Characters: Dean, Sam
Rating: PG-13 for language
Spoilers: Story takes place immediately after Episode 2.03, Bloodlust. Anything prior to that is fair game.
Summary: Season 2. In the wake of John's death, the boys investigate mysterious drownings on a ferry boat and end up fighting to not be pulled beneath the surface. Previously printed in zine: Roadtrip With My Brother, 7.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
"Charlie Ramsey is dead."
"Yeah, I worked that out on my own, Sam."
"This puts a different spin on things."
Dean cast a quick glance to his right, watching as Sam scratched the side of his head, then twisted his hand in mid-air, spreading his fingers as he talked, a movement of thought Dean had observed in John time and again.
"How do you figure?" Dean asked. "We still have a spirit out there drowning people."
"Yeah, Dean, but," Sam twisted in the seat, leaning toward his brother in his eagerness. "It's not just a spirit… I mean, right? Brad Sanders' body was burned. And there was the spirit that was after Charlie when Dad was here, and now Charlie…"
"We need to talk to Sanders' Mom. Find out what she knows."
"It's late, man. It's dark out."
"I don't know about you, but I don't want to stretch this thing out longer than we have to," Dean grumbled, shivering in his still-damp clothes.
It was hard to get dry when the air that surrounded them was saturated with water… and hard to get warm when he couldn't get dry. Now he knew why his Dad had avoided the Pacific Northwest.
"Why don't we find a place to stay," Sam suggested. "Give us a chance to do some recon of our own."
Dean paused. Another shiver rippled through him.
"Yeah, okay," Dean conceded. "But I get first dibs on the shower."
"Whatever you say." Sam grinned slightly.
They pulled into the first motel they came across, checking in under assumed names, and hauled their bags to the ground floor room. Dean flicked on the light and they paused, surprised, inside the doorway. They'd seen a lot of motels, with varying degrees of interesting décor, but this one easily ranked among the top five on Dean's list of weird.
"It's like Herman Melville's wet dream," Sam muttered.
"Moby Dick," Sam clarified.
"Why didn't you just say so?" Dean grumbled, crossing to one of the aquamarine-covered beds and dropping his bag on top. He heard Sam kick the door shut behind him and immediately started shedding his wet clothes. "So, I say we go find this Sanders woman first thing tomorrow, find out whose bones we have to burn, then kick it."
"Works for me," Sam sighed, dropping onto the bed. "Man, I can't get that woman's voice out of my head."
"Voice?" Dean grabbed a pair of dry boxers and sweats, ready to step out of his clinging jeans. He hadn't been able to stop thinking about Charlie's blue eyes shifting in the picture to pin her father with accusation and desperation in one supernatural glance.
"The… one from the Volvo." Sam looked up. "She… God, she sounded… broken."
Dean looked down. She'd sounded like he'd felt as his father burned. She'd sounded like anyone who had someone taken from them too soon, too suddenly, would sound — whether they were able to voice the cry or not.
"Yeah," he said, turning from Sam to head to the bathroom.
As he let the water heat up, steam gathering around him and easing the frigid ache that had set deep into his bones, he looked at his face in the mirror, at his careful eyes, tight jaw, skin stretched over bone until it looked ready to crack.
I can’t talk about this to Sammy. You know, I got to keep my game face on, but, huh…truth is I’m not handling it very well…
He'd been wrong about Gordon. Wrong about those vampires. Wrong about a lot of things. And if he'd been wrong… maybe Dad had been wrong. Maybe Dad was wrong about Sam, about what Dean might have to do. Maybe he was—
"Hurry up, okay? I think I found something."
Bracing his hand on the sink, Dean dropped his head low, letting his neck muscles pull, stretch, then stepped into the shower stall and invited the harsh water pressure beat on him. The water drove away the last of the outer chill, turning his skin a glowing red and easing the ache in his lower back and neck. It stung the slices on his hand, and he found himself absently watching the blood seep from the still-open cuts, thin out when mixed with the water, and run in pink rivulets down his arm to drip from the end of his elbow.
When he stepped back out into the main room, clad in only a white towel and wrapping fresh gauze around the stinging slices on his hand, he saw Sam hunched over his ever-present laptop.
"What'd you find?"
"Y'know how Ramsey said Charlie wanted to leave?" Sam looked up, his eyes tired but snapping with the thrill of a find.
"I think maybe it was with her boyfriend."
"I thought Brad Sanders was her boyfriend."
"I don't think so. Look," Sam turned the computer screen to face Dean. "I think she wanted to go with this guy."
Dean peered closer at the Local Boy Makes Good story. A fresh-faced kid with a guitar slung over his shoulder and a grin a mile wide stared out of the picture, a cowboy hat pushed back on his head. Dean was almost afraid to look directly at the picture, afraid this one would turn to look at him, too.
"Wyatt Abrams, 23… yadda, yadda, yadda… local singing contest… music contract…" Dean shook his head. "This is great, Sam. What the hell does it have to do with Charlie?"
"Keep reading," Sam prompted.
Dean trailed his eyes down the online article, pausing when his eyes caught on the name Charlene Ramsey who was quoted as saying she'd "believed in him her whole life and knew one day his talent would take them places."
Sam nodded. "Yeah, and get this… Abrams? Is missing. There's an article about how he defaulted on his contract or something because he just never showed up."
"How long ago was this?"
"About two weeks before Sanders died."
Dean ran his fingers across his lips in thought. "We need to talk to Mama Sanders tonight."
"Already on it," Sam said, waving a piece of motel stationary at him. "Address and directions."
"Well, aren't you a friggin' Boy Scout," Dean grinned. "Always prepared."
"Get dressed," Sam instructed.
"Yes?" The face that peered out at them through the half-opened door of the large house was unlined, brown eyes suspicious. She clutched at a red sweater, holding it closed at her neck.
"Agent Kilroy," Dean said, his face set in bored seriousness. He tipped his head back toward Sam. "Agent Shaw. We'd like to ask you a few questions about your son, Brad."
"Can I see some ID?"
In unison, the brothers removed the FBI badges Dean had created some time back, their fingers carefully positioned across the entry for their name, as it changed almost as frequently as their location. When Mrs. Sanders nodded, they pocketed the badges, and Dean stepped back, allowing her to push open the screen door.
"We're sorry about the late hour," Sam started.
"Oh, I don't mind, Agent Shaw," she said, ushering them into a front sitting room, marigold-yellow couch and love seat encased in plastic, and white doilies protecting a mahogany coffee table from the cluster of green candles displayed in the center. "After all the effort it took to get the police to take Brad's case seriously, I'm ready to talk whenever you folks need information."
Dean smiled tightly and eased down on the couch, plastic stretching and creaking beneath him. He didn't dare look at Sam, knowing the grimace on his brother's face would be too big of a temptation for laughter.
"Oh, my," Mrs. Sanders suddenly exclaimed. "You've hurt your hand!"
Dean shot his eyes down and belatedly realized that the wound on his right hand had started seeping again, turning the white gauze red. He looked at the couch and was suddenly thankful for the plastic covering the couch. Jerking his hand away from the seat, he pressed his lips together in a silent curse.
"Sorry about that, ma'am," Dean shook his head, cupping his right hand with his left. "Hazards of the job and all."
He could practically feel Sam roll his eyes beside him.
"Do you need—"
"I'll be okay, thanks," Dean cut her off. "We won't take too much of your time."
Mrs. Sanders' eyes darted from Dean to the small smear of blood on her couch. Clenching her hands into fists at her breast, she raised one finger, then darted through a swinging door behind her.
"You okay?" Sam asked in a low, tense voice.
"Fine," Dean hissed back.
Mrs. Sanders returned and handed Dean a wet paper towel. "If you don't mind," she said.
"Not at all," Dean took the proffered rag and cleaned up the smear of blood, handing it back to her awkwardly. "Uh, thanks…" He offered her another tight smile.
"Brad always liked to keep things neat, you know," she said, smiling a little. "I just… I don't have the heart to let it go even with him… gone."
"Can you tell us anything about how Brad was behaving before he… before the accident?" Sam asked, his voice soft, concerned.
Mrs. Sanders frowned. "How do you mean?"
Dean tipped his head forward, his eyebrows up in his interpretation of encouragement. "You know, leaving at odd hours of the night, maybe acting angry, threatening you—"
"No!" Mrs. Sanders sank quickly to one of the high-backed wicker-padded chairs across from them, a hand at her throat. "My Brad took care of me, he would never…"
"We didn't mean to insinuate anything, ma'am," Sam cut in quickly, trying to reassure her. "We were just wondering — was he seeing anyone?"
"Like… like a girl?"
"Sure, okay," Dean nodded. He felt Sam's foot press hard against his under the coffee table.
"Well," Mrs. Sanders looked over her shoulder at a thin table lined with pictures, then reached out to stroke the side of one that could only be Brad in his high-school graduation robes, grinning out at her. "Now that you mention it… he'd been talking a lot to that Charlie Ramsey."
Dean shared a look with Sam at the tone of distaste laced through Mrs. Sanders' voice.
"Was it serious?"
Mrs. Sanders laughed. "Oh, heaven's no. Charlie wasn't right for my Brad. And besides, everyone knew she was sweet on Wyatt Abrams. Even Brad knew that…"
"But…" Dean encouraged when her voice faded with doubt.
"Well," she looked away from the picture and back toward Dean. "It's just that… all of the other policemen… they never asked about Brad's relationships. I never really thought about it until now. It was always… why would he kill himself or… why wouldn't I accept that…"
Dean felt Sam shift next to him and resisted to urge to look over and check on him. "You don't believe he killed himself."
"No." Her quick denial was vehement.
"How do you think it happened?" Sam asked.
"He was pushed off the ferry."
"In his car?" Dean asked, disbelief plain in his voice.
"Why not?" She challenged. "Drug him, slide the car into neutral, push it off before anyone could see—"
"The autopsy showed no drugs in his system," Sam reminded her.
Mrs. Sanders shot up to her feet, her sweater falling from her shoulders and landing in a pile on the chair behind her. "Well, it's wrong then! I'm telling you that Brad did not kill himself! He wouldn't do that to me! He had everything going for him… to just… to just leave like that… throw it all away without even giving me a chance to…" She pulled in a quick sob, then squared her jaw, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "If it weren't for that slut not giving him the time of day — I mean, who is she to tell Brad that he's not right for her? He's right for anyone! She was lucky that he was even paying—"
She stopped suddenly, red-faced, trembling, and raised uncertain fingers to her lips as if to manually keep further words at bay.
Dean sat very still as she ranted, but could feel Sam tensing to stand next to him.
"Mrs. Sanders," Sam said, breaking the suddenly heavy silence. "Do you know where Charlie Ramsey is?"
"No," she whispered, her voice trembling. "I always assumed she left with Wyatt."
"Wyatt left two weeks before Charlie disappeared," Dean pointed out.
"Well, then she went to meet him!" Mrs. Sanders turned from them and stormed through the swinging door once more.
Dean raised his eyebrows at Sam, who echoed his look. They stood in unison, turning to head to the front door, when Mrs. Sanders blurred back in on the strength of an incensed tirade.
"You listen to me, Agents. My boy was a good boy. He wouldn't have hurt anyone unless he was provoked. And that Charlie Ramsey was a wild kid. She had… tattoos and piercings and her father let her roam with no rules or consequences…" She took a breath and darted her eyes from Sam to Dean. "You find out who killed my son… you find out who took him from me. You do that, and you'll find Charlie Ramsey."
"Let me look at your hand," Sam demanded as they headed back to the car.
"It's fine, Sam."
"You want to get blood on the Impala?" Sam asked casually, biting back a grin as Dean literally stopped walking. "Just let me look, okay? I swear I won't think you're a baby."
Dean sighed, rolling his neck, then shoved his hand out like a petulant child.
"Well, let's get back in the car so I can actually see something," Sam said, grabbing his brother's wrist and hauling him toward the Chevy.
Dean tried to pull away, but Sam used his forward motion to propel them both to the driver's side door. Opening the car, he twisted Dean's wrist in his hand, then pulled him off balance, bouncing Dean's shoulder against the car and shoved him inside.
"Just shove over," Sam commanded, pushing his way into the car so that he sat behind the wheel.
"You're not as smart as you think you are," Dean grumbled quietly, allowing Sam to pull the blood-saturated wrapping from his hand. "I let you get behind the wheel."
"Uh-huh," Sam muttered. "This is pretty bad, Dean. The butterflies aren't closing it up."
"We can take a look at it later."
"Oh, and when would that be?" Sam raised an eyebrow. "When infection makes you too sick to move, or when you pass out from blood loss?"
"Don't be such a drama queen," Dean shook his head, twisting forward and pulling away from Sam's grip. "Just head back to the motel and we'll wrap it up."
Sam sighed, holding his hand out for the keys, which Dean dug out of his pocket, slapping them hard into Sam's palm.
"Want to hear my theory?" Dean offered.
"I think Brad was harassing Charlie, and I think he was going to mess up Wyatt's career. I think Charlie and Wyatt killed him."
"And Charlie is a spirit because…" Sam lifted a brow.
"I wasn't finished," Dean backpedaled.
"Sure, sure," Sam glanced at Dean. "I think you're right about Brad messing with Charlie."
"But not about the killing?"
Sam paused at a stop light and glanced sideways at Dean, frowning slightly at his brother's hunched figure. The only reassuring thing about Dean's weary-looking posture was the constant bounce of his fingers against his leg to a beat audible only in Dean's head.
"I don't know… I don't get the psycho-killer vibe off of Charlie."
Dean glanced back at him. "Not even after the picture deal?"
Sam shook his head, blinking as the red light turned a brilliant green and glared into his eyes. "I guess I just saw more of a… you did this to me… expression on her face."
"What?" Sam asked softly.
"You sure you're not projecting?"
"Projecting?" Sam shook his head, trying to relax his mouth into a grin and failing. "That's it. No more Dr. Phil for you."
"I'm serious, Sam." Dean pushed himself upright in the seat. "This isn’t about Dad."
"Hell, yeah it is," Sam replied sharply. "Everything is," he continued, his voice softening.
Dean was quiet and Sam felt him waiting. Sam might be able to out-stubborn his brother, but no one knew how to use silence as a weapon better than one who usually made the most noise. Shifting his shoulders, Sam glanced out of the side window, then back to the front, seeing the motel sign in the distance.
"There's nothing I can do to make it up to him," Sam tried. "Except do what he'd been trying to get me to do all of his life."
"You got nothing to make up for, Sam," Dean said softly as Sam stopped the car, turning off the engine. "You hear me?"
"You were the one that said it, Dean… I fought with him the last time I saw him," Sam stared hard at the steering wheel. "You were right. And I… I just feel like I need to… I don't know, make him proud, I guess."
"He was proud of you, Sammy," Dean assured him.
Sam cast a look at him. "Yeah?"
"Hell, yeah. It practically rolled off of him," Dean grinned.
"What… what do you think happened?"
"With this case?"
"With Dad," Sam's voice broke, and he lifted burning eyes to Dean. "He was… I mean, I thought he was okay and then… then he's just… gone."
"I don't know, man," Dean whispered, looking away, his jaw working to hide a tremble, his lips twitching as he restrained himself from saying more. Sam knew Dean was holding something back, keeping something from him, but he could feel fragility in the air, the sense that one more push and his brother was going to literally shatter before his eyes.
"I know there was nothing more important to him than finding and killing that demon," Dean said, clearing his throat. "I know that he wouldn't have… wouldn't have gone down without a fight…"
"Unless he didn't have a choice," Sam finished.
They sat in silence another moment, then Sam dropped his eyes to the almost-black haphazard bandage covering his brother's wounded hand.
"Let's go," he said, opening the driver's side door. "Get you fixed up."
"'K," Dean agreed. "Hey, Sam?"
"I think we need to stop checking voicemail on that phone," Dean tossed him a too-casual grin as he headed toward the motel.
Sam saw the echo of pain in his brother's shadowed green eyes. "Yeah… you could be right."
Dean hated stitches.
He hated them almost as much as he hated fevers. But he had both at the moment. Sam had been careful—had only stitched the deepest cuts and had butterflied the rest, applying ointment and fresh wrapping before they both went to bed, but Dean had woken a few hours later chilled, the coarse sheets of the motel bed uncomfortable against his skin. Sure sign of fever.
Careful not to wake Sam, he'd slipped from his bed and swallowed three Tylenol, climbing back into bed and hoping that would be enough to take care of the problem. He opened his eyes to a throbbing hand and joints that ached if he took too deep of a breath. Sam was already in the shower, providing Dean with the perfect cover to rise, dress, and re-bandage his now-swollen hand.
When Sam emerged from the bathroom, Dean was fake-searching the Internet for nothing of particular interest. Just something that kept his flushed face and fever-bright eyes from his ever-observant brother.
"Who are you, and what have you done with my brother?" Sam asked, staring at him.
"I'm studying up on ferry boats," Dean stated.
"Since when do you… study?"
"What? I can't have layers?"
Sam shook his head. "You ready for some coffee?"
"Thought you'd never ask," Dean shut the laptop, hiding the Yahoo home page, and palmed three more Tylenol as he grabbed his jacket. "We're heading back to the ferry, aren't we?"
"Don't see much of a choice," Sam sighed, pulling the motel door shut behind them. "We gotta finish what Dad started… right?"
"You bet your ass," Dean nodded, firing up the Chevy and pulling out of the parking lot, heading for the diner he'd noted on the way to the ferry landing from the police station yesterday.
They walked inside under a ringing bell, sat at the first booth and ordered eggs, toast, and two coffees. Dean sipped the steaming, black beverage, skimming the music selection on the table-top juke box and frowning at the Top 40 Hits displayed there.
"Are you hot?"
Dean smirked, shifting his eyes to Sam. "Now, what kind of question is that?"
"I mean… you just look like… oh, shut up," Sam waved a hand at him, sitting back and looking out of the window.
Dean suppressed a shiver. He needed to keep the fever under control until they figured out this case, got rid of the spirit, stopped people from drowning in their cars. He felt a trickle of sweat snake its way down the side of his face and wiped it away hurriedly.
Their food arrived and Dean stared at the eggs with barely-suppressed horror. Picking up his toast instead, he munched on it slowly.
"So… I think we have to figure out how to check out that car," Sam said around a mouthful of eggs.
"Yeah," Dean nodded. "None of this started until Brad died. There's gotta be something in there."
"Question is… how do we get down there?"
"Hmm," Dean shook his head, dropping his toast and picking up his coffee. "I think I left my scuba gear in my other jacket."
"Yeah, me, too," Sam sighed. "Think we could talk to some of those divers Ramsey said were on the ferry?"
"Be our best bet," Dean nodded. "We never really said anything to him about Charlie being dead, y'know."
"Yeah," Sam nodded. "I been thinking about that… I, uh… I kinda think he already knew."
"You think he killed her?"
"No," Sam shook his head immediately. "He loved her, man. Anyone could see that. No way you could love someone that much and kill them."
Dean licked his lips. "Anything is possible, Sam."
Sam frowned at him, then glanced at his nearly-full plate. "You okay? You haven't eaten a thing."
"Had a big dinner," Dean pushed his plate away. "Let's get going."
"Big dinner?" Sam echoed after him as Dean headed for the diner entrance. "We stole food from the galley!"
Dean let the door shut behind him, breathing in the cool, damp air. He opened the car door and slid inside, waiting as Sam joined him. He threw the car into reverse the minute Sam's door was shut.
"You're working awful hard to hide something," Sam commented dryly. "How long you plan on keeping that up?"
"Long as I have to," Dean replied, knowing Sam couldn't fathom how layered his answer was.
"Dude," Dean tapped his elbow against Sam's ribs. "Isn't that Mrs. Plastic and Doilies?"
"Over there," Dean tipped his chin over the rail outside of The Mystic's passenger cabin to the woman stepping out of an Audi on the upper deck of the ferry. She teetered a bit with the motion from the boat, then steadied herself.
"Hey, yeah," Sam leaned on the rail. "Wonder what she's—"
He stopped when Mrs. Sanders glanced up, directly at them. Sam froze, but saw Dean wave casually. She narrowed her eyes, then headed to the stairs. Passing directly by them, she continued up and stepped into Ramsey's captain's cabin without hesitation. The brothers exchanged a glance, then followed her.
By the time they reached the door, Mrs. Sanders had already lit Ramsey up three ways from Christmas.
"…at my door insinuating that your daughter had something to do with my boy's death! Now, I want to know where she is!"
"Listen, lady," Ramsey bellowed as Dean and Sam stepped through the door. "I don't know where my daughter is, but you can bet your $400 shoes that I wouldn't tell you even if I did! Now get the fuck out of my cabin!"
"I’m going to find out what happened to Brad, Mr. Ramsey," Mrs. Sanders snarled, anger ageing her features faster than time ever could. "And when I do, there will be hell to pay."
With that, she turned, pushed past Sam and Dean, then headed back to her car.
"Hell's my middle name!" Ramsey yelled after her. He shifted his eyes to the brother's.
"So… that went well," Dean commented dryly.
"She didn't come on the ferry before all this happened, and now that this case is re-opened, she thinks she can come in here and bully me. Bully me!"
"She obviously had no affect on you," Dean nodded.
"Damn straight," Ramsey huffed. "What the hell do you want?"
“We want to talk to your divers," Sam said, the man's bluster and red-faced yelling not phasing him in the least. "Need them to take a look around that car for us."
"Sanders' car?" Ramsey looked incredulous.
"That'd be the one," Dean nodded.
"What the hell for?"
"Something about his death started this, man," Dean said, spreading his hands to make his point. Sam saw him flinch and pull his right hand toward him. "They may have pulled Brad's body, up, but they left something down there."
"Something important enough that seven people have died because of it."
Ramsey ran a hand through his shaggy hair. "Fine," he said, turning to his wheel. "Go find Larry and Moe down on the crew deck. Tell them I sent you."
"What… no Curly?" Dean smirked.
"He's off today," Ramsey said, his face stone serious. "Now get on out of here. I've got work to do."
Dean chuckled turned to step out of the cabin. As Sam went to follow, he saw Dean's eyes flutter a bit, as if he were getting his bearings, then he took a breath and pushed against the door.
With his left hand.
Son of a bitch… Sam grumbled silently. He followed Dean down the steps and to the car level.
"We got a little time to find the Stooges," Dean said over his shoulder. "Ramsey said that the deaths usually don't happen until he's heading back from Kingston, right?"
"Hey, Dean, how's your hand?" Sam asked casually.
"Your hand — those stitches holding okay?"
Dean shrugged, turning away. "Yeah, fine. C'mon, man we need to—"
"Let me see it, then." Sam stopped walking, holding out his hand.
"What? No. It's fine, Sam. You're wasting time."
"And you're lying to me," Sam snapped, anger beginning to simmer. "Why the hell do you do that?"
Dean rolled his eyes and faced his brother. Sam saw what he'd missed before—pale skin beneath flushed cheeks, bloodshot eyes framing bright irises.
"You have a fever, too, don't you?"
"Oh, for God's sake, Sam, I'm not twelve," Dean snapped. "I can handle this, okay?"
"Who are you protecting by—"
The scream of shock and terror caught them both off guard. Sam jumped, Dean darted to the side to look around him, his eyes widening in horror. Sam whipped around, shocked to see Mrs. Sanders' car just behind him, water filling the inside of the car to the base of the window, her small fists pounding frantically at the glass.
And just in front of the car stood Charlie Ramsey.
"Pull up on the lock!" Dean yelled at her, reefing on the door handle ineffectually.
Her voice was muffled as she screamed back through the glass. "I can't! It won't come up! Oh, God, please, help me please… the water… the water is so cold!"
"Ramsey!" Sam yelled as he ran to the other side of the car. "Get down here!"
Dean shot a look over at the figure of Charlie still standing in front of Mrs. Sanders' Audi. She stared at the woman trapped in the car. Her ice-blue eyes, Dean saw, were like two raw slits of anguish in her pale face. He pulled again on the door handle, then looked around at the small crowd of people who still dared to use the Mystic as their transportation to Kingston.
"Get me something to break this window!" He pleaded.
Those who looked back at him didn't move. The others averted their eyes. Dean looked back inside the car; the water was now up to Mrs. Sanders' elbows. She pressed her hand flat against the window and Dean pressed his on the other side.
"We're gonna get you out of there," he promised.
"Here," Ramsey's voice came from his right. Dean was suddenly aware that he could no longer feel the hum of the ferry engines beneath his feet. "Try this."
Dean looked over and saw a crowbar thrust out to him. Without thinking, he reached out with his right hand to grasp it, crying out when the wounds contacted the metal, dropping the crowbar to the deck.
"I got it," Sam said, materializing as if from nowhere to push him out of the way, grabbing up the crowbar and jacking it into the seam of the door.
"Put your face to the ceiling!" Dean yelled at Mrs. Sanders.
He could see her shaking from the cold as she climbed up on the driver's seat, keeping her face up as the water level rose.
"C'mon, Sam," Dean encouraged.
"I'm trying!" Sam grunted, teeth clenched in effort.
"Oh, God," Ramsey suddenly breathed, and Dean's head snapped up in reaction. Looking at the man's stricken face, he realized he'd just noticed his daughter. "Oh, my God, Charlie…"
"Talk to her, man," Dean demanded.
"Tell her you're sorry you didn't listen!"
The water suddenly rose faster and Mrs. Sanders' frightened shriek was audible through the water and glass.
"C'mon, you stubborn bastard," Sam muttered and Dean wasn't sure if he were addressing the car door or Ramsey.
"Talk to her, dammit!" Dean yelled at Ramsey, grabbing the front of the man's loose T-shirt with his left hand and hauled him roughly to the front of the car.
"Charlie…" Ramsey choked out. "I didn't know… why'd you leave me, kiddo? Where did you go?"
Dean watched as Charlie looked at her father. Then her eyes turned to him and Dean felt the world slow. He could feel his clothes rub against his fevered skin, the throb of his heartbeat in his hand, the blood pumping through his veins. He could feel the brief wind move the tiny hairs on his cheeks; the pressure in his ears building until it silenced all cries of protest, grunts of exertion, sobs of regret.
There was only Charlie. And suddenly he saw through her eyes. He saw a boy with dark brown eyes, anger turning his face dangerous, swinging a fist at him. He saw the world spinning, realized that he was looking up from the ground as feather-light clouds passed swiftly over a bright, full moon. He saw the lid of a car trunk close. He saw water, torrents of water, rushing in and around him.
Dean took a breath, and was suddenly unable to exhale. He was choking on air, the pressure in his ears expanding to encompass his whole body. Breath had never felt so violent, so vicious.
Then Charlie blinked.
Dean hit his knees on the cement deck and fell forward to catch himself with his left hand. He coughed out air, dragging breaths in, trembling and he heard his brother's exclamation of surprise. He looked over and saw that Sam had stumbled back from the mangled, opened door of the Audi, the interior free of water.
It was as if the water had never been there. Mrs. Sanders sat crouched on her driver's seat, dripping wet, coughing, and staring back at Sam. Dean closed his eyes, dropping his head and continued to breathe. He heard the crowbar hit the deck, then felt Sam's hands on his back as his brother offered his silent support.
Dean sat slowly back on his haunches, leaning into Sam's grip, needing his brother's arms to stay upright. His head swam and lips tingled. He felt separated from himself, once again as if there were another pulling the strings, commanding his body, taking over such actions from him.
He looked up at Ramsey, his breaths steadying, suddenly aware of the crowd murmuring around him.
"He killed her," Dean rasped, his throat felt hollowed-out, his chest ached.
"What?" Ramsey said, looking around dazedly.
Dean pulled away from Sam once his head stopped spinning. He felt Sam's hand at his elbow as he pushed himself to a wavering stance.
"Brad…" Dean glanced at Mrs. Sanders. "He killed Charlie."
"No," she shook her head. "No, that isn't true… it can't be true."
Sam shifted away, tilting his head to study the shivering woman. "You knew it… you already knew it…" he said in wonder. "You knew he killed Charlie."
"No," Mrs. Sanders stepped out of the car, pushing the door shut behind her. The small crowd around them stepped back almost in unison. No one seemed sure where to look, what to say. "No… how could I have known that? I didn't even know she was dead!"
"Oh, Charlie," Ramsey breathed out, pressing a hand to his chest.
"Aw, Christ, Sam," Dean looked over at his brother, suddenly cold. "Not Charlie… Wyatt."
"What?" Sam pulled his eyebrows together.
Dean pulled his right arm against his chest, trying to alleviate the throb beating through the wounds on his palm. "She may not have known Charlie was dead… but she knew Wyatt was."
"What?!" Ramsey exclaimed, stepping forward. Dean saw two men in wet suits standing behind him, the top part of the wet suit folded down at their waists and white T-shirts that read Mystic with the ferry's call numbers printed across the front. "Wyatt who?"
"Wyatt Abrams," Sam said, taking another step back.
Dean instinctively followed. The look on Sam's face was one of sick horror, as if he still couldn't bring himself to accept the reality of what people were capable of doing to each other. Dean felt tethered to him; the further Sam stepped clear of Mrs. Sanders, the closer Dean needed to be to him.
"Your daughter was in love with him," Sam said, eyes darting quickly from Ramsey to Mrs. Sanders. "And… and Brad knew that. You said he did."
Mrs. Sanders looked away from Sam. Her cold eyes scanned the crowd, skimming over Ramsey and resting on Dean. "You don't know what you're talking about," she all-but growled.
"I think we do," Dean said, suppressing a shudder. He could feel the heat of his skin increasing. The world around him seemed to suddenly sharpen, as if nature were turning up the contrast of the sun on the water, the metal of the cars, the color of people's clothes. "I think Brad killed Wyatt… Charlie found out… was…" he swallowed, licking his lips. "Was going to turn him in and—"
"NO!" Mrs. Sanders snarled. "No, that's not true! It can't be!"
"Charlie?" Ramsey suddenly breathed.
Dean blinked and looked over at Ramsey, then quickly followed his eye line to the rail behind Sam. Charlie stood there, staring back at them. Her wounded eyes shifted from Mrs. Sanders, to her father, to Dean, then rested on Sam. Dean heard his brother pull in a breath and knew what he was suddenly seeing, suddenly feeling.
Instinctively he reached out for Sam, but wasn't quick enough. As if yanked by an invisible rope, Sam was pulled off his feet and fell silently to the chilly waters of the Puget Sound some twenty feet below.
"SAM!" Dean bellowed, rushing to the rail in time to see Sam sink below the waves.
Without waiting for an offer of help, Dean bent and grabbed the crowbar with his aching hand, ripped off his jacket, grasped the rail, and swung over the edge after his brother.
Sam wasn't aware of hitting the water.
He wasn't aware of the journey through the dark. He was only aware of the horrible feeling of being choked by his own breath, the image of water rushing in at him, and then opening his eyes, the concentration of salt stinging them viciously, and realizing that he was inside a car… under water.
Sam tried desperately not to panic. He tried to remember not to take a breath, as his body was begging him to do. He blinked, floating his hands quickly around the interior of the car, finding the steering wheel, the back of the seat, the window, the lock. He tried to pull up on the lock, but it held fast, his fingers slipping off.
Don't panic… don't breathe and don't panic… there has to be a way out of here… there has to be some way…
His chest burned, lungs screaming for air. He released a bubble, trying to alleviate the pressure. Pushing himself to the back seat, Sam worked on the back locks and handle to no avail.
No… nononononono… I'm not ready!
He wasn't ready to go.
Dean… Dean couldn't handle losing Dad and me… Dean never has been very good at being alone. I can't leave Dean. I can't leave—
The slap of a hand on the front window brought his addled brain to the present. Letting another bubble of air slip out, Sam grabbed the steering wheel and pulled himself up to the front, pressing his hand back against Dean's. He tried the lock once more. He saw Dean wave him back and pushed himself away from the window.
He felt a muffled reverberation as Dean worked on the door. The edges of his vision began to fade. Desperate for air, Sam pressed his face against the roof of the car, hoping that somehow a pocket of air had gotten trapped.
Nothing. No air.
He wasn’t going to make it.
Oh, God… Dean…
He fought with his eyes open.
He fought the door with the crowbar, working with strength born of desperation. Through his burning eyes he saw Sam's body shake, jerk, struggle against the salt water that sought to replace the air in his lungs and fought against the panic that burst bright and hot in his heart.
With one last heave, the door came loose and Dean reached in with his left hand to grab Sam's shirt. Pulling his brother's still shaking body close, he released the hold he'd had on the base of the car's frame to keep himself in place, and started to push away. As he did, he felt a grip on his leg. Looking back, he saw a pale white hand skim down the length of his calf.
Gripping Sam tightly, the last of the air sizzling in his lungs, Dean pushed away from the car and kicked to the surface, using his wounded hand as a paddle to aid their ascent. He fought the tide, the pull of the impossibly cold water. He fought the pain in his hand, chest, eyes. He fought the heavy exhaustion that tugged at his legs.
Kick, dammit, just kick, do not let go, do not let go of him, hold him hold him hold him…
He had to fight — he had to fight until it was over. Until the job was done. Until Sam was safe. There was nothing else.
Air swept over Dean's burning face as he broke the surface, Sam's shirt gripped tightly in his left hand, his right swirling blood in the water as he kept them upright. Splashes around him brought his eyes open as he saw the two divers enter the water and a life-ring floating nearby.
"Sam," he croaked, shaking him.
Sam had stopped shaking and Dean couldn't feel his brother's chest moving with the reassuring repetition of breath.
"SAM!" Dean rasped again, fighting to keep both of them above water. "Breathe, dammit!"
As if simply complying with Dean's plea, Sam coughed, his head lolling back against Dean's shoulder.
"That's it, Sammy," Dean managed. He fumbled for the life preserver. "C'mon, little brother…need you to help me here."
The divers reached them and one grasped Sam's arms, looping them over the ring.
"I got him," he said, nodding to his partner who reached for Dean.
But Dean knew he wasn't going to make it. As the diver's hands stretched out, Dean felt another pair of hands grasp his ankles. He had one moment to pull in a quick lungful of air, one moment to comprehend that it could be his last, and then he was dragged below.
Dean let his body fall through the water, pulled by the desire of a spirit. He felt his feet hit the top of the sunken car and turned to grasp the door handle, leveling his body with the car, hooking his foot under the frame as he had when he pulled Sam free.
Casting about through the icy depths, he felt along the sandbar until he found the crowbar he'd dropped. Making his way around to the trunk, Dean shoved the crowbar into the seam, rusted by months under the salty water. He was shaking so badly from fever and cold he could barely grip the metal bar, but one thrust was all that he needed. The lid came loose and the body of Charlie Ramsey was exposed.
Time and elements had not been kind. Part of Charlie's face had been eaten away by sea creatures small enough to flow in with the water. Her eyes were two sunken orbs, her lips pulled back in a frozen grimace. Despite that, Dean reached in, grabbed the front of the girl's hooded sweatshirt and pulled her free from her watery coffin. As he did, her mangled face rolled toward him and for one brief moment he saw clear blue eyes, an unlined face, and a smile spreading in gratitude.
The image faded and the horror returned, and Dean felt himself give in to the ebb and flow of the Puget Sound. Charlie floated up slowly next to him and Dean felt his body begin to convulse with the need for breath. As he fell inside of the black, acutely aware of the sense of peace that suddenly surrounded him, he saw the silhouette of his savior swim down for him.
He closed his eyes and surrendered.
"Dean… C'mon back, okay? Wake up..."
Sam leaned over in the cushioned chair they'd pulled in for him last night so that he didn't have to leave Dean, resting his arm at the edge of Dean's bandaged hand, resting his eyes on his brother's face.
Dean's eyebrows were pulled together, his lips folded down into a frown. Sam could see him fighting against the seduction of oblivion, wanting awareness, but afraid of it at the same. He squeezed Dean's arm, careful of the IV with antibiotics pumping into his brother's system, aware of how warm his skin still felt.
"Dean," he called softly. "Open your eyes."
Look at me… let me know you're still here… let me know you wouldn't leave… let me know you still need me around…
Sam felt Dean twitch; a quick movement of his leg muscles sliding under the sheets, his hands flinching as if to form fists of defense, his face tightening then softening as he worked through whatever haunted him in the dark. Sighing, Sam dropped his head, his forehead resting just above Dean's arm.
"You always were a restless sleeper," Sam mumbled, his voice muffled by the bed. "Always moving…"
It was how Sam had been able to judge that everything was okay. Dean was in the room. Dean was moving. Dean was here.
"Thanks," Sam turned his head so that he lay with his cheek on the bed, the top of his head resting against Dean's arm. "Thanks for pulling me out, Dean. You have never let me down… not once."
Dean's arm jerked slightly, and his head shifted on the pillow. Sam brought his head up, but saw that it was simply Dean fighting against the dark that still held him captive. He wasn't awake. His body wasn’t ready.
"Take your time, man," Sam whispered. "I'll be here when you wake up."
He was dreaming. He knew that much.
But in his dream, he was actually in control. There was no one else pulling the strings, no helpless feeling of disconnect between his will and his body. He leaned on the hood of the Impala, relishing the feel of the car's solidity beneath him. The warmth of the Chevy's soul seeping into him, offering him strength.
Sam stood next to him, looking in the same direction as he was. Together they watched their father walk toward them, a rueful smile relaxing his rugged features.
John's voice was right. It rumbled through Dean, filling up the hollow inside, scooping out the weight that anchored his breath and setting it easily aside.
"Sir," they replied in unison.
"No bad guy this time," John said, resting his hands in the pockets of his coat. Dean saw himself in that stance, and he smiled.
"Not anymore," Dean agreed. "This one had already taken care of himself."
"You did good," John nodded, his dark eyes taking them both in separately, and then together.
Dean stepped forward, feeling the pleasure of his body respond as he reached out, grasped his dad's shoulder, pulled him close.
"It's good to see you," he whispered. "I missed you, Dad."
Sam's voice sounded puzzled, searching. Dean turned from John to face Sam and was unexpectedly thrust back into reality. He felt the ache in his chest, the throb in his hand, the itch from the tape that held the IVs down, the grit at the corner of his eyes. The darkness behind his lids suddenly had substance.
He felt it.
"Hey, man, that's it," Sam's voice cajoled. "Please, Dean, open your eyes, okay?"
Dean complied. Barely slits at first, but then he blinked them wider when his blurred vision found the faded image of his brother close beside him. A strange wave of pain chased by relief left him feeling as if he were still bobbing in the waves of the Puget Sound.
"...happened?" He tried.
Sam's shoulders seemed to sag with relief. "God, it's good to see you, man," he said, a sob lodged behind his words. "It's really not the same without you, Dean."
"Could say… same… 'bout you," Dean forced out. His lips felt two sizes too big for his face, and his fingers tingled. "Why 'm I so… fuzzy?"
"It's the meds," Sam explained. "You had a pretty high fever — after they pumped out all the salt water. And your hand was… well, you're an idiot that's all."
"I'm not an idiot," Sam quipped, grinning and wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand.
"Maybe not," Dean cleared his throat. "But you are a bitch."
Sam sniffed, then pushed gently at Dean's shoulder. "You big jerk… going after the body like that."
"She didn't leave me much choice," Dean replied, licking his lips. Sam held his cup of water and straw up for him. "How long…"
"Two days," Sam replied. "I don't remember much after you got me out of that car… until I woke up over there yesterday morning," he nodded to the bed next to Dean, "and they told me you were pretty bad."
"You know I'm always fine, Sam," Dean shook his head against the pillow. "Doctor's always go for the drama."
"No, man," Sam shook his head. "You gotta….you need to be more careful. You're… you live reckless lately, Dean. You either act like you can't die… or you wouldn't mind if it happened."
Dean looked away. He wasn't ready to tell Sam how close to the truth that second statement sometimes was. He felt Sam sit back and looked over at him once more.
"Any word on when I can get out of here?"
Sam shook his head and chuckled. "When you're better," he answered. "And not before."
"I'm awake aren't I? That's better."
Sam just glanced away. "Long as you're tethered to this bed, I'm not going to fight with you about this."
"He's… pretty messed up," Sam looked at his hands. "They docked The Mystic, finally. And I think the police have had both him and Mrs. Sanders in their office since they pulled us out of the water."
"What did they do with Charlie?" Dean dropped his head back, letting gravity work him over a bit, too tired to struggle.
"She's in the county morgue for now," Sam said, yawning. "Until they get this figured out."
"Guess Mrs. Sanders was right," Dean sighed, closing his eyes.
"She said that when we…" Dean shifted stiffly, trying to find a position that didn't ache. "When we found out who killed Brad… we'd find Charlie."
"Huh," Sam replied. "I guess you're right. Brad killed all three of them… Police are saying he drove the car off the ferry to kill Charlie and then got trapped in the car…" Sam yawned again. "Pretty stupid way to murder someone, you ask me."
"Get some rest, Sam," Dean said softly, looking at his brother's pale, weary face.
"I will if you will," Sam retorted.
Dean let his eyes slide closed, ready to return to the warmth of the dream and the safety of control he had felt there for a moment.
"Deal," he whispered.
"Where the hell is that doctor already?" Dean grumbled.
Sam looked up from his laptop screen to watch Dean sit on the edge of his bed, clad in jeans and boots, his T-shirt sitting next to him, waiting for the doctor to return and remove his IV so that he could leave. Two additional days in the hospital had been a necessary evil.
Dean had complied for twenty-four whole hours with the doctor's orders to rest and let his body — and most especially his hand—heal. The following twenty-four hours had taught Sam a few things about the virtue that was patience.
He'd used that time to organize their hunts and records on his computer, impressed by Ash's ability to take John's scrawl and turn it into a usable method to track the demon. If Ash could do that… there was no telling what was possible.
"He'll be here, Dean," Sam reassured for the tenth time. He looked back down at the computer screen. "Hey, Dean."
"Hmm?" Dean leaned back against the pillows, his bandaged hand resting on his bare stomach.
"You know that picture the cop showed you of Dad?"
"Was it this?" Sam turned the laptop around so that Dean could see the screen.
Dean blinked at the image, focusing his still-tired eyes. "Huh… yeah, man. That was it. What is that?"
"An article about the attack, or whatever, at the library in Kingston. Unknown man it says. He was quoted as saying he was just in the right place, right time."
"Bet he hated that they caught him on camera," Dean said, a small smile in his voice.
"Uh, hey, Dean?" Sam called again, narrowing his eyes at the date at the top of the newspaper article with John's picture.
"What, Sam?" Dean sighed.
"You remember when we were in Chicago?"
"You mean to meet up with psycho Meg and her daeva friends?"
"Yeah," Sam nodded. "Did you know that happened the same month that Charlie and Brad died?"
Dean sat forward again, a frown folding his lips down. "It did?"
"I have the newspaper article here from when Meredith died," Sam said, pointing to his screen. "The dates match the ones on the newspaper article about the Kingston library. You think…"
"What?" Dean's voice was cautiously hopeful.
"Well… you called Dad then…"
Dean pulled his bottom lip into his mouth, catching it between his teeth as if afraid to voice what he seemed to know Sam was going to say.
"I think… I think he left this hunt to come to us," Sam concluded.
Dean swallowed visibly, then lifted a shoulder. "Well, I guess that would make sense… I mean, he came out here in the first place because he was following the signs, right? And… we thought the demon was in Chicago, so if he hadn't found anything here, he could have figured—"
"Dean," Sam interrupted. "I think he came… for us."
Dean looked down, hiding his eyes from Sam. Dean could bluff his way through a high-stakes poker game with a pair of twos. He could hustle hundreds of dollars out of the best pool player in any bar. He could make you believe the sun was blue and the world was flat if he wanted to.
But there were moments when his eyes were bare and the story of his life was held like a confession in their green depths. And Sam knew when his brother looked away that even a glimpse of Dean's eyes in this moment would level him.
So he held still. And waited.
"Maybe, Sam… maybe," Dean finally conceded just before the doctor walked in and removed Dean's IV, handing him instructions and cautioning him to take care. Dean nodded, but Sam could tell he was barely listening. The doctor left and Dean pulled on his shirt, taking his coat from Sam.
"You bring the Impala?" Dean asked.
"It's still at the dock," Sam answered. "I haven't left the hospital."
"How far are we from the dock?"
"Not too far," Sam said. "You okay to walk?"
"Absolutely," Dean nodded, shrugging his shoulders inside of his coat a bit as if he were trying to physically rid himself of the feel of sickness.
As they walked along the sidewalk, in stride despite the difference in their height, Sam ran the hunt's events over in his mind. Ramsey had no idea that Charlie had been in love with Wyatt Abrams. Mrs. Sanders didn't realize the depth of Brad's infatuation with Charlie. It made him wonder if it was a product of being in a family that made it easy for someone to disappear into who they were thought to be instead of who they were.
"You're thinking too loud, Sam," Dean commented. "Care to share with the class?"
Sam realized that Dean's stride had slowed. Matching him once more, Sam sighed.
"You ever think about how different things would be if Mom were still around?"
"Whoa," Dean stopped walking, causing Sam to turn and face him. "Where the hell did that come from?"
Sam shrugged. "Just thinking about this case. These people died because… well, because nobody was paying attention.'
Dean lifted his eyebrows, his expression a clear yeah, so?
"I just think," Sam looked away, unable to look directly at his brother. "I think if you hadn't been around…"
Dean stayed silent.
"I'm just glad you were around," Sam finally finished. "I'm glad you're here."
Dean shook his head, scuffing the toe of his boot along a crack in the sidewalk, a small grin flushing his still-pale cheeks. "You missed your calling, Sammy. Ought to have you write Hallmark cards. Could make us a killing." He clapped Sam on the shoulder with his good hand and continued toward the docks.
Sam watched Dean walk away, then followed, needing to keep him close. Just in case.
"You boys leaving?" Ramsey asked, leaning against the Impala, watching them approach.
"Soon as you move away from my car," Dean groused.
"Calm down, there, Cujo," Ramsey patted the air, stepping away from the car. "Was just waiting to say thanks, is all."
Dean shrugged. "Just doing our job."
"Well…" Ramsey looked down, sniffed, then rubbed at his nose with a weathered hand. "You gave me my girl back."
"They done questioning you?" Sam asked, his eyes shadowed.
"For now," Ramsey nodded. "They're searching for Abrams' body. Don't think they're going to find it, though."
"Why do you say that?"
"They showed me a picture of the kid when I was being questioned and, uh…I'm pretty sure that's who your Dad was helping Charlie with. When we were in that library…I, uh, I saw him."
"You saw him? And you never said anything?" Sam was incredulous.
"Not like there was anything anyone could do," Ramsey shrugged. "Guy was dead."
"Nice," Dean shook his head, a bad taste in the back of his mouth.
"Anyway," Ramsey said, holding out a hand. "Thanks."
Sam shook his hand and Dean waved his bandaged one at him. "Don't need us again, okay?"
"Don't plan on it," Ramsey nodded.
Climbing behind the wheel, Dean sighed as he rested his hand on the wheel, his body settling into the familiar feel of home. He turned on the engine, then looked over at Sam.
"Where to, bro?"
"Head East," Sam said, not looking at him.
"Just head East, Dean," Sam said reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling something out.
Dean looked down at Sam's hand and felt his heart still, sputter, then pick back up.
John's dog tags.
"How did you get those?"
"I took them from his truck when we were in Salvation," Sam answered. "Dad never wore them—he didn't want to be identified, right?"
"So… I saw them in the glove box before he left to meet Meg, and… well, I don't know, I just took 'em."
Dean simply blinked, suddenly too moved to speak, too weak to move. Sam's voice was a soft beat of hope against the ringing in his ears.
"I don't know how to make this right for me… for him. I don't know how to feel sometimes, Dean. I just… I gotta do this, okay? I know where we gotta go."
Dean shook his head. John had been wrong about the vampires. He'd been wrong about the spirit haunting Charlie. He'd been wrong… Sam wanted to make it right…
Dad could be wrong about Sam…
"There'd better be a hunt when we get there," Dean muttered, back away from the lot and facing East.
Fighting evil, he knew. Searching out, finding, and beating the bad guy, he could control. Figuring out why he was still around to do so… why Dad left him with such a weight to carry… why Dad wasn't here with them… that was too big to even try to wrap his head around in the moment.
"You never know," Sam shrugged, apparently happy that Dean was doing what he asked without too much fight. "Maybe we'll just get some time off."
"Maybe," Dean conceded, knowing it wasn’t likely.
He fished out a tape and stuck it in the deck, cranking up the volume and letting the music mask the shudder of dread that accompanied the weight making itself home once more in his chest.
a/n: Thanks so much for reading.
Not much of a playlist in this one, with the exception of the Styx references. Any of you who are reading this here after having read the zine version might realize that I changed Charlie Ramsey’s name. She had been crowned Augusta previously — Gus for short. But as I’d inadvertently double-booked that name with Gus Spencer in Wearing and Tearing, I took this opportunity to fix that. (blushes)
My co-write with LovinJackson, Refuto Monumentum, is in process. And I’ve a healthy outline for the western, Heroes for Ghosts. Would love to see you come ‘round when those go up.