one. “The one from the pub the other day?”

“Yep. He came running into the pub this morning, yelling something about ghosts at the Abbey. Looks like he might’ve had to rethink the whole ‘ghosts aren’t real’ schtick.”

 

……………

 

Dean was pissed. There were some things that were sacred, and the Oxford Morris was one of them. Anyone messed with Dean Winchester’s car, they had to die. Those were the rules. So when Sam strolled back into their room, he was ready.

“Looking for something?” He held up Sam’s leather wallet.

“Oh, yeah, thanks. I’d been wondering when I’d dropped that.” Sam smiled gratefully, holding out a hand for it.

Dean snatched it away. “Should’ve thought about that before you decided to mess with Baby.” Sam looked confused. Dean didn’t buy it for a second. “C’mon, don’t act innocent. I know you let down her tires. It messes with the suspension, asshat.”

“I haven’t been anywhere near her.” Sam’s frown deepened. “Why would I touch your car?”

“Maybe ‘cause you’re mad over your laptop? Which, for the record, I didn’t wreck.” Dean snapped, brandishing the wallet. “And I found this at the scene of the crime. Thought you were supposed to be smart, Oxford boy.”

Sam lunged for the wallet, but Dean tugged it out the way. “Hell no. Consider it reparations. For emotional trauma.”

“Very funny, Dean. Now give it back.”

“Nope.”

Sam glared at him, “Dean, I have had it up to here with you.”

“Oh really? Well, right back at you.”

Sam tried again, and this time, managed to grab the wallet. Dean wasn’t giving up without a fight, though. He grabbed Sam, putting him in a tight headlock as he tried to wrestle the wallet back off of him. They’d not fought like this since they were kids, bickering over which channel to watch or who’d get the last few sweets in the packet.

Finally, Dean admitted defeat and the two of them parted, panting.

“There’s been another haunting, up at Whitby Abbey.” Sam said breathlessly, still glaring daggers at Dean as he pocketed his wallet. One of them had to at least try and act professional. “The guy survived but it feels like too much of a coincidence. I don’t think this is a normal ghost haunting.”

“When did you find that out? While you were wrecking my car?”

“You’re not going to let that go, are you?”

“Nope.” Dean flopped down on the room’s sofa. “Truth is, I’ve been thinking the same thing. Checked out that girl you said was supposedly haunting the house, Elizabeth Hardy, and the facts are all wrong. She worked here, sure, but she didn’t die here. Passed away of old age. It looks like it’s just a story. I’m thinking we need back-up.”

“Who? You mean, Dad? Like he’d come. He’s already made it clear it’s not worth his while.” Sam said bitterly.

“You and your damn feud with Dad.” Dean rolled his eyes, “You remember Bobby Singer? We used to stay with him when we were kids sometimes, when Dad was off hunting.”

The name was familiar enough. “Didn’t he get in a real big fight with Dad years ago? That’s why we stopped visiting.”

“Yeah, well, I got back in touch a few years ago. I bet he’ll help.”

“Worth a call, I guess.”

Dean was right. When Bobby heard they needed a hand, he offered to drive down. He would be able to reach them by the next morning. As Dean chatted on the phone to Bobby, talking him through the bare essentials of the case, Sam couldn’t help but wonder just how much he’d missed. Dean had a whole other life now, separate from him and Dad.

Dean frowned when he saw Sam watching him after he hung up the phone. Things had been strained between them since the laptop and the car. “What?”

“Nothing.” Sam started before amending, “When did you get back in touch with Bobby?”

“Few months after you left, I think. Why?”

“I was just wondering why you reached out. I mean, they did get in a hell of a fight and you know how Dad is about that kind of stuff. Once he cuts you off, that’s you gone.”

Dean shifted uncomfortably before admitting, “Dad and me started hunting separately. Helped having someone to touch base with, that’s all.”

Sam couldn’t help but be surprised. John liked having back-up on hunts, said it was smart in case one of you got injured, but there weren’t many people he liked to work with. There weren’t many reasons for him and Dean to split forces. Not unless something bad had happened.

Dean sighed, figuring out which way his thoughts were headed. “Yeah, Dad and me got in a fight. We’re still speaking and stuff. Just better for us to work separate now.”

“What about?”

“Few months after you left? What the hell else do you think it was about?”

 

“I didn’t raise you to be some Nancy boy. What the hell do you think you’re playing at, Dean? It ain’t natural.”

“It’s who I am, Dad.”

“Then I don’t know who you are anymore.”

 

……………

 

In all the years since Sam had seen him, Bobby hadn’t changed much. Still wearing the same old trucker hat as always, just as thick a Scottish accent as ever. When he saw Dean, he slapped him on the back, “What the hell kind of trouble you been getting into now, you eejit?”

“You know, same old.” Dean grinned back. “’Course it’s not just me now. Sam’s back in the game.”

Bobby turned to face Sam, suddenly more awkward. Sam couldn’t help but be struck how the two of them now had years of history he wasn’t included in. He was the outsider in the group now. Still, Bobby shot a small smile his way. “Good to see you, son.”

Sam nodded. To cover the awkwardness, he handed over the notes he’d made on the case. “There would be more, but someone decided to mess with my laptop.” He shot a meaningful look at Dean.

Dean rolled his eyes, “I keep telling you, that wasn’t me. ‘Sides, you messed with Baby. It’s not like you didn’t deserve it.”

I deserved it?! How many times do I have to tell you, I didn’t touch your damned car!”

“Don’t talk about Baby like that.” Dean snapped, making a move towards Sam.

“That’s enough!” Bobby interrupted, stepping between them. He glared at them both, stifling any protests. “I’m surprised at you two. You should know better than this. Sam, first off, Dean did not steal your computer.”

“But-”

“Whisht.” Bobby scowled at him, Sam not daring to argue back. Bobby could be terrifying when he was angry. “And Dean, Sam did not touch your car.”

“Yeah, exactly.” Sam looked smugly over at his brother. Dean just rolled his eyes in response.

“And if you two hadn’t been acting like a pair of numpties, it would’ve been pretty clear what you’re dealing with.”

The Winchesters looked at each other, both considering before shaking their heads.

“You’ve got a trickster on your hands.” Bobby said with a sigh.

Dean frowned, “How’d you work that one out? We figured it was some weird-ass kinda ghost or something.”

Bobby shook his head, “These things create chaos and mischief as easy as breathing, and it’s got you two at each other’s throats so you can’t even think straight.”

“So the laptop…”

“My car.” Dean scowled. “Oh, this bastard’s going down.”

“They know you’re onto them, and they’ve been playing you like fiddles.”

“So what is it, exactly? Some kind of ghost or spirit? We’ve not run across a trickster before. Dad, neither.” Sam asked. He felt like he was on the edge of something, some realisation.

“They’re more like demigods.” Bobby started. “There’s legends of them all over the world: Loki in Scandinavia, Anansi in West Africa. They’re immortal, and they can create things out of thin air, things as real as you and me. Make them vanish just as quick too.”

“Like an angry spirit?” Dean said.

“Exactly. The victims fit the M.O. too. Tricksters target the high and the mighty, knock them down a peg, usually with a sense of humour. Deadly pranks, things like that. If I had to guess, I’d say they’ve been around that pub you mentioned, the Elsinore. Looks like both the victims visited there.”

“Yeah, both those guys were wankers. Apparently the first guy was always being a sleazeball to women and that friend of your’s was saying how the other dude was writing crap about the locals.” Dean muttered in agreement. He glanced over at Sam, then frowned. “What’s up?”

“Just realised something.” Sam’s eyes were wide with shock. “I think I know who our trickster is.”

 

……………

 

There was hardly anyone in the pub when Sam wandered over there. The Goth Weekend had properly started, so most of the incomers were over at the festival. Robin and Morrigan were there at the bar, though.  Robin’s face split into a warm grin when he saw Sam.

“You gonna come join us, Sammy?”

“Um, no thanks. I’m good.” Sam shifted uncomfortably, the picture of abject misery.

Robin and Morrigan exchanged a look, then Morri stood. “I’ll leave you to it, then.”

When she’d left, there was an awkward silence then Robin laughed, “Not much of a talker, are you? You gonna tell me what's eating at you, kiddo?”

"Not today. Dean and I got into a fight. Again." Sam's eyes were wide and pleading, enough to melt anyone's heart.

Robin sighed. If Sam hadn't known better, that it was all an act, he would have thought that was real pity in his eyes. "Let me guess. He started pulling the 'I'm your big brother and I know better than you' card, then you got pissed 'cause you can make your own choices?"

"How did you know?"

"Lucky guess."

So far, so good. Now this was going to be the hard part to sell. If they were going to stand a chance of trapping their trickster, Sam had to get him alone, somewhere where prying civilian eyes weren't going to notice them. "Look, I don't feel so good. I'm gonna walk back to the bed and breakfast place." He paused. "You want to join? I don't really want to be on my own right now."

Surprisingly, Robin agreed, getting up from his barstool. "Not like there's much going on round here."

They barely talked on the walk back, Sam not wanting to accidentally give anything away and Robin apparently too lost in his own thoughts to make much conversation. Robin asked about Dean briefly, and Sam fobbed him off with some excuse that they’d been fighting. That seemed to do the trick.

When they reached the room, though, Sam didn’t bother to keep the pretence up any longer. He locked the door behind them then reached for the stake he’d stashed in his jacket. Robin turned, hearing the click of the lock. He nodded when he saw the painted marks on the back of the door (taken from one of Bobby’s lore books), as though he’d been expecting something of that kind.

“Protection sigils. Nice. And is that a stake in your jacket or are you just pleased to see me?” He leered at Sam, though there was no real heat behind it. “Nice trick. Not bad, kiddo.”

Sam watched him, eyes emotionless. “I’d hoped I was wrong about you. Guess not.”

“No, you weren’t. What put you onto me, anyway?”

“You were at the place the victims were last seen. You seemed really angry at that reporter guy. It was your name that made me sure, though.”

“I am that merry wanderer of the night, Robin Goodfellow.” Robin spread his arms in a theatrical gesture. “Someone knows their Shakespeare.”

“I’m guessing Morrigan’s not just named after the Celtic goddess either?”

“Nope. So what now, then? You gonna stake me, Sam?”

Sam gripped onto his stake a little tighter. “I can’t let you keep hurting people.”

“Come on! Those people got what was coming to them. Hoisted on their own petards. But you and Dean, I like you.” Robin smiled. Sam almost thought it was genuine for a moment, not just a ploy to get out of being stabbed. “Just let me go, give me enough time to move onto the next time. Your brother needn’t know.”

“I don’t think I can let you do that.”

“I don’t want to hurt you. And you know that I can.”

“Guess I’m going to have to take that risk.”

Robin sighed. Sam could have sworn he looked disappointed. “Too bad. Like I said, I like you. You shouldn’t have come alone either. I’m kinda out of your league.”

“I didn’t come alone.” The bathroom door creaked open to reveal Dean and Bobby, both clutching stakes.

Robin raised an eyebrow. “You two made up from your little tiff, then?”

“Take more than a damn trickster to turn us against each other.” Dean scowled at him. “You’re going down, asshat.”

“Yeah, I bet.” Robin muttered, more to himself than anything.  Sam frowned, wondering what was going through the Trickster’s head, but he was soon distracted when Robin continued, “You want to see a real trick?” He raised his hand and snapped his fingers.

All of a sudden, a vampire appeared out of nowhere, launching itself at Dean and Bobby. It wasn’t like any of the vampires they usually faced, though. If anything, it looked like one from the classic horror movies Dean liked to watch. Sam didn’t have time to worry about that, though. He heard growling from behind him. He turned around to be faced with a wolf. Bigger than a normal wolf, though, and reared up on its hind legs. A werewolf, then. It lunged for him, trying to claw at his face. He blocked the blow with his stake, its claws scrabbling uselessly against the wood. There was a knife in Sam’s jacket pocket. If only he could reach it. The werewolf’s attacks were coming on too fast, though, and he was too busy trying to block the blows. Out of the corner of his eye, Sam could see that Robin had settled on the bed, watching the fight as though it was just a wrestling match, put on for show. He’d conjured up some popcorn out of nowhere and was munching on it. The sight only fuelled the pit of rage in Sam’s stomach. Seeing he was distracted, the werewolf lunged again, this time tossing the stake out of his hands. Sam’s eyes widened, but then he was sent flying too, his back hitting the bedstead.

There was a creak of springs then Robin was standing over him, clapping slowly.

“Oh Sam. I told you not to make me do this…” He raised a hand.

Sam heard Dean call out his name, then the skittering of the stake sliding across the wooden floor, coming to a stop just by his hand. He grabbed it.

“No one makes us do anything.” Sam thrust the stake upwards, hitting Robin square in the stomach. Robin’s hands gripped his arm, expression still frozen in a triumphant grin. As Sam ground in the stake, the werewolf and vampire disappeared, fading away like smoke. Then the Trickster’s body fell to the floor, dead.

Sam got up, still shaken, and moved over to Dean and Bobby. They looked shell-shocked too. None of them had faced anything as powerful as the Trickster before. “You guys okay?”

Dean nodded, “Yeah, I guess.”

“Save it.” Bobby said gruffly. “Let’s just get the hell out of here now. I’m not explaining to the landlady why you boys have a dead body in your room.”

They grabbed their bags, making a start towards the door. As he glanced back at Robin’s body, Sam paused. “Look, um, Dean…About what happened, before. I just want to say I’m…”

“Yeah. Me too.” Dean smiled slightly. “Guess we both can be kinda headstrong at times.”

“That’s putting it mildly.”

Bobby sighed, “You guys are breaking my heart. Can we please just leave?”

They both laugh, but nod, following him back to the car.

 

……………

 

When he was sure they had left, Gabriel shimmered back into existence. With a snap of his fingers, his double’s corpse disappeared and the room was put back to normal. No point setting the police on the Winchesters’ trail just yet.

He’d wanted to see his brothers’ true vessels, see what they might be capable of. Gabriel might be in hiding, but he could still sense Azazel’s presence on the earth again. He’d heard the whispers from upstairs too, could guess what his brothers were planning. Gabriel had hoped that maybe, the brothers would be different. They wouldn’t be quite so easy to turn against each other. But if he’d managed in a matter of hours to have them at each other’s throats, they didn’t stand a chance. They were just like his brothers too. Sam with his rage against his father, so certain that his way was the right one. Dean with all Michael’s stubbornness and arrogance. It had hurt him sometimes, to be around them, the likeness was so close. No point his thinking about that, though. If things went his way, Gabriel wouldn’t be seeing them again.

Gabriel pulled out a phone and typed in a number. Play-acting the role of Daddy Winchester had worked once. No reason why it wouldn’t work again, sending the boys off to just where he wanted them. He couldn’t do much, not if he didn’t want Heaven and Hell on his trail. But he could give them a chance, help them figure out just what old Yellow Eyes was up to. Then, maybe, the Apocalypse didn’t have to happen. He hit send on the text then with a snap of his fingers, he was gone.

 

Look up Max Miller. Kellingley.