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Drown With Me

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 Drown With Me

 

Dean was used to feeling out of place, but he hated the feeling when he wanted so badly to belong with a group.

 

It was a beautiful day at the Black River inlet. People were sunning themselves and having barbecues, some were boating, and one guy was floating on an inner tube, drinking beer. Dean was painfully jealous of him, even though he was wearing loud surfer jams, and had a beer gut that made him look like he was smuggling a yoga ball through customs. There wasn’t a single sinister thing in sight, and no one had curtailed their sunny day on the water routine. 

 

Which was a surprise.

 

Bobby had called them with this case. Over the past two weeks, there had been multiple drownings, way above the normal rate for even an early summer, and reports of a “strange beast” around the inlet. Some reported it as a large red eyed or blue eyed beast, maybe a large dog; others reported seeing a guy with what looked like hooves instead of feet. None of this was any good at all.

 

Because the apocalypse was nigh, there had been omens around the area, and everywhere else. So it was more than possible that this was Sam’s worst fear: demon lord Beelzebub. Yes, apparently he was real, at least according to some lore Sammy had found, and he was a major slice of bad news, as all demon lords were. Or they could be dealing with a shapeshifter or skinwalker with a perverse streak, and a need to deviate for the norm. While most monsters stuck to their playbook, enough strayed that there was a faint possibility. While huge black dog would support hellhound, none of the victims or other circumstances matched soul collecting.

 

As far as they could tell, all the victims – which were all young women and children – were drowned, and none were last seen in the vicinity of the inlet. Most were seen in the woods or in town, and some of those women were supposedly seen in the company of a “strange young man”, described as pale, with long black hair. It was safe to say this case, so far, had little bits of everything, and connecting the dots wasn’t going to be easy.

 

It also didn’t help that this was the beginning of summer, and the start of tourist season, so the inlet was almost always jumping. Dean was glad he talked Sam out of wearing their Fed suits right now, as he felt like a sore thumb in his layers and hiking boots, and he was already sweating. He was trying to pretend his EMF meter was something that it wasn’t, but most people weren’t paying any attention to him anyway. He did find himself slightly distracted by a handsome man and an attractive woman sunbathing side by side, and their body types were so similar he found himself wondering if they were related. Maybe brother and sister, not girlfriend and boyfriend? He was still trying to figure it out when Sam joined him on the shoreline. “Anything?” Sam asked.

 

Dean shook his head, and pocketed his EMF meter. “Nope. You?”

 

“No. So at least we can rule vengeful ghost out of the equation.” Sam looked around at the crowds and sighed. “We should come back at nightfall. Maybe there won’t be so many people around.”

 

“And what are we supposed to do until then?”

 

Sam shrugged, and started towards the woods. Dean followed. “I dunno. You can research the victims some more, see if there’s a connection between any of them that we missed, and I can dig deeper on the local legend.”

 

“Oh, come on. We’ve done that, and found jack. And I thought you said the myth of the local water monster was started by a café owner trying to drum up business in ’62.”

 

“All the data I turned up said it was, but maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough.” Sam ran a hand through his hair and sighed, in that way he did when he was frustrated. Until they started narrowing more suspects down or getting a better description of whatever people thought they saw, this case was a non-starter. But they knew there was something going on here. It wouldn’t have been so frustrating if they knew it was a hoax.

 

The woods was a generous name for a clump of trees that seemingly cordoned off the inlet from the main road, although calling it main stretched the definition. It was just barely paved, and came out into the center of a town that was just a loose collection of small businesses before giving way to the hotels and bungalows in the interior. It was honestly a nice place, quiet, not as gentrified and homogenized as most small towns nowadays. It was probably a good place to spend a quiet vacation … if it wasn’t for all the suspicious drownings, and the weird dog thing. And if it wasn’t Beezlebub, like Sam feared.

 

They had learned all about him from Castiel, who was still off on his God search, but apparently knew all about Beelzebub. According to Cas, he was actually a seraphim who joined Lucifer in rebelling against God – Lucifer was not alone; he had some angelic followers who went with him, they just weren’t archangels – and Beelzebub eventually became Lucifer’s right hand man. But after Lucifer was caged, he disappeared, supposedly retreating further into Hell. There were rumors he had his own segment of it, but there were also rumors he was killed in the in fighting between Lucifer’s lieutenants after Luci was bottled up. Cas didn’t know, and since the last time he’d been in Hell was just a brief, violent jaunt – he just showed up to fight his way to Dean and rip him out of Hell – he didn’t hang around to see if there was anyone else there he recognized. Cas thought it unlikely Beelzebub would show up now, but with Lucifer uncaged, if it was ever going to happen, there was no time like the present. Cas said to call him back if they confirmed it, because apparently they’d need angelic help putting him down, which made sense.

 

They went back to their motel, and Dean convinced Sam to go with him, so they changed into their Fed suits to pay a visit to the family of the last victim. Her name had been Shelly Reinhart, and she’d only been fifteen. She’d last been seen in the company of that mysterious long haired young man at the town square, during the founder’s day festival.

 

You had to make a lot of allowances for grief. People grieved in different ways, and at different times, and some people just really hated cops. But even so, the reception they received from the Reinharts was hostile, and didn’t spare Shelly in the least. They basically blamed the victim, saying she shouldn’t have “run off” with a strange boy, that they thought they’d raised her better, all of that. Both he and Sam tried to point out it wasn’t her fault, but the sour faced parents were just having none of it. Dean found himself getting angry at them, and he knew he shouldn’t, he tried to hold it back, but holy fuck, what was wrong with these people? Did they really think their daughter deserved to die because she spoke to a boy she didn’t know?  He could tell from all the crucifixes and pictures of Jesus around the living room that they were ultra religious, but this seemed beyond the pale.

 

Sam wasn’t happy either, but he seemed to realize Dean was about to lose his temper, and hastily said their goodbyes, all but pushing Dean out the door. “What the hell is wrong with some people?” Dean exclaimed, throwing his hands up in the air. He didn’t care if they heard him or not. In fact, he hoped they did, because he was itching to give them a piece of his mind. It was the piece with several four letter words and violent obscene gestures in it.

 

Sam shook his head, and pulled at his tie. It was still a hot day, and while the air conditioning in the Reinhart’s home wasn’t great, it was still better than the outside, where the heat was humid and hit them like a solid wall of fire. “They’re upset, they’re trying to rationalize what happened …”

 

Dean pointed at their front door as he stomped off the porch. “That is not rational. That is fucking garbage. They –“

 

Sam made a ‘stop talking’ face, and Dean didn’t immediately know why, until he turned around. The Reinharts had a small, fenced in front garden, and off to the side was a young girl, maybe eight years old, playing in the grass with a black and orange kitten. She looked at the pair of them with wide hazel eyes. “Are you here about Shelly?”

 

Oh shit, she had a little sister. He exchanged a wary look with Sam before he said, “Yeah, we are.”

 

The little girl nodded, holding a string for the kitten, which she pulled around the grass. “I saw him.”

 

Sam crouched down in front of her. “What’s your name?”

 

“Ruth.”

 

“Okay, Ruth, who did you see?”

 

“The man who took Shelly.” She looked between them and the kitten, and while she seemed in all respects like a normal child, she was undoubtedly sad. “I saw him first.”

 

Dean crouched down as well, to be closer to her eye level, but tried to stay upwind of the cat. “What do you mean you saw him first?”

 

She glanced up at Dean, and she seemed a lot sadder than a kid her age should’ve been. He had this unsettling feeling she had seen some shit, and this home was far from happy. But maybe he was just projecting. He tried to believe that. “He had the prettiest hair. It was green, even though Shelly said it was black. He was really nice, and his eyes were all blue. She said they weren’t, but I know what I saw.”

 

“What do you mean all blue?” Sam asked.

 

She shrugged. “There wasn’t any white or black bits. Just blue. Like the sky.” She pointed up, in case they weren’t getting it. “I thought he was an angel. He said he had a pony down by the water, and I could ride it. But Shelly told me I had to go home, and he took her instead.” She picked up her kitten, and held the purring ball of fur in her hands. “I don’t know why I was gonna go with him. Momma says you aren’t supposed to talk to strangers. But I felt like I had to follow him, at least until Shelly pulled me away. Then when she did, I got so scared, I ran away. Maybe if I didn’t, Shelly wouldn’t be in heaven now.”

 

Oh shit. This felt like a punch in the stomach. Her parents words were even worse now, considering Shelly was a good older sibling, and took the hit for her younger sister. Dean didn’t know Shelly, but he was proud of her. “No, you couldn’t have changed it,” Dean told her. “You did the right thing. Believe that, okay?” Dean reached into his pocket, and found one of his phony FBI cards. “You see him again, or see anything weird, you call me, okay? Day or night. And stay far away from him if you do see him again, okay?”

 

Holding the kitten in one hand, she took the card reluctantly, looking at it before putting it down on the grass. “Are you gonna get him?”

 

Dean nodded. “Count on it.”

 

They all heard the front door open, and he and Sam stood up and walked away, aware that the Reinharts would probably bitch them out for talking to Ruth. They didn’t speak again until they were in the Impala. “What the hell, dude?” Dean asked Sam. “All blue eyes? Long green or black hair? What are we dealing with here?”

 

Sam shook his head, now loosening his tie all the way. “I dunno. I think we can scratch Beelzebub off the list. Unless he’s a demon with all blue eyes?”

 

“Do you think that’s possible?”

 

Sam shrugged. “We’ve met yellow eyed and white eyed demons, along with the traditional red crossroads and standard black. Maybe there is a blue eyed one.”

 

“Explain the hair. Or the magnetism.”

 

Sam shrugged and grimaced. “Yeah, I don’t know what all that’s about. She’s still a kid, and one from a … strict home.”

 

“You mean fucked up home?” Dean countered.

 

Sam scowled at him. “She could have misremembered something, accidentally embellished. The mind plays tricks on you, especially when something traumatic happens.”

 

He knew Sam was being sensible, reasonable, but Dean didn’t feel like being either. He knew the heat and the heartless parents were combining to make him pissed off, but he couldn’t help it. “I hate this motherfucking thing, and I want to destroy it now. That shouldn’t be so hard.”

 

But even as he said it, Dean knew that was a lie. Of course it was going to be hard. Far be it for monsters, or life, to ever be that simple.

 

**

 

It wasn’t that Sam didn’t feel the same frustration that Dean did, because he totally did. He just knew if he got emotional, he might miss something. As of yet, remaining logical hadn’t helped.

 

And the more time that passed, the more restless Dean became. He’d started a weapon inventory while Sam researched back at their shitty motel, and it seemed like he’d taken apart and reconstructed every handgun he had, which was saying something.

 

Sam had hoped to look up some lore that would tie Beelzebub to the mysterious blue eyed man, but the lore on him was so screwed up it was amazing. He found no references to blue eyes in even made up stories. Beelzebub was called the “Lord of the Flies” because he was tied closely to disease, which didn’t track with these drowning deaths at all. There was no mention of magnetism either, although Sam knew from sad experience that Lucifer had a weird sort of magnetism. Maybe his Lieutenants did as well.

 

Dean had now moved on to needlessly sharpening his knives. Sam did his best to ignore him, even though the noise was starting to drive him crazy. Sam could apply logic here as well. Dean was extra upset because kids were involved. It was always hideous when monsters went after children, but Dean had this soft spot for kids, and took their being preyed upon really personally. Sam knew it was probably tied in with Dad making Dean responsible for him, even though Dean was just a kid himself, and must have been nearly crushed by the responsibility he didn’t deserve. Even after all these years, Dad was still a part of their lives, although not in the most productive way.

 

Sam had called Cas to ask him about the blue eyed thing, but just left a message, as he hadn’t picked up. He probably should have had Dean do it. Cas always picked up for Dean.

 

They had a plan, but Sam would be the first to admit it was shitty. Tonight would be all about reconnaissance. Sam was going to loiter around the town square and hope to catch a glimpse of this guy. Dean would lurk near the inlet, hoping for the same thing. And the place was so small they'd be five minutes away from each other, so the other could call for back up if they spotted him. Or at least, that was the idea.

 

Sam was pretty sure if Dean saw this guy first, he'd just attack. Never mind they had no idea what they were dealing with, and if it was indeed Beelzebub, they had nothing to attack him with. Ruby's knife probably wouldn't work on him, as demon lord was a higher class of being, and besides, he was a former angel, and somehow the same rules didn't apply to them. They'd need an angel blade, but only Cas had one of those. Maybe they could trap him with holy oil, but that required at least a little bit of prep. Still, that's if Beelzebub was what they were dealing with.

 

There was still a possibility it was a shapeshifter, although perhaps a weird one. Maybe his eyes were simply reflective, and Ruth thought she saw blue when they were really silver. Although, again, even shapeshifters had pupils in their eyes.

 

They armed up as best they could, with silver and iron, and little flasks of holy oil – they couldn’t lug an entire bottle of the stuff with them – and then headed out to start surveillance.

 

The problem was going to be spotting this guy at all. They weren’t in his limited age range of victims, which seemed to be six to seventeen, and then there was an oddity that Bobby hadn’t been able to explain: this thing didn’t show up on security cameras, and some witnesses had no recollection of seeing the man. So that seemed to rule out shapeshifters, and every other monster they could think of. Except ghosts, which sometimes didn’t show up on camera, and maybe a demon lord, which might be powerful enough to make sure he didn’t show up on camera if he didn’t want to, and could alter people’s perceptions. But Sam honestly didn’t think this was Beelzebub anymore.

 

He couldn’t say why, beyond the fact that he’d assume a demon lord would be doing a hell of a lot more than drowning kids. That made no sense at all. Even if he was feeding on their souls in some way, there’d be more signs of him. There were also rituals to perform if they were a sacrifice. Sam was convinced - but could not prove - there was something else going on. He just wished he had some idea of what.

 

He sat at one of the local café’s outdoor tables, nursing a glass of lemonade and doing more research on his laptop, while keeping the corner of his eye on the town square. There weren’t many people out yet, but there would be as the air turned cooler. Some of them were glaring at him evilly, and he gave them a pass. They were aware of the child death, and here he was, a stranger openly hanging out in a public area where some of the last victims were seen. He didn’t blame them.

 

All he could hope was the real perpetrator would show up before things got worse.

 

**

 

There really wasn’t much to the “woods” around the inlet. From certain parts, you could see all the way down to the water. Which was why Dean was so confused that it seemed to be denser in certain parts, like it was almost a proper forest.  He decided to attribute that to simply how the land was shaped around here. It wasn’t a clear slope downward, but a slope with its own peaks and divots. In some of those dips, the trees seemed to multiply.

 

There was no official path amongst the trees, but Dean quickly found the unofficial one, worn down by so many people on their way to the water. He was going to follow it, but stopped as he passed a towering pine.

 

There were scratches on the bark.

 

Dean knelt down for a closer look, as they were low. They didn’t appear to be animal scratches; they were five parallel horizontal lines, although the fifth one was faint and hard to see. Something bothered him about them, and he didn’t know what, until he put his hand on the trunk. Five fingers. Five scratches.

 

Holy shit, a person had made these. A kid to be specific.

 

Rage surged in Dean, but he did his best to swallow it back. It wouldn’t help until he had a target to take it out on, and he couldn’t let emotion run away with him right now. Not until he found this goddamn thing.

 

There was a rustling from a clump of blackberry bushes, and he looked at it cautiously, hand easing his gun out of his jacket. The shrub was alive with dozens of bees, buzzing from flower to flower, giving it an impression of movement even when it otherwise seemed still. But the bugs would have scattered if there was actually something moving in there, right?

 

Dean got this itchy feeling he wasn’t alone, and while he started creeping slowly towards the shrub, he heard a weird noise. Hooves. It sounded like a horse trotting or something.

 

He ducked behind a tree trunk and kept an eye out, but he saw nothing. Still, he heard the hoofbeats grow louder, as if it was about to run him down, and then fainter, as if moving away. And yet, he saw absolutely nothing change or move around him. What the fuck were they dealing with, an invisible horse? Did Sam know for sure if centaurs existed or not?

 

He stayed where he was, and considered what he had just heard. Could he figure out direction? It sounded as if it started beyond the blackberries, and moved away from him, up to the road. Still keeping low, gun drawn, Dean made his way to the blackberries.

 

While the berries made a great pie, blackberry shrubs were the fucking worst. The thorns were grabby, they snagged easy and let go with great difficulty, and if you had the misfortune to be thrown into a bush, you’d get the shit ripped out of you simply trying to get out of it. Sadly, Dean had experienced that in his very colorful life, and couldn’t help but wince as he sidled past it, A couple of thorns snagged his jeans, and he used the gun barrel to get them off of him, because there was no way in hell he was touching those fucking things. What looked like bits of snared cloth confirmed he was not the only human who had been around here lately.

 

The earth was softer behind the shrubs, and he saw what looked like a partial hoof print. He figured out its most likely direction, and started walking that way.

 

Eventually Dean came to a pile of boulders, maybe ten feet tall, about eight feet wide, and normally something that would be a graffiti and/or litter magnet. It seemed like a good place for teens to sneak away and get drunk and fool around, normal teenage stuff Dean usually observed but rarely took part in growing up. He’d learned that whatever town their Dad took them to, finding the teen make out spot was a good idea, as that was also prime demon territory. What better place to grab a kid without their knowledge, and go for a lengthy joyride in a young body? Sometimes he’d go there with a flask of holy water, and keep an eye out for anybody who acted the least bit suspicious. While he got a few demons, he never really found time to enjoy the party, and that was a bummer. Got drunk a couple times, though.

 

This collection of rocks was sparkling clean, untouched by anything human, even the cigarette butts he found scattered all over the woods were absent here. That was just wrong, and his Spidey sense was tingling. People were slobs, and kids especially had no respect for keeping nature pristine.

 

Dean found a gap between some low rocks, one just big enough that maybe someone could crawl in there. It was a fucking horrible idea – what if it was an animal den? Wasn’t this bear habitat before the sprawling town paved over most of their territory? – but Dean and fucking horrible ideas went together like peanut butter and jelly. He wasn’t even going to pretend that wasn’t true.

 

He got down on his hands and knees and swapped his gun for a flashlight. He tried to shine it in the gap, but it was so dark he couldn’t make out anything. Such a bad idea.

 

Flashlight in his teeth, he managed to shimmy inside, to find out yes, it was a den. But maybe not an animal den.

 

For one thing, the smell was really odd. It was a bit like seaweed, with something like mold mixed in. And sulfur? There were some marks on the inside of the cave walls, and they were certainly not graffiti. They looked both vaguely supernatural and vaguely like a language he didn’t read, even though Dean had never seen it before. He took a picture of them with his phone and sent it to Sam.

 

There was a pile of something on the floor, almost like a nest, and he thought it might have been seaweed until he touched it. It was slimy, and as he pinched it between his fingers, strands separated. Not seaweed – wet hair. Long strands of it, and in a rainbow of colors, although the moisture made it all look dark.


Dean made a noise of disgust and tried to shake the slimy shit from his fingers. It was human hair wasn’t it? From his victims? Why would he keep some?

 

Dean shimmied his way out of the den, and called Sam, who picked up on the second ring. “Where did you find this?” Sam asked.

 

“In the woods. There’s a pile of rocks, and this thing seems to be nesting here. It also seems to be collecting human hair.” Dean sat on a rock, and wiped his slimy fingers on his pant leg as he shuddered. So fucking gross. “Know what the symbols are ?”

 

“Searching now. So I guess Beelzebub is officially off the list.”

 

“Must be. You’d think even a guy who goes by Lord of the Flies would be above something like this.” Dean looked around, just to make sure he was alone. He still had that creepy feeling he wasn’t.

 

“Besides, since when do demon lords squat in dingy caves? It’s not their style.” Sam paused. “What the hell ..? Dude, it’s Gaelic.”

 

“What is?”

 

“The writing on the wall. It’s …” Sam gasped.

 

“What?”

 

“Dean. Get out of there now.”

 

He stood up, phone to his ear, and looked around. He still seemed alone. “Dude, what is it?”

 

“The words. They translate to ‘If you’re reading this, it’s too late’.”

 

Dean scoffed. “Not ‘abandon all hope, all ye who enter here’ ?”

 

“This is no joke. Get out of there until I figure out what we’re dealing with.”

 

Dean started walking, but he heard the softest noise behind him. It was hard to say what it was, but he definitely caught it, and he turned, raising his gun. But there was nothing behind him, save for the pile of rocks he just left. Maybe Sam’s alarm was making him paranoid. “It’s not here. Is it where you are?”

 

“No, but I don’t care. Get here now.”

 

“Bitch, bitch, bitch,” Dean teased, turning to go back up towards the thinner stand of trees.

 

And that’s when the man appeared right in front of him, his eyes two blue pools of glowing light that seemed to swallow Dean’s consciousness whole.

 

When Dean came back to himself, two things were readily apparent. One, the guy was holding his hand, and leading him down towards the inlet. Two, Dean had absolutely no control over his body. That was as disorienting and fucking terrifying as he always imagined it would be.

 

The guy’s description had been apt. He would have been a decent looking guy, if not for the fact that his eyes were simply two pools of glowing blue, and his long hair shifted from dark green to black depending on how the light hit it. It looked a bit like seaweed.

 

It felt kind of like being heavily drugged. One time, Dean unwisely combined painkillers, whiskey, and pot that had been laced with something he was unaware of, and it felt like this. Like his brains had been taken out and replaced by cotton candy, and if he let go of the earth he might float away. At that time, when he had a couple of broken ribs and no angel friend to heal them, it was weirdly enjoyable. Now, it was the worst feeling in the world. Did this thing have some kind of hypnotizing power? Or something that left his victims in a stupor?

 

He was leading him towards the water. Dean had a billion questions, and an equal number of insults for this asshole, but he had no ability to speak. His loss of bodily autonomy was complete.

 

Of course this made him furious. The thought that this was the last experience of so many kids, this terror of this helplessness, made Dean feel incandescent with rage. Did this asshole think it was going to be that easy to kill him? He was bigger and more willful than his usual victims, and that had to count for something. But he would be an easy kill if he didn’t figure out how to get some control back. So Dean tried to focus on feeling his right hand. That worked when he was stoned out of his gourd.

 

By the time Dean could feel the chill of the water hit his ankles, he could just about feel his fingers. Couldn’t move any, but this was a process. By the time the water was chilling his knees, he was pretty sure he moved his pinkie. Okay, twitched it, but it still counted.

 

Dean had not thought the water would be so cold, but it was, and he thought maybe that was helping him. It was shocking some of the hypnosis – magnetism, whatever the hell it was – right out of his system. Well, that and his tremendous tolerance for controlled substances. Might not tell Sam about that last bit.

 

Submerged in the water, Dean could feel his hand even more, and began trying to move his fingers. It was a little like his hand had fallen asleep, it felt both numb and slightly alien, but he thought he was getting there.

 

They were waist deep in the water when the guy -  thing – beside him changed. It wasn’t gradual; it was abrupt and instantaneous. One second he was still a dude, and the next he was a fucking horse. Dean would have laughed at the absurdity if the water hadn’t started swirling around them like a personal whirlpool.

 

It was a relatively small horse, black as coal, with fiery blue eyes, and a green-black mane that looked like seaweed. Dean seriously wanted to ask it what the hell it was, but still couldn’t use his vocal chords. His left hand seemed to be plastered to the side of the horse and stuck there, as if by glue. Magnetic horse?

 

The water was up to his shoulders when Dean realized he could move the fingers of his right hand. They still felt numb, and it was still way harder than it should have been, but he’d take it. He blindly moved his hand all the way into his coat, and he grasped the handle of his silver knife as the horse pulled him under.

 

Beneath the surface, it took on a different shape. It was almost an anaconda now, or some kind of mutated mermaid, with an elongated face that looked like it was melting, and a gaping maw full of small, jagged teeth. It wrapped around him, and threatened to squeeze out what air was left in his lungs as Dean shoved the knife into its body and twisted.

 

It shrieked, a high pitched noise actually audible beneath the water, and caused him physical pain, like his eardrums might burst. But considering he was also drowning, burst eardrums didn’t seem so bad. Dean could only hope that, if he died, he was taking this fucker with him.

 

**

 

Sam had a terrible feeling, so he didn’t even try to look for the cave Dean found. He headed straight for the water.

 

Once Sam hit the shore, shedding his backpack and his coat, he was afraid he was too late. The water was peaceful, a beautiful mirror of the postcard perfect reddish-orange sunset. He felt a twinge in his gut as he considered the possibility that it was all over, then he saw the ripples, a frantic whirlpool of movement maybe twenty feet from shore. That had been Sam’s rule about finding Dean since they were both kids: make for the disturbance. Dean was usually at the center of it.

 

Sam waded out before he dove, shocked by how cold the water was, and by a terrible noise that he could only hear when his head was beneath the water. What the hell was that? Sounded like an animalistic scream, but why he couldn’t hear it above the water was anyone’s guess.

 

Seeing underwater was iffy at the best of times, but Sam could feel the disturbance, a roiling under the water that wanted to shove him back, until it all went distressingly calm, The water was darker here too, with more of a greenish tint. He saw something roughly human shaped in front of him, as well as … something else. Hard to say what. All Sam had was a fleeting glimpse of movement. For some reason, he thought it might have been the biggest eel he had ever seen, but that made no sense. There were no eels in these waters.

 

Sam grasped the figure ahead of him, feeling the leather of Dean’s jacket, and pulled them up to the surface. He broke it gasping, hoping the beast didn’t attack right this second. It didn’t, but Dean was totally limp. Unconscious or dead? He couldn’t tell.

 

It was difficult to swim back to shore, dragging Dean and keeping an eye out for sneak attack, but Sam managed, cursing Dean out the whole way. “If you’re dead, I’m gonna kick your ass.” It was probably the most Dean thing he had ever said to anyone. He was glad Dean was too knocked out to hear it.

 

Once on shore, Sam turned Dean on his side, and gave him a couple of hard pats on the back. He knew if he wasn’t breathing he’d have to do CPR, and back slaps helped no drowning victim, but it made Sam feel better.

 

It was then he heard that weird noise again, a sort of low screeching, and looked out into the water to see something that looked like it had sprung whole cloth from a David Cronenberg nightmare. It appeared to be half a horse, with the other half sort of melted, turning into something gelatinous, translucent, and liquid. It still flopped flaccidly, like something terrible had happened to that side of its body but it was trying to shift form anyway. Its mouth gaped wide, showing off teeth that were both small and sharp and huge and square, and they oozed out of pale gums like pebbles through an oversized sieve. Something green and cloudy dripped off what was left of its chin.

 

Sam pulled out his gun, the one with the silver bullets, and briefly wondered where its heart was before simply firing at what passed for a torso on its distorted body. After shot three, it turned completely gelatinous and seemed to explode, splattering all over the water. He was pretty sure it was dead.

 

Dean was coughing by now, having spit out a couple of mouthfuls of water, and his first words were so predictable, Sam wish he’d bet on them, “Son of a bitch,” Dean said, pushing himself up to his knees.

 

“It was a horse?” Sam asked.

 

“It was a guy, then it was a horse,” Dean said, trying to catch his breath. He had something greenish smeared on his face and his shirt, and Sam figured it must have been the blood of that … thing. Whatever it was. “And then in the water it was kind of a snake thing.” Dean wiped the water off his face, and some of the blood, but not all of it. “What the fuck was that?”

 

“I … I have no idea. You okay?”

 

Dean sat on the shore, looking out at the water. “I’m alive. I guess I should count that as a win. Thanks, by the way.”

 

“You weren’t getting out of the Apocalypse that easy.”

 

“Probably not.”

 

They sat there for a couple more minutes, mostly watching to make sure it didn’t crawl out of the water like a horror movie villain, but it didn’t. It was nice to know silver killed all shapeshifters, even if they shifted into inexplicable forms. By the time they were shivering and aware of how bad the water made them smell, they went back to the motel to clean up.

 

While Dean was changing, Sam called Bobby and told him what had happened. He waited until Sam told him the whole thing before he said anything. “Are you two idjits on mushrooms?”

 

“Bobby –“

 

“You’re describing nonsense.”

 

“Normally I’d agree with you, but it almost drowned Dean, and I’m pretty sure the half-melted thing in the water is going to be in my nightmares for a while. That was messed up.”

 

“Are you sure you didn’t drink ayahuasca and fall asleep watching The Thing?”

 

Sam sighed, rolling his eyes in spite of the fact that Bobby couldn’t see it. “You can’t find anything in lore even close to it?”

 

There was a thud as Bobby tossed a book on his desk, and said, with weary irritation, “What am I looking for? Water horse? Land shark?”

 

“Anything. I want to make sure this thing is dead before we move on. There have been enough dead kids.”

 

That quieted Bobby, as he knew it would. The reason they came here, in spite of the possibility they’d be facing a demon lord they couldn’t fight, was the dead kids. All deaths were bad; dead children was another level of hell.

 

“I’ll call you back if I find anything,” Bobby said. Sam never doubted that.

 

**

 

There were times when Sam really envied Dean. Such as now. After being almost drowned by a shapeshifting monstrosity, he went to bed and was asleep within five minutes, as if nothing had ever gone wrong. Sam tried to sleep, but every time he started to drift off, the half-melted horse came back into his mind, and it woke him up. Technically it wasn’t the worst thing he had ever seen, although it was close. It was just not what he ever expected to see. Being caught off guard, even in his weird life, was difficult, and always made an impression.

 

After an hour of trying and failing to get to sleep, Sam got up and decided to get to work. There was no reason he couldn’t do some more research, and he might as well do some if getting sleep was out of the question. He felt like he had exhausted his avenues, but maybe not. Better than trying and failing to get some rest.

 

He’d just opened up his laptop when he heard a strange noise. It took Sam a moment to realize it was the water pipes knocking in the walls. That happened in a few old places, and this motel looked like it had better years.

 

Then the knocking started getting aggressive, and loud. Loud enough that Dean actually woke from his corpse like sleep to lift his head and mutter, “Would ya get the damn door already?”

 

Sam set his laptop aside, as he realized the noise was mostly coming from the bathroom. “It’s not the door.”

 

Finally, Dean sat up, and glanced at the bathroom. The knocking was not only louder, but it sounded like stuff was falling from the walls. Sam wasn’t sure there was anything in there that could fall down. “Does it sound like something’s busting through?” Dean asked.

 

Sam was about to agree, when the bathroom was suddenly full of the sound of breaking porcelain and twisting metal, and a huge gout of water fountained up into the bathroom ceiling and splashed out into the main room. Sam got spattered with some as he scrambled off his bed.

 

“Did our toilet just explode?” Dean asked. Sam felt it was a rhetorical question, since it was obvious that had just happened.

 

There was a horrible noise, somewhere between a horse’s whinny and a human scream, and suddenly there was a horse beast in their bathroom doorway. There was no other way for Sam to describe it, because it was so insane, it was kind of hard to mentally grasp.

 

It had a horse head, with a long face and a mouth full of square teeth, and a rough equine body shape, until you got to the legs. Where the legs should have been were an obscene tangle of semi-translucent tentacles, all wriggling like the world’s angriest snakes. Sam wasn’t sure how it was standing, or how it could even move in a coherent manner, but as he watched, its mouth gaped open beyond the capabilities of any rigid skeleton, and the teeth started changing shape, growing thicker and longer. Its eyes were not all blue, but all red, suggesting this was a different one entirely. This was like something out of Naked Lunch, only somehow worse because it was actually happening in front of him, and Sam knew he wasn’t tripping balls.

 

When the gunshots rang out, Sam jumped, as he wasn’t expecting it on top of the monsterous screaming, and he was almost hypnotized by the thing. But Dean, although he was only dressed in his underwear, and his hair was comically messy, already had his gun and was emptying a clip into it. Sam saw impacts, saw bullets hit its face and splatter green blood over the walls of the bathroom. It shook Sam a little bit out of his trance … and that’s what it was. A trance. How the hell had that happened?

 

“Aim for the heart,” Sam shouted, looking for his own gun. Where the hell was it?

 

“Where’s the heart?” Dean shouted back. He was pumping silver bullets into what existed of the torso, but it seemed to make no difference. It occurred to Sam then that, as a shapeshifter this bizarre, it could probably shift its own internal organs around.

 

“Goddamn it,” Sam said. He finally found his bag and reached for it, but that was when one of the beast’s tentacles grabbed the bed frame and threw it.

 

Sam ducked and it missed him, but the entire bed slammed into Dean and threw him against the window, which shattered on impact. “Dean!”

 

There was no response, but it was possible he didn’t hear him. Just because Dean went through the window didn’t mean he was shredded to ribbons. How many windows had they been thrown through/jumped through in their lives? Too damn many. But it hadn’t killed them yet. He had to hope that was still true.

 

Sam pulled out his gun and fired blindly at the thing, crawling back as it advanced into the room, its flailing tentacles coming close enough to flick water on him. He remembered Dean saying he felt mind controlled as soon as the thing touched him, and Sam was sure that was true of this beast. And since it was bigger than the one at the inlet had been, and Sam felt hypnotized watching the thing, he bet that condition was even worse with this one.

 

Sam ran out of real estate and bullets at almost the exact same time. He was backed up against Dean’s bed, which seemed to be more solidly attached to the floor than his had been, And his gun clicked empty as a tentacle slapped the carpet near his leg. It was bleeding green all over the place, as they had ventilated it impressively, but somehow never hit its heart. Where the hell was it? What hadn’t they shot? One of its eyes was even missing.

 

One of the tentacles grabbed Sam by the ankle, and his conscious immediately narrowed to a pinprick. It was like a heavy black fog suddenly filled his mind, and it was crushing him from the inside out. Sam was aware it was dragging him closer, but he could do nothing to stop it. His body was no longer responding to whatever meager demands his compressing brain could spit out.

 

Gunfire erupted again, this time sending broken teeth as well as misted green blood flying, and the thing released Sam as it backed up under the fusillade of bullets. Dean had come back, bleeding from about a dozen different cuts, mostly on his chest and legs, but judging from the look on his face, that had only pissed him off more.

 

Sam still felt brain fogged, but he could move of his own accord, which was something. “Shoot the tentacles,” he shouted. It was about the only parts of the thing they hadn’t shot. If its heart was anywhere, it was in one of them.

 

Yes, the tentacles were still angry snakes, whipping around the floor like they were all trying to leave by different exits, but Dean had always been a dead shot. If he made up his mind about a target, he could usually hit it. With a deep scowl that was half concentration, half rage, Dean started blasting those tentacles right off the horse beast’s body.

 

Its scream went up another painful octave, and it started retreating back into the flooded bathroom. Dean knew a good thing when he saw it and followed, keeping a good distance but still picking off tentacles like he could win a prize for doing it.

 

The thing was down to three tentacles when Dean shot the farthest one, and the horse beast suddenly turned translucent and exploded, splattering clear gelatinous chunks and goopy green blood everywhere. “What the fuck ..?” Dean exclaimed, wiping goo off his face.

 

Sam felt his head completely clear, and was grateful for it. “I told you that’s what happened to the one in the water.”

 

“Yeah, but I thought you were making that up.”

 

Sam scowled at him, but then noticed Dean was also bleeding from the face. He actually had quite a few glass cuts, and it looked like he still had some shards in his hair. But none of it looked serious, just annoying. Which was good, because Sam had no idea how they would explain it to an emergency room doctor.

 

They were quiet for a long moment, surveying the damage. “You okay?” Dean asked.

 

Sam nodded, finally standing up. “Fine.” He knew better than to ask Dean how he was, because he already knew he’d lie, and it was easier to pretend it was asked and answered.

 

“The manager is never going to believe we didn’t do this to the room, is he?”

 

“Oh hell no.”

 

“Shit.” Dean said it like a sigh through his teeth, a near hiss of disappointment. On the bright side, the credit card company would be footing the bill, not them. But it was kind of the principal of the thing.

 

They had gotten dressed, and they were packing up the car when Sam saw a man suddenly appear out of the corner of his eye and nearly jumped a foot. But it was just Castiel, arriving after all the fun had been had.

 

Cas took one look at Dean’s cut, bloody face, and his eyes narrowed in concerned. “What happened?”

 

Dean gestured back at their motel room, where the door was still open, and water was still spurting like a fountain in the bathroom. “Good news: not Beelzebub. But I haven’t a fucking clue what it was. Exploding horse goop monster.”

 

“There’s no such thing as an exploding horse goop monster,” Cas said, looking into their room. After a moment, he made a noise that Sam took to mean he was surprised by something.

 

“What?” Sam asked.

 

“It is – was – a kelpie.” Cas stepped out of the doorway, and Dean leaned in, like there might be something new to see. Sam couldn’t imagine there was, but Cas took that moment to touch Dean’s forehead, and heal all his cuts.

 

“What the hell’s that?” Dean asked. He gave Cas a little nod for healing him. Sam always tried to ignore that Dean and Cas had their own private language of looks, nods, and gestures, but they totally did. He figured Cas would readily admit it, but Dean would deny it, because that was Dean. Considering Cas had pulled Dean out of Hell, they were bound to have a closer relationship, but for some stupid reason, it made Dean self-conscious.

 

“Water demons.”

 

Dean raised his eyebrows in disbelief, and Sam didn’t blame him. “Those weren’t demons, Cas.”

 

“They were, just not the kind you’re familiar with. These are a prehistoric offshoot of more modern demons, proto demons, who consume souls rather than occupy vessels.”

 

“Modern demons?” Sam repeated. It was a curious choice of words, since modern in this context meant a few million years old. But Cas was a few million years old, although that concept blew his mind when he thought about it. Why would a million year old cosmic being pal around with them? Sam couldn’t wrap his head around it. How were they not insects to him? Maybe they were, and he was simply the kindest angel to ever exist, capturing and releasing the Winchester moths before they burned themselves to death in the candle flames.

 

Cas shrugged. “I realize they don’t seem very modern.”

 

Dean pointed at the translucent pile of goop, which was all that was left of the current kelpie. “How the hell are there prehistoric demons we’ve never heard of attacking us in our motel room?”

 

“That’s actually a very good question. They’re extinct.”

 

Dean stared at him, clearly waiting for Cas to say more, but he didn’t. Dean shot Sam an impatient glance, but he could only shrug. Cas wasn’t always the most verbose being they’d ever encountered. “No, Cas, they’re not, because we’ve killed two already.”

 

“Which is impossible.”

 

“And yet, there’s dead kelpie goop everywhere.”

 

“It’s not goop, It’s their natural form.” Cas said patiently. “They don’t have a bony structure, so their shape is quite malleable until they mature-”

 

Sam could see the snit building in Dean – and hell, it wasn’t like he didn’t sympathize – but Sam decided to spare all of them an outburst. “Could Lucifer have done this?” Sam interrupted. “Brought them back?”

 

Cas cocked his head, as he did whenever he was considering something he thought was unusual. “It’s possible. But why would he?”

 

“Because he’s a big bag of dicks?” Dean suggested. That was going to be Sam’s response too, so he simply nodded.

 

Cas considered that, head still cocked to the side. After a long moment, he said, “That does sound like him.”

 

Dean threw his hands up, but Sam thought he should be grateful for a straight answer. Cas wasn’t always big on giving them. “Kelpies live mostly in water, yes?” At Cas’s nod, Sam continued. “We tracked them to an inlet. Will you come with us and make sure we got them all?”

 

He dipped his head. “Of course.”

 

“So you can smite them?” Dean asked, just making sure.

 

Cas actually rolled his eyes, and looked so much like Dean doing it, Sam had to swallow back a laugh. “Of course I can. They’re still demons.”

 

“Then how come silver takes them out?”

 

“Because physically, they have more in common with shapeshifters than with what demons are now.”

 

“Ah.” Dean shot Sam a look that silently asked ‘what’, but all Sam could do was shrug. He’d be the last to claim he understood all of this. But right now Sam didn’t care. He just wanted to make sure all these things were dead, so they stopped killing kids.

 

But first they needed to get out of here before the motel manager found out what happened to their room. Even an angel couldn’t help them with that.