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 knew Dean was ready to leave the ER the moment they turned the battered Guiley brothers over to the hands of the medical staff.
He hadn’t sat down once, and kept his bruises shielded from the savvy eyes of the passing nurses. Something made him stay, though. Something besides Sam having firmly planted himself in one of the uncomfortable chairs and picked up an out-dated news magazine.
“Did you know that 300 people were killed by a suicide bomber in Iran last month?” Sam spoke up, addressing the back of his brother’s head.
“Yeah, me neither,” Sam said, flipping through the magazine. It seemed odd that such tragedies were happening around their world. The world that they lived in, rather. Their world consisted of absentee fathers, dying loved ones, impossible elements of death, burning spirits, and avoiding the basic scum of humanity along the way. “You know I never even voted before?”
Dean glanced at him and Sam saw his eyes were far away. “Voted?”
“Forget it,” Sam closed the magazine and tossed it aside. “You okay?”
Dean lifted a shoulder and looked back out through the window to the busy road that ran outside the ER. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Sam nodded, swallowing. He needs to know… I gotta tell him… “Dean, listen, I—“
“You know what I think?” Dean interrupted. “I think he called someone.”
Dean turned to face him, his back against the glass. “Dad.”
Sam lifted his chin, waiting.
“You said you called every contact in the journal, right?” At Sam’s nod, Dean continued, “Well, then it just makes sense that one of those contacts got a hold of him, or he called them and we were mentioned.”
“Before or after you were healed and then almost killed again by the reaper?” Sam spoke up, bitterly.
“Does it matter?”
“No,” Dean stepped on Sam’s protest. “It doesn’t matter ‘cause he’s doing his job. He’s hunting this thing. He’s focused on the mission, and he’s trusting me—trusting us—to keep going. Keep the bad guys away.”
“That what we’re doing here?” Sam asked, tilting his head back toward the big doors that closed the actual ER off from the waiting room.
Dean looked at the doors, biting his lip. “You think they’re the bad guys?”
“I think…” Sam sighed, looking down. “I don’t know what I think. They could be.”
Dean slid into a seat across from Sam. “Hell, man,” he said quietly. “We could be.”
Sam nodded. “Want to know what I found out from that trucker?”
Dean looked up and Sam saw that his brother’s fingers were tapping slightly on the top of his jeans. “What trucker?”
Widening his focus for a moment, Sam picked up Sister Christian on the musak pumped into the waiting room. He admired Dean’s calm façade in that moment; the only outward evidence that he literally wanted to climb the walls in the waiting room was a rhythmic concession to Night Ranger.
“That old guy from the diner,” Sam clarified. “We were talking about ghost towns in southern California, how to travel there, all that.”
“Oh, yeah?” Dean leaned forward. “Got anything we can use?”
Sam nodded. “Just outside of a town called Ludlow there’s a place that can rent us desert transportation and save the Impala.”
“He know anything about this pirate ship?”
Sam grinned. “Just what everyone else knows: it’s a mythic ship filled with pearls that sank in the Salton Sea hundreds of years ago.”
Dean narrowed an eye. “Why do I get the impression that he was laughing at us?”
“’Cause he was, dude. Said everyone and their uncle went looking for that treasure back in the day. These kids’ uncle was the only one to turn up with anything close to evidence it seems.”
“Hey.” Emerson’s voice caught their attention and both brothers looked up. Sam blinked in surprise. Dean wasn’t that subtle.
“Dude! I almost didn’t recognize you without all that shit in your face.”
Emerson’s blond spikes had been crushed down, his piercings had been removed from both his eyebrow and his lip, and the bruise that had rivaled Dean’s when they met was a faded yellow in comparison to the purple marks edged with red around his eyes and mouth.
“I look like a freak,” Emerson mumbled, dropping into a seat next to Sam, across from Dean.
“Next time, don’t use your face so much,” Dean shrugged. Emerson simply looked at him.
“Hear anything about Mack?” Sam asked gently.
“Nah,” Emerson said, gingerly touching his puffy lower lip with the tip of his tongue. “They wouldn’t let me back there.”
“You got someone to call?” Sam asked.
“He’s gonna be fine,” Emerson replied.
Dean leaned forward. “He will. But he may need to stay a few days—“
“We’re not staying,” Emerson broke in.
“Dude, you don’t know if—“
“No,” Emerson leaned forward with one arm on his knee. “We’re not staying. And if you’re gonna ditch us, go ahead. Wouldn’t be the first time, won’t be the last. We’ll figure out how to get to the fuckin’ ship on our own.”
“Listen, you little punk,” Dean hissed, a finger pointed at Emerson. “Where the hell do you—“
All three men in the waiting room straightened quickly. A young, slim nurse wearing baby-blue colored scrubs, her blonde hair pulled back in a low pony tail and a smile in her green eyes, approached them, a clipboard in her hand.
She looked from Emerson to Dean and a line appeared between her brows as she glanced at the paper on the clipboard. “Which one of you is Emerson Guiley?”
Emerson lifted a hand. “That’d be me.”
She nodded, then moved to sit next to him, her eyes lifting and lingering on Dean for a moment. Sam watched his brother sink a bit under her gaze. There was no mood-altering substance on Earth like Testosterone.
“Are you in need of assistance?” she asked Dean, taking in the bruises on his throat and around his eye.
“Depends. Are you offering?” Dean asked, his mouth tipping up in a seductive, roguish smile.
“He’s fine,” Sam and Emerson replied together. “What did you need from me?” Emerson continued.
The nurse pulled her eyes from Dean and focused on the paper attached to her clipboard. “I have some insurance questions for you to complete for yourself and your brother.”
At that, Sam and Dean rose in unison, turned and made their way across the room, Sam to the vending machine, Dean to the coffee machine. They busied themselves with snacks, keeping each other in their periphery, and keeping an ear open for Emerson’s replies.
“I have my, uh, my Dad’s insurance.”
“Is it current?”
“Should be, yeah. Uh, COBRA.”
“Can your dad be reached?”
“Not without some serious smelling salts and a warm blanket.”
“He’s dead, ma’am.”
There was a pause and Sam leaned a shoulder on the vending machine, watching Dean stir black coffee with a red swizzle stick.
“How old are you, Mr. Guiley?”
“And your brother is…”
“Are you his legal guardian?”
“Don’t need one, being that he’s eighteen.”
“If you’re paid up on COBRA, everything should be okay.”
“Tell me something,” the pretty nurse asked, her voice dropping almost too low for Sam to pick up. “Did these guys hurt you? Your brother?”
“Those guys?” Emerson repeated.
The nurse was silent. Sam waited, his gut tense, his eyes on Dean’s profile, watching his brother’s jaw muscle bounce.
“Those guys saved our asses,” Emerson said finally. “Can’t really figure out why.”
After a moment the nurse thanked him and left. Dean and Sam turned back to Emerson, and Sam saw for the first time how fragile the tattooed kid looked in the harsh light of the ER. They returned to sit near him, waiting until he was able to see Mack.
“Sorry about your dad, man,” Dean said softly.
“Don’t be,” Emerson said. “Was his stupid fault.”
“Lemme lay some wisdom on you. Never run a jigsaw after downing a bottle of Jack.”
“What about your dad?” Emerson asked.
Dean met Sam’s eyes. “He’s out there, somewhere.”
“She died a long time ago,” Sam replied.
“Ours, too,” Emerson sighed. “Mack was real little.”
Sam felt his skin tighten around his eyes, his stomach rolling slightly. “How, uh… how did it happen?”
“Car wreck,” Emerson sighed, leaning back in the uncomfortable seats. “Mack was in it. Didn’t talk much after that.”
Sam slid his eyes to Dean, feeling an odd sense of relief at that. Dean was looking at the ground. Narrowing his eyes, Sam watched his brother’s hands. They were still. No tapping out the beat of musak’s version of Careless Whisper. No counting breaths or heartbeats. None of his usual focusing tells were present. He was simply still.
“He saw it?”
“Mack?” Dean lifted his head. “He saw your mom die?”
“Yeah,” Emerson nodded. “I guess it was pretty bad. They had to cut the car up to get him out… but they basically cut her up to get her out.”
“Poor kid,” Sam said softly, still watching Dean. He swallowed when Dean met his eyes; he had to look away. There was too much unspoken pain held in the green.
Emerson jumped. “Yeah.”
“You can go see your brother now.” A male nurse pressed the door open, waiting for Emerson.
“Can he… is he…”
“He’s okay, kid. Take a breath.” The nurse smiled. “Just go on in and talk to the doc. Think you guys’ll be going home.”
Emerson disappeared through the door and Sam and Dean stared at each other, the word home hovering between them like a challenge.
December 19th, morning
“Mack gets one bed, Sam the other,” Dean said as the foursome filed wearily into the room.
“Why you getta make the rules?” Emerson groused.
Dean locked the door behind him, dropping a duffel onto the floor. “’Cause I paid for the damn room.”
“You mean Abe Froman paid for it.”
Dean lifted an eyebrow. “You got any idea how much work credit card fraud is?”
“Oh, yeah, I bet you break a sweat,” Emerson shot back.
“Enough, already,” Sam broke in. “Seriously! Dean, let them have the beds. They were just in the ER.”
“You have a bullet wound in your shoulder, Sam,” Dean pointed out, staring at Emerson, challenging.
“Fine,” Emerson dropped into an open chair. “Let him have the bed.”
“We’ll sleep in shifts,” Dean continued. “Either Sam or I will be on watch.”
“On watch for what?” Emerson shot back.
“On watch so that piss-ant punks don’t get any bright ideas,” Dean returned.
“Dude, what do you think I am?”
“Em,” Mack broke in, his voice exasperated, his face pinched in pain.
Dean knew from experience that even though the word ‘mild’ had been inserted neatly before the word ‘concussion’ on the diagnosis sheet, Mack was feeling his heartbeat behind his eyes.
“We have two days to get down to the Salton Sea,” Dean said, heading to the bathroom. “We’ll grab a few hours here, let you rest up,” he pointed toward Mack, “and then we’re off.”
“What happens in two days?” Emerson asked.
“I thought you said Mack translated the words on the map?” Sam replied.
“He did,” Emerson looked at his brother, “but I never asked him what it said.”
Sam looked at Mack. “You know, don’t you?”
Mack simply looked back at him, then laid down gingerly, rolling to his side. Sam looked at Dean, then back at Emerson.
“What already?” Emerson yawned.
“The ship is cursed,” Sam said sitting down on the bed and leaning back against the headboard. “Winter solstice is the 21st, and apparently on that day… the souls trapped on that ship return to life.”
Emerson looked at him. “Return… to… life?”
“As in ghosts, man,” Dean called from the bathroom where he was bent over the faucet of the tub, trying for a balance between hot and cold.
Emerson was quiet for a moment. Long enough for Dean to look back over his shoulder. When he did, he caught the laughter two moments before Emerson released it.
“As a heart attack,” Dean said, shedding his jeans and T-shirt, then stepped into the shower.
The hot water eased the tense ache in his neck and he rolled it slowly under the beat of the spray. Sam’s words carried in through the opened door of the bathroom, but were slightly muffled by the opaque shower curtain and the sound of the water. He wasn’t about to close the door, however. Not with both brothers out there with Sam—wounded or not.
“Pretty much the only reason you’re in on this with us is because we know what’s out there. We know what goes bump in the night. And if the map says that on the winter solstice, the pirates on that ship are going to reanimate and kill until enough blood has been shed that they can return home, well…”
“Oh, I get it,” Emerson returned. “You’re getting me back for stealing the Chevy, right? This is like the rogue version of Scare Tactics.”
“It’s true,” Mack spoke up from his curled position.
“What?” Surprise infused the word. “You… you believe them?”
“Yes,” Mack said.
Dean rubbed his face, careful of the cut on his eyebrow, then caressed the bruises on his neck, waiting out the silence in the other room. He unwrapped the bar of soap lying on the shower’s edge, then began to rub down his skin, still listening to the quiet. He resisted the urge to call out to Sam, check on them. He was pretty sure Sam could handle himself, especially with those two down like they were.
Still… he hadn’t been vigilant yesterday and Sam got shot.
“Quit it,” Sam said, his voice inside the bathroom.
Dean jumped so violently he almost fell. “Jesus Christ, Sam. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I’m okay; quit worrying.”
Dean couldn’t see his brother through the solid-colored curtain, but he heard the heaviness in Sam’s voice.
“What is it?”
“They’re both asleep,” Sam assured him. “I’ll wake Mack up in a couple of hours.”
Dean tipped his head back, letting the water sluice over his face, skidding through the stubble on his cheeks. Straightening once more, he blinked the water from his eyes. “What is it, Sam?” he repeated.
“There’s something I’ve been… something I should have told you awhile back.”
“And so you thought… you’d wait until I was… in the shower?”
“Well,” Sam sighed and Dean heard the pitch of his tone drop. He’d sat down, Dean realized. “We have company now, and… I didn’t know when I’d get another chance… and you need to know this before we go any farther.”
Dean felt chills rise on his flesh despite the temperature of the water. He turned to face the spray, letting is sooth the tender skin just beneath his sternum.
“Dad’s in Minnesota,” Sam said slowly, roughly, as if he were pulling bricks away from an internal wall and the words simply tumbled free.
“What?” Dean choked, spitting water out as it fell into his opened mouth.
“The coordinates he sent me were from Minnesota,” Sam continued. “And Joshua…” Sam took a breath, “called yesterday. Said Dad had called him from some place called Windom, Minnesota. Said he’d called from there before.”
Dean shut off the water, standing, dripping, behind the curtain, working to process Sam’s words. “Wait… Dad called… Joshua?”
Sam said nothing. Dean assumed he was nodding.
“When?” Dean pushed out, bracing a hand on the wet tile, his skin pulling tight into goose bumps.
“So… I was right.”
Dean reached out and grabbed a towel, wrapping it around his waist before pulling the curtain aside to reveal Sam sitting on the closed lid of the toilet, head hanging down, hands dropped between his knees. “What do you mean, basically?”
Sam swallowed audibly, then brought his head up. “Dad, uh… Dad was the one to tell Joshua about Roy LeGrange’s church.”
Dean shivered. He knew his brother saw his body tremble, but he couldn’t care at this point. “So… Dad… Dad knew what LeGrange was doing? He knew about the reaper?”
Sam shook his head. “I don’t know, Dean.”
“He had to’ve, Sam.” Dean gripped the edge of his towel tighter.
Sam closed his eyes briefly, then opened them once more. “So what if he did?”
“So what?” Dean cried out, louder than he’d intended. In his periphery, he registered Emerson jerking awake, but ignored him. “Sue Ann was using a reaper, Sam. Two people are dead because of me.”
“You don’t know that—Layla could…”
“Oh, don’t give me that. She’s as good as dead and you know it,” Dean ground out. “And he knew it.”
“Well, what if he did?” Sam stood, staring Dean in the eye. “He wanted to save you, Dean. Just like me. I was willing to do anything! Dad sent us the only place he thought might save you!”
Dean drew in a sharp breath. “He… holy… fuck, Sam, he sent us on a hunt.”
Sam blinked. “What?”
“He sent us on a hunt,” Dean repeated, leaning back against the wall as his legs lost strength. The cold tile was coated with condensation from his shower, and the alternating sensations were enough to ground him in his assertion. “He knew about LeGrange, knew he had to be stopped, knew you were looking for ways to help me… figured he’d kill two birds with one stone.”
“No…” Sam shook his head lamely.
Dean swallowed. “Think about it, Sam. He called your phone with coordinates. He called Joshua to make sure the job was done.”
“He was afraid, Dean,” Sam protested. “Afraid that—“
“That he might’ve screwed up and I was dead?”
Sam closed his mouth, his eyes large and young looking.
“Get on out of here,” Dean said quietly. “Get some rest.”
“We’re heading to Ludlow in the morning, and we’re taking out these ghosts. ‘Cause that’s our job.”
“What… what about Dad?” Sam asked, standing carefully.
Dean looked at him, his eyes empty, his heart heavy, his body aching. “What about Dad?”
“Should we… call him?”
It was on the tip of Dean’s tongue to shoot back a smart-assed answer. Something about serving their dad right. Something about two playing the same game. But Sam had once again pulled the kicked-puppy look from his back pocket and fixed it firmly in place when Dean wasn’t looking. And his heart lurched at the pleading in Sam’s eyes.
“I’ll take care of it,” Dean promised. “Now let a guy get dressed in peace.”
Sam nodded, stepped out of the bathroom, then tossed Dean’s duffel in behind him and closed the door. Dean stood draped only his towel for a moment. Pushing back howls of protest screaming in his head, he reached into his duffel and pulled out his phone. Pressing his lips together, breathing shallowly through his nose, blinking rapidly to deny tears their hoped-for win, he scrolled down to ‘Dad’ on the menu, then hit send.
This is John Winchester. If this is an emergency, call my son, Dean, at 866-907-3235.
He opened his mouth; he willed sound to emerge. Then with a disgusted mental kick, he closed his phone, cutting off the connection without a word.
December 19th, evening
“So tell me again about these… alleged ghosts?” Emerson spoke up from the back seat of the Impala, his apparent intent to wind Dean up so tight that he pulled the steering wheel off the dash.
Sam sighed, hooked his elbow over the back of the seat, and rested his back against the Impala’s passenger door.
“What did your uncle tell you?” Sam asked.
Emerson glanced over at Mack who was staring silently through the side window and into the dark.
“Nothing, seeing as how he died before we were born.”
Dean glanced into the rear-view mirror. “So how’d you find the map?”
Emerson swallowed, shifting stiffly in his seat. Sam knew after the beating he’d absorbed, the younger man was going to be hurting for awhile. Didn’t seem to stop his mouth, though. He’d been talking constantly since they’d left the motel and resumed their southern trek down I-40. Sam thought Dean was noisy. He didn’t hold a candle to this kid.
“When our Dad died, we…” Emerson twisted his hand, palm up, and ran his index finger down the length of an intricate tattoo that graced the inside of his wrist. “We went through his stuff.”
“So he had it?”
“Yeah,” Emerson nodded, once again looking at Mack, then continuing on when his brother stayed silent and still. “He had it. Buried in a box at the back of his closet with the guns you took from us. Which I want back, by the way.”
Dean shook his head. “Not gonna happen.”
Dean lifted an eyebrow at the mirror. “’Cause I said so, that’s why.”
“Anyone ever tell you that you have an ass where your head should be?”
“Listen, we don’t have to—“
“Okay, so, your dad had the map,” Sam interrupted loudly holding out one hand toward Emerson and pushing against Dean’s knee with the toe of his shoe. Dean looked over at him quickly. Sam dropped his chin slightly, his eyes asking Dean to calm down.
Dean muttered something under his breath, returning his eyes to the road. In the background, music played quietly and the Impala rumbled reassurance.
“What made you think the treasure was real?” Sam continued.
Emerson dabbed his wounded lip with the tip of his tongue. “Mack,” he said. Sam looked over at the red-head, then back at Emerson. “He read the Spanish, then went and looked it all up online. We started looking for more stuff in Dad’s closet related to the map or the ship or something, and we found this, like, black book.”
“Black book?” Sam prompted.
“Well, more of a journal, but not like a dear diary journal. I think Dad had been losing it for awhile. Sometimes death is a gift, y’know?”
Sam toed Dean’s knee, warning him to be quiet, before his brother could say anything in response.
“Anyway, he had plans for a trip to San Diego to go find the treasure. But all over the book he wrote, don’t tell the boys, and shit like that. He wanted to keep it a secret.” The bitterness in Emerson’s voice was thick.
Sam watched as Mack shifted, rolling his head from the window and closing his eyes. He wasn’t sure if he should be worried, and glanced at Dean to see if he’d been checking on the kid. Dean was rolling his neck, working out stiff kinks, and didn’t even look like he was listening to Emerson’s story.
“Mack found out that our Uncle Charlie had come back with the map, said he’d seen the ship, and was going back for the treasure, then basically disappeared into the desert. Dad’s dad was sure his brother was nuts. Everyone wrote him off. And then Granddad died and Dad got this package in the mail and the map was in it.”
“Why didn’t your Dad ever go after the treasure?” Sam asked.
“Dunno,” Emerson shrugged. “Too drunk, too scared. Doesn’t matter. Mack and me, we’re gonna get it, and we’re getting out of this life, man. And don’t think you’re gonna be scaring us off with a freakin’ ghost story.”
Sam twisted back to face front, glancing askance to check on Dean. His brother was suspiciously quiet. Rubbing a rough finger across his bottom lip, Sam took a breath.
“So, you, uh, get through to Dad?”
Dean’s eyebrows bounced once. “You think I would have waited this long to tell you if I had?”
Sam scoffed. “Yeah.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
“Leave him a message?” Sam ventured hopefully.
“No,” Dean said, then reached over to turn up the radio as AC/DC claimed that Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.
“’kay,” Sam nodded, looking out through the window.
His mind skipped over possibilities, second guesses, wanting a take-back, wishing he’d never told Dean, wishing he’d called John himself. Sam was almost glad when Emerson resumed his endless questioning.
“So, you guys do this ghost thing a lot then?”
“You could say that,” Sam replied, eyes catching on a sign at the side of the road indicating Ludlow was just thirty miles further.
“How’d you get into it?”
“Just did,” Dean cut off the game of twenty questions, his voice tight. Sam frowned and looked down at his lap.
“Did you start out small, like, y’know, with Casper, or did you just go full-on—“
“Kid,” Dean looked at his reflection in the rear-view mirror. “Believe me when I tell you that I don’t care enough about you or some damn treasure to make up ghost stories to scare you off. These things are real, and they can tear you up, turn you eight kinds of crazy, stop your heart inside your chest…” Dean took a breath. “They’re real.”
“Okay, okay,” Emerson groused, slumping into his seat with an exaggerated pout.
“Pay attention,” Dean said, drawing Sam’s eyes to him. “This is how it’s going to go. We’ll get into Ludlow and wait out the night. In the morning—“
“We’re staying in the car?” Emerson interrupted.
Sam sighed. Dean cracked his neck.
“In the morning we’ll find a place to get a vehicle that can take us into the desert,” Dean continued, his words so edged with frustration that Sam heard John voice falling from his brother’s lips.
“Why not take this one?”
Dean shot a look to Sam saying plainly shut him up or I’m gonna kill him.
“We can’t take the Impala into the desert,” Sam said with forced calm. “It’s not built for that.”
The next twenty minutes were filled with random questions from Emerson, silence from Mack, bit-off replies from Dean, and peace-making assurances from Sam. By the time Dean pulled off the Ludlow exit, the air in the car was crackling with tension. Dean found an empty parking lot that looked to be for an elementary school, shut off the engine, pulled the hood release, and stepped out of the car.
Before Sam could stop him, Emerson followed. Mack and Sam exchanged worried glances, and Sam took a breath, stepping out to greet the angry words uttered by two alpha males circling each other, ready to attack.
“—didn’t have to bring you along,” Dean was bellowing, his breath condensing in the cold night air to hover like a warning cloud just beyond his lips. He moved quickly to the front of the car, opened the hood and bent over the engine.
“So now I should be thanking you, that it?” Emerson fired back. “Thank you for getting me arrested, dude. Thanks, that was a fantastic freakin’ time. Thanks for bustin’ my lip open, too. Oh, and for stealing my Daddy’s guns. That was swell.”
Dean pulled the distributor cap loose, then slammed down the hood of the Impala, barely missing Emerson’s fingers. Sam saw the look of blood in his brother’s eyes even in the darkness that cloaked the lot. He stepped forward, but was stopped by Dean thrusting the distributor cap at him as he advanced on Emerson.
“You know what you should be thanking me for you little punk?” Dean jabbed his index finger into Emerson’s sternum, making the blond stumble back a step. “How about keeping you and your brother from getting raped and killed by those good ol’ boys back at the truck stop, huh? How about not leaving your brother to hemorrhage from a head wound? How about going with you after your little make-believe treasure so that you don’t end up making a blood donation to the pirates!”
Emerson pushed him back and Sam set the distributor cap on top of the hood, his body tight, his arms at his sides, ready to catch or swing, depending on what Dean pitched his way.
“The treasure is more real than any fuckin’ ghosts, you freak!” Emerson literally screamed back at him. “You are just as crazy as my old man! Talking about ghosts and spirits and seeing things!”
“Your dad was right, kid!” Dean yelled back, his deep voice echoing off the building far across the lot. “There’s a lot of nasty shit out there, and you ain’t seen half of it. You should be kissin’ my ass—“
“Screw that, how ‘bout I kick your ass instead!” Emerson lunged forward, his right fist raised.
Dean dropped into a ready stance. “Bring it on, Spike!”
“Whoa, whoa!” Sam grabbed Dean by the scruff of his jacket and pulling him back toward him. “You,” he pointed to Emerson, “get back in the car and calm down.”
“Shut the hell up already,” Sam barked. “Get in there and check on your brother. NOW!” He fired the last missive when Emerson opened his mouth once more in protest.
The back door of the Impala creaked open and all three turned to see Mack leaning against the opening. He simply looked at his brother, and Sam was quickly reminded of the cocky confidence that had surrounded him when he and Emerson had broken into the motel room. It was gone now. As if it had never even existed.
Emerson turned toward his brother and Sam yanked Dean back and away, turning him and pushing him forward, away from the Impala and the Guileys. Grabbing the distributor cap from the hood of the Impala, he followed as Dean walked across the empty lot, cold starlight outlining his form and emphasizing the bow-legged stride that Sam had tried to emulate all of his life.
Sam’s long legs easily ate up the ground, but he stayed just behind Dean, giving his brother the space he needed to cool his indignation, to temper his anger. When they had almost reached the brick building across the lot, Dean turned and Sam was a little taken aback by the way the silver light illuminated his brother’s features. He looked dangerous.
Dean glanced at him once, then looked away, beginning to pace, shaking his hands out as if to convince them not to curl into fists. Sam simply stood, his stance loose, his chin low, his eyes never leaving Dean’s figure. There were things learned about a person when life was lived in synchronicity for so long; even two years away at Stanford hadn’t erased the imprint of Dean on Sam’s psyche.
His brother had a temper that he squelched for the sake of the moment. He had a grin that could cover a multiple of sins. He hid inside easy retreats: whiskey, women, and wit. He would fight for his family until he could no longer stand, and he’d pretend that nothing got to him. He’d shove his pain behind walls so tall and so thick he’d forgotten how to scale them and he switched his masks with ease.
But Sam knew his brother. And he knew that the reason Emerson Guiley got under Dean’s skin so easily was that Dean saw himself inside the skinny, tattooed, pierced rebel… and he hated it. Because he saw vulnerability and pain.
“Little shit,” Dean finally spoke, the words staggering from him.
“That he is.”
“We oughtta leave them here, y’know,” Dean stopped pacing, standing so that he faced Sam, but could see the Impala across the lot. “Just walk away clean.”
“You mean before you go all Boondock Saints on them?”
Dean blinked, looking over at Sam. “What?” he half-laughed.
The bruise on his cheek from Billy’s fist was fading but still looked dark in the starlight and Sam winced inside at the sight of the marks on his neck. But with that laugh, Sam saw tension begin to drain from him.
“You were ready to plug him on principle alone,” Sam said, spinning the distributor cap around in his palm with a flick of his wrist.
Dean laughed again, his eyes twinkling in the starlight. He reached out for the engine part. “Gimme that, before you break it and we’re stuck here.”
Sam handed it over. “Bring it on, Spike,” he mimicked in a high-pitched voice.
Dean chuckled. “Tell me that kid doesn’t look like the dude from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
“Maybe,” Sam conceded. “Wrong accent, though.”
Dean shook his head, looking down. “You hear what he said about his dad and the journal?”
“Think he was a hunter?”
Dean lifted a shoulder. “Maybe.”
They were quiet for a minute, both looking down. Sam let his eyes roam from his blue Adidas sneakers to the scuffed up toes of Dean’s well-worn boots. He wondered idly if his brother had ever worn sneakers.
“Just so you know,” Dean said softly, “I’m not going to call Dad again.”
Sam swallowed. He knew. He’d been surprised Dean had called in the first place. Dean had reached out one too many times and grabbed nothing but air. He needed a hand to reach back.
“And for the record,” Dean brought his head up, meeting Sam’s eyes. “If I did go Boondock Saints on them… I’d have to have a rope.”
Sam laughed and playfully punched Dean’s shoulder. “C’mon,” he said. “Let’s head back before there isn’t any night left.”
December 20th, mid-morning
“If you think I’m fitting in to some damn… sidecar, you got another thing coming,” Sam grumbled.
“Dude,” Dean grinned up at him, sunny despite a wicked knot at the base of his neck. He hated sleeping in the car period, but sleeping in the car with three other people—two of whom he didn’t trust with his brother’s life—did not make for a restful night. However, with the sun came new possibilities. Whatever haunted him in the darkness of midnight couldn’t stand up to the bright light of morning. “Think about it! It’d be like… McQueen in The Great Escape.”
“McQueen’s motorcycle didn’t have a sidecar,” Sam pointed out.
“It didn’t?” Dean frowned, scratching the back of his head in thought as he pictured the tough-as-nails actor.
“You think he jumped that barbed-wire fence with a sidecar attached to his bike?”
Dean nodded once. “Good point.”
“Hey, guys!” Emerson called. “How about this one?”
Sam and Dean lifted their heads simultaneously to look across the dusty desert lot. A quick search through the local yellow pages and a flirtatious conversation over coffee had yielded Sam the location of a car lot with vehicles suitable for desert travel and Dean a discount consignment shop carrying clothing that would stand up to the heat. Mack stood with a bag of clothes slung over his shoulders looking down at the vehicle Emerson indicated.
It was a Jeep, of sorts. The wheel base was twice as wide as a usual Wrangler with deep-treaded tires flanking either side. The body had been broken down to the barest essentials: seats, two doors, roll-bar, dash. As the brothers got closer, Dean saw that there weren’t even seat belts.
“Is this thing even street-legal?” he asked.
“Does it matter?” Emerson pointed out. “We’re not gonna be driving it in the street.”
Dean looked up at Sam who shrugged in reply. “He’s got a point.”
Dean whistled for the sales man, an aged hippie with yellowing teeth and dreadlocks. “You take credit cards, man?”
An hour later, Dean had stashed the Impala behind the diner where the waitress he’d flirted with earlier promised to keep an eye on it. He’d taken off the distributor cap—again—and stuffed it into the trunk with their duffel of clothes and the majority of their weapons. Sam had loaded bottles of water and some jerky in the jeep while Dean took out a spare canvas bag and filled it with two rock-salt-filled shot guns, extra salt, accelerant, holy water, flares, lighters, their own handguns, and Dean’s Bowie.
Watching this, Dean saw Mack’s eyes widen and Emerson’s pupil’s dilate.
“You, uh, got something in there for us?” Emerson ventured.
Dean looked at Sam, who simply chuckled.
“What?” Emerson looked from one brother to the other.
“You honestly think he’s giving you a gun?”
“We wouldn’t shoot you… again.”
Dean rolled his eyes, pulling the loose-fitting, off-white Henley over his head and slipping it down over his jeans. “That’s comforting, thanks.”
“I don’t know, Dean,” Sam smirked. “They’re pretty good with empty weapons.”
“Dude,” Emerson protested, tying a bandana over his bleached-blond hair. “Lead costs money.”
Dean simply flicked his eyebrow, tying his own bandana to cover his head from the dangerous desert sun.
Sam closed the trunk. “Let’s get going before that storm they warned us about gets here.”
“You got the coordinates?”
“Coordinates, compass, GPS, map,” Sam nodded.
“Coordinates for what?” Emerson spoke up.
Sam turned to him. “Just worked the latitude and longitude for the center of the Salton Sea basin. Figured that’s as close as that old map would get you.”
Emerson blinked at him, nodded, then climbed into the front of the Jeep. Dean looked at him, and Emerson sighed, climbed out, and clambered into the back.
“This is gonna be a long-ass ride,” he predicted.
December 20th, mid-afternoon
“You mean besides the bleached bones of animals too stupid to get the hell out? No, Sam, I don’t see anything.”
“’Cause according to the GPS, we’re close.”
“How do you know that thing is even working?”
“What did I tell you about shutting up?”
“Cut him some slack, Dean.”
“Damn, it’s hot out here. I think my sunburn is sunburned.”
“Wind’s picking up, too.”
“Think we should turn back?”
Three pairs of eyes turned to face Mack, his voice like a shock of water on their heated skin.
“Mack?” Emerson asked, over the increasing wail of wind and rough-sounding grind of the Jeep.
“Don’t turn back,” Mack shook his head. “Don’t turn back.”
Dean and Sam exchanged a glance, worry warring with curiosity.
Against their better judgment, they pushed on.
December 20th, night
“Shoulda turned back when we had the chance!” Dean called out over the scream of the wind.
The suffocating heat of day had given way with easy surrender to the shuddering chill of night. The Wrangler struggled over a small dune, rear wheels spinning in the sand. The wind had increased in intensity over the last hour until particles of sand and brush were lifted and thrown their way with enough velocity to raise welts on their exposed skin.
Dean saw nothing in the pale light from his headlights except sand blowing sideways.
“Dean!” Sam shouted over the wail. “We gotta find cover!”
They had taken off their bandana’s and wrapped them over the lower half of their face, but the sand still slashed at their eyes, stealing into even the smallest opening.
“The Jeep!” Sam yelled. “Push it over!”
Dean stopped trying to breach the dune, shoving the gear into park and pulling the foot break. He shut off the engine and twisted slightly in his seat. “Everybody out!”
Four bodies spilled from the vehicle and Emerson and Sam joined Mack and Dean on the driver’s side of the Jeep.
“One! Two! Three! PUSH!” Sam bellowed. They heaved, feet sliding backwards in the loose sand, eyes burning, tearing, closing as sand worked its way in between their lashes. The Jeep rocked, tilting slightly, the wind unforgiving. “AGAIN!”
They pushed once more, their grunts of effort audible over the storm. At last the Jeep gave way, rolling slowly to its side like a downed grizzly. Slipping in the sand, struggling against the wind, the foursome moved around to the lee of the Jeep, tucking up inside the tilted seats, burrowing low to get relief from the maelstrom.
“Gotta say,” Dean panted, pulling his shirt down to free his lips, “this is a new one.”
He reached above him and grabbed a water bottle from beneath the driver’s seat, taking a long pull, then handed it to Sam, who drank greedily, then passed it to the Guileys.
“Yeah,” Sam nodded, making his lanky body as small as possible under the sparse protection of the Jeep, gripping his still-tender shoulder.
Dean coughed, reaching for the water once more. He drank deeply, then capped the bottle to keep the sand out. Sam stared back at him, misery evident in eyes puffy from the blowing sand. Dean frowned at him, then twisted to look over his shoulder at the Guileys.
“Pull your brother closer!” Dean hollered to Emerson. “Put your backs to the wind.”
Emerson complied without complaint, and Dean turned back to Sam.
“Sorry, Dean,” Sam offered as they crowded close, letting their backs take the brunt of the storm, their shoulders meeting, their faces stinging from the sandy assault.
“What did you do this time?” Dean asked.
“Convinced you to go on a treasure hunt.”
“What makes you think I’m not having fun?” Dean asked, blinking watery, red eyes at his brother. “Dude…” he coughed, and felt Sam pull him closer, effectively blocking the wind from his face completely. “Sitting with you in a sandstorm, in the middle of the desert, in the middle of nowhere is a helluva lot better than being in that lot back in Nebraska.”
Sam huffed out a quick laugh, leaning his forehead close until it touched the top of Dean’s head. Time ticked by. The night grew colder. At one point, Dean felt someone—probably Emerson—press closer to his back. The wind screamed, the sand collected, and soon it was swirled around their ankles, traveling up their legs.
“MOVE!” Dean called over the noise. “Shift sideways or it’ll bury us!”
He began to hum inside his head. Zeppelin, Metallica, Seger. He counted the beats of the songs he knew, using the rhythms to calculate their time, and every few minutes pushed the group first one way, then the other, keeping the sand from covering them, staying under the Jeep so that the wind didn’t tear them apart.
The change in weather was almost imperceptible.
Sam noticed it first. “It’s… quieter.”
Dean slowly lifted his head, his neck muscles crying out in protest from being in one position so long. Shifting, he looked hesitantly over his shoulder, sand sliding from his back as if he were a statue come to life. The complete darkness was slowly giving way to the pearly light of the stars. Dean eased Emerson away from him, tugging on Sam’s arm. He stood, joints cracking, using the edge of the Jeep for support. Sand slipped down his shirt front, finding its way under his waist band, into his boxers, and along the edge of his boots. He wanted to shake violently, like a dog, and rid himself of the irritating element.
The wind had all-but died, leaving behind a few straggling clouds, the starlight turning the desert sand into glass. Dean looked around in awe, taking in the almost barren surroundings, the cacti and Joshua trees in the far distance, the absolute lack of anything that resembled civilization. They were definitely in the wild; they could have been on the moon. And in the tattered starlight, it seemed, there was magic.
“Sam,” he said, tugging on his brother’s arm once more. “You gotta see this.”
Sam stood, his back to the cover the Jeep had provided, staring out into the expanse along with his brother. “Looks like something out of a movie.”
“You ever see anything like this?” Dean almost whispered.
“No,” Sam shook his head, sand falling from his hair and down around his shoulders. “I—“
The earth-shattering blast knocked both brother’s off their feet, sending them tumbling forward and sliding down what was left of the dune as the world shattered to their left. Dean rolled slowly to his back, his ears ringing. He looked wildly around for Sam, finally seeing his brother push himself to a semi-seated position, the expression on his face as shell-shocked as Dean felt.
“What the fu—“
Another blast had sand blowing up and around them, tipping the earth sideways, and sending them crashing once more to the ground. Dean heard Sam coughing and cautiously lifted his head, blinking rapidly to clear his vision, tasting the tang of copper in his mouth. His head pounded; his world tilted dangerously.
“Sam!” he barked, coughing up sand and thirsty for air.
He looked toward the Jeep, and only then realized that he and Sam had rolled several feet from the Guiley brothers. Sam was to his right and up on his knees, tugging at Dean’s shirt sleeve, trying ineffectually to pull him forward. Groaning, Dean struggled from his knees to a crouched stance, clutching Sam’s arm. As they made their way back to the crest of the dune and the over-turned Jeep, Dean heard voices.
He found Emerson and Mack still huddled in the protection of the Jeep. They were staring back at him, their blue eyes wide and scared.
“You two okay?”
“Does it look like we’re okay?” Emerson fired back.
“Fine,” Mack said tersely.
“Do you hear that?” Sam asked as the voices grew louder.
Emerson frowned and before Dean could stop him, stood up, staring over the cover of the Jeep in the opposite direction that Sam and Dean had just returned from.
“Ho. Lee. She. It.”
At Emerson’s breathy curse, Dean pulled himself up, Sam at his side.
On the other side of the dune, in a gulley peppered with large, pale rocks and a few scattered Joshua trees, listing slightly to the side, sat a massive Spanish galleon. Dean felt his tongue curl up inside of his mouth, his lungs emptying along with every thought in his head. Sam clumsily slapped at his forearm. Dean looked over to see his brother’s mouth hanging slightly open.
The ship looked to be perfectly preserved. Dark wooden decks gleamed in the moonlight, barnacles clung to the lower half of her belly, and her wide, white sails were unfurled, filled with wind as if on the high seas and not moored in the middle of the California desert. On her bow an angel reached out, her wings tucked close to her body, her face raised to the stars with a plea for salvation.
Beneath her carved, bare feet, in gold filigree, was written: ángel de la desolación.
“The Desolation Angel,” Mack whispered, standing next to his brother.
“Dean,” Sam’s dry voice crawled out at him from the darkness.
“I see it,” Dean replied.
At the top mast, waving in the now non-existent wind, flew the Jolly Roger.
“Think it’s safe to say it’s past midnight,” Sam whispered.
The voices carrying from the ship increased in volume and intensity, but the words were foreign and confusing. Both sets of brothers stood, staring, shocked into stillness. Then, Dean’s gaze dropped to the portside of the ship, his eyes registering the sight before him just as Mack managed to translate the words echoing across the expanse.
“Oh, shit,” Dean breathed.
“Get down!” Mack cried out at the same time.
The cannon boomed, a white puff of smoke curling around the deadly opening. The foursome dropped as the cannonball exploded almost on top of the Jeep, sending them tumbling over each other like puppies. They came to a staggered halt, panting, shaking, ears ringing. Dean lifted his head, looking around
“Grab the weapons!” Dean shouted to Emerson, seeing his body had landed nearest the duffel. “Get it!”
Emerson fumbled with the bag handles, rolling away from the Jeep and out into the open space toward Mack.
“Dean!” Sam yelled clambering to his feet and reaching out to pull Dean away as another blast rang out from the ship.
Dean reached back for his brother, feeling the gritty texture of Sam’s sand-coated skin slip through his fingers as the cannonball found its target and the Jeep exploded in an impressive spray of sand and metal shrapnel. Dean rolled in on himself, wrapping his arms around his head, feeling the hot shards fall down around him.
And then he was rolling, tumbling, head over heels, his world become an even exchange of light and dark, air and suffocation. He came to an abrupt stop as his body crashed against a rock. Coughing, blinking, he looked up as the last of the clouds parted revealing the sadly seductive sight of the crescent moon, its brilliant light washing the gulley and exposing the brothers to the eyes of the sailors manning the impressive, deadly cannons.
Several more sailors gathered at the portside of the ship, peering over the edge at the tangle of their bodies. Blinking away tears from his burning eyes, Dean narrowed his focus on the figures as he pushed himself to his elbow. As he stared, six figures swung over the edge of the ship and climbed down a rope ladder.
“Oh, God,” Dean gasped, his breath like fire against his raw throat. “This can’t be good.”
“Emerson,” Sam called. “The weapons!”
“I lost the bag!”
Dean whipped his head in the direction of Emerson’s voice. “You did what?”
From the bow of the boat, a ragged, time-worn voice called out in Spanish, "¡Capturad a los infieles!"
“Did he say… capture?” Sam rasped.
“Sammy, get up,” Dean rolled to his knees. “We gotta get out of here.”
“And go where?” Sam exclaimed.
“¡Con su sangre volveremos a casa!” The voice called again, and this time, the mummified countenance of a man wearing a heavy, red coat and large, black hat complete with white plumage was visible in the moonlight.
Dean stood on hollow legs, the world spinning around him. Sam lay on his side, propped up on one arm, near his feet. To his right lay Emerson and Mack, both looking with wide eyes toward the ship.
“¡Con su sangre volveremos a casa!” The pirate repeated, anger infusing his words with energy, the air snapping like lightening around them. The brothers could hear an answering cheer surge upward from the boat.
“What… did he say?” Dean asked, dread making his words leaden.
As the others stared from their recumbent positions, the shadowed figures from the ship circled them, moving with slow purpose. Dean turned slowly, his chin down, his eyes scanning their thin, swarthy faces, and empty eyes. The unmistakable shink of metal sliding against leather met his ears and he saw the moonlight reflect off of the blades of half a dozen knives.
“Mack?” Dean prompted. “What did he say?”
One figure stepped forward, reaching for Emerson’s blond hair, yanking his head back and pressing a blade against his exposed neck.
“He said…” Mack replied finally, backing himself into the leathery legs of another pirate. “That we’re in big trouble.”
a/n: Charlie Clusker is a real person and an explorer connected to the Lost Ship of the Mojave. And, yes, there is a Lost Ship, as well. Ludlow, CA, is a real location, but more of a ghost town than anything else. I’ve taken liberties with all of these for the sake of this story.
“¡Con su sangre volveremos a casa!” With their blood we will return home! (thanks Onari)
Sometimes by Candlebox
By the Way by Theory of a Deadman
So Far Away by Staind
No Sleep ‘til Brooklyn by The Beastie Boys
Over the Hills and Far Away by Zeppelin
Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy by Bad Company
Sister Christian by Night Ranger
Careless Whisper by George Micheal (but only because of the time period; I highly recommend you check out Seether’s version)
Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution by AC/DC
Chapter 3, Part A can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/54563.html>