A/N: (from Aussiemel) I just wanted to say a couple of things about this chapter, the first is that it is quite dark, not so much with the lightheartedness, so brace yourself for that. And the second is that it's ...a little rough. I haven't had a chance to tweak it properly and I won't have a chance to do so for at least four weeks, so I thought I would post it as is, hope it comes across okay.


Chapter 9

Dean abandoned the gentle prying of the coffin lid and started striking it with the crowbar, smashing his way through. It was more his style anyway. His battered shoulder protested at the movement, the sharp up and down sent a flare of pain from the injury in all directions, and the jarring as he hit caused an unpleasant crescendo which ticked in his jaw, but he didn't dwell on it. Bigger things were happening.

The stirring wind, which clearly had something to do with whatever was inside the coffin, had increased in intensity and was becoming a problem. Particles of sand and dust whipped around Dean's face, barging past his eyelashes, stinging and slashing his eyes, making it hard to complete the task. He blinked furiously and swiped roughly between blows to try and keep his vision clear but tears streamed down his cheeks and he couldn't eliminate the blur. So he slammed the eyelids shut. He couldn't see anyway, he figured he might as well save himself the sight damage.

He gripped tightly to the wooden edge of the coffin, finishing the job by touch. He ran a hand around the rim feeling for the places where he hadn't broken through.

"Are you done yet?" Sam called.

Dean opened his eyes narrowly, trying to visually locate his brother because through the howl of the wind he couldn't quite pick where he was. But very quickly he ducked his head back to his chest and abandoned the effort. Eyes opened or closed he wasn't going to be able to see Sam.

"Nearly," Dean returned.

Ignoring the splinters gathering in his fingers and the rubble which the gale crashed into him and deflected away, Dean continued to work his hands methodically around the edge of the box, pulling, prying, smashing until the interior was completely exposed.

He thrust his hand into the box feeling for the bones at the bottom, concerned that the wind might have tossed them around the yard, which would be disastrous, he'd have to crawl around the ground and collect them in order to finish the job. But his fingers skimmed the knobbled skeleton and he was relieved that they appeared to be intact, that the sides of the coffin were acting as a buffer to the air.

He heard a noise that sounded like something heavy smashing against the side of the building behind him and his first thought was that it could be Sam.

"Are you okay?" he called, needing to hear his brother's voice.

"I can't see a thing," Sam replied, and Dean shook his head at the statement of the patently obvious, grinning in both amusement and relief. "Tell me when I should start pouring."

"Start pouring," Dean yelled and pulled his hand out of the coffin, adding silently good luck with that, unsure how his brother could pour in the maelstrom, the salt was likely to end up anywhere.

He reached around to retrieve the shotgun tucked at his back, engaging in a tug of war with the wind which fought hard to wrench it from his grip. But nothing was surer in Dean's hand than a gun. He managed to bring the weapon around to his chest and let off a shot, up into the air, blind and wild, not sure where he should be aiming but wanting to be on the offensive, determined to put up a fight. There was a momentary remission in the wind, a sudden stillness like Dean was standing in the eye of a hurricane, and he used those few seconds to clamber to his feet and squint open his eyes to gauge what was going on around him.

But before he had time to see much of anything, the gale was upon him again, without any gentle lead in, and immediately Dean realized his error in being upright. He was offering a greater surface area upon which to act.

The force thrusting against his body made him stumble a few steps backward. He needed to make himself smaller, less of a target and he fought against the opposing pressure to bend at the waist, get himself into a crouch. But the wind held him firmly upright. And it felt deliberate. The wind didn't seem to be swirling randomly anymore, it was becoming more of an exercise in power, more directed and controlled, holding him in place.

Dean imagined this was akin to skydiving, having air rush hard and fast at his body, pushing his arms out wide to the side. But without the plummeting, and he appreciated that difference. His right shoulder burned at being forced to flex too far, he winced and groaned as he tried to bring that arm close to his chest, not just to alleviate the ache but to bring his gun to a manageable position. The weapon rattled in his hand so violently, twisted in his fingers so painfully, that if he could have let go he probably would have. But even that was beyond him. He was entirely helpless. Anger spiked within him, he was furious at his inability being dwelled upon by the spirit which kept him in that position for long, pointed minutes. And it was beginning to smart, the concentrated gale force. It was crushing his chest, making it hard to breathe.

There was a low, booming laugh.

"Well, well, well, look what we have here, young 'uns playing at cowboys and injuns. Trust me, you ain't got NO idea what I'm capable of…" a deep voice mocked.

Jesus Christ, Dean thought. What is this thing?

This wasn't the usual run of the mill spirit, it seemed almost demonic in its ability. Being able to harness a force of nature? A soul so black that it exhibited power like it was derived from hell? That was new. That was formidable. But it was still vulnerable to salt, the round he'd fired off proved that. Although even that reaction was uncommon, the salt had hampered the spirit rather than dissipated it. And that did not bode well.

A surging gust suddenly slammed into him, like a strong hand to the chest, and he was thrust backward toward the old building, smashing into the timbered wall with a crack that might have been panels splitting or bones breaking, he didn't have a chance to figure out which because his head struck hard against the wood, giving him a shock of pain that turned everything black as he crumpled to the ground.

*******

Sam crouched low against the coffin, making himself as small a target as possible against the gale which eddied around him, waxing and waning, one moment a moderate breeze and the next, strong enough that he had to grip the side of the coffin to remain in place.

He'd lost track of Dean. After the instruction to start pouring, his brother had been silent and that was worrying. Dean was the checking up type, the progress report type, bouncing out a question just to hear a response, ensuring everything was okay.

But Sam cast aside his concern for the moment and concentrated on the job. Pouring salt into the coffin was proving to be a bitch. He'd tried the normal tipping out method and the salt had scattered to all corners of the yard. Even angled directly over the coffin, the stream of salt had been picked up and flung away from the bones.

He decided that he needed to cut down on the wind resistance. He leaned into the box, legs on the outer, body doubled over until his top half was almost laying inside. He could feel Bonner's bones, sharp and hard underneath him and shuddered involuntarily at the close proximity.

While his legs continued to be buffeted by the gale, pelted by flying debris, his head and shoulders now enjoyed an abatement from the turbulence, the sides of the coffin provided a windbreak and he took a moment to run a hand through his hair, get the strands out of his face and tucked behind his ears, then rub at his eyes to remove the grit and sand.

He positioned the canister of salt close to his stomach, directly underneath him and started pouring out a thick solid stream. He side stepped on his knees from one end of the box to the other and although some of the salt was displaced by random probing gusts, he was satisfied that enough of the crystals remained in place to be effective.

He straightened from the coffin and clicked his tongue in annoyance as his too long hair went wild in the breeze, whipping around his face.

"Salt's done," Sam cried, hoping his brother could hear. "I'm gonna pour the gas now."

Sam strained his ears for a response and tried not to get despondent when he heard nothing. He ground the salt canister into the soil and moved on hands and knees around the coffin, eyes squinting in the dark to locate the drum of accelerant.

His progress was halted by a sharp pain in his thigh, something blown around by the wind embedding in the skin. He yelped in pain and dropped a hand to the spot to find a wedge of corrugated metal protruding from his jeans. He pulled at it instinctively, without any consideration for what might be the correct way to deal with the injury and then yelped again as the metal tore it's way out.

He invoked some choice epithets as he pressed a hand hard against the wound and rocked back on his haunches so that he could inspect it more closely. It took a few beats for him to notice that the wind had died down, that the air was only stirring gently around him, like a natural night time breeze.

Sam immediately reached for the gun nestled against his spine. He was way too cynical to think that things settling down was good, it had to be a prelude to something else, something worse.

The three guardian spirits hovered nearby, looking at him anxiously. He thought they were silently sharing his concern about the calm until he realized they were looking past him, looking at what lay behind. With a feeling of real dread Sam turned toward the coffin and drew in a breath at the shadowy figure which hung in the air, the form vaguely human but exaggerated, oversized, reminding him bizarrely of the genie from Aladdin.

Sam pinched at the trigger and fired off a round. The cartridge blew a hole in the figure but didn't dissipate the spirit like it should, like it usually would, and the hole closed over quickly.

"What the...?" Sam muttered. And suddenly he had a desire for more research, a need to know what it was they were facing. His head swiveled desperately trying to locate his brother, wanting to discuss the aberrations in this spirit and how they were going to get around them. Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement behind him, near the building, Dean slowly climbing to his feet, wobbling, clinging to the wall for support.

"My turn to play, you son of a bitch," a deep voice growled, and Sam was smacked with a huge gust of air, like the wash from a jet engine, that picked him up and threw him across the yard.

-------------

"We've got to do something," Ada cried breathlessly.

Panic, fear, disbelief all crowded in on her, making her feel dizzy and sick. This was so much worse than she had anticipated. It was horrifying. They were far enough from the action to catch only the cusp of the unnatural wind, it whipped around their hair and clothing with impotent fury, too far removed from the source to be more than an annoyance. But she could hear the angry howl, could see the boys struggling to hold their positions, being pummeled by debris. When Dean and then Sam flew through the air, she gasped in fright and her stomach took a sudden, sickening dive as the thought went through her head we're going to watch these boys get killed.

She couldn't let that happen.

Dean had landed close against the building, outside her view, and Sam was somewhere to the right impossible to see in the darkness. She had an urgent desire to reach them and make sure they were okay. This was why she was here, this was why she had stayed, because someone had to look out for those boys.

She loosened her grasp on Maud's fingers trying to extract her hand so that she could make her way forward, but her friend tightened her grip in response.

"What are you doing?" Maud asked.

"We've got to do something," Ada urgently exclaimed. "We've got to help those boys."

Maud turned sharply toward her, eyes wide. "Just what do you think we can do?"

"I don't know," Ada responded with furious helplessness. "But I can't stand here and watch."

She took a step forward, determined to drag her friend with her if that's what it took, but her progress was halted by Dave's iron grip on her arm. He had rejoined the women when the boys came outside, the women had taken some steps forward and he had taken some steps back and they had met in the middle, a couple of feet up the siding from the back yard.

"You're not going anywhere," Dave stated, surprising Ada with how angry he was at the suggestion.

"We should call the police," Maud suggested. "This is too much for us, we should call the police and let them handle it."

Ada shook her head vigorously. "No! The police can't help, and it will just get those boys in trouble."

"I'd rather they were in trouble than dead," Maud cried.

"They're wanted men, Maud," Ada barked, pulling against the dual grasps. "If we call the cops then those kids will spend a lifetime in jail and I won't be a party to that."

"Wanted?" Maud echoed uncertainly. "What do you mean wanted? What did they do?"

"Later Maud! Jesus Christ it's not important right now," Ada said desperately and became more insistent in attempting to break the holds, twisting in the grips to try and shrug them off. "Let me go!"

Dave stepped forward and brought his arm around the Brit in a bear hug, physically restraining her from joining the fray and Ada thrashed like a wildcat in the hold.

"Settle down," he commanded sharply. "Two lives on the line is enough."

Ada quieted in his arms, realizing the futility of struggling against someone stronger, but her body trembled as she took in great racking breaths, very close to hyperventilating in her distress.

Dave returned his attention to the yard and muttered regretfully, "God, I wish I'd never agreed to this. I think I was better off before."

-------------

"You alright?" Sam asked worriedly.

Dean gave his brother a terse nod. He was leaning against the building with his hands splayed to the side pressing hard against the wall to remain upright so he wasn't entirely alright, he was in fact as dizzy as hell, but he interpreted the question to mean can you continue? and the answer to that was an unequivocal yes.

"What happened to your leg?" Dean asked. He hadn't missed Sam's limping gait as he skirted around the edge of the yard toward him.

Sam waved his hand dismissively. "Copped some shrapnel. It's nothing."

And it was true enough, the gash to his leg smarted when there was weight on it but it was a fairly minor wound. He was relieved not to have suffered any further damage being thrown across the yard, it had knocked the air out of him for a moment, probably left a bruise on his back, but nothing more serious. And it had given him an opportunity to scoot around the boundary to join up with his brother.

"Okay, how are we going to do this?" Sam ventured. "This isn't your everyday spirit. Do we need to change our MO? How do we get rid of this thing?"

"It's just a very pissed off spirit Sam, nothing we can't handle. All we need to do is salt and burn the bones, same as usual."

Sam nodded, reassured by his brother's certainty. "I've got the salt laid, so we just need to pour the accelerant and fire it up."

Dean glanced at the site, nervously anticipating Bonner's next attack. He saw that the guardians were shooting at the spirit without the usual noisy report of gunfire, the sound turned off, evidence that the guns were being fired coming from the stance of the male spirits and the little wisps of smoke curling from their barrels.

It didn't seem to be having any effect on Bonner. Apparently phantom guns didn't work in the spirit world either. But it still enraged the evil spirit, his features contorted in seething displeasure and he boomed, "You murderous dogs. You would seek to end me again? I will not have it."

In a flicker of light Bonner stood directly before the guardians and grabbed one of the men by the throat, (Dean tried to work out if it was Tranter or Scheifflin, then gave it up after a few seconds as irrelevant). He squeezed the man's neck with a malicious smile, the choking man kicking and flailing, trying to pry away the hand at his throat, just as he would have done if he were alive.

"I've waited a long time for this you yella belly, now let's see who has the upper hand," Bonner sneered.

The other male was shooting furiously at the spirit, with a point blank range that would have been deadly in real life but had absolutely no effect in death, no evidence at all that bullets were impacting. Madame Moustache looked on in wide eyed fear as Bonner grinned at the figure jerking in his grasp and suddenly she assumed an expression of grim determination and threw herself at Bonner, tackled him from the side, trying to force his hand away from the pinned man and it resulted in all three of them, Bonner, Moustache and the choking man disappearing, sputtering out like a flame.

After a pause Dean asked hopefully, "Is that it?"

His heart was beating a little fast in response to the brutality of what had just occurred. Even though it wasn't real, wasn't real people, wasn't real pain, it had looked convincingly like they had just watched a guy get choked to death. And Bonner had taken delight in it. Bonner looked like the sort who got a kick out of inflicting pain.

His question was answered when there was a shimmer above the coffin and Bonner reappeared.

"Of course that's not it," Dean muttered. "Why would I think that's it? An easy solution? We don't get no easy stinking solutions." He huffed and went silent while he thought things through. "Okay listen. The salt rounds punch a hole in that monstrosity," he tipped his head toward Bonner. "We can't blow it away but we can create a void in his reach. If we keep punching a hole in it, we mess with his ability to reach us and we can make our way to the coffin."

"Are you sure?" Sam said dubiously, eyeing the black behemoth.

"No I'm not sure," Dean groused. "What are you looking for here, logarithms and calculations? It's an idea." Before Sam could protest further he continued, "I'll create the path and you stay close behind. When we get to the coffin, you pour and I'll cover."

But but but….

Sam could think of a hundred different ways to object to that plan. There were a myriad of unspoken variables and possibilities that could foil its success. But Dean was good at this stuff, coming up with plans on the fly, he had incredible instincts when it came to the supernatural, and if they were going to follow some spur of the moment plan they were always better off following a plan devised by Dean.

Dean snapped open his shotgun and removed, then replaced the spent cartridge. Sam followed suit and did the same while his mind whirled furiously through ideas, trying to anticipate what was to come, trying to devise alternatives if this didn't work.

"Stay behind me," Dean ordered as he pushed himself off the wall and took two steps away from the building, toward the coffin.

Bonner had advanced on the last remaining guardian with a murderous look on his face, determined to wreak revenge on those who had cut short his life. He was holding the guardian in a choking grip, in the same way that he held the other, and Dean secretly hoped that he was distracted enough for them to reach to coffin.

"I see you curs," Bonner sang, and laughed low.

Quick as a flash he twisted the guardians head to the side and, while obviously it didn't actually snap his neck, spirits didn't have bones, it did a pretty good approximation, it was as close to murdered as a dead guy was going to get and it caused the guardian to flicker like he was short circuiting and disappear.

Without hesitation Dean let off a shot, and the bullet ripped through the evil spirit. The gentle, light flecked blackness of the night was discernible through a sizeable hole in the middle of the form.

"You ain't NEVER gonna git rid of me," the spirit jeered. "By the time I've finished with you two, there won't be enough left of you to bury."

Dean figured he had about five seconds before the breach closed over. He took some hurried steps forward until he could feel at his lower legs sand pelting his jeans, wind buffeting his calves, the spirit trying to mount an attack but thwarted by the void that Dean had created.

When a burst of wind almost took Dean's legs out from under him he fired off another shot and re-established the hole.

"Reload," he commanded, holding his shotgun behind him as he strode forward another few steps. Sam grabbed the gun from Dean's hand replacing it with his own, emptied the spent cartridges from the chambers and reloaded Dean's gun with fresh bullets from his pockets.

Two more shots and they were by the side of the coffin. Sam thrust the reloaded gun to Dean and shouldered past heading for the drum of kerosene which was nestled against the side of the box. As he crouched down and twisted off the lid he heard another booming report from Dean's gun and thought one bullet left. I need to get this done fast.

He tilted the drum, jerking it up and down to make the liquid pour quickly, but he discovered that the void created by Dean was imperfect, Bonner was unable to attack them directly but he was manipulating the air around them, creating probing gusts, and the liquid being poured splash onto Sam, over his hands and clothes. He was wet with it by the time the bones had been covered.

The boom of the last bullet rang out and Sam scrambled to his brother's side.

"You're going to have to light it up," Sam stated urgently, a hint of apology in his tone. "Or I'll become a human fireball."

Dean gave a tight nod. "Reload," he ordered quietly, pressing the gun, which had already been snapped open, to Sam's chest. Sam saw a glint of doubt in his brother's eyes, an unspoken suspicion that they didn't have time for the reload or the change in roles.

Sam nodded solemnly pushing the box of matches into Dean's hand and tried to ignore the feeling that his brother might be right.

As Sam's fingers nimbly pried out the spent cartridges Dean flicked open the matchbook and tore out a match.

Wind was howling through the yard and the brothers' protective cocoon was gradually decreasing, they could feel the whipping air spreading across their body.

Dean got a match alight but it rapidly sputtered out in the gusty breeze.

"Bonner," Dean muttered under his breath. "You are a troublesome son of a bitch."

As he struck another match his eyes darted to Sam. He saw his brother fumbling to insert the fresh bullet into the gun, his hair whipping wildly around his face hampering his vision. He kept flicking his head trying to make the hair trail behind but because the wind wasn't blowing in one direction he was unable to escape it.

He's getting a goddamned haircut Dean growled internally. The hell with casual and relaxed or whatever style Sam was aiming for with that girlish length, when it started interfering with the job it was time for a good old fashioned buzz.

The match caught and Dean curled his fingers around the flame giving it a chance to assert itself strongly.

The annoyance he felt at his brother quickly turned to concern when from the corner of his eye he saw Sam picked up and thrown with barely a cry. Dean was mildly relieved that Bonner didn't go in for the choking the way he had with the guardians, he seemed to be having more fun playing with the elements in this plane of existence, showing off his power.

Adrenaline pulsed through Dean, because he knew he was next, he was the only target remaining.

Dean lowered the burning match to the other unfired heads and created a small fireball in his hand. No random gust of wind was going to blow that sucker out. Just as he tightened his arm to throw the burning box into the coffin he felt what he knew was coming, a block of air rammed into his body and catapulted him to a far corner of the yard. He just had time to flick his wrist and toss the fireball toward the coffin and watch it drop short only a few inches. With a sinking heart he knew they were going to have to work their way to the coffin all over again.

-------

"He looks like Charlie." Ada's words were hollow, eerily calm, so full of emotion that it sounded like no emotion at all. "That could be Charlie."

"It's not Charlie," Maud said fiercely, squeezing her friend's hand tight and silently cursing Dean's resemblance to Ada's far away son. "It's not Charlie. And those boys will be fine. A few bumps and bruises. They're tough kids."

Ada kept looking straight ahead, as if she hadn't heard. "We should be helping them," she said quietly. "How can we just watch? How will we live with ourselves?"

-------

Sam crawled around the edge of the yard. He hadn't fared quite so well from the latest rough treatment. He'd struck the fence hard and could feel blood trickling down his head into the collar. And he wasn't sure if his right wrist was broken, it throbbed hard and heavy, and he couldn't flex his hand up and down. It had an inherent weakness from being broken earlier in the year anyway so it wouldn't take much to break it again.

He held the limb protectively against his chest as he made slow progress toward where he'd heard rather than seen his brother crash to the ground.

A quick glance toward the coffin told him it wasn't alight. He could see the flaming match book, it burned bright, mocking him so close to the box. And he knew he should do something about that, charge forward and dunk the flames into the casket, take whatever consequences it brought. A burn to his hand? He could live with that. But he just… couldn't right now. He couldn't charge. He wasn't ready for the pain. He needed a few minutes to lick his wounds and pull himself together.

He noticed that all of the guardians were back, standing defiantly before Bonner. It was the first time in his life that he was grateful to see spirits. He hoped they could keep Bonner at bay while he and Dean took a minute to recover.

There was an agonized groan from Dean a few feet in front and it spurred him to move more quickly to his brother's side.

"What's the damage?" Sam said as he reached Dean and found him laying on his back, flat out and strangely stiff, his whole body tensed trying to remain absolutely still. Panting breaths and a lack of witty rejoinder told Sam something serious was going on, sparking a deep concern. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"I think… I've been…mistaken for a vampire," Dean gasped.

Sam frowned at the oblique response. In the dark it was so hard to make out if Dean was bleeding, where and how he was injured.

"A little less cryptic Dracula," Sam replied. "Give me an area where I should be looking."

Dean groaned and his breathing became raspy and labored.

"Whatever you're doing, just stop," Sam demanded, prickling with fear, "and tell me what the problem is."

"You can tell Dave…I found his wooden stake…we're up close and personal."

"Oh shit," Sam whispered, finally understanding what Dean was indirectly telling him. He was impaled on a stake, probably some sort of surveyor's marker that had been protruding from the ground. Sam sat back with his shoulders slumped and gazed in open dismay at his brother. "Shit Dean."

"It's okay," Dean said quickly, aware that Sam was jumping to the worst conclusions, probably thinking he was staked through the heart or something. "I mean it's not okay, but it could be worse. An inch to the right and it would have missed me completely. I could almost rip it out through the side," he grimaced, "but that would hurt like a mother."

"Where is it?"

"On the left, near my waist."

Sam carefully climbed over his brother so that he was on his left side and sure enough, he could see a trail of blood glimmering in the moonlight, forming a little pool in a cleft of sand. Above it, Dean's t-shirt tented oddly, the piercing stake was pushing the material out to the side, the sharp tip barely visible through a small rip.

As gently as he could Sam peeled back the t-shirt and could see more clearly the wood exiting at the extreme left of the stomach, the head of it poking through the skin, dark with blood. The stake wasn't thick, it looked like a sharpened broomstick, and it angled away from vital organs, so close to the body's edge that Sam suspected it was a penetrating flesh wound rather than a life threatening injury.

He stared at it for a moment, mesmerised by how wrong it looked, a spear coming out of his brother, and squirmed at the thought of how uncomfortable it must be.

He couldn't see the entry point, it was somewhere beneath Dean, and he needed to know how much wood was embedded to fully gauge the severity of the injury.

"Brace yourself," Sam warned as he gently eased his fingers underneath Dean's body, wincing at his brother's sharp intake of breath and involuntary groan. He found the stake entering Dean's back about an inch in from the side and running his fingers all around it discovered it had snapped under Dean's weight, but the wood hadn't broken cleanly, a small part of it was bending at the break maintaining a bridge between the piece in the ground and the piece in Dean.

From entry to exit the wound was about three inches long, running just under the skin, a raised furrow showing its path. It could have been worse, a lot worse if something vital had been pierced. Sam relaxed a little, felt a wash of relief that was probably disproportionate to the circumstances because it was still a gruesome injury, but compared to how serious it could have been Dean was incredibly lucky.

Even so, Sam didn't doubt it was painful. And it was going to be even more painful getting the stake out.

With a quick flick of his wrist, Sam twisted the piece in the ground to complete the break, separating the pieces into two.

"Oh Christ Sam," Dean choked, as he drew in a ragged breath and his muscles corded tight before slowly releasing.

"Sorry man. You were attached to the ground."

Dean didn't reply and Sam refused to look at his face, not wanting to know if it had gotten too much for him. He examined the stake, considering the mechanics of getting it out. He knew he had to pull from the top, follow the direction that it went in so the wood didn't splinter inside the wound. If he thought there was a chance they would end up at an emergency room later he might have left the stake where it was and waited for it to be professionally removed, but the likelihood of them seeking medical assistance was low, just too risky when they had so recently escaped custody.

"Take care of Bonner," Dean demanded hoarsely.

Sam glanced over at the evil spirit, saw he was distracted with the guardians and replied, "He can wait."

"Take care of Bonner first," Dean insisted. "This can wait."

Sam figured Dean had forgotten he was liberally doused with accelerant.

He noticed the matchbook Dean had thrown was still alight, the flames now low, but there were pinpricks of ember floating above it, the swirl of wind tossing flammable items, paper and wood, into the flames and lighting them. If one of those embers landed in the coffin then Bonner might be the master of his own demise.

"I'm doing this first," Sam told his brother firmly. It was worth waiting five minutes to see if they caught a break with the embers and the sooner that foreign object was removed from Dean's body, the better as far as Sam was concerned.

With his right arm out of commission, he wrapped his left hand around the stake in a firm, sure grip and stated, "I'm counting to three."

Dean was abruptly quiet, protests died on his lips as he realized this was going to happen, ready or not, and he began taking deep, preparatory breaths. Sam counted evenly and on three tugged the stake through his brother hard and fast, determined that the stake come out in one pull.

Dean held his breath to hold back the roar, squeezed everything tight to try and dull the white hot pain. He arched off the ground, following the stake's trail as it left his body, and collapsed back to the soil with a low choking moan. Breathing was hard for a few minutes, rapid and shallow, loud and rough, and he wavered between here and gone, on the cusp of passing out. His body automatically curled in on itself, rolled to the side away from Sam, his legs coming up to form a ball.

It was awkward for Sam to press down on the wound, Dean's change in position meant he was trying to apply pressure sideways. And it didn't make things any easier that he had one working hand and two places that required attention. But Dean had a hand clamped against his stomach so Sam concentrated on the wound at the back, mopping up the blood with the hem of Dean's ruined t-shirt until the flow slowed to a trickle.

Dean coughed and gasped, winced and grunted with a gradually decreasing tenor until his breathing settled, the rhythm evened out. With a deep sigh he rolled toward Sam, onto his back and started laughing weakly. "Oh man. I have a new sympathy for every creature we've ever staked."

"Nah dude, you weren't staked you were skewered, that's like an extreme piercing. In some cultures it's a rite of passage, you'd be considered a man now."

Dean huffed a breath. "I'm thrilled to have it confirmed."

Sam wasn't really feeling it, the flippancy. He'd just pulled a stake through his brother, he was covered in blood, there was nothing humorous about it. But it was the game they played, the game Dean insisted upon, the shrugging off of injury, the hopeful pretense that minimising an injury would make it a minimal injury. Sam knew from experience that if he tried to play it differently, tried to emphasise the seriousness of the wound, he'd get sullenness in response, an unpleasant disapproving silence. It was easier to play the game.

Dean pushed himself up from his uninjured side until he was sitting cross legged, his body sagging heavily, staring at the coffin.

"I'll do it," Dean uttered in a low voice and his mind was back on the job, referring to the bones that needed to be fired up. "I don't want you going up in flames." He'd remembered that Sam was covered in accelerant.

"Just wait," Sam responded, squinting at the coffin. "It might get done for us."

Dean followed his brother's gaze and saw the embers dancing directly over the casket, slowly getting lower, understood that a fortuitous gust could set the prepared coffin on fire. And if they could finish the job without him having to get up that would be a most welcome turn of events because he was uncertain of his ability to do anything physical, although he wasn't going to let on to Sam how shaky and weak he felt.

He shifted his gaze to Bonner, battling the guardians and enjoying it immensely because he kept winning, he was undeniably more powerful in the afterlife and with a very long score to settle. He had already disposed of two of them, again, and was facing down the third with a gleeful smile. Dean looked away, not really in the mood for watching another brutal afterlife death.

"I don't know that we can wait too long," he murmured. "Where are the guns? We need to be prepared."

They swiveled their heads around the yard. Sam remembered he had left his gun by the coffin while he had poured out the accelerant, and he'd flown through the air holding the gun Dean had given him to reload, so that gun had to be close, it had to be somewhere near where he landed. He narrowed his eyes in the darkness, looking in the likely vicinity, but there was a frustrating amound of debris on the ground and it all looked vaguely gun sized.

"There's got to be one to our right somewhere," Sam stated, clueing in his brother.

They scanned fruitlessly for a few minutes from where they sat and Dean wondered why his brother didn't physically move to the right of the yard, try and find the gun in closer proximity. He glared at Sam with thin lipped annoyance and then noticed, for the first time, the way he was protectively holding his right arm, saw the smear of blood at his collar and came to the grim realization that Sam wasn't in much better condition than he was. Which triggered his sense of responsibility, his sense of what had to be done. Dean had to finish the job, he needed to shake off his injury and bring this job to a decisive end, they couldn't just sit around and hope that fortune smiled on them.

Bonner was sounding the death knell for the guardian in his grasp, pushing his advantage seeking the point of short circuit. He looked at the brothers and bellowed, "I'm coming for you next. I'm gonna tear you apart."

Dean swallowed. "That sounds awesome."

He lurched to his feet, using his brother's shoulder for leverage, and clutched at his stomach, not quite able to straighten. He staggered a few steps to the right, looking for the gun but was having difficulty seeing anything past the spots in his vision.

"Just a little lower," Sam urged desperately, intent upon the floating pin pricks of fire, willing them into the coffin.

"Luck was never really our friend," Dean commiserated.

The air around them was coming alive, sand was kicking up low to the ground and Sam tore his eyes from the embers to see that Bonner was heading toward them, in disjointed slicing movements that always seemed unfair, the way spirits could cheat the laws of nature. He climbed to his feet and moved to stand by his brother, shoulder to shoulder and unarmed, to face the evil spirit together.

Suddenly the air crackled a few feet before them and the guardians asserted themselves, deliberately between the brothers and Bonner, powered up and prepared to martyr themselves to protect the human lives. The unearthly glow of the guardians lit the ground around the boys and Dean spotted the nearby gun. He lunged for it, a surge of adrenalin taking away his pain and making him nimble, snatched up the weapon, took quick aim at Bonner and pulled the trigger.

The salt blew a hole through the middle of the evil spirit and through that window, flames could be seen dancing high in the coffin.

Dean gave a holler of triumph, chuckled in relieved delight and then rested his palms on his knees as the temporary high drained away and the sad state of his body pushed to the fore. "Thank God," he murmured.

Bonner halted his advance, sensing something was wrong, feeling his power diminish. He held his hands up in front of him and watched as the fingers fizzled away turning to dust, down his hands and up his arms. He roared in anger.

Sam loped over to his brother with a smile on his face. "Maybe luck is our friend after all."

"I love it when a plan comes together," Dean grinned. He swayed and sat down as gingerly as was possible with his legs collapsing underneath him, put his head in his hands and indulged in a moment of self pity.

"What the hell?" Sam muttered.

"Nothing," Dean answered without looking at him. "Just a little blood loss is all."

When Sam didn't reply Dean glanced up to find his brother staring open mouthed at something across the yard.

-----

"What now?" Ada wailed in a hush. She was sitting on the ground, despair sapping her energy, and the other two had followed suit. "When will this end?"

A glow of light flickered and shuddered directly across the yard from them, beyond Bonner's alight coffin. It was like a tv set warming up, the bubble of light gradually expanding until it suddenly sliced up and out and three figures were standing there, a woman and two young girls.

"Madeline and Elizabeth," Ada uttered in awe. She hadn't seen any photos of the girls, she had no reason to be so certain of their identity, but she knew who it was all the same.

The little girls jumped up and down excitedly as they gazed in the direction of the three guardians. With a smile and a wave to the newcomers Ed Scheifflin and Eleanor Dumont flickered out and disappeared, leaving Joseph Tranter staring at the women with an astonished look on his face. He took a few hesitant steps toward them then turned and nodded in the direction of the brothers, gave them a lingering look of gratitude, an acknowledgement of a joint victory, then turned back to the women and took some fast steps, hurrying toward them with outstretched arms and joy on his face. When he reached the little group there was a blinding flash of light, so bright that Ada had to duck her face away and when she looked back a few seconds later the night was dark, empty, the spirits were all gone.

Dave, Ada and Maud didn't move, unsure if there was more to come and too stunned to get up and walk away if there wasn't.

Tears ran down Ada's cheeks. It was so quiet, so still after the upheaval with Bonner that she didn't want to break the peace with a sob or a sniffle and she kept her breathing low and even so as not to interrupt the welcome silence.

It wasn't until they heard the boys shuffling around the yard, talking to each other without urgency, that Dave whispered, "I think it's over," and stood up stiffly. "I'm going to go home and have a large drink or five."

Dave held out his hands, one for each woman and pulled them both to a stand.

"I'm going to go make sure those boys are alright," Ada stated as she wiped the wetness from her cheeks.

"No," Maud hissed. "You're going to blow the whole covert operation."

"Maud we saw them tossed all over this yard. I'm not going to leave without knowing they're alright."

"They're fine," Maud insisted, but there was uncertainty in her tone. "They're walking, they're talking, they're fine."

Ada frowned at her friend. "I'll see you at home later."

Maud sighed. She wasn't going to leave without Ada. And now that Ada had planted the seed that the boys might be hurt, she wasn't going to leave without knowing they were alright.

Ada picked her way noiselessly down the side of the building to the yard. Dean was leaning heavily against the back wall, doubled over clutching his stomach, calling out instructions to Sam about things that needed to be collected. There were dark patches on the lightly painted exterior next to where he stood and Ada squinted at them as she approached, trying to figure out what they were, and then realized to her horror that it was blood, every time he moved he left a patch of color.

"Dean," she cried in alarm.

He hadn't seen her approach. It was taking all his concentration to stay on task, remain upright, ignore the ache throughout his body and the weariness that desperately wanted to claim him. The unexpected voice to his left made him jump, take a step away and turn quickly in that direction, too many things to be doing at once. His legs tangled together, tripping him over backward and he landed heavily on the ground, seated thanks to some clumsy grabbing but the jarring impact elicited a long, agonized groan and for a moment his senses left him, he wasn't aware of anything beyond how much he hurt.

Someone was talking, too fast for him to follow. There were hands on his face, tilting his head up and he didn't like the attention, didn't like the invasion of space. He pulled his head away from the grip with a mumbled don't.

"Dean? Dean! Open your eyes and tell me you're okay."

The female voice confused him. It was supposed to be just him and Sam at the site. Suddenly he lost all grip on what was going on. He wondered if maybe he'd passed out and been taken to a hospital, his sluggish mind was struggling to make sense.

"I'm okay," he mumbled and cracked open his eyes. When he saw Ada peering at him with Maud close behind it didn't help his disorientation. "Where am I?"

"At Dave's construction site. You just did your burny thing and I think the ghosts are all gone."

She was regarding him critically, looking very worried and he wanted to protest that that's where he thought he was, it was the women's presence that was confusing him. How long had they been on the scene? Why were they on the scene?

"What are you doing here?" he asked in bewilderment. As the haze in his head began to clear he realized that they shouldn't be here, that he had specifically asked them not to be. "I thought I told you to stay away," he angrily reproached and glared at the blonde haired woman. But his indignation subsided as his gaze traversed her figure and he became distracted by the formal attire. "Wait. What are you wearing? Are you going to a prom?"

Ada was saved from answering by Dave approaching with an arm across Sam's back, leading him toward the building. "I'll do it Sam, I've got it covered. You go and lie down, you look beat."

"No...but…" Sam's head craned over his shoulder, looking at the yard and the equipment that needed to be picked up.

"I can do it Sam," Dave persisted. "You don't need any special skills to clean up. Now go and take care of yourself."

Maud stretched her arms out wide, like she was going to hug Sam, but seeing the way he held his right forearm close to his chest she changed her mind and instead cupped his jaw in her hands, splaying her fingers across his cheeks and gave him a rueful smile.

"You boys are crazy," she said, with such reverence and affection that it sounded like you boys are wonderful.

Sam's gave her a weary grin and felt a blush creep up his neck, embarrassed but pleased by her fondness and concern.

Maud dropped one hand from Sam's face and shifted the other to gently stroke her fingers through his hair, combing the stray tendrils up and over his ear. It was so comforting that he closed his eyes, wanting to give in to it, to lay down and be taken care of. He swayed a little and Maud pressed a hand against his chest to keep him steady.

"I know angel," she soothed, the endearment slipping unselfconsciously from her lips, sounding so natural. "I know you've had a long night. Just a little while longer and you can rest."

Sam responded to the benign mothering tone immediately, opening his eyes and nodding compliantly.

"I suppose a hospital's out of the question?" Ada said disapprovingly, she already knew the answer.

"Damn straight," Dean replied and flung a hand against the wooden siding to push himself to a stand. Ada immediately moved to his side, the less bloodied side, and helped him to rise then slung his arm around her neck to steady him.

"Come on. Let's get you boys home," she said gently.