BAY OF FIRE
SUMMARY: A hunt to destroy a vengeful ghost ship leaves the brothers stranded in the cold Atlantic, fighting to survive.
A/N: This three-shot is for Harrigan, winning bidder in a fic auction, held to raise funds to make life a little easier for a fellow SN fan. Thanks to Amy for the awesome beta. Any remaining goofs fall squarely at my feet.
I'm sorry this chapter took longer than planned to post but technology was not co-operating. The Internet at our hotel was apparently on holiday too. Grrr. Then, when I got home, I couldn't log in to this site. :( But, looks like we're back in business now, so here tis.
Thanks and hugs for your incredible feedback to Chapter One. Hope you continue to enjoy.
DISCLAIMER: The Winchesters boys and the sandbox they play in belong to Mr. Kripke and his vivid but warped imagination. I'm playing in that sandbox until they kick me out. If they try, we could have a siege on our hands. This story contains some cursing.
Eyes stinging from a face full of salt water, Sam never saw the boat roll onto them. He was swiping the back of his hand across his eyes, clearing his burning vision, when Dean's weight hit him full force, flattening him to the bottom of the life raft.
The impact drove the air from Sam's lungs, his grunt strangely audible in the silence that suddenly enveloped them. Frowning, Sam tried pushing himself up but his brother's muscular frame pinned him in place. "Dude, get off me."
Dean didn't move. Sam blinked rapidly, eyes fighting to adjust to the darkness, the tiny LED lights embedded in the sides of the life raft now their only illumination. "Dean?"
Worry ratcheted up to panic when Dean's arm flopped limply next to Sam's face. Sam squirmed to pull himself free, reaching behind him to grab Dean's shirt and pull him to one side while sliding to the other. Without a word of protest, Dean flopped beside him.
Sam rolled onto his side, his back pressed against the edge of the life raft and stared horrified at his unmoving brother. Heart hammering against his chest, he reached out to squeeze his shoulder, shaking him gently. "Dean?"
Dean lay on his stomach, face turned toward his brother, eyes closed. Sam shook him again, this time more urgently. There was still no response. Sam slid closer, pressing his fingers against Dean's neck. He let out a shuddering breath he didn't know he was holding; the pulse beneath his fingers was fast but strong.
Sam's hand rested on the back of Dean's head, the contact steadying him as he tried to figure out what the hell had just happened. His mind was racing, images of the blazing Mari-Elena, the destruction of their fishing boat and their wildly bucking raft as the Stella Maris capsized blurring together. His eyes darted around the raft; the sea and sky were no longer visible, the wide deck timbers of the Stella Maris now forming a ceiling over the two-foot deep sides of the raft. Sam swallowed. The broken front section of the fishing boat had rolled over, turtled over top of their life raft – sealing the brothers inside and trapping them under the dying boat.
Sam had barely processed that when he realized his fingers were sticky with blood. His eyes darted back to his brother, quickly finding a jagged gash just under Dean's hairline. He looked closer. The cut was superficial but, typical of scalp wounds, bleeding heavily.
A dark stain in the middle of Dean's back also caught Sam's eye. His brother's flannel shirt and T-shirt were torn and wicking up more blood from a hidden wound beneath.
Sam hauled up the shirts, eyes widening at the injury below. The cut across Dean's back was shallow, more a scrape than a slash, but the skin was swollen and already starting to bruise. The discoloration spreading out in an eight-inch span around Dean's spine said something had hit him with pretty significant force.
Sam rested a hand between Dean's shoulder blades, both offering comfort and taking it from the simple connection, as he glanced upwards. His stomach lurched when he took in the broken wood of the 'ceiling.' The deck had heaved when the boat rolled, the timbers cracking and buckling. Water dripped from holes where pieces had broken free and jagged splinters pointed down at them like stalactites from a cave roof. Two of the thick, splintered pieces of wood, right above where Dean had been, were smeared with blood. As the boat had smashed down on top of their raft, the broken timbers had been driven into Dean's head and back.
Sam quickly assessed the injuries. The head wound didn't seem too bad; enough to knock him out, obviously, but the goose-egg was small and already the bleeding was slowing. The back injury was something else. Sam lightly pressed his fingers along Dean's back and ribs near the bruising. Nothing felt broken but a soft moan of pain, even in unconsciousness, confirmed the injury could be serious.
In a perfect world, he wouldn't move Dean; he'd call 911, let the paramedics strap him to a backboard to keep him stable until the extent of the damage could be fully assessed in a hospital. Sam was fighting to control his emotions. Trapped in a raft pinned underneath a sinking boat was galaxies away from a perfect world.
Sam ripped a strip off Dean's flannel shirt, then wadded the fabric and pressed it gently to the back of Dean's head, the light pressure eliciting a muffled groan of pain.
His chest tightened. Dean had been hurt protecting him; the instinct to throw himself in front of whatever threat was directed at his younger brother ingrained so deeply he couldn't stop himself. It didn't matter that Sam was bigger and more than capable of taking care of himself; In Dean's eyes he would always be the little brother who needed protecting.
What Dean was only just accepting was that the same protective instinct ran equally strong in Sam; his need to look out for Dean equally impossible to ignore. Here, now, that instinct steadied Sam and strengthened his resolve. His brother had saved his ass, now it was his turn to look out for Dean until help arrived. Bobby would come looking for them – eventually. They'd just have to hang on until then.
The raft tilted suddenly as the broken Stella Maris above them shifted with a shuddering groan and slid further under the water. Sam rolled onto his back, one hand grabbing for the side to steady himself, the other wrapping protectively over Dean as they slid down the raft. The raft lurched again, both brothers slipping closer to the end as the angle steepened.
The raft stilled and Sam let go of the side, pushing himself closer to Dean. As he moved, his foot sloshed noisily in water. His eyes jumped to the end of the raft and his chest tightened.
The side of the raft was collapsing. Punctured by a splintered deck timber, the rubber craft was losing air. As the air escaped and the side became soft and pliable, the water outside was forcing its way in. The wreck above shifted again and the raft tilted further. The breech widened, the water sputtering then pouring in faster, the deepening pool by the breech rapidly covering Sam's feet.
A groan snapped his attention back to Dean. His brother's eyes were blinking slowly, his face contorting in pain as awareness returned.
Sam picked up the piece of fabric he'd dropped when he'd tried to stop their slide down the raft, and again pressed it to the back of Dean's head. His voice, sounding far calmer than he felt, echoed strangely in the confined space. "Hey. How ya doin' in there?"
Dean hissed as he tried moving. "Sonovabitch, Sammy." His eyes narrowed as they focused on his brother, his own pain pushed away quickly behind concern for Sam. "You okay?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah, thanks to you." He lifted the makeshift bandage, gratefully noting the bleeding had almost stopped. He smiled tightly at Dean's questioning frown. "In case the blow to the head scrambled things, the boat fell on top of us. Near as I can tell, she's goin' down – fast – and about to drag us with her if we don't get outta here." He glanced worriedly at Dean's injured back. "Can you move?"
Dean grimaced as he tried to push himself up, his next words muttered through clenched teeth. "Do I have a choice?"
Sam dropped the blood-stained cloth and reached up to break off a small shard of wood from the deck timbers above them "Not really. The raft's punctured and filling with water. We stay put, we drown."
Pain deepened the lines around Dean's eyes. "Not liking that plan. What else you got?"
Another creaking groan from the dying Stella Maris filled the water around them. The raft lurched again, its angle growing steeper. Both brothers slid further down the raft, their knees folding as their feet hit the end. Dean screwed his eyes closed, an involuntary groan escaping as the movement jarred his back.
Sam turned back to his brother and held up the six-inch shard of wood. "I'm gonna take this, punch some more holes around the breech, make it collapse faster – make a hole big enough for us to fit through." He looked worriedly at Dean. "Water's gonna rush in pretty fast when I do. I'll push the raft out of the way, you just haul your ass through and make for the surface. Got it?"
Dean grimaced as he began moving. "And you call me bossy." Despite the veiled protest, Dean was turning himself around, ready to push himself out of the boat. "How deep are we?"
"Dunno." Sam tilted his head, considering the variables. "But if the Stella Maris is still rolling, hopefully part of her is still above the surface. That means we can't be too deep – 30 feet maybe, depending on which way she's goin' down."
Dean winced as he glanced back at Sam. His words were terse but his eyes held a mix of gratitude and pride. "That's deep enough. Let's get the hell outta here."
Sam nodded, waiting until Dean had turned around so they were laying head-to-toe, with Dean's head at the lower end of the raft by the breech. "Hold still while I pull off your boots. They'll just weigh you down."
Dean frowned at the need for help but said nothing as Sam unlaced his boots. He returned the favor by unlacing Sam's sneakers.
Sam glanced at his brother, making no effort to hide his worry as he tossed Dean's boots aside. "Your shoulder, now your back….you still gonna be able to swim?"
Dean nodded brusquely. "Shoulder's fine, Sam. It's not even-" His head snapped round when Sam pulled up his pant leg. "What the hell, dude?"
Sam held up the shard of wood and tossed it aside. "The knife in your ankle holster will work a helluva lot better than that thing." He pulled out Dean's knife then shuffled around, banging his head on the boat deck above in the process and gasping involuntarily as his bare arms plunged into the cold water that was now 10 inches deep at the broken end of the raft.
Toeing off his sneakers, Sam turned his face away from the steady stream of water now forcing its way through the breech. "No bullshit, Dean. You can do this, right?"
Dean gritted his teeth. "Or what? Stay and drown? Just do it." He grabbed Sam's arm. "And you better be right behind me."
Sam nodded, breathing out audibly, as he studied the life raft. "This thing is full of carbon dioxide. Make sure you take a deep breath before I puncture it, okay?"
Dean shot Sam an incredulous look but nodded.
"Alright. On three." Sam swallowed. "One…two….three."
Both brothers inhaled deeply, then Sam plunged the knife repeatedly into the rubber raft. The rush of escaping gas was quickly drowned out by the torrent of water flooding in as the side of the raft collapsed completely. In seconds both brothers were underwater. Sam fought with the deflated rubber raft that wrapped itself tightly around them as it lost air and rigidity.
The brothers worked together to pull down the side of the raft and create a hole big enough to slip through. Sam wedged his shoulder against the overturned deck above them, pushed down another handful of collapsed boat, then grabbed Dean by the shirt and motioned for him to swim through the gap. Dean nodded, reached forward, pulled himself through then turned around to hold open the gap for Sam.
Sam shook his head, pushing Dean away and motioning to him to swim for the surface. Dean resisted stubbornly, staying in place and fighting with the collapsing raft to make sure Sam could get clear.
Sam's glare carried little impact in the dim underwater light but Dean's help made getting clear easier. The rubber raft seemed determined not to relinquish its hold on him, wrapping and folding round his arms and legs as he pushed his way out. He struggled briefly and then was free. Dean flashed a thumbs-up sign then motioned for Sam to follow him.
Sam looked around as he swam. Eyes adjusting quickly to the murky waters, they were drawn to the light atop the upside down wheelhouse, somehow still lit and casting an eerie glow and ghostly shadows into the waters beneath the sinking boat. The open wheelhouse door slowly moved back and forth as water rushed through the bridge and into the empty cargo hold. As water replaced air, the boat was slowly being pulled under. The broken boat was listing to one side, her bow pointed down, her torn midsection closest to the surface. Sam knew it was only a matter of time before she slid into the ocean depths, disappearing completely.
Dean tugged urgently on Sam's arm, motioning that they had to get clear.
Sam nodded, following Dean as he swam along the underside of the inverted boat. Dean had just cleared the side rail when a loud groan filled the water around them.
The Stella Maris dropped heavily on top of Sam, pushing him further under the water. He grunted in surprise at the crack on the head, reflexively lifting his hands to protect himself when the boat rolled suddenly, listing steeply in front of him and cutting him off from Dean.
Sam pushed back rising panic when he realized his brother was gone. He'd seen Dean clear the boat; his brother was clear and kicking for the surface – he had to believe that. Now he had to do the same.
Lungs already burning and momentarily disoriented, Sam's eyes darted round to get his bearings. He sacrificed a small burst of air to watch the bubbles rise and make sure he knew which way was up.
Instead of being directly above him, the boat was now tilted at a 45-degree angle in front of him. Sam had two choices. To clear the boat, he could follow the angle of the deck down, further away from the surface and the air his lungs were screaming for, then swim for the surface, hopefully breaking through in the same place as Dean; or, he could turn around and follow the angled deck up, a more direct route to the surface but taking him away from his brother.
Sam hiccupped, fighting the instinctive urge to breathe in. As much as he hated it, he had no choice – he had to take the shorter route to the surface or he was going to run out of air long before he got there. He turned around and kicked upwards, his mind focused on just two things - getting to the surface and then finding his brother; the only way the two of them would last long enough for help to arrive would be together, fuelling each other's stubbornness, pushing each other not to give up.
The cold water was quickly stealing Sam's strength but he kept moving, grabbing hold of what he could to move himself along the tilting deck until he reached the side of the boat. He grabbed hold of the rail, hauled himself around it, then pushed off the outside of the boat toward the surface.
He looked up as he moved through the water, battling the instinct to open his mouth and breathe deeply as his lungs screamed loudly for air. He had no idea how far he was from the surface, dark water and night air above it blending seamlessly. He struggled upwards, fear consuming valuable oxygen as doubt cruelly suggested he might not make it.
No. He pushed aside those thoughts. He had to make it, for Dean's sake as much as his own. He kicked out harder even as his chest tightened and his limbs grew heavier.
Sam started to cough, no longer able to fight his body's reflexive need to suck in air. Salt water poured into his mouth and throat, turning his coughing into choking. But still he propelled himself upward, his body on auto-pilot, clawing frantically through the water, even as he felt consciousness slipping away
He broke through the surface suddenly, unexpectedly, with an audible, desperate inhale. Hacking coughs ripped through him as he sucked in air and vomited water. He forced rubbery legs to tread water and burning eyes to open, grimacing at the tightness in his chest in the struggle to simply breathe.
But he was breathing. Still coughing, Sam scrubbed a hand across his face to clear the stinging salt water from his eyes. Heart pounding, he smacked his fist against the surface of the water in frustration – he could see nothing.
There was nothing wrong with his vision, he was simply in complete and total darkness. All light from the boat was gone and the thick fog hid any light from the waxing moon. Sam's already harsh breathing escalated as the dark and the fog knit together in a suffocating blanket that wrapped itself tightly around him.
His head whipped round at the sound of Dean's voice. His brother sounded scared.
"Dean." Sam cleared his throat, surprised by how small his voice sounded in the open ocean, how quickly the fog seemed to smother it. "DEAN."
"Sammy?" Relief replaced fear as Sam answered. Dean now sounded exhausted. "You okay?"
Sam turned slowly in the water, moving silently as he tried to pinpoint where Dean's voice was coming from. "Been better. You?"
Now Dean's voice was punctuated with coughs. "Did I mention I hate the friggin' ocean?"
Sam's smile turned into a grimace over the tightness in his chest, his lungs protesting their recent abuse. "No argument from me on that one."
Dean was silent for a moment. "You scared the crap out of me, Sammy. Where the hell d'you go?"
Sam closed his eyes, concentrating on Dean's voice. He swallowed. "Had to turn around to get clear when the boat dropped between us. Did the boat hit you when it rolled?"
Sam frowned at the lengthy silence that followed the weak response. "Dean?"
"No. I got pushed outta the way. I came up near the stern – what's left of it anyway. Hangin' on to it now."
Sam kept as still as he could, bobbing gently in the ocean swells as he closed his eyes and tried to zero in on Dean's voice. His brother sounded fairly close by. "Good, just stay there and keep talking; I'll come to you."
"Okay." There was a faint laugh. "I'm over here – waving at you."
Sam kicked out and started to swim, listening intently but the fog was playing games with his brother's voice. Now he sounded miles away. "Very funny. I can't see two feet in front of me."
Dean snorted. "Guess you need your eyes checked when we get out of here."
Sam moved silently through the water, worried by what he was hearing. Humor was a natural defence mechanism for Dean whenever he was in pain, scared, worried, or any combination thereof. Experience told Sam to simply play along. "It's not my eyes, jerk. It's the fog."
Another tired laugh. "Look, if the doc tells you you need glasses, I swear…. I won't laugh… I'm sure they won't make you look too goofy."
Dean's laughter was even fainter now. He was hurt and the adrenaline rush of their escape from the sinking ship was fading; if Dean passed out, slipped under the water before Sam found him…Sam shuddered at the thought. He pushed himself to swim faster, pushed Dean to keep talking "Did you just giggle?"
"What?" There was a slight hitch in Dean's voice. "Hell, no. That was a…..a manly guffaw."
"Right. So that's what Goldie Hawn was famous for, huh – her manly guffaw?" The fog was almost a living thing, an ethereal being twisting and darting around Sam as he swam, teasing and tormenting as he tried to find his brother. Cold fingers covered his ears, distorting sounds and making his brother sound right beside him one moment, a mile away the next, or wrapped round his eyes, making it impossible to see, before pulling back, teasingly allowing the stars to shine through, before quickly closing the curtain again.
"Don't you be dissin' Goldie. Goldie's hot." Exhaustion was evident in Dean's voice. "So's her daughter Kate….. Mmm… Mother-daughter hotties – that has so much….potential."
"You are one twisted individual, you know that?" Sam almost swam straight into the broken stern of the Stella Maris. It bobbed drunkenly in the growing swells, the weight of her motors tilting the broken end up and out of the water. He rested his forehead against it gratefully.
Dean's voice came from the far side. "You're such a prude. Where's your sense of adventure?"
Sam worked his way around the broken boat. "This isn't enough adventure for you?"
He heard a faint snort. "Well, put it that way…."
The fog pulled back suddenly, enough for Sam to see the outline of a huddled figure against the shattered stern. He blinked, unsure whether what he was seeing was real or a welcome hallucination.
The figure's head lifted and looked directly at him. "You look like crap, Sam"
Sam let out a sigh of relief. It sure as hell sounded like the real thing. "It's pitch black. No way can you tell what I look like."
"You tellin' me you look good?"
Sam shook his head as he swam toward his brother. "No, it's just-:"
Dean cut in. "See. Like crap. Big brothers know these things."
As Sam got close, he could see the outline of Dean hanging on to the small ladder that ran up the port side of the stern, his arms wrapped around the rails, his head resting on one of the steps. Sam swam up to the ladder and grabbed hold of the side, his fingers closing around the cold metal. He offered Dean a tired smile, knowing he probably couldn't see it, and rested a hand on his shoulder. "How's your back?"
Dean shook his head. "Quit worrying, Sam. It only hurts when I move." Sam saw his brother's silhouette tense as a spasm racked through him. Dean blew out a breath, swallowed and his body relaxed. His nodded at Sam, knowing the dark had hidden none of the spasm from his brother. "It's okay now. Really. Cold water's numbing the pain." He snorted. "Numbing everything, come to think of it."
Sam's gaze was still fixed on Dean. "Yeah. We need to get you out of the water."
Dean lowered his forehead onto one of the steps in front of him. "You and I are gonna have to have a talk about this bossy thing you've got going. You are seriously trespassing on big brother turf."
"Whatever." Sam was studying the broken stern in front of them, running a hand over its hull, assessing its potential as a makeshift life raft. "I think if we-" He jumped when something brushed against his leg under water.
Dean caught the reaction. "What?"
Sam searched through the water beside him then relaxed visibly. "It's nothin'" He scooped up a length of mooring rope and lifted it out of the water. "It's just rope. Brushed against my leg."
Dean's head was again resting on the ladder in front of him but there was a smile in his voice. "Jaws flashback? That movie scared the crap out of you."
Sam shot his brother a look even though he knew it wouldn't be seen. "I was seven, Dean – and you told me it was a comedy about a man with braces." "
Dean's quiet laugh was sheepish. "I was kind of a little shit, wasn't I?"
"Kind of? You - " Sam's retort was cut off by a muffled, creaking groan from under the water.
Dean tensed as he listened, his body relaxing as he recognized the sound. "Say good-bye to Stella, Sammy. Sounds like she's goin' down for good." He patted the stern. "At least the front part of her, anyway."
"Yeah." Sam's eyes snapped back to the broken stern in front of them as it lurched then rocked violently.
Dean hissed at the jolt of pain the jarring motion sent up his back. "What the hell?"
The rope in the water beside Sam vibrated suddenly, banging against his leg. He stared into the dark water, again grabbing the mooring rope. It trembled in his hand.
Dean didn't like the sudden silence. "Sammy, what is it?"
Hand over hand Sam traced the path of the rope. It floated loosely in the water beside him before passing in front of him along the side of the broken boat. From there, it appeared to wrap itself around the stern in front of Dean before disappearing around the far side, likely attached to a hitch there. The rope hummed again as it was pulled tight and Sam let it go quickly, his eyes widening. "Get away from the boat, Dean."
"Let go and get away from the boat." He grabbed a fistful of Dean's wet shirt, pulling him off the ladder.
Dean grunted in pain then grabbed at Sam's hand, still fisted in his shirt. "Dude, get off me. What's wrong?"
Sam tugged again at Dean's shirt, physically pulling him away from the broken boat. "The rope, Dean; it's caught up in the front half of the boat."
Dean stopped fighting Sam, the implications of his brother's warning quickly hitting home. The rope was somehow attached to or caught up in both sections of the broken fishing boat. As the fore section sunk deeper, the tension on the rope was increasing and the stern was about to be dragged under.
The brothers threw themselves to the side, but they were too close. As the front section dropped again, the tension on the rope tightened and the stern spun around, smacking into the brothers as they tried to get clear.
The dying boat hit Dean first, knocking him under the water before plowing into Sam. An ocean swell picked up both the stern and Sam, then collapsed suddenly. The rush of water sucked Sam under and momentarily released the tension on the rope, which folded and looped.
Sam broke through the surface, spitting out water and pushing away from the boat with his right hand. His eyes widened in fear as his left arm caught in a loop of rope. He moved to pull it free just as the sinking fore section dropped again. The rope pulled taut, yanking his arm viciously, tearing at the muscles in his shoulder. Sam screamed out in pain, a scream that grew louder as, with a sickening pop, his shoulder joint dislocated.
Dean reappeared suddenly five feet away from Sam, coughing up salt water after fighting his way back to the surface. Exhaustion and pain morphed quickly into fear at the sound of his brother's scream. "Sam?"
Adrenaline again masked the pain in his back as he moved to Sam's side. He slid his hand down his brother's face. "Sammy? Talk to me."
Sam's voice was barely audible. "Arm's trapped." The boat lurched again as it was pulled further under and Sam yelled out, eyes glassing over as pain almost pulled him into unconsciousness.
Dean ran his hands down Sam's arms, quickly finding the inch-thick mooring rope snaked securely around his left. He pulled on the rope, face reddening with effort as he tried to create some slack, but the tension was too tight. Breathing heavily, ignoring the flare of pain in his back, he turned back to Sam. "My knife? You still got it?"
Sam's response was filtered through clenched teeth. "Waistband."
Dean slid his hands down his brother's sides, finding the hilt of the knife just above Sam's hip. He hoisted up his T-shirt and carefully slid out the blade. Dean then moved to Sam's left, grabbing the rope in his left hand and sawing into the rope with his right.
The thickness of the rope, Dean's shaking hands and the fact he was cutting blind underwater slowed the process considerably. The submerged boat dropped again and Sam cried out, desperately stretching his neck to keep his head above water as he was pulled further under.
Dean spat out a mouthful of water, glancing again at his brother. "You hang in there, Sammy, you hear me? Almost through." Dean then sucked in a breath and dropped underwater, no longer able to reach the fraying cut from the surface.
The sinking boat dropped again and Sam gulped in air frantically as he felt himself dragged below the surface. Pain from his injured shoulder ratcheted up and he bit back a scream, fighting to hold his breath.
The rope gave suddenly. Dean jerked in the water as the end he held snapped back with the release of tension. Sam then felt his brother gently unravel the rope from around him, slip an arm round his back as they both pushed for the surface. They broke through with a collective inhale, Sam giving in to a yell of pain that had been building since he was pulled under the water. The yell led to retching, then he threw up violently. Dean held on to him, treading water at his side until Sam's stomach settled, sharp, rhythmic breaths helping to rein in the nausea and pain.
Dean stayed close, his arm wrapped securely around Sam's back, his voice tight. "I gotcha, Sammy. Never a doubt."
Behind them the broken stern of the Stella Maris swayed drunkenly. The rope attaching it to the sunken front section had been severed but the stern had been swamped one too many times. It tipped suddenly then slid below the surface in a quiet rush of water.
Neither brother said anything as the last remnant of their boat disappeared but it hit home then how completely alone they were. In so many facets of life, especially since their dad died, it was the two of them against world. There were friends, like Bobby, they could rely on but, chiefly, they had only each other. Here, now, floating in the open ocean, that fact was never more clear.
Dean's arm tightened around Sam's waist. As Sam's breathing leveled out and his nausea quieted he became aware of Dean's harsh breathing behind him. He turned to face his brother, nodding his thanks. "It's okay…I'm good."
"Good?" He could feel Dean's chest heaving against his back, hear a clear note of disbelief in his voice. Dean coughed up some water, his face crumpling in pain. "Not buyin' it."
Sam flinched as his brother's arm squeezed his waist convulsively. It suddenly clicked that while emotionally Dean was supporting him, physically Sam was supporting his brother. "Dean?"
"Sorry, Sammy." The elder Winchester loosened his hold, patting Sam on the back, in a feeble attempt to shrug off Sam's concern. "Thought you liked cuddle time."
Dean let go of his brother and it quickly became apparent that the elder Winchester was having a hard time keeping himself afloat.
Sam spit to clear his mouth, his stomach roiling now for completely new reasons. "How bad?"
Dean turned away, another failed attempt to hide the pain he was in.
"How bad, Dean?"
"Bullet point version?" Dean turned back to face Sam, his voice quiet. "My legs aren't workin' right."
Sam's chest tightened, thinking back to the bruising he'd seen around Dean's spine. "Since when?"
Dean breathed out slowly. "Since that rope snapped. Somethin'…..I dunno…it wrenched..." He looked away from Sam. "Just gimme a minute. It'll pass."
Sam turned, fighting to keep his injured arm as still as possible, and moved behind Dean, turning his face as a rogue wave slammed into them. Dean slipped under the water then came up coughing after Sam grabbed for him.
"Sonovabitch." Once again fear tinged Dean's anger.
Sam moved closer. He wrapped his right arm around his brother and pulled him in so Dean's back rested against his chest, his head on his right shoulder.
Dean frowned, weakly batting Sam's arm away. "Sam, no."
Sam tightened his hold, fighting to keep treading water and hang on to his brother. "Just relax. Lean against me, let the water support you. It'll take the pressure off your back."
Dean smacked Sam's arm, annoyed at the need for help. "You're flying with one wing, dude. You can't support both of us."
"Watch me." Sam gritted his teeth. "Just keep still, would'ya. You're killin' my shoulder."
Dean stopped struggling. His voice was quiet but deadly serious. "Lemme go, Sam."
"Sam…." There was a warning growl to Dean's voice.
Sam's jaw clenched. "You started this."
"And I'm endin' it." It was a Winchester stubbornness standoff. "We don't know how long we'll be out here. How long do you think you can keep this up?"
Hidden by darkness, Sam's eyes flashed. "Long as it takes."
Dean lifted his right hand and rested it on Sam's arm. "You're a stubborn ass, you know that?"
Sam adjusted his grip on his brother, fighting to relax and let their natural buoyancy support both of them. "Can't think where I get that from."
Dean was quiet for a moment, then tapped Sam's arm. "Promise me something."
"No." Sam felt Dean start in surprise. "Whatever it is won't be good - so no."
Dean's voice was quiet. "If it comes down to it, Sammy, let me go. If it means you've got a chance, just –"
"Shut up, Dean."
Dean did – for a moment. "I am so gonna kick your ass for this."
Sam had to smile at that. "Can't wait to see you try."
Dean looked around. The fog was still thick, visibility close to zero. Bobby and his friends would come looking for them eventually but they would be hard to find. The GPS transponder on the Stella Maris was at the bottom of the ocean and both brothers had shucked their life jackets, equipped with locater beacons and lights, after Dean was shot by the captain of the ghost ship. They were cold, beat to hell and had no idea how long they would have to wait for help.
Dean rolled his head across Sam's shoulder and looked up at his brother, blinking tiredly. "You've got this bossy thing down pat, Sammy. So what now?"
Sam met his brother's gaze. "We wait."
Ted reached out a hand and took the oxygen tank from Bobby, who then pulled off his scuba mask and clambered back into the boat.
Tommy nodded at the two men, offering a tight smile. "All set?"
Ted nodded. "As we'll ever be. Charges are in place. Another few minutes and, hopefully, you've seen the last of that ghost ship."
Bobby's eyes narrowed at the fog that hadn't been there when they under the water. "When did that roll in?"
Tommy's jaw clenched. "Just before the Mari-Elena showed up."
Bobby and Ted froze, Bobby's gaze quickly turning to where he knew the Stella Maris had been when they went in the water. "The boys take care of her?"
Tommy shook his head. "Dunno. Lost visual contact when the fog rolled in. Been trying to get'em on the radio since but I'm gettin' nothin' but static."
Ted followed Bobby's gaze. "You hear the rocket go off."
"Hard to say." Tommy gestured off the port side. "Sounded like something went off in that direction but was far enough away couldn't say for sure."
Bobby was still scanning the fog. "She show her face after that first time?"
Tommy shook his head
Bobby nodded. "Then I'd say the boys took care of her." He looked back out to sea. "If we can't raise'em on the radio, we head over there, where we left'em. Hopefully meet up as planned."
Tommy swallowed. "It's not just the radio that's dead. I lost the GPS signal from the Stella too. Hopefully it's just the instruments but….."
"Damn it, boys….." Bobby's knuckles whitened as he squeezed the railing of their boat. "If anything happens to those two, I -
Ted squeezed Bobby's shoulder. "We'll find'em. First things first; we blow up that ship. Then, like you said, we head out to their last known position, start from there."
Bobby stared out into the fog, saying nothing.
Ted turned to Tommy. "We need to get clear; even as deep as the wreck is, those charges are gonna send out some pretty nasty shock waves when they blow."
Tommy nodded then turned to step into the wheelhouse, glancing through the windows and crossing himself as he said a quick prayer to his lost crew. "Bill, Davy, Jack. This is for you. Rest in peace."
He fired up the engines but as the boat began moving, the fog suddenly roiled and glowed orange, bathing the three men aboard the fishing vessel in an eerie, reddish-gold light. Fully aflame, the Mari-Elena sailed out of the fog, heading straight for them.
The air was filled with the steady hiss and crackle of flames. The wind picked up, pushing aside the fog, filling the ghost ship's sails and seemingly feeding the ravenous fire. The flames roared and Bobby recoiled at the heat as she drew near. He could smell burning wood, see the ethereal figures running across her deck in a futile battle to control the fire.
Bobby's eyes were glued to the Mari-Elena. The caravel was bearing down on them – fast. "How long till the blast?"
Ted glanced down at his watch. "Another 30 seconds." His gaze returned to the caravel. "We make it through this, I'm kicking Harry Morgan's ass to hell and back."
Morgan, the arms dealer hunters often turned to, had only come up with one bazooka when Ted had asked for two.
Both men grabbed the rail tightly as Tommy gunned the engine and cut to the right to get them out of the path of the charging caravel. The flaming tall ship veered to its left, matching the smaller boat's moves. Tommy cut right yet again as the fog thickened around the tall ship. With a sharp crack of electricity, it was gone.
Bobby's eyes darted across the fog. "Where the hell'd it go?"
Ted's gaze was now glued to his watch. "20 seconds."
Tommy still had the engine running flat out. He was navigating purely on instinct and experience, his instruments useless – the radar was a sea of static, the compass tilting and spinning.
Behind him, from out on deck he heard Ted shout out. "Ten seconds."
Tommy scanned the fog, his heart pounding wildly. Ted's voice boomed again. "Five seconds."
The fog directly ahead suddenly glowed orange. With a roar of flame, the caravel reappeared less than 50 feet directly ahead and charging at them. Tommy jerked the wheel to the right, faintly hearing the countdown behind him.
When the boat veered right, Bobby was thrown slightly off balance.
Bobby grabbed the railing tighter to right himself, regaining his footing just as Ted finished counting.
In the distance, 250 feet down, a series of explosions ripped through the wreck of the Mari-Elena, sending shock waves through the water and incinerating the remains of the old trading ship.
But the ghostly version of the Mari-Elena kept coming, if anything picking up speed, even as Tommy pushed the fishing boat to go faster. The caravel was bearing down on them broadside, when a huge explosion erupted on the mid-deck of the tall ship. The sails crumpled and the main mast toppled.
The water boiled as the flaming debris fell into the ocean. Bobby and Ted again felt the heat of steam and flame. The caravel kept coming. She was within 10 feet when a second explosion blasted apart her bow. The two men flinched at the power of the explosion, the burst of flame lighting up the fog, brilliant embers raining down around them. The winds erupted, snatching away the embers, before dying out suddenly. The embers then faded into ash that rained down into the sea.
The Mari-Elena was gone. Tommy throttled back the engine and the Rod Bender slowed, bobbing gently in the open water swells.
Ted glanced at Bobby, offering his old friend a small smile. Bobby nodded.
Tommy appeared in the doorway of wheelhouse. "You two okay?"
Bobby turned toward him. "Yeah. Now let's go find the boys."
To Be Continued…
A/N: Again, thanks so much for reading. Please drop me a line and let me know what you think. I love hearing from you. I promise that the wait for the final chapter will be much shorter – it will be up before the weekend.