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Always (Never) There

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They can’t see it. You hope they can but they can’t. They’re blind in comparison to you, and in this world of blind men, you’re the king because you’re the only one who can see.

“Looks like a regular haunting,” Sam flicks through the papers of missing people, gruesome deaths. All of them are located near a lake on the outskirts of town.

“So what, someone died in the lake?” you tap your fingers against the wheel in time to the music. “Drowned and now they’re killing people? There isn’t going to be a body is there?”

Sam turns over a page, “Joanne Box, 24, went missing last Thursday while camping at the camp site half a mile from the lake. Thomas Newman, 54, body found washed up downstream. Cause of death, drowning. Later that same day a kid goes missing, Joel Walters, 5,” he nods. “This is definitely our sort of thing.”

“I told you,” you smirk. “Three people do not just up and at ‘em within a week of each other near the same lake.” You roll the car off the main road and towards the nearest motel. “Let’s crash and tomorrow we can check the dead one out. Then we need to find the ghost.”

“But if there’s no body what do we do?” Sam dropped the page he was still peering at. “I mean… Bobby might know some purification rituals to try and cleanse the lake, but it might not destroy whatever is holding the spirit here.”

You wish this could have been the clear cut salt and burn you wanted. It’s what you need after all the crappy monsters that have shown up lately. There was a werewolf last week during the new moon and you and Sam had to try and gank a chimera. They haven’t yet figured out that Eve is dead and that they should go back to their usual schedules.

In comparison you’d rather deal with demons or ghosts, but the demons turned tail and ran after a soul powered angel ran around, and the ghost just aren’t a’haunting.

You park the car in the first motel you find, "You up for the hunt?" you check with Sam as he shuffles the paper into the semblance of a pile.

"Course," Sam shrugs.

"Really?" you raise an eyebrow, "How's your head?" you ask, poking at it. Sam bats your hand away with a pout. "No, seriously," you tell him, "Don't poke at that wall. You don't want it to break or--"
"I'm fine," Sam stresses, "I mean, I'm here, aren't I? The wall hasn't broken yet?"

You want to point out the 'yet' in that sentence, but Sam's looking huffy.

“Go get us a room,” Sam ditches you in the car, grabbing the bag with his laptop and notes in as he heads off, “I’ll grab food.”

“Dude – don’t forget the pie!” you shout after him as he slams the door on you.

The motel is better than the crap holes you usually stay in, and actually looks clean for once. There’s a pretty girl at reception. “Two singles,” you smile charmingly at the lady at the counter. She looks bored but at seeing a new customer cheers up, as she rings you up a room and hands you the key.

“Meeting someone?” she asks, looking for the other person that you’re sharing the room with.

“My brother,” you tell her. “He’s gone to pick up food.”

She smiles, “Room 13, down the hall and turn left. Enjoy your stay.”

You give her a beaming smile and head towards the room. Once in you dump the duffle on the chair and set up the salt across the windows. You’re about to start salting the door when Sam enters with food.

“Did you get the pie?” you demand, pausing to close the door behind him before salting it.

“Of course,” Sam pulls out the box. Delicious smells are wafting from it and you grab it and a plastic fork and dig in. Sam sticks to his salad, and you wish that he’d been health conscious as a teenager. If so, he might not have grown so tall.

You phone Bobby, to see if it's possible to purify a lake.

He sounds confused, "Why are you asking?"

"Got a potential lake ghost. I don't know, we've yet to hit up the books, but wanted to know if it's possible to purify the lake, since the body would probably be at the bottom of it?"

"Are you hunting?" Bobby asks. It's more like a demand though. Your silence is his answer, "Dammit, boy, you shouldn't be hunting, not in your state."

"I'm fine," you say, trying to work out why Bobby sounds so cautious around you, like you're broken glass or something that might break if he knocks you too hard, "It's not a hard hunt, we'll be fine. Do you want me to swing by afterwards to prove I'm in one piece?"

There's a long pause, "How are you doing, boy? Do you want me to send you up some help?"

"I told you," you said, "This hunt will be a piece of cake. I'm fine, Bobby. Why wouldn't I be? How are you, Bobby?"

"Dean--" Bobby says, then stops, voice breaking. You're angry suddenly. Because you're not breakable, you're fine, you just want to hunt with Sam, can't Bobby let him have that--

"I'm not the one whose gonna break if I remember a few Hell memories, Bobby," you snap. You have, after all, done Hell before.

Sam hasn't.

"That wasn't… Dean…" Bobby seems even more at loss for words.

"I'll swing by in a day or so," you say, harsh and yet you don't care. You hang up on him, turning to Sam who is frowning at you. "He's treating me like I'm this breakable piece of fine china," you tell him.

"He's just worried," Sam placates you, but you shake your head.

"And I'm worried too, " you tell him, "About demons and angels and Cas still isn't answering his phone, but I'm not the one with a thousand years of Hell memories behind a wall in my head!"

Sam sighs, "I'm not going to poke the wall, Dean."

"You better not," you wave a finger at him, and his lips twitch. You want to tell him it's not funny, that the very thought of what could happen is sending you into cold sweats and making you feel sick but it's okay. It's okay, nothing is wrong.

Sam's fine.

 

You crash for the night and are woken up by Sam throwing his pillow at you in the morning. “Rise and shine, sleeping beauty,” Sam grins, pulling on his suit for the day’s questioning.

“Going to kiss me awake, princess?” you shoot back blearily.

“Actually if you’re sleeping, that makes you the princess. I’m the handsome dashing prince,” Sam ducks the pillow you toss back at him and you flop back down on your bed. Now though, you’re without your pillow and your head hits the mattress.

 “Where’s this brother of yours?” the girl at reception asks as you leave to go and ask questions, fancy monkey suit and all. Sam’s already at the car, loading the duffels.

“You must have missed him,” you tell her, “He can be sneaky sometimes, for a six foot three Sasquatch.”

 

The first person you talk to is the mother of the child. She’s distraught and in tears, and you know that she isn’t going to see her kid again. “He was just playing… down by the lake. I took my eyes off him for a minute…”

“And did you notice any cold spots?” you ask her.

She stares at you quizzically. “It’s November,” she says eventually. “Of course it’s going to be cold…”

“We meant… any condensing breath… or odd smells… like sulphur for instance?”

She’s had enough though and waves away Sam’s questioning. “Listen I can’t… it’s been twenty-four hours already. Just… do something…”

“Of course ma’am,” Sam says, and he’s so polite it’s amusing as you thank her, and leave her to grieve in peace.

Next stop is visiting the body in the morgue. It’s ripped up, as if an animal (or angry ghost) clawed into it. The man’s skin and face is bloated from being under water for so long.

Sam squints, face level with the body. “What’s this?” he looks into the gash wounds, cleaned out and they would look almost surgical if it wasn’t for the jagged cut.

You peer closer and grab a pair of tweezers. You stick them in and dig around until you find what Sam spotted. It’s a piece of weed, probably from the lake.

“Ghostly pond monster,” you grin up at Sam. “So it’s definitely a lake thing.”

That’s when you hit the books, looking into violent deaths in the lake. There were four back in 2001 when they were thinking of turning the lake into some amusement park, but when the project got called off the killings stopped. Other than a miracle rescue for a seven year old drowning there is nothing of interest.

Sam’s staring off into the distance. “If the thing only kills when the lake’s threatened, then what’s threatening it now?”

Both realising it at the same time you bolt for the car and drive straight to that deceptively calm blue lake. You scanned EMF that morning but came up blank. It doesn’t mean it’s not a ghost though.

You’re too late though, and there is already another death. A construction crew is sitting on the far bank, and one poor sap eating lunch near the water got clawed up on the shore. His friends found him.

Once again there is pond weed in the claw marks.

The body is clean of EMF, suggesting it isn’t a ghost. Instead you dig into the construction crews business being there, going to the manager of the site.

“Me and my partner wanted to ask you some questions about the lake,” you tell the guy.

He peers behind you. “Partner?” he asks, frowning.

You look around. You could have sworn that Sam was right behind you. “Or not,” You sigh, “Just me then.” You wonder where Sam’s got to, but he’s probably following up some weird lead.

It turns out he is, when you exit an hour later realising why the violent deaths and disappearances have started up. He’s back at the motel paging through Dad’s journal.

“So get this,” you say at the same time. He stops, and gestures. “You first…”

“Whatever’s in that lake is pissed because they’re draining it next month. They’re going to turn it into housing or some crap.”

Sam grins, “That matches up… I think it isn’t a ghost at all. It’s a Kelpie.”

“A what?” you grab the book from him, flicking to the page. It’s scribble in, in the rough handwriting you can only decipher because you’re read it so many times, like your own personal bible.

“A water horse,” Sam recites. “Mischievous tricksters in the form of a horse… We didn’t think of it straight away because they usually lure people into bogs. Swamps and marshes, and then lead you to…” he gestures, finishing what happens next.

“So this water horse is usually peaceful? And then when the construction crews begin to move in it fights back? But how does a horse claw someone to death?”

“It’s more like a water spirit. It can take any form. Kelpies usually look like horses but this one is obviously some… green troll under the bridge.”

“And it’s killing in self-defence to protect the lake. Okay. So how do we kill it?”

Sam grabs the journal and points to the end of the entry. “Nice and simple,” he looks at you. “A wooden stake to the heart...”

“Any wooden stake..? Or is it one of those… victim blood ones?”

Sam looks down, “Says here a stake made of evergreen yew. The poison tree… it makes sense.”

“So if you find the tree I’ll find the beast?”

“How about, you find the tree,” Sam stands and grabs his duffel. “And I make sure nobody is hanging around the lake.”

He leaves you staring at the place where he had been sitting. “Okay then,” you say to the empty room as the door closes behind you.

 

The tree is easy enough to find. You shear off three branches and chop it down into stakes with well-practised efficiency. Then you head to the lake. You take the car, wondering how Sam managed to get there without one, but knowing Sam he was probably the sort of person who’d call a taxi.

At the lake it’s dark, the sun having set. The water is deep and shades of grey as you stalk towards it, playing open bait. Sam’s nowhere in sight…

There’s a figure in the distance and you head towards it. As you get closer you see its too short to be Sam. Wasn’t he meant to be clearing the lake edge though?

The young woman is walking her dog. She tosses a stick towards the lake and the dog bounds after it. It throws itself into the dark water and paddles towards the bobbing stick. The waves lap at its head, and then go over, the dog vanishing from sight.

It doesn’t reappear.

You hurry up, while the young woman looks in alarm for her dog. The water is trembling now something threatening to emerge.

Sam was right. It’s not a horse. It doesn’t look remotely like a horse. It looks like a wendigo gone aquatic, with algae and green weed decorating its pale slimy grey limbs.

The woman screams as you jump in front of her, lashing out with the stake. It cuts a reaching hand and the beast flinches back, screeching in anger.

“Run!” you shout at the woman, and she does, not knowing what exactly is going on, but not exactly wanting to stay and find out.

The Kelpie lunches at you, and its form shimmers like water as it crashes into you, dragging you backwards. You feel the water, tugging you down, and for a moment you want to just let it drag you into oblivion.

(But you promised Sam…)

You kick out, wooden stake still in your fist as you plunge it into the beast’s heart.

It shudders, and then its form collapses into water, and it seeps away, back into the lake and you’re floundering there in the shallows, monster dead, holding a wet wooden stake. You regain your footing and spin towards shore, only to see Sam tearing towards you. He slows by the edge, looking at you.

“Dude,” you complain to him, soaking wet and up to your knees in water. “Where were you?”

Sam looks sheepish. “Construction dude wouldn’t leave. Threatened to get me arrested...”

"You did a crappy job of clearing the lake, little bro," you roll your eyes, "Still, Kelpie. That's a new one," you grin.

He laughs and shakes his head, "Come on. Let's clear out, drop by Bobby's so we can reassure him that the princess is in one piece."

"Hey!" you protest, "I slayed the monster, that makes me the prince!"

"Slayed isn't a word," Sam protests.

 

"I slayed a kelpie," you tell Bobby when he opens the door to you a few hours later, "Or maybe it's slewed. Slain? A kelpie was slain?"

"Your poor grammar is giving me a headache," Sam grumbles.

Bobby freezes in the doorway, gaze drifting over you, "Jesus," he says, "Did you drive over here soaking wet?"

Huh. You'd barely noticed. You hope you didn't drip all over the impala.

"You look half dead," Bobby mumbles, "I shouldn't have let you go off after…"

“Going to let us in?” Sam asks, but Bobby’s already holding the door open, hustling you inside.

“Go change out of those clothes, you idjit,” the hunter pushes him towards the couch where they usually crash. “I’ll go get some food… when was the last time you ate?”

It’s only then that you notice you’re hungry, starving in fact. You wrack your mind, trying to think when you last ate. Sam picked something up for you at a truck stop a few miles back but it feels like you haven’t eaten for days. You try to explain that Sam’s been making sure you ate; trying to convert you to salad, but Bobby’s moved over to the kitchen and isn’t listening. Instead you flop down on the sofa and peel off your wet jacket.

“What did you do?” Bobby asks as he comes back from the kitchen, “Drown yourself...?”

You grab the food he thrusts at you and don’t answer immediately, too busy stuffing yourself.

“Jesus boy,” Bobby says again… “Tell me you didn’t try to drown yourself?”

You swallow your mouthful and look at him, “Why would I try and drown myself?” you ask him, grinning.

“You think I’d let him?” Sam asks quietly, sitting down next to you after wandering over from the kitchen.

Bobby opens him mouth and then closes it again, “I meant… well… after Sam… and then Cas… it’s just the sort of thing you’d do.”

You’re not quite sure what he means. Sam’s fine, sitting next to you on the couch and Cass well… he’s still got all that heavenly civil war crap to deal with. The dude's been busy which explains why he's probably not been answering his phone.

“What was the job?” Bobby asks, "You said it was a ghost but kelpie?"

“We thought it was a ghost,” Sam says. “Turns out it wasn’t.” He’s drinking a beer he stole from Bobby’s fridge, avoiding the jars of blood that are kept there.

“Kelpie,” you take another bite of the burger. “Drowning people in a lake... You know what happened?”

“What?” Bobby looks curious, if apprehensive.

“Well Sam goes off to evacuate wandering citizens,” you explain, “And left me to gank the thing. He comes back, dry as a bone, after arguing with the construction crew, and I’m standing there waist deep in water with a wooden stick.”

“It’s was knee deep jerk,” Sam complains.

“Bitch,” you mumble, but it's half muffled by your food. Sam drops down next to you on the sofa and you shuffle over to let him sit down. Bobby's staring at you, looking slightly alarmed.

"Sam?" Bobby asks, slowly fiddling with something in his hands.

"Yeah?" Sam perks up, then turns back to you, "Uh, do you have anymore towels, I think your sofa might need them…"

Bobby doesn't reply.

"Bobby?" you frowns at him, "Can… can we have some more towels?"

Bobby's still staring at him. "We?" he asks, slowly.

"Yeah, Sam and I," you say, "Who else?"

"Sam…" Bobby turns then to look at Sam and back to Dean, then both of them, taking in the whole picture of the pair of you on the sofa like he's seeing you for the first time or something. He lifts up the thing in his hands, and it's then you see what it is.

It's an EMF metre. It's on, and it's humming quietly, but nothing wrong. Nothing screechy. No ghosts. You can't see why it's there, why it's on, why it's…

Bobby's still staring, "Dean," he says, clearing his throat, "Is Sam sitting next to you?"

"Are you kidding?" Sam blurts out. "Bobby, I'm right here!"

"What do you mean?" Dean splutters, "Of course he's sitting right next to me, you can see him, can't you?"

You wait for him to turn to Sam, to laugh it off, to… But he's shaking his head, still looking at you, "Dean," he says, slowly, "There's nobody there."

For a moment there's clarity. For a moment there's Sam seizing on the floor from the force of the memories. For a moment there's nothing, no reason, no point to anything.

But you'd promised Sam you would stay alive, and it's a well known fact that you can't live without your brother.

Then the moment is gone, and you lean forwards, looking at Bobby who is still clutching the EMF metre for some reason.

"Don't be stupid, Bobby," you say, "Sam's right next to me."

"Dean," Bobby says, "Sam died three months ago."