Characters: Dean, Sam
Rating: PG-13 for language
Spoilers: Story takes place immediately after Episode 2.03, Bloodlust. Anything prior to that is fair game.
Summary: Season 2. In the wake of John's death, the boys investigate mysterious drownings on a ferry boat and end up fighting to not be pulled beneath the surface. Previously printed in zine: Roadtrip With My Brother, 7.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
a/n: This story was written in the fall of 2008 for the zine, Roadtrip With My Brother 7, printed in November of 2008 by agentwithstyle (www.agentwithstyle.com). Much thanks to Mysti for the opportunity. Those of you who read the printed version, I thank you sincerely. Those who read now, I hope you enjoy.
"I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am." —Sylvia Plath
He ran a careful hand over the black metal, skimming the smooth surface with the tips of his fingers, absorbing the warmth that remained from the powerful engine's latest cross-country journey. The pale, false light of morning spilled an uneasy shadow of his form across the front window and down the hood, bending the image into what he felt was his true reflection.
The message that had summoned them from Montana to Washington sat like a lead weight in his chest. Dean knew that Sam had been ready to have a purpose, a reason to leave Red Lodge and Gordon behind, to embark on a hunt sent, it seemed, from Dad, himself. Closing his eyes, Dean pressed his fingertips, then his palm flat against the car, leaning his weight into that hand, unconsciously pulling strength from a source that some would argue held no heart.
Dean had kept his reservation about this hunt to himself, unwilling to be reminded of the lust for vengeance that he could still taste at the back of his throat as a vampire might thirst for blood.
He still wanted to kill them all.
He wanted to know they were gone, they weren't a potential threat. Like an itch between his shoulder blades that he couldn't quite reach, the knowledge that he'd left a job undone—at least according to the rules as defined by John Winchester, the rules Dean had always lived by—dug at him deeper as the miles between the Impala and that old farmhouse increased.
"So," Sam's emphatic voice just to his right snapped Dean's eyes open, immediately alert. "Looks like this Ramsey guy really is a ferry captain."
Dean smirked, unable to help himself. He stuffed both hands into the deep pockets of his leather jacket, shifting his eyes from the paper in Sam's hands to his brother's hazel eyes, irritation already at home in their expression.
"As in a boat that transports cars and people, Dean." Sam's lips twitched, his eyebrows rolling as he tipped his head to the side.
"What?" Dean shrugged innocently. "I got you. Ferry."
Sam shook his head, waving a dismissive hand at his brother, then turned and ambled to the passenger side of the car.
Dean glanced over his shoulder as the sun's rays finally struck the western water of Puget Sound. The light glittered on the rippling currents wrapping around the edges of the boat piers and worn docks like something out of a painter's dream, colors cascading, colliding, disappearing, blossoming. If he were a romantic type, he might be mesmerized by the sight.
As it was, the creak and slam of the Impala's passenger door grabbed his chin and turned him back to the present. He pulled his hands free from his pockets, slid his hip around the edge of the car, then grabbed the handle of the door, cool in comparison to the heat of the hood. Sam started talking as soon as the hinges of the door echoed across the empty lot of the small Edmonds police station as Dean got in the car.
"Officer Hennessey said that the guy's been running the Edmonds-Kingston route forever."
"Still can't believe the police station was open this early."
"Not sure it ever closes," Sam shrugged.
"They buy the lost relative bit?" Dean frowned, looking at the scabbed bruises across the knuckles of his right hand.
"Well," Sam's fingers restlessly traversed the edge of the paper in his hand. "I had to side-step that story when I realized they knew him pretty well. Told them the truth."
Dean's head shot up. "You what?!"
Sam nodded sagely. "That he'd tried to contact our Dad and got us instead. We were looking him up so that we could tell him about Dad's passing in person."
Dean tilted his head to the side, resting his eyes on the reflection in the side mirror. He hated that phrase… passing.
Dad was gone. Dead. Not coming back.
It wasn't as if he'd simply walked by them. It wasn't like he'd waved away life saying, no thanks, I've had my turn.
His blood no longer flowed. His lungs no longer drew breath. And Dean suspected that he knew where his soul resided.
He knew… but he couldn't rest his mind on the knowledge too long. If he did, his heart threatened to shatter in his chest, his body not large enough to contain the fragmented pieces.
"…that he's had been operating the ferry for like twenty-five, thirty years."
Dean pulled himself back to Sam by the strength of his brother's voice, his eyebrows bouncing up at this last statement. "So… he's either a prodigy or really old?"
"Something like that," Sam shrugged, looking at the paper in his hands. "Anyway, turns out the cops have been investigating a series of mysterious deaths on the ferry for the last several months. Ever since some rich guy's son committed suicide."
Leaning his elbow on the door, Dean stroked his middle finger across his bottom lip, impersonating interest. The weight in his chest was warring with the angry voice in his head for attention. He wanted to move and fight and hide inside of the action that was a hunt; while at the same time the idea of never leaving this car, this seat, the safety of this position behind the steering wheel was as inviting as the arms of a nameless lover.
He jerked in surprise at the sharp bite of Sam's voice, shooting his eyes to the side and squinting as the morning sun reflected off of the rear-view mirror.
"Are you listening to me?"
"Sure… ferry boat captain, suicide, weird deaths…"
Sam's lips parted and his chin tipped forward in disbelief. "I said that Ramsey called Dad because he knew the cops weren't going to find the reason behind these deaths. He knew how to get a hold of him, Dean."
"No kidding," Dean deadpanned, lifting a shoulder. "Why do you think I let you talk me into this in the first place?"
Sam lifted a challenging eyebrow. "So you could drive the car."
"Well, sure, that." Dean's lips slid into an easy grin of pleasure.
There was nothing on Earth as seductive and healing for Dean as driving the Impala. The power beneath his legs, harnessing the energy of the Chevy's engine with fingers wrapped tightly around the metal steering wheel, feeling the beat of the wind as it buffeted the often-opened window, hearing the stereo sound of music that came from the soul of his youth… the experience was unmatched by anything else that brought Dean happiness. Driving her was his reward for the tireless weeks he spent putting her back together.
Sam sighed, running a tired hand through his long hair, then scratched at the back of his head in a habit he'd picked up from his older brother. "Well, I guess there's nothing left to do but go talk to Ramsey."
"You still haven't called him back, have you?" Dean asked, twisting the keys and blinking in slow pleasure as the rumble of the engine rippled through him.
"No," Sam pouted. "Didn't know what to say."
"Say that Dad's dead." Dean hooked an elbow over the back of the seat, backing out of the lot. "Doesn't have to be an angst-fest, Sammy."
Dropping his arm and turning to the front, Dean caught Sam's stricken look from the corner of his eyes. A pang of guilt echoed through Dean's hollow chest, causing him to instinctively tighten his stomach muscles, but he said nothing. Pressing down the accelerator, he returned to the main road, following the signs to the ferry boat landing. Sam sat silently beside him until they reached the first stop light.
"He called Dad for help, Dean."
"He knew him… we gotta…" Sam shifted in the seat, his discomfort with the topic evident in his posture. "We gotta figure out what we're going to say to people."
"People Dad knew," Sam said, looking down at his lap.
Dean gave him a look from the sides of his eyes. "Not like Dad had a buddy list, Sam. I doubt we need to worry about running into any of his old drinking pals."
“Could be some," Sam's soft voice was slightly petulant. "Can't just be us and…and a lady who runs a bar, Dean."
Dean felt the muscles in his jaw tighten as if controlled by the string of an invisible puppet master. He didn't answer, simply moved the car through the intersection as the light turned green. Since he'd stood at his brother's side and watched the wrapped body of the man who had taught him everything burn to ash, there had been times when his body was not his own.
Times when he stood outside of himself and watched himself react, watched himself move, watched his muscles respond and ached to feel, but found himself unable to connect sensation to movement.
Destroying the Impala's trunk. Hitting Sam.
The only time he felt his body respond was when he found himself doing the job. Cutting a vamps head off with a chainsaw blade. Beating the fight out of Gordon until his own face throbbed and his knuckles burned.
That was right. That felt good. That mattered.
Only it didn't. Not really.
"Here," Sam pointed across him. "Turn here."
Dean complied, pulling into an empty spot next to a wooden fence at the edge of the pier. Just beyond them, he could see the large ferry, lower half painted a dark blue with the name Mystic on the side. Dean's mouth lifted in a slight grin of appreciation.
Someone likes Van Morrison…
He could see two decks with cars, one covered, one exposed, and one large passenger cabin. The captain's cabin was positioned above the passenger cabin, radar and satellite antennae posted at varying positions around the multi-windowed room.
"What are you doing?" Sam asked as Dean threw the car into park.
Dean looked over at him, puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"Aren't we going to go talk to him?"
Lifting an eyebrow, Dean rolled his hands free of the wheel, his fingers up in question.
"Dean, it's a ferry. Just drive on."
"What?!" Dean drew his head back in horror. "No freakin' way, Sam."
"Why not?" Sam leaned forward.
"Are you kidding me? I've seen The Ring. Déjà vu. I know what happens to cars on those things." Dean shook his head emphatically. "I just got her back in one piece, Sam."
"Oh, Dean, c'mon, you can't—"
"Hey, this was your cockamamie idea," Dean shut off the car. "You got me here. Let's go talk to the man."
"We're gonna get over to Kingston and have no way to get around," Sam grumbled, climbing out of the car and slamming it behind him.
"We'll just hang out on the boat or something," Dean shrugged, pocketing his keys and starting down toward the ferry slip. "Don't get your boxers in a twist, dude."
Sam continued to mutter, but Dean ignored him, crossing the apron ramp quickly as a car waiting to drive on paused for him, and headed to the pedestrian entrance.
He knew that Sam liked to have a plan, to know what was going to happen now and then now and then now. He knew Sam felt secure with a plan, even if the plan changed; at least he had something to stand on for a short time. Living life by the skin of their teeth had always rubbed Sam the wrong way—and was one of the reasons Dean suspected Sam had finally left them.
Stepping from the ramp to the subtly-rumbling ferry, Dean blanked his mind to the possibility that Sam might one day pick up and leave again, searching for that pocket of life where he could live by his own plan, and not the one that hunting evil randomly tossed their way.
They approached the passenger cabin, stepping inside the quiet hum of voices and crossing the linoleum floor to sit on two of the blue plastic chairs next to a lowered window just off the stairs that led up to the captain's deck. Dean slouched low in his seat, propping his boots up on the seat across from him. He ignored Sam's frown and looked out of the window, waiting patiently for the passengers to load and the time to be right to confront Captain Ramsey about his cryptic message.
"What do you think he meant when he said that Dad promised?" Sam asked suddenly, his low voice an eerie echo of Dean's thoughts. "Promised what?"
Dean folded his hands across his chest, shifting his posture and resting the back of his head against the seat, trying to disregard the fact that Sam all too often seemed to know just what he was thinking.
"Who knows," he muttered, more to pacify Sam then actually prompt further discussion.
But Sam wasn't quite ready to let it go. "You think it was a job?"
"How the hell should I know, Sam?" Dean snapped irritably. An older woman sitting across the aisle looked up from her newspaper and frowned at him. Sighing, Dean closed his eyes, tempering his voice. "Dad wasn't exactly the sharing type, y'know?"
"Yeah, but," Sam turned sideways and Dean felt the pressure of Sam's elbow against his shoulder as he rested it on the back of the chairs. "He told you stuff, man. You knew about that fight between Dad and Bobby—"
"Only because I was there."
"—you knew about the shtriga—"
"Jesus, Sam, enough, okay?" Dean dropped his feet from the chair and sat up. The woman had closed her paper and was now openly staring at him. He flashed her a grin and watched as she blushed, then turned to face the opposite way.
"Listen, I only know what I was around for. I didn't know about Elkins," he pointed out, dropping his chin to make his point. "I didn't know about Ellen, or Jo, or the Roadhouse."
Sam sighed, tipping his head forward in disappointment. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
"'Course I'm right," Dean sat back.
"I know you wouldn't keep anything Dad said from me," Sam muttered almost as an afterthought, his eyes sliding from Dean to the view of Puget Sound through the opened window.
Dean felt the now-constant weight in his chest wrap around his heart at his brother's words. He was saved from his thoughts by the bleat of the ferry's horn, announcing last call before shoving off. The shift of the ferry against the deep water of the Sound tossed the passenger's slightly from side-to-side in their stiff, plastic chairs. Dean dropped his hands from his chest to grab the side of his chair.
"Dude," he muttered. "This had better be a real hunt…"
"You okay?" Sam asked, his too-observant eyes taking in Dean's tight features.
"Just feels a little bit too close to flying, man," Dean muttered. He heard Sam swallow and shot his eyes to his brother's face. "Laugh, and I swear to God I will seal your mouth shut."
Sam pressed his lips together and shook his head once. "Not laughing."
"Good. Let's go talk to this Ramsey dude and get this over with." Dean used the windowsill to steady himself as he stood. He realized that once the ferry was on its way, the movement actually settled a bit and he didn't lurch as he moved away from the safety of the wall.
They stepped out onto the outer deck and Dean immediately pulled in a deep lungful of air. The wind against his face was wet from the spray kicked up from the sides of the boat and smelled like a mixture of salt, fish, and exhaust. He wrapped his fingers around the cold metal of the railing that kept them from tumbling over onto the cars below and enjoyed the thrill of the vibration of the engine through the rail and up into his arm.
Sam stepped around him, leading the way. Dean followed, casting cautious eyes to the cars below, inwardly shuddering to think of the Impala trapped in that stock yard of metal. They climbed the narrow stairs and Dean leaned a hip against the railing just outside the captain's door as Sam knocked.
When they were greeted by silence, Sam knocked again, then looked over his shoulder at Dean, who shrugged in response. They'd already waited five minutes longer than he would've liked before opening the door.
Sam was the first inside, which wasn't Dean's preference, but this time worked to their advantage.
"Hey! You can't be in here! Get back below with the rest of the—"
"Captain Ramsey?" Sam interrupted.
The man facing them looked to Dean more like a Tommy Lee impersonator than a ferry boat captain. Narrow, weathered features framed pale blue eyes that peeked out from beneath shaggy bangs longer than Sam's. His rail-thin body was draped in a loose-fitting, long-sleeved, gray T-shirt with the words and the horse you rode in on fading across the front. Tattoos snaked up the back of his neck and down his wrists, one wrapping around the middle finger of his left hand. The holes in the legs of his jeans were almost a mirror image of the ones Dean wore, and his boots looked like they'd be more at home clutching the sides of a Harley than balancing on the deck of a boat.
"You from the IRS?" The slim man glanced once out of the window overlooking Puget Sound, then flipped two switches above the small, half-crescent steering wheel.
Dean lifted an eyebrow at that. "We look like suits to you?"
"The hell you doing here, then?" Ramsey's voice was worn from long nights and hard living. Dean had heard that tone and cadence too many times in his life to not recognize it.
"We heard you might need our help," Sam tried.
Ramsey crossed the room in two strides, surprising the brothers by grabbing the front of Sam's shirt and shoving him against the wall. The sleeve of his T-shirt slid down his sinewy arm as he did so, exposing an intricate series of tattoos.
"Listen, I told those other guys, I don't need your kind of help, okay? Now get the hell—"
"Is that Charon?" Sam asked, his voice hurried, edging on panic, trying to get the man's attention, and, Dean realized, keep Dean from tearing him apart for touching Sam. He hadn't even realized he'd stepped forward, fists clenched, until Sam spoke.
Surprised, Ramsey stepped back, releasing Sam's shirt. "What was that?" he asked.
Dean, too, looked at Sam in surprise, repeating Ramsey's question. "What was that?"
"The tattoo on your arm," Sam explained, tugging his shirt down to straighten it. "It's Charon, isn't it?"
Ramsey shoved his sleeve up, and Dean looked at the tattoo. "Sam, that isn't a chick—"
Sam rolled his eyes. "Not Sharon, Dean, Charon. The boatman that took souls across the River Styx to the Underworld."
"Pretty damn good, kid," Ramsey muttered in appreciation, rubbing a hand over the tattoo as if Sam's words had caused it to burn. He stepped back over to the controls, then looked back at the brothers, his hands on the wheel once more. "You're right. Seemed fitting."
Dean flicked a quick look in Sam's direction. "You never told me you liked Styx."
"I don't," Sam said. "I like Greek mythology."
Dean's lips quirked. "Yeah, well, I know what I'm getting you for your birthday."
He grinned at Sam's pained expression, then turned his attention back to Ramsey. "So… as my brother was saying before you jumped to one helluva conclusion—"
"Yeah, uh, sorry about that," Ramsey said. "Been a rough coupla months."
"Tell me about it," Sam said softly. "Listen, uh… you called our dad—"
Ramsey shot them a look over his shoulder and Dean felt the chill from his time-worn eyes. Instinctively, he shifted his stance so that he was standing between Sam and the captain.
"You John Winchester's boys?"
"Where the hell has he been?" Ramsey turned around again. "I have been trying to reach him for months! He just up and leaves, no word, no explanation, nothing! I had to get his number from his lady friend."
Dean narrowed his eyes. "Ellen?"
Ramsey shrugged. "Dunno. Didn't ask. Just need to talk to the man. He with you?"
"Uh, Captain Ramsey," Sam started.
"No, he's not with us," Dean filled in, his voice returning the hard edge that Ramsey had flung their way. "But we're here."
"Sorry, kid," Ramsey shook his head. "The kind of help I need, not just anyone can give."
"I wouldn't be too sure about that," Dean replied, settling his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket, dropping his shoulders, and tilting his head to the side. "You see, our Dad taught us everything he knew. And if he could've helped you, we can help you."
Ramsey opened his mouth, then closed it again with narrowed eyes. Dean knew the careful delivery of his words had produced the desired effect. Sam's concern about how or what to tell this man about John's death was no longer an issue.
Rubbing a hand across his mouth, Ramsey exhaled and Dean watched the avarice escape from him along with the air. He stepped further into the room, allowing Sam to move away from the metal wall, and prepared himself for whatever Ramsey was about to say.
"The Mystic is haunted."
The brothers stood silently, waiting. Ramsey's arctic eyes darted between them.
"Like… by a ghost," Ramsey asserted.
Dean glanced at Sam and saw that his yeah, and? expression was mirrored on his brother's face. Ramsey pulled his head back at their continued silence. A voice on the squawk box called his attention and he turned back to his duties for a bit, leaving the brothers to cool their heels and watch out of the window as two speed boats passed by the bow of the ferry, their wake beating up against the blue sides of the large vessel.
The sky was clear, almost painfully so. Dean stepped away from Sam to look out of the aft window, letting his mind wander while the noise Ramsey made running the ferry across the suddenly busy waterway faded to a dull roar behind him.
The subtle vibration of the boats engine hummed beneath his feet. He thought his Dad had always hated the Seattle area. Said it rained too much. Said it was always wet and he hated being wet. Dean thought it strange that he would have been up here working with this crazy Motley Crew reject in the first place.
Sam's voice was a quiet intrusion to his purposely wayward thoughts. Dean ran a finger along the edge of the sill, pushing a small pile of dust to the corner, not looking at Sam.
"What's going on?"
Dean pressed his lips together, shaking his head. Sam was the one with the hunches, the feelings, the visions. Sam was the one that could say this doesn't feel right and have that taken at face value. Not Dean.
Dean was action. Dean was results. Dean was force. He wasn't gut instinct.
Or so he thought.
"We'll be up on Kingston in about twenty minutes," Ramsey announced. "The Mystic ain't a RO/RO, so when the cars are unloaded, we'll have to come about."
"It's not a… what?" Dean asked looking back at Ramsey over his shoulder.
"Roll on, roll off. She's an old-school ferry boat," Ramsey replied, not looking over at Dean. "You boys drive on?"
"No," Sam answered, resting his back against the window that Dean was facing, his arm brushing up against Dean's in an unconscious gesture of support. Dean almost pulled away.
Guess I'll have to stick around… be a pain in your ass…
Swallowing, Dean turned and put his back to the window, dropping his hands into his pockets, and keeping his body tight so that he was almost-but-not-quite touching Sam in return. The need to stay in control, to keep his game face on, denied him the ability to accept Sam's comfort, however subtle, however unknowing.
"Well, you'll have some time in Kingston, then," Ramsey said. "Fun doesn't usually happen until the return trip, anyway."
"Fun like…" Dean prompted to the man's back.
"Like people drowning. Falling overboard. Dying," Ramsey shot the brother's a look. "That kind of fun."
"You have many of those?"
Ramsey nodded, then grabbed the mike on the squawk box, muttering a reply and turning down the squelch dial. Hanging up the mike, he flipped another set of switches, then turned to lean against the control panel with one hip, crossing his arms over his chest. He looked down at the floor as if whatever he wanted to say was written there.
"Started about four or five months ago," he began. "This, uh, local Edmonds boy drove off the ferry mid-way through the route back from Kingston. Blew right through the ramp and over the side."
"Suicide?" Sam supplied.
Ramsey shrugged. "'S what the cops said. Seemed pretty obvious to everyone who saw it, too."
"So," Dean lifted his eyebrows. "That's how you knew Dad? He was helping you get rid of the kid's spirit?"
Ramsey shook his head. "Your Dad was here before the kid died."
Sam frowned, stepping forward. "What was he doing?"
"Helping a girl in Kingston."
"Helping her with what?" Dean asked.
"A spirit or something," Ramsey shrugged. "Dunno. All I know is, he left before he fixed it, the kid died, and now I got cops on my decks and at my door day and night threatening to dry dock The Mystic because people keep dying and I can't do a thing to stop it."
Dean opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by a call on the squawk box. Ramsey turned his attention back to piloting the boat, and Dean looked at Sam. Nothing about this situation felt right to him. Sam looked away and Dean tried to take a breath, rubbing at his chest as the attempt for air was thwarted by the knot that had taken up the space his lungs were supposed to occupy.
Nothing had felt right, period, since he'd woken up in the hospital — healed. The feeling had gotten worse when his father had said everything but goodbye to him before walking out of his hospital room.
Right became flat-out wrong as his little brother tried to fix something that was broken beyond repair, and wrong became fucking unbearable when he had to walk away from creatures he'd been raised to hate because killing them was not the solution this time.
Watching Ramsey maneuver the ferry boat closer to the slip, Dean ran his fingers across his forehead, hating the way they trembled. He let them trail down the side of his face and over the back of his neck, pinching the tight muscles there in punishment.
"Okay, look," Ramsey said, as he continued to steer. "We got an hour before we head back to Edmonds for this run. I'm gonna be too busy to talk, but come back and we'll see if you two can do any better than your old man at taking care of this spook problem."
Dean's body instinctively tensed at the back-handed insult to John, but Sam stuck a hand out toward him without looking.
"What was the name of the guy that died?" Sam asked.
"Brad Sanders," Ramsey replied. "And the girl in Kingston was Charlene, but everyone called her Charlie."
"Charlie… what?" Dean prompted.
The blue eyes that pinned him held a sudden familiar, tinny echo of forgotten hope.
"Ramsey. Charlie Ramsey."
"So I guess we got an hour to kill."
"What's going on with you, man?" Sam reached out and grabbed the edge of Dean's jacket, halting his brother's forward motion and turning him slightly to face him. "You've been acting off since we got to Edmonds."
Longer than that, if Sam really thought about it. Since Missouri. Since the cabin. Since Dean's soft confession of For you and Dad, the things I’m willing to do or kill, it’s just…it scares me sometimes.
Dean simply shook his head, shrugging free of Sam's grip. "'M fine, Sam. Let's just get this done. You want the library or—"
"Hey, no, wait, Dean." Sam shook his head, planting his feet as he used to do as a child, refusing to move until Dean paid attention to him. "Don't do this. Talk to me."
Dean rolled his head, letting his eyes accompany the motion. "Jesus, Sam."
"I'm not moving until you talk to me."
Dean lifted an eyebrow. "What are you, five?"
Sam simply shrugged. He knew he could out-stubborn Dean if he really wanted to. Dean looked at him. Sam looked back. Dean looked down, away, over Sam's shoulder, at his hands.
Sam watched. Waited.
"Fine," Dean huffed. "Something just feel's… off about this whole thing."
"Since when has Dad not finished a hunt?" Dean shook his head, twisting the silver ring on his right hand with his thumb, resting his eyes on the water behind Sam. "The man drilled it into us… into me, anyway. You never leave them standing. You make sure they're toast. I don't know… just feels sketchy to me is all."
"So, we look into it," Sam shrugged. "Dad must've had a good reason for leaving, Dean."
Dean lifted a brow at that, resting heavy eyes on Sam's. "You're friggin' amazing, you know that?"
"What do you mean?" Sam frowned, confused by the bitter tone behind his brother's words.
Dean turned away, continuing away from the ferry slip and heading for the street front. "You couldn’t wait to slam him for leaving, Sam. All those years we spent time alone, you'd take every opportunity to give him hell… and now…" Dean lifted a shoulder, looking down the street.
"Well… you're right," Sam tried, lamely. He was at a loss as to how to tell his brother that the only way he could make a lifetime of struggle with their father right was to live now as John had always wanted him to live. Too little, too late… but it was all he had. "Dad wouldn't have left a hunt unfinished. So… there's gotta be a reason."
"Whatever, dude," Dean seemed to mentally shake himself, then turned to face Sam. "Divide and conquer?"
Sam's stomach clenched at the thought of leaving Dean. Something nagged at him that he had to watch, he had to wait, that there was more going on inside of his brother then he realized. Even when Dean was angry, even when he was moody and silent and mouthy and manic, Sam hadn't felt safe unless Dean was around since finding John lying on that hospital floor.
"Sure, okay. You want the library?" Sam found himself saying. "I'll take the police station."
"Works for me," Dean nodded, taking the city map from Sam's outstretched hand and noting the location of the library. "Meet here in an hour."
Watching Dean walk away, Sam felt a chill, as if he were seeing his brother for the last time. He'd never been more scared in his life then when he witnessed the doctors slap the paddles on Dean's bare chest, watched his brother's body buck upwards in reaction to the electricity shooting through his system, then fall limply back to the bed, the screeching whine of the flat line bouncing from the monitor directly into Sam's heart.
Taking a breath, Sam licked his lips and headed to the police station, his loping cadence a constant beat of encouragement: he's still here, he's still here, he's still here.
Sam's carefully prepared story turned out to be unnecessary. Mentioning Officer Hennessy from Edmonds to the smiling black woman in uniform at the front desk of the police station brought out a cascade of information with little prompting.
"Oh, yes, the Sanders family, poor dears," she tutted as Sam darted his eyes down to read Officer S. Darcy on her name tag.
"It was ruled a suicide, right?" Sam asked, positioning the appropriate balance of concern and curiosity on his expression.
"Well, you know, it was, but Mrs. Sanders just couldn't believe her boy would do such a thing," Officer Darcy reached out a well-manicured hand and rested it on top of Sam's in a conspirators gesture. "Got the Captain to open the case back up after all these many months."
"Guess it helped that there were more deaths on the ferry," Sam muttered, then winced. "I didn't mean—"
"Oh, I know what you meant, sugar, and you're right." Officer Darcy squeezed his hand. "Six deaths in four months. All drownings. Mrs. Sanders used that to fuel her fire and soon the Captain just couldn't take her haranguing him anymore and opened the case back up."
"But… do they have anything to indicate that it was anything other than suicide?"
Officer Darcy frowned, then pulled her hand away from Sam's, sitting back with a sad little sigh. "Only a mother's faith. She just didn't believe it. Said he had too much to live for." She stole a look around the empty front office and hunched her shoulders, drawing Sam closer as she dropped her voice. "You ask me, that girl he was sweet on disappearing like she did's what sent him over the edge." She chuckled mirthlessly. "Literally."
"What girl?" Sam asked, his whisper matching hers.
Officer Darcy tutted again. "That Charlie Ramsey. Beautiful girl. She disappeared and the Sanders boy died all in the same week."
Sam blinked, trying to mask his surprise. Ramsey had said nothing about his daughter being missing. He checked his watch, realizing that they had less than fifteen minutes to return to the ferry. He asked Officer Darcy if it would be okay if he came back sometime and was treated with a dimpled smile and an, "Anytime, cutie."
Leaving the police station, Sam shrugged deeper into his long-sleeved denim shirt, wishing for his jacket. The damp chill in the air seemed to lie like a blanket around his shoulders and settle into his skin like a caress. He sped up his stride, keeping his eyes on the library ahead of him for Dean's distinctive figure, his one-of-a kind walk that spoke more about him than his brother could ever fathom.
When Sam finally saw Dean standing just to the side of a parking meter outside of the old library, he stopped cold at the edge of a crosswalk. Dean was talking to a police officer, tilting his head so that he could see something in the officer's hand. Sam cursed fluidly under his breath; they'd chosen their respective research locale's to keep Dean away from the cops. St. Louis was sure to come back and bite them in the ass sooner or later.
Checking quickly for traffic, Sam jogged across the street and moved smoothly past the cop and Dean, climbing the steps of the library entrance, listening to their exchange.
"You sure you haven't seen him?"
"No, sir," Dean said, his voice even and friendly. "But I’m not really from around here."
"You didn't look familiar," the officer agreed. "Visiting from Edmonds?"
"Got family there."
Sam winced. Sometimes Dean could take a lie one step too far.
"Oh, yeah? Who?"
"Miles Ramsey? The ferry boat Captain?"
"That'd be the one," Dean said. Sam kept his back to the duo, kneeling on the top step to tie his shoe. "Uncle Miles."
"Huh," the officer tipped his head back. "Never knew Miles had any family 'cept Charlie."
Dean was quiet. Sam held his breath.
"Shame what happened to her," the officer commented. "Nearly broke old Miles."
"Yeah." Dean's voice was carefully sad.
"Well, enjoy your visit, then," the officer commented. "You see this guy around—"
"I'll be sure to tell a fine officer of the law," Dean said. Sam winced again. "Uh, out of curiosity," Dean called the officer back. "What did he do?"
"Not sure as he did anything," the officer shrugged. "But he's wanted in question about a murder."
Sam's head shot up at the tone of distress he heard in his brother's voice.
"Yeah, nasty business," the officer shook his head. "Young kid drowned a few months back under suspicious circumstances." He took a breath. "Well, you see him, you let someone know."
Sam watched Dean tip a two-fingered salute to the retreating officer. After a moment, Sam saw the officer stop an elderly man walking a dark Yorkie and show him the same picture. When he was sure the officer wouldn't turn around, Sam straightened and jogged down to Dean who spared him a quick glance then took off in fast, purposeful stride toward the pier.
"What was that about?" Sam said in a hushed voice.
"I told you this hunt was hinky," Dean muttered, shooting a look over his shoulder at the street, then taking off in a jog to the slip near the ferry.
"Dean!" Sam followed after him, trying to keep up, amazed that his brother's shorter legs were so much faster than his. "Wait up, man! What was all that about?!"
"We gotta figure out what the hell's going on here, Sam," Dean said, skidding to a stop at the ramp that led into the pedestrian entrance.
The narrow chute funneled the short line of people from land to the ferry and Dean stepped smoothly into line, pitching his voice low so that Sam had to lean closer to hear him.
"That cop just showed me Dad's picture."
"How the hell did he have a picture of Dad?" Sam asked, breathless from trying to keep up with Dean.
"You got me — it was recent, too." Dean snaked his way through the small throng of passengers that were finding a seat before the ferry departed. Knowing Sam was staying close, he made his way to the stairwell that led to Ramsey's cabin. "It wasn't one I'd seen before."
"Dean, before we go up there," Sam grabbed his arm, turning him roughly around. "You gotta know a few things."
"Like what?" Dean snapped.
His anger was unsteady and barely concealed; as if his skin had suddenly thinned out and exposed the outline of the fortress he kept inside. He felt the scrapes across his knuckles from his recent fight with Gordon stretch and pull as he tightened his hands into fists.
"Like the fact that Ramsey's daughter went missing the same week Brad Sander's died."
"I didn't get much more, except that Brad apparently had a thing for her."
Dean frowned. "Ramsey said Dad was here to help Charlie, right?"
"With a… spirit?"
Sam nodded again.
Dean stared back at him.
"You're right," Sam conceded. "Hinky."
"Let's go see if we can get Ramsey to lay a little Boat on the River on us."
"Huh?" Sam pulled his brows together.
Dean waved a dismissive hand at him, turning to continue up the stairs. "Forget it, Mr. Greek Mythology."
He opened the door to the sound of Ramsey's rattle into the ship-to-shore squawk box, tossing a casual wave back at the man's nod of greeting. Sam closed the door behind him and they stood side by side, waiting for Ramsey to finish his checklist and turn to face them. When the ferry pulled away from the pier, Dean felt the lurch and reached out to brace himself against the windowsill.
"So, Miles," Dean said when the motion had steadied and he didn’t feel like he was going to keel over. "How about you tell us a little more about this Sanders' guy."
Ramsey tossed Dean a hooded glance, his pale blue eyes hidden beneath shaggy bangs. "Like what?"
"Like the fact that he was in love with your daughter," Sam supplied.
Ramsey lifted an eyebrow and looked over at them. "You boys've been busy. Took your Dad a week to figure that out."
"Yeah, well, when you're not around to defend yourself, there's no telling what people will say about you," Dean shot back. "Did she kill him?"
Ramsey blinked in surprised. "Sanders?"
Sam spread his hands. "Who else? Your daughter's boyfriend dies on your boat the same week she disappears, and now you have six drownings on your hands."
"Okay, so maybe you're not as smart as I thought," Ramsey shook his head, turning around to face the wheel.
Sam opened his mouth again, but Dean put a hand out to stop him. He felt Ramsey crumbling. The insult to his daughter had pulled out the last cornerstone from his façade of silence. They had only to wait.
"She left first," Ramsey said softly. "Before he died. We fought about him. We're harbor rats. He was a rich kid. She said I wouldn't understand, that it had nothing to do with Sanders, but you could see it on her face. She was ready to leave — to go to him."
The brothers remained silent as Ramsey paused to handle a call from the squawk box. With a glance out of the side window, the ferry boat captain continued.
"She just up and left one night. I was returning from the morning Kingston run, and Sanders' car takes a nose-dive off the upper deck. We had divers in the water—there's a whole crew here trained for emergencies—but the car sank damn fast. There's a sandbar right about mid-way across the Sound; guess it hit that because if it had sunk all the way to the bottom…"
Dean felt Sam shift next to him, wondering if his brother heard the same odd sense of satisfaction in Ramsey's tone that he did.
"They found his body — still behind the wheel of the car—later that same day. After the autopsy confirmed that he hadn't had any drugs in his system, they…" Ramsey glanced at Dean, and he suddenly knew what the man was about to say. "They cremated him."
Damn… Dean cursed silently. No body, no spirit.
"Tell us about Charlie," Sam said. "How did she know to find Dad?"
"She didn't," Ramsey shook his head. "He found her. Told me that he'd been following some case and that there were signs or something that had showed up around Seattle."
Dean glanced over a Sam, seeing the grim set of his brother's jaw. Had the yellow-eyed demon been here?
"You knew what he did?" Sam asked.
"Not at first, but…" Ramsey adjusted his wheel, frowning as it appeared the wheel tugged back. "Charlie worked at the Edmonds library. She was helping him gather some information. One night—just before she left—they were… attacked or something in the library. John said it was a spirit. Had me help him… do whatever he did to stop it from getting Charlie."
Dean frowned. "You salt anything? Burn anything? Dig up a body?"
Ramsey shot a look over his shoulder. "Salt yeah, but burn? Body?"
Sam shook his head. "You didn't get rid of anything."
"What do you me—" Ramsey's words were cut off as his wheel jerked viciously to the right. "Son of a bitch… not again."
"What's going on?" Dean stepped forward.
Below them, a scream rippled up through the air from the car deck, barely muted by the glass-encased cabin. Before he was even aware of moving, Dean had yanked open the cabin door and was half-way down the stairs as Sam called his name, close on his heels. The scream tore through him, again and again, ripping into his heart with terror and denial, lending sound to the anguish still trapped inside since he'd heard the words time of death…
Dean pushed past a small cluster of people, standing along the edge of the rail and looking down at a woman just outside of a small Volvo positioned between a pick-up and a Volkswagen, shrieking and pointing at the interior.
"Help him! Someone…someone help him!"
"Sammy!" Dean bellowed as he grabbed the edge of the rail.
"Right behind you." Sam's reply was immediate.
Dean swung over the edge of the deck, dropping into a crouch, his legs absorbing the impact of the five-foot fall. He straightened, hearing Sam drop behind him, and rushed over to the woman.
"What—" he started, but one glance at the Volvo answered his question.
The interior of the car was filled with water, a young man trapped inside, pounding weakly on the window.
"What the hell?" Dean's eyes jerked in frantic disbelief over the water-filled car.
"Dean!" Sam shouted, and Dean whirled to see his brother holding a metal pole that looked like it might've held up an awning at one time. Dean grabbed it from Sam and swung the pole at the back, drivers-side window.
It bounced away from the glass as if he'd been swinging a feather.
"Fuck!" Dean growled, swinging again. Sam had another pole and began to bash at the rear window. The woman behind them began to sob. Dean shot a look to the man drowning in his car and saw that he was no longer pounding on the glass. "No, man, c'mon…"
Holding the pole like a spear, Dean slammed the metal against the glass once more, finally cracking the surface. Encouraged, he reared back and slammed again, this time succeeding in breaking the glass completely, allowing a torrent of water to spill from the car and cascade over him. He stumbled back from the force, gained his balance and reached through the broken window, pulling the lock on the interior of the driver's side door.
The young man fell limply into Dean's arms, only the white's of his eyes visible, his lips blue, his skin cold.
"Oh… oh, nonononono," the woman sobbed behind him. "Jack, no!" Her voice broke as she pushed Dean away, gathering up the man against her, wrapping slender arms around his body and rocking him, her voice cracking with loss. "No…"
Dean sprawled next to her, his hands braced behind him, clothes soaked, teeth chattering from a cold that went deeper than the surface. Two of The Mystic's crew pushed their way through the crowd, laying the man flat and began CPR, but something inside Dean knew it was going to be useless. He'd felt death in his arms when the man spilled out from the car.
He heard Sam step up behind him, felt his brother's presence closer than his own skin. Looking up, Dean saw Ramsey standing at the top of the cabin steps, staring down at the spectacle in horror. Meeting Dean's eyes for a brief moment, Ramsey looked away, then turned and slowly headed back into his cabin.
"Dean," Sam crouched next to him. "C'mon."
Dean nodded, fully intending on standing. He even consciously thought to push away from the wet ground, but his body once again refused to obey. He had a sudden sense of vertigo, as if he were standing next to himself, looking down at himself, watching himself not move.
"Dean, you're bleeding," Sam said, and Dean felt his brother's long, warm fingers, gently lift his hand from the cement deck.
"Yeah, c'mon," Sam tugged on his arm. "The crew will know what to do."
"Right. Crew, right," Dean repeated, trying to connect whatever synapses’ were misfiring in his head. He allowed Sam to pull him to his feet and lead him away, leaving wet footprints in his wake. He looked back over his shoulder as the boat crew blocked off the scene.
"Where the hell did that water come from, Sam?" He asked, teeth chattering.
"Good question," Sam muttered, pushing Dean down into one of the plastic chairs inside of the passenger cabin and picking up Dean's right hand. "You sliced yourself up good, man."
Dean looked down at his hand. "D-didn't even feel it," he said softly. "M-must've cut it when I was unl-locking the door."
There were two deep cuts along his palm and down into the fleshy part of his hand, stopping just short of his wrist. Blood mixed with water, filling his hand and saturating his wet jeans.
"I gotta find you a bandage or something." Sam said, looking around. "Don't go anywhere." He turned and headed to the crew deck.
Dean followed him with his eyes, a shiver shaking him inside of his wet jacket. He clenched his chattering teeth tight, glancing back outside to the gathering crowd and teary onlookers. Death was shocking when witnessed, no matter if it was the first time or the hundredth time. To see a life end was to face the truth of mortality: how quickly and unfairly it could all end.
As he watched the crowd, a girl with short brown hair, a shock of white-blonde lacing the bangs, turned to stare at him with pale blue eyes. He blinked, staring back. There was something vaguely familiar about her. Sam's quick stride announced his return and Dean looked away from the girl and up at his brother.
"She look familiar to you?" Dean asked.
Sam frowned, glancing around quickly as he knelt in front of Dean. "She who?"
"That girl out—" Dean stopped. She was gone. He shifted in the chair, looking through the crowd outside of the passenger cabin, looking behind him. "Never mind… I guess she… forget it."
"What is it, Dean?" Sam asked, soaking a small white rag in antiseptic that he'd pulled from the stolen first aid kit.
"Nothing, I guess," Dean shook his head. "I just, uh… think I might have just seen Charlie Ramsey is all."
Sam snapped his head around at that, taking in Dean's closed face, shadowed eyes. Something in the weight of Dean's voice told Sam that his brother was still a bit unsteady. Sam was surprised that he wasn't more shaken up by what had just happened. A car randomly filling with water, drowning a passenger? That doesn't just happen.
Except around them.
Sam gathered Dean's damaged hand carefully in his own, cleaning the blood away and hissing a heartfelt sorry when Dean flinched and instinctively tried to pull away. He could feel the cold shiver as his brother's muscles worked to combat the chill of the water combined with the cool Washington air. After the wound was cleaned, Sam tried to close the gashes as best he could with the butterfly bandages he found in the first aid kit, then started to wrap Dean's palm in gauze to keep the still-opened parts of the wound protected.
"Probably should have a couple of stitches," Sam muttered.
"Later," Dean pushed out between the shallow breaths that controlled the pain.
Sam turned his brother's hand over in his, wrapping the gauze, taking stock of the power within his grip. Dean's hands were strength and grace, capable of measuring out both punishment and gentleness. He'd watched his brother beat a man senseless in defense of the innocent with those hands, fix the car engine so that their home remained intact with those hands, wipe away the tears of a child with those hands, staunch the flow of his family's blood with those hands, reach, hold, grab, save… with those hands.
"You done holding my hand, there, Samantha?"
Sam jerked at the soft sound of Dean's voice, the words a familiar jab at his invasion of Dean's personal space, the tone a gentle reminder that Dean was still aware, still in control, still strong, still here.
"Sorry," Sam cleared his throat. "That whole car filling with water thing was just… weird."
"Yeah, well," Dean pressed his opposite hand to his wet leg and pushed himself to his feet. He shook himself purposefully, shoving away the cold, shaking loose the water from his clothing. "We need to get to Captain Drownsalot before the ferry docks and he can disappear on us."
"You think he knows what's going on here?" Sam asked, knees cracking as he stood.
"He sure knows something," Dean muttered.
He turned and headed out of the passenger cabin, glance to the crowd on the deck. Sam followed closely. The onlookers had begun murmuring to themselves, the boat crew taking care of the broken glass and wet deck, the woman still sobbing as she held the victim’s body close.
Sam looked away from the scene just in time to see Dean shudder, then head up the stairs to Ramsey's cabin. Dean wrenched the door open, not stopping his purposeful stride until he'd backed Ramsey up against the counsel, the boat Captain's hands raised in self defense.
"What. The. Hell?" Dean spat out.
Sam saw Ramsey's eyes shift away from his brother's angry face to beseech Sam's calmer façade for help.
Sam lifted a shoulder. "I'd answer him, man, unless you want him to turn loose on you."
"O-okay!" Ramsey stuttered. "Okay…"
Dean relaxed his shoulders an increment, but didn't back away.
"I don't know what's going on, I swear… but… I think it has something to do with the… thing that was after Charlie." Ramsey's voice shook. "It's the only thing I can think of… the only reason why cars are filling up with water… or people are getting tossed overboard from the upper decks…"
"You said they pulled up Sanders' body," Sam recounted. "Did they ever retrieve the car?"
Ramsey shook his head, his eyes darting from Sam to Dean, who finally took a step away. Sam watched him wrap his arms around himself in a gesture for warmth.
"Why not?" Dean asked, his words clipped, hurried, his jaw clenching against obvious chills.
"You got any idea how much it would cost to get a crane out here and haul that car up when there's no reason to? They got what they needed from it, leave the rest alone."
Dean shot a look over to Sam, who sighed. "Could be something in the car that's triggering this spirit."
"How does that make sense?" Ramsey frowned. "Charlie was having trouble before Brad ever drove off the edge of the ferry."
Sam watched Dean bite on his lip as he thought, working through the tangle in his mind. He was always fascinated by the maze that was Dean's mind, facts sticking to the walls of his memory like fly paper, never lost, but only able to be found again if Dean made the right connections.
Over the past several weeks, Sam had watched Dean flounder, searching for his compass, his lost guide, his leader. He'd mistakenly thought his brother had wanted to see that in Gordon Walker, but realized belatedly that Dean had just needed a kindred spirit, someone that might understand, someone not his little brother, his burden, his responsibility…
"You got a picture of Charlie?" Dean asked suddenly.
Sam looked over at Ramsey.
"Yeah, sure," Ramsey pulled out his wallet, handing Dean a photo.
Sam watched as Dean looked at the image then pressed his lips together and nodded once, handing the photo to Sam. It was a pretty girl in her early twenties, dark brown hair with a streak of blonde across the front, an impish grin, and blue eyes shifted off to the side, looking at something beyond the camera.
"Ramsey, Charlie is here. On this boat."
"What?" Ramsey exclaimed, his face draining of color.
"I saw her in the crowd around the Volvo." Dean asserted. "We need to search the people as they exit at Edmonds."
Shaken, Ramsey reached out for the wheel, pulling himself around and raising a trembling hand for the mike on the squawk box.
"Cops'll be meeting us there anyway," Ramsey forced out.
Sam sighed and looked over at his brother as Dean reached up to scratch his head. Sam saw the white gauze on his hand had already started to turn red. The ferry horn blared and the brothers turned as one to watch the boat dock in its assigned slip. As the motion settled, they exchanged a glance, then sprinted down the stairs to cover the pedestrian entrance on the ferry side as the cops covered it on the land side.
Disembarking even the small amount of passengers was a lengthy process as each was inspected, questioned, and sorted. Dean signaled Sam to the crew quarters; they managed to stay out of sight until the cops were done with the crime scene and had packaged and removed the evidence. Sam knew the police would be looking for them—he'd heard the scattered passenger accounts of the two young men who'd jumped down to try to break open the car and save the man before he drowned.
Inside of his car. On the second level of the ferry.
"You see her?" Ramsey asked when the cops released him and he found them making themselves at home in the crew galley.
"Nope," Dean said around a mouthful of ham and Swiss. "She must've found another way off."
Ramsey sighed, dropping Charlie' photo on the counter between the boys, and rubbing his face. "There is no other way off. Not without swimming, anyway."
Sam looked down at the photo. "She looks like you."
"Yeah," Ramsey nodded, dropping his hands and returning his red-rimmed eyes to the photo. "She's her mother, though. Stubborn as hell, and never could stay in one place too long."
Dean looked down at the photo, too. "It was her eyes," he said, setting down his sandwich. "That's what I recognized. You guys have the same eyes."
"Yeah," Sam nodded.
And as he watched, the eyes of the girl in the photo shifted, her head turning to follow, and they rested squarely on the shocked face of Miles Ramsey.
Continued in Part 2, here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/74590.html>