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.
“They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue…Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?” -- James Malone, The Untouchables
December 29, 2005
There was nothing in the world that tore at Sam’s heart like the sound of his brother’s pain.
He lay still in the half-light of morning, listening as Dean’s breath rasped from his throat, dragging misery over his lips and puffing out shallow pants into the cool air of their bunk house. Without looking, Sam knew Dean’s fingers would be fisted in his sheets, knotting the cotton with impotent resistance. His face would be pulled into a frown, drawing his brows over his closed lids, sketching lines of distress in an ancient scrawl from the edges of his eyes, and turning his full lips into seams of anger.
The nightmares were becoming rhythmic, predictable. Each time they seemed to increase in intensity. Dean’s body was healing, but his mind, his emotions, were eroding a tiny bit more as each day passed without action, without understanding.
And without John.
The meaningless cry brought Dean from the darkness with an abbreviated jackknife of his torso. Sam held his breath, waiting as Dean calmed. He shifted his eyes right, catching his brother’s silhouette against the pale light caught behind the shaded windows. A trembling hand reached up and rubbed at his face as if Dean were trying to squeeze the images from his mind. After a brief moment, Dean wrapped his arms around himself, tucking his shaking hands beneath his arms.
The motion made Sam shudder; it was as if Dean were trying to reach inside to catch bits of himself before they fell and shattered completely.
Christmas night, when the nightmare caught Dean just as Sam was giving in to sleep, he’d panicked and grabbed Dean to wake him, thinking to prevent him from hurting himself. Dean had fought against what he’d apparently believed to be a specter from his nightmare so viciously he’d torn open the stitches in his abdomen and spent the rest of the night in the med tent under the watchful eye of the full-time camp doctor, Ben. Sam next attempted to wake his brother with just his voice, but even that would bring havoc down on Dean’s tenuous control. After that, when Dean slept it was fitful, when he rested, his eyes were restless, and healing became a fight.
“You okay?” Sam asked softly, his eyes on Dean’s semi-upright posture, his shoulders moving with the force of his breathing. He jerked slightly at the sound of Sam’s voice but he seemed to be more aware. Sam heard Dean’s teeth click shut, his hammering breath blowing through his nose like pistons on a train as he worked to bring himself under control.
Sam pulled his lower lip into his mouth, his eyes slipping upwards to the ceiling, staring at the corrugated metal. It was raining again. He heard it bouncing against the roof in a staccato beat unique to nature. It had been raining off and on since the morning after Christmas, limiting their time outside the bunk house to curtailed walks around the camp and visits to the buildings closest to them: green house, mess hall, med tent, and garage.
He heard Dean slide from the bed and fail to bite back a groan as he stood and shuffled toward the bathroom. He heard the turn of the latch, the flick of the light switch, the hum of the fluorescent bulb, but he didn’t look away from the ceiling.
California rain held a familiar melancholy for Sam. Moving through the fog, his brother at his side, Sam surprised himself by longing for moments of solitude, for the smell of books and classrooms, for the feel of a cool cheek, the smell of damp hair, the breathy sound of quick laughter that stemmed from getting caught exposed in the chilly mist.
It was disorienting, disturbing. He had Dean with him, and he found himself wanting only to get away. Away from the fear of loss. From the consistent mystery of their future. From the angry sorrow that now clung to his brother like briars.
“Angel or ghosts?” Sam ventured. They were going on five nights of nightmares; it was a tossup as to which being he should hate more.
“Both,” Dean rasped, drawing Sam’s eyes from the ceiling to the bathroom door.
Dean had left it part-way open, which creased a frown on Sam’s brow. He’d done that two days ago, when his stitches had been seeping and he was too stubborn to ask for help. Sam had allowed curiosity to get the best of him, pushed the door open, and found Dean pale, shaking, and trying to change his own bandage.
“You wanna talk about it?”
“Not particularly,” Dean muttered.
Sam waited a beat. “You ever see the pirate in your dream? The one… the one that shot you?”
“No.” Dean’s reply was quick. “Never.”
“Yeah, well… probably for the best,” Sam mused.
“They’re freakin’ tag-teaming me,” Dean sighed and Sam imagined he heard the struggle of the night escape Dean’s skin and roll into the morning air with that sound. “I tell ‘em the same thing, every time. I tell ‘em they can go to hell. I tell ‘em they can’t take me…”
Sam swallowed, his eyes burning.
“And then she shows up.”
“She’s… she’s lonely. And sad. And she wants to go home. She wants…” Dean’s voice cracked and Sam held his breath. “She wants me to go with her.”
“You tell her to go to hell?”
“She never lets me. She… says she knows I won’t. Go with her, I mean.”
“How does she know that?” Sam asked, blinking to ease the burning.
“Says it’s because of you,” Dean replied, his voice muffled.
Sam heard the water roll through pipes and tumble from the shower head to beat a tattoo of seductive peace on the tile floor. Metal rings shinked on the shower rod and Sam sat up, swinging his legs over the side of his bunk. He reached over and turned on the small light positioned between the beds, illuminating the room with pale yellow light.
“Screw this, Sammy.”
Sam blinked, eyebrows bouncing up. He waited, listening.
“I’m done waiting.”
Sam looked down, listening as Dean’s voice echoed hollowly from the shower. Part of him instinctively knew that Dean was ready to get back into the fight. But the kid brother had to ask.
“Waiting for what?”
Dean’s sigh sounded wet. “Hell, man, for… everything. Ludlow’s not that far from Needles. Where the hell is he?”
Sam’s shrug went unseen. He’d been trying to forget that John had said he’d come. It was easier to simply think about his dad out there searching for the demon than it was to think about him doing that instead of coming to them.
“Like hell,” Sam retorted automatically.
“—and I’m tired of having someone else do my fighting for me.”
“You’re not fine,” Sam snapped, standing up and facing the bathroom as the water shut off. “And no one is fighting anything right now.”
He heard Dean shove the shower curtain aside and ran his hand over his tender belly. Kenny—the man who wrangled an impressive mustache over an amazingly small mouth—had removed his stitches the day after Christmas, but the scar was raised and pink, and the flesh around it yellowing as old bruises tend to do.
Dean stepped from the steam-filled bathroom, a light-blue towel knotted at his waist, water droplets beading on his chest and shoulders. He’d removed the gauze bandages from his wounds and Sam couldn’t hide the wince of sympathy at the sight of his brother’s wounded skin. Dark lines punctuated the hollow of Dean’s shoulder, the ribs just beneath his breast-bone, and the flesh to the right of his navel. Bruises turned the tan of Dean’s skin into the mottled color of old meat.
“I am better, Sam,” Dean insisted, moving stiffly to the pile of borrowed clothes, turning his back on Sam. “I’ve been taking longer walks every day. I can actually breathe. And… everything else will… y’know, catch up with me.”
“It’s barely been a week, Dean.”
“And not that I’m not thankful for Josh and his buddies,” Dean went on as if Sam hadn’t spoken, “but I don’t like them getting tangled up in this hunt. They’re at this camp for a reason. And it’s not supernatural. This is our job, not theirs.”
“There’s nothing wrong with accepting help,” Sam argued, feeling the control he’d had over his wounded brother during the last few days slipping through his fingers as Dean continued to dress.
“There is if it gets them hurt in the process. ‘Nuff people have been hurt already.”
Sam narrowed his eyes at the back of his brother’s head. “You’re a stubborn bastard, y’know that?”
Dean half-turned in that way he had—shoulders first, then chin, then eyes—that made Sam want to somehow hide and stand straighter at the same time. His mouth was curved up in a small grin, but it didn’t meet his eyes.
“You make that sound like something bad, Sammy.”
Frustrated, Sam stomped into the bathroom, closing the door behind him to shut Dean away, but yelling through it anyway. “It’s Sam, you asshole.”
“Not to me it isn’t,” Dean hollered back.
Sam faced the mirror, gripping the condensation-slicked sides of the sink and staring at his reflection. The shadows beneath his eyes were a pale echo of the exhaustion that chased Dean’s lashes each time his brother blinked. If he was tired, Dean had to be barely on his feet. And yet…
“I’m starving. I think I’ll head to the mess hall,” Dean called.
“Wait for me,” Sam called, his tone flirting on the edges of an order.
“Well, hurry it up, Princess.”
Sam shucked his boxers and turned on the shower in one motion, stepping beneath the spray and letting it pelt him in the face, his jaw muscles tight. Heated words sparked up behind his eyes, tempered only by the torrent of water splashing against his skin. He knew that worry was becoming frustration, and that if he didn’t get himself in check, frustration would quickly become anger.
Sam wanted Dean back.
The Dean that barreled through life like a bull in a china shop one minute and offered comfort with a soft shift of his eyes the next. Not the haunted, wounded man standing out in the living room with false bravado and time-worn irritations attempting to mask the fear lingering at the edge of his being.
Sam knew they had to rid their reality of these ghosts, just as they’d always done. But they had to be smart about it—they needed to take time to heal. His brother may not realize it—or may not be willing to admit it—but Sam knew he was holding on by a very thin thread. One that could be snapped if either of them so much as breathed wrong.
As he turned off the water and grabbed for the remaining towel to scrub his skin free of water, he heard the front door to the bunk house open. When no voice accompanied the sound, indicating someone coming to see them, he felt his heart begin to race.
“Dean!” Sam wrapped the towel around his hips and flung open the bathroom door.
Dean had gone on walks around the camp every day, slowly rebuilding his strength. But each time it had been with Sam at his side, and each time he’d needed a sly hand at his elbow, or shoulder to lean on before he’d returned to the bunk house to rest.
“Right here, man,” Dean replied from the doorway, the metal awning sluicing the rain away from the doorway. “Just getting some air.”
“Oh.” Sam deflated. Dean’s restlessness was pervasive. “Well, hang tight.” He worked to even-out his voice. The last thing Sam wanted was to be two steps behind and not catch his brother when he fell.
“Don’t get your boxers in a twist, Francis,” Dean said over his shoulder as Sam dug through their pile of clothes. “I wasn’t going to leave you behind.”
“You just… you need to take it easy, man.”
“I’ve been taking it easy,” Dean grumbled.
“Dude, it’s barely been a week since you were shot, okay? Not to mention the… the shackles and the desert and… you’renot invincible, y’know,” Sam snapped, pulling a T-shirt over his head and settling it on the waist band of his jeans. “We can’t even break the freakin’ curse until the 31st.”
Dean leaned against the door frame, his eyes focused outward toward Kenny’s greenhouse, currently shrouded by rain. The damp winter air from the open door had quickly cooled their small room and Sam shivered as he searched for a long-sleeved shirt. He glanced again at Dean, taking in the incongruity of his brother in the navy-blue hoodie and denim jacket. The clothes seemed to shrink him somehow in the same way the leather jacket he was so rarely without gave him an air of danger.
The sleeves were long enough that they hid the abrasions left behind by the heavy shackles, but the image of Dean kneeling, chained, screaming threats and obscenities at their captors wasn’t going to leave Sam’s mind for quite some time.
“Yeah, well,” Dean sighed, turning slightly to catch Sam in a thoughtful glance. “I’ve been thinking about that.” He looked back out across the field.
Sam zipped up a gray cable-knit, high-collared cardigan that looked like a reject from J. Crew and leaned against the doorway, waiting. In the time between his rebellious departure for Stanford and Dean’s desperate, understated plea for help with finding their dad, something had shifted inside of his brother. It had taken Sam thousands of miles in the passenger seat of the Impala, and one more rebellious departure on rain-streaked back road outside of Indiana, but he’d finally started getting the picture.
Dean had quieted.
The years alone—alone with John—had tempered the often frenetic energy inside his brother that Sam had taken for granted. It wasn’t overt, and it wasn’t something Sam suspected anyone else would see. But he’d been watching his brother his whole life. Studying him. Alternatively emulating his brashness and rejecting his roguish arrogance. The energy that seemed to spin around Dean’s core had slowed. Their time apart had aged them both in more than just years. Where before Sam could rightly suspect what Dean was thinking the majority of the time, now, if he wanted the heart of Dean’s thoughts, if he wanted a true response, he had to wait his brother out.
Sam wasn’t used to waiting. He was used to finding the answer first. But the fragility that coated the air surrounding his brother right now encouraged him into a forced calm. The nightmares, the ghosts, the angel, they were all working to compound that quiet into something not Dean. And it pissed Sam off.
“I know Josh and his guys have been doing a lot of work, y’know, getting to the bottom of this curse,” Dean continued after several moments of silence. “They figured out which Indian tribe created it, figured out that the curse could be broken at midnight, last day of the year… but…”
“What is it?” Sam prompted.
Dean looked at him. “It’s not enough, Sam. We need to be out there. We need to make sure the descendants of the original tribe are even willing to—“
“Joshua’s gonna do that, Dean. He’s gonna go meet with the… the chief,” Sam broke in.
“Okay, fine, but what about the ship? I mean, you said it yourself—it’s under the desert, right? And in my dreams, it’s always swallowed up by a big fat nothing. How are we gonna get—“
“They’re working on that, man,” Sam interrupted, crossing his arms over his chest to try to ward off a shiver. “I talked to Joshua yesterday.”
“He didn’t tell me.”
“Well, he wanted to give you time to mend.”
Dean’s lip bounced up in a half-snarl. “We don’t have time to waste, just… lying around.”
“God, would you quit? You have barely been able to walk across the room without keeling over until yesterday. Nobody’s wasting time.”
“What else did Josh tell you?” Dean snapped, ignoring Sam’s statement.
Sam sighed. “They’re looking for the Guileys. We can’t break the curse without those pearls.”
“Looking where, though? It’s not like those two are professionals. They can’t be that hard to find.” Dean rubbed the back of his neck, hard. “We need to go into this ready, y’know? Prepared.” He tipped his hands apart as if he were holding a football, his body instinctively attempting to express to Sam how significant this oversight seemed. “What if Joshua meets with that chief and… I mean, what if there’s no one there that cares about the curse anymore? And… what if we can’t find the ship again, huh? We don’t have our weapons, or the Impala, and with the exception of Josh, we’re working with rookies. I mean, Marines, sure, but still, in our job? Rookies.”
“We’ve still got time—“
Dean shook his head, cutting Sam off. The rain had tapered leaving behind a thick fog and a chill that seemed to settle into his bones, chasing shivers up his spine.
“Dean, I know you’re feeling better, and I’m glad, believe me, but you can’t just… jump back in. You still got a lot of healing to do, man.” Sam reached out to rest a comforting hand on Dean’s shoulder.
Shrugging him off, Dean stepped away from the doorway. “Stop it, Sam.”
Sam rolled his lips against his teeth, biting off a sharp retort.
“Stop treating me like I’m going to break. I’m not going to break.”
“Quit acting like nothing happened!” Sam snapped, joining Dean outside of the bunk house, slamming the door behind him. He circled around in front of his brother, demanding that Dean meet his eyes. “You’re acting like that,” Sam gestured to Dean’s right side, his fingers close enough to Dean’s body that his brother instinctively flinched back, “was from a bar fight or something. You were shot, Dean.”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious.” Dean’s voice was low, an old danger rolling under the tone.
“Give yourself some time to rest—“
“Rest?” Dean broke in, his voice ticking up in pitch. “You think rest is even a possibility right now?”
Sam pulled his head up, swallowing at the heat that began to simmer in Dean’s eyes. “Maybe not, y’know, sleep, but at least give your body a chance to heal—“
“Sam,” Dean shook his head, stepping away from the wall of the bunk house. “You don’t get it. They won’t leave me alone. Until we finish this, they’re always fuckin’ here!” Dean pointed to his temple, the sleeve of his jacket sliding down with the motion, exposing his red, raw wrists.
“I’m sorry, Dean,” Sam said, putting his hands up partly in a white flag of surrender, partly to keep Dean from walking away. “I am. And I promise we’re going to finish this. Okay? We will. But you can’t push it! You gotta get your strength ba—“
“Will you stop telling me what to do, already!” Dean pushed against Sam, weakly tipping the taller man off-balance. Sam stepped away, pulling a breath in through his nose, trying to calm his temper. “For the love of… I can take care of myself, y’know. I’ve been through—“
“Don’t you dare say you’ve been through worse!” Sam yelled, feeling heat in his cheeks. “Don’t you say it. Nothing was worse than climbing back into that hold full of rotting corpses to see you lying in a pool of blood, Dean. I thought you were dead.”
“Well, I wasn’t! And I’m not gonna die now.”
“You don’t know that!” Sam bellowed, taking satisfaction in the jerk of Dean’s head as he pulled away from the force of Sam’s ire. “None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, Dean.”
“Dude, please. Spare me your psychological bullshit. I’ve had about enough caring and sharing in the last few days—“
“Oh, I’m so sorry if I crossed some invisible line in the Dean Winchester Code of Macho. I guess I let down my guard a little since I’d just carried my dying brother across the freakin’ desert.”
They stared at each other, having maneuvered until they were toe to toe, Sam’s height offering him even more of an advantage of position as Dean was still unable to stretch to his full stature without grimacing in pain. Chests heaved, eyes flashed, and fingers curled against palms as fists were kept in check.
After a moment, Dean blinked, the corners of his eyes crinkling with an unconscious plea for clemency.
“I just… I gotta do something else, Sam. I can’t… I can’t keep waiting for someone else to fix…” His chin trembled and for a moment Sam felt his heart crash against his ribs as his brother’s eyes glistened. With his next breath, however, Dean reigned in the emotion, pulled his vulnerability back inside and emptied his eyes of pain. “I gotta finish this damn hunt! Get these fucking ghosts out of my head!”
Dean pushed past Sam, walking toward Kenny’s greenhouse.
“We will!” Sam insisted, catching Dean’s left arm at the elbow and turning him around. “We will. If you would just take it easy.”
“I can’t! Dude.” Dean jerked his arm free. “I can’t take it easy one more day. Sitting here, thinking... Reading that goddamn book. Watching the road for my car… for Dad… I’m losing my mind, Sam.”
Sam licked his lips, shifted his weight from one foot to the other, tried to find a non-confrontational way to broach the subject. “He could still come, Dean.”
Dean shook his head. “Dad’s always done exactly what he thought he needed to do. To hell with everyone else.” The bitterness in Dean’s voice left a bad taste in Sam’s mouth.
“Maybe something happened to him.”
Dean’s eyes bounced up and Sam felt the air leave his body at the look held there.
“I’m outta here,” Dean muttered, walking past Sam in the opposite direction he’d started.
“Sammy, just leave it!” Dean didn’t turn, didn’t slow, didn’t soften his tone.
“My name is SAM!” He yelled at his brother’s back.
“Then act like it,” Dean roared, his chin tilted over his shoulder as he threw the words at Sam.
As he watched Dean walk across the empty lot, his stride an unfamiliar stagger, his body parting the fog, Sam forced himself to accept that everyone had their limits. Even to how much care they could handle. He slowly uncurled his fists, willing his shoulders to relax, for the muscles to cease their vigil.
When he could no longer see Dean, he took a breath, forced himself to turn around, and walked toward the greenhouse. Neither of them had eaten breakfast, but fighting with Dean had taken Sam’s appetite. The camp was small enough; Sam knew if Dean were hungry someone would be able to help him forage.
As he drew closer to the greenhouse, he heard the low, mellow sound of music emanating from ancient speakers. The heady, electric-guitar sound of Cream drew Sam forward and he pushed the door of the greenhouse open, stepping from the chill of the raining morning into the warm humidity of the controlled environment, his body at once shocked and relieved by the change in temperature.
“Hello?” Sam called as he made his way carefully between the rows of vegetables. Strong, pungent smells of earth and fauna filled the air and Sam found himself breathing shallowly to acclimate. He unzipped the sweater, pushing the warm sleeves up toward his elbows.
The rows of plant life and food went on for what could have easily been the length of a soccer field. The building was narrow, the roof curved, and muted, gray light filtered in through the periodically placed clear windows at the top.
In their walks, he and Dean had never breeched the first few rows of plants; the heat, the smell, and the ever-present sound of Eric Clapton had pressed on Dean’s tolerance and pushed him back to the California rain within a half an hour.
Sam turned to his right, seeing a man atop a ladder several rows deep into the greenhouse, adjusting what looked like a bicycle chain fixed to a series of gears that mobilized the solar panels. Next to him was a workbench strewn with tools, unlabeled bottles, ashtrays spilling over with cigarette butts, and a boom box Sam was willing to bet had been new in 1989.
“You need a hand?” Sam called.
“Yeah!” Kenny yelled back. “Turn up the music.”
Chuckling, Sam made his way toward the radio, rotating the volume up a few notches until the bass beat through his fingers and into his core.
“That’s the stuff,” Kenny sighed, glancing down appreciatively at Sam, his impressive mustache twitching in what Sam assumed was a smile. “Been wondering when you two would wander in.”
“It’s, uh… it’s just me.”
“Yeah?” Kenny wiped the grease from his fingers on his thighs, then climbed slowly down the ladder. “You finally let him out of your sight, did ya?”
Sam picked up a socket wrench and leaned his back pockets against the workbench. “Was I really that bad?”
Kenny folded the ladder, hefting it up and moving toward a tall, narrow locker positioned against a divider wall. “Nah, kid. You’re worried. I’da done the same thing.”
Sam looked up from spinning the wrench and regarded Kenny with a glance of hope. “Yeah?”
Kenny folded his rangy eyebrows together over the bridge of his nose, patting his pockets in search of something. “Hell, yeah. He’s your family.” His eyes flashed as he located the missing object. Pulling out a cherry-flavored Blow-Pop, he unwrapped it and stuck it into his small mouth, tucking the candy into the deep pocket of his cheek. “Tryin’ to quit,” he explained, nodding to the ashtrays.
It had become a familiar routine to Sam, watching Kenny find today’s flavor, eye the burnt-out cigarettes with unguarded lust, then give in to the temptation and light up as they left the building.
“Dean… I think he needed a break from me.”
“Nobody likes to be cooped up,” Kenny said. “Only natural.”
“Tell you what, he’s a damn-quick healer.”
“He doesn’t heal any faster than anyone else,” Sam grumbled, shrugging out of his heavy cable-knit and tying it around his waist. “Not that he knows that.”
Kenny’s shrug seemed to have a voice of its own as he frowned. “I ain’t seen someone that messed up since…”
Sam mirrored his frown as the sound of a slow hand on stroking a guitar string shimmied its way between them. “You were a cop, right?”
Kenny turned away, the sucker clicking against his teeth as he rolled it from one side of his mouth to the other. “In Detroit,” he nodded. He picked up a spray bottle and began to wander the rows of plants, pruning, checking, spraying, his lined face creased with memories Sam had inadvertently kicked up with his question.
“What was that like?” Sam asked, needing to hear someone else’s story, focus on someone else’s tragedy, just to forget about his own for a moment.
“Y’know, it was…” Kenny’s voice seemed to chew on silence for a moment before continuing. “Surreal. I’d served in Desert Storm, but I was… I was lucky. I came back, and decided that I wanted to be a cop. Stop some bad guys. But… there were just more of them then there were of us,” Kenny sighed, his voice further away. “And I couldn’t get my head around what people did to each other—to themselves.”
Sam watched Kenny stand still, sucker stick rolling from one side of his mouth to the other, water bottle hanging forgotten from his fingers, staring at a section of fern-like plants.
“There’s all kinds of ways to die, y’know?” Kenny said finally. “And I’ve seen a helluva lot of them.”
Sam swallowed, turning back to the workbench and finding Kenny’s stash of cigarettes. He grabbed the pack, feeling for the Zippo shoved into the pack, and made his way across the rows of plants to the smaller man. Reaching him, Sam held out the pack. Wordlessly, Kenny took it, handing Sam the water bottle.
In moments the acrid tang of nicotine and tobacco flitted over the plants between them and Kenny breathed deep, a sigh that erased the fingers of memory.
“You’ve been working with Joshua on this hunt, right?” Sam asked.
“I’ve got some contacts,” Kenny lifted a shoulder, taking a long drag on his cigarette. “I’ve been trying to find those two punks.”
“Not all that impressed with them, huh?”
Kenny narrowed his eyes up at Sam, seemingly weighing his words. “You know what it’s like to have a partner, don’tcha, kid?”
Sam cocked his head to the side, unsure where Kenny was going with his question.
“A partner,” the man stressed, his mustache twitching like a living thing. “Someone that goes into battle with you, no questions asked. That has your back. Someone,” he looked at the dirt-covered ground. “Someone who puts their life in your hands, willingly, and you do the same.”
He dropped his cigarette into the dirt and began to rotate the toe of his boot over the filter.
“Dean,” Sam said softly.
“Right,” Kenny looked up. “Dean. I’ve watched you and Dean, when you took those walks? You two moved like… like partners. Even when you weren’t next to each other, anyone could see you were aware of the other’s movement. You walk differently, but… you move the same.”
“We’re brothers,” Sam offered. “We’ve been working together our whole lives. Almost,” he amended.
“Those two are brothers,” Kenny muttered, still grinding the butt to death. “But they sure as hell ain’t partners. They were with me most of a day and they didn’t look at each other, they didn’t talk to each other, they moved around each other, not with each other.”
“Well,” Sam attempted. “They’d just been through a lot.”
“Cry me a river,” Kenny scoffed. “Every one of us was two clicks from wings and a halo at some point in their life. That’s why we’re here.”
“What are you saying, Kenny?”
Kenny pointed the barely-there sucker at Sam. “I’m saying that one of ‘em’s got an agenda and the other one ain’t on it. I’m saying if our whole mission is hanging on finding them and these pearls they took, we could be well and truly fucked.”
Sam swallowed. “You got any leads?”
Kenny sighed. “I got a couple,” he said. “But they’re thin.”
“Try me,” Sam requested.
Kenny narrowed his eyes, running them from the top of Sam’s head to his boots, then back up to meet Sam’s unwavering gaze. “You any good at detective-work, kid?”
Sam’s grin was cocky. “You think I’d’ve lived this long, doing what we do, if I weren’t?”
After a pause, Kenny stuck the sucker back in the hollow of his cheek. “You got a point,” he motioned with his head for Sam to follow. “Set that bottle down there. You’re about to visit the Bat Cave.”
Shaking his head with a grin, Sam tucked the water bottle against the wooden frame of the large box, focusing briefly on the plant before him.
“Kenny, is this…”
Kenny looked up quickly, his mustache stretching in a grin around the white sucker stick. “For… medicinal purposes,” he offered.
Sam’s lips folded in a quick grin and he nodded. “Right.”
Walking away from Sam with the fog swirling around his feet and hurt in his eyes was the most exhausting thing Dean had done since they’d left the hospital.
It would have been so much easier to simply give in, allow Sam his caretaking, just… stop. But as he half-staggered, half-walked toward the nearest lighted building, Dean knew he couldn’t stop. The moment he gave in to the exhaustion and pain, the cloying voice in his ear, the cool fingers tugging at his ankles would win. They couldn’t catch him if he didn’t stop.
The unique mingling of oil and gasoline wafted a seductive perfume through the damp air from the open hanger-like doors before him. Dean leaned against the metal wall for a moment, clutching his throbbing, aching side and catching his breath.
His whole body ached—a bone-deep, hang-around-for-awhile pain that made him nauseous and angry. Rolling on his good shoulder, he rotated until he faced the open door, stepping across the threshold from the cloistering feel of the foggy outdoors to the grounded, greasy reality of the garage. Breathing deeply he made his way to the workbench, strewn with the comforting familiar sight of ratchets and wrenches, oil cans and shop towels, bits of gears, nuts, bolts, and a vast array of skin magazines.
Someone was humming in the back of the shop, but Dean didn’t draw attention to himself just yet. His world was still sideways, his sight and balance swaying with the tripping sensation of a rocking boat. He made his way toward an interior wall, the room growing warmer as he got further away from the opened door. He trailed his hand along the time-worn wood of the bench surface as he walked, picking up smears of grease on the pads of his fingertips, not really noticing that his feet were dragging, only realizing he was weaving when his hip bounced against the workbench.
Reaching the wall, he pressed his back against it, sliding slowly down, his legs sprawled out in front of him, his eyes blurry and unfocused as a white-washed curtain slipped between perception and reality. Listening as the humming grew closer, deeper, more pronounced, Dean felt himself shift, the smell of metal and rubber grabbing hold of his memory and carrying him away from ghosts and angels, pain and pirates.
John would have been roughly his age when Dean was born, he realized. He blinked, a little too slowly, his eyes not seeing the collection of cars in front of him, but a smaller space, a smaller time. He found, sitting on the cold cement floor of the camp garage, that if he held perfectly still, his breath captured in his lungs, that he could still feel his father’s hands under his arms, lifting his small body up to perch on the workbench and away from the danger of cars on jacks.
Dean licked his lips, his movement sluggish, a low hum rushing his ears, enhancing the disorienting, time-bending sight of his father’s face, smiling at him, unlined, clean-shaven, worry-free. Years of struggle evaporated. Carefully constructed masks shattered. All that was left was a feeling of home. The sense of having been safe once.
“…’d you come from…”
The white fuzzy across his vision started to disperse, like fresh water suddenly spilled into a bucket of suds. Sound became sharper, rolling, tripping, until it met a recognizable cadence.
“…hear you come in. Take it easy, you look a bit shocky, yet.”
“Huh?” Dean rolled his head up, his blinks becoming more rapid, the word coming into focus around him. “Shep?” he muttered at bespeckled face looming above him. He caught the shaggy mop of sandy hair, the Red Sox hat, the drawn, Hugh Laurie-like countenance.
“That’d be me,” Shep asserted.
A flash of sliver caught Dean’s sluggish vision and he saw Shep pulling a flask from the interior of his coveralls.
“Drink,” Shep ordered. “You’re shivering.”
“I am?” Dean lifted his hands, as if surprised to see them attached to his arms. For a moment, they didn’t look like his hands. They looked to young, too small. As if he was simply borrowing these while his real hands were in the shop. Then Shep placed the flask in his open palm and curled his fingers around the sides and reality re-asserted itself.
Dean took a quick pull on the flask, letting the smooth warmth of the liquor slide hot and greedy down his throat, settling in his stomach as if it had finally found its home. Another sip and he felt himself steady enough to look around and realize with a flash of shame that he was slumped against a bookcase on the far wall of that garage.
“Man,” he said softly. “Sorry, I…”
Shep stood, dismissing his attempt at apology, faced the bookshelf and began skimming his fingers across the spines of the books arranged there, humming the same tune Dean had heard when he stepped inside.
“Where’s your brother?” Shep asked.
Dean simply shook his head, unable to explain his escape from Sam.
“Does he know you’re wandering around out—“
“Hey.” Dean snapped his head up, flattening his palms against the wall at his back. “I can take care of myself.” He managed to get himself to his feet on the third try, but had to bend slight to the side to ease the throb on his right side once he got there.
“Yeah, I can see that,” Shep commented, sarcasm turning his words to lead. “That’s why I found you white as a sheet and just this side of unconscious on my garage floor.”
“I haven’t eaten anything,” Dean pouted. His eyes tracked Shep’s fingers as the older man continued to pull books from shelves and set them on top of the stack of Penthouse magazines. “You have a thing for Shakespeare, man?”
“I was a teacher.”
“No shit!” Dean exclaimed before he could catch himself. “Guess I just thought you… y’know, were a mechanic.”
“I get headaches,” Shep said, placing another book on the workbench. He lifted his Red Sox hat and shoved aside a long swath of hair revealing an ugly, red, crescent-shaped scar over his left ear. “Bullet, 1974. Had my name on it. Missed blowing my head off by dumb luck.”
Dean swallowed, watching the man’s hands.
“Tried to go back to teaching, but the headaches… well, it didn’t work out.”
“So… why the garage, then?” Dean frowned, glancing around at the eclectic collection of vehicles scattered around the cavernous space.
“Joshua’s idea. Thought if I could keep my hands busy, my head wouldn’t get tangled up so much.” Shep lifted a shoulder in a casual shrug. “Everyone can master a grief but he who has it.”
Dean lifted an eyebrow, pushing away from the wall.
“That’s Shakespeare,” Shep informed him.
“Okay, Professor,” Dean nodded, looking at the ramshackle collection of novels, textbooks, binders of loose-leafed paper. His smile was automatic when he saw that the books blended with albums and then faded into a large stack of cassette tapes. “You got music here, too?” He asked, reaching up to skim his greasy fingertips along the plastic cassette cases.
Shep nodded. “Some stuff left behind, some stuff brought with us.”
Dean’s eyes caught on a title and he pulled the cassette free. “This belong to anyone?”
Shep peered at the cassette. “Didn’t take you for a fan.”
“Not for me… for a friend.”
Shep raised an amused eyebrow. “If you say so. You want it, it’s yours.”
“Thanks,” Dean grinned, shoving the cassette into his back pocket. “What are all those books?”
“This? This is the story of fate, my friend.”
Dean frowned, picking up one of the books. It smelled musty, heavy with dust and old ink. Inside the front of the book was a stamp claiming it was the property of Needles public library.
“The public library has a book on…” he flipped the book closed, then looked up at Shep. “Ancient Mysteries of the Sea?”
“You’d be surprised.”
Dean set the book down, shaking his head. “Don’t bet on it,” he muttered, turning his back to the workbench and resting his pockets there as a brace, the cassette clicking dully beneath the denim of his jeans. “Sam and I’ve spent our fair share of time in libraries.”
His eyes roamed aimlessly around the garage, catching first on a lime green Charger in the back corner near another hanger-like entrance, this one closed. Next he saw a large space void of cars or machinery of any kind.
“Hey, Shep,” he said, bouncing the back of his hand against the other man’s shoulder. “That where Mike parks the chopper?”
Shep hooked his chin over his shoulder, following Dean’s gaze. “No,” he shook his head turning back to his books. “That is where our excavation equipment is stored.”
Dean turned to him, cradling his throbbing side with his good hand. “Your what?”
“Bulldozers, backhoes, some front loaders.” Shep lifted an eyebrow, not looking at Dean. “You didn’t think we were going to depend on magic to raise that ship from the sand did you?”
Dean had to work to keep his jaw from falling open. “Okay, man, you… you need to start talking.”
“How about you sit down and—“
“I swear to freakin’ God, the next person that tells me to sit down and take it easy I’m gonna introduce his stomach to his teeth.”
Shep tilted his head. “Well, that was… colorful. Feel better?”
“No,” Dean grumbled, trying not to grimace as the throb in his side worked its way up to his shoulder like quicksilver.
Shep took a breath, tilting his head toward the books, not looking at Dean. “I was going to suggested that you sit down and let me start from the beginning.”
“Oh,” Dean muttered, somewhat subdued. “Sorry, man. I… it’s been a long hunt, y’know?”
Shep lifted a shoulder. “’Fraid I don’t, this being a first for me.”
Dean rubbed his face. “Right. Well, I’m not used to being… sidelined right before the big game.”
“Probably not used to having that many extra holes in your body, either,” Shep pointed out.
They were both silent for a moment.
“Sam and I… we have our reasons we live this life,” Dean began, his voice sounding odd to him, as if it were coming from behind his ears. “This is… this is all I know. And I don’t want anyone else hurt ‘cause I couldn’t do my job.”
“You’re staying in a camp created by a Marine specifically designed to offer war Vets a second chance,” Shep replied, as if this should let Dean off the hook.
Dean looked at him sharply. “Exactly. And I’m not going to be the one that takes that chance away from them.”
Shep reached out, gently, as if attempting to touch a wounded animal, a tiger in a cage. Dean watched his hand advance, holding himself still, feeling the need for caution. When Shep’s hand rested carefully on Dean’s shoulder, he felt his muscles coil, roll, then slowly relax, tick by tick, an engine cooling in the shade of the night.
“What if helping you in this search is my chance, Dean?” Shep asked softly.
Dean blinked, then frowned, working his mind around the question.
Shep smiled softly. “As the Bard said, I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it.” He released Dean’s shoulder and lifted a book from the stack before him. “But it doesn’t mean I don’t miss the time before.”
“You really got a hard on for Shakespeare,” Dean muttered.
Shep grinned, the lines of his face smoothing with the motion. “It has been said of me. You should give him a read.”
Sighing, Dean leaned once more against the workbench, his eyes on the Charger. “No offense, Professor,” he said, “but I reserve the Bard for moments when I want to be ridiculed or kicked out of bed.”
Shep laughed. “Suit yourself. But I’d listen to this.”
Dean pushed away from the workbench, wandering slowly among the cars as he listened.
“In the year 1615, the Desolation Angel ran aground at the delta of the Colorado River.”
Dean paused, looking over his shoulder. “The map Sam and I found… it was dated 1615.”
“Was it now,” Shep replied, looking back at the book he held open in his hands like a hymnal. “Preparations were made to either launch the boat back to sea with the next heavy rain that flooded the Salton Sea basin, or abandon ship. However, Captain Iturbe threatened to kill any man that left the Angel.”
Dean had made it to the Charger and leaned against her hood, watching Shep. “Okay, but if that’s true, one, how did the story get out and two, where did the map come from?”
“Always with the questions,” Shep muttered, not looking up from his book. “Captain Iturbe believed they could find a passage to the Atlantic through the fabled Straits of Anian.”
“Pacific to Atlantic, via a Spanish galleon?” Dean scoffed, straightening to face the car.
“It was 1615, Dean,” Shep reminded him. “And I wouldn’t mess with that car. It’s Mike’s, and he keeps her in perfect condition.”
“It runs?” Dean asked.
“Do. Not. Touch.” Shep stressed. “Hands up, back away slowly.”
“Okay, okay,” Dean muttered, moving on to a shell of a Corvette and peering inside. “Keep reading about Captain Ahab.”
“Captain Iturbe had commissioned the Angel after his lover—“
“Isobel,” Dean muttered, feeling suddenly weak. Though the morning sun had burned away the fog, Dean felt a chill in the air, the thick air sliding down his throat and filling his lungs.
“That’s right,” Shep said, looking up. “How did you know that?”
“Just… keep reading,” Dean rasped, making his way back to Shep and the workbench. He desperately needed to sit down before his knees completely vanished.
“Isobel traveled with him, and when the Angel’s keel became mired in what they thought was a sandbar, she left the ship in search of help, knowing their food supply would soon run out.”
“She found the Indian tribe…” Dean said, reaching out for the same wall he’d leaned on before, and sliding down to sit once more on the cement ground. “Didn’t she?”
Shep nodded, looking up cautiously at Dean, his eyes masked by the round lenses in his frameless glasses. “She did. The Angel had a treasure of pearls and Isobel bartered with the Yuki chief to trade food for the treasure. The Yuki gathered enough food to last the pirates through three months and followed Isobel back to the moored ship.”
“And then it went to shit.”
“In a manner of speaking,” Shep nodded, closing the book with a decisive snap. “The pirates, true to their nature, swarmed the Indians, killing without qualm, and taking what they wanted. In the melee, Isobel was injured and the Indian chief held her ransom for want of his promised treasure.”
“They…” Dean tried to swallow, finding his mouth dry. “They left her… The Captain turned his back on her.”
Shep nodded. “Iturbe saw her going to the Indians as betrayal, and left her to her fate. The chief killed her, in the sand outside the ship. Burned her body, and gathered her ashes in a pouch.”
Dean closed his eyes.
“Just before he and the remaining Indians departed, he vowed that the pirates would never know peace, never set eyes on the sea again, would never go home, until they fulfilled their bargain.” Shep rolled his neck, turning to the workbench to pick up another book.
“The pirates had a counter-measure,” Dean said softly, his eyes unfocused, directed at his boots, seeing instead the ancient, spidery scrawl on the map. “Didn’t they?”
“Indeed,” Shep nodded. “En el solsticio de invierno regresará ella a las aguas y la sangre de los hombres correrá hasta que volvamos a alzarnos. Cuando la luna caiga sobre la hoja de la espada, ella llevará su carga a casa.”
“Yeah, that was on the map. So… no spell? Witchcraft? Hex?”
Shep lifted his eyebrows. “It does not appear so. Simply… the will of desperate men.”
Rubbing his face again, Dean looked at his hands, belatedly realizing he’d been smearing grease from his fingers across his forehead. Sighing, he tipped his head back against the wall. “So, okay, I get how the solstice would bring the ghosts back once a year. A lot of faiths believe in the power of the solstices…”
Dropping his head once more, he regarded Shep solemnly through his lashes. “But I do not get this deal with midnight on the turn of the year.”
“The Yuki are a benevolent people,” Shep explained. “Their shaman found out about Isobel’s fate and… well, he put in an escape clause. You see, she is bound to the desert, same as those who betrayed the chief.”
“I know,” Dean whispered, unconsciously rubbing his heart.
“The shaman stated that… wait, I’ve got it here…” Shep turned and tossed a couple of books aside, finally drawing out a tattered copy with pages falling from their binding. Cradling it in his palm, he flipped to the passage he was looking for. “En el último minuto de la última hora del año, el tiempo cesará y los espíritus se levantarán. Cuando el Tesoro descanse en manos de sus gentes y el cuerpo del mensajero sea devuelto, los espíritus no estarán ligados a la tierra por más tiempo.”
“And for those of us who skipped Spanish class?”
“Ah, yes, well,” Shep cleared his throat. “I says, In the last minute of the last hour of the year, time will cease and spirits rise. When the treasure rests in the hands of the people, and the body of the messenger is returned, the spirits will no longer be bound to the land.”
“Hold up, wait,” Dean lifted a hand. “The body of the messenger? Isobel?”
Shep folded his lips down in a frown. “So it would seem.”
“Didn’t you say she’s ashes in a pouch somewhere?”
“So… what you’re saying is… we have to find the pouch, hope her ashes are still there, and get them back to the ship?” Dean struggled once more to his feet. “At the same time that someone’s returning the pearls to the Yuki?”
“That about sums it up.”
“Well that’s just… freakin’ perfect,” Dean growled, rubbing the back of his neck and moving with more energy than he realized he possessed toward the open hanger door.
“Where are you going?”
“I gotta talk to Sam.”
“Don’t you want to hear our plan first?” Shep stopped him.
Dean turned, purpose lighting a fire beneath his skin, pushing pain to the side. “You have a plan?”
“Joshua is going to talk with the present chief of the Yuki tribe this afternoon, and Mike is leading a group to excavate the ship.”
Dean nodded. “And?”
“And who’s going after the Guileys?”
“Well… Kenny had a few leads, but—“
“Dude, we’re not talking about finding Keyser Söze, here!”
Dean stepped forward, away from the open doorway, his eyes boring into Shep’s. “This whole plan doesn’t matter if we don’t have those pearls.”
“We have the one Sam—“
Dean’s eyebrows bounced. “The one the cops took?”
Shep glanced innocently to the side. “Joshua… may have… pocketed it before the cops left the hospital.”
“So, you’re banking everything on one little pearl?”
Shep lifted his chin, looking down at Dean from beneath his glasses. Dean had a sudden quick flash of what the man would look like standing in front of a classroom of freshmen, quoting Shakespeare with the arrogance of one with superior intelligence.
“These men were evil, vile betrayers. They slaughtered innocents that brought them food because they wanted more treasure. I honestly don’t see why—“
“You don’t have to know why,” Dean snapped, his words leaking between clenched teeth. “You just do the fuckin’ job.”
“You do the job,” Dean repeated, gripping the workbench for balance. “Because if you don’t, another fool will find his way to the ship. And to the hold. And to the wrong fuckin’ end of a pirate’s blade.”
“You mean…” Shep frowned, eyes darting with thought behind his lenses. “Are you saying there are… are bodies in that ship? Aside from the pirates?”
“There are a lot of goddamn bodies in that ship,” Dean snarled. “And I see each one every time I close my eyes.”
“And that’s not all, Professor,” Dean shook his head, feeling his fingertips dig into the worn wood of the workbench. “I see her. Isobel. I hear her. Asking to go home.”
“The messenger…” Shep whispered.
“You want to ask me again if I’m ready to hang the success of this hunt on one pearl?”
“We’ll find them,” Shep replied confidently. “We will! Kenny was a good cop—“
Dean turned away from him, heading toward the door, walking straighter than he had in days.
“Where are you going?” Shep called.
Dean paused, looking back over his shoulder. “Many times I've lied and many times I've listened, many times I've wondered how much there is to know.”
Shep frowned. “Who was that? Tennyson? Yeats?”
“Zeppelin,” Dean replied, stepping out into the wet air of the winter morning in search of his brother.
Part B can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/57882.html>