Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
Spoilers: Story takes place immediately after Episode 2.03, Bloodlust. Anything prior to that is fair game.
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 ( .com). Much thanks to Mysti for the opportunity.
Zine publishers ask that stories printed in their issues have a shelf life of one year prior to posting online; I'm a few months late posting this, as you can see, but I wanted to complete Wearing and Tearing before I got it up.
Those of you who read the printed version, I thank you sincerely. Also, as a final note, this story is dedicated to one of my dearest and oldest friends. She hails from the area where this story is set and was the one to ask, "Have you ever written a story about a ferryboat?" when my muse was ricocheting through ideas.
I hope you enjoy.
"I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am."
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 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 that 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.
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, looking again at the picture.
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.
"Charlie Ramsey is dead."
"Yeah, I worked that out on my own, Sam."
"This puts a different spin on things."
Dean cast a quick glance to his right, watching as Sam scratched the side of his head, then twisted his hand in mid-air, spreading his fingers as he talked, a movement of thought Dean had observed in John time and again.
"How do you figure?" Dean asked. "We still have a spirit out there drowning people."
"Yeah, Dean, but," Sam twisted in the seat, leaning toward his brother in his eagerness. "It's not just a spirit… I mean, right? Brad Sanders' body was burned. And there was the spirit that was after Charlie when Dad was here, and now Charlie…"
"We need to talk to Sanders' Mom. Find out what she knows."
"It's late, man. It's dark out."
"I don't know about you, but I don't want to stretch this thing out longer than we have to," Dean grumbled, shivering in his still-damp clothes.
It was hard to get dry when the air that surrounded them was saturated with water… and hard to get warm when he couldn't get dry. Now he knew why his Dad had avoided the Pacific Northwest.
"Why don't we find a place to stay," Sam suggested. "Give us a chance to do some recon of our own."
Dean paused. Another shiver rippled through him.
"Yeah, okay," Dean conceded. "But I get first dibs on the shower."
"Whatever you say." Sam grinned slightly.
They pulled into the first motel they came across, checking in under assumed names, and hauled their bags to the ground floor room. Dean flicked on the light and they paused, surprised, inside the doorway. They'd seen a lot of motels, with varying degrees of interesting décor, but this one easily ranked among the top five on Dean's list of weird.
"It's like Herman Melville's wet dream," Sam muttered.
"Moby Dick," Sam clarified.
"Why didn't you just say so?" Dean grumbled, crossing to one of the aquamarine-covered beds and dropping his bag on top. He heard Sam kick the door shut behind him and immediately started shedding his wet clothes. "So, I say we go find this Sanders woman first thing tomorrow, find out whose bones we have to burn, then kick it."
"Works for me," Sam sighed, dropping onto the bed. "Man, I can't get that woman's voice out of my head."
"Voice?" Dean grabbed a pair of dry boxers and sweats, ready to step out of his clinging jeans. He hadn't been able to stop thinking about Charlie' blue eyes shifting in the picture to pin her father with accusation and desperation in one supernatural glance.
"The… one from the Volvo." Sam looked up. "She… God, she sounded… broken."
Dean looked down. She'd sounded like he'd felt as his father burned. She'd sounded like anyone who had someone taken from them too soon, too suddenly, would sound—whether they were able to voice the cry or not.
"Yeah," he said, turning from Sam to head to the bathroom.
As he let the water heat up, steam gathering around him and easing the frigid ache that had set deep into his bones, he looked at his face in the mirror, at his careful eyes, tight jaw, skin stretched over bone until it looked ready to crack.
I can't talk about this to Sammy. You know, I got to keep my game face on, but, huh…truth is I'm not handling it very well…
He'd been wrong about Gordon. Wrong about those vampires. Wrong about a lot of things. And if he'd been wrong… maybe Dad had been wrong. Maybe Dad was wrong about Sam, about what Dean might have to do. Maybe he was—
"Hurry up, okay? I think I found something."
Bracing his hand on the sink, Dean dropped his head low, letting his neck muscles pull, stretch, then stepped into the shower stall and invited the harsh water pressure beat on him. The water drove away the last of the outer chill, turning his skin a glowing red and easing the ache in his lower back and neck. It stung the slices on his hand, and he found himself absently watching the blood seep from the still-open cuts, thin out when mixed with the water, and run in pink rivulets down his arm to drip from the end of his elbow.
When he stepped back out into the main room, clad in only a white towel and wrapping fresh gauze around the stinging slices on his hand, he saw Sam hunched over his ever-present laptop.
"What'd you find?"
"Y'know how Ramsey said Charlie wanted to leave?" Sam looked up, his eyes tired but snapping with the thrill of a find.
"I think maybe it was with her boyfriend."
"I thought Brad Sanders was her boyfriend."
"I don't think so. Look," Sam turned the computer screen to face Dean. "I think she wanted to go with this guy."
Dean peered closer at the Local Boy Makes Good story. A fresh-faced kid with a guitar slung over his shoulder and a grin a mile wide stared out of the picture, a cowboy hat pushed back on his head. Dean was almost afraid to look directly at the picture, afraid this one would turn to look at him, too.
"Wyatt Abrams, 23… yadda, yadda, yadda… local singing contest… music contract…" Dean shook his head. "This is great, Sam. What the hell does it have to do with Charlie?"
"Keep reading," Sam prompted.
Dean trailed his eyes down the online article, pausing when his eyes caught on the name Charlene Ramsey who was quoted as saying she'd "believed in him her whole life and knew one day his talent would take them places."
Sam nodded. "Yeah, and get this… Abrams? Is missing. There's an article about how he defaulted on his contract or something because he just never showed up."
"How long ago was this?"
"About two weeks before Sanders died."
Dean ran his fingers across his lips in thought. "We need to talk to Mama Sanders tonight."
"Already on it," Sam said, waving a piece of motel stationary at him. "Address and directions."
"Well, aren't you a friggin' Boy Scout," Dean grinned. "Always prepared."
"Get dressed," Sam instructed.
"Yes?" The face that peered out at them through the half-opened door of the large house was unlined, brown eyes suspicious. She clutched at a red sweater, holding it closed at her neck.
"Agent Kilroy," Dean said, his face set in bored seriousness. He tipped his head back toward Sam. "Agent Shaw. We'd like to ask you a few questions about your son, Brad."
"Can I see some ID?"
In unison, the brothers removed the FBI badges Dean had created some time back, their fingers carefully positioned across the entry for their name, as it changed almost as frequently as their location. When Mrs. Sanders nodded, they pocketed the badges, and Dean stepped back, allowing her to push open the screen door.
"We're sorry about the late hour," Sam started.
"Oh, I don't mind, Agent Shaw," she said, ushering them into a front sitting room, marigold-yellow couch and love seat encased in plastic, and white doilies protecting a mahogany coffee table from the cluster of green candles displayed in the center. "After all the effort it took to get the police to take Brad's case seriously, I'm ready to talk whenever you folks need information."
Dean smiled tightly and eased down on the couch, plastic stretching and creaking beneath him. He didn't dare look at Sam, knowing the grimace on his brother's face would be too big of a temptation for laughter.
"Oh, my," Mrs. Sanders suddenly exclaimed. "You've hurt your hand!"
Dean shot his eyes down and belatedly realized that the wound on his right hand had started seeping again, turning the white gauze red. He looked at the couch and was suddenly thankful for the plastic covering the couch. Jerking his hand away from the seat, he pressed his lips together in a silent curse.
"Sorry about that, ma'am," Dean shook his head, cupping his right hand with his left. "Hazards of the job and all."
He could practically feel Sam roll his eyes beside him.
"Do you need—"
"I'll be okay, thanks," Dean cut her off. "We won't take too much of your time."
Mrs. Sanders' eyes darted from Dean to the small smear of blood on her couch. Clenching her hands into fists at her breast, she raised one finger, then darted through a swinging door behind her.
"You okay?" Sam asked in a low, tense voice.
"Fine," Dean hissed back.
Mrs. Sanders returned and handed Dean a wet paper towel. "If you don't mind," she said.
"Not at all," Dean took the proffered rag and cleaned up the smear of blood, handing it back to her awkwardly. "Uh, thanks…" He offered her another tight smile.
"Brad always liked to keep things neat, you know," she said, smiling a little. "I just… I don't have the heart to let it go even with him… gone."
"Can you tell us anything about how Brad was behaving before he… before the accident?" Sam asked, his voice soft, concerned.
Mrs. Sanders frowned. "How do you mean?"
Dean tipped his head forward, his eyebrows up in his interpretation of encouragement. "You know, leaving at odd hours of the night, maybe acting angry, threatening you—"
"No!" Mrs. Sanders sank quickly to one of the high-backed wicker-padded chairs across from them, a hand at her throat. "My Brad took care of me, he would never…"
"We didn't mean to insinuate anything, ma'am," Sam cut in quickly, trying to reassure her. "We were just wondering—was he seeing anyone?"
"Like… like a girl?"
"Sure, okay," Dean nodded. He felt Sam's foot press hard against his under the coffee table.
"Well," Mrs. Sanders looked over her shoulder at a thin table lined with pictures, then reached out to stroke the side of one that could only be Brad in his high-school graduation robes, grinning out at her. "Now that you mention it… he'd been talking a lot to that Charlie Ramsey."
Dean shared a look with Sam at the tone of distaste laced through Mrs. Sanders' voice.
"Was it serious?"
Mrs. Sanders laughed. "Oh, heaven's no. Charlie wasn't right for my Brad. And besides, everyone knew she was sweet on Wyatt Abrams. Even Brad knew that…"
"But…" Dean encouraged when her voice faded with doubt.
"Well," she looked away from the picture and back toward Dean. "It's just that… all of the other policemen… they never asked about Brad's relationships. I never really thought about it until now. It was always… why would he kill himself or… why wouldn't I accept that…"
Dean felt Sam shift next to him and resisted to urge to look over and check on him. "You don't believe he killed himself."
"No." Her quick denial was vehement.
"How do you think it happened?" Sam asked.
"He was pushed off the ferry."
"In his car?" Dean asked, disbelief plain in his voice.
"Why not?" She challenged. "Drug him, slide the car into neutral, push it off before anyone could see—"
"The autopsy showed no drugs in his system," Sam reminded her.
Mrs. Sanders shot up to her feet, her sweater falling from her shoulders and landing in a pile on the chair behind her. "Well, it's wrong then! I'm telling you that Brad did not kill himself! He wouldn't do that to me! He had everything going for him… to just… to just leave like that… throw it all away without even giving me a chance to…" She pulled in a quick sob, then squared her jaw, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "If it weren't for that slut not giving him the time of day—I mean, who is she to tell Brad that he's not right for her? He's right for anyone! She was lucky that he was even paying—"
She stopped suddenly, red-faced, trembling, and raised uncertain fingers to her lips as if to manually keep further words at bay.
Dean sat very still as she ranted, but could feel Sam tensing to stand next to him.
"Mrs. Sanders," Sam said, breaking the suddenly heavy silence. "Do you know where Charlie Ramsey is?"
"No," she whispered, her voice trembling. "I always assumed she left with Wyatt."
"Wyatt left two weeks before Charlie disappeared," Dean pointed out.
"Well, then she went to meet him!" Mrs. Sanders turned from them and stormed through the swinging door once more.
Dean raised his eyebrows at Sam, who echoed his look. They stood in unison, turning to head to the front door, when Mrs. Sanders blurred back in on the strength of an incensed tirade.
"You listen to me, Agents. My boy was a good boy. He wouldn't have hurt anyone unless he was provoked. And that Charlie Ramsey was a wild kid. She had… tattoos and piercings and her father let her roam with no rules or consequences…" She took a breath and darted her eyes from Sam to Dean. "You find out who killed my son… you find out who took him from me. You do that, and you'll find Charlie Ramsey."
"Let me look at your hand," Sam demanded as they headed back to the car.
"It's fine, Sam."
"You want to get blood on the Impala?" Sam asked casually, biting back a grin as Dean literally stopped walking. "Just let me look, okay? I swear I won't think you're a baby."
Dean sighed, rolling his neck, then shoved his hand out like a petulant child.
"Well, let's get back in the car so I can actually see something," Sam said, grabbing his brother's wrist and hauling him toward the Chevy.
Dean tried to pull away, but Sam used his forward motion to propel them both to the driver's side door. Opening the car, he twisted Dean's wrist in his hand, then pulled him off balance, bouncing Dean's shoulder against the car and shoved him inside.
"Just shove over," Sam commanded, pushing his way into the car so that he sat behind the wheel.
"You're not as smart as you think you are," Dean grumbled quietly, allowing Sam to pull the blood-saturated wrapping from his hand. "I let you get behind the wheel."
"Uh-huh," Sam muttered. "This is pretty bad, Dean. The butterflies aren't closing it up."
"We can take a look at it later."
"Oh, and when would that be?" Sam raised an eyebrow. "When infection makes you too sick to move, or when you pass out from blood loss?"
"Don't be such a drama queen," Dean shook his head, twisting forward and pulling away from Sam's grip. "Just head back to the motel and we'll wrap it up."
Sam sighed, holding his hand out for the keys, which Dean dug out of his pocket, slapping them hard into Sam's palm.
"Want to hear my theory?" Dean offered.
"I think Brad was harassing Charlie, and I think he was going to mess up Wyatt's career. I think Charlie and Wyatt killed him."
"And Charlie is a spirit because…" Sam lifted a brow.
"I wasn't finished," Dean backpedaled.
"Sure, sure," Sam glanced at Dean. "I think you're right about Brad messing with Charlie."
"But not about the killing?"
Sam paused at a stop light and glanced sideways at Dean, frowning slightly at his brother's hunched figure. The only reassuring thing about Dean's weary-looking posture was the constant bounce of his fingers against his leg to a beat audible only in Dean's head.
"I don't know… I don't get the psycho-killer vibe off of Charlie."
Dean glanced back at him. "Not even after the picture deal?"
Sam shook his head, blinking as the red light turned a brilliant green and glared into his eyes. "I guess I just saw more of a… you did this to me… expression on her face."
"What?" Sam asked softly.
"You sure you're not projecting?"
"Projecting?" Sam shook his head, trying to relax his mouth into a grin and failing. "That's it. No more Dr. Phil for you."
"I'm serious, Sam." Dean pushed himself upright in the seat. "This isn't about Dad."
"Hell, yeah it is," Sam replied sharply. "Everything is," he continued, his voice softening.
Dean was quiet and Sam felt him waiting. Sam might be able to out-stubborn his brother, but no one knew how to use silence as a weapon better than one who usually made the most noise. Shifting his shoulders, Sam glanced out of the side window, then back to the front, seeing the motel sign in the distance.
"There's nothing I can do to make it up to him," Sam tried. "Except do what he'd been trying to get me to do all of his life."
"You got nothing to make up for, Sam," Dean said softly as Sam stopped the car, turning off the engine. "You hear me?"
"You were the one that said it, Dean… I fought with him the last time I saw him," Sam stared hard at the steering wheel. "You were right. And I… I just feel like I need to… I don't know, make him proud, I guess."
"He was proud of you, Sammy," Dean assured him.
Sam cast a look at him. "Yeah?"
"Hell, yeah. It practically rolled off of him," Dean grinned.
"What… what do you think happened?"
"With this case?"
"With Dad," Sam's voice broke, and he lifted burning eyes to Dean. "He was… I mean, I thought he was okay and then… then he's just… gone."
"I don't know, man," Dean whispered, looking away, his jaw working to hide a tremble, his lips twitching as he restrained himself from saying more. Sam knew Dean was holding something back, keeping something from him, but he could feel fragility in the air, the sense that one more push and his brother was going to literally shatter before his eyes.
"I know there was nothing more important to him than finding and killing that demon," Dean said, clearing his throat. "I know that he wouldn't have… wouldn't have gone down without a fight…"
"Unless he didn't have a choice," Sam finished.
They sat in silence another moment, then Sam dropped his eyes to the almost-black haphazard bandage covering his brother's wounded hand.
"Let's go," he said, opening the driver's side door. "Get you fixed up."
"'K," Dean agreed. "Hey, Sam?"
"I think we need to stop checking voicemail on that phone," Dean tossed him a too-casual grin as he headed toward the motel.
Sam saw the echo of pain in his brother's shadowed green eyes. "Yeah… you could be right."
Dean hated stitches.
He hated them almost as much as he hated fevers. But he had both at the moment. Sam had been careful—had only stitched the deepest cuts and had butterflied the rest, applying ointment and fresh wrapping before they both went to bed, but Dean had woken a few hours later chilled, the coarse sheets of the motel bed uncomfortable against his skin. Sure sign of fever.
Careful not to wake Sam, he'd slipped from his bed and swallowed three Tylenol, climbing back into bed and hoping that would be enough to take care of the problem. He opened his eyes to a throbbing hand and joints that ached if he took too deep of a breath. Sam was already in the shower, providing Dean with the perfect cover to rise, dress, and re-bandage his now-swollen hand.
When Sam emerged from the bathroom, Dean was fake-searching the Internet for nothing of particular interest. Just something that kept his flushed face and fever-bright eyes from his ever-observant brother.
"Who are you, and what have you done with my brother?" Sam asked, staring at him.
"I'm studying up on ferry boats," Dean stated.
"Since when do you… study?"
"What? I can't have layers?"
Sam shook his head. "You ready for some coffee?"
"Thought you'd never ask," Dean shut the laptop, hiding the Yahoo home page, and palmed three more Tylenol as he grabbed his jacket. "We're heading back to the ferry, aren't we?"
"Don't see much of a choice," Sam sighed, pulling the motel door shut behind them. "We gotta finish what Dad started… right?"
"You bet your ass," Dean nodded, firing up the Chevy and pulling out of the parking lot, heading for the diner he'd noted on the way to the ferry landing from the police station yesterday.
They walked inside under a ringing bell, sat at the first booth and ordered eggs, toast, and two coffees. Dean sipped the steaming, black beverage, skimming the music selection on the table-top juke box and frowning at the Top 40 Hits displayed there.
"Are you hot?"
Dean smirked, shifting his eyes to Sam. "Now, what kind of question is that?"
"I mean… you just look like… oh, shut up," Sam waved a hand at him, sitting back and looking out of the window.
Dean suppressed a shiver. He needed to keep the fever under control until they figured out this case, got rid of the spirit, stopped people from drowning in their cars. He felt a trickle of sweat snake its way down the side of his face and wiped it away hurriedly.
Their food arrived and Dean stared at the eggs with barely-suppressed horror. Picking up his toast instead, he munched on it slowly.
"So… I think we have to figure out how to check out that car," Sam said around a mouthful of eggs.
"Yeah," Dean nodded. "None of this started until Brad died. There's gotta be something in there."
"Question is… how do we get down there?"
"Hmm," Dean shook his head, dropping his toast and picking up his coffee. "I think I left my scuba gear in my other jacket."
"Yeah, me, too," Sam sighed. "Think we could talk to some of those divers Ramsey said were on the ferry?"
"Be our best bet," Dean nodded. "We never really said anything to him about Charlie being dead, y'know."
"Yeah," Sam nodded. "I been thinking about that… I, uh… I kinda think he already knew."
"You think he killed her?"
"No," Sam shook his head immediately. "He loved her, man. Anyone could see that. No way you could love someone that much and kill them."
Dean licked his lips. "Anything is possible, Sam."
Sam frowned at him, then glanced at his nearly-full plate. "You okay? You haven't eaten a thing."
"Had a big dinner," Dean pushed his plate away. "Let's get going."
"Big dinner?" Sam echoed after him as Dean headed for the diner entrance. "We stole food from the galley!"
Dean let the door shut behind him, breathing in the cool, damp air. He opened the car door and slid inside, waiting as Sam joined him. He threw the car into reverse the minute Sam's door was shut.
"You're working awful hard to hide something," Sam commented dryly. "How long you plan on keeping that up?"
"Long as I have to," Dean replied, knowing Sam couldn't fathom how layered his answer was.
"Dude," Dean tapped his elbow against Sam's ribs. "Isn't that Mrs. Plastic and Doilies?"
"Over there," Dean tipped his chin over the rail outside of the Mystic's passenger cabin to the woman stepping out of an Audi on the upper deck of the ferry. She teetered a bit with the motion from the boat, then steadied herself.
"Hey, yeah," Sam leaned on the rail. "Wonder what she's—"
He stopped when Mrs. Sanders glanced up, directly at them. Sam froze, but saw Dean wave casually. She narrowed her eyes, then headed to the stairs. Passing directly by them, she continued up and stepped into Ramsey's captain's cabin without hesitation. The brothers exchanged a glance, then followed her.
By the time they reached the door, Mrs. Sanders had already lit Ramsey up three ways from Christmas.
"…at my door insinuating that your daughter had something to do with my boy's death! Now, I want to know where she is!"
"Listen, lady," Ramsey bellowed as Dean and Sam stepped through the door. "I don't know where my daughter is, but you can bet your $400 shoes that I wouldn't tell you even if I did! Now get the fuck out of my cabin!"
"I'm going to find out what happened to Brad, Mr. Ramsey," Mrs. Sanders snarled, anger ageing her features faster than time ever could. "And when I do, there will be hell to pay."
With that, she turned, pushed past Sam and Dean, then headed back to her car.
"Hell's my middle name!" Ramsey yelled after her. He shifted his eyes to the brother's.
"So… that went well," Dean commented dryly.
"She didn't come on the ferry before all this happened, and now that this case is re-opened, she thinks she can come in here and bully me. Bully me!"
"She obviously had no affect on you," Dean nodded.
"Damn straight," Ramsey huffed. "What the hell do you want?"
"We want to talk to your divers," Sam said, the man's bluster and red-faced yelling not phasing him in the least. "Need them to take a look around that car for us."
"Sanders' car?" Ramsey looked incredulous.
"That'd be the one," Dean nodded.
"What the hell for?"
"Something about his death started this, man," Dean said, spreading his hands to make his point. Sam saw him flinch and pull his right hand toward him. "They may have pulled Brad's body, up, but they left something down there."
"Something important enough that seven people have died because of it."
Ramsey ran a hand through his shaggy hair. "Fine," he said, turning to his wheel. "Go find Larry and Moe down on the crew deck. Tell them I sent you."
"What… no Curly?" Dean smirked.
"He's off today," Ramsey said, his face stone serious. "Now get on out of here. I've got work to do."
Dean chuckled turned to step out of the cabin. As Sam went to follow, he saw Dean's eyes flutter a bit, as if he were getting his bearings, then he took a breath and pushed against the door.
With his left hand.
Son of a bitch…Sam grumbled silently. He followed Dean down the steps and to the car level.
"We got a little time to find the Stooges," Dean said over his shoulder. "Ramsey said that the deaths usually don't happen until he's heading back from Kingston, right?"
"Hey, Dean, how's your hand?" Sam asked casually.
"Your hand—those stitches holding okay?"
Dean shrugged, turning away. "Yeah, fine. C'mon, man we need to—"
"Let me see it, then." Sam stopped walking, holding out his hand.
"What? No. It's fine, Sam. You're wasting time."
"And you're lying to me," Sam snapped, anger beginning to simmer. "Why the hell do you do that?"
Dean rolled his eyes and faced his brother. Sam saw what he'd missed before—pale skin beneath flushed cheeks, bloodshot eyes framing bright irises.
"You have a fever, too, don't you?"
"Oh, for God's sake, Sam, I'm not twelve," Dean snapped. "I can handle this, okay?"
"Who are you protecting by—"
The scream of shock and terror caught them both off guard. Sam jumped, Dean darted to the side to look around him, his eyes widening in horror. Sam whipped around, shocked to see Mrs. Sanders' car just behind him, water filling the inside of the car to the base of the window, her small fists pounding frantically at the glass.
And just in front of the car stood Charlie Ramsey.
"Pull up on the lock!" Dean yelled at her, reefing on the door handle ineffectually.
Her voice was muffled as she screamed back through the glass. "I can't! It won't come up! Oh, God, please, help me please… the water… the water is so cold!"
"Ramsey!" Sam yelled as he ran to the other side of the car. "Get down here!"
Dean shot a look over at the figure of Charlie still standing in front of Mrs. Sanders' Audi. She stared at the woman trapped in the car. Her ice-blue eyes, Dean saw, were like two raw slits of anguish in her pale face. He pulled again on the door handle, then looked around at the small crowd of people who still dared to use the Mystic as their transportation to Kingston.
"Get me something to break this window!" He pleaded.
Those who looked back at him didn't move. The others averted their eyes. Dean looked back inside the car; the water was now up to Mrs. Sanders' elbows. She pressed her hand flat against the window and Dean pressed his on the other side.
"We're gonna get you out of there," he promised.
"Here," Ramsey's voice came from his right. Dean was suddenly aware that he could no longer feel the hum of the ferry engines beneath his feet. "Try this."
Dean looked over and saw a crowbar thrust out to him. Without thinking, he reached out with his right hand to grasp it, crying out when the wounds contacted the metal, dropping the crowbar to the deck.
"I got it," Sam said, materializing as if from nowhere to push him out of the way, grabbing up the crowbar and jacking it into the seam of the door.
"Put your face to the ceiling!" Dean yelled at Mrs. Sanders.
He could see her shaking from the cold as she climbed up on the driver's seat, keeping her face up as the water level rose.
"C'mon, Sam," Dean encouraged.
"I'm trying!" Sam grunted, teeth clenched in effort.
"Oh, God," Ramsey suddenly breathed, and Dean's head snapped up in reaction. Looking at the man's stricken face, he realized he'd just noticed his daughter. "Oh, my God, Charlie…"
"Talk to her, man," Dean demanded.
"Tell her you're sorry you didn't listen!"
The water suddenly rose faster and Mrs. Sanders' frightened shriek was audible through the water and glass.
"C'mon, you stubborn bastard," Sam muttered and Dean wasn't sure if he were addressing the car door or Ramsey.
"Talk to her, dammit!" Dean yelled at Ramsey, grabbing the front of the man's loose T-shirt with his left hand and hauled him roughly to the front of the car.
"Charlie…" Ramsey choked out. "I didn't know… why'd you leave me, kiddo? Where did you go?"
Dean watched as Charlie looked at her father. Then her eyes turned to him and Dean felt the world slow. He could feel his clothes rub against his fevered skin, the throb of his heartbeat in his hand, the blood pumping through his veins. He could feel the brief wind move the tiny hairs on his cheeks; the pressure in his ears building until it silenced all cries of protest, grunts of exertion, sobs of regret.
There was only Charlie. And suddenly he saw through her eyes. He saw a boy with dark brown eyes, anger turning his face dangerous, swinging a fist at him. He saw the world spinning, realized that he was looking up from the ground as feather-light clouds passed swiftly over a bright, full moon. He saw the lid of a car trunk close. He saw water, torrents of water, rushing in and around him.
Dean took a breath, and was suddenly unable to exhale. He was choking on air, the pressure in his ears expanding to encompass his whole body. Breath had never felt so violent, so vicious.
Then Charlie blinked.
Dean hit his knees on the cement deck and fell forward to catch himself with his left hand. He coughed out air, dragging breaths in, trembling and he heard his brother's exclamation of surprise. He looked over and saw that Sam had stumbled back from the mangled, opened door of the Audi, the interior free of water.
It was as if the water had never been there. Mrs. Sanders sat crouched on her driver's seat, dripping wet, coughing, and staring back at Sam. Dean closed his eyes, dropping his head and continued to breathe. He heard the crowbar hit the deck, then felt Sam's hands on his back as his brother offered his silent support.
Dean sat slowly back on his haunches, leaning into Sam's grip, needing his brother's arms to stay upright. His head swam and lips tingled. He felt separated from himself, once again as if there were another pulling the strings, commanding his body, taking over such actions from him.
He looked up at Ramsey, his breaths steadying, suddenly aware of the crowd murmuring around him.
"He killed her," Dean rasped, his throat felt hollowed-out, his chest ached.
"What?" Ramsey said, looking around dazedly.
Dean pulled away from Sam once his head stopped spinning. He felt Sam's hand at his elbow as he pushed himself to a wavering stance.
"Brad…" Dean glanced at Mrs. Sanders. "He killed Charlie."
"No," she shook her head. "No, that isn't true… it can't be true."
Sam shifted away, tilting his head to study the shivering woman. "You knew it… you already knew it…" he said in wonder. "You knew he killed Charlie."
"No," Mrs. Sanders stepped out of the car, pushing the door shut behind her. The small crowd around them stepped back almost in unison. No one seemed sure where to look, what to say. "No… how could I have known that? I didn't even know she was dead!"
"Oh, Charlie," Ramsey breathed out, pressing a hand to his chest.
"Aw, Christ, Sam," Dean looked over at his brother, suddenly cold. "Not Charlie… Wyatt."
"What?" Sam pulled his eyebrows together.
Dean pulled his right arm against his chest, trying to alleviate the throb beating through the wounds on his palm. "She may not have known Charlie was dead… but she knew Wyatt was."
"What?!" Ramsey exclaimed, stepping forward. Dean saw two men in wet suits standing behind him, the top part of the wet suit folded down at their waists and white T-shirts that read Mystic with the ferry's call numbers printed across the front. "Wyatt who?"
"Wyatt Abrams," Sam said, taking another step back.
Dean instinctively followed. The look on Sam's face was one of sick horror, as if he still couldn't bring himself to accept the reality of what people were capable of doing to each other. Dean felt tethered to him; the further Sam stepped clear of Mrs. Sanders, the closer Dean needed to be to him.
"Your daughter was in love with him," Sam said, eyes darting quickly from Ramsey to Mrs. Sanders. "And… and Brad knew that. You said he did."
Mrs. Sanders looked away from Sam. Her cold eyes scanned the crowd, skimming over Ramsey and resting on Dean. "You don't know what you're talking about," she all-but growled.
"I think we do," Dean said, suppressing a shudder. He could feel the heat of his skin increasing. The world around him seemed to suddenly sharpen, as if nature were turning up the contrast of the sun on the water, the metal of the cars, the color of people's clothes. "I think Brad killed Wyatt… Charlie found out… was…" he swallowed, licking his lips. "Was going to turn him in and—"
"NO!" Mrs. Sanders snarled. "No, that's not true! It can't be!"
"Charlie?" Ramsey suddenly breathed.
Dean blinked and looked over at Ramsey, then quickly followed his eye line to the rail behind Sam. Charlie stood there, staring back at them. Her wounded eyes shifted from Mrs. Sanders, to her father, to Dean, then rested on Sam. Dean heard his brother pull in a breath and knew what he was suddenly seeing, suddenly feeling.
Instinctively he reached out for Sam, but wasn't quick enough. As if yanked by an invisible rope, Sam was pulled off his feet and fell silently to the chilly waters of the Puget Sound some twenty feet below.
"SAM!" Dean bellowed, rushing to the rail in time to see Sam sink below the waves.
Without waiting for an offer of help, Dean bent and grabbed the crowbar with his aching hand, ripped off his jacket, grasped the rail, and swung over the edge after his brother.
Sam wasn't aware of hitting the water. He wasn't aware of the journey through the dark. He was only aware of the horrible feeling of being choked by his own breath, the image of water rushing in at him, and then opening his eyes, the concentration of salt stinging them viciously, and realizing that he was inside a car… under water.
Sam tried desperately not to panic. He tried to remember not to take a breath, as his body was begging him to do. He blinked, floating his hands quickly around the interior of the car, finding the steering wheel, the back of the seat, the window, the lock. He tried to pull up on the lock, but it held fast, his fingers slipping off.
Don't panic… don't breathe and don't panic… there has to be a way out of here… there has to be some way…
His chest burned, lungs screaming for air. He released a bubble, trying to alleviate the pressure. Pushing himself to the back seat, Sam worked on the back locks and handle to no avail.
No… nononononono… I'm not ready!
He wasn't ready to go.
Dean… Dean couldn't handle losing Dad and me… Dean never has been very good at being alone. I can't leave Dean. I can't leave—
The slap of a hand on the front window brought his addled brain to the present. Letting another bubble of air slip out, Sam grabbed the steering wheel and pulled himself up to the front, pressing his hand back against Dean's. He tried the lock once more. He saw Dean wave him back and pushed himself away from the window.
He felt a muffled reverberation as Dean worked on the door. The edges of his vision began to fade. Desperate for air, Sam pressed his face against the roof of the car, hoping that somehow a pocket of air had gotten trapped.
Nothing. No air.
He wasn't going to make it.
Oh, God… Dean…
He fought with his eyes open.
He fought the door with the crowbar, working with strength born of desperation. Through his burning eyes he saw Sam's body shake, jerk, struggle against the salt water that sought to replace the air in his lungs and fought against the panic that burst bright and hot in his heart.
With one last heave, the door came loose and Dean reached in with his left hand to grab Sam's shirt. Pulling his brother's still shaking body close, he released the hold he'd had on the base of the car's frame to keep himself in place, and started to push away. As he did, he felt a grip on his leg. Looking back, he saw a pale white hand skim down the length of his calf.
Gripping Sam tightly, the last of the air sizzling in his lungs, Dean pushed away from the car and kicked to the surface, using his wounded hand as a paddle to aid their ascent. He fought the tide, the pull of the impossibly cold water. He fought the pain in his hand, chest, eyes. He fought the heavy exhaustion that tugged at his legs.
Kick, dammit, just kick, do not let go, do not let go of him, hold him hold him hold him…
He had to fight—he had to fight until it was over. Until the job was done. Until Sam was safe. There was nothing else.
Air swept over Dean's burning face as he broke the surface, Sam's shirt gripped tightly in his left hand, his right swirling blood in the water as he kept them upright. Splashes around him brought his eyes open as he saw the two divers enter the water and a life-ring floating nearby.
"Sam," he croaked, shaking him.
Sam had stopped shaking and Dean couldn't feel his brother's chest moving with the reassuring repetition of breath.
"SAM!" Dean rasped again, fighting to keep both of them above water. "Breathe, dammit!"
As if simply complying with Dean's plea, Sam coughed, his head lolling back against Dean's shoulder.
"That's it, Sammy," Dean managed. He fumbled for the life preserver. "C'mon, little brother…need you to help me here."
The divers reached them and one grasped Sam's arms, looping them over the ring.
"I got him," he said, nodding to his partner who reached for Dean.
But Dean knew he wasn't going to make it. As the diver's hands stretched out, Dean felt another pair of hands grasp his ankles. He had one moment to pull in a quick lungful of air, one moment to comprehend that it could be his last, and then he was dragged below.
Dean let his body fall through the water, pulled by the desire of a spirit. He felt his feet hit the top of the sunken car and turned to grasp the door handle, leveling his body with the car, hooking his foot under the frame as he had when he pulled Sam free.
Casting about through the icy depths, he felt along the sandbar until he found the crowbar he'd dropped. Making his way around to the trunk, Dean shoved the crowbar into the seam, rusted by months under the salty water. He was shaking so badly from fever and cold he could barely grip the metal bar, but one thrust was all that he needed. The lid came loose and the body of Charlie Ramsey was exposed.
Time and elements had not been kind. Part of Charlie's face had been eaten away by sea creatures small enough to flow in with the water. Her eyes were two sunken orbs, her lips pulled back in a frozen grimace. Despite that, Dean reached in, grabbed the front of the girl's hooded sweatshirt and pulled her free from her watery coffin. As he did, her mangled face rolled toward him and for one brief moment he saw clear blue eyes, an unlined face, and a smile spreading in gratitude.
The image faded and the horror returned, and Dean felt himself give in to the ebb and flow of the Puget Sound. Charlie floated up slowly next to him and Dean felt his body begin to convulse with the need for breath. As he fell inside of the black, acutely aware of the sense of peace that suddenly surrounded him, he saw the silhouette of his savior swim down for him.
He closed his eyes and surrendered.
"Dean… C'mon back, okay? Wake up..."
Sam leaned over in the cushioned chair they'd pulled in for him last night so that he didn't have to leave Dean, resting his arm at the edge of Dean's bandaged hand, resting his eyes on his brother's face.
Dean's eyebrows were pulled together, his lips folded down into a frown. Sam could see him fighting against the seduction of oblivion, wanting awareness, but afraid of it at the same. He squeezed Dean's arm, careful of the IV with antibiotics pumping into his brother's system, aware of how warm his skin still felt.
"Dean," he called softly. "Open your eyes."
Look at me… let me know you're still here… let me know you wouldn't leave… let me know you still need me around…
Sam felt Dean twitch; a quick movement of his leg muscles sliding under the sheets, his hands flinching as if to form fists of defense, his face tightening then softening as he worked through whatever haunted him in the dark. Sighing, Sam dropped his head, his forehead resting just above Dean's arm.
"You always were a restless sleeper," Sam mumbled, his voice muffled by the bed. "Always moving…"
It was how Sam had been able to judge that everything was okay. Dean was in the room. Dean was moving. Dean was here.
"Thanks," Sam turned his head so that he lay with his cheek on the bed, the top of his head resting against Dean's arm. "Thanks for pulling me out, Dean. You have never let me down… not once."
Dean's arm jerked slightly, and his head shifted on the pillow. Sam brought his head up, but saw that it was simply Dean fighting against the dark that still held him captive. He wasn't awake. His body wasn't ready.
"Take your time, man," Sam whispered. "I'll be here when you wake up."
He was dreaming. He knew that much.
But in his dream, he was actually in control. There was no one else pulling the strings, no helpless feeling of disconnect between his will and his body. He leaned on the hood of the Impala, relishing the feel of the car's solidity beneath him. The warmth of the Chevy's soul seeping into him, offering him strength.
Sam stood next to him, looking in the same direction as he was. Together they watched their father walk toward them, a rueful smile relaxing his rugged features.
John's voice was right. It rumbled through Dean, filling up the hollow inside, scooping out the weight that anchored his breath and setting it easily aside.
"Sir," they replied in unison.
"No bad guy this time," John said, resting his hands in the pockets of his coat. Dean saw himself in that stance, and he smiled.
"Not anymore," Dean agreed. "This one had already taken care of himself."
"You did good," John nodded, his dark eyes taking them both in separately, and then together.
Dean stepped forward, feeling the pleasure of his body respond as he reached out, grasped his dad's shoulder, pulled him close.
"It's good to see you," he whispered. "I missed you, Dad."
Sam's voice sounded puzzled, searching. Dean turned from John to face Sam and was unexpectedly thrust back into reality. He felt the ache in his chest, the throb in his hand, the itch from the tape that held the IVs down, the grit at the corner of his eyes. The darkness behind his lids suddenly had substance.
He felt it.
"Hey, man, that's it," Sam's voice cajoled. "Please, Dean, open your eyes, okay?"
Dean complied. Barely slits at first, but then he blinked them wider when his blurred vision found the faded image of his brother close beside him. A strange wave of pain chased by relief left him feeling as if he were still bobbing in the waves of the Puget Sound.
"...happened?" He tried.
Sam's shoulders seemed to sag with relief. "God, it's good to see you, man," he said, a sob lodged behind his words. "It's really not the same without you, Dean."
"Could say… same… 'bout you," Dean forced out. His lips felt two sizes too big for his face, and his fingers tingled. "Why 'm I so… fuzzy?"
"It's the meds," Sam explained. "You had a pretty high fever—after they pumped out all the salt water. And your hand was… well, you're an idiot that's all."
"I'm not an idiot," Sam quipped, grinning and wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand.
"Maybe not," Dean cleared his throat. "But you are a bitch."
Sam sniffed, then pushed gently at Dean's shoulder. "You big jerk… going after the body like that."
"She didn't leave me much choice," Dean replied, licking his lips. Sam held his cup of water and straw up for him. "How long…"
"Two days," Sam replied. "I don't remember much after you got me out of that car… until I woke up over there yesterday morning," he nodded to the bed next to Dean, "and they told me you were pretty bad."
"You know I'm always fine, Sam," Dean shook his head against the pillow. "Doctor's always go for the drama."
"No, man," Sam shook his head. "You gotta….you need to be more careful. You're… you live reckless lately, Dean. You either act like you can't die… or you wouldn't mind if it happened."
Dean looked away. He wasn't ready to tell Sam how close to the truth that second statement sometimes was. He felt Sam sit back and looked over at him once more.
"Any word on when I can get out of here?"
Sam shook his head and chuckled. "When you're better," he answered. "And not before."
"I'm awake aren't I? That's better."
Sam just glanced away. "Long as you're tethered to this bed, I'm not going to fight with you about this."
"He's… pretty messed up," Sam looked at his hands. "They docked the Mystic, finally. And I think the police have had both him and Mrs. Sanders in their office since they pulled us out of the water."
"What did they do with Charlie?" Dean dropped his head back, letting gravity work him over a bit, too tired to struggle.
"She's in the county morgue for now," Sam said, yawning. "Until they get this figured out."
"Guess Mrs. Sanders was right," Dean sighed, closing his eyes.
"She said that when we…" Dean shifted stiffly, trying to find a position that didn't ache. "When we found out who killed Brad… we'd find Charlie."
"Huh," Sam replied. "I guess you're right. Brad killed all three of them… Police are saying he drove the car off the ferry to kill Charlie and then got trapped in the car…" Sam yawned again. "Pretty stupid way to murder someone, you ask me."
"Get some rest, Sam," Dean said softly, looking at his brother's pale, weary face.
"I will if you will," Sam retorted.
Dean let his eyes slide closed, ready to return to the warmth of the dream and the safety of control he had felt there for a moment.
"Deal," he whispered.
"Where the hell is that doctor already?" Dean grumbled.
Sam looked up from his laptop screen to watch Dean sit on the edge of his bed, clad in jeans and boots, his T-shirt sitting next to him, waiting for the doctor to return and remove his IV so that he could leave. Two additional days in the hospital had been a necessary evil.
Dean had complied for twenty-four whole hours with the doctor's orders to rest and let his body—and most especially his hand—heal. The following twenty-four hours had taught Sam a few things about the virtue that was patience.
He'd used that time to organize their hunts and records on his computer, impressed by Ash's ability to take John's scrawl and turn it into a usable method to track the demon. If Ash could do that… there was no telling what was possible.
"He'll be here, Dean," Sam reassured for the tenth time. He looked back down at the computer screen. "Hey, Dean."
"Hmm?" Dean leaned back against the pillows, his bandaged hand resting on his bare stomach.
"You know that picture the cop showed you of Dad?"
"Was it this?" Sam turned the laptop around so that Dean could see the screen.
Dean blinked at the image, focusing his still-tired eyes. "Huh… yeah, man. That was it. What is that?"
"An article about the attack, or whatever, at the library in Kingston. Unknown man it says. He was quoted as saying he was just in the right place, right time."
"Bet he hated that they caught him on camera," Dean said, a small smile in his voice.
"Uh, hey, Dean?" Sam called again, narrowing his eyes at the date at the top of the newspaper article with John's picture.
"What, Sam?" Dean sighed.
"You remember when we were in Chicago?"
"You mean to meet up with psycho Meg and her daeva friends?"
"Yeah," Sam nodded. "Did you know that happened the same month that Charlie and Brad died?"
Dean sat forward again, a frown folding his lips down. "It did?"
"I have the newspaper article here from when Meredith died," Sam said, pointing to his screen. "The dates match the ones on the newspaper article about the Kingston library. You think…"
"What?" Dean's voice was cautiously hopeful.
"Well… you called Dad then…"
Dean pulled his bottom lip into his mouth, catching it between his teeth as if afraid to voice what he seemed to know Sam was going to say.
"I think… I think he left this hunt to come to us," Sam concluded.
Dean swallowed visibly, then lifted a shoulder. "Well, I guess that would make sense… I mean, he came out here in the first place because he was following the signs, right? And… we thought the demon was in Chicago, so if he hadn't found anything here, he could have figured—"
"Dean," Sam interrupted. "I think he came… for us."
Dean looked down, hiding his eyes from Sam. Dean could bluff his way through a high-stakes poker game with a pair of twos. He could hustle hundreds of dollars out of the best pool player in any bar. He could make you believe the sun was blue and the world was flat if he wanted to.
But there were moments when his eyes were bare and the story of his life was held like a confession in their green depths. And Sam knew when his brother looked away that even a glimpse of Dean's eyes in this moment would level him.
So he held still. And waited.
"Maybe, Sam… maybe," Dean finally conceded just before the doctor walked in and removed Dean's IV, handing him instructions and cautioning him to take care. Dean nodded, but Sam could tell he was barely listening. The doctor left and Dean pulled on his shirt, taking his coat from Sam.
"You bring the Impala?" Dean asked.
"It's still at the dock," Sam answered. "I haven't left the hospital."
"How far are we from the dock?"
"Not too far," Sam said. "You okay to walk?"
"Absolutely," Dean nodded, shrugging his shoulders inside of his coat a bit as if he were trying to physically rid himself of the feel of sickness.
As they walked along the sidewalk, in stride despite the difference in their height, Sam ran the hunt's events over in his mind. Ramsey had no idea that Charlie had been in love with Wyatt Abrams. Mrs. Sanders didn't realize the depth of Brad's infatuation with Charlie. It made him wonder if it was a product of being in a family that made it easy for someone to disappear into what they were thought to be instead of what they were.
"You're thinking too loud, Sam," Dean commented. "Care to share with the class?"
Sam realized that Dean's stride had slowed. Matching him once more, Sam sighed.
"You ever think about how different things would be if Mom were still around?"
"Whoa," Dean stopped walking, causing Sam to turn and face him. "Where the hell did that come from?"
Sam shrugged. "Just thinking about this case. These people died because… well, because nobody was paying attention.'
Dean lifted his eyebrows, his expression a clear yeah, so?
"I just think," Sam looked away, unable to look directly at his brother. "I think if you hadn't been around…"
Dean stayed silent.
"I'm just glad you were around," Sam finally finished. "I'm glad you're here."
Dean shook his head, scuffing the toe of his boot along a crack in the sidewalk, a small grin flushing his still-pale cheeks. "You missed your calling, Sammy. Ought to have you write Hallmark cards. Could make us a killing." He clapped Sam on the shoulder with his good hand and continued toward the docks.
Sam watched Dean walk away, then followed, needing to keep him close. Just in case.
"You boys leaving?" Ramsey asked, leaning against the Impala, watching them approach.
"Soon as you move away from my car," Dean groused.
"Calm down, there, Cujo," Ramsey patted the air, stepping away from the car. "Was just waiting to say thanks, is all."
Dean shrugged. "Just doing our job."
"Well…" Ramsey looked down, sniffed, then rubbed at his nose with a weathered hand. "You gave me my girl back."
"They done questioning you?" Sam asked, his eyes shadowed.
"For now," Ramsey nodded. "They're searching for Abrams' body. Don't think they're going to find it, though."
"Why do you say that?"
"They showed me a picture of the kid when I was being questioned and, uh…I'm pretty sure that's who your Dad was helping Charlie with. When we were in that library…I, uh, I saw him."
"You saw him? And you never said anything?" Sam was incredulous.
"Not like there was anything anyone could do," Ramsey shrugged. "Guy was dead."
"Nice," Dean shook his head, a bad taste in the back of his mouth.
"Anyway," Ramsey said, holding out a hand. "Thanks."
Sam shook his hand and Dean waved his bandaged one at him. "Don't need us again, okay?"
"Don't plan on it," Ramsey nodded.
Climbing behind the wheel, Dean sighed as he rested his hand on the wheel, his body settling into the familiar feel of home. He turned on the engine, then looked over at Sam.
"Where to, bro?"
"Head East," Sam said, not looking at him.
"Just head East, Dean," Sam said reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling something out.
Dean looked down at Sam's hand and felt his heart still, sputter, then pick back up.
John's dog tags.
"How did you get those?"
"I took them from his truck when we were in Salvation," Sam answered. "Dad never wore them—he didn't want to be identified, right?"
"So… I saw them in the glove box before he left to meet Meg, and… well, I don't know, I just took 'em."
Dean simply blinked, suddenly too moved to speak, too weak to move. Sam's voice was a soft beat of hope against the ringing in his ears.
"I don't know how to make this right for me… for him. I don't know how to feel sometimes, Dean. I just… I gotta do this, okay? I know where we gotta go."
Dean shook his head. John had been wrong about the vampires. He'd been wrong about the spirit haunting Charlie. He'd been wrong… Sam wanted to make it right…
Dad could be wrong about Sam…
"There'd better be a hunt when we get there," Dean muttered, back away from the lot and facing East.
Fighting evil, he knew. Searching out, finding, and beating the bad guy, he could control. Figuring out why he was still around to do so… why Dad left him with such a weight to carry… why Dad wasn't here with them… that was too big to even try to wrap his head around in the moment.
"You never know," Sam shrugged, apparently happy that Dean was doing what he asked without too much fight. "Maybe we'll just get some time off."
"Maybe," Dean conceded, knowing it wasn't likely.
He fished out a tape and stuck it in the deck, cranking up the volume and letting the music mask the shudder of dread that accompanied the weight making itself home once more in his chest.
a/n: Thanks so much for reading.
Not much of a playlist in this one, with the exception of the Styx references. Any of you who are reading this here after having read the zine version might realize that I changed Charlie Ramsey's name. She had been crowned Augusta previously—Gus for short. But as I'd inadvertently double-booked that name with Gus Spencer in Wearing and Tearing, I took this opportunity to fix that. (blushes)
My co-write with LovinJackson, Refuto Monumentum, is in process. And I've a healthy outline for the western, Heroes for Ghosts. Would love to see you come 'round when those go up.