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.
That was a great idea, he admonished himself, awareness overtaking him faster than he would have liked, bringing with it every ache and throb that the pirate crew had visited upon him. In moments he was aware of two things: his mouth was desert dry, and the room he was in smelled of rot and death. He tried to roll to his side, the stench of the deck his face was currently pressed against making him gag.
The weight of his arm stalled his progress.
“What the—“ he rasped, his voice barely audible, his lips feeling as though they split with the motion of speech.
Rough laughter greeted his ears and he heard words spoken in a voice that sounded as if it were saturated in liquor and mucus as the toe of a boot pushed at his bruised side. Dean flinched away, working to open his eyes. His face—his body—was gritty with sweat and sand. Something was trickling down into his eyes, catching and coating the edges of his lashes, and running into his ear.
He reached up to wipe away the sensation. He was stopped suddenly, his hand pulling up short, unable to reach his face from his recumbent position. After a moment of confusion, he realized that his wrists were shackled, tethered to the deck beneath him by heavy chains. Shifting slightly, freeing the arm beneath him from the weight of his body, he blinked one eye open.
And saw the semi-decomposed countenance of a human skull.
“What. The. Fuck.”
Revulsion had him pushing away, turning his face the other direction, only to see more bodies, some simply bones, others mummified with straggling hair and the merciless grin of death. Struggling against pain and fatigue, he managed to push himself to his knees, and then realized he wasn’t going to be able to stand. The chains that held him a prisoner were just long enough that he could kneel, but not long enough to stand.
The laughter grabbed his attention once more and he snapped his eyes front. Scarface stood in front of him, thumbs hooked in his belt, his fingers tapping just above his crotch which happened to be in direct alignment with Dean’s mouth. Dean’s eyes traveled upwards to the pirate’s face and his stomach rolled over as the spirit grinned, exposing a gold tooth, and muttered something in a tone that made Dean want to gag.
“Dude, you better not be telling me it’s been a long time,” he declared in a ragged voice.
The pirate spoke again, reaching out one finger to trail along the side of Dean’s face, wiping at the blood drying there from the beating he’d taken earlier. Dean twisted away, trying to rid his skin of the feel of the leathery touch and maintain his shaky balance on his knees.
“You pull out anything; I promise you I’ll bite it off.”
A cannon’s roar staggered the pirate and Dean tumbled to the side, catching himself with one hand, his shoulder protesting the motion. Scarface looked up from the hold to the deck above.
“Where’s my brother?” Dean barked, so desperate for a drink he almost followed that question up with a plea for agua. He could swear the flesh that lined his throat was as puckered as the scar running down the pirate’s face.
Sneering, Scarface reached out once more. Dean tried not to recoil, but his body reacted before his mind could resist. Laughing, Scarface rested the flat of his hand on the top of Dean’s head, then, to his dismay, rubbed his hair, giving his head a humiliating pat before stepping away and moving up the stairs.
Dean snarled, watching him go, curling forward as the tortured muscles of his back shook with an exhausted spasm. Mentally dragging his ire inside, burying it deep where he knew it would fuel his continued resistance; Dean looked around the large hold once more. The amount of bodies, in various stages of decomposition, was somewhat overwhelming. For nearly four hundred years, the pirates had been trapped, shipwrecked, not allowed to actually die, to cross over. And the carnage around him was the result of their desperation.
“Serves you right,” Dean muttered, breathing shallowly. He pulled his arms up, testing the length of the chains. He was able to raise his hands to just above his waistline. “This is just… freakin’… perfect.”
I coulda been taken by the reaper… I coulda given Layla a shot…
Instead, he was chained in the hold of a pirate ship, body trembling from exhaustion and abuse, and Sam…
Dean went cold, his breath catching on the ragged interior of his throat. Where the hell is Sam?
As if in answer to his unspoken question, he heard his brother’s fear-ravaged voice calling out to someone, then being cut off. He looked up at the door leading down into the hold and saw two pirates dragging Sam below, his long legs tangling up on the stairs, his breath choked off by the rope around his neck.
The pirates slammed him against the base of the mast that bisected the room and Sam groaned.
“Hey!” Dean protested. “Take it easy!”
Rapid mutterings accompanied their motion as the pirates tied Sam by the neck and hands to the post, kicked his legs roughly out of the way, then strode back up the stairs, dropping the trapdoor back in place and leaving the brothers in near-darkness.
Sam coughed. “Dean? You okay?”
“I’ll live. How about you?”
“Dude, what the hell is that sm—“ Sam gasped and Dean realized he was taking in the bodies around them.
Their eyes had adjusted enough to the dark that Dean knew neither of them wanted to see what the hold would look like in the daylight. No matter the horrors they’d witnessed in their lives, the sight of human carnage was not something he wanted tattooed on the backs of his eyelids to revisit him at night.
“Sam.” Dean tried to get his attention. He felt himself beginning to shiver as the adrenalin of the past several hours began to seep away in deference to exhaustion, and the cold of the desert night sought to climb under his skin.
“Oh, God,” Sam practically whimpered. “Dean… it’s… it’s all the people…”
“Yeah, there’s a whole mess of Chester Copperpot’s around here,” Dean conceded.
“Forget it, Sammy, just look at me,” Dean ordered, not liking the panic that was ratcheting up the tension in Sam’s voice.
“God, Dean, their Uncle is probably down here,” Sam rambled, nearly breathless. “All of the people who found the ship, went looking for the treasure, used that damn map—“
“No, no, Sammy, stop it, okay? Stop it.” Dean talked over his brother’s panic, taking a breath when Sam finally quieted. “You look at me, okay? Just me. That’s it.”
Sam took a deep, trembling breath. “God, it stinks down here.”
“Yeah, well, they offered me the suite with the Jacuzzi,” Dean sagged back, sitting on his feet, “but I told them the chains would help me tone up.”
Sam gaped at him; Dean watching him blink in the pale slices of moonlight that tried to illuminate the large hold. They sat for a moment, quiet, staring at each other in the dark, and then, Sam laughed.
It was weak, and somewhat breathy, but it was Sam’s laugh. And Dean felt light surge inside of him at the sound.
“So,” Sam said, his head falling softly back against the beam. “How long you wanna wait around?”
It was Dean’s turn to chuckle.
“Seriously, Dean,” Sam started, his voice soft and sober. “Are you okay?”
“I’ve been better. They cut you?”
“Not bad,” Sam said, looking down. “The one with the Dreadlocks was messing with me, that’s all.”
“My face hurts.”
“Hurts me, too,” Dean said automatically, a big-brother jibe that brought out another easy chuckle from Sam before the air was sucked from the room by a cry of pain from above.
“Dean, they, uh…”
Sam swallowed so hard Dean heard it. “They’re gonna kill Mack.”
Dean felt his heart thud painfully, his skin rippling in chills. “Dammit,” he muttered, dropping his head, chin touching his chest.
“We got them into this, man.”
Dean brought his head up at Sam’s defeated tone. “No. No, don’t you do that, Sam.”
“He said he didn’t mean to shoot me.”
Sam twisted slightly, working against the ropes. “He said Emerson was lying. He didn’t mean to shoot me.”
“So what?” Dean lifted his tired arms, rattling the chains. “So he has lousy aim.”
“He also overheard the pirates talking,” Sam continued, panting a bit with his exertions.
“Said that they’re trapped — on or with the ship, I guess.”
“What do you mean, trapped?”
“Said they can’t go past the dunes.” Sam puffed out a breath of air before continuing to work on his ropes. “That’s why they didn’t go after Emerson’s body.”
Dean pressed his lips together, brows raised in slight surprise. “How ‘bout that.”
“He’s totally lost his mind, Dean, I mean… they killed his brother and all he talked about was that fewer pirates meant more treasure for him! It’s like he was in total shock, or… or denial or something.”
“Jesus, Sammy, you and your bleeding heart,” Dean grumbled, amazed as ever at his brother’s attempt to see reason behind the actions of people. Not everyone works like us, Sammy. “Seriously, so they lost their family and decided to follow some random map to some random treasure… it’s not like we held a gun to their heads. They were hell-bent on getting that map from us and—“
“Hey,” Sam straightened suddenly.
“What about it?”
“If everyone who finds the ship gets killed… how did the map get out?”
“Not everyone gets killed,” Dean pointed out, lifting his eyes to the ceiling. “Only the idiots that find it on the winter solstice."
“But… is the ship even… y’know… visible at any other time?”
“How should I know, Sam?” Dean snapped, frustrated. The shackles were rubbing on his wrists and the weight of the chains was pulling at his strained shoulder muscles. “I don’t know how the map got out. I don’t know how the pirates got cursed. I don’t know what the deal is with the Guiley’s family.” He rolled his neck, biting back a helpless groan. “I don’t know, Sam, okay? And you know what, I don’t care. I don’t. They’re just stupid kids that got a bad deal. Why our paths crossed at that diner is beyond me.”
They were silent for a moment, the muted voices from above undulating with worrisome regularity. Both brothers realized that there was no indication of Mack’s voice in the noise above.
“You think we’re… y’know… being punished or something?”
Dean rested heavy eyes on Sam’s face. “For what?”
“I don’t know, but… We just seem to have a lot of bad luck. Seems like there’s gotta be a reason it always happens to us.”
“You mean other than the fact that we look for the bad guys?” Dean sighed. “Does there always have to be a reason bad shit happens to us, Sammy?”
Sam hesitated. “Well, no. I guess not.”
“Not everything happens for a reason.” Dean lifted an eyebrow in a half-hearted attempt at a shrug. “Sure, sometimes there’s a bigger picture — a reason a mother’s die and a reason father’s walk away.” He swallowed, trying to ignore the pang at the thought of his dad. “And sometimes… they just die. And just walk away.”
He watched Sam resist his logic, pulling at the ropes that bound his wrists.
“So, there’s no fate, is that what you’re saying?”
“I’m saying we make our own, Sam. Just like the Guileys. Just like Dad.” He rotated his neck gingerly. His whole body throbbed. “Just like every other damn person on this miserable planet.”
Sam stared at him a moment longer. Dean waited, knowing Sam would want to drive the point into the ground and stand on it for leverage. When Sam’s face flinched, Dean sat slightly back.
“What is it?”
“I think I just got one of the knots loose,” Sam breathed.
Dean almost sagged with relief. “Good,” he said. “Keep at it. We have to figure out a way to… get some weapons. Something. These dudes can be taken out if we can do it one at a time.”
“Just like eating… an elephant…” Sam grunted, pulling at his ropes, his face twisted in concentration.
“Whatever you say, College Boy. One of these poor bastards around here has to have a weapon on them.”
Sam jerked. “I’m free!” He reached up and started in on the knots at his neck.
“Okay, listen to me, Sam,” Dean started, his eyes having found the butt of what looked to be an ancient pistol. “To your right there’s a green satchel, see it?”
“Yeah,” Sam ground out, pulling the ropes loose and working his head from beneath them.
“There’s a gun in it, I think. Check it, and look for bullets and, hell, maybe even gun powder, who knows.”
Sam scrambled to the satchel, digging in the decaying mess, and pulling out a pistol with a roughly nine-inch barrel, a ramrod fixed beneath it, and a hammer about the size of Sam’s thumb.
“Holy crap,” the brothers whispered together.
“This is like… Revolutionary War era, Dean.”
“Okay.” Dean licked his lips, blinking rapidly as he remembered to breathe. The world was starting to tunnel on him and he was almost too tired to shake it off. “Okay, so… yeah. You gotta find some balls.”
Sam shot him a look over his shoulder.
“For the gun, dumbass.”
“There’s, ugh, a lot of… gunk in here,” Sam complained, digging deeper into the bag.
“Ignore the gunk, Princess,” Dean ordered, swaying forward on his chains, wanting to give in and slip sideways into the dark. Let the world have its way. But then, there was Sam… “They’re not going to leave us alone down here forever, y’know.”
“Okay, I found one. And some powder.”
“You got… one shot, Sam,” Dean said. “I, uh… I can’t see any other weapons from here.”
“Let me take a look—“
Raised voices and stomping feet cut him off. Both brothers looked up, and Dean felt his body tense, his belly heating up with anticipation.
“Okay, scratch that. Hold really still so I can shoot your chains—“
“No,” Dean interrupted, wetting his lips and pulling in a breath. Sam straightened slowly, his free hand sliding to his wounded side, his eyes hidden by his bangs and the absence of light. Gripping the chains for balance as his vision swayed, Dean pinned his brother with his eyes.
“You gotta get off this ship.”
“You get out of this hell hole, take out as many of these sonsabitches as you can, and get to the dune.”
Sam seemed to settle slightly, his shoulders hunching in. “Leave you behind, you mean.”
Dean swallowed. “These chains are thick, Sam, and one shot isn’t going to—“
“Forget it,” Sam looked down, pulling the stopper from the powder horn. “I’m not leaving you.”
“Sam…” Dean almost pleaded.
“No, Dean. No.”
“Sam, these guys… these guys are desperate, okay? Mercy doesn’t translate for them.” Dean shook his chains once in frustration. “We’re not going to luck our way out of this one. It’s not like we got a lot of miracles in our back pocket. You can get back… find Dad and—“
Sam looked up sharply. “And what? Come back and see if the ship is still here after the solstice? Return in a year and bury your body?”
Dean was quiet.
“Forget it, Dean.”
“I’m not letting you get yourself killed—“
Sam took three steps forward, crossing the room and leaning forward so that his face was inches from Dean’s. “It’s my fate, Dean.”
Dean frowned, wanting to pull back from the intensity in Sam’s eyes. “I—“
“Mine. And I’m not losing you to some damn pirates.”
Sam loaded the Kentucky pistol as though he’d handled Revolutionary War era firearms all his life. When he grabbed Dean's wrist, pulling the chain taut, Dean lacked the strength to protest. Before Sam could aim, however, the hold door was thrown open and both brothers jumped, facing the stairs as three pirates—including Scarface and Dreadlocks—stormed down the stairs toward them.
Everyone stopped and stared for a moment when the pirates realized that Sam was free. Dean felt the odd sensation of time slowing, a rush of blood to filled his ears with white noise and he saw his brother turn to face him, dread in his hazel eyes.
Dean opened his mouth to utter a protest of denial when Dreadlocks charged forward, his sword out, slapping the heavy gun from Sam’s grip and jabbing the point of the sword into the soft flesh of Sam’s belly.
“SAM!” Dean roared, his voice deepening with a bolt of panic, the last reserve of energy he’d stuffed deep several moments before surging forward.
Sam stumbled back, grabbing his middle, and to Dean’s relief, pulled his hand away clean. The blade hadn’t broken skin. In a flurry of Spanish, the pirates seemed to swarm them, arguing and pointing, reaching for Sam, ignoring Dean.
“I’m not leaving you!”
“Get away! You fight them off! Don’t you let them win!”
“Dean!” Sam cried out fighting against the heavy hands of the pirates as they pulled him across the hold, easily subduing his thrashing arms, kicking feet, dragging him toward the stairs.
“You bastards!” Dean screamed, blood thrumming beneath his skin, rushing to his face, burning the backs of his eyes. He strained against his chains, pulling his body forward until his arms shook from the effort. He felt the metal shackles dig into the bend of his wrists, cutting and rubbing the skin there raw. “Let him go!”
Sam growled out a curse, pushing against the pirates and earning a cuff on the ear for his efforts.
“I am going to fucking gut you!” Dean bellowed, his voice shaking from the effort of his cry, his body trembling, stars blinking before his eyes. “I will rip your heads off with my bare hands, I swear to God!”
He was spinning, the world was spinning, and Sam was being pulled further away.
So focused was he on his brother’s retreating form that he didn’t see Scarface pick up the discarded Kentucky pistol. And he didn’t see him aim it. And he didn’t see the flash of fire as the lethal ball flew from the barrel.
He only felt an explosion of fire in his shoulder as the air was slammed from his lungs with the impact. As he crumpled to the death-saturated floor of the hold, he dimly heard his brother call his name.
And then the world was empty.
The snap-fizz-bang of the pistol slid shivers like mercury through Sam’s blood. The sight of Dean falling as if lifeless to the deck in a tangle of chains erased coherent thought from his mind. The powerful hands pulling him away from Dean’s body effectively sent him over the edge into white-hot insanity of rage.
His wrath was so complete he was able to struggle free from the grasp of the pirates and push away from the wall of bodies blocking his return to the hold for all of a minute. He reached the top step before he felt hands gripping him once more, determined fingers twisting and bruising his bare skin, slipping on the sweat and blood and digging in to deny him access to his brother’s current prison.
“You goddamn bastards,” Sam panted, his mouth dry, his lungs on fire. He struggled harder until a backhanded strike sent his world spinning. He sagged for a moment, blinking desperately, trying to keep from blacking out.
Foreign words with hidden meaning were barked around him and he was dimly aware that the night was waning. Stumbling over his feet, drunk with fatigue and shock, Sam looked around, then up. The stars were losing their brilliance and the deep black of the sky was starting to fade to navy blue. Their time was growing short and the realization both panicked him and empowered him.
As he was drug to the bow of the ship toward where he’d last seen Mack, he realized the black coat Mack had worn was still tied to the make-shift cross—but Mack himself was absent. As he was shoved roughly forward, angry shouts and rapid words surrounding him, Sam’s eyes scoured the deck for the wayward red-head.
Dreadlocks grabbed Sam’s hair, forcing him to his knees in front of the opened treasure chest. Two others grabbed his rope-burned wrists and pulled his arms away from his sides, exposing his bare, heaving chest. The Captain approached his bloodied sword out and ready.
“No,” Sam panted. “No! Stay back!”
Dreadlocks yanked Sam’s head up with a fist-full of his hair and he found he was unable to watch the progress of the Captain. He had no problem feeling the tip of the sword cut into his belly, however.
“Argghhhh!” Sam screamed, his skin lighting up with fire from the cut. “NO!” He struggled harder, pulling enough away from Dreadlocks that he was able to look down.
A shallow slice—just above his navel—traversed his belly, and blood spilled in across his skin, dripped onto the pearls, already stained with what he assumed was Mack’s blood. The Captain lifted his stained sword so that it caught the light of the moon.
“Y-you freakin’… zombies.” Sam sputtered. “Doesn’t matter what you do, don’t you get that! Kill one, kill a hundred, you’re never going home!”
The Captain dropped his eyes from the blade to Sam, then traveled across the waiting faces of his diminished crew. A shout rose up from the crew below and the Captain muttered a reply. Sam felt himself suddenly freed as the pirates holding his arms strode forward, challenging their captain with angry words.
For a moment Sam could only sway on his knees, his hands automatically moving to cover his belly, hissing at the pain of contact. When Dreadlocks stepped around him, shoving him roughly aside, Sam scooted away, moving until his back was to the starboard edge of the ship. Panting, he craned his neck to look over the edge, thinking fast.
Emerson had had the bag of weapons. In the bag were rock-salt filled shotguns, spare clothes, and most importantly, water. If he was going to get Dean out of there, he was going to need all three. Pulling himself up, his legs shaking as his system rode out the shock of abuse, he looked down the side of the ship’s hull.
Damn, that’s far.
A cry of fury snapped his head around. Dreadlocks was pointing at him, realizing, it seemed, that his charge hadn’t stayed cowering where he’d been left. He started to turn, to run, and slammed full-force into the body of another pirate. Stumbling backwards, Sam’s hip met a gap in the starboard rail.
He reached out blindly, grabbing for purchase, and saw Dreadlocks grin as he drew closer. Sam swallowed, the sting on his belly begging to be noticed. Lifting a short sword, Dreadlocks snarled out three short words and the pirate Sam had collided with laughed. Sam narrowed his eyes.
“He wants to know if you have any last words,” came a voice to his left.
With surprise, three pairs of eyes turned to see Mack hanging off the side of the ship, clinging to a large rope that spilled over the rail. Sam blinked, trying to piece together the memory of the kid’s scream, the silence that followed, the empty coat hanging from the cross, and the sight of Mack, his shoulders and arms slick with blood, clinging like a barnacle on the side of the ancient ship.
The cutlass jabbed once more and Sam stumbled backwards, the heel of his shoe meeting open air. Dreadlocks repeated the phrase.
“Last words?” Sam shot back. “Hell, yeah. I got two of them. Fuck. You.”
With that, Dreadlocks lunged forward and Sam stepped back, praying that he wouldn’t break his legs when he landed. He didn’t anticipate not truly landing at all.
He felt his toes brush sand, felt them sink in, felt the sand suck at his legs, pulling his plummeting body downward until he’d slipped all the way beneath the surface of the desert floor, his arms out and flailing. Sand filled his nose, stung his eyes, and spilled into his mouth as he gasped for breath.
It was his nightmare. It was his hell. He was slipping through the earth, drowning in an airless vacuum, sliding further away from all that was solid, real. His mind spun, slipping on the greased edges of reason, unable to grip, to slow, to hold. His lungs flinched and curled, twisting in his chest until he was sure they would split through his skin and fill with sand.
He was dying.
And then, he stopped falling. A fist tightened in his hair. A hand gripped his wrist. As sparks of dying light from the raw ends of his tortured nerves danced across his eyes, Sam felt himself being pulled once more to the surface of the night. The hand at his wrist moved up to his shoulder. The fist in his hair grabbed for his other arm.
The cold of the desert winter smacked him in the face and he was coughing and gasping and spitting out sand and gagging all at once. He couldn’t open his eyes, couldn’t move his arms, could do nothing but drag sweet, precious air into his desperate lungs. He felt more hands on him pulling him from the sand sink hole and rolling him to the solid earth at the base of the ship.
“Here,” a voice whispered, and Sam felt a gentle hand at the back of his head, lifting it from the ground. He continued to cough, feeling as though his lungs would never be free of the grit of sand, when he felt the first drops of water on his lips. He grabbed for it.
“Hey, hey, easy! There’s plenty.”
Sam gulped, swallowed, gulped more, breaking only to breathe. He felt gentle fingers at his eyes, washing the sand away. After drinking deeply once more, he was able to finally blink.
“Emerson?” he croaked.
“In the flesh.”
“What… how…” Sam pushed himself to his elbow. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Playin’ dead,” Emerson replied. “Here, wash that off,” he said to someone on Sam’s other side. Sam turned to look and saw Mack using the tail end of a gray T-shirt to wash off the sand-encrusted blood on Sam’s belly.
“Mack.” Sam sat forward more, reaching out to touch the red-head’s shoulder. “You… how did you…”
“Guess my blood wasn’t good enough,” Mack said, continuing his ministrations.
“You scared the shit outta me, man,” Emerson laughed softly. “I was all… looking for a way up and then you just… fell out of the sky.”
“And sank into the sand,” Mack said, pulling his ruined, bloody shirt off and sliding the one he’d been using as a rag over his head.
“How—“ Sam’s question was broken off with a fit of coughing, his body shuddering as he drug air in over the edges of his raw throat.
Emerson pulled open his long-sleeved shirt, exposing a bandaged wound just beneath his shoulder. “Dude hit me. I thought I was dead. I laid there forever trying to figure out what the hell to do next… and why the hell they hadn’t come after me. Then I realized… they couldn’t.”
Mack handed Sam a shirt. Sam pulled it on over his shivering body before he realized the significance. “You found the bag!”
Emerson nodded, lifting the canvass. “Here, wrap up your—“
“C’mon.” Sam pushed himself to his knees. “We gotta get back up there.”
“What?” Emerson cried out. “Are you crazy?”
“We gotta get Dean,” Sam said, using the side of the ship to help him stand. “Lemme see the bag.”
“Look,” Emerson stood, the water bottle he’d used to revive Sam gripped tightly in his hands. “I didn’t pull you out of that… that Lightning Sand just so you could take us back into the Hellmouth.”
Sam simply blinked at him.
“He’s right, Sam,” Mack chimed in, also standing. “They’re getting desperate up there. They’ve done everything from hack someone to pieces to bleed them dry to drizzle their blood over the pearls and they’re still here.”
Sam gaped at him. “Look who’s E.F. Hutton all the sudden. You think I care about a goddamn curse?”
“I heard the shot,” Mack said softly. “You don’t even know if—“
Sam took a step away from the ship, backing Mack up. “Don’t you say it.”
“We got a chance to get outta here, man!” Emerson exclaimed. “Let’s just take the water and the clothes and get the hell outta Dodge!”
Sam felt his heart thud. Felt his blood slow. Felt his eyes burn. Felt his lungs constrict. “I’m not leaving him.”
He bent, reaching for the bag, and ended up on his knees as the hot flash of pain across his belly made itself known. Dragging in a breath, he pressed a hand to his still-bleeding wound.
“You can’t even stand,” Emerson pointed out. “How are you going to—“
Sam ripped the zippered bag open, tugging out a bandana. “If you had any idea what it was like to really be a brother,” Sam growled, “you wouldn’t even bother to finish that thought.” He tied the bandage with an extra shirt, slinging the straps of the bag over his shoulder, then pushed himself to his feet. “I’m not leaving him.”
He took a step away from the boat, looking up the massive structure in search of a way back to Dean.
“I saved your life, man,” Emerson pointed out. “I coulda let you drown in that freaky sand trap.”
“True.” Sam nodded, moving toward the bow of the ship, stepping calmly over the beheaded body of the pirate tossed overboard earlier that night. “But then, Dean and I coulda let those truckers have you. Or press charges for stealing the Impala. Or leave you by the side of the road when we went after the ghosts.” He stopped then, turning to face the Guileys. “But we didn’t.”
Mack blinked at him, looking small and young in his too-big shirt. Emerson dropped his eyes to the ground.
“That’s my brother up there,” Sam said. “Pretty much my only family. I just got him back…” Sam felt his throat tighten at the thought. “ And. I’m. Not. Leaving. Him.”
With that he turned and continued toward the bow, his brain on fire with all possible outcomes of climbing back onto the ship. He rounded the bow and reached the rope ladder on the port side without a clear idea of what he was going to do.
“What the hell would you do, Dean?” he muttered, needing the weight of the question on his ears to ground him in reality as fiction seemed to swarm around him.
Kill ‘em all…
Sam dropped the bag in the sand, nodding at the unspoken thought. “You’d kill ‘em all. Sure fire way to end the curse, huh?”
He knelt in the sand, feeling the disorienting sensation of sinking into water and pushed the bag further toward the stern, shuffling after it.
“Bet you’re wondering what the hell happened to us, aren’tcha, Dad?” Sam said softly to himself, needing the sound of his voice to focus his thoughts and steady his hands. “It’s gonna be a miracle if we get out of this one.”
Layla’s voice, soft, a hint of a smile balanced like bookends to her words, slipped into his consciousness. Never know when you might need another miracle… I think you two are blessed… You have each other.
“She’s got that right.” Sam wiped beads of sweat from his upper lip as he drew out two shotguns, checking their loads. “Here’s how it’s going to go down, Dean.” He swallowed. “I’m gonna get up there, take out as many of these sonsabitches as I can, and get down into that hold.” He checked the Glock and tucked it into his side as his belly was too tender to double as a holster. “And you’re gonna be alive. There’s no way you’re gonna die on me now… not after Nebraska.”
We've done all we can. We can try and keep him comfortable at this point. But, I'd give him a couple weeks, at most, maybe a month.
He grabbed up the bag of salt and set it next to him.
Look, Sammy, what can I say, man, it's a dangerous gig. I drew the short straw. That's it, end of story.
He pulled out the fuel and set it next to the salt.
I know it's not easy. But I'm gonna die. And you can't stop it.
“Watch me,” he declared, lifting the shotguns and standing up.
“You gonna carry all that up a rope ladder?”
Sam jumped, turning to see the Guileys standing a few feet behind him.
“If I have to,” he replied.
Emerson’s blond head seemed to shimmer silver in the slowly dying moonlight. He looked at Mack, then back to Sam. “We’ll come with you.”
“What changed your mind?” Sam narrowed his eyes, tilting his head.
Emerson lifted a shoulder. “We came here for treasure. We don’t want to leave without it.”
“Well,” Sam sighed, picking up the bag, “guess everyone has to have a goal.” He handed the bag to Mack. “Make yourself useful.”
He handed a shotgun to Emerson. “Maybe you can shoot better than your brother. Grab the salt.”
“What’s the salt for?”
Sam turned to the ladder, tucking the shotgun under his arm. “Extermination.”
The ruckus above decks met their ears when they’d climbed half-way. Sam wet his lips, taking a calming breath. Reaching the top, he peered carefully over the edge and found himself looking into insanity. Twelve had become ten, and ten turned into eight as he watched.
The loss of their latest crop of curse breakers had turned the pirates on each other in a frenzy of rage and Sam saw that two crew members had managed to skewer each other on swords, dying on their knees, facing each other like lovers just short of embrace. Another was essentially tacked with a sword through the neck to the main mast, and a fourth met with a similar fate as Dean’s Highlander victim.
Sam looked below him at the waiting brothers. “All hell broke loose,” he whispered. “Take out as many as you can with the shotgun, spill the salt and the fuel. I’ll do the rest.”
“Spill it where?” Emerson shot back in a stage whisper.
Sam looked back at the deck. “Anywhere,” he answered, lifting himself over the edge.
He was immediately confronted by a bald pirate with tattoos covering nearly every inch of exposed skin. Without hesitation, Sam lifted the shotgun and fired a blast of rock salt point-blank into the pirate’s sternum. He wasn’t sure what to expect from spirits that behaved like revenants.
When the pirate screamed in pain and exploded in a blast of flesh and dust, Sam blinked, then nodded. “That’ll work.”
He made his way toward the center of the deck, hearing another shotgun blast behind him and Emerson displaying the many ways in which he could use the word fuck in a sentence. Sam fired a round at another pirate, choosing to not pay attention to the secret thrill that shivered through him when the spirit disintegrated. He reached the hold cover, kicked the lock open and lifted the door.
The darkness below pushed him back for a moment. Fear crawled up his throat like a living thing, searing him with doubt. Oh God oh God oh God…
He took a step down, and suddenly he wasn’t descending the steps into the death-ridden hold of a surreal pirate ship in the middle of the desert, he was heading down into a dank basement, the smell of cooked flesh filling his nostrils, the sight of his all-go-no-quit brother lying limp and helpless on a pile of rags.
His voice was barely there, his will tucking tail and running back up the stairs. As he took another step down, he wished fervently for his father. If Dad was here… things would never have gotten this bad. Another shotgun blast above him shook him free of the paralyzing fear and he was suddenly running, scrambling, slipping in the muck and falling to his knees beside his brother.
The sight of Dean’s blood brought back the reality of the moment that the seemingly clean deaths above had removed. Dean’s body was a pile of loose bone and muscle, tangled in the heavy chains, his shoulder torn by the journey the ancient ball had made through his flesh. With a trembling hand, Sam reached out to press fingers against Dean’s throat, immediately relieved to feel the pulse there and alarmed at the clammy feel of his skin.
“I’m here, okay? We’re getting out of here.”
Gently rolling Dean to his back, Sam frowned, trying to assess the best way to remove the chains and not injure his brother further. Setting the shotgun down, he pulled out the Glock. Taking a breath, he stretched Dean’s wounded arm away from his body, pulling the chain as far as he dared, took aim, and fired.
The chain exploded, Dean’s hand bouncing free, though the shackle remained attached to his wrist.
“We’ll have to deal with your jewelry choices later,” Sam muttered, turning to the other arm and firing once more.
Dean was free. And unconscious. And bleeding.
Sam knelt next to him once more, taking his brother’s face in his hand, turning it toward him. “Dean? Hey, man, it’s me. It’s Sam.”
Dean didn’t even flinch. Sam patted his cheek, wondering why he bothered when two gun blasts in close proximity hadn’t made him stir.
“Dean? C’mon, man… please… just… something, okay? Give me something.”
Dean laid still, the only sign of life the steady rise and fall of his chest and the steady, if rapid, beat of his heart. Sam heard Emerson’s voice call out and looked over his shoulder toward the stairway leading to the deck.
“Okay, man,” he said, checking the shotgun load. Two shots left. He had to make a choice. There was no way he was carrying everything. He discarded the shotgun, tucked the Glock into his back waistband and shifted to a crouch next to his brother. “Don’t know ‘bout you, but I’ve had enough of this place.”
He lifted Dean’s head and shoulders up, his hand skimming the clammy, bare skin of Dean’s back, unsure if he should be relieved or dismayed that he didn’t find an exit wound. His belly pulled with his efforts, causing him to groan as he slipped Dean’s limp arm over his shoulders and slid his shoulder beneath his brother’s. Tucking his head close to Dean’s chest and gripping Dean’s waist with long fingers, he shoved to his feet, dragging Dean with him.
“C’mon, big brother,” Sam panted. “That’s it…”
Dean was deadweight against him. Sam gripped the shackled wrist of the arm across his shoulder, holding Dean’s body against his with his other arm, and moved toward the stairs.
Which seemed impossibly steep.
As he started to climb, he realized that the words he’d been hearing Emerson yell were not only no longer imaginative groupings of swear words, but were also being translated into Spanish in a shaking, rough voice by his brother.
“—killed your Captain! And I have your map!”
Sam dragged Dean up another step.
“The map is the source of your curse; without it, no one else will find your Angel. No one else!”
Sam stumbled and almost lost his grip on Dean.
“The rest of you, back the fuck off and let us go—with these pearls—and we won’t destroy the map.”
When Sam breeched the hold, the first thing he saw was the denim blue of the pre-dawn horizon. The sun was steadily chewing through the darkness to once more overtake the night. He shifted Dean against him, and turned to face the stern of the ship to see Emerson and Mack flanking the wheel, the red-headed Captain pinned to the wood by a sword through the chest. Emerson held the rolled-up parchment of the map in one hand and a lighter in the other. Mack’s fists were full of pearls. Sam looked toward the bow and saw four pirates—among them Dreadlocks and a pirate with a long, puckered scar running down the side of his face—staring back at the Guileys, murder in their eyes.
In his arms, Dean trembled. Sam shifted his attention, gripping Dean tighter, trying to ignore the pull of his brother’s weight, blood slicking the skin along his side and making him even harder to hold.
Dean groaned, his head rolling slightly so that his cheek rested on Sam’s collarbone.
“Easy,” Sam soothed. “We’re getting out of here.”
Mack shoved the pearls in the duffel bag, tossing it to the deck and jumping down after it. Emerson stayed where he was, still holding the map.
“What’s it gonna be, huh?” Emerson yelled. Mack didn’t bother to translate.
Just as the four remaining pirates stepped forward, the Desolation Angel shifted, sending them staggering to the side and tossing Sam to his knees, Dean tumbling from his grip. As he hit the deck, Dean cried out, his body shuddering with the pain of impact. Sam reached out, grasping his brother’s arm just above his shackled wrist and crawled closer as the ship seemed to groan like a woman crying out in pain.
“What’s happening?” Mack spoke up fearfully.
“Sunrise,” Sam replied, looking along the edge of the horizon, watching as the blue was washed out by the golden fingers of the sun. He looked over at Emerson. “Light it.”
“What?” Emerson said, surprised.
Sam looked down at Dean, tightening his hold when he was met with the green irises of his brother’s glassy eyes. He crawled closer, nodding at Dean, but not surprised when he got nothing but a blink in return. The ship rolled once more, tipping further toward the port side, the bow beginning to sink, sending the four pirates backwards.
“Light the damn thing,” Sam yelled, still looking at Dean. “End this.”
“But what about the treas—“
“Light it,” Dean rasped, staring back at Sam.
“Light it,” Mack echoed. “I wanna go home, Em.”
Dreadlocks called out, his words understood only by Mack. Emerson flicked the lighter, touching the flame to the map, then dropped the crackling parchment to a pool of fuel near a pile of salt. Sam half-stood, gripping Dean by the arm and waist, trying to pull him from the deck.
Dean cried out as another shift and roll of the ship sent them all skidding toward the port bow of the ship, including the pirates. The flames from the fuel caught, skipping along a twisted, crooked path and lining the ship deck with flames just as a sliver of sun crested the edge of the world. As Sam watched, Dreadlocks faced him, dropping his sword and opening his hands as if in them he held something precious.
The ship groaned, sinking and rolling at once until Sam felt his back hit the port rail, Dean’s body crashing against his tender belly. The port cannons sank into the sand as it parted for them like butter, making Sam realize how he’d fallen in so quickly and deeply. The wooden Angel at the bow buried her arms into the sand. The deck was nearly vertical, the flames sliding toward them like mercury.
“Off!” Sam bellowed. “Off, everybody! Now, off the ship!”
Emerson and Mack wasted no time following that order, tossing the duffel the short distance to the desert floor and jumping after it. The fingers of light from the sun hit the pirates one by one. Before Sam’s eyes, they vanished into a breath, hidden from sight once more until the next winter solstice.
“Sam.” Dean’s voice was wet, tight, and saturated with pain. Sam had never heard his brother sound like this before and he shook as he looked down at Dean’s pale face. “Lemme go.”
“Don’t be a jerk, Dean,” Sam retorted, looking over his shoulder at the drop to the desert floor. He wasn’t sure how he was going to get Dean down without damaging him further, but the fire that was slowly consuming the ship was closing in on them.
“Listen,” Dean forced out, his throat working overtime to force out the words through dry, cracked lips. “You’ll… never get out… of this desert… dragging me… ‘long.”
Sam turned them, Dean’s back now pressed against the rail, Sam’s body against his, anchoring him there as the boat rolled once more, sinking closer to the desert floor. Dean was trembling against him, his arms hanging loose on either side, weighted by the heavy shackles, his shoulder a torn, bloody mess, his eyes barely open. Sam felt Dean push against him with his legs, trying to use the ship as leverage.
“Only… so many t-times,” Dean swallowed hard, blinking his heavy-lidded eyes, “I c-can… ch-cheat death.”
“Hell, Dean. You’re a hustler, right? You can cheat at anything.” Sam pulled him close, wrapping an arm around Dean’s less-wounded one, pinning it against his body. “Besides, it’s almost Christmas. Maybe it’s time you started believing in miracles.”
With that, Sam rolled, letting the motion of the ship spill him to the sand, Dean limp in his arms, the fire eating through the ancient wood, the sun turning the silver desert into gold. Digging in his heels, he pushed away as quickly as his burden would allow, the ominous groaning of the ship a warning that he needed to move.
Scrambling out from beneath Dean’s unconscious form, Sam wrapped his arms under Dean’s, lacing his fingers across his sternum, and began to pull. The shackles on Dean’s wrists dug furrows into the sand and slowed their progress.
Around them, the masts began to hit the sand, the wood almost seeming to cry out as the force of the death roll pushed them deeper into the desert, snapping and twisting, the canvass sails tangling around the ropes. Sam screamed in a frustrated echo of that sound, pulling Dean as fast as his fatigued body would allow him.
“C’mon!” Sam cried out as the tallest mast snapped; the deck now half-buried in the Mojave. I’m not gonna make it I’m not gonna make it I’m not gonna make—
“Gimme his arm!”
“The left,” Sam gasped as Emerson materialized beside him. “Grab the left!”
“Dude, he is messed up.”
“Don’t talk, just go,” Sam panted, able to escape faster as the desert reclaimed the ship. They managed to reach the top of the dune and turned back, grabbing huge gulps of air, just in time to see the Desolation Angel slip beneath the waves of sand, nothing but the open hands of the wooden Angel visible from the desert floor.
“G-guess that answers that question,” Sam panted, sinking to his knees beside his brother. “G-gimme some of that w-water,” he ordered.
Mack dropped a bottle into his open hand and Sam pulled Dean carefully into his lap, his head resting in the crook of Sam’s elbow. Sam drizzled water carefully across Dean’s parted lips, waiting until his brother reacted and then carefully filled his mouth until he swallowed.
“That’s it,” Sam encouraged. “Slow and easy, man.”
Dean didn’t open his eyes, but Sam felt awareness return to his brother by the flex of his muscles and the rapid swallowing of water. As Dean drank, Sam let his eyes slip to the ragged wound at his right shoulder. His stomach clenched at the sight.
“Sam,” Dean whispered.
“Yeah, Dean. I’m here.”
When Dean said nothing else, Sam frowned, offering him more water, but he choked on it as it filled his mouth. Sam pulled the water back, his chin trembling with emotion as he regarded his brother’s pale, bruised face in the morning light.
“You look like shit, man.”
“What…” Emerson spoke up. “What the hell do we do now?”
Sam looked up, then around. Pieces of the Jeep were scattered across the dune and in a several foot radius around them. The pirate ship—and her treasure—had sunk. Civilization was nearly a day’s drive away.
Dean shivered in his arms and Sam looked down. “Hand me one of those extra shirts,” he said. “Actually, make that two.”
“There’s only one,” Mack replied.
Sam sighed. Slipping from beneath Dean’s shoulders, he laid his brother carefully on the sand and took the spare shirt, then untied his own make-shift bandage. Stuffing the bandana that was providing the main point of his dressing into the front of his pants to anchor it in place, he wadded the other up and pressed it to Dean’s wounded shoulder.
Dean gasped, his eyes opening, wide and unseeing.
“Easy,” Sam soothed. “Easy, it’s okay.”
“Sombitch,” Dean managed, his jaw shivering with pain.
Sam tied the bandage around Dean’s shoulder as best he could, then gathered the bottom edges of the spare shirt up until he was able to slip it over Dean’s head.
“Help me,” Sam ordered. Dean turned slightly, unable to lift his shackle-heavy arms, and allowed Sam to dress him. “There you go.”
“Dude, seriously,” Emerson said again, dropping down beside him in the sand. “What now?”
Sam looked at him, then slid his eyes up to Mack, their identical blue eyes pleading with him for reassurance. He looked back down at Dean, whose eyes were closed, lashes shadowing pale cheeks, body shuddering from exhaustion and pain. He looked out across the desert expanse, feeling the warmth of the sun already seeping into his muscles.
Dean’s hand slid across the sand, his fingers bumping Sam’s and catching his attention.
“Go,” Dean whispered.
Sam felt his chest ache with the thought of having to tell Dean that he wasn’t leaving him one more time… but then, Dean’s fingers hooked over his, gripping with the force of an order, and he opened his eyes to bore green determination into Sam’s.
You and me. We're all that's left. So, if we're gonna see this through, we're gonna do it together.
“Go,” Dean repeated. “Just… go.”
Sam nodded, understanding. He looked over at the Guileys, watching Mack pick up a piece of Jeep wreckage and turn it over curiously in his hand.
“Get up. We’re going.”
“But… where? How?”
Sam leaned forward, gathering Dean against him, once more slipping his brother’s arm over his shoulder and tucking his body against Dean’s. With a heave, he pushed himself to his feet, this time, Dean somewhat able to help balance them. Together, they turned and faced the bewildered Guiley brothers.
“That way. On foot,” Sam answered Emerson’s questions.
“We’ll never make it,” Emerson predicted, shouldering the duffel bag.
Sam felt Dean’s head roll on his shoulder, lifting slightly. “Move,” Dean ordered in a thick voice. “Keep moving. Do not stop.”
“Is he serious?” Emerson squeaked.
Instead of answering, Sam followed Dean’s order, keeping his brother close, keeping their sluggish, halting steps in line. Dean was quiet. He was almost… still. And Sam had never seen him this physically broken before, his fate literally in Sam’s hands. He’d never traveled a road this daunting with a burden this important before.
He’d never been tested like this before.
“Sam,” Dean whispered.
“Yeah,” Sam replied.
“You’re… not gonna… fail.”
“How do you know?” Sam felt a ball of tears press against his larynx trying its best to choke off his voice.
“’Cause…” Dean shifted, taking some of his weight from Sam long enough to lift his head and looked directly at him. “I’m an awesome… big brother.”
Sam huffed slightly, the sound of metal clinking behind him as the Guileys moved through the Jeep wreckage.
“And…” Dean pulled away a bit more. “I know you.”
Sam kept hold of his brother’s shackled hands, keeping their steps in time and wondered if they managed to reach the end of this journey what, or who, would be waiting for them at the finish line.
a/n: *peeks out from behind fingers*
I’m heading to Oklahoma on a family vacation where chapter four will be my escape from the wonderful consistency of the delighted screeches from children not my own. Well, okay, and even my own.
Also, some of you have wondered what the heck is up with Mack. And if John really knew what LeGrange was doing. That will become clearer (hopefully) next chapter… In fact, more questions will be raised and others answered in the coming chapters culminating to a resolution in chapter 6, the final chapter of this story.
Hope to see you then!
Part 4A/B can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/55691.html>