Characters: Dean, Sam
Rating: PG-13 for language and mature scenes
Spoilers: This story is set in Season 1, overlapping the ending of 1X12, “Faith.”
Summary: While Dean struggles to keep his head in the game after being healed, Sam works to come to grips with John's purposeful distance. The last thing they need is to run sideways of two brothers hunting for buried pirate treasure...
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. Story title from Bad Company album of the same name.
Sam chalked it up to instinct. To knowing his partner. To living in each other’s pocket for more years than they probably wanted to think about.
Whatever the reason, when Dean rounded the corner of the mess hall and met his harried gaze, all tension drained from his body and he suddenly remembered what it felt like to be whole and confident, ready to charge into battle, ready to win.
“Sam,” Dean breathed, his eyes sparking light that Sam hadn’t seen since before the rawhead.
Sam had left the greenhouse with Kenny, knowing only that he had to find Dean, needed to talk to him, needed to tell him he got it. He understood. He hadn’t paused at the bunkhouse, and didn’t veer toward the garage. With a blind faith, he made a beeline for the mess hall, Kenny trotting along beside him, working to keep up with his long stride.
“You, uh, get hungry?” Dean’s eyes darted to Kenny, then back to Sam. Buried in the green, Sam saw the echoed it’s all good reply to his telegraphed I’m sorry, man.
“I could eat,” Sam nodded, stepping away from his smaller companion to stride up to the hot-plate laden table of food in step with his brother. “I gotta talk to you,” he said from the corner of his mouth.
“Ditto,” Dean nodded curtly. “Not here, though.”
“Need to eat,” Dean hushed him. “Load up.”
Taking him seriously, Sam began to pile breakfast food on his plate, turning when he reached the end of the line to find Joshua staring at him.
“Oh,” Sam squeaked. “Hi, Joshua.”
Joshua looked from Sam’s plate to Dean’s, his lips quirking in wry amusement. Though nearly four inches shorter, Dean could eat and drink Sam under the table. His muscular build just seemed to burn more calories in less time than Sam’s lanky build. Therefore Sam was unsurprised to see Dean with a full plate in each hand, one balanced on top of a coffee mug, his utensils in his mouth like a dog bone.
“Hi boys,” Joshua replied. “Let’s… chat.”
Sam exchanged a quick look with Dean, then trailed Joshua to a table on the far side of the mess hall. Following Dean’s lead, Sam started eating, figuring Joshua would get to his point sooner or later.
“Talked to Shep just now,” Joshua said. “You two got something you’re planning?”
Dean shook his head, his mouth full of fried potatoes.
“’Cause if you are, you can tell me.”
Sam nodded, making quick work of a crispy piece of bacon.
“We’ve got this covered,” Joshua assured them. “I’m leaving in a few minutes to head to that Yuki tribe, get them squared away.”
“Gonna get that pouch, Josh?” Dean asked, stabbing a sausage with his fork, and chewing off the end.
Joshua blinked, but nodded. “That’s the plan.”
“’Cause you know we’re—check that, I’m—screwed without those ashes.”
Sam swallowed his scrambled eggs, staring at his brother who in turn was eyeing Joshua with cool eyes. Information from Kenny’s leads and questions about whatever Dean was talking about spun into a rope of need to know inside of Sam’s head.
“I got it, Dean.” Joshua sat back, his chin down, his eyes careful.
“Just so we’re clear,” Dean said, sipping his black coffee, never taking his eyes from Joshua.
“You just… heal up, Dean,” Joshua admonished. “When this thing goes down, you need to be in good shape.”
“I’m good, Josh,” Dean said, no longer shoveling food into his mouth, his hand tented over the top of his coffee mug.
Joshua looked hard at Dean and Sam was reminded with a swift jolt of John. If he didn’t know better, he’d expect the next words out of Joshua’s mouth to be not sure I like your tone, son.
“You just… stay away from the garage, Dean,” Joshua all-but ordered. “Like I said… we have this covered.”
“Sam?” Joshua slid his eyes to Sam, jolting him with the sudden attention.
“Gotcha. No garage.”
“I’ll find you when I get back,” Joshua said. His eyes flicked over Dean, taking in the tension in his shoulders, the hand hovering carefully at his right side. “Head back by Ben in the med tent to check out your sutures before you go lay down.”
“Will do,” Dean nodded, sipping more coffee as Joshua rose to his feet. He looked at both brothers for a moment longer, then with a nod, turned and left the mess hall.
“You get enough?” Dean asked Sam, his eyes on the door closing behind Joshua.
“Yeah, sure.” Sam stacked his plate on top of Dean’s and stood, ready to drop them in the wash tray.
“Good. Let’s go,” Dean stood, pausing for a moment to press a protective hand against his side, then straightening.
Sam dumped the dishes, then returned to his brother. “Where are we heading?”
“The garage,” Dean replied under his breath as they made their way past Kenny at his own table.
“Dean,” Sam protested, following his brother outside. “You just told Joshua you wouldn’t go there!”
Dean shot him an irritated look. “How long have you known me?”
It was cool outside, but the rain had stopped. Sunlight was turning the damp world to crystal, defeating small hidden pockets of fog and kneading warm fingers into their stiff muscles. Sam had already slipped his cable-knit back on, but pulled the zipper up as he kept in step with Dean, warding off the chill the shadows of the buildings tossed his way.
Dean slipped along the backside of the mess hall, his body crouched, his steps quick. Sam followed, keeping his attention split between the eyes of the camp and his brother’s figure. He didn’t want to think about what might happen if Dean fell, if his wounds opened, if he injured himself further. Not only would they have some explaining to do, but Dean’s internal claustrophobia would probably reach epic proportions.
Sam skidded to a stop when Dean reached out a hand, peering around the corner of the building. Turning back to face Sam, he held up a fist, then quick as lightening signed that Sam should veer left, Dean right, and flank the opposite building wrapping around to the front and slipping into the back of the garage.
Nodding his understanding, Sam watched Dean slip around the corner. In moments, they were once again next to each other, backs to the wall, shoulder to shoulder, dragging in quick pants for breath.
“You okay?” Sam whispered.
“Just… need to catch… my breath,” Dean allowed.
Sam saw that he was pale beneath a soft scuff of beard and the hand pressed against his side had a visible tremble. When he straightened away from the wall, however, Sam saw none of the defeat or weakness of the past several days lingering in Dean’s eyes. He had a purpose, and it was driving him forward like no amount of rest had been able to.
“In the back of the garage,” Dean said, voice barely audible, “there’s a lime-green Charger.”
Sam had his eyes on Dean’s mouth, reading his lips as best he could, working to calm his racing heart. He nodded when Dean paused.
“We get in there, you’re gonna have to hotwire,” Dean shook his head once, “I can’t bend down that far.”
Sam nodded again, then, “You got any idea where we’re going?”
“After the Guileys,” Dean replied. “You get something from Kenny the cop?”
“Only that his thin lead is about a mile wide,” Sam replied, watching as his brother’s eyes dropped to his own mouth, taking in his words. “They just don’t know those guys like we do is all.”
Dean tilted his head. “Not sure that’s something I want on my resume.”
“Emerson wants that treasure—all of it,” Sam continued, leaning closer to Dean as his words spilled rapidly. “I think he’s gonna pawn what he took, use the money for a way to go back.”
“And he’s not waiting on Christmas this time ‘round.” Dean faced the door, tugging softly on the padlock, then patted his borrowed pockets. “Damn.”
“Maybe if you had a key,” came a voice to their right.
Both brothers jerked in surprise and Dean cursed.
“Kenny?” Sam squeaked.
Leaning a shoulder against the side of the building, Kenny held out a single key. “I hope you let your brother here play the poker hustles, Sam,” Kenny said, wry amusement coloring his voice. “When I showed you that blurry photo from the security camera in Laughlin, you look like someone had lit your hair on fire.”
Dean tossed Sam a sideways glance. Sam shrugged helplessly, then returned his focus to Kenny.
“You gonna tell Joshua?” Sam asked, ignoring the way Dean’s shoulders tightened at the thought.
Kenny lifted an eyebrow. “He’s half-way to the swap meet by now. ‘Sides… think I want him knowing you two ghostbusters showed up twenty years of cop work?”
Sam looked at the ground, then glance back up. “It was a lucky break,” he offered.
“Yeah, well,” Kenny shouldered Dean gently aside, unlocking the door, and shoving the hanger door open wide enough to get the Charger out.
“You got the key for the car, too?” Dean asked hopefully.
“Nothing’s that easy,” Kenny replied.
Sam tried the driver’s side door, surprised to find it unlocked, then slipped inside. As Dean and Kenny stood watch on the passenger side, he leaned under the dash and pulled the wires free.
“Damn,” Dean muttered once more.
Kenny tsked his tongue against his teeth. “And you call yourselves professionals.” He pulled a small pocket knife from his jeans and handed it to Sam.
When the Charger caught and roared to life, Dean nodded his thanks at Kenny, then ducked into the car. Sam backed out of the garage and rotated the wheel hard left to face the nose of the car toward the road. As they drove away, Sam caught sight of Kenny pulling the door shut and locking it once more. No sneaking back in.
Dean rolled down his window, filling the car with a rush of crisp air. Sam looked over, concerned.
“I’m okay,” Dean said softly. “Just… just drive for a bit, Sam.”
Sam nodded, years of living on the road reorienting him to the direction of the highway. Kenny had said the photo was taken day before yesterday in a pawn shop downtown Laughlin, Nevada. One of Kenny’s contacts had faxed it over. The face had been unidentifiable, but the arm snaking out to scoop the small display of pearls back into a brown bag had borne an unmistakable tattoo. Sam knew he’d not forget Emerson Guiley’s intricate ink for awhile.
“Kenny said that the pawn shop owner still had the pearls—about half a dozen.”
“How many did they grab from the ship, do you think?”
Sam shook his head, working back over that hellish night, those last few moments. Dean sagging in his arms, Emerson lighting the map… “Couldn’t have been much more. I’m betting he pawned half there and was heading to a nearby town for the rest.”
“Makes sense,” Dean said, slouching a bit in the seat. “You know how to get to Laughlin?”
“I’ll figure it out,” Sam said, eyes catching on a gas station sign. “We have any money?”
Dean nodded, digging into the pocket of his denim jacket and pulling out a credit card. Sam took it, glancing at the name.
“Dude, did you snake this from Kenny?”
Dean shook his head. “He handed it to me. When you were under the dash.”
“Huh,” Sam muttered, pulling off. “You hungry?”
“No,” Dean said, his voice practically a moan.
“Need some aspirin?”
“Yes,” Dean closed his eyes.
“Be right back.”
Sam scrambled from the car, found the gas tank and filled it, then jogged into the station. He felt like his heart beat in time with an invisible ticking clock and time was running out. He’d forgotten all about his disappointment of John’s absence, his frustration with Dean for not going slow, his melancholy for his California past. They had a lead, a hunt; they had a job to do.
And at the end of the day, Sam was a Winchester.
He paid for his items and jogged back to the car, startling Dean when he opened the door.
“Aspirin,” Sam tossed him a bottle of ibuprofen, “coffee,” he grinned at the look of adoration Dean shot the steaming cup, “and… pie.”
“Sam, you are a god among men,” Dean sighed happily.
“Also? I got a map.”
“To Laughlin!” Dean held his coffee up as a salute to the windshield.
“To Laughlin,” Sam echoed. “Need music?”
They looked at the dash, then at each other. Sam bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.
“Dude,” Dean looked back at the dash in horror. “What kind of… of freak doesn’t have a radio in his car?”
Sam shifted to drive, pulling back onto I-40. “I could sing.”
“Please don’t,” Dean muttered, sipping his coffee.
After a beat, he began telling Sam the story of the curse as he’d heard it from Shep. Sam listened quietly, then shared with him Kenny’s observations about the Guileys.
“It’s Mack,” Sam finished. “Mack was the one with the agenda.”
“What?” Dean looked over at him, surprised. “Emerson is the one that’s all gung-ho for treasure.”
“But Mack is the one that wanted to get to the pirates in the first place,” Sam reminded him. “And… you reminded me of something.”
“What?” Dean drew out the word, caution hanging on each letter.
“When we were trying to get off that ship… it was crazy, chaotic. And you were so… all I could think about was getting you free of them,” Sam swallowed, registering for a moment that he hadn’t yet achieved that goal. “Right before the ship rolled—“
“It rolled?” Dean repeated, his voice foggy with disjointed memory.
Sam nodded. “And we all, like… slid to the edge. But right before that, Dreadlocks looked at Mack and he… he said something.”
“What did he say?”
Sam lifted a brow and glanced askance at Dean. “Really?”
“Right, Spanish,” Dean nodded. “But you think it was something important enough… that Mack wants to… I don’t know… go back?”
Sam tipped his fingers up on the steering wheel. “I dunno. All I can think about is that he just… he came alive out there. Weird, totally detached from reality… but alive.”
“Eh,” Dean shook his head. “I still think it’s Mr. All About the Benjamins Guiley.”
“We’ll see, I guess.”
They road in comfortable silence for miles. Sam had almost forgotten how quickly being on the road relaxed his brother. After a bit, Dean put the empty coffee cup on the floor of the car and leaned his head back, the cool air teasing the tips of his short hair and blowing Sam’s across his cheeks.
It wasn’t until Dean started to twitch that Sam realized his brother had fallen asleep. At first it was a small tremor of his hands, a reflexive reaching out. He began to struggle, subtly then with building strength.
Worried that he was going to hurt himself with no medical help nearby, Sam reached out carefully, gingerly touching Dean’s left forearm. Dean moved so fast Sam barely had time to draw a breath. Without apparent concern for his wounds, Dean launched at Sam, one hand on Sam’s throat, the other fisted in his hair, jerking his head back.
“Shit!” Sam exclaimed, slamming his foot awkwardly on the brake, the car swerving dangerously to the middle line. “Dean! Wake up!”
He felt Dean’s hand relax on his throat a fraction and he managed to pull to the side of the road, stopping the car in a cloud of gravel dust.
“Dean… Dean, hey, it’s me, okay? It’s Sammy.”
Dean was panting, but, Sam saw, coming back to himself. He released his grip, almost sliding down Sam’s side to slump wearily in the seat next to him.
“Oh, Jesus, Sammy…” He rubbed a hand over his sweat-covered face. “Man… I’m… I didn’t—“
“It’s okay,” Sam said, rubbing his throat. “Are you okay? Did you tear anything?”
Dean cradled his side, moving slowly back to his side of the car. “No… I’m okay.”
“That was a bad one.”
Dean nodded, his throat bobbing. “We… uh,” he looked around. “We didn’t…”
“Everything’s okay, Dean,” Sam reassured him, his heart hitching tightly in his chest at the lost look on his brother’s face. “We’re almost to Laughlin. We’ll get these two bastards, get the pearls, get rid of these ghosts.”
Dean nodded, rubbing the sweat from his face. “You think the Indians made the map, Sam?”
“What?” Sam asked, startled, thrown by the question.
“The map… it… it got out somehow… and there are bodies… so many freakin’ bodies…”
“People who followed the map,” Sam nodded. “Well, unless one of the pirates, y’know… escaped.”
Dean shook his head helplessly as Sam pulled back onto the road. “People are crazy, Sam. Even ancient people.”
“Kenny said something like that,” Sam replied softly. “Said he couldn’t believe how evil people could be to each other.”
Dean rested his elbow on the window sill and leaned his face into the wind. “They don’t even know what real evil is…”
Sam looked at his brother, feeling the fragile sorrow return, clinging to Dean as if he’d just walked through a cobweb of it. “I’m not sure about that,” he said softly.
They passed a sign welcoming them to Nevada and Sam kept his eyes open for mile markers to Laughlin. The sun was starting to angle itself low in his rear-view mirror.
“Hey Sam,” Dean spoke up suddenly, his face still in the wind. Sam realized it was to keep himself awake.
“You ever think about the fact that Dad woulda been just a few years older than me when Mom died?”
Sam blinked. “Uh, no, actually. Dad was always just… y’know, Dad.”
“These guys—back at Joshua’s camp—they have me thinking…” Dean leaned against the seat, arching his back and holding his side, trying to get comfortable. “Dad really wanted to come, y’know? When he said it to me, that night… he believed it.”
“So what changed?” Sam said, bitterness sneaking out before he could toss his net of disinterest over it.
Dean shook his head, fingers rubbing idly along the seam of his jeans. “Maybe it was just that… he’d taken his second chance already. He’d taken it and turned it into a… mission. A vendetta. And he wrapped us up in that.”
Dean paused and Sam heard him swallow.
“It had to have been damn hard on him, y’know?”
“Maybe,” Sam allowed, taking the exit for Laughlin. “I guess it’s hard to feel sorry for him. I mean… where’s our second chance?” He looked at his brother when they paused at a stop light.
Dean returned his look and the rays of the setting sun caught his expression with such stark honesty that Sam felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
“I think this is it,” Dean said, his fingers flicking back and forth in the space between them. “Us. Doing the job. Together. I think this is our second chance.”
Sam blinked. You know what it’s like to have a partner, don’t you kid?
“Dean, I… I’m not…” he swallowed, feeling heat behind his eyes.
Someone that goes into battle with you, no questions asked. That has your back. Someone who puts their life in your hands, willingly, and you do the same.
How did he tell his brother that this wasn’t the life he wanted, wasn’t the life he was meant to lead? That he wanted to go back to the way it was. Find Dad, get the demon, avenge Jessica, and be done with it. Dean sat waiting, looking at him, heart exposed in a rare moment of truth, and Sam felt his skin ripple, shivering around him as he tried to crawl back inside himself.
He turned away. “I’m not sure which way the pawn shop is.”
The sun fell behind the horizon, dropping twilight upon them with a heavy hand. Dean turned in the seat, his wall firmly back in place. And Sam felt cold and lonely.
“There’s a gas station,” Dean said, his voice neutral, natural. “Let’s go ask.”
It took Sam several hours to regroup. He followed Dean inside the pawn shop, listened as his brother worked his silver-tongued magic on the shop owner and used Kenny’s credit card to buy back the six large pearls. They found out that the shop owner had sent them toward Bullhead City, ten miles down the road, not able to buy-out the Guiley’s entire stash. They headed out, Sam once more at the wheel.
“Kenny’s gonna have to report this card stolen,” Sam commented as they crossed into Bullhead City. “Only way we’ll be able to pay him back.”
“I think he kinda figured as much when he handed it over,” Dean said. “There—Martin’s Pawn Shop. See it?”
“I see it.”
“Think they’ll still be there?” Dean mused.
“Not with our luck,” Sam sighed.
They parked the Charger and exited, slamming the doors in unison as they made their way across the nearly-empty parking lot, one streetlamp tossing a white cone of light down on the business and attracting every errant moth in Nevada. As Sam put his hand on the door of the shop, they heard it.
The unmistakable sounds of a flesh hitting flesh, grunts, cries of pain, and curses of anger.
Dean shot Sam a look. “You think?”
“One way to find out.”
They headed down the block, rounding a corner into a dusty, garbage-strewn alley littered with green trash dumpsters, cardboard boxes, and newspapers. Toward the middle of the grungy alley, four figures alternately stood and staggered in the gathering darkness, the streetlight only serving to cast threatening shadows on the wall.
“Son of a bitch,” Dean muttered.
“We’re not gonna be able to fight their way out of this one,” Sam said, finding Emerson’s pale hair in the middle of the melee, but unable to locate Mack.
“We’re not gonna be able to fight at all,” Dean growled. Sam saw him hold his right arm tight against his side. “Hell, we don’t even have our weapons.”
Sam looked from Dean to the melee in the alley, then back. Dean was looking down the block, chewing on his lip.
“I got an idea.”
He’d made anonymous calls to the police before. It was often times one of the last things they did in a hunt. It never got any easier, calling the cops for help. This time was no different.
He hung up the pay phone and twirled a finger to Sam, signaling that he should pull the Charger around to the back of the alley. He hurried as quickly as his body allowed, joining his brother as they waited for the cavalry.
“What’d you tell them?” Sam whispered.
“That the pawn shop was being robbed at gunpoint.”
He grimaced with each crack of skin, shuddered when he heard a bone snap and had to bite his lip to not call out as the echoing scream of pain reverberated between the alley walls. When the bwwoop of the police siren finally sounded, Dean thought he was going to throw up. It was simply not in him to stand aside while the weaker are punished by the stronger.
Or, in this case, the stronger in number.
The cop’s voice boomed through the bullhorn and three bodies scrambled away while one crumpled to the ground. Dean nodded at Sam and as the cops exited their vehicle to chase the runners, the brothers darted quickly into the shadows of the alley, lifted Emerson by his shoulders and belt and shuffled him to the backseat of the waiting Charger.
“Is he conscious?” Dean asked, instinctively sliding behind the wheel and leaving the scene to hide the car somewhere the cops wouldn’t immediately look.
“Barely,” Sam said from the back seat. “Looks like a broken nose… hand, fingers…”
Emerson cried out as Sam’s hands skipped over his side.
“Ger’offa me,” Emerson pushed Sam’s hand away, then immediately gasped in pain.
“Hey,” Dean shot back over the seat. “Where’s your brother?”
“Dunno,” Emerson groaned.
“Is he back in that alley?” Sam tried.
“No,” Emerson rolled his head against the seat. Blood from his face smeared the seat cushion beneath him.
“Is he alive?”
“Dunno,” Emerson whispered, then tried to curl in on himself. “Bastard left me.”
“He left you?” Sam replied, leaning over the front seat and digging through the glove box, coming up empty. “Dean pull over. I need to look in the trunk.”
Dean nodded tightly, slipping into the back of a used car lot and shutting down the engine. Sam hopped out and waited until Dean smacked the release button on the dash before he lifted the trunk.
“Anything?” Dean called.
“Paydirt,” Sam replied, closing the trunk and coming back around with a briefcase-sized first aid kit.
Dean turned carefully in the front seat and watched Sam carefully clean up Emerson’s face. The kid was shaking. Dean shrugged painfully out of his denim jacket, handing it to Sam to drape over Emerson and keep him warm.
“Think you can swallow some aspirin?” Sam asked.
Emerson’s nod was almost imperceptible. Sam eased him up carefully and helped him with the meds, then helped him lay back down, his head propped to the side so that he could breathe.
“We can’t take him to a hospital,” Dean said, regret pulling at his statement.
Sam shook his head. “Those cops would be on us like lightning.”
“Emerson,” Dean spoke up. “You think you can handle a ride?”
“Whatever,” he muttered. “Doesn’t much matter anymore.”
Dean swallowed, hating himself for his timing, but needing to know. “Dude, uh… I gotta ask…” he looked at Sam, then back down at the wounded kid. “Do you have the rest of those pearls?”
After a pause the felt to Dean like twenty years had passed, Emerson nodded. “Never even got a chance to go in…”
“Emerson,” Sam said, wrapping Emerson’s swollen fingers with medical tape, immobilizing the bones. “What were those guys after?”
Emerson tried to open his eyes, succeeding with one. The other was swollen shut, the skin shiny and bruised. “They thought I was… y’know… being my own private Idaho.”
Dean raised an eyebrow. “They thought you were hustling? Why?”
Emerson’s chin trembled and the brother’s exchanged a horrified glance.
“’Cause I… I didn’t know what else to do,” Emerson whispered. “I wasn’t gonna go through with it! I was… I was just gonna take their money and run. Mack took what we got from Laughlin when he left. I…”
“Why didn’t you just pawn the pearls?” Sam exclaimed.
“Do you know how hard that was the first time?” Emerson bleated. “That fat guy in Laughlin barely gave me what one was worth, let alone six…”
“So, when you didn’t… go through with it…” Dean prompted.
“They beat the shit outta me, yeah,” Emerson’s voice was hard, but the undercurrent of terror and shame tugged at Dean’s heart.
“Where did Mack go?” Sam pressed.
Emerson shook his head helplessly. “I don’t know. Home, maybe? He hasn’t said a word since we left you at that camp. Stopped eating… just… just stared at me. He was really freaking me out.”
Sam began to tape up Emerson’s ribs, trying to at least offer some support before they headed back to the camp. Emerson stopped talking as Sam worked, holding his breath against the pain and groaning when Sam touched a particularly sore spot. Dean watched quietly.
There had been a number of times his brother had taped him up after a rough hunt or a bar fight, but Dean had usually been too hazy from pain or liquor to appreciate Sam’s precision and gentle touch. As he watched, he smiled.
“Think you missed your calling, man,” he said softly.
“What? Tape man?”
“Doctor,” Dean said. He grinned wider. “What’s that saying? First kill all the lawyers?”
Sam chuckled. “Yeah, no one wants to off a doc, right?”
“Glad you two are having such fun at my expense,” Emerson growled.
“Ah, there’s the biting wit we missed,” Sam muttered, finishing his tape job and pulling Emerson’s blood-stained shirt down. “You wanna lie down or sit up?”
“I don’t wanna fuckin’ move, that’s what,” Emerson said softly.
“You ready?” Sam looked at Dean.
“As I’ll ever be,” Dean replied. “Get the pearls first, though.”
Emerson’s sigh was nasally, but he handed Sam the bag of pearls tucked into the lining of his jacket. Sam hefted them, then returned to the front seat.
“You sure you’re good to drive?” Sam asked.
“It’s better than falling asleep,” Dean confessed.
They pulled out of the car lot and back to the main road, heading for I-40. This time the silence was weighted with questions and saturated with the painful breaths coming from the back seat.
“How’d you guys find me?”
“We’re professionals,” Sam replied.
Dean bit the inside of his cheek.
“What took you so long, then?”
“Well, there was a little matter of a bullet hole,” Dean reminded him, glancing up in the rear-view mirror.
“What makes you think Mack went back home?” Sam asked.
“’Cause I—“ Emerson paused as if the words jumbled up in his throat, choking off his larynx.
They waited a moment, then Dean encouraged, “You… what?”
“I told him,” Emerson continued, his voice so choked it made Dean’s eyes burn. “I told him what happened to our dad.”
Sam shot a look at Dean, then half turned in the front seat to look back at Emerson. “What happened to your dad?”
“Man, I so need to be drunk to tell you this.”
“Believe me,” Dean replied. “You do not want to drink alcohol with a broken nose. One hiccup and it’s all she wrote.”
“I’ve got some water,” Sam offered.
“Gee, thanks, Jesus,” Emerson retorted. “I’m sure that’ll work just fine.”
“Hey,” Sam protested.
“You don’t want to tell us? Fine,” Dean carried on. “But here’s the deal, wise guy. We’re going back to the camp to get you fixed up, but you’ve got a pair of cops on your tail. You’re wanted for murder, hotshot.”
“Your dad,” Sam supplied.
“What?” Emerson’s voice squeaked high, turning him even younger in Dean’s perception.
“Yeah, murder,” Dean continued. “So I’d start pulling Mr. Nice Guy back outta your ass if you want any help with the cops. Otherwise…” Dean shrugged.
Emerson was silent for a moment. “Why’d you want the pearls?”
“To break the curse,” the brother’s said together.
“Curse? You mean those freakin’ pirates? Does it even matter anymore?”
“Yes,” Dean replied while Sam nodded.
They drove in silence for awhile longer. Long enough for Sam to turn around and get comfortable on the seat beside him. Long enough for Dean’s arm to start aching from holding the steering wheel and the throb in his side to work its way up to his teeth. Long enough for his blinks to lengthen and the soft whisper of voices from his dreams to breathe across his ear.
“My mom was killed by a hit-and-run driver,” Emerson said suddenly.
Sam jerked in surprise and Dean’s eyes darted to the rear-view mirror, then back to the road. Neither of them said a word, waiting.
“They never caught the guy—the only evidence they had was what Mack saw and some… some silver paint transfer or whatever. He drove off and left them all tangled up in the car. She… she might’ve lived. Least that’s what I always thought. She might’ve lived if someone had found them sooner.”
Dean swallowed, unable to keep the image of Mary from his mind. Mary smiling at him, Mary apologizing to Sam, Mary giving over to the pillar of fire and saving her sons.
“Dad, uh… he lost it. He was never the same. And Mack, I mean, you know how messed up he was. Stopped talking altogether. Never gave the cops anything to go on for the crash. So I started making sure we had food and money. Bet you never figured that, didja?” Emerson half-laughed, then drew in his breath sharply before continuing. “Dad started keeping that journal. Most of it was about how he was going to make it up to Mom or how he was going to get back to her or some shit.”
Emerson shifted and Dean heard him groan.
“The night my dad died… I, uh, I found something out. I’d started following him a lot. Just, y’know, to make sure he got where he was going, got home, all that. He wasn’t just a drunk… he, well. You get the idea. That night… I followed him to Mom’s grave and then he goes to this junkyard.”
Dean shivered, a pit of realization growing in his stomach.
“There’s this silver car there, front end all mashed up, and Dad goes over to it and just… just sits there. Behind the wheel. And cries. It took me a minute but… well, the only evidence had been silver paint transfer.”
“Oh, man,” Sam breathed, still not turning around.
The air inside the car seemed to tighten, and Dean had to work to draw a breath.
“That night… the night that Dad died,” Emerson continued, his voice thin and reedy like it was leaking through flattened lips, “I was heading out. Had a date. Cate Driscoll. She had a thing for tat’s, y’know the type?”
Dean felt his mouth tug into an automatic, roguish grin. “Yeah.”
He caught Sam shooting him an incredulous glance out of the corner of his eyes and sobered, clearing his throat. “Go on, man.”
“This ain’t easy, y’know,” Emerson shot back, his voice trembling.
Dean looked up at him in the rear-view mirror, the highway lights casting an odd gray-blue glow on the unfamiliar interior of the car. Emerson was looking out of the passenger side window, his jaw clenched so tightly that Dean could see the muscle bunched along the line of his cheek.
They waited, the quiet pressing around them, until Emerson spoke again.
“I had a bike—old-school Harley. I’d been keeping it under a tarp in the shed where Pop kept all his tools. Saws, drills, clamps, the whole nine. He used to be big into home improvement shit. I didn’t want Mack or Pop to see the bike… mainly because… well, it’s wasn’t really mine.”
“We get it,” Sam said. “Go on.”
“I was rolling the tarp off when Pop comes in. Dude was three sheets easy. Coulda lit the air around him on fire. He was rambling about how I was… I was gonna tell… I didn’t even realize he’d seen me at that junkyard, y’know? I hadn’t really made up my mind what I was going to do… but, y’know, looking back? I wouldn’t have told.”
Dean nodded, finding himself agreeing with Emerson’s line of thinking. Sam looked at him sharply, a strange light in his eyes. Dean returned his attention to the road as a mile marker for Needles passed.
“He came at me. I coulda taken him, easy. ‘Specially messed up as he was. But… he was Pop, y’know? I told him to calm down. Chill out. That we needed to figure this out, but…” Emerson stopped again, and Dean felt the tears in the younger man’s voice as keenly as if they were spilling down his own face. “He was talking about Mom and this treasure and… just talking crazy. I just started screaming at him to shut the hell up and I think… I think I went a little crazy, too. I started throwing things. Tools. Hell, stuff I didn’t even recognize. And then I saw Mack. He was kinda… tucked into the corner of the shed—across the room from us.”
“So… he did see—“
“No,” Emerson interrupted Sam. “He couldn’t see anything really clearly from there. I just… I saw his hair. And I started toward him—to get him out of there. I was just… I was pissed. Pop was between him and me and he yelled something at me. I couldn’t tell you what it was. It’s like… like everything gets blurry and mushed up in my head after I saw Mack.”
For a moment, the only sound in the car was the deep rumble of the engine and the hum of rubber on road. Dean swallowed, darting a glance first at Sam, then up to the rear-view mirror.
“Emerson,” he said, the kid’s name sounding strange in his voice, as if it were too big to fit the battered image in the mirror. “Did you kill your dad?”
“No,” Emerson whispered, tears thick in his choked voice. “I’m a son of a bitch. I know that. I have done some stupid shit in my life. And… I don’t really blame Mack for leaving. I treated him like… like everything was his fault. Like he was a freak.”
Sam shifted on the seat beside Dean.
“But I couldn’t… I couldn’t kill Pop. He was a bastard, but… he was all we had, y’know?”
“What happened, then?” Sam pressed, his voice hedging on frantic need.
“When yelled at me, all I could think was to shut him up, that Mack would hear. I started to scream over him, calling him names, telling him I hated him. I never saw the saw blade.”
Dean closed his eyes quickly, seeing it coming.
“It was… sticking out of the floor… like some giant Chinese throwing star,” Emerson choked out. “I-I… don’t know if he ever saw Mack. He just… he lunged for me, and I shoved him away and he… he kinda turned and stumbled back and fell… I thought at first it cut his head off. He made this like… gurgle sound… and blood kinda… sprayed out all over. It… it smelled. I didn’t know blood could smell so bad.”
Dean readjusted the grip on the wheel, the throb in his side almost to the point of full-on pain. He was breathing shallowly, Emerson’s destroyed voice suppressing the air in the car to the point of suffocation. Sam rolled down his window part-way. Dean almost hugged him for it.
“His body was… was like bucking, like it was trying to throw itself off… and then he just kinda… stopped.”
“What happened then?” Dean asked carefully.
Emerson was quiet for a moment. Behind them, the sky had started to bruise with the light of morning. Dean pressed the accelerator, suddenly anxious to be back at camp.
“I found Mack—he was like…curled up with his head down and his arms over his eyes—and I dragged him out of there. He never… he never said anything about it. Not once. Not until…”
“Until the desert,” Sam filled in.
“Yeah,” Emerson replied. “I guess… somehow it got all twisted up in his head. He thought Pop was coming after him or something.”
“What makes you think he went back home, then?” Dean asked, puzzled. “If I were him… I’d never go back home.”
“’Cause I… I told him about… about the car, and Mom, and he said that he was going back to where he belonged. Kid says nothing for days and then he hits me with that. Next thing I know, I’m alone and broke.”
As the sun filled the rear-view mirror, Dean exchanged a glance with Sam, understanding passing between them.
“I don’t think he went home, kid,” Dean said, turning down the gravel road that lead to Joshua’s camp. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as they got closer, causing him to instinctively slow down.
“What do you mean?” Emerson asked.
“Hold on,” Dean muttered, peering down the road, trying to get a better view. “Something’s wrong, Sam.”
“Sure you’re not just worried about the car?” Sam asked.
Dean shook his head. “It’s too quiet.”
Sam rolled his window down the rest of the way, pulling his sweater over his hands to ward off the crisp air. “You’re right.”
In all of their walks—rain or shine—there had always been a low background hum of activity, people, lives being lived. Dean heard none of that now as they approached. His body switched to autopilot.
“I’m hiding the car here,” he said, his voice clipped. “Emerson, you stay.”
“No,” Dean bit out. “You stay with this car. Do not get out until we come back for you. Do you get me?”
Emerson’s one eye looked from Dean to Sam and back. He nodded carefully, pulling Dean’s denim jacket closer to him. “Roll the window up when you leave, okay?”
Dean nodded, pulling the car as far off the road as he could so that it couldn’t be seen by the casual observer. Sam was almost to the road by the time he was able to get out, his body stiffening up almost to the point of paralysis after the long drive. He forced himself upright, curling his hand into a fist as he drew in a sharp breath of cold morning air.
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered through clenched teeth. His wounds may be healing, but they were taking their sweet time. Pushing away from the car, Dean staggered through the underbrush to join Sam.
“You okay?” Sam asked.
They walked slowly down the road, Sam shortening his stride to match Dean’s, keeping his body close enough to grab, but not actually touching Dean. It had become a familiar rhythm in the days following their arrival at camp and they fell back into it easily.
“You think cops?”
“Yep,” Dean replied.
“Fantastic,” Sam sighed as they rounded the corner, the mess hall to their left, the helicopter parked and quiet in the distance, the med tent to their right. Standing in what Joshua called Camp Square—the open area of land that basically brought the half-dozen buildings together—was Kenny, Shep, Ben, two other men Dean didn’t recognize, and the detectives from the hospital. The unmarked police cruiser was parked near the helicopter.
Shep saw them first. “Ah, the prodigals return.”
“Morning,” Sam raised a hand.
No one else spoke until they reached the group. The detectives eyed the brothers with cool eyes, their mouths set in grim lines of purpose.
“Starsky, Hutch,” Dean nodded at each of them.
“It’s Hanson,” Hanson growled. “Detective Hanson. And this is Detective Andrews.”
Dean lifted a shoulder, dropping his chin in an abbreviated nod. “My mistake. You out here collecting for the Policeman’s Ball?”
Hanson’s lip curled in a snarl. “We don’t have balls.”
Blinking, his face carefully blank, Dean turned to Sam. “I honestly have no response to that.”
“The, uh, detectives are out here to ask some more questions about the fugitives,” Kenny supplied.
“Have you had any contact with the Guiley brothers, Mr. Remington?” Detective Andrews addressed Sam.
Dean had never bothered to ask what name they’d given at the hospital. He pressed his lips together, glancing at the dusty toe of his boot to keep himself from chuckling.
“Since the last time you asked me that question?” Sam replied. “No.”
“We have it under good authority that the Guileys never left California,” Hanson pressed.
“Then maybe you should be out looking for them instead of here bothering these guys,” Dean replied.
Hanson advanced on him. Dean felt his back muscles tighten up, but he didn’t back up.
“Listen,” Hanson spat, anger turning the edges of his lips white. “I’m getting pretty tired of you trying to trivialize police work.”
“Seems like you’re doing a bang up job of that all on your own,” Dean returned. “Why are you here, anyway?”
He wanted to ask how they’d found this camp—it seemed to be fairly off the radar to him—but for all he knew, Joshua’s nameless camp for Vets was well-known in Needles, California. The thought of Joshua gave him pause; he looked from Hanson to the group of men then back. Joshua’s absence was troubling.
“Make no mistake,” Hanson growled, not answering Dean. “I will find Emerson Guiley. And when I do, he will be arrested for the murder of Rob Guiley. And anyone that harbors him? Will be arrested as accomplices.”
“Accomplices?” Sam broke in, causing Hanson to turn from Dean. “You sure about that? Maybe… obstructing justice, but… accomplices?”
A vein in Hanson’s forehead pulsed as he glared at Sam.
“My brother, the lawyer.” Dean smiled proudly.
“Hanson,” Andrews called, reigning her partner back in. “We got what we came for.”
Hanson glared at Sam. “We’ll be back.”
Sam simply lifted an eyebrow. Hanson looked at Dean who tilted his head casually, an open invitation to say something else. He looked back at the group of men gathered in the Camp Square.
“Hanson,” Andrews called again, this time reaching out to tug on his arm. “Come on.”
They backed to their navy-blue cruiser, got in, and pulled away. The group waited until the taillights had completely receded before turning to face each other.
“Well, that was fun,” Shep sighed. “Think they’re ever going to give up?”
“Not until they find them,” Kenny grumbled. “They ain’t bad cops, those two. Just have a lot of shit to wade through before they get to the truth.”
“Which, it just so happens, we heard,” Dean said, the throb in his side beating a harsh echo at the base of his skull.
“You found them, didn’t you?” Kenny asked.
“One of them,” Sam replied.
“We have an idea where the other one went,” Dean continued. “Where’s Joshua?”
Shep and Kenny exchanged a look. “We’ve got a problem,” Kenny replied.
“He didn’t get to the Indians?” Sam asked and Dean wrapped his arms around his chest, feeling himself begin to shiver from the inside out.
“Oh, he did,” Shep replied. “Turns out they remember all too well the Spanish pirates that massacred their people. They’ve been betrayed one too many times to just help out of the kindness of their hearts.”
“Son of a bitch,” Dean kicked at the ground. “I knew it! I knew we’d wasted too much time.” He felt himself sway slightly, odd-shaped dots gathering at the corners of his eyes. One hand went to the back of his neck and he began to rub the tight muscle there.
“They are willing to make a trade, however.”
“A trade?” Sam looked at Shep, disbelief in his voice.
“They’ll give us the pouch, but…” Shep looked at Kenny, then down at the ground, an indistinct emotion cutting off his voice.
“What?” Dean pressed, feeling his knees begin to quake. He locked them, tightening his muscles, keeping himself upright through will.
“They won’t let us have Joshua back until they have the pearls.”
“Joshua’s still there?”
Before they could answer, Dean felt the world tip sideways and he tumbled into Sam’s shoulder.
“Whoa,” he muttered, blinking.
Sam gripped him and Ben stepped forward. “Back to the med tent for you,” Ben ordered.
“Wait,” Dean lifted a hand, twisting it in Sam’s sweater. “Emerson.”
“We’ll get him,” Kenny said.
“We left him,” Dean pushed out through rapidly numbing lips. “Back at the car.”
“Where’s the car?”
“Down the road half a klick,” Sam replied, “south side of the road. He’s beat up pretty bad.”
Dean turned to compliment Sam on his lingo when his knees gave way and he found himself on the ground, the palm of his hand stinging from impact.
“Dean,” Ben knelt in front of him, a finger tucked under his chin, lifting his face. “Your color looks like shit. When did you eat last?”
“Yesterday morning,” Sam answered, crouching next to Ben.
“Don’t want to sleep,” Dean shook his head decisively, trying to make his tongue obey. It felt suddenly too big for his mouth.
“Nightmares,” Sam answered when Ben waited for more of an explanation. “They’re…”
Ben nodded, cutting Sam off. “Dean,” he gripped Dean’s good shoulder with a strong hand. “If I could guarantee you no dreams, would you sleep?”
Dean tried to push Ben’s hand away. He wanted to stand up. To walk away. To gear up. “No,” he said as forcefully as he could.
“Dean!” Ben all-but shouted. He cupped Dean’s face, his fingers curling behind his ears, and forced Dean to meet his eyes. “Stop fighting me. Listen! I know from nightmares, okay? I know. You want to be in this fight?”
Dean felt trapped and tried to pull away, but he lacked the strength. He felt Sam’s hand on his back, warm, strong. He stared back at Ben.
“You want to be in this fight?” Ben asked again, more gently.
Dean nodded and Ben released his head. He sank back against Sam, his brother’s arm a brace for his hollow body.
“Then you need to sleep,” Ben continued. “And if they won’t leave you alone,” Ben narrowed his eyes pinning Dean with his gaze and pointing to Dean’s temple, “then we’ll just have to hide you from them for a while.”
“You can do that?” Dean rasped.
Ben grinned, then nodded at him. “You bet your ass I can.”
Part C (FINAL part) can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/58160.html>