Thanks to everyone who's read and reviewed - hope I didn't confuse you all too much! This is quite a long chapter as I couldn't find a good place to split it (no cliffhangers available - well, one maybe...!) But take heart - you've nearly reached the end!
Hope you've enjoyed it anyway...
"Dammit!" Dean cursed loudly, slamming on the Impala's brakes as they hit yet another waterlogged road. Shifting the car into park, he turned to face Sam. "How long?" he asked.
Sam glanced at his watch. "Twenty-five minutes," he replied, just as the reservoir flood system blared out yet another alert.
As if they needed reminding.
"OK," Dean said, switching off the engine. "You heard the lady." He yanked on the door handle. "We run or we die."
Sam cast an uncertain glance out of the window, at the now heavier-than-torrential rain, deep down inside knowing Dean was right, but reluctant to leave the car all the same. He took a deep breath. "OK, let's go."
If it hadn't been for the almost constant lightning, Dean didn't think he would have been able to see a foot in front of him, even with the flashlight he held up above his head. He still managed to stumble every now and then, his feet seeming to find every pothole and every submerged tree root they possibly could.
The water was becoming steadily deeper the further into the swamp they ran, at first just tugging on the soles of their shoes, then dragging on their ankles. Now it was up to their knees, and it was becoming harder and harder to maintain a sustained level of forward momentum.
Sam cursed under his breath, and Dean turned to check his brother's progress. His jacket had caught on an overhanging tree branch, tearing as he tried to free himself.
"That's what you get for being so ridiculously tall, dude," Dean said, himself having to duck suddenly as another branch loomed towards his head.
"Right," Sam said, noting his brother's close call. "But don't forget who'll be able to keep their head above water longest. I'm serious. I'll take breathing over a torn jacket any day!"
Dean turned back just long enough to pull a face at him, before continuing on, further into the swamp.
"I can see it!" he said, just as the ground suddenly fell away from under his feet, causing him a sharp intake of breath. He stumbled, but managed to remain upright, the water now up to his waist. "God, I always hated swim class," he muttered, forcing his way towards the church looming darkly in the distance.
Sam stepped carefully down the sharp incline that had so taken Dean by surprise, eyes fixed straight ahead as he tried to convince himself that he hadn't just seen something dark and shadowy moving in the water to his left.
"Well," Dean said from up ahead. "I can see why St Swithun's so ticked off at being dumped here."
He was standing stock still, looking upwards through the rain, and as Sam joined him, he could see why too.
St Agnes' wasn't exactly Winchester Cathedral.
Although it was sinking just the same.
Half of the roof was missing, abandoned birds nests clinging to the rafters as the remaining tiles slid downwards, their moorings rotting away beneath them. The windows had long gone, big gaping holes like black lidless eyes staring out at them from a worn face of cracked plaster and crumbling brickwork. The front steps were completely submerged, one of the large wooden doors hanging at a crazy angle as the water tried desperately to tug it away from its single remaining hinge. The other door had long since been carried away into the swamp.
All that was left intact was the large stone crucifix above the door that Dean had glimpsed from Churchill Bridge.
Dean whistled. "Yeah," he said, his voice laden with sarcasm. "This is gonna be so easy…"
He glanced at Sam before shaking his head and continuing to push through the steadily-rising water. He was pretty sure he hadn't imagined it, but in the brief time he'd stood looking up at the church, Dean could swear the water had risen from waist-level up to the middle of his chest.
He took a quick look at his watch, trying awkwardly to keep his arms above the water, if only to keep his watch and his flashlight in working order. Twenty minutes to midnight. They were cutting this one damned close.
Finding the stone steps with his feet, Dean was more than relieved to climb some way out of the water as he entered the pitch black church. He swung the flashlight in an arc around what was left of the building, the huge dark shadows playing on the walls doing little for his equilibrium.
"Man!" Sam burst out, coming up the steps behind him. "OK, can we say 'creepy'?"
"With a capital 'creep'," Dean agreed, shuddering.
He took a few faltering steps up the aisle, the movement causing the standing water to wash lazily against the rotting pews on either side of him as the rain hammering down through the holes in the roof seemed to make the water level rise right in front of his eyes.
"So where d'you reckon Bradshaw would have put this damn bone?" he asked, shining his flashlight around hopelessly. This may have been a small church, but with twenty minutes to watery annihilation, it seemed the size of a cathedral.
Sam shrugged, looking up at the almost completely absent roof thoughtfully. "If Bradshaw had left it up here," he said. "The Bishop might not have been quite so hacked off – I mean he'd be pretty much outside right?"
Dean shook his head resignedly. "I knew it'd be the damn basement," he muttered, shining his flashlight around in an effort to identify a doorway. "How much water do you think's gonna be down there?"
Sam was reluctant to guess, although he had a pretty good idea. He motioned with a nod of his head as his flashlight fell on a darkened wooden door behind the pulpit.
Dean nodded, wading through the rising water towards the door. It was half open, and he hoped that was a good sign that someone had been here recently.
A flash of lightning momentarily lit the whole place up like it was midday, and as Dean tried to push the door further open he could just make out the top of a flight of decidedly rickety-looking wooden stairs leading down into the basement. Where the wood hadn't already rotted, it looked as if it was about to at any moment, and Dean really didn't hold out much hope that the stairs would hold his or Sam's weight.
But then again, seeing as they were almost completely submerged, Dean didn't think he or Sam would be walking down them any time soon.
Sam followed Dean through the door, shining his flashlight down through the water into the completely flooded basement. "I'd say the bone most definitely lies under the water," he observed.
Dean nodded. "Yeah," he agreed. "Problem is, how do we find the thing? It's too dark down there to see anything underwater."
Sam thought for a second. "We could take it in turns to look," he suggested. "One of us stays up here shining the flashlights down through the water – "
"While the other one hopes he can hold his breath long enough to find the thing," Dean supplied. He shook his head again. "Alright," he said, handing Sam his flashlight. "Always wanted to try deep sea diving."
"Be careful," Sam said, shining the beams of both lights down through the water.
Dean nodded, grinning. "Always," he said. "Besides, I ain't dying in no church." He took a deep breath, and disappeared beneath the water, swimming away in the general direction of the staircase.
Luckily, the water was reasonably clear, so Sam was fairly confident Dean would at least be able to see something down there.
He tried to follow his brother's progress with the flashlights, hoping he was at least illuminating somewhere near where Dean was searching, but after about a minute a little niggle of concern started to bubble in the pit of his stomach as he realised he couldn't make out Dean's shape any more.
"Dean?" he called uncertainly, confident in his brother's swimming ability, but not so confident in his ability to not die without air.
He swung the flashlight beams around in something akin to an arcing search pattern, but still couldn't see any movement under the surface of the water.
Sam glanced at his watch. Dean had been gone too long. He couldn't possibly still be holding that one breath.
The little niggle of concern started to flare into something akin to panic as Sam noticed ripples starting to form on the surface of the water, ripples that were becoming more and more violent until they just…stopped.
"OK, that's it," Sam decided, looking around for somewhere to leave the flashlights before taking a deep breath and heading down into the basement to look for Dean.
He'd been right about being able to see through the water, but it was just so dark down here that the only time he could really make anything out was when he was right on top of it.
After a few seconds of stumbling around in the murkiness, Sam felt his hand brush against something that felt suspiciously like cold flesh. He stopped, narrowing his eyes to try and see what he'd touched, before a flash of perfectly timed lightning enabled him to see only too clearly.
His brother's eyes were closed, and he seemed to just hang there, barely moving at all, and Sam was pretty sure it wasn't the dingy lighting causing his lips to look a distinct shade of blue.
Trying not to panic, as he knew that would waste too much of the air still in his lungs, Sam looked his brother over to try and work out what was wrong with him, why he hadn't swum to the surface. His eyes landed on something entangled around Dean's ankle, but he couldn't quite make out what it was.
Working his way down as quickly and as urgently as he was able, Sam reached out to grab at the thing entwined around Dean's leg, only narrowly avoiding yelping in pain and swallowing a lungful of water as something sharp ripped at his fingers.
Even in the murky underwater gloom, Sam could see his own blood staining the liquid surrounding him. And it took him a second to realise there wasn't just his blood here – there was Dean's too.
Another flash of lightning revealed the truth: a small wooden chest stood open, surrounded by copious amounts of barbed wire coiled around its base, obviously put there to dissuade casual onlookers from poking around where they didn't belong. This didn't appear to have stopped Dean from opening the thing and removing its contents however: Sam could see something wrapped in brown cloth that he fervently hoped was St Swithun's bone wedged in the waistband of his brother's jeans.
From what Sam could figure, however, Dean may have gotten into the chest, but he hadn't managed to get away from it without getting tangled up in the barbed wire, which he probably hadn't seen until it was too late and it had entwined itself around his leg.
Feeling slightly light headed as the oxygen in his lungs began to run out, Sam steeled himself before attacking the wire restraining his brother.
This was going to hurt.
Wincing as the sharp barbs cut into his fingers, Sam pulled, working to disentangle the wire from around Dean's ankle as quickly as possible. He could just about make out traces of Dean's blood on the barbs he pulled away, and despite the mess he was making of his own hands, continued to rip at the stuff until his brother's leg came free.
Grabbing Dean's arm, Sam swam for the surface as fast as he could go, thankful he'd had the presence of mind to leave the flashlights switched on so that he could at least be sure he was heading in the right direction.
Breaking the surface of the water after what seemed like hours, he took in a huge gulp of air, dragging Dean out of the water behind him in the hope that he'd be conscious enough to do the same.
When he didn't, Sam grabbed him by the front of his jacket, half swimming, half stumbling up out of the basement, finally dragging Dean back into the church where he hauled him up onto one of the not-yet-submerged pews and laid him down on his back.
Sam again fought the panic welling up inside of him as he finally got a good look at Dean's face: he was deathly white, his lips blue, and as Sam tried to bring him round by tapping him lightly on the cheek, his own blood staining his brother's skin scarlet only succeeded in making his face take on an even more deathly pallor.
He wasn't breathing.
OK, drastic measures.
Sam pinched Dean's nose and took a firm hold on his chin, forcing his mouth open and his head back. He knew he'd get his ass kicked for doing this, but right now, mouth to mouth seemed Dean's only option for survival.
It was at this point that Dean coughed and sucked in a violent gulp of air, managing to spit out the words, "Don't you dare!" before another coughing fit took hold of him, his lungs expelling the water they'd so recently taken in while fighting to take in more oxygen.
Sam laughed, despite the desperate circumstances: he should have known the threat of mouth to mouth would have yanked Dean back to the land of the living.
When the coughing and spluttering had subsided, Dean laid his head back against the damp wood of the pew, considering his brother carefully. "You look like crap," he said, honestly.
Sam grinned, recognising Dean-speak for 'thank you'. "Thanks," he said, pushing dripping hair out of his eyes with bloodied fingers. "So do you," he added, although relieved to see the colour returning to Dean's face.
Dean's expression changed to one of concern mixed with guilt when he caught sight of the state of Sam's hands. Catching hold of his brother's wrist to inspect the injuries more closely, he opened his mouth as if to apologise, but Sam pulled away before he could say anything.
"Don't worry about it," he said, with an embarrassed grin. "You'd have done the same for me."
Dean knew that was true, but it didn't make him feel any less guilty for causing his kid brother's injuries. "Never saw that goddamn wire until it was too late," he explained sheepishly. "Couldn't get free of the stuff once it got hold of me." He glanced down at his own hands, which were also covered in cuts, before sitting up to inspect the injury to his ankle. Peeling back the hem of his torn jeans, he winced as he inspected the tears in his skin.
"Lemme see," Sam insisted, but Dean pushed him away.
"No time," he said, remembering the urgency of their situation. "We need to get the good Bishop out of here before Granny Winchester does something Stillwater won't live to regret." He removed the cloth-enshrouded object from the waistband of his jeans, carefully unwrapping it to reveal a yellowed human bone. "St Swithun, I presume," he said, mentally sighing in relief that they'd actually managed to find the thing, before re-wrapping it and making a move to stand up. He winced again at the pressure on his torn up ankle, but grimaced away the pain determinedly.
Sam got to his feet. "So where do we take it?" he asked, glancing about himself. "If it wasn't for the fact that this churchyard is under three feet of water, I'd have said bury it right here…"
Dean nodded. "Yeah, so would I," he agreed, before flashing a grin. "But I got another idea."
"That should do it," Dean said, shovelling the last mound of dirt over St Swithun's restless bone before tossing the shovel aside with sore hands.
"I hope this works," Sam said, glancing at his watch before looking out across the valley. It was three minutes to midnight, and, looking down, Sam could see that the river had completely burst its banks, flooding the entire area as far as the outskirts of Stillwater itself.
As he stood there on the clifftop, so similar to the one still vivid in his memory from that freaky nightmare, Dean offered a silent prayer that this resting place would be in keeping with the Bishop's – and his wacko cheerleader's – last wishes. If not, Stillwater was history.
He looked over to the reservoir nervously. As far as he could work out, it hadn't yet flooded, and from this vantage point, the place where, for Dean at least, this had all started, Stillwater still appeared to be largely in one piece, and even Churchill Bridge stood its ground defiantly.
"Dean…" Sam said suddenly, looking up at the sky just as from somewhere in the distance they heard a clock striking midnight.
Dean followed Sam's gaze.
The rain had stopped.
Pausing for a second to make sure he hadn't imagined it, Dean gave a little whoop of victory. "Yes!" he cried. "God bless old Granny Winchester!"
Sam grinned, shaking his head in relief before pulling out his cellphone and dialling. "Alex?" he said, as a voice at the other end of the line offered a shaky 'hello?' "You OK?"
Dean could hear Alex's excited voice from where he stood a foot distant, and Sam had to pull the phone slightly away from his ear to avoid permanent deafness.
"So the reservoir's not going to flood?" Sam clarified in response to Alex's babble. He looked over at Dean and grinned broadly. "That's good news," he said. Then he frowned. "And Nathan and your Mom?" he asked. "That's even better. That's OK, happy to help." He looked up at Dean, an awkward expression on his face, and Dean could tell he was about to do the unthinkable. "No, it's kind of what we do…" he said slowly. "Yeah, um, she's kind of our – our distant relative. Yeah, she is pretty freaky…"
Dean mouthed the word 'liar' and Sam grimaced at him.
"OK Alex, I'm glad you're alright," Sam said, clearly wanting to change the subject. "You take care, OK? Bye." He disconnected the call, before correcting his brother. "I did not lie," he said. "It was a fib, that's all…"
Dean grinned, "OK, man. Fib. Lie. Different strokes…"
Sam sat down heavily on the soaked grass, running a mangled hand through his wet hair and letting out a very deep breath. "Man, that was close," he muttered, quietly.
Dean nodded, dropping down next to him. "Yeah, it was," he agreed.
Sam spared him a sideways glance, hesitating before asking the question that had been nagging at the back of his mind. "So why you?" he said at length. "How come of all the guys who had that dream it was you who understood that the old gal didn't want you to drown yourself?" He raised an eyebrow, as Dean just looked at him evenly. "Did God really show you the way?"
Dean smiled an enigmatic little smile. "No," he replied softly. "You did."
Sam frowned, not following. "Huh?" he said. "How so?"
Dean shrugged. "Those other guys," he started to explain, and Sam could tell he'd been thinking about this for some time. "They were alone in their dream, nothing between them and the water, nothing to convince them that there was any other way but down – deep down." He gave Sam a significant look. "But I had you."
Sam looked slightly taken aback by Dean's unusual candour. "In your dream?" he asked, uncertainly.
Dean nodded. "In my dream. In reality. Sam, I would never do anything to hurt you. You know that, right?"
Sam nodded. Of course he knew that.
"Except for that one time at the asylum," Dean corrected, sheepishly. "But you were so asking for that…"
Sam nodded sincerely. "Yeah, I was," he agreed.
"So when I dreamt I pushed you off a cliff," Dean continued. "I knew that couldn't be the right way to go. I knew that couldn't be what the old lady wanted me to do. When the dream took me in the waking world – when we were on the bridge – it was you that stopped me throwing myself in, because before I could give myself to the water, like the dream seemed to be telling me I had to, I'd have had to have done the same to you, and no way could I ever have done that."
Sam smiled lopsidedly. "You sure? For a minute there…"
Dean nodded. "I'm sure," he said, conviction in his voice. Then, "Sam, why do you think Grandma gave me that dream in the first place?"
Sam frowned, thinking. "You're the eldest son," he suggested. "And there's an outside chance our ancestors came from the same place as she did…"
Dean shook his head. "No," he said. "That's not it. Sam, she didn't give me the dream. She gave us the dream. Whether you were conscious of it or not, you were right there with me, telling me there had to be another way, telling me not to throw myself – or you – into the water."
Sam's forehead creased. "So what are you saying?" he asked, still not sure he quite understood.
Dean met his gaze evenly. "You weren't in the dream she gave me, Sam," he said. "You put yourself in my dream. Consciously, subconsciously – I don't know how your freaky psychic mojo works, man, but it was that that showed me what to do. It was you. You made me understand. Just like the old lady knew you would."
"Huh," Sam didn't know what to say, turning his gaze back out over the valley thoughtfully as he and Dean were momentarily lost in their own thoughts. Then, "Dean…" he began, but his brother cut him off.
"You know how I feel about that chick flick stuff, Sammy," Dean said. "Now let's get the hell out of here before sitting on this wet grass gives us haemorrhoids."
Of course, I'm still unsure about the wisdom of ending on the word 'haemorrhoids' but there you go... Seemed like the Dean thing to say! Hope you enjoyed! Hope it made sense! Hope I've not (unintentionally!) ripped anyone off!
Thanks for reading!