The Happiest Place on Earth
Disclaimer: They aren't mine, which is a pity really. I was going to haul them about and take them on a road trip to visit all of you.
Beta'd: By the irreplaceable Wysawyg. She made it so much better than it might otherwise have been.
Timeline: Season three between The Kids Are Alright and Bad Day at Black Rock. Minor spoilers, but probably nothing more than you could have figured out from watching AHBL and AHBL2.
"I can't believe you talked me into this," Dean complained. He squinted against the morning sun and took off his long-sleeved shirt, leaving only his green Henley.
"I didn't talk you into anything, Dean," Sam replied, pushing sweaty bangs off his forehead. "I knew it would be impossible for you to resist a pirate ghost." Sam smiled wide, dimples appearing.
Dean returned his brother's smile and clapped him on the back. "Come on, it's pirates! Who could? I just didn't realize pirates included a large side-serving of cotton candy family fluff." He shuddered and made a noise of disgust. Sam puffed a laugh in return, before his eyes narrowed in suspicion. Sam was on to him. He didn't know how Sam knew about his feelings after spending time with Lisa and Ben, but he did.
The sounds of children's laughter, far off screaming and merry music filled the air in an odd combination of childish delight and terror. The buzz of people's voices blended together as a tempo for the atmosphere. However, the hardest part of the whole experience for Dean was the knowledge that while he may never have seriously considered starting a family in the past, it was no longer even a possibility.
Several months from now, he'd be gone and he couldn't do that to a child. He couldn't leave him alone and unprotected in a world he knew was filled with danger. He gave Sam a sidelong glance and took note of the concerned look on his little brother's face until he caught Dean looking at him and the look vanished. A leaden pit settled in Dean's stomach and he pushed aside all doubts about the wisdom of his decision. A family wasn't part of where his life was headed. He just couldn't do that to another kid.
"You know, I always wanted to come here when we were kids," Sam stated wistfully. He chuckled, his hazel eyes sparkling at his inner musings. "Can you imagine Dad here? I think he would have gone ballistic the first time you tried to exorcise Tinkerbell."
"She was actually pretty hot for a three inch tall pixie girl," Dean said, ignoring Sam's huff in response. He took his brother's silent acceptance of a change of topic for the gift that it was.
Sam had been very accommodating the last few weeks, but Dean had no doubt that Sam would break out of his self-imposed restraint and start forcing him to talk about the deal sooner rather than later. When he did, Dean would no longer be able to ignore the inevitable. So, for the moment, he was willing to pretend everything was fine if it would forestall the conversation he dreaded having with his little brother.
He trudged beside Sam past a lemonade stand and suddenly the frozen, slushy drink sounded like a little slice of heaven. He stopped and sifted through his wallet, counting money. Five bucks for a friggin' eight ounce drink? And here he thought they made their money on the cost of admission. "Got any change, Sam?"
Sam's smile was enigmatic as he reached around to grab his wallet. "Two please," Sam instructed the sun-kissed blonde manning the stand. Dean smirked when Sam notched up his smile to double dimples, dipping his eyes to her nametag than meeting her gaze. "Just how hot is it supposed to get today, Melissa?"
"Ugh, I know, the heat is unbearable," Melissa replied, leaning closer to Sam and placing a perfectly manicured hand over his. "I can't believe it is still so hot. I think the report this morning said a high of one hundred and two degrees."
Dean shook his head at the slight blush climbing up Sam's neck. He honestly did not seem to have a clue how his smile and puppy dog eyes affected women. It was such a waste of natural talent that he really should clue his brother in. However, that wasn't his style. "That's still not as hot as you," Dean interjected, leaning on the counter.
Melissa's face turned a strawberry blush color and she looked from one brother to the other, her smile widening. "You know, if I wasn't stuck working this booth until three, I'd show you around. Take you behind the scenes."
"Well, Sammy here has a date with some time-share suits," Dean replied, jerking his thumb in Sam's direction. "But I'd be happy to swing by at three and take you up on your offer."
"Wonderful!" Melissa gushed. She turned to Sam and offered him a small, apologetic smile.
Dean steadfastly ignored Sam's glare and turned his back slightly to his brother. "My name's, Dean, by the way."
"I'm Melissa." She laughed and glanced down at her nametag before looking back up at Dean. "Though I guess you figured that one out already." She handed Dean his frozen lemonade and turned to fix Sam's.
Sam muttered something under his breath and Dean looked over his shoulder at him. "Got something to say, Sammy?"
"Nothing I can repeat in public," Sam growled. His expression softened when Melissa handed him his drink. "Thanks." He smiled at her before slapping Dean on the shoulder. "Let's go."
Dean ignored him and smiled at Melissa upping his charm to full wattage. "I'll be back at three."
"I'm looking forward to it," Melissa replied. "Oops, gotta go. There's a line forming behind you."
"Catch you later." Dean lifted his hand to clap Sam on the back, but changed his mind when he saw the faint line of sweat forming. "Come on, Sam, let's hit it."
Sam didn't reply, but fell into line beside his brother. They hadn't walked more than fifteen paces before a teenage girl, busily texting on her phone, slammed into Sam. He juggled his lemonade, nearly losing his grip on the expensive, glorified slushy drink. The girl did not even look up from her phone to apologize before she quickly disappeared into the sea of people. Dean chuckled and Sam snapped, "I don't know which is worse, the equatorial heat or the crowds."
Dean stepped to the side to avoid a harried father surrounded by a gaggle of young girls. "When did you become so anti-social, Sammy?"
"It may have escaped your notice while you were flirting with the lemonade stand lady, but we're here to do a job." Sam brushed wet bangs off his forehead. His previously grinning face now curled in a pout.
Dean offered his brother a lop-sided smirk by way of response. He had it figured it out. Sam always had been a cranky kid when he was too hot. He remembered one time when Sam was four and they had been driving through New Mexico in August. The tears, the pouting, the shouting – and that had just been Dad. Sammy had been a nearly unbearable brat. "You know, if you weren't dressed in thirty layers of cotton you'd probably be a little less cranky."
Sam scrunched his face in confusion. "What are you talking about, Dean?" He veered left around the Louisiana style restaurant and down towards the line for the ride. Dean shook his head, but didn't reply. He stepped around his little brother and over the dividers while Sam filed through the maze of rope. "Seriously, Dean, what are you talking about?"
A chuckle was the only response as Dean moved ahead of Sam at the corner. "You snooze, you lose, little brother," he laughed at Sam's disapproving look.
"Sir, the safest route to the ride is through the designated entrance," a petite, brunette with a pony-tail suggested, gesturing back the way Sam had entered.
Dean rolled his eyes at Sam's smug look and smiled at the young employee. "Sweetheart, safe ain't exactly my style."
The brunette smiled and gestured them inside. "Enjoy the ride, gentlemen," she said, perkily. "Don't be afraid of the swashbucklers."
"Oh, don't worry about us," Dean replied with a grin. He stood smiling at the attendant until a strong jerk on his collar forced him to follow his brother into the loading area. "Take it easy, Sammy. We have time to enjoy this a little bit. It's not like we get to kick back in the land of the normals very often. This may be one of my last chances to mingle."
Sam winced nearly imperceptibly, but Dean caught it and mentally kicked himself. He had managed to pull Sam away from his thoughts about the deal less than fifteen minutes ago and here he was bringing it up again. What was wrong with him? "What's with the sudden aversion to fun? Why are we here, if you don't want to be?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "I do want to be here, Dean, it's just…never mind."
Dean noticed the look of concern Sam carried in his eyes during unprotected moments reappear than just as quickly disappear behind hazel shutters. Sam smiled when the door to the final loading area opened and a refreshing underground breeze shot past them. Dean smirked and shook his head. Maybe the cool air would restore his little brother to his normal self. His smile slowly faded. It had been awhile since he had seen Sam as his normal self and he wanted to know Sam would be okay, before it was too late.
Fingers snapping in his line of vision forced Dean's focus to the forefront. "Earth to Dean," his little brother chirped. It seemed Dean hadn't lost his ability to read all things Sammy. A hot Sam was a cranky Sam. The cool air had revived his little brother almost instantaneously. Dean slapped Sam's hand away.
"Shaddup," Dean said good-naturedly. He shot past Sam along the wooden boardwalk and to the line of people waiting to get on the boats. Sam caught up to him in an instant, his longer legs bridging the distance in record time.
"The spirit has been spotted in the pirate village and in the Louisiana swamp," Sam informed him in a hushed voice. "Reports from witnesses say he appears in pirate garb and pulls passengers from the boats. Officials at the park say the passengers are standing or riding unsafely and fall from the boat."
"Sounds like the official company line meant to head off lawsuits to me," Dean quipped. He spotted a harried mother of two attempting to coral two young boys into line. He put up a hand to stop the older of the two boys from ducking past him. "Hey, listen to your mom, kiddo, and get into line. You're lucky she even brought you here."
His command stopped the young child cold and he stared up at Dean with round eyes before turning around and running back to his mother. She shot Dean a grateful look and his little brother chortled behind him.
"That tone always worked on me too," Sam remarked. "That time I wanted to stay in Indiana to go to the lake party after Dad took care of the poltergeist? You said, 'Sammy, you're lucky you got to finish out the school year. Now pack your crap and get ready to leave.'" Sam paused and chuckled softly. "I was pissed you took Dad's side, but I didn't argue. I packed my stuff and waited for you in the Impala."
"I wish I had figured that out," Dean muttered. "Would have saved me a lot of trouble later on."
"Why do you think I was careful not to let on?" Sam replied. The line moved ahead as another group of tourists boarded the ride. They were only ten people back in line now. "So, uh, anyway, apparently people dumping ashes on this ride, 'Haunted Mansion' and 'It's a Small World' are nothing new. They've kept it pretty quiet until now, but the rash of accidents has drawn people here in even larger numbers than the Johnny Depp face-lift the ride got two years ago."
"Nothing draws a crowd faster than danger," Dean replied tersely. "If these people understood they were risking their lives, their family's lives…" he trailed off when he realized his angry rant was drawing unwanted attention and he lowered his voice. "I thought you said someone died – a Thomas somebody?"
"Cobb," Sam supplied. "He disappeared off the ride and his body was found three days later in one of the water recycling ducts by an employee. That was last Thursday." Sam nodded at the employee who gestured them into a waiting boat and stepped on board. He walked across to the far side and sat down. "Officials at the park are keeping it very quiet."
"My seat's wet," Dean grumbled. "Switch."
"What?" Sam looked up at his brother incredulously. "No."
"Come on," Dean insisted, waving his arm to gesture his brother to move over. "Switch."
"No. I'm not ten, Dean," Sam said. "That's not going to work anymore."
Dean nodded and turned to the woman with the two boys instead. "Would you and your boys like to sit between Sam and me? We can help you keep them in their seats."
"Really?" The woman asked, her brown eyes registering relief. "Are you sure it won't be a problem?"
"No problem," Dean reassured her, throwing Sam a satisfied smirk before stepping to the side to allow one of the boys to sit down next to his brother. "My name's Dean."
"Saundra," the dark, curly-haired woman replied. She sighed and sat down next to her boys. "I appreciate your help. My husband is sick at the hotel today. I think he was out in the sun too long yesterday."
"Sam just gets cranky," Dean stage-whispered. He rested a hand on his brother's shoulder. Saundra laughed and turned to buckle in her sons.
"Dean, what are you doing?" Sam hissed.
"Talking to Saundra," Dean replied. He leaned closer to his brother and his lips turned in a lop-sided grin. "You do recognize what talking to a woman looks like?"
"A married woman," Sam lectured. "And all so you didn't have to sit in a wet seat?"
"I'm hurt," Dean said. "It's so we can both be in an outside seat and keep an eye on each side."
Sam pursed his lips and tilted his head marginally. "That's actually a good idea."
"You don't need to sound so surprised," Dean stated. "I'm the oldest – all my ideas are good." The comment earned him an eye roll from his little brother.
"Sir, if you would please sit down, we can start the ride," a young, clean-shaven man with an unnaturally wide smile said, pointing to Dean's still empty seat.
"Sure, no problem," Dean said. He squeezed past the boys and sat down next to Saundra. He tapped a hand on the side railing of the boat and started humming under his breath.
One of the boys leaned over his mother and tapped Dean on the leg. "Sing it," he demanded.
"What's that kiddo?" Dean asked, his face screwing up in confusion.
Saundra laughed. "Justin wants you to sing the words."
Dean leaned forward and looked around Saundra at Justin. "I will, if you will."
The boys bounced in their seats and clapped their hands. The boat started moving and Dean joined the boys who were already singing enthusiastically and slightly off-key. "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me."
Sam shook his head, made eye contact with Saundra and shrugged.
The boat quietly slipped through the doors into the shadowy attraction – the only noise the singing boys in the third boat. Mechanical frogs croaked and crickets chirped as the boat drifted through the Louisiana bayou. The boats slowed slightly at the entrance to dark, underground ride. A loud, recorded voice boomed, "It be too late to alter course, mateys, and there be plundering pirates lurking in every cove. Dead men tell no tales."
The boat dipped sharply, splashing water on many of the passengers. A small hand fisted in Sam's shirt and he wrapped an arm around the boy sitting next to him. The boats continued past a treasure cave before encountering the pirate ships.
An ethereal specter hovered on the deck of the pirate ship, listening as the passengers sailed by. His ghostly gray lips curled in an unnatural smile when his hollow eyes fell on a strong, young man in one of the boats. He would be perfect.
Sam chuckled, amused by his brother's ability to let go of the hunter personae and relate to kids so easily. His chuckle died away as it struck him that he would never really get to see Dean like this with his own family. As the father he could have been, the strong, caring man he should have been able to share with a family.
If he really thought about it, this was the Dean who had so often carried more than his fair share of the family burden growing up, the Dean who was his big brother. This was the brother who had kept the monsters away when their dad was gone. The brother who taught him how to hotwire a car, who defended him against school yard bullies and who forged their father's signature on field trip permission slips. Later, he was the brother whom he had caught watching him sleep after Jessica died and the brother who had literally given his life for him.
Sam swallowed convulsively. He couldn't imagine his life without his brother in it and he didn't want to. He needed to save his brother, no matter what it took. He just wanted Dean to live. Was that really so much to ask for? He tensed his jaw and gritted his teeth in determination. He would find a way to get Dean out of that deal if it killed him.
He blinked back his feelings and smiled wistfully as his brother entered the third round of singing. He found his arms full of startled seven-year-old when the first pirate cannons fired with a resounding boom. "Hey, hey, it'll be okay," Sam reassured him. "It's just sound effects, there aren't any cannons."
"Really?" the boys asked, looking up at Sam with tear-filled brown eyes. "Justin said the pirates would get us and lock us in the brig of the ghost ship."
"Justin was wrong," Sam said, wrapping an arm around the small boy's back. "You're safe."
"Thanks," Saundra said, offering Sam a small smile. "Jacob was a little afraid of the Pirate movies and Justin likes to tease him about it."
"That's big brothers for you," Sam stated. He caught sight of movement over the top of Saundra's head. "Dean, Dean what are you doing? Sit down."
He couldn't make out what Dean was muttering, but he didn't sit down. He continued to stand and gaze out through the machine generated fog. Sam leaned closer to his brother, squishing Jacob and Justin between him and their mother. He could almost make out what Dean was saying.
"Dean, come on man, sit down," Sam commanded. Dean turned around to face him and Sam gasped. Dean's expression was vacant; his eyes empty of all emotion.
Sam felt a tug on his sleeve and looked down on Jacob's fear-stricken face. "Are the pirates going to get Dean?"
"No," Sam reassured him hurriedly, before turning his attention back to Dean.
"They need me," Dean intoned. He started to turn back towards the water and Sam leapt to his feet and snagged Dean's arm.
"Sit. Down. Dean." Sam scanned his brother's face looking for a sign that his brother heard him, but Dean continued to stare at him with hollow eyes.
"They need me," he repeated.
Sam could hear the boys crying, but he couldn't spare any of his attention right now. Saundra would have to handle them on her own. "Dean, no," Sam insisted, pulling harder on Dean's arm trying to get him to respond. His eyes frantically scanned the darkness, but he didn't even see a glimpse of anything unusual. "Sit down."
Dean slowly shook his head no. Sam felt another tug on his arm and looked back over his shoulder, but no one was there this time. He could feel the icy grip on his wrist, but he couldn't see anyone and he knew they were dealing with an angry spirit. He tried to jerk his arm free, but the spirit held fast.
The spirit tugged insistently on his wrist, pulling him away from Dean. Sam renewed his grip on Dean's arm and he tried to push Dean to sit down with one arm, while simultaneously trying to free his other arm from the spirit.
"The pirate is getting Dean!" Justin cried. Sam could hear the fear in his voice, but right now his focus was on his brother.
Dean was ripped from his grasp at the same time as he was pulled forcefully to the opposite side of the boat. His ribs hitting the rail was the only thing that stopped him from going overboard, but the pull did not ease and he felt a pop in his shoulder seconds before the pain registered. "Aaaggghhh," he groaned.
He could no longer fight back against the force pulling him towards the water. The dislocated shoulder left no strength in his arm and he bit back a curse. A loud splash on the other side of the boat caused panic to rise in his chest and he twisted until he could see Dean – or where Dean should be. His brother was no longer on the boat. "Dean!" he shouted. "Dean!"
The pull on his arm disappeared as quickly as it had started sending Sam across the boat, his tall body wedged into the tiny foot space at the bottom of the boat. His head connected with the step on the other side and Sam fought against a wave of dizziness, his vision graying. His last conscious thought was that he had failed to keep his brother safe. He only had two jobs for the next three hundred and some odd days and he had failed.
AN: This fic was inspired by a real news article I read. A woman was caught dumping ashes on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and it is apparently not a new occurrence. The Haunted Mansion has always been a popular spot for patrons of the park to secretly scatter ashes, but recently the POTC ride has gained popularity. It was simply too much to resist: The Winchester brothers – at Disneyland. BG.