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 sat back down, concern pushing his shoulders lower as the outside light turned Dean’s sunburned face an odd shade of gray. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Just do what they want you to so you can get out of here. I’ll get you some real food at Joshua’s.”
“Okay, yeah, that.” Dean pointed at him. “What the hell, man?”
“You met him, right?”
Dean nodded. “I met him. Nice guy. Reminded me of Dad.”
Sam leaned forward, elbows on knees, and told Dean about the helicopter rescue, the Santa suit, the Vet camp. As he talked Dean’s eyes seemed to retreat, slipping over memory and tightening focus when he caught on something familiar.
“I can’t believe you let them put me in a helicopter,” he said when Sam ran out of words.
“There wasn’t any other way, man. Besides,” Sam said with a grin, “we sang Metallica.”
Dean smiled. “Yeah?”
“Dean?” Sam sighed, leaning back.
Dean watched him, waiting.
“You want to know something weird?”
Dean chuckled. “You’re gonna have to work at it if you plan on beating a soldier in a Santa suit landing a helicopter in the desert to rescue four guys wounded from fighting pirate ghosts.”
“In the desert, I… I remembered, like, everything Dad taught us,” Sam said softly.
“Why is that weird?” Dean popped two of the small white pills from their silver packets and tossed them onto the back of his tongue, swallowing.
“You don’t understand,” Sam sat forward. “I mean everything. How to fight, how to move, what to watch for. I remembered freakin’ Morse Code, Dean.”
One hand wrapped around his middle, Dean tilted his head to the side. “Sam, you spent your whole life around that. Of course you—“
“No, listen, see, I didn’t!” Sam stood up, and paced to the end of the bed, then leaned a shoulder against the wall. It was easier to talk to Dean about this without actually looking at him. “I hated learning all that shit. You soaked it up. You were good at it. But I just… tolerated it. I wanted to make you proud but I was always so… so pissed off at Dad for making us do all those drills and learn all that lore and the military slang and the bullshit sign language for soldiers and… hell, all of it.”
Dean didn’t say anything. Sam barreled forward. The words were ballooning in his chest, piling up in their eagerness to get out, to be heard. He was almost choking on them.
“I couldn’t wait to get away from it. From him. There were times I hated him so much for making us live that way, dragging us around everywhere… leaving us. I remember more Christmases without him than with him, y’know?” Sam rolled to his back, leaning against the wall and tipping his head up to stare at the paneled ceiling, not waiting for Dean to answer him. “I picked that fight with him. The day I left. I could have told him about Stanford differently. I could have snuck out. I could have done lotsa things.”
“But I wanted him mad,” Sam interrupted. “I wanted him to push me away. I wanted him to have to watch me walk away and know that he was the one that did it. Then I could feel justified, y’know? I could say he made me leave… he told me not to come back…”
The tears were tight in his throat, doing their best to block his words.
“I missed you, man,” he almost whispered. “I would wake up at night in the apartment and… I’d forget for a minute. But I wouldn’t let myself miss Dad. I packed it all away—anything I brought with me that was connected to hunting. All of it, gone.”
“Not all of it,” Dean said quietly.
Sam looked at him and felt tears slip down his heated face, tucking neatly into the corners of his mouth.
“You were ready to take me down that night I broke in to your apartment.”
“That’s different. That’s instinct.”
“What do you think all that desert kung-fu was, Sam?”
Sam looked down, feeling the next words cut into him as they climbed free. “If I’d let myself remember back then… if I’d still been listening to Dad… Jess might still—“
“No!” Dean leaned forward as far as his wounded body would allow. “You stop right there. Jessica’s death… it wasn’t your fault. No matter what you dreamed, no matter what you thought you saw. Dad said it on the phone when he called us from Sacramento. It was a demon, Sam. It was that demon and nothing else.”
Sam nodded, silent for several moments.
“Why do you believe in me, Dean?” He asked softly, sniffing. He lifted his head, taking in the lines of pain and weariness on his brother’s face, the tightness of his stern mouth, the hunched posture of self-protection. “Back in the desert, when we got off the ship… you said you knew I wasn’t going to fail.”
“How, Dean? How do you know?”
As Sam watched, Dean’s chin shook and his brother looked away, working to control himself. “Sammy, goddammit. I have watched you all your life. You realize that? The life I had before you were born wasn’t even… real.” Dean looked back at him out of the corner of his eyes and Sam saw them glisten with tears held at bay. “It scared the hell out of me, watching you grow up. Watching you figure stuff out. But I never once saw you fail. Never once.”
“But… what if I succeeded in something I wasn’t supposed to?”
Dean sighed. “Hasn’t happened yet, brother. And if it does…” he shrugged. “We’ll deal with it.”
They were quiet for a moment, the muffled voices in the hall the only noise in the room.
“Joshua knows where Dad is,” Sam said. “Gave me the phone number.”
Dean looked away. “Think he’s still there?”
“One way to find out.”
“You sure you want to?” Dean asked.
Sam took a shaky breath. “I… don’t know. What about you? What do you want?”
“Sammy,” Dean offered him a trembling smile. “I never wanted him to leave. I never wanted you to leave. I never wanted any of this to happen. But… it has. So, I don’t know that what I want matters all that much.”
The door to the room opened, breaking the moment, and Joshua walked in carrying a tray.
“Someone order some real food?” He asked, tipping his chin at Sam and turning to look at Dean. He set the tray down on the swivel return, lifting the lid of one plate on the tray.
Sam almost laughed at the look of euphoria that crossed Dean’s face.
“Oh, my God,” Dean sighed. “Is that… a cheeseburger?”
Joshua had brought enough for all three and shared with them what he called the Winchester Extrication Plan. He’d borrowed Mike’s ambulance so that Dean could ride to the camp somewhat comfortably.
“And, I have news about your fugitive friends,” he said.
Sam raised his eyebrows, his mouth too full of food to say anything.
“They were dropped off here the other night before Mike came back for you two. They were treated in the ER and before they could be released, they went AWOL.”
“That much we kinda figured, man,” Dean said around a mouthful of food.
Joshua raised an I wasn’t finished finger. “The detectives that were here? Grabbed onto an anonymous tip and headed out after the Guileys toward New Mexico.”
“They’re in New Mexico?” Sam squeaked.
“No. They’re at the camp. But the cops think they’re in New Mexico.”
Dean and Sam exchanged a bemused glance.
“Mike’s got them helping Kenny with the greenhouse. They’re not hurt that bad, but… they’re pretty messed up.”
Sam wadded up his burger wrapper and tossed it into the trashcan near the head of Dean’s bed. “Any way you got some… contacts or whatever to help us figure out what’s going on with those two?”
“If you really want to know,” Joshua nodded.
“Why wouldn’t we want to know?” Sam asked.
Joshua raised an eyebrow. “Sometimes it’s enough to know they’ve been through the shit, y’know?”
Sam shook his head. “No, man. I gotta know.” He stood up. “I’m serious. I gotta know what the hell is up with those two. I gotta know if Emerson killed his dad. And I can’t figure out why Mack turned pirate so damn quick when he thought Emerson was dead. Hell, how he turned so quick. I mean, it was almost like he was—“
“Planning it,” Dean finished for him.
“Yeah,” Sam nodded, thinking. “Y’know… he told Emerson—back in the desert when you were out of it—that he fit in with them.”
“He fit in with them,” Dean repeated, dully. “With cursed ghost pirates?”
Sam walked to the window and looking out at the bleak view, his hands talking as rapidly as his mouth. “Think about it, man. He was in the same accident that killed his mother. He watched her get cut up so that they could get her out. I mean, that’s gotta screw anyone up.” He took a breath, shoving his hands into his hair, still not turning around, too caught up in his logic.
“He stops talking, right? Somewhere along the way he learns Spanish—and I’m not even going to bother trying to figure out how a kid that doesn’t talk learns a foreign language. He thinks he sees his brother kill his father. They find the journal where their dad has taken a walk right off the map and he starts to believe that not only is the treasure real, but the pirates are and he decides that’s where he’s gotta go. That’s where he belongs. I mean, did you notice—“
Sam turned to face Dean and Joshua, stopping short at the looks on their faces. “What?”
“Damn, Sammy,” Dean shook his head, licking his lips quickly. “Didn’t put much thought into this or anything.”
Sam blushed, looking down and slumping against the cold glass of the window. “I had a lot of time to think.”
“What did you notice?” Dean nodded, encouraging him to finish his thought.
Sam shrugged. “Well… just that… the closer we got to finding the ship, the more he talked.”
“I didn’t really pay attention,” Dean admitted.
“He was spacey, but it was like as soon as we got on the ship someone stuck a quarter in him.”
“Well,” Joshua stood up. “We’ll have time to figure out all that and more back at camp.”
“More?” The brother’s asked together.
Joshua nodded. “There’s a bit of cursed treasure to figure out.”
Sam nodded and Dean sighed.
“I’ll take this away,” Joshua said, motioning to the tray of wrappers, “and bring Dean back some clothes.”
“Thanks, Joshua,” Sam said, smiling his gratitude at the older hunter.
“Sure, kid,” Joshua nodded, leaving the room.
“Sam,” Dean caught his attention.
“Go get Marnie. Tell her I’m following orders.” Dean winced, rolling slowly to his right side and bringing his knees up so that he could slide his legs off the side of the bed. Sam curled his fingers into fists, wanting to help, knowing he couldn’t.
“Sonofabitchthishurts,” Dean gasped on a quick breath.
Sam watched Dean slowly push himself to a seated position, then stand on incredibly wobbly legs. He gripped the now-mobile IV pole that was still attached to the back of his right hand.
“You got it?” Sam asked as Dean moved forward, one hand on the bed, heading in the general direction of the bathroom.
“I got it.”
When the door closed behind Dean, Sam dropped his head in his hands, trying not to hold his breath as he waited. He hated the weakness of the human body. He hated how much they demanded—how much Dean demanded—of their bodies only to be betrayed time and again by limits. When the door opened once more, Dean leaned on the door frame, pale, sweating, trembling, the simple act of moving taking whatever strength he’d gathered. Sam stood, watching as his brother’s hooded eyes followed his motion.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Dean whispered, his voice thin.
The navy-blue hoodie was too big, but it was warm. Dean allowed Sam to roll the sleeves of the borrowed denim jacket up to his wrists as they bumped along a back road to Joshua’s mysterious camp. They’d been able to salvage his jeans and boots, but everything else—down to the boxer shorts—had been ‘donated to the cause,’ as Joshua put it.
Sam wore a large black and tan flannel shirt over a gray long-sleeved T-shirt with the words beef, it’s what’s for dinner faded across the front. Joshua said the only one tall enough to loan clothes to Sam had once been a farmer in Iowa before war had brought him to the camp.
“We look like we traded clothes,” he commented when Sam sat back from helping him adjust the too-long sleeves.
Sam grinned tiredly, his dimples barely denting his cheeks.
“You aren’t going to believe this place, Dean,” Sam told him. “It’s like… someone dropped a bunch of people from all walks of life into a snow globe and then tipped it over.”
“We’re here, boys!” Joshua called back from the front of the ambulance.
When the vehicle stopped, Sam waited until Joshua and Mike opened the back doors, then stood. Dean watched him amble to the back and drop down to the pavement. He wanted to rise and move just as his lanky brother had. He wanted to kick this weakness that caused his hands to shake, his muscles to quiver, his emotions to rebel, to the curb. He took a breath, steadying himself.
Sam looked back over at him. “You okay?”
“Gimme a minute,” Dean replied, unwilling to admit he needed help with the eyes of two former Marines on him.
Sam saved him. Without glancing back at the waiting men, he climbed into the ambulance and sat next to Dean on the stretcher. As Dean gathered his strength, Sam rambled idly about arriving to the camp in the dead of night, the flurry of activity that surrounded them, and how he felt like he stepped out of Platoon and into M.A.S.H. Dean listened, swallowing hard and willing the sweat beading on his upper lip to evaporate. Glancing to his right, he saw that Joshua and Mike had gotten the hint, stepping away, out of ear shot. Mike lit up a cigarette and turned his head away to breathe out a curl of smoke.
“I’m ready,” Dean said in a low voice.
“Slow and easy,” Sam soothed, turning his hand over so that Dean could use it to leverage himself up.
They made their way to the end of the ambulance, then Sam stepped down, reaching his other hand for Dean and somehow managing to avoid the wounds on his right side. Dean took a slow breath, filling his lungs with the crisp afternoon air. It helped to balance him, though he felt as though he were separated from his true body.
The broken thing surrounding his heart, containing his will, wasn’t his body.
“C’mon,” Joshua gestured with his head. “I’ll show you where you’ll be staying. You can hit the showers before we eat.”
The brothers nodded and Sam ducked, sliding Dean’s left arm over his shoulders easily. Dean knew Sam wanted him in a wheelchair, wanted him to be cautious about too much too soon, but he needed to be mobile. He needed to be in charge of this body until it once again became his own.
As they made their way to a large green canvass tent, a man in a large white sweatshirt with a Cubs baseball logo on the chest walked by. Dean blinked in surprise at the Jerry Garcia look-alike. The man stopped, turned, and grinned at Dean.
“Look who’s back from the dead!” With a two-finger salute, he continued on.
Dean tipped his head back, looking up at Sam. “You have got to be kidding me.”
Sam grinned. “Oh, it gets better.”
By the time they reached their bunks, Dean was willing to swear he’d seen every slice of life—from hippie to yuppie. In just a glance, he could see that everyone had a job and that the camp ran smoothly because of each individual’s contributions. As he lay on a bunk, allowing a man with a large, white mustache and a scar pulling the corner of his mouth down in a permanent frown to check his bandages and sutures, he realized that they all had one thing in common.
They were all haunted.
Joshua dropped off towels, razors, soap, and several changes of clothes. “I’ll send someone back to check on you periodically—no need for you to go to the med tent unless things go sideways. You got the nod of approval from Al when he checked your bandages, and you have the meds from Marnie. You can either come down to the dining hall, or I can bring you something back here—it’s up to you. I know you’ve gotta be cooked.”
“Like a Thanksgiving turkey,” Dean muttered, his right arm over his eyes, his left arm close to his side.
“I have Mike looking for your traveling companions. I radioed Kenny and he said they skipped out on him early this morning.”
“Thanks,” Sam said, tipping his chair back against the wall.
“Hey, Josh?” Dean called.
“Do… do they all…” Dean dropped his arm, squinting up at their friend. “…know?”
“About hunters, you mean?”
Joshua shook his head. “Mike does, and a few others.”
“It’s just… none of them asked… y’know?” Dean shook his head in wonder. “They just helped us and gave us their clothes—“
Joshua looked down, picking at a callous on the palm of his hand. “That’s exactly why I started this camp, Dean. People want to heal. They want to help others heal. They just need a chance.” He looked up at Dean, his eyes weighted with meaning. “They need someone to give them a chance.”
Dean nodded, looking around their sparsely decorated room. “Thanks, man,” he said. “You didn’t have to help us, and… we appreciate it.”
Joshua smiled. “You’d do the same for me.”
As he turned to leave, Joshua wrapped a hand on the door frame, his face turned away as he spoke. “I wasn’t going to tell you this… being Christmas Eve and all, but…”
“What?” Sam prompted.
Joshua looked back over his shoulder at them. “I figured you lost your phones in the desert… or left them with your car, so… I called the number in Windom—where your dad was holed up.” He held up a cell phone.
The brothers were silent.
“A lady answered the phone. Said he left two days ago. She didn’t know where he was going.” Joshua took them both in, then folded his lips down in a sad smile. He set the phone on the small desk just inside the door. “Sorry, guys.”
Sam nodded and Joshua left, closing the door of the small room behind him.
“I keep forgetting it’s Christmas,” Dean said softly. “Feels like any other day.”
“And here I was hoping for a new pony,” Sam teased. “You want to take a shower?”
“Hell yeah.” Dean groaned. He reached out a hand and Sam eased him up. “Just… don’t go far, okay?”
“I’m right here, man.”
The shower was hot, the water strong, and Dean blessed whoever had decided to put a grip bar on the tile wall. Without it, he would have fallen ten times over. He stood so that the water hit his lower back, careful of his sutures and the incision on his abdomen that was apparently now held together with surgical glue and a few butterfly bandages.
High on his left side, he felt the pinch and bite of his broken ribs, and the muscles that traced his side from shoulder to hip felt wrenched and twisted. His skin was bruised from abuse and from healing. Taking a tentative step back, he eased his head below the stream and let the water run from the crown of his head, down over his face, skipping and stuttering along the scruff of beard. His wrists looked like he’d been branded by the cuffs, scabs covering the deepest abrasions.
Suds and water sluiced left-over sand, sweat, and blood from his body and when he stepped into the steam-filled bathroom to wrap a towel around himself, he felt as weak as a newborn colt, but more aware than he’d been in days. He hobbled to the sink and wiped away a swath of steam from the mirror.
His reflection shocked him. He hadn’t really bothered to look at himself after the rawhead had fried his heart, but the glimpses he’d caught in the Impala’s reflection or side mirrors were troubling. With the exception of coloring from the desert sun and bruising from pirate fists, he looked as if he hadn’t even been healed by the miraculous touch of Roy LeGrange.
Pressing his palm flat against his chest, he sank slowly to the closed lid of the toilet. His heart beat strong, steady. No flutter, no pain, no frightening skips of rhythm. His heart was the only part of him ready to get back into the fight.
He was about as far from okay as he ever wanted to be, but telling his little brother that wasn’t an option. Not after all Sam had been through. He was still trying to think of a reassuring answer when Sam cracked the door open, peeking in.
“Dude,” Dean protested automatically.
“Just seeing if you needed any help.” Sam held the shaving cream and razor in his hand as a peace offering. “The hippies are caroling outside,” he said. “They’ve kinda remastered the words to Silent Night.”
Dean grinned tiredly. “I don’t know the real words anyway.”
Dean sighed, resigning himself to the inevitable. “I don’t think I can stand up that long, man.”
Sam turned and reached for something out of Dean’s line of sight. He came back with the rolling chair that had been at the small writing desk situated by the door. Pushing it in front of Dean, Sam straddled the chair with the back at his chest, and turned on the water.
“Sam…” Dean tried to object.
“You remember teaching me how to shave?”
“You made me use a straight razor.”
“You needed to learn to do it right,” Dean argued as he felt Sam’s fingers on his cheeks smearing shaving cream over his stubble. “I can do that part.” He pulled his head back.
“Relax,” Sam snapped. “Let me help you.”
Dean sighed, then did as he was told. Sam was good; he pulled the razor with the grain to shorten the hair, keeping the burn to a minimum.
“What’s your favorite Christmas?” Sam asked.
Dean blinked, lulled by the sound of the running water, the warmth of the bathroom, and Sam’s careful motions. He didn’t want to think.
“You remember the year I gave you that?” Sam asked, nodding to the amulet around Dean’s neck that had miraculously survived the melee.
“My favorite Christmas,” Sam said, his mouth tightening as he worked the razor around Dean’s lips, “is the year after that one.”
“Didn’t Dad get hurt that year?”
“Yup. And he couldn’t go anywhere. For weeks.”
“Man, he was a bear to deal with,” Dean sighed, remembering. “I think I cleaned our guns fifty times. And we never even used them.”
“He made our gifts, you remember?”
Dean started to smile, but held still as Sam worked the razor along his jaw. “Yeah. You got a… what, model car?”
“He carved it,” Sam nodded. “I took it with me to Stanford.” Sam turned from him to wet the corner of a towel.
“I didn’t know that.”
“I told Jess I’d made it. She said I was obviously good with my hands.”
Dean huffed out a laugh. “I’ll bet she did.”
Sam wiped the rest of the shaving cream from Dean’s face. “There. You look almost human again.”
Dean smiled. “Thanks, Sammy.”
“It’s Sam,” he corrected good-naturedly.
With Sam’s help, Dean stood and made his way to his bunk. Dressing had never been such a monumental effort before. He lay on his bunk with an exhausted sigh, letting Sam pull the sheet and blanket up to his shoulders. He was ready to sleep until next Christmas.
“What did you get that year?”
Dean opened his eyes a crack, looking at his brother standing in the door way of the bathroom, dressed in too-big borrowed clothes, several days’ growth of beard making him look road-weary, the curious light in his eyes turning him into a little boy.
“You ever use it?”
Dean shook his head, his still-damp hair rustling against his pillow. “I don’t even know where it ended up. All the places we’ve moved… if it’s not in the Impala, then I don’t own it, y’know?”
Sam nodded with a small smile. “Maybe Dad kept it?”
“Anything’s possible,” Dean yawned, closing his eyes. “Just… gonna rest m’eyes…”
He never heard Sam close the bathroom door. And he didn’t prepare himself to meet the devils waiting for him in the dark.
December 25, 2005
It was officially Christmas morning, though Sam knew there wouldn’t be presents or a tree. The world outside their small bunk house was still and cold. The camp residents were tucked into the dark confines of their units of safety, chased by nightmares or rolling in dreams.
Sam had slept about eight hours after Joshua brought them food; Dean’s meal was still wrapped up, waiting for his brother to wake. It took Sam several moments to figure out what had jarred him from sleep, and only when the wounded-animal sound from the other side of the room repeated did he breathe once more, the memory of where they were coming back to him.
He turned to his side, facing Dean. Sam had rarely seen his brother trapped in a nightmare. Since reuniting, he’d been the one to fight off the demons in the night, waking finally to find Dean watching over him and feeling shaken from the lack of control. When they’d been young, he’d often wake with a jerk, soaked in sweat, knowing only one thing: Dean was nearby.
But now it was his brother who was held prisoner of his own subconscious. Dean swore in his sleep, his face fisted with fury, his skin slicked with a sheen of sweat triggered, Sam hoped perversely, by terror and not fever.
“…fuckin’ back off…”
Sam sat up, leaning forward, listening to his brother’s mumbled words, slurred with sleep. Dean’s right hand fisted in the sheets covering him, his left held close and careful to his side.
“Not my fault…”
Pushing himself to his feet, Sam crossed the room and retrieved two of the pain pills and an antibiotic Marnie had sent with them. He filled a glass with water and returned to his brother’s bunk, determined to pull Dean from whatever abyss he was staring into. He froze when Dean’s voice cut through the darkness with startling clarity, unhampered, it seemed, by the shackles of sleep.
“Not out of miracles.”
Frowning, Sam set the water on the floor next to Dean’s bed, and then leaned over to grip his brother’s shoulder. “Dean.”
Dean face pulled tighter and Sam felt his body stiffen beneath his fingers.
“Hey, man,” Sam whispered, shaking him gently. “Wake up.”
Dean’s eyes flew open and he gasped, looking around the unfamiliar room wildly. With a surprisingly strong grip, Dean’s hand shot up, gripping Sam’s wrist, fingertips turning white.
“Easy,” Sam said quickly. “It’s me. It's Sam.”
“We’re at Joshua’s camp, remember?”
Dean relaxed under Sam’s hand, his eyes slipping closed. “Was dreamin’,” he mumbled.
“Yeah, I know,” Sam nodded. “Here, take these.”
Dean opened his eyes and looked at the pills in Sam’s hand. He allowed Sam to tip his head up slightly, swallowing the pills with the aid of the water, then relaxed back against the pillow.
“Time is it?”
“Merry Christmas, Dean.” Sam smiled his answer.
Dean blinked in surprise, the darkness of the room broken only by cast-off from the outside lights and the light Sam had left on in the bathroom. “It’s Christmas?”
“For about… five hours now.”
“Merry Christmas, Sam,” Dean replied. “Sorry I didn’t get you anything.”
Not out of miracles.
“Oh, I’m not so sure about that,” Sam said softly. “You need anything?”
“Gotta take a piss,” Dean groaned, rolling to his right side. Sam smiled in silent sympathy as a litany of curses streamed from Dean’s lips the likes of which would have shocked the pirates buried in the desert. “This sucks out loud,” he continued, as he sat on the edge of his bed gather in his strength.
“Here, let me—“
“No,” Dean interrupted, shaking his head. “If I can’t get from the bed to the toilet by myself, how the hell am I going to help you on this hunt?”
At that Sam drew his head back, watching in surprise as his stubborn brother pushed himself to his feet. “Who said there was a hunt? And that you were going to help?”
“I did. On both counts,” Dean grunted, bent at the waist, his right arm across his middle, as he made his way to the bathroom door. “Come to think of it,” he continued, leaving the door part-way open, “so did you.”
“Well, there may be a hunt, but you aren’t going anywhere.”
Dean flushed and Sam heard the sink water running. He waited until Dean turned off the light and leaned weakly against the doorway staring back at him before crossing his arms, his eyebrows up in a so there expression.
“I gotta be part of this, Sammy,” Dean said softly, his voice trembling.
There was something in his brother’s voice that tugged at Sam’s heart. He was reminded of a moment in the Colorado wilderness, his soul still jagged and torn from the nightmare of Jessica’s death, telling his brother all he could think about was finding Dad. And Dean, with earnest, honest eyes, his belief in his words clear on his face, telling him that Dad wanted them to pick up where he left off.
Saving people, hunting things.
“Why?” Sam asked, reaching out unasked and taking Dean’s elbow, the tremor under his fingers knotting his stomach with worry. “Just sit this one out, man.”
Dean gripped his arm as he eased to the bed, looking up at Sam with a haunted expression. “I don’t think they’ll let me.”
Sam crouched so that he was eye-level with Dean. “Who?”
“The spirits, Sam,” Dean said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “The spirits in the ship.” He leaned back carefully, groaning as he did so, a hand pressed to the wound on his belly. “And I thought broken ribs hurt,” he muttered.
“What were you dreaming about, Dean?” Sam asked, settling on the floor next to his brother’s bed.
“Sure as hell wasn’t lollipops and candy canes, I can tell you that much.”
Dean spoke with his eyes closed, his hands flat on either side of him, his fingers working the sheets like the claws of a cat, as if trying to balance his body and anchor himself in reality with the same motion.
“There’s hundreds of them. People. In the hull of that ship. And she watches over them. All of them. All this time.”
“You lost me.”
“The other treasure hunters, Sam. The ones that found the ship before we did. The maps… they’re so many… and they’re like paper sirens… the pirates put the treasure fever in someone through the map. Curses them, too, I guess. And whoever finds the map is called to them.”
“So they can break the curse,” Sam guessed.
“Yeah. And she’s there—the whole time.”
“Isobel?” Sam remembered.
“Yeah. She watches. And she can’t sleep. None of them can. They can’t rest because they’re just as cursed as the pirates.”
“But, Dean, we can’t save them all.”
Dean opened his eyes, looking directly at Sam and the raw emotion swimming there in the light from the early dawn shook Sam’s heart. “We have to. If we don’t…” Dean swallowed.
“They won’t leave you alone,” Sam finished.
Dean shook his head helplessly. “I gotta be a part of this, Sam.”
“But… if the ship only appears on the solstice… how are we…” Sam started. The thought of his brother being haunted by the echoes of ghosts for an entire year drew goosebumps of dread along his skin.
“I don’t know.” Dean’s voice was faded, hope leeching out with each word. “I don’t fucking know, Sam.”
“Something tells me we have to find those Guileys,” Sam sighed, tenting his elbows on his knees and shoving his fingers into his hair. He peaked out one eye. “You can say I told you so now if you want.”
“Just as much my fault,” Dean muttered. “I didn’t have to let them jump in the back seat.”
Saving people, hunting things.
“Hell, Dean, maybe you did.”
“What do you mean?” Dean looked over at him as Sam raised his head.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” Sam confessed, scooting around until his back was to the wall.
“You’ve been doing that a lot lately.”
“You know how you said you wondered if Joshua knew about LeGrange? About the deal Sue Ann made with the reaper?”
“Yeah,” Dean said, shifting on the bunk.
Sam closed his eyes. “I just keep thinking… what if… What if Dad did send us on a hunt? Two birds, one stone, that kind of thing. We kinda broke our code with that—with Marshall Hall.”
“Where are you going with this?”
“I don’t know. I just wonder… if you have to repay a miracle.” He pressed his lips flat, looking at his brother, begging him silently to debunk his theory. To set him on a different path.
“So, we save the Freak Brothers, it makes up for Marshall Hall?”
“Don’t think it works that way, Sam.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
When he was silent for a moment too long, Dean prompted him with a, “What is it?”
“I just… I really believed, y’know? When Joshua called back with LeGrange’s name, I… I really believed he’d save you. That I’d found us a miracle.”
Dean was quiet for a moment. “The angel—from the ship,” he started. “She told me I had to have faith in the good guys.”
“Yeah. Hard part is,” Dean sighed, “trying to figure out who the good guys are.”
They both turned their heads to face the window, watching through the curtains as the sun crested the edge of the world. Sam felt words unspoken hovering between them heavy with meaning. He wanted to say something, offer something that would ease the pain he heard in Dean’s voice.
As he opened his mouth to speak, however, he heard the unmistakable sound of a phone. Jerking in surprise, he shot a look at Dean.
“Dude, don’t look at me,” Dean replied, pushing himself to his elbow.
Sam scrambled to his feet, glancing around the room as the ring continued. His eyes caught on a phone sitting on the table just inside the door. Crossing quickly, he picked it up, looking at Dean incredulously as he flipped the phone open.
Dean watched as Sam flipped the phone open, his boyish face drawn close in puzzlement as he said hello. In seconds, Dean’s heart plummeted as he watched Sam’s face drain of color. He sat heavily on the rolling chair positioned by the desk.
“Sam?” Dean prompted, his voice snapping out more harshly than he’d intended. He could feel his sunburned-skin fold as he pulled his eyebrows together.
“Dad,” Sam choked out, swallowing audibly. “How—“
Dean felt the room tilt around him, his body deciding, apparently, that it was no longer anchored to reality. He felt dizzy, unreal, too light. He blinked rapidly, trying to focus on the now-hazy outline that was Sam, and it took him a moment to realize that his brother had rolled across the room on the desk chair and was now directly across from him.
“Yeah,” Dean replied quickly, horrified to realize that he’d almost passed out. “I’m good.”
Sam put the phone back to his ear as Dean eased himself higher up on the bed, his back supported by the bunkhouse wall, his weakened side throbbing in protest from the motion.
“I’m here,” Sam said into the phone. “Dad, where are you? Why… why haven’t you called us back?”
Dean stared at his brother, wanting desperately to grab the phone from Sam’s hand, to hear his father’s voice, but lacking the strength to follow through. He watched, trying to glean information from Sam’s side of the conversation.
“It’s Joshua’s phone,” Sam was saying. “He left it with us when… yes, Sir, he’s here. Yes, Sir.”
He held the phone to Dean. “He wants to talk to you.”
Dean stared at the small phone, thousands of replies swimming in his head. Resentment left a bitter taste on his tongue, betrayal seared the edges of his heart, longing burned the backs of his eyes, anger ticked the nerves in his lips, and need lifted his hand to take the phone from Sam.
Dean looked at Sam, saw the shine of tears swimming in his brother’s wounded eyes as he watched. Dean shifted ears, then ticked his head beckoning Sam closer. Heads tilted together, they listened to their father’s voice.
“How are you?”
“I’ve…” John cleared his throat and Dean felt a shift of satisfaction in his chest as he realized his father was searching for words. “I’ve been worried.”
“Yeah, well,” Dean verbally shrugged. “Sorry ‘bout that. Been out there… y’know… doing the job.”
“I heard about LeGrange.”
“What did you hear?” Dean asked, his heart hammering.
John was silent for a moment and Sam sat back, away from the phone. Dean looked at him quizzically, but Sam just shook his head, his expression unreadable. Dean turned his attention back to the phone.
“I know what you’re thinking, Dean.”
“No offense, Dad, but I doubt that.”
“I didn’t know about the reaper—Joshua told me later when I called back.”
“Sam called you, Dad,” Dean said, hating the catch in his voice. “Sam called you and you left him hanging. You called Joshua.”
“I had my reasons, Dean.”
Dean gripped the phone tightly, years of training fighting months of desperation. “So, you didn’t send us on a hunt.”
“’Cause… you gotta agree… it sure as hell looked that way.”
“You were dying, Dean. I wouldn’t—“
“You wouldn’t call back,” Dean broke in, ignoring Sam’s eyes, the pull in his skin as he leaned forward, the tone of his voice as he gave in to the pain of betrayal and fired words at his father. “You wouldn’t leave Minnesota. You wouldn’t make sure I was still alive. That’s what you wouldn’t do!”
“You call us up, tell us the thing that killed mom was a fuckin’ demon, tell us to do our jobs—and we did, Dad. We did. I almost got eaten by a Pagan god, but hell, we did our damn jobs.”
“You tell us to stop looking for you. To turn our backs on twenty-freakin-years of training as family and stop looking for you. That it’s too dangerous. That they’re everywhere. Well, I’m sorry Dad, but we just can’t do that. We won’t.”
Dean was shaking so badly the phone bounced against his ear. His head spun and he felt the sour, wet taste of bile building at the back of his throat. He couldn’t steady his breathing and tears flashed hot in his eyes. He turned to Sam, a plea in his eyes, one tear tracing the path of bruising down his face to skip off of the edge of his chin.
Sam reached out and took the phone from Dean’s stiff fingers. “Dad, don’t go, okay? Just… just wait,” he said into the phone, then set it open on the floor, looking at Dean. “What is it?”
“Gonna be sick,” Dean whispered. “Can’t. Hurts too much.” He pressed his hand to the searing heat that was his side.
“Take it easy,” Sam soothed. “Just breathe, okay? With me. Ready? Breathe.”
Dean watched his brother’s eyes, hooked his whole awareness on them, and breathed when Sam breathed. He felt the nausea begin to abate with the third breath. The shaking eased with the sixth. By the eighth, he was able to sink back against the wall once more, eyes closed, body wrung out. He heard Sam pick the cell phone back up, but didn’t open his eyes.
“Dad? You still there?”
“Yeah, he’s okay… we’ve just… been through a lot recently. Dean’s kinda… well, he’s beat to hell, basically. Yeah, we got the coordinates, but…”
“You were hurt?”
Dean opened his eyes, bringing his head away from the wall. “What?”
“Gimme the phone, Sam.”
Wordlessly, Sam handed the phone to Dean.
“I’m fine. How were you hurt?” He started to reply the moment they decided to head to Sacramento in his head.
“The coordinates I sent… they were to a place I’ve been to before. Few times, actually. I knew a few people here and there was a… a churel. It was after a friend of mine.”
Dean frowned. “Don’t churel go after women?”
“Yeah, they do.”
Dean looked up at Sam, but said nothing.
“The ceremony to banish it was… dicey.”
“You needed our help?”
“No—actually, I had a lead on the demon, but… I couldn’t leave.” John sighed. “I banished the churel, messed up my arm a bit. I was laid up for a few days and lost the scent.”
Dean looked down. “I’m sorry, Dad.”
Dean, listen to me. I didn’t know about LeGrange. I didn’t. I need you to believe that.”
Dean was silent.
“I… I was…” John took a breath and Dean waited. “I had to call Joshua to make sure he’d given you the name in time. I can’t explain to you why I didn’t call Sam back. I thought…” John’s voice choked.
“It’s okay, Dad,” Dean said softly, unable to bear the sound of his father’s sorrow. “I think I understand.”
“You and your brother,” John said. “You’re the most important people in the world to me.”
Dean closed his eyes, feeling his heart crack.
“Listen, I’m coming up on Ludlow.”
Dean’s eyes popped open. “What are you doing there?”
“Joshua called, said he’d talked to you, and then, when I couldn’t get either of you to answer your damn phones…”
“You… you’re looking for us?” Dean couldn’t keep the surprise from his voice.
“My friend in Windom called. Said she heard from Joshua and that you two were… well, that he was worried.”
Dean looked at Sam, wondering how he was going to explain that John had taken a call from this friend of his and hadn’t picked up when Sam had called. Deciding to ignore that element for the moment he turned his attention back to his father.
“We’re not in Ludlow, but the Impala is.”
“What’s it doing there?”
“Long story,” Dean sighed. “And it’s not over.”
“You two going to finish it?”
“Soon as we can.”
“Dean… are you… is it bad?”
Dean swallowed, feeling the heat of tears once more and cursing himself for feeling so weak when it came to his father. “Well, I can’t say I’ve had worse. I, uh, got shot.”
“What?! Joshua didn’t say anything about—“
“Bullet broke up, had to have surgery. Took out some of my intestines.”
“Dammit, Dean,” John growled, anger his fall-back emotion when he was scared, Dean knew. “Where’s your brother?”
“He’s here,” Dean said, looking at Sam.
“Let me talk to him.”
The bite in John’s voice warned Dean to resist. Too many times he’d had to physically put himself between John’s rock and Sam’s hard place. He didn’t have the strength.
“Sam’s fine, Dad.”
“Are you coming to Needles?” Dean interrupted.
John paused a moment and Dean had his answer. “I am going to try.”
“I’ll make sure the Impala gets to you.”
“Don’t worry about it, Dad. We can take care of her.”
John paused again and Dean felt his father searching, seeking a steady road, a place he recognized in his son’s voice. “I’ll be there.”
“Don’t, Dad. Don’t say that if you don’t mean it.” Desperation to not cling to the hope John offered turned Dean’s voice hard.
John cleared his throat. “I picked up its trail last night.”
“Yeah. The signs I’ve been looking for… it’s somewhere in Pennsylvania.”
“That’s in the opposite direction.”
“Do what you have to do, Dad. Sam and me… we’ll be okay.”
“We’ve been hurt before,” Dean said softly. A soft, throaty female voice slid through his memory. It’s always been your choice, Dean. “You need to do this. For all of us. We’ll find you again.”
Sam’s jerk caught his eye and Dean looked up. Sam was staring at him with disbelieving eyes. Dean looked down, hating himself for what he was saying, hating his father for making him say it…
“Dean, you don’t sound… what is it?”
“Just tired, Dad.”
He was so close. So close to asking him to come. Asking him to just come to them, choose them, just this once. He didn’t trust his voice.
“I’m heading your way, Dean. You tell Joshua… tell him I—“ the connection crackled. “—for the truck and—“
“Dad?” Dean frowned, leaning in to the phone. “You’re breaking up.”
“—few days after Christmas—“
“—ean? Can you—“
John’s voice was fading.
“Merry Christmas, Dad,” Dean whispered as the phone went dead.
Sam looked at him, sniffing as he worked to keep tears of hope and exhaustion at bay. “He’s… coming here?”
Dean closed the phone, staring at it. “That’s what he said.”
“Do you believe him?” Sam asked, swallowing hard.
Dean closed his eyes. “I… don’t know.”
It was quiet in the bunkhouse as both brothers wrestled with their thoughts. Outside, the camp was beginning to come alive and Dean could hear voices greeting each other with warmth to combat the crisp California morning. Happiness and Christmas seemed to be woven together no matter where they were when the calendar changed. Yet it always seemed to be outside their bubble of reality.
Dean looked at his brother, feeling the cracks in his heart spread at the look in Sam’s eyes. “Yeah?”
“Do you think… I mean, last time I saw Dad—“
“A lot has happened since then, Sam.”
“I know, but…”
“You’re not the same person now as you were then,” Dean offered. “None of us are,” he sighed.
“He’s okay, though?”
“Said he hurt his arm, but I guess his… friend… helped him heal up.”
“Lady friend,” Sam confirmed.
“Sounded that way.”
“Seems weird to think about Dad, y’know, with a woman.”
Dean shook his head. “And, now I’m completely grossed out.”
“What? The man’s not a monk—“
“Stop talking,” Dean frowned. “Stop talking now.”
Sam grinned and Dean felt some of the cracks heal up at the sight. The knock at the door startled them both. Opening the door, Sam stepped back with a quick bark of a laugh.
Santa—complete with beard—stepped through the door. “MERRY CHRISTMAS, WINCHESTERS!”
Dean gripped a pillow against his chest as he chuckled. “Nice suit!”
Sam laughed again. “Imagine this coming to rescue you in the middle of the desert.”
“Ah, but this time,” Joshua rumbled in his deepened Santa voice, “I come bearing gifts.”
Dean looked around him. “Funny, I don’t see any bikini models.”
“Ha!” Joshua laughed, digging into his deep pockets. “The way you look, they’d kill you before you got to your happy place.”
“Dude!” Dean protested, watching as Joshua pulled out a pint of Captain Morgan rum.
“Libation, fitting for the moment,” he said, handing the pint to Sam. He lifted a dog-eared copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island from his pocket and handed it to Dean. “This is from Mike. Said it might give you some pointers.”
Dean grinned, flipping through the book. “Awesome.”
“And last, but certainly not least,” Joshua reached into the lining of his red, velveteen jacket and removed a rolled up stack of papers, handing it to Sam. “Research.”
“Research?” Sam asked, puzzled. He unrolled the papers and scanned them. “Holy shit!”
“What?” Dean asked from his perch on the bed.
“Dean… it’s… they…” Sam continued to flip through the pages. “Holy shit!”
“Dude, either say something real, or give me the papers.”
Sam looked up at Joshua. “This must have taken you all night.”
“Well, me and a couple of others. You’d mentioned the Lost Ship… Mike had heard the legend—one of them, anyway—and Kenny was indoctrinated into the world of pirate ghosts last night after he threw a fit when the fugitives skipped out on him. What can I say? I got people.”
“Have you found them yet? The Guileys?”
Joshua shook his head. “No, but Mike has a lead and we think—“
“Sam!” Dean barked. “Papers!”
“Oh!” Sam turned to face him. “It’s about the curse—they found the Indian tribe that put the curse on the pirates.”
Joshua pointed at the papers, tapping the edge with his index finger. “And the solution, don’t forget that.”
“Right,” Sam looked at the papers once more. “They know how to break the curse.”
Dean looked at Joshua. “Well, Merry freakin’ Christmas, man!”
“Back atcha,” Joshua grinned.
“Only…” Sam’s face pinched as he looked up at Dean. “It kinda looks like we have to be in two places at once.”
Dean raised an eyebrow. “Interesting.”
“Well, not exactly,” Joshua offered. “We just… split up. Two teams—one in the desert, the other at the reservation.”
“The desert,” Dean said, his voice dull.
“And… it, uh, has to be done, when?” Sam peered at someone’s illegible handwriting.
“Midnight on the turn of the year. Mike found all this stuff about Gregorian calendar and the Yuki Indian tribes and… well, basically, we have to break the curse exactly at midnight on the 31st, and we have to have two teams to do it.” His eyes caught on the phone in Dean’s hand. “Hey! There’s my phone!”
The brother’s exchanged a glance. Dean looked back at Joshua.
“Thanks for leaving it here,” he said quietly.
Joshua’s whole being seemed to settle, his shoulders squaring up, his hands folding behind him looking like a Santa Clause standing ‘at ease.’ “Did it work?”
“He called,” Sam confirmed.
“Says he’s coming,” Dean offered. “Few days after Christmas, I guess. Was up around Ludlow. Gonna try to get our car.”
Joshua paused one heartbeat before asking, “Do you think he’ll make it?”
The brothers let silence answer for them.
Joshua took a breath. “You feel like eating?” he said to Dean.
“I could eat,” Dean nodded. He frowned, glancing at the clothes on the chair, knowing it would take more energy than he had to don them on his own.
Sam turned to Joshua. “Y’know, I’m still kinda beat, man. Think you can bring us something here?”
Joshua smiled, nodding.
“We have six days.” Dean’s voice was both weak and purposeful. “Think you can have a team ready?”
“I can have them ready tomorrow,” Joshua said, moving toward the door. “It’s you I’m worried about.”
Dean lifted his head, meeting Joshua’s eyes with determination. “You just have that team ready.”
Joshua tipped his chin up and stepped through the door, pulling it closed behind him.
Dean looked at Sam. “We’ve got some work to do, man.”
“Starting with getting you stronger.”
“Son of a bitch,” Dean groaned.
a/n: Just so you know, I am working to follow the canon timeline. The next chapter will bring the pieces of this frayed rope together—including the story behind the Guileys. I very much hope it’s to your satisfaction.
PS: Thank you for all your well-wishes concerning my job! In the space between that a/n and this, I was able to secure another project that will keep us in groceries for at least a few more months! *is happy*
Hope you hang in there with me… there be action and angst running amuck in the pages to come…
Chapter 6, Sea Devils, Part A can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/57731.html>