Disclaimer: "Oh, I'm a good old rebel, that's what I am. I won't be reconstructed, and I don't give a damn." Innes Randolph, A Good Old Rebel, 1870
Warning: "You wanna get out, you come to me." The Road Warrior
STF: Truly, you're not starting at the end, are you? One of these days, I'll do the recap in emoticons. And that will be the day you can wrap me in the soft suit with long arms. So for latecomers, or those who forget: Possessed dog? Nope, she's gone. Civil War era ghost? Him too. Bullet? You bet.
The only thing Dean conceded was that his leg was too stiff to drive. Which hadn't stopped him earlier in the week when he'd hauled ass to the dog pound, but the days that came in between then and now had been different. Dean wasn't about to say, 'I'm sore as shit because I'm not juiced up on doggie amphetamines,' but that's exactly what Sam understood and he tried very, very hard not to crack canine around his brother.
With mixed success, of course.
The interceding days had cooled, thank god, and come Friday, the sun was clear and high, breeze-buffeted. Although Dean had stated, repeatedly and with true feeling, that he'd rather jam a fork into his right hand than visit one more battlefield, Sam had insisted. If any residual crap from either Buttercup or Jubal was going to surface, better to know sooner than later.
And besides, Beau was fixing to leave on his annual Civil Wargasm and wanted to say goodbye properly.
According to the Beau's somewhat garbled phone message, and followed up by a much more coherent one from Mira, that meant the Bloody Angle on the Spotsylvania Courthouse battlefield, the first stop on this year's Gasm. One week, thirty battlefields, countless hundreds of miles apart. Beau McBean and Harry Riddicker, a lot of coffee, chewing tobacco and 1860s reproduction diaries. All from the front seat of a speeding car. The car was a concession to the 21st century, apparently.
Sam still didn't fully understand what drove Beau to this passion: connecting with his ancestors, living a romanticized version of reality, or redressing past wrongs – he might say yes to any of those. Easier to find reenactors to make impressions of Confederates than to march as Yankees. Rebels, patriots, long hair, threadbare clothes, starvation good looks. The stuff of folktales. The past was a foreign country, and men like Beau were reinventing it in their own image.
If he ever did understand it, maybe he'd be lost to it as well. Probably just as well they were pushing on.
Sam had known yesterday that it was their last night in Fredericksburg. Dean had been getting that antsy way he got when he was healed enough for adventure and when adventure hadn't received the advance notice. Then, finally, Sam had found a reference to a mysterious series of deaths in an online journal from upstate New York that he thought might interest his brother. Found it well before it occurred to Dean that many chicks dug stitches almost as much as they did scars.
Spotsylvania was fifteen minutes away, even with the so-called morning rush. Driving the Impala past fast marts and realtors' signs, Sam was impressed by the sheer forward motion of human nature: Dean had told him that between Chancellorsville, Wilderness, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Courthouse, these ten square miles of Virginia had seen 100,000 deaths over two years. And yet, new houses obliterated the historic landscape, cluttering up old sacrifices with housing tracts, car lots and skin rash prolific strip malls. The only ostensible signs of the Civil War were the...signs.
They passed by the Stonewall Video Arcade with a blaring neon Confederate flag. Then a housing development featuring 'Antebellum plantation-style mansions' suitable for a 'king'. Don't suppose they come with slave quarters, Sam thought. Street signs flashed by: Longstreet Road. Appomattox Lane, Burnside Street, Jackson Boulevard. A golf course and Sam wondered if the dead haunted it, their bodies bloated in the sand traps.
All around them, signs of life proceeding obliviously. If it wasn't so exhilarating, it would be depressing.
It was familiar, this understanding that death existed in the midst of life. Usually Sam would insert the word 'monsters' instead of 'death'. Here, though, on the edge of the Fawn Lake Country Club, memories haunted, not ghosts.
"Man, trust your American entrepreneur to pave over a graveyard without thinking about it," he said after a longish period of silence.
Dean was squirming, trying to find a comfortable position without bending at the hips. He leaned plank-like across the seat and Sam bit back a smile.
After a minute of this, Dean shrugged, shifted himself into an equally preposterous accommodation to his dog bite discomfort. "I don't know. Maybe it's better this way. Don't the living deserve it? Isn't it what these guys all died for?"
Sam's brows crooked together in amazement. "They died to protect urban sprawl, environmental destruction and the conspicuous over-consumption of the American lifestyle?" he asked incredulously.
The quiet stretched a little as box superstores flashed by. "Can't live in the past, Sammy. It's gotta go on. So, yeah, they died so there'd be a future." He might have continued, but both were momentarily distracted by a neon sign that flicked on and off in sequence to suggest a cannonball leaving the muzzle of a heavy artillery piece. Dixie Cannon Pizzeria, god help them.
"Bet they weren't counting on that," Sam concluded.
"You don't get to decide the future," Dean returned, but softly. "You just make sure it happens. The dead don't own the future. They don't even own today. And with guys like Beau around, they don't even own the past."
The words mirrored a little of what Sam had been thinking, and it cheered him considerably, imagining that he and Dean might actually be on the same page, even if it was only for a few miles.
At Spotsylvania, the Bloody Angle was well marked; they shot past the exhibition shelter on Grant Drive and ended up at the parking lot ingenuously identified as 'Tour Route Stop 14: The Bloody Angle'. No grand Visitor Center with tour pamphlets and movies and snack bars to get distracted by here. Despite this, Sam watched Dean muster enough energy to get out of the car; with the sun beating down, even the breeze wasn't going to be enough to make it anything other than an Easybake oven on overdrive. Though the dog smell had dissipated, the driver's seat was currently held together with duct tape and Sam knew it pained Dean just to look at it.
Several visitors milled about gently easing earthworks, all that remained of the trenches the Confederate troops had installed themselves in during May of 1864. As at the other NPS battlefields, the Bloody Angle was illustrated by a reproduction of a battlefield painting, part of the interpretive signage that littered vast swathes of this part of Virginia. The painting captured the hand-to-hand combat in lurid, spectacular detail. Who the hell goes to art school to make this? Sam thought.
The gravel path wasn't very arduous, which was a good thing because Sam didn't think Dean would be able to walk very far – or, rather, he shouldn't walk very far – and that had been precisely why Beau had selected this site for the start of his whirlwind Civil War tour. A different kind of memorializing, this. A witnessing, of sorts.
They were doing it for Tim, this year, Mira had said. Meet us at the Bloody Angle.
As usual, they heard Beau before they saw him.
"Goldurned farbs! Get the fuck off the earthworks! Y'think the signs are for someone other than you?" Sam hoped Beau didn't have a gun, but that was like hoping the Acme anvil wasn't going to squash the coyote into an accordion. At best, he could hope the gun wasn't loaded.
"Really, he's harmless," they then heard Mira's calming voice, as though describing a runaway dog at a park. "But the earthworks are fragile." Enough steel there that Sam could well imagine the wayward tourists jumping with alacrity.
The path came onto the cleared fields, and Sam was struck by how little had probably changed. Sure, the earthworks were slowly wearing away, but the open fields seemed moonscape-y, barren, a little ominous. It's that sucky painting, he thought. Power of suggestion. Even so, different from the still and constructed beauty of the other sites, more ominous. Maybe because of Jubal Garrett, Sam admitted to himself. Real men had fought here, in this ditch, their bodies laid so thick you could walk on them. Dean had told him that, after Sam had told them today's destination. Goddamn storyteller.
To their left, Beau raised his hand, waved with a kepi between his fingers. In the ditch, Riddicker was on his back demonstrating his bloating technique for an appreciative audience of boy scouts. Watching from the relative anonymity of a planked footbridge crossing the earthworks, Mira raised a hand and smiled at the brothers.
She had proved adept at keeping things under wraps, a veritable CSI worker in the clean up department. After staying up late at the Farmer place with Archaeology Branch, she'd phoned Sam (Beau not investing in the trappings of the 21st century so far as to get a cell phone), found out what had happened with the ghost, and gone back to the dig early the next morning: somebody's got to get rid of the ashes, she'd said. She'd disposed of the box, too, said that it would probably be years before anyone in the lab figured out that it was missing. Happened all the time. Missing stuff.
I don't lose shit like that, Sam thought, feeling the familiar weight of Dean's keys in his hand. Beau had soldered a little ring to Dean's squashed bullet, his dug lead, and the slug now hung in its usual place. Funny, it didn't seem awkward, or heavier for all that Sam now knew about it. And Dean didn't seem to mind letting Sam carry it; he seemed more concerned over Sam driving the Impala. And locating a replacement seat cushion.
Sam proceeded towards Mira slowly, more for Dean than for himself. Dean was stiff, and sore, so sore he had consented to swallowing some plain acetaminophen after admitting that he had no idea what he'd done with the hospital painkillers. Sam wasn't truly worried about him; he was bitching and moaning, both of which were good signs.
Buttercup's love bite was healing up nicely, no sign of infection, despite the fact that the antibiotics were also in Dean's Mystery Land of Dog Possession, along with the painkillers and, inexplicably, one black t-shirt. Dean was feeling well enough to slap Sam on the back of his head when he'd suggested digging up the Farmer's flowerbed to see if Dean had buried them there.
I might give shit away, or use it for something else, but I don't lose it.
If he offered a friendly, assisting arm to Dean - who was staring at the steps down to the bridge as though they led to a particularly unpleasant circle of hell - Dean might just chew it off. That made Sam grin, though he hid it behind his hand.
"How're you doing?" he asked quietly instead. "No rebel yells? No dead guys begging you to shoot them?" Swallowed once, hard. "You aren't going to pee against a tree, are you? Hump someone's – "
And Dean shouldered him out of the way as he went past, face set in a grimace that Sam recognized from their first night on the Wilderness battlefield, when Sam had realized that they were going to hang out with reenactors. Dean's old buddies. Cringe-worthy.
"Keep it up, Sammy..." Dean whispered, "...and I may need to mention..." But the dog thing didn't hold water any more, because that fucking dog had had issues. So Sam followed Dean down, saw how he jolted gracelessly from step to step like a heavy ball. Baiting Dean was the only way to find out how he was feeling. Comeback, okay. Silence, probably not so okay. Jabbering on about squirrels, their father and blue jays? Time to get out the holy water.
Beau bounded up the planks, his hobnailed boots making a racket that could wake the dead. Figuratively, Sam revised. I mean that figuratively.
"Hey there, boys," he drawled, light eyes flitting from one to the other. "Beautiful day to start our journey. Are you sure you don't want to come?" And Sam could just imagine what the next week would be like, crammed in an eighties-era Cortina with nothing but cassette tapes, Shelby Foote history tomes, and woolen socks in mid-summer.
Dean shook his head, a smile ghosting for a moment before glancing at Sam. "Beau, I'd love to. But I need to heal up some before doing it justice. Sam though –"
Might just be serious. "Uh," Sam blurted, totally unhelpfully.
"Just the thing while I'm flat on my back at the Gray and Blue. He's got a real appreciation of the conflict now," Dean continued.
"But we're on our way to New York –" Sam said quickly, almost panicking.
Beau's face furrowed in a complex rendering of appalled disgust. "Dean, your brother is a farb of the heart."
Dean only nodded.
"Still, he is a mighty fine shot," and Beau winked because – really – it was the guts to pull the trigger and not the aim that had mattered, "and he is welcome back any time."
Riddicker shouldered in. "Could teach him to bloat. Skinny enough to make a fine Confederate..."
"Don't forget the hair," Dean murmured, not looking at Sam, not having to.
"Yes, young Winchester. Always was the problem with you in uniform. The hair."
Beau shook Sam's hand, avoided the metal and plaster contraption immobilizing Dean's. As they shook, Beau nodded his head, sulfurous blond hair blazing in the sun. "You do know Custer was a Yankee?" And Beau smiled. Even with the teeth that wouldn't have looked out of place on a caveman, that smile was genuine and it was for Sam, not Dean.
Beau and Riddicker only stayed long enough to jot down the first entry in their diary: 9:30 am – Spotsylvania, Bloody Angle. Bloated for scouts. Goodbye to Wchtrs. Then they crammed themselves into the decrepit Cortina, offering a ride to a pair of German backpackers who looked as though they'd rather march barefoot to Atlanta than get into that car.
The Wargasm started with the ten mile battlefield crawl, from there to Harper's Ferry, Antietam, Gettysburg, Manassas, Cold Harbor, Petersburg. Might even get out to Shiloh this year, a pilgrimage to one of the more far-flung parts of the conflict. The two hardcores had grinned at that, eyes shining with an unholy light. Then they were gone in a cloud of rapidly dissipating blue exhaust fumes.
"I'll pull the car up," Sam offered, assessing the way Dean was keeping all his weight on his left leg, what his color was paling away to. Mira waved goodbye to Sam, gave him a peck on the cheek before walking back to where Dean waited grumpily against the stair railing.
Dean watched Sam go, knew his unstated concern, fucking readable as one of his stupid books. Turned to Mira, who was also giving him a readable look. In the bright sunlight, her skin glowed and her loose hair lifted in the shifting air. She pushed it back, away from her eyes.
"Beau's lucky," he said without any irony or sarcasm, now that Sam was out of earshot. "Doesn't need any bullet for that."
Mira nodded. "He needs something in his life that isn't always about the past."
"Ain't that the truth," and he laughed. "You take care." He took a deep breath and stared at the stairs, but avoided counting them because he'd had enough of that. That was what crazy people did when they wanted the world to stop freaking them out.
"Want a hand?" she asked, and he allowed it.
"I fucking hate this shit," Dean said, loudly, above the wind and some emo-wailing college band that Sam had found on the radio.
"Want me to quote chapter and verse on shotgun and cakeholes?" Sam didn't look. "You could hang your head out the window if it makes you happier."
Dean squinted at him. "Pardon me?"
Sam kept solemn on his face for awhile. "We could go to the park, throw a Frisbee around..." Lifted his fingers from the wheel, sheer willpower keeping the smile from breaking through. "It'd be interesting, with your hand out of commission, maybe you'd find a new way to catch it." His teeth clicked together suggestively.
A moment, not looking, just feeling the simmer from the passenger seat. Payback's a bitch, Dean.
"You should stop mumbling, Sam. I just can't hear you," Dean said loudly, above the wind and big bright piano. Sam reached over, turned down the radio a little. But it wasn't a capitulation, not at all.
"You're not a dog, Dean." He said it seriously, meant for it to be taken seriously. Glanced over, watched as Dean kept very still.
"Shit," Dean said after a minute. "I know that. What? You think I'm going to start eating leftovers from garbage cans? Chase around a few squirrels?"
Maybe he remembered, and maybe he didn't, but that was as close as Dean was going to get to it, and Sam knew it.
"That's not what I meant," he tried again after a few minutes.
"Sure it's what you meant," Dean reiterated, because if that's what it was, Dean could manage the dog jokes. But if they were going to bring up anything about their father and about how he was, how he'd been – well, that wasn't going to happen. Dean didn't have to say it.
Unwritten rule: No soul-oozing. Addendum: Unless you were possessed by a dog.
"Wonder what it was like for them, in 1860, just before it all started," Sam mused, more to circumvent Dean trying to find a classic rock station or, worse yet, discovering that Sam had put the box of cassettes in the trunk. Under a really heavy bag of firearms.
Dean made a noise, not quite a question. But interested. Tell me more so I don't have to ask.
"I mean," Sam continued, sufficiently encouraged. "Did they know it was coming? Did they know it was going to be as bad as it was?"
Some guy moaned about ticking clocks while Sam waited. But Dean was thinking about it, Sam could tell.
Finally, he said, "I don't think so. Shit like that's on the horizon – you can't know the risks, what it might cost you. The Northerners, they all thought it was going to be fucking cake. Was going to be fun, just racing around, cracking a few heads, and then all back to normal. Home again."
Sam considered the road, because it was easy: you stayed on it and you got someplace. But the Antebellum, the period before the war, had quite simply ceased to exist once the first shots had been fired on Fort Sumter. Had set brother against brother. Father against son. You don't see that kind of shit coming. Cause if you did, you'd take the first train to Mexico.
"You know," and Sam heard the weary in Dean's voice, leaden and heavy as atomic water, sleep perhaps not far away. "I never want to see another fucking battlefield as long as I live."
And although Sam seconded the feeling, those words struck him as strange, because all they seemed to do was look for battlefields, look for war. One day, they'd find it, and Sam wasn't too sure if he wanted to know what it would look like. He'd always kept his eye on the future before and now the future scared him. He wondered if it scared Dean, if he even planned beyond his next meal, and Sam thought maybe after what they'd been through he'd earned the right to ask.
But Dean was asleep, so Sam just drove.
a/n: And that's it, folks. Swear to god, I'll never have those Winchester boys do Civil War reenactments again. As always, undying thanks goes to the betas, Lemmypie and jmm0001, and also to alleged and zippdipp and windyfontaine and all the readers who insist that I haven't bored them to tears. Remember to read Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic – honestly, couldn't have done it without him, either.