SUMMARY: A hunt to destroy a vengeful ghost ship leaves the brothers stranded in the cold Atlantic, fighting to survive.
A/N: This three-shot is for Harrigan, who bid so generously in a fic auction held to raise funds to make life a little easier for a fellow SN fan. I'm glad it could brighten your summer a little. Thanks also to Amy for the awesome beta. Any remaining goofs can be blamed solely on my tweaking.
DISCLAIMER: The Winchesters boys and the sandbox they play in belong to Eric. Kripke & Co. and their vivid but warped imaginations. I'm playing in their sandbox until they kick me out.
RATING: PG for some cursing.
BAY OF FIRE: CHAPTER ONE
He'd lost track of time, of how long he'd been hanging on to his brother.
He closed his eyes, fighting violent shivers and the unrelenting pull of unconsciousness, and tightened his hold. As determined as the ocean was to pull Sam from him, Dean was more determined to hang on.
Dean lay on a floating piece of cracked wood and fiberglass – all that was left of their boat. Sam was in the water at his side, unconscious, only Dean's iron grip on his wrist stopping him from slipping away and disappearing into the dark Atlantic.
Dean tugged on Sam's arm, shaking him as hard as his waning strength allowed. "Dude, w-wake up." His voice was hoarse, his words tripping over the shivers.
He shook Sam's arm again. Each time before, it had been enough to rouse his brother, to draw out a mumbled protest or a flash of hazel eyes as they blinked dazedly at him. Now, there was nothing – no laughable "I'm fine," or quiet "Keep still" as Sam instinctively worried more about Dean's injured back than the hypothermia rapidly stealing his own strength.
Dean peeled open his eyes. Sam floated silently beside him, deathly still. His head hung forward, dark hair painted white with ice and salt, his skin a pallid gray.
The fog curled tightly around them, thick and heavy, white mixing with gray as it tumbled across the ocean rising and falling beneath it. It teasingly pulled back one moment then darted closer the next. Help could be feet away and they'd never know it. Dean had listened constantly, hopefully, for any sign of an approaching boat, calling out sporadically until his voice was almost gone but there had been nothing, no one.
The ocean heaved and fell, once more trying to pull Sam from him. Eyes screwed shut, Dean tightened his hold, clenching his teeth as pain flared in his back. His eyes snapped open and he glared out at the water, an unspoken dare to try to take his brother from him.
His challenge was accepted. The ocean picked them up and dropped them suddenly, a heavy wave washing over them, almost tearing Sam from his grip and threatening to capsize their flimsy raft. Dean clung desperately to both, coughing up salt water as he pulled his brother closer. "I know, Sammy. Taunting Mother Nature – that n-never ends well."
Dean's chest tightened suddenly, heart pounding wildly when he saw that Sam's face had lolled forward, his chin dropping below the surface. He looked…
"No…No." Dean adjusted his grip, holding his breath subconsciously until he felt the faint beat of a pulse beneath his fingers. He exhaled audibly, his chest heaving in relief.
Without warning, the ocean again swelled beneath them, pushing them up into the cloak of fog before dropping them quickly, the waves around them rising to form watery walls that trembled briefly before collapsing on top of them in a torrent of icy water.
Dean gasped at the sudden drenching and the jolt of pain in his back, choking in the saturated air, his eyes stinging from the salt water assault. The raft rocked wildly.
Another swell rose almost right behind the first, this time hitting them at an angle. The raft tipped as it was picked up and Dean started to slide, gravity almost dumping him into the roiling water and trying fiercely to pull Sam from him.
"Sam!" Dean strained to maintain his grip on his brother, then startled when he felt a strong arm wrap around him and haul him back aboard the makeshift raft. His brother's substantial weight suddenly lightened considerably.
For a second, Dean panicked, thinking somehow Sam had slipped from his grasp. He blinked to clear his vision. His brother was still floating in the water beside him, Sam's wrist firmly locked in his hand.
Dean's eyes darted round. They were alone in the water – but it felt like someone had their arm around him, holding him securely in place, stopping him from slipping off the raft and letting him concentrate on hanging on to Sam in the ever-increasing swells
He jumped as a disembodied voice whispered in his ear. "Help's on the way."
Earlier that day…..
Sam stared at his brother incredulously. "Could you be a bigger geek about this?"
Dean grinned, a rare face-splitting, Christmas morning, kid-in-a-candy store grin, as he tested the weight of the weapon in his hands. "Come on, Sam; when are we ever gonna get another chance to use one of these?"
The weapon in question was a Korean War-era rocket launcher, almost five feet long with a 3-1/2-inch muzzle. Capable of hitting a target up to 150 yards away, it weighed close to 14 pounds – and that was before they'd loaded it with a 3-1/2 pound rocket.
Sam glanced from the EMF detector in his hands to his brother, shaking his head as he studied the bazooka Dean held. "This is too weird, man – even for us. I mean, trying to take down a ghost ship with a rocket launcher?"
Dean shrugged. "It's a big ship – we need a big gun." He hoisted the bazooka to his shoulder, widening his stance to steady himself against both the weight of the weapon and the rhythmic rocking of their boat. He flipped open the sight and scanned the water for any sign of the ghostly vessel. "This puppy's gonna deliver three pounds of rock salt in one blast, blow the ship out of the water – give Bobby and Ted the time they need to take care of the wreck."
Sam checked his watch. "They should be planting the first explosives any minute now."
Dean squinted through the sight. "In the mean time, if Captain….." He turned to face Sam. "What's his name again?"
"DaSilva. Umberto DaSilva."
Dean rolled his eyes, before refocusing through the sight. "Course it is. Anyway, if the ghost of Captain Bert shows up, we're ready for him."
A call from Bobby had brought the brothers to Chaleur Bay, a tiny coastal village in northeastern Massachusetts. Until recently, the local legend of a fiery tall ship that sailed the waters of the bay had been little more than a tall tale of the sea to enchant children and visitors. But six boats had gone down in the past five months. Eleven people were dead and the survivors' stories were eerily similar – of a tall ship that burst into flames moments before ramming the smaller craft.
Bobby's old friend Tommy McKay owned a fleet of small, deep-sea fishing boats that sailed out of Chaleur Bay. He had lost a boat and her crew in the fifth attack, and there had been no survivors – only a garbled radio transmission, quickly eaten by static that told him the ghost ship was responsible. After consoling family members at the empty-coffin funeral for his men, he had called Bobby. The sixth boat had gone down the day before Bobby drove into town.
There was no mystery as to the identity of the ghost ship. Every resident of Chaleur Bay knew the legend of the Mari-Elena, a Portuguese trading ship sabotaged by rivals in 1602 and destroyed in a spectacular fire. The puzzle for Bobby had been figuring out why the attacks had started now, more than 400 years after the ship went down.
The answer came from a guy named Cody Tremayne, the owner of a local dive shop. Cody 's grandfather had discovered the wreck of the Mari-Elena in 1964 and Cody and his dive partner, returning from a dive to the wreck, had rescued the victims of the latest attack.
Cody was about the same age as Sam, of similar height and with long, streaked blonde hair that hid three small, gold hoops in his left ear. He wore a baggy T-shirt, knee-length shorts and sandals, despite the fact it was mid-April and the chill had yet to leave the air.
Bobby stashed away the NTSB badge he had just flashed and studied the photos on the dive shop wall. Most were underwater images showing the wreck of the Mari-Elena. He glanced at Cody. "You take these?"
Cody crossed the shop and stood beside Bobby, hands shoved in the pockets of his shorts. "Most of 'em." He pulled a hand from his pocket and pointed to a couple of older photos. "Those ones my grand-dad took, the year he found her."
Bobby nodded, his eyes traveling to a photo of three people – Cody, around the age of eight, dive mask shoved up over his wet hair and grinning widely, with his father and grandfather. Each had the same easy-going smile and soft gray eyes. The grandfather's arm was thrown around the shoulders of his son, whose arms were wrapped around his own son. Bobby smiled sadly; the photo made him think of the Winchesters, of all the normal happy moments that had been stolen from their family when the Yellow-Eyed Demon entered their lives.
He turned back to Cody. "You rescued the victims of the latest accident, right?"
Cody nodded, crossing his arms. "Yeah. Yesterday. Fished 'em out of the wreckage. How they doin'?"
Bobby had stopped by the hospital earlier in the day to interview the survivors. "Both will be fine."
"Good." Cody shook his head. "For a moment, I thought we had more fatalities on our hands."
Bobby's eyes narrowed. "Why."
Cody shrugged. "When we got there, I could have sworn there were five people in the water. We hauled out the first guy, got him on board, then when we went to grab the next guy, he was the only one still in the water. My partner, Chris, he even jumped in lookin' for the others – until one of the survivors told us there were only two on board." He shook his head. "Eyes playin' tricks, I guess…just weird that Chris and I both saw the same thing."
Bobby stroked his beard. "The survivors tried to tell me their boat was rammed by a ship on fire, a large ship 'like out of the history books.'" He stuck his hands in his pockets. "You think there's anything to these wild stories?"
Cody shook his head. "I dunno, man. I know the Mari-Elena was real – the wreck is proof of that. But I also know tall tales get taller over time. I've spent almost every day of my life out on that water and I've never seen her." He glanced up at Bobby. "Somethin' caused those boats to go down – I'm just not ready to buy it's a ghost ship."
Bobby nodded. "So what do you think is behind it?"
Cody rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. "Not a clue, dude. But I know most of the men who were lost, heard the radio transmissions before they vanished. They were straight-up guys and …" His voice trailed off. He was quiet for a moment then cleared his throat. "I just hope you NTSB guys can figure it out before anyone else gets hurt. Forget the fact that fishing season's under way, after what happened this winter, the waters around here are about to get seriously busy."
Bobby frowned. "What happened this winter?"
Cody's eyebrows quirked as if he was surprised Bobby didn't know. "The wreck split in two, man." He moved toward a map on the dive shop wall, pointing to a section of ocean just beyond the mouth of the bay. "The Mari-Elena sat on a shelf right here, about 250 feet down. Sometime during a major storm that hit in December, the shelf shifted – the wreck broke apart and the stern landed here," he dragged his finger slightly to the left, "another 50 feet down."
He turned to Bobby. "In the dive world, this is big stuff; gives us access to parts of the ship we couldn't get to before – outta respect for the dead, you know? We don't go pokin' inside a ship if she's the final resting place of her crew. But since she split open, you can see the hold, some of the cabins, without actually going inside. It's fascinating stuff. Ever since I posted the first few photos online, the calls have flooded in, from Boston to Beijing; divers can't wait to get down there and see her for themselves."
Bobby studied the photos of the barnacle-covered wreck. "Thought she mostly burned up before she went down?"
"Fire and water, dude. The minute she sank, fire went out." Cody smiled. "Remember what I said about tall tales." He stepped closer to the photo Bobby was looking at. "Her sails and her masts are long gone, but other than these," he pointed to two gaping holes in her hull near the stern, "she's basically intact."
Bobby turned to Cody. "She went down fast, huh?"
Cody nodded. "Yeah, trapping most of her crew on board."
Bobby's heart started racing as the puzzle pieces snapped together. The spirits of the Mari-Elena's doomed crew had been trapped inside the wreck for almost 400 years but had somehow been released when she split in two. Now the ship in spectral form had set sail again, her crew seeking revenge for her destruction.
Bobby stuck out his hand toward Cody. "You've been a big help. I promise you, we'll do everything we can to figure this out."
Bobby walked out of the dive shop, had his phone out and was dialing before the door closed behind him. It rang only twice. "Dean? How close are you to Massachusetts?"
The Winchesters rolled into town late the following day, meeting up with Bobby at a wharf side bar called The Blazing Sails. There, Bobby introduced them to Tommy McKay and to another old friend, a hunter named Ted Casey.
Tommy was a tall, heavyset man; his balding head hidden underneath a black fisherman's cap, his face deeply tanned and wrinkled; marks of a man who had spent his entire life out on the open water. He said little but his smile was warm, his handshake firm, and both Sam and Dean trusted him instantly.
Ted was a small, wiry man, standing chest height next to Sam, and around the same age as Bobby. His close-cropped gray hair and ramrod-straight posture were testament to his military background.
"Marines?" Dean had guessed.
"SEALs," was the reply.
Dean smiled. While he had youth and size on his side, he knew instinctively that if circumstance ever pitted him in a fight with Ted, he'd have his hands full. He was grateful he was an ally not an adversary.
Sam took a sip of his beer as he tried to figure out how much Tommy knew about hunting and hunters.
Bobby caught the look. "Relax, Sam. He knows what we do."
Tommy put down his empty beer glass and smiled at Sam. "Look, I'm a simple man. A lot of what you do is hard for me to swallow but Bobby helped me out 10 years ago and, well, I know enough now to go to church on Sundays and salt my doors at night.
"Bottom line, I lost three good men out there – and I heard the fear in their voices when that last radio transmission came in. They saw somethin' – and I owe it to them, and their families, to find out what it was before it hurts someone else. You men seem like the best ones to do that."
Sam leaned forward, his voice softening. "The radio – what did they say?"
Tommy shuffled uncomfortably at the memory. "They seemed in awe at first. Bill just kept repeating, "It's her, Tommy. It's the goddamn Mari-Elena." The transmission started breaking up at that point. The next thing I heard was Bill yelling, "Jesus Christ, she's gone up in flames and she's turning on us."" He looked up at Sam and shrugged. "The only thing I heard through the static after that was something about the engine stalling."
Tommy stared down at the table, his finger absentmindedly tracing a knot in the wood. "We found debris from their boat the next day but never did find my crew – the tides took 'em."
Dean drained the last of his beer. "Well neither the ship or the tides are taking anyone else if we can help it." He turned to Bobby. "You know where the wreck is, right?"
Bobby nodded. "Yep. She's in two pieces, about 250 feet down just outside the mouth of the bay."
Dean's eyebrows arched. "So, we just need to salt and burn a 100-foot ship that's under 250 feet of water. That pretty much it?"
"Pretty much." Bobby placed his empty glass on the table. "I know it sounds tricky, but she's been soaking in salt water for more than 400 years so the salt part's taken care of. As for the burn…" He nodded at his old friend. "That's where Ted comes in."
Ted smiled at Sam's raised eyebrows. "My job with the SEALs was underwater demo. I'm used to planting charges on more modern targets but I should be able to take care of this one without waking up the whole town. We're gonna dive down, set charges on both halves of the wreck, get clear, then 'Boom!' Hopefully put the spirits of her crew to rest once and for all."
Dean's eyes widened. "Wait, we're gonna dive down? I know you've done some diving, Bobby but –"
"We meaning Ted and I," Bobby cut him off. "A night dive to that depth, hauling explosives, is a bit much for a first dive – even for you two."
Sam nodded. "Fair enough. So what do you need us to do?"
Bobby adjusted his ballcap, scratching his head. "I cross-checked the dates and times. Every time there's been an attack there's been divers down at the wreck."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Pokin' around, pissin' off the spirits even more." He glanced from Bobby to Sam. "So we're the decoy while you set the charges?"
Bobby frowned. "I was thinking more like sentry. Tommy takes us out to the wreck, stands by till we're done. You two are in a second boat to watch our backs while we're underwater – and take care of the ship if it shows up. Keep it out of the way 'til we can get rid of it for good" He glanced from Dean to Sam. "You game?"
Dean's frown morphed into a wide grin. "Bring it." He glanced at his brother. "Sammy?"
Sam nodded. "I'm in. So when are we gonna do this?"
"Tonight." Bobby leaned forward, elbows on the table. "The kid who runs the dive shop says he's taking a group down to the wreck day after tomorrow – we need to take care of this before any of them get hurt."
Dean nodded, then frowned. "Just one thing; if we do run into this ghost ship, how are we supposed to take it down? Something tells me my shotgun ain't gonna cut it."
Bobby smiled. "Yeah, we thought of that. Don't worry, Ted's figured out something I think you might like."
Dean steadied the bazooka, thinking back to that conversation in the bar and his subsequent meeting with Ted at an old quarry outside town where the retired SEAL had given him a crash course on firing the rocket launcher. If the ghost ship showed up, the rock salt-filled rocket would blast it out of the water, hopefully buying Ted and Bobby enough time to set the charges.
Dean glanced at Sam. "You picking up anything?"
Sam studied the EMF, then shook his head. "Nothing." He shoved the detector into his pocket, leaned inside the wheelhouse to grab a pair of binoculars then crossed the deck to stand beside his brother. He lifted the binoculars and focused on Tommy's boat, the Rod Bender, 100 yards away. He could see Tommy on the deck, basically doing the same thing they were doing – waiting. "Dive flag's still up, which means Bobby and Ted are still down at the wreck."
"Rather them than me." Dean lowered the rocket launcher and turned to place it back in its case which had been secured to the deck, closing the lid to protect it from the salt spray. He glanced at his watch. "They've been down, what – 25 minutes?"
Sam checked his watch and nodded. "Yeah – they need about another 15 to finish setting the charges, then another 20 to surface and get clear."
Dean nodded. "Good. If all goes well, within the hour that ghost ship will go back to being nothing more than a tall tale."
Sam lowered the binoculars, but continued looking out across the water. They were more than two miles from land, beyond where the Atlantic coastline turned inland to form the entrance to Chaleur Bay.
The night was clear, the waxing moon casting a silvery light onto the calm sea that lapped softly against the side of their boat. The inky sky was full of stars, all pinpricks of light reflected onto the water below, the reflections jumping and twisting with each gentle swell.
Sam closed his eyes, breathing in deeply and tasting the salty air. The winds racing for shore tousled his hair and misted his face with ocean spray.
"You gonna puke?"
Sam's eyes snapped open to find Dean frowning at him, one eyebrow quirked as if he couldn't decide whether to worry or poke fun. "No." Sam returned the frown then shrugged. "It's just, well ... it's really beautiful out here … peaceful, you know? Well, except for the whole vengeful ghost ship part."
Dean's frown deepened. "Yeah, except for that." He shook his head. "I don't get this 'love of the open sea' crap. Gimme four wheels, a V-8 engine and the open road any day of the week. If man was meant to be out on the water, he would've been born with webbed feet."
Sam smiled as he turned from the rail and walked back toward the wheelhouse, staggering slightly to reclaim his balance as the boat rose and fell in the gentle swells. He stowed the binoculars back in the wheelhouse before turning back to Dean. "You mean you wouldn't trade in the Impala for the lovely Stella here?"
"Lovely?" Dean glanced round at their boat. The Stella Maris was a 34-foot Cape Islander, a fishing boat designed for reliability and practicality, not flash or speed. Her bow was raised, her stern square and her deck open. The white, rectangular wheelhouse stood eight feet high just behind the bow, topped by satellite and radar antennas that rose another eight feet from the roof. Her hull was dark green, with a wide black stripe just above the waterline, the paint worn in places, patched in others. Rust mottled the metal hinges of the wheelhouse door and the bolts of the winch at her stern. Dean wrinkled his nose. "No offence to your girlfriend, but she's a little homely for my taste."
"Ouch." Sam patted the doorframe to the wheelhouse soothingly. "Don't listen to him, Stella. He doesn't appreciate your inner beauty."
Dean rolled his eyes. "You're talking to a boat, Sam."
Sam's eyebrows peaked as he bit back a smile. "What's the matter? Afraid your baby will get jealous?"
"My baby has nothing to fear from this rustbucket. She…" Dean's voice trailed off when he realized Sam was grinning widely, point made. "Asshat." He motioned toward the wheelhouse. "Go check in with Tommy. I'll keep watch. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can get back on dry land."
Sam ducked his head to step down into the wheelhouse. He was still smiling as he straightened up and glanced at the equipment crammed into her bridge. Tommy had spent little on Stella's appearance but she was equipped with all the latest technology – radar, sonar, GPS, satellite phone – even a computer terminal with satellite access to the Internet. "She doesn't need to be pretty," Tommy had told Sam as he gave him a quick lesson on operating the boat, "just watertight and properly maintained and equipped. That's what'll keep my men safe."
Sam picked up the radio handset and pressed down the button to open a channel. "This is the Stella Maris calling the Rod Bender, come in." He released the button but the only response was a loud crackle of static. Sam frowned. He turned to stare at the Rod Bender's lights in the distance. "This is Stella Maris calling the Rod Bender; Tommy – come in." Once again he heard nothing but static.
Sam replaced the radio handset and was reaching for the satellite phone when the radar display caught his eye. The steady sweep of the electronic arm, turning in sync with the transmitter on the wheelhouse roof, slowed then stopped completely before fading into a sea of white static. The EMF detector, shoved in his jacket pocket, suddenly came to life, emitting the familiar high-pitched whine and crackle. Sam's eyes jumped from the bridge to the square windows that ran along the front and sides of the wheelhouse.
There was no sign of any ghost ship but the night was no longer clear. Thick fog was rolling in toward them. Already visibility was cut in half, the fog quickly swallowing the lights of the Rod Bender and still on the move.
Sam stepped back out onto the deck. Dean glanced up at him then gestured with his head toward the fog. "I could have done without this."
Sam held up the squealing EMF.
Dean's eyebrows peaked. "Here we go." He stepped back and crouched down to flip open the case holding the rocket launcher, his eyes constantly scanning the encroaching fog.
The water was eerily quiet, the only sounds the gentle lapping of swells breaking against the hull of the boat and the electronic squawk of the EMF. The fog raced toward them, rolling along the surface of the water, grabbing each wave and pulling them under its thick cover as it closed in on the boat. Its long arms snaked out, wrapping the Stella Maris in a tight embrace until they could see nothing through the solid blanket that encircled them.
The squeal of the EMF dulled and Dean was acutely aware of his own breathing, of the rising of his chest as he breathed in and the gentle huff of air as he breathed out. His heart was beating steadily, the rhythmic thumping strangely audible in the eerie silence.
The EMF wailed again, breaking the spell cast by the fog. Dean glanced up at Sam then grabbed the rocket launcher. As he stood up, he felt a tap on his arm.
He looked at Sam; his brother's eyes were wide. Hoisting the rocket launcher to his shoulder, he followed Sam's gaze.
With a creaking groan of worn timbers and the sound of rushing water, a ship in full sail appeared out of the fog, gliding beside them and dwarfing their fishing boat. She was bathed in an unearthly blue light that pushed aside the fog and highlighted every detail.
It was the Mari-Elena – a 16th century caravel, more than 100 feet long and one of the fastest ships of her day. Her pointed bow cut easily through the gentle swells, her square stern keeping her stable. She had four masts; the short foremast and towering main mast each carrying square-rigged sails, designed to catch the wind and give her speed. A third, much smaller square sail flew from high atop the mainmast, beyond the crow's nest. The two smaller aft masts each carried large, triangular sails for maneuverability, allowing her to turn quickly and give chase, or flee, when necessary. Rigging fanned out from the crow's nest on the main mast like a giant spider web spanning the width of the ship.
The brothers watched in awed silence as the caravel sailed by. Her sails billowed softly, catching the gentle ocean winds that pushed her silently toward shore.
Dean's fingers clenched tightly around the rocket launcher. He flipped open the sight then froze as he caught sight of a lone figure standing mid-ship on the caravel, behind its pillared railing.
The figure's posture and bearing told Dean he was a man of authority – likely the Captain DaSilva Sam had read about when researching the Mari-Elena. The captain's dark hair was long, tied loosely with a leather rope at the nape of his neck, his face covered by a neatly trimmed beard and mustache. His shirt was laced at the neck, the long sleeves rolled up to the elbows and the hem untucked over dark britches that disappeared inside knee-high boots. Wide belts criss-crossed his hips, one holding a holstered pistol, the other the scabbard for his sword.
Dean stared at the phantom captain who, in turn, stared back at Dean, each man sizing up the other suspiciously, assessing the threat he posed. The captain's gaze turned to Sam, who subconsciously took a step closer to his brother, an unspoken declaration that the Winchesters stood united against this potential foe.
A loud explosion mid-deck on the caravel made all three men flinch. The ghostly captain turned quickly, now silhouetted by an eerie orange glow as flames shot up from the deck behind him. Mid-ship was suddenly a hive of activity as more phantom crew members appeared, desperately trying to extinguish the fire.
But the flames were ravenous, hungrily licking at the main mast and greedily climbing higher and higher despite the crew's frantic efforts to hold them back. With a loud roar the main-sail caught, becoming a giant sheet of flame. The howl of the fire became deafening as rogue flames jumped fore and aft, setting the smaller sails ablaze until all five were fully engulfed.
The ship itself was also on fire, the wood snapping and popping as thick, black smoke billowed from her hold and portholes to stain the fog which still enveloped them. The fire consumed the ship with unnatural speed until the Mari-Elena was painted in flame from stem to stern.
The breathtaking ship from the pages of history was gone, replaced by a terrifying specter, roiling fire twisting and turning in a macabre dance over her blackened hull. But the fire showed no signs of abating; the sails that in reality would have been quickly destroyed, blazed on – canvas replaced by sheets of flame.
The captain appeared again at her rails, seemingly untouched by the flames and barking out orders in a language neither brother understood, before pointing toward their boat – a gesture they understood completely. The caravel started to turn, her timbers creaking in protest and spewing flame, smoke and ash as she turned toward the Stella Maris.
The movement snapped the brothers into action. Dean re-settled the rocket launcher on his shoulder. "Sam…"
Sam was moving, even before Dean said his name aloud. "Got it." He had to move the boat. The ghost ship was less than 20 feet away, much too close for Dean to use the rocket launcher. Ted had cautioned Dean that if he fired the rocket inside 50 yards, there was a good chance it would pass straight through the intended target and explode on the far side. At least that held true in real-world applications; as Ted had admitted, scratching his head, its use against supernatural targets was completely untested.
Here there was also the added complication that the Rod Bender was hidden in the fog on the far side of the caravel; if the rocket passed through the ghost ship, there was a chance it could wipe out Tommy's boat and that was a risk the brothers weren't willing to take.
Sam crossed the deck quickly and disappeared inside the wheelhouse.
Dean heard the boat's engine firing even as he took aim at the Mari-Elena. "Get her to chase us, Sam."
Sam rolled his eyes as he fired the engines and pushed forward the throttle. "Don't think that'll be a problem," he muttered as he spun the wheel to the right.
The instruments were still useless, the compass spinning crazily, the radar a sea of static. While the ghost ship was illuminated by the fire, visibility elsewhere was zero thanks to the fog. Sam had no idea where Tommy's boat was so simply turned the Stella Maris in the opposite direction to where they had last seen her.
Dean's left hand dropped to the railing to steady himself as the Stella Maris lurched into motion. He blinked and refocused through the sight – and once more found himself locking stares with the caravel's ghostly captain. This time though the specter had his pistol drawn – and pointed at Dean.
The explosive crack of the pistol firing echoed loudly through the fog, drowning out both the steady throbbing of the fishing boat's engine and the eerie rush and crackle of the flaming tall ship. Time seemed to slow down as Dean turned to get out of the bullet's path but, weighed down by the rocket launcher, he wasn't fast enough. The spectral bullet slammed into his shoulder, knocking him off his feet and back onto the deck. The bazooka tipped forward and fell with him, landing with bruising force on his chest.
The pistol shot and Dean's cry of pain were loud enough to reach Sam inside the wheelhouse. "Dean?" When there was no answer, he throttled back the engine, the boat slowing gradually, and scrambled back out to the deck. "Dean!"
Dean was lying on his back, his right hand pressed to his left shoulder covering up the blossoming bloodstain soaking through the shirts beneath his life jacket. Sam's eyes jumped from Dean to the fire ship beside them. She was still turning, preparing to ram them – and her captain was reloading his pistol.
Dean's eyes snapped back to his brother as he pushed himself up. "M'okay. Go."
Sam nodded then turned and quickly stepped back into the wheelhouse. He shoved forward the throttle, and spun the wheel hard right. The fishing boat picked up speed. Sam's eyes stayed glued to the burning ship through the side window even as he steered the Stella Maris away from the caravel and into the fog. He flinched when he heard a second gun shot.
"Dean?" He listened intently but there was no response. "Answer me. Y'okay?"
A war between emotion and logic raged in Sam's head as he pushed their boat forward, trying to open up the distance between them and the caravel and yet keep her in sight. The brother in him wanted to go to Dean, see how badly he was hurt, take care of him. The hunter, however, knew the best way to do that was to get them to a position where Dean could safely, and successfully, fire on the Mari-Elena. He opened up the throttle and pushed her forward.
The caravel stayed with them for 10 minutes, Sam unable to increase the distance between the two craft even as he dodged and weaved his way across the ocean. Then, with a crack that sounded like lightning, the caravel was gone. Heart racing, Sam stared out into the fog. It billowed and roiled but there was no sign of the ghost ship.
Sam swallowed. Dean wasn't known for his patience. If he could have, he would have taken a shot. The fact he hadn't scared the hell out of Sam. He throttled back the engines. For now, at least the caravel was gone and that meant he could check on his brother. "Dean!"
The mumbled response was unintelligible. Sam grabbed the first-aid kit and scrambled out on deck.
His brother was sitting on the case that had held the bazooka, the rocket launcher resting across his knees. His life jacket was discarded on the deck and he was struggling to shrug off his flannel shirt. He winced at the pull on his injured shoulder as he pulled his arm free, then glanced up as he sensed Sam's presence.
Sam's jaw clenched in worry. "How bad?"
The boat's harsh light, mounted atop the wheelhouse, did Dean's complexion no favors. His skin was gray, a sheen of sweat forming despite the chill in the air. He winced again as he wadded his shirt and pressed it against the wound. "Bad enough. For a frigging ghost bullet, it sure feels like the real thing."
Sam knelt beside Dean and gently pulled away his brother's hand and the wadded shirt. He frowned at the blood soaking through Dean's T-shirt and the torn, bruised skin beneath. "Looks like the real thing too." He reached into the first aid kit for a pair of scissors. "I heard a second shot – you hit anywhere else?"
Dean shook his head. "Second shot missed." He grimaced as he waved his right hand toward the rear of the boat. "Hit somewhere back there."
"Good." Sam nodded distractedly as he concentrated on cutting away Dean's T-shirt from around the bullet wound. "What about the ship? She disappeared but I didn't hear the rocket fire."
Dean shook his head. "Nah. Damn bullet knocked me on my ass. Then, um …"
Sam glanced from the wound up at Dean. "What?"
Dean sighed. "Now don't get your panties in a bunch but I got a little dizzy."
Sam glanced at Dean's stained shirt, breathing out heavily. "Blood loss."
Dean snorted. "Yeah, well I'm blaming your driving. You were all over the place, dude. Anyway, by the time I got myself on my feet, got her lined up, she disappeared. Fog closed around it and 'poof.'"
Sam's fingers gently probed around the bullet wound. "Poof?"
Dean waved his good arm dismissively. "Cut me some slack, I'm a wounded man here. Ow!" He scowled as Sam pulled him forward to look at the back of his shoulder.
Sam sat back on his heels, dropping his hands to his sides. "Huh?"
Dean frowned as he sat back up. "What does 'huh' mean?"
Sam reached for Dean's discarded life vest. The shot from the captain's pistol had traveled straight through the vest into Dean's shoulder. Sam poked his finger through the hole in the vest. "Looks like this thing may have taken the brunt of the impact; I don't think there's any bone damage."
Sam opened the first aid kit and pulled out an antiseptic wipe. "What doesn't make sense is there's no exit wound but it doesn't feel like the bullet's still in there."
Dean's scowled. "Sure as hell feels like it from my end." He stared down at the wound. "Just patch me up and we'll deal with it later. First order of business is the damn ship."
Sam ripped open the wipe then gestured toward the rocket launcher before turning back to clean the wound. "Just tell me how to fire that thing then-"
"No way, Sam." Dean glared at his brother. "I'm taking her down."
Sam's jaw clenched. "Hate to point out the obvious, but you've got a bullet hole in your shoulder."
Dean's scowl deepened. "Not the shoulder I need to fire the bazooka." He pointed out to sea. "That bastard out there shot me. I owe him."
Sam finished cleaning the wound and then taped on a pressure bandage. He glanced down at the rocket launcher and then up at Dean. "I can do it."
Dean's voice softened. "I know you can, but I'm doin' it." He offered Sam a tight smile. "Now help me up."
Sam lifted the rocket launcher off Dean's lap and laid it down on the deck. He frowned as he offered Dean his hand and helped him to his feet. His brother was shivering visibly, goosebumps covering his bare forearms. Sam pulled off his life jacket, dropping it onto the deck, before shucking off his jacket and flannel shirt, offering the latter to Dean. "Here, put this on."
Dean waved his hand dismissively. "I'm fine. I….."
Sam gestured again with the shirt. "Yours is a mess and you're freezing. Just take it."
Dean frowned at Sam. "What about you?"
Sam pointed to his jacket. "I've got that. Just take the damn shirt."
Dean took it with muttered thanks. He winced as he tried to pull it on over his injured shoulder, begrudgingly accepting Sam's help to slide his arms into the sleeves. Sam reached down, picked up the bazooka and handed it back to Dean just as the EMF started squawking again. The brothers exchanged a glance, before turning to scan the fog for any signs of the caravel.
The Stella Maris bobbed gently and an unearthly silence settled over the boat once again. The hairs on the back on Sam's neck bristled and he turned slowly, his eyes widening. Behind them the fog glowed orange, parting slowly to reveal the Mari-Elena in full flame charging at them at top speed.
Dean had sensed it too. He whirled around, barely suppressing a grunt of pain, and re-settling the bazooka on his shoulder. He dragged the back of his hand across his forehead to clear away the sweat before flipping out the sight. He blinked to clear his vision then reached for the trigger. "Stand clear, Sam."
Sam took a step away from his brother, eyes darting from the rocket launcher Dean held to the flaming ghost ship bearing down on them. They were well within 50 yards of the ship but they had no choice.
Heart racing, he swallowed as the speed of the ship registered. She was really moving. Whether Dean blew her up or not, she was going to hit them.
An inflatable life raft was lashed to the side of the wheelhouse. In three steps, Sam was beside it, unleashing the restraints. He pulled it free and threw it over the side, the loud hiss as it inflated wiped out suddenly by the explosion of the bazooka firing.
Sam's head snapped round. Dean's shot was true. The rocket plowed into the port side of the caravel's bow even as she bore down on them with terrifying speed.
Dean lowered the rocket launcher from his shoulder and dropped it to the deck with a grunt. There was a loud explosion toward the Mari-Elena's stern, bluish-green flames suddenly mixing with red and orange, but still the ship came at them.
Eyes never leaving the caravel, Dean moved sideways toward his brother, pushing Sam toward the rail. "Jump, Sammy."
Sam stepped up onto the rail of the boat and, with a shove from his brother, jumped over the side, landing with a soft thud in the rubber life raft bobbing below. He rolled to the side and looked up to see Dean jumping into the boat right behind him just as a deafening explosion echoed through the thick fog, followed immediately by the sickening crunch of shattered timbers.
The rock salt did its job, but not before the caravel slammed into the Stella Maris broadside. The impact lifted the smaller vessel briefly out the water before slamming her down again and splitting her in two.
The Mari-Elena crumpled like a piece of paper tossed in the fire, blazing briefly before collapsing into dancing embers. The wind picked up with a mournful howl and the embers died out, fading into a rain of blackened ash that briefly stained the fog before disappearing into the sea.
The caravel was gone but the Stella Maris was mortally wounded. The water churned wildly as she was lifted and dropped. The brothers clung desperately to the violently bucking life raft as it was pushed away from the dying vessel and then sucked back toward her, waves washing over the sides, drenching them and threatening to take them under.
Dean coughed out a mouthful of water and looked up, eyes widening in horror to see the broken fishing boat toppling toward them. Pulled over by the top-heavy wheelhouse, the fore section rolled quickly. There was no time to get clear.
Sam was lying on his stomach, his back to the broken boat as he struggled to push himself up. Dean's eyes widened. Ignoring the screaming pain in his shoulder, he did the only thing he could; he threw himself protectively over Sam as the Stella Maris capsized, slamming down on top of the life raft, pushing it under the water and trapping it underneath her dying hull.
To Be Continued…