BAY OF FIRE
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, Enjoy my friend! Thanks to Amy for the awesome beta. Any remaining goofs can be blamed solely on my tweaking. Here's the final chapter a little earlier than planned, hopefully making up for the lengthy delay between the first two chapters.
DISCLAIMER: The Winchesters boys and the sandbox they play in belong to Mr. Kripke and his vivid but warped imagination. I'm playing in that sandbox until they kick me out. This story contains some cursing and is set late in Season 2, shortly after Playthings.
"Dean…..we gotta move."
Dean blinked dazedly at his brother. "What?"
Sam nodded to their right. "Think I found us a little help."
The fog was patchy now, clearing one moment and pea-soup thick the next. Right now they were in a clear patch, moonlight cutting through so the brothers could see each other and a small patch of water around them. And a broken piece of the Stella Maris's hull that had floated into view.
Sam moved them through the water toward the debris. With his left arm out of commission, his right arm wrapped around Dean, it was slow going. He tried not to jostle Dean's back or his dislocated shoulder but was less than successful on both counts, both brothers biting back groans as they moved.
"Damn, Sam," Dean muttered through clenched teeth. "We sound like we're ready for the old farts' home."
The piece of boat debris was about six feet long and two feet wide, raised slightly in the middle and jagged at both ends. It looked like a piece that had broken free from the fishing boat's mid-section when she'd split in two.
Sam glanced at his brother. "Grab hold."
Dean nodded, taking hold of the edge.
Sam winced as he grabbed the end of the board. "I'm gonna shove down this end. Slide onto it when I do."
Dean frowned. "What about you?"
"Just do it." Sam grimaced as he used his weight to submerge one end of the debris until it was at an almost 45-degree angle. Dean pulled himself slowly on top of the board, and then rolled onto his back, face screwed up in pain as he did so. Exhausted by the simple effort, he lay panting with his eyes closed as Sam slowly released the pressure on the board until it was horizontal. He grabbed on to the board near Dean's head and nodded at his brother as Dean's eyes slid open. "You good?"
Dean nodded but his frown deepened. "I said 'what about you'?
Sam looked deliberately blank. "What about me?"
Dean's frown turned into a glare. "You need to get out of the water too. You're already shaking more than a blown tire."
Sam shook his head. "Nah. Board's not big enough for both of us. I'm fine here now I'm not haulin' around your heavy ass." Dean started to move, causing the makeshift raft to rock precariously. Sam placed a hand on his chest. "Dude, keep still."
Dean smacked Sam's hand away. "If I sit up, there's room for both of us."
Gently, but firmly, Sam pushed Dean down. "Back injury, remember? You need to lie down, keep still so you don't do any more damage." He sighed. "With both of us on this thing, we're likely to sink it – then what good does it do?"
Dean glared again at Sam. "We take turns – keep trading off 'til Bobby gets here."
Sam returned his brother's glare. "Which part of 'no' is giving you trouble?"
For a moment they floated in stubborn silence, the fog swirling round them in a strange, hypnotic dance. The ocean swells rose and fell beneath them, the winds driving the chill even deeper. Sam thought back to his earlier statement about how peaceful it was out on the water. Now the ocean seemed to be toying with them, taunting them, just waiting for a chance to pull them under.
Dean stared at his brother, pride, anger and worry mixing indistinguishably. Sam knew damn well that staying in the water was going to speed up the onset of hypothermia but his focus was completely on Dean, on making sure he was okay. Dean trusted his brother implicitly, trusted his judgment, trusted his instincts, but it didn't make Sam's need to sacrifice himself for Dean's sake any easier to swallow.
He glanced down at Sam's right hand, tightly gripping the makeshift life raft; it was shaking noticeably. Dean's voice was quiet. "You can't stay in the water, Sammy. We gotta try getting both of us on this raft."
Sam shook his head. "I told you, no. We'll swamp it and then we're both screwed. Just stay still."
Dean held out his hand. "Grab my hand."
Sam shook his head. "I'm okay."
Dean's eyes flashed. "No you're not. You're shaking so bad you're either gonna lose your grip or tip the raft. If you won't get out of the water, the least you can do is let me make sure you don't float away or sink." Dean held out his hand again when Sam didn't move. "Look, we did things your way before – now we're doin' things my way."
When Sam still hesitated, Dean threw out the heavy artillery. "Take my hand or I'm rolling off this raft."
Sam stared defiantly at his brother, the same defiance staring right back at him. He hesitated briefly then let go of the raft. Dean clamped his hand firmly around Sam's wrist. In turn, Sam's fingers curled around Dean's wrist.
Sam shivered and Dean flashed back to distant memories, when Sam was four or five, long before he knew about hunters and the things they hunted. The things that scared his little brother most back then were ordinary people who threatened their family. He'd witnessed more than one confrontation between his dad and a social worker or his dad and a landlord, not understanding much but picking up on phrases like "we can take Sam away," or "wouldn't want somethin' to happen to your boy."
As these face-offs unfolded, Dean would stand there defiantly, hiding his fear for Sam's sake, while Sam would sidle close, slipping his small hand in Dean's if tempers flared and tensions escalated. In those instances, Dean never protested the gesture; he'd squeeze Sam's hand tightly, offering reassurance and a sense of security. It was only when Sam was much older that he realized how double-edged the gesture had been, comforting Dean as much as Sam and symbolically reinforcing the bond strangers were trying to tear apart.
His brother was a long way from five now but as Dean clamped on to Sam's wrist and he felt Sam take his, once again the reassurance flowed both ways.
Tommy throttled back the engines and turned to Bobby. "This is the last location we had a signal from the Stella Maris.'
Bobby scanned the fog, still swirling heavily around them. "Dammit. We could roll right over them in this soup and never know it."
Ted scanned the fog on the far side of the boat. "We gotta do a grid search. Instruments are starting to come back so we can use sonar to help us, go slow- "
"The hell with slow," Bobby growled. "The water's damn cold. If the boys' boat was destroyed, if -
"They could be in the life-raft, Bobby." Tommy's eyebrows peaked hopefully.
Bobby's gaze was stony. "Wouldn't the lifeboat having a tracking beacon?"
Tommy swallowed. "Yeah." As soon as the instruments began working again, Tommy had checked for any signs of other craft in the water. There were none.
Bobby's face softened and he squeezed his friend's arm. "Sorry, Tom. But you don't know that family like I do. Fate seems to deal the Winchesters the short end of the stick every damn time."
Tommy nodded. "I know they mean a lot to you but, Ted's right; we gotta go slow. You said it yourself; it would be damn easy to roll right by'em."
Bobby knew he was right but guilt over getting the brothers involved in this hunt was eating him up. He thought about the number of arguments he'd had with their father over John's willingness to throw his sons into the line of fire and here he'd done the same damn thing.
He knew the Mari-Elena had shown up and was convinced the brothers had blasted her with rock salt to hold her at bay until he and Ted planted the explosives. It had kept Tommy safe as he waited on the boat, then given the three of them time to clear the blast zone before having to face the caravel. Now he had to make sure they got home safe.
He turned to Tommy, banging his fist against the rail of the ship. "Fine. Grid search it is. Where's the map?"
Dean rolled his head toward Sam. "I want one of those T-shirts."
Sam frowned, his shivering now uncontrollable. "W-what?"
Dean's eyes closed but he smiled. "You know…….. the ones we saw in that souvenir shop."
Sam managed a smile despite the tremors racking his body. The smile became a grimace when the shivers jarred his injured shoulder.
Dean pulled Sam closer, the gesture physically and emotionally symbolic. He stared at his brother, forcing another smile. He needed to keep him talking. "You remember the T-shirts, right Sam?"
Sam's eyes slid closed but he nodded. The T-shirts, obviously aimed at tourists, featured a drawing of a listing Mari-Elena, fully aflame, a cartoon face painted on her bow smiling drunkenly. It was accompanied by the saying 'I got wrecked in Chaleur Bay.' "Y-you're warped."
Dean coughed. "Hey, we get out of this mess, least they can do is give us a freakin' T-shirt." He opened his eyes and saw Sam's head lolling forward. "Dude, wake up."
Sam groaned loudly as Dean shook him, the tug on his right arm jarring the torn muscles in his left shoulder. His voice was little more than a mumble. "Dammit, Dean. That hurt."
"Sorry, Sammy – but no sleepin' on the job. You're watchin' out for me, remember?"
Sam shook his head. "Uh-uh….your turn. You said so."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Now you listen to me? Your timing seriously sucks, dude."
Dean felt like crap. The pain in his back spiked occasionally, especially as his shivering escalated, and his legs alternated between violent pins and needles and complete numbness. He was fading and worried as hell what would happen to Sam if he passed out.
His brother was fading even faster. His hazel eyes were glassy and unfocused, his speech slurred, his words more and more nonsensical.
Dean shook Sam's arm again. "Come on, Sammy. Thought you liked playin' in the big brother sandbox, liked bossin' me around." Dean's voice softened. "I'm givin' you a freebie, dude. Not gonna happen after today, I guarantee you that. So take advantage while you can."
Sam's eyes blinked dazedly. "Keep s-still."
Dean studied his brother worriedly. "That's it? That's all you've got?"
Sam's eyes slid closed. "You talk too much."
Dean's eyes widened. "Oh coming from you, that's rich."
The ocean rose suddenly beneath them, the swell lifting them up into the foggy canopy before dropping them abruptly, a wave of icy water washing over them. Dean gasped, but held tightly to Sam with his right hand, to their makeshift raft with his left.
The sudden movement and face full of cold water roused Sam briefly, a jolt of pain snapping him back to coherence. He coughed, eyes darting worriedly to his brother. "Dean?"
Dean nodded at his brother then screwed his eyes closed. "Just need a second."
Sam squeezed Dean's wrist. There was little strength in the gesture but the intent hit home. Dean peeled open his eyes, smiling his thanks through gritted teeth." He swallowed. "Want some good news?"
Sam frowned. 'What?"
Dean's eyes stayed fixed on Sam, willing him to stay conscious. "My shoulder doesn't hurt any more.
Sam's eyes rolled, more attitude than the tease of unconsciousness. "Liar."
Dean shook his head. "No bullshit. Shoulder feels good. Back hurts like a sonovabitch but shoulder's good as new."
"Wish mine was," Sam mumbled.
Dean frowned worriedly – Sam's eyes were quickly regaining that glassy, unfocused look. "Sammy, you stay with me."
Sam smiled tiredly. "Where am I gonna go?. You won't let go."
Dean returned the smile, his equally tired. "You got that backwards – it's you who won't let go of me."
Sam's eyes slid closed, his face a puzzled frown." Quit it, Dean. You're makin' my head hurt."
Dean swallowed. Muddled thinking was another symptom of worsening hypothermia. He had to keep Sam talking, keep him fighting."
"Kay. You tell me. What d'you wanna talk about?"
Sam's eyes stayed closed. "Don't wanna talk."
Dean snorted. "Since when? You ALWAYS wanna talk." He forced a smile. "Unless you're pissed at me. Then I get the silent treatment. You pissed at me, Sammy?"
Sam frowned as he forced his eyes open. "No."
"Good, but if you're not picking the topic, I will." Dean shook Sam's arm gently, eliciting a slight groan but temporarily grabbing his brother's attention. "If you could have a little MILF action, who'd you pick – Kate Hudson, Goldie Hawn or Angelina Jolie?"
Ted poured a cup of coffee from the Thermos and handed it to Bobby.
Bobby shook his head, scanning the waters beside the boat.
Ted gestured again with the cup. "Take it, Bobby. We've been out here more than three hours. You need to warm up."
"The boys have been out here just as long. Whether they're in a lifeboat or not, they'll be a helluva lot colder than me." Bobby kept scanning the water, using the light he held to alternately illuminate the water and signal into the fog, hoping it might be seen.
Ted narrowed his eyes at Bobby. "Last time I checked, you've got two hands. Drinking coffee ain't gonna stop you from searching. Just take the goddamn cup."
Bobby's eyes met Ted's briefly. He said nothing but took the proffered coffee then returned immediately to searching the water. Ted moved to the far side of the boat, picked up the flashlight he'd stashed there and began mirroring Bobby.
Tommy was in the wheelhouse, steering the boat slowly in the grid search pattern, flashing the light atop the wheelhouse in short bursts, hoping that if Sam and Dean were in the lifeboat, they had found the flashlight stowed onboard and would use it to return the signal. He alternated between scanning the fog and tracking the sonar and radar displays.
He glanced at his watch. They were heading toward their fourth hour of searching. The fog was breaking up, now thick in patches, murky and becoming clear in others. Daylight was breaking too which would be a huge help if and when the fog lifted for good.
The biggest problem was the water temperature – it was only mid-April and the coastal waters were still in the low 60s Fahrenheit. In deeper water it could drop into the 50s. At that temperature, hypothermia could be fatal in as little as five hours. Tommy's biggest fear, next to not finding the Winchester brothers, was finding them too late.
Tommy shivered, the temperature in the wheelhouse dropping suddenly. He rubbed at the goosebumps on his forearms, his eyes widening as the bridge compass began spinning crazily. He jumped as a cold hand gently squeezed his left arm. His head snapped round, eyes widening as a familiar face stared back at him.
"Bill?" It was one of his crewmen who'd been lost at sea following the fifth attack of the Mari-Elena. The translucent spirit, dressed in heavy fisherman's sweater, jeans and wool cap, stood beside Tommy on the bridge.
Tommy's heart was hammering wildly. He knew what Bobby, Ted and the Winchester brothers dealt with as hunters, had believed there was more to the spirit world than ghost stories since Bobby rid his century home of a poltergeist more than a decade earlier, but to see the spirit of an old friend, one whose funeral he'd been at only weeks ago, left him frozen in place.
The spirit of Bill Emerson smiled sadly at Tommy before turning toward the laminated search map spread out across the bridge. On the map, the waters the two men had sailed their entire adult lives were divided into squares, each one that had been searched crossed off with a grease pencil 'X.' Bill stretched out a ghostly hand, using his index finger to point to a specific square.
Tommy's eyes jumped from the map to Bill's spirit and back in wide-eyed disbelief. He swallowed, then placed a trembling finger on the same square Bill had pointed to. Instinctively he knew what his friend was showing him. "They're here?" His voice was barely audible.
Bill nodded, then faded from sight as quickly as he had appeared.
Tommy's heart was racing but he stood frozen in place, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Suddenly, he lurched into action. He swept the map from the bridge, spun the wheel and pushed forward the throttle. The Rod Bender's engines revved and the boat picked up speed.
Bobby and Ted appeared quickly at the wheelhouse door, confusion painted across their faces as they grabbed the doorjamb to regain their balance. Bobby stepped into the wheelhouse. "What the hell, Tommy?"
Tommy turned to face them, breathing heavily as he pushed the boat forward. "I know where the boys are."
Sam was no longer shivering. Dean wished that was a good thing but he knew better. His brother had been in the water too long and hypothermia had taken a firm hold.
Dean wasn't far behind but on their makeshift raft he was at least out of the water. The air temperature was warmer than the water, so hypothermia was advancing more slowly.
Dean swallowed as he took in the worsening weather, his vision sliding in and out of focus. He fought to keep his eyes open, maintain a visual connection with Sam as well as a physical one. His brother had been unconscious for a while now and Dean was terrified that, if he lost consciousness too, Sam would slip from his hold and disappear into the dark Atlantic.
Dean had kept Sam talking as long as he could, his brother's responses increasingly nonsensical as hypothermia tightened its grip. Dean hated when illness or injury messed with Sam's head. His brother's curiosity and thirst for knowledge had always been insatiable; as Sam grew up, Dean tolerated his incessant questions with varying degrees of patience, depending on mood and circumstance, but he'd always loved how Sam's mind worked, how he processed and analyzed everything from simple problems to complex cases. That made the effects of delirium or concussion even harder to take; not only was Sam injured, but seeing him not able to understand even the simplest instructions or questions left Dean raging with helplessness.
Here, lost in the Atlantic, that same sense of helplessness was overpowering him. He needed to fix this, do something to get them both to safety. He glanced at his brother, tightening his hold. "Don't you give up on us, Sammy," he rasped. "I won't."
Without warning, the ocean swelled beneath them, pushing them up into the fog before dropping them suddenly, the waves crashing over them in an icy torrent.
The raft rocked wildly. Dean gasped at the sudden drenching and the jolt of pain in his back while fighting to maintain both his balance and his grip on Sam. Another swell rose almost right behind it, this time hitting them at an angle. The raft tipped as it was picked up and Dean started to slide, gravity and the turbulent water trying to claw 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 lightening 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 coughed up more water as his eyes darted round. As they had been since they boarded the Stella Maris, he and Sam were alone. But there was another presence; 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."
His eyes widened as a figure materialized beside him. It was a man about his age, startlingly blue eyes staring at him from under a black wool cap. His cheeks were red with windburn, his face stubble-covered. While the man's arm felt solid around his chest, Dean could see right through him. The spirit smiled softly and nodded, raising his free hand to point to Sam. Dean's head snapped toward his brother.
A second spirit was in the water beside Sam. He was older, heavier set and wearing a black, peaked cap. His arm was wrapped securely around his brother.
Dean's eyes jumped from one spirit to the other. "Who…." His voice was a faint croak, barely audible.
The spirit holding on to Dean shook his head then pointed out into the fog. Dean turned in the direction of the point. The last of his strength was ebbing quickly and he was losing his fight to stay conscious. He frowned as a light cut through the fog, blinking rhythmically on and off.
His eyelids growing increasingly heavy, he turned to his brother. "It's a boat, Sammy."
The spirit next to his brother smiled. It was the last thing Dean was aware of before unconsciousness reached out and pulled him under.
"It was Bill." Tommy shook his head. "I worked with that man for 25 years, was best man at his wedding. He was standing right beside me on this bridge like he's done a thousand times before." He looked unsurely at Bobby.
Bobby smiled softly. "If you think I'm gonna tell you your nuts, you're wrong." He adjusted his ball cap as he scanned the waters ahead of them, the fog now rapidly thinning out. "In fact, I don't think this is the first time your crew helped save someone from the Mari-Elena."
Tommy startled. "What?"
Bobby turned back to face him. "When I was talking to that kid in the dive shop, he said when he came across the wreck of the last attack, he thought he saw five people in the water. He and his partner wrote it off as their eyes playin' tricks, especially after the survivors confirmed there were only two on board - but I'm guessin' he saw your crew, watchin' out for the survivors till help showed up."
Tommy stared out to sea. "But why haven't they, you know, moved on? They were good men, all of them. From what you've told me, spirits stay behind because they angry about something….."
Bobby shook his head. "Not always. Sometimes they just have unfinished business. I think your crew hated that other people may lose their lives at the hands of the Mari-Elena. and somehow stuck around to make sure it didn't happen."
Tommy smiled sadly. "Sounds like'em. Davy was the loudest guy you'd ever meet but the gentlest soul I know – except on the football field. Always stickin' up for the underdog. Bill and the kid, Jack, they were just good, hard-workin' men. Busted their asses every day, played just as hard but always put their families first."
Bobby nodded. "Sounds like they didn't want any other families to lose loved ones to that ghost ship."
Tommy smiled then blew out a breath to get his emotions back under control. He scanned the bridge, checking the instruments, then reached to the side and pulled back the throttle. "This is it – the co-ordinates Bill pointed to."
Bobby nodded and headed out on deck.
Ted, who'd been listening in from the doorway, gestured to the back of the boat. "We've got company again."
Bobby stood in the doorway. Bill's spirit was standing beside the railing. He turned toward Bobby, nodded, then pointed off the starboard side. Bobby shouted back to Tommy. "Turn her to starboard."
For the next five minutes they followed the spirit's directions, until Bill lowered his hands, grabbed the rail and nodded at Bobby. "Shut off the engines." Bobby looked frantically over the side. There was nothing. Ted was also scanning the water. The fog swirled around then dissipated suddenly.
Bobby's eyes widened. "There." His heart was pounding. As the fog pulled back, it revealed Dean laying on a jagged piece of wreckage. Sam was floating in the water beside him. Neither was moving. Two spirits were also in the water, seemingly watching over the brothers.
"Dean!" Bobby yelled over the side, waiting, hoping, for a response. There was none. "Sam, can you hear me?" Nothing.
Tommy had appeared at Bobby's side after shutting off the engines. His chest tightened again at the sight of the three spirits. As much as he wanted to talk to them, ask them what happened, see if there was some message he could pass along to their widows and children, he knew that his focus now needed to be on the living. On keeping them living. Bill stared at him, tacit understanding in his smile.
Bobby and Ted had already lowered the ramp at the back of the boat and quickly jumped into the water, protected from the cold by their insulated dive suits.
Tommy returned to the bridge, maneuvering the Rod Bender around so the open ramp was right next to the brothers.
Bobby reached Sam first. The spirit beside him moved out of the way to let him get close but didn't disappear. His hand shaking, afraid of what he might find, Bobby pressed his fingers to Sam's neck in search of a pulse. Relief flooded through him when he found one. It was weak, unsteady but it was something.
He glanced at Ted. "Sam's alive."
Ted nodded. "Dean too."
Bobby felt like someone had lifted a 1,000-pound weight from his shoulders but knew the brothers were far from out of danger. "Okay let's get'em the hell out of the water." He tried to move Sam but met resistance; Dean still had an iron lock on his brother's wrist.
Ted moved to pull Dean's hand off Sam's wrist. He frowned at the strength evident in the hold. He glanced at Bobby. "Protective, huh?"
Bobby nodded, trying to prise Sam's fingers lose. "Yeah. They can butt heads with the best of 'em but God help anyone who threatens one if the other's around."
With a grunt, Bobby pulled Sam's hand free and the younger Winchester slumped against him. Ted glanced up as he checked over Dean. "You got him?"
Bobby nodded, wrapping his arm around Sam's chest to pull him the short distance through the water to the boat ramp. "Come on, kid. Let's go home."
At the ramp, Tommy took Sam from him while Bobby clambered aboard and then the two men lifted him carefully out of the water and safely inside the boat. Bobby nodded at Tommy, patted Sam gently on the chest then returned to the water to help Ted get Dean on board.
Tommy quickly noticed Sam's left arm was at a strange angle. "Jeez, kid, what the hell happened?" The first-aid kit had been hauled onto the deck and Tommy reached inside for a pair of scissors. He cut open the sleeve of Sam's T-shirt, grimacing at the vivid bruising that covered his shoulder and quickly recognizing that the shoulder was out of joint. A lifetime spent aboard fishing boats told him the angry abrasions, irritated by the salt water, which circled Sam's arm were rope burns. Tommy smiled sympathetically at the young man he'd only just met but already liked immensely. "Looks like you had a close call, in more ways than one. But the worst is over – I promise you that."
Back in the water, Bobby frowned when he realized Ted hadn't moved Dean. "Problem?"
Ted nodded. "Yeah. Our spirit friends here seemed reluctant to let me move him. No broken bones that I can find but, if I'm reading their gestures right, they're worried about his back. I don't want to risk jostling his around any more than we have to; Safest thing is to assume the worst till we know different."
Bobby nodded then turned to the boat "Tommy." His old friend appeared suddenly in response to Bobby's shout. "We need the backboard." Tommy disappeared from sight, reappearing a few seconds later to lower the backboard over the side. Ted grabbed it then lay it on the water parallel to Dean.
Both men were experienced in first-aid and Ted trained in sea rescue. They quickly slid Dean from the debris which had helped save his life and onto the backboard which would allow them to get him out of the water without further aggravating any injury. As they fastened the thick Velcro straps around his head, chest, waist, thighs and calves, Bobby risked a glance at the spirits still hovering off to the side, nodding his thanks before turning back to Dean.
The spirits of the fishermen, sensing that their charges were now safe, that their job was done, faded from sight.
Bobby and Ted moved the backboard through the water until it was lined up with the ramp. Ted hauled himself quickly out of the water then held onto the backboard while Bobby did the same. The two of them then quickly pulled Dean safely inside.
Bobby grabbed a pair of scissors from the first aid kit to cut off Dean's soaked clothes, glancing at Sam as he did. The younger Winchester's clothes lay in a wet pile beside him, blankets already swaddling his legs, torso and head. As Tommy finished wrapping him in the blankets, Bobby noticed Sam's left arm was strapped across his chest. He shot a questioning look at Tommy.
His old friend caught the glance as he was fastening an oxygen mask on Sam's face. "Kid's shoulder's out. Looks bad. Best we can do for him now is keep it immobilized and let the hospital sort it out when he's got some good drugs running through his system."
Bobby nodded then turned back to Dean. Within a minute, Dean's wet clothes were also gone and he too was cocooned in thick blankets and breathing with the aid of oxygen. As Bobby was cracking open chemical heat packs to place between the layers of blankets for both brothers, Tommy reappeared from the wheelhouse with what looked like two bulky orange sleeping bags. He handed one to Ted, who now knelt beside Sam, and the other to Bobby, who was tending to Dean.
Bobby looked from the sleeping bag to Tommy.
Tommy shrugged. "Had a feeling we might need'em." He smiled sardonically. "Course, I thought it'd be you two warming your old bones inside'em."
Working quickly, they soon had each brother inside a sleeping bag, hoods pulled up around their heads, drawstrings pulled tightly. For Dean, the bag was big enough they could slide the backboard inside and still zip it around him.
Tommy disappeared inside the wheelhouse, fired up the engines and turned the boat toward shore. He'd called ahead and there would be an ambulance waiting for them at the dock, ready to take the Winchesters to the local hospital as soon as they pulled into port.
Bobby shook his head as he looked down at the brothers, lying side by side on the deck. They were barely recognizable inside the life-saving layers of blankets, eyes closed, faces hidden behind oxygen masks. It seemed days ago, not hours, that they had all been sitting around the table at the bar, drinking beer and planning out the hunt.
He kicked himself for making that phone call, for dragging the boys into this case. The Winchesters had lost far too much in the name of helping others, in the name of vengeance. He felt guilty as hell as he watched over them, willing the boat to go faster, wishing he could do more.
He frowned as he saw Dean's sleeping bag move slightly. He thought for a moment it was wishful thinking, but Dean was indeed stirring. Bobby dropped to his knees at the side of the sleeping bag. Dean was barely visible, the blankets and sleeping bag wrapped tightly round his head, the strap from the backboard running across his forehead, immobilizing his head, and the oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose. But, between them, two tired green eyes slid open.
Bobby smiled, placing a hand on the side of Dean's head, hoping he could sense the gesture through the layers of blankets. "Hey, kid, good to have you back."
Dean's eyes blinked, still unfocused. He coughed, his breath fogging up the oxygen mask, then frowned in apparent annoyance.
Bobby leaned in closer. "Looks like you hurt your back. We've got you strapped to a backboard till docs can figure out how bad it is. Try and relax; you're gonna be safe on dry land before you know it."
The frown remained and Bobby realized Dean was trying to say something. He leaned in closer but still couldn't make out the words. Dean, still not fully conscious, was quickly becoming agitated. Bobby pulled aside the oxygen mask and placed his hands on either side of Dean's face. "Hey now, gettin' yourself bent outta shape ain't gonna help anyone. You gotta relax, Dean."
Hazy green eyes were staring up at him, barely focused but in a weak attempt at a glare. The reason became immediately apparent when Dean was able to form one word. "Sam."
Bobby smiled. "Sam's right here. Bundled up just like you. We fished you both out now we're just trying to keep you warm till we get to the hospital."
Ted, who had been watching over Sam, stood up and disappeared suddenly into the wheelhouse. He emerged a few seconds later with a mirror usually hanging near the bridge to help with navigating near docks. He handed it to Bobby who frowned, then smiled when he realized what Ted had in mind.
He moved from between the two brothers and knelt at Dean's right, lifting the mirror over Dean. With Dean's head held stationary by the backboard he couldn't turn to see Sam. Bobby tilted the mirror slightly. "Look in the mirror, Dean. Sam's to your left."
Dean's eyes blinked a few times then turned upwards to stare at the mirror, eventually sliding to the left. The tension Bobby had felt radiating from Dean dissipated slowly. His eyes stayed on Sam until, unable to fend off exhaustion any longer, they slid shut.
Bobby lowered the mirror and nodded his thanks to Ted. "Good idea."
Ted smiled. "Figured he needed to see for himself his kid brother was okay."
"Yeah." Bobby nodded, glancing from Sam to Dean and back "And we just need to make sure they stay that way."
Sam's eyes blinked in confusion. Dean was talking but he had no idea what he was saying; the timbre and cadence so familiar but the words warped and twisted like he was speaking a foreign language. His brow furrowed as he concentrated harder.
"Come on, Sammy. All the way. You've slept long enough – missed all kinds of crap, including Bobby in a wetsuit. Okay, scratch that – love the guy but that's somethin' neither of us needed to see."
Sam's frown deepened. His brother was rambling and that meant he was worried, doped up – or both. That was the push Sam needed. He peeled open his eyes, but was still fighting to find focus.
He squinted against the bright, artificial light, taking in the pale blue walls of the small hospital room and the white blanket that covered him. He felt stiff, sore, like the flu had sapped all his energy, with the added bonus that his left arm was strapped across his chest and completely immobile. Pain sparked dully as he tried moving and he quickly gave up on the idea. His vision settled on Dean, dressed in scrub pants and a white T-shirt, who was pacing slowly beside his bed. Well, pacing was too generous – shuffling like a 90-year-old was more accurate.
"What's wrong with you?" Sam's voice was barely a whisper but it was enough to stop Dean's ramblings.
"Sammy?" A broad smile lit up Dean's face as he moved to the side of Sam's bed. "Bout friggin' time you woke up.'
Sam cleared his throat, grimacing at the pasty taste in mouth. "No bullshit, Dean. Why're you walkin' funny?"
"Never mind me, you in pain?"
Sam frowned. "Don't change the subject."
Dean's jaw clenched. "My back got a little banged up. Docs took care of it."
Worry was helping push back the last vestiges of sleep. Sam's eyes darted from side to side as he sifted through his fuzzy memories. He flashed forward quickly from being trapped underneath the capsized Stella Maris, through the struggle to reach the surface, and the search for Dean. He winced as he remembered his arm being caught in the rope and pulled out of socket, his right hand absently rubbing the sling that immobilized his injured limb. His focus quickly returned to his brother as he remembered Dean's legs 'not workin' right' and the struggle to keep him afloat, both in the water and on the raft.
He frowned at Dean. "You couldn't feel your legs."
"Can now. See." Dean took a couple of unsteady steps backward and then forward to prove his point.
Sam's frown remained. "That's not walking, that's shuffling." Sam cleared his throat. "Why?"
Dean frowned. "Why, what?" He moved forward slowly and pressed a button to raise the head of Sam's bed so he was more-or-less sitting up. He reached for a plastic pitcher on the bedside table, poured water into the plastic cup beside it, then handed the cup to his brother.
Sam took a sip through the straw, nodding gratefully. "Why were you having trouble moving your legs?"
Dean shrugged. "Some fancy name for it, I don't remember but, basically, whatever hit me caused some swelling around my spine; stopped a few of the nerves there from getting signals down to my legs."
The furrows in Sam's brow deepened. "And now?"
Dean shrugged. "After a few days of happy juice, swelling's gone down, goin' down anyway – now it just feels like a bad case of pins and needles again."
Sam kept pressing. "But that's not permanent, right? Your legs'll be okay?"
"Chill, Sam. I'll be fine. They haven't cut me off the happy juice yet and they've got me in this gizmo." He hoisted his T-shirt to reveal some kind of brace, Velcro straps extending from the back and around the sides to hold it snug. "You're the one we've been losin' sleep over."
Sam's face crumpled in confusion. "Why?"
"Because you wouldn't wake up. You've got the hottest nurse in this place lookin' after you and you're on a snooze-a-thon." Dean's voice softened. "Seriously, you feelin' okay?"
Sam grimaced as he tried moving. "Little stiff, head's fuzzy – how long was I out?"
"Four days. Hypothermia did a real number on you." Dean took the cup of water from Sam's hand and returned it to the bedside table. "What do you remember?"
Sam shuffled again, trying to get comfortable. "Don't remember our rescue if that's what you mean. Bobby find us?"
"With a little help from Tommy's crew." He shrugged at Sam's puzzled frown. "Tommy's late crew. Somehow the spirits of the three men lost in that fifth attack were still hanging round. One of them pointed the rescue boat in the right direction, helped Tommy find us. The other two stopped me from sliding into the drink, stopped you from goin' under. I caught a glimpse of them….thought I was hallucinating but Bobby, Ted, Tommy – they all saw'em too."
Sam's eyes widened. "Why'd you think they were still hangin' round? The spirits, I mean."
Dean shook his head. "Dunno. Sounds like they were pretty cool guys. Looks like they were on a mission to help other victims of the Mari-Elena until somebody stopped her."
Sam's jaw clenched. "And we stopped her, right?"
Dean nodded. "Oh yeah. Ted's explosives took care of the wreck. The ghost ship went after Bobby's boat -"
"He's okay?" Sam interrupted.
"He's fine. Watched it blow up one last time before he started looking for us." Dean smiled. "The disappearance of the wreck was a shock to that diver dude. It's been kinda big news around here past couple of days."
Dean's smile faded as he stared at Sam. "You remember anything since you landed in here?"
Sam shrugged, then blew out breath. "Not much before now. Last thing was, um, some doctor grillin' me."
Dean nodded. "That was yesterday – up in Intensive Care." He smiled when he saw Sam's eyes widen. "Relax, apparently it's S.O.P. with hypothermia. Need to make sure the cold didn't screw with your heart or your head.
"It didn't," he added to answer Sam's unspoken question. His voice softened, for a brief moment his emotions laid bare. "Had us worried there, Sammy." Dean cleared his throat and the familiar grin returned. "But your heart's fine – as emo as ever. Your head - well nobody can help with that. Rest of you is a little banged up but, after a little time in the shop, you'll be fine."
Sam's gaze was fixed on his brother. "Seriously, Dean – you okay?
Dean exhaled loudly. "Seriously, Sam – I'm good."
Sam's gaze didn't waver. "I'll ask your doctor."
Dean sighed. "I was up in ICU for the first day. They booted me down here when I woke up. I've been on happy juice since. Once the swelling around my spine goes away, I'll be good as new. I've just been hangin' around, goin' nuts, waiting for you to wake up and your doctors to tell me whether you need surgery or not."
"Me?" Sam glanced down at his sling. "My shoulder?"
Dean nodded. "They got the joint back in the socket but they might need to repair the muscle damage. But, now the swelling's starting to go down, they tell me there's more tears than rips – which, apparently, is a good thing. You'll be stuck with that sling for a while but, fingers crossed, you should be able to avoid the knife." He smiled. "You dodged a bullet there, kiddo."
Sam's eyes widened. "Speaking of bullets, how's your shoulder?"
Dean shook his head. "That's a weird one." He pulled down the neck of his T-shirt – the old scars were clearly visible, the burn caused by the hot poker the Benders had used to torture him, the knot of scar tissue from the bullet a possessed Sam had fired into him, but there were no new wounds.
Sam's eyebrows peaked. "What the hell, Dean? We both saw the blood, saw the hole in the life jacket, the hole in your shoulder ……."
Dean glanced down at his shoulder. "No need to convince me, - I felt the damn thing. Lost a perfectly good T-shirt too." He looked up at Sam and shrugged. "Pressure bandage you put on it was still attached when they fished us out. Bobby says he pulled it off to see what the problem was and – nada. Looks like it healed when the Mari-Elena was destroyed."
Sam frowned. "The ER docs not question the blood on your shirt – where it came from?"
Dean shook his head. "Hypothermia had a pretty tight hold on us, dude. By the time we got to the ER our clothes were long gone. We were wearin' nothing but blankets and birthday suits." He bit back a smile when he saw Sam blush lightly. "A lot of blankets."
Sam blew out a breath. "Well at least we don't have to worry about cops and awkward questions - and one less thing for you to recover from." He smiled guiltily. "That shoulder's taken more than its fair share of abuse."
There was a warning note in Dean's voice. "Don't go there, Sam." He took a step closer to his brother, hands gripping the bed rail. "Shit happens that's beyond our control – you know that as well as I do. The real test is how we deal with it. The crap we went through out there – we got through it together, watchin' out for each other."
Sam nodded. He glanced down at his right wrist and frowned. Underneath the IV that snaked from the back of his hand, up his wrist and to the pole at the side of his bed, his skin was bruised. As he studied it closely, he realized the bruise was in the clear shape of a hand. Dean's hand. He glanced up at his brother who was staring at the same bruise.
Dean smiled apologetically. "Yeah, um, sorry about that, dude. Don't know my own strength, I guess."
Sam shook his head. "Like you said. Don't go there. If you hadn't held on……." Rising emotion stole Sam's voice.
Dean rested his hand on Sam's wrist, his fingers shadowing the bruise in a far more gentle version of the iron grip he'd used out in the ocean. "Like I said, Sammy, we look out for each other. You didn't let go of me. Couldn't let you one up me now, could I?"
Sam snorted, clearing his throat to get his emotions back under control. "No." He smiled up at Dean, eyes glassy. "So you're kickin' me out of the big brother sandbox, huh?"
Dean bit back a smile as he stepped back to press a button on the wall at the head of the empty bed beside Sam. "You can play - once in a while. Just don't get too comfy. I've got a reputation to uphold, y'know?"
Sam nodded, his smile widening. "Yeah, I've noticed." He motioned with his head to the button Dean had just punched. "What'd you do?"
His brother was grimacing as he hauled himself back into the empty bed. He was breathing heavily by the time both legs were under the covers. "Docs wanted to know when you woke up. Figured we should invite'em to this shindig."
Sam frowned at the pain registering clearly on Dean's face. "What's wrong?"
Dean shook his head as he fumbled for the pole at the side of his bed, grabbed the IV line that had been hanging loosely from it and inserted the needle into the catheter in the back of his hand. "M'okay." He blew out a breath then glanced at Sam. "Standin' up or lyin' down, I'm good – it's just the transition between the two is kind of a bitch."
Sam's jaw clenched. "You weren't supposed to be out of bed, were you?"
Dean pulled a face as he searched for the right answer. "Technically, no."
Sam's eyes widened. "Technically?"
Dean shrugged. "'Unsupervised' was the word they used." He turned to Sam, his nose wrinkling in disgust. "But, man, I got stuck with a Nurse Ratchet clone – real bony arms, walks like she's always late for somethin' - and her teeth make this funny clicking sound when she talks. She creeps me out, man."
Sam smiled, shaking his head. "Can't wait to meet her."
Dean jabbed a finger toward Sam. "You rat me out, I am so putting itching powder down your sling."
Sam snorted. "Better than the last place you put it."
Sam stared for a moment, it hitting home how rare it was to see Dean really smile.
"What?" Dean was looking at his curiously.
"Nothin'. It's just…… nothin'."
Sam nestled his head into his pillow and closed his eyes. In the months following their dad's death, one of the things he'd missed the most was Dean's smile. Not the devilish grin he gave potential conquests, not the smirk when they'd pulled off another con but a simple, genuine smile. Life, as they knew it, gave them far too few things to smile about so, when Dean did smile, he knew things were good, were back to normal. At least as normal as things got when your last name was Winchester.
Sam looked up from the duffel bag on his hospital bed as he packed his things. The process was slow since he was working one-handed, his left arm still immobilized across his chest. "No apology necessary, Bobby. We knew what we were getting into." Sam's voice was soft, matter-of-fact. "And God knows we've gotten ourselves into far bigger messes."
Bobby scratched his head under the peak of his ballcap, still looking guilty. "Yeah, the operative words there are 'gotten yourselves into.'" He shoved his hands in his pockets, glancing from Sam to Dean. "When that happens, I can chew you out in good conscience for bein' idjits. When I'm the one who throws you to the lions……." He shook his head.
Dean zipped his duffel closed, wincing as he pulled it off the bed and dropped it on the floor. "Come on, Bobby. You've known us long enough to know we don't do anything we don't want to. It's just…….." He shrugged. "Sometimes things go a little sideways."
Sam's eyebrows arched in surprise. "Sometimes?"
Dean considered the comment for a moment, then shrugged. "Okay, most times." He turned back to Bobby. "But, hell, I've lost count the number of times you've come through for us. 'Bout damn time we returned the favor."
Bobby shook his head. "Well, from here on in, I'll stick to askin' for help with research; it's easier on the ol' ticker – for all of us." His voice softened. "Thanks boys – for your help here, for……everything."
The brothers had made it clear no apology was necessary but knowing how close he'd come to losing them, Bobby couldn't shake the guilt. Hell, he'd threatened to shoot John Winchester for asking too much of his boys as part of his obsessive quest for vengeance and yet, here, now, he'd done the same damn thing in the name of a hunt.
Logically, he knew he couldn't stop the Winchesters if they were hell-bent on throwing themselves into something dangerous but this case had made one thing crystal clear: it would be a cold day in hell before he was the one who dropped them in the deep end again.
"Bobby?" Sam was looking at him curiously, brow furrowing.
Bobby shook his head. Sometimes he swore the kid could see right into his soul. He cleared his throat. "I'm good. Look, I'm gonna bring the truck around. I've got the Impala hooked to the back. I'll take the two of you back to my place till you're ready to get back to work."
Dean's expression was more pained than anything related to his injuries. "You're towin' my car?"
Sam bit back a smile. "You can't drive, Dean – not till your back's better." He tapped his sling. "And neither can I – so unless you want to stick around here for a couple of weeks…….."
"Hell no. Too much water around here for my liking – and nowhere near enough beach and bikinis." Dean nodded. "Thanks, Bobby."
Bobby smiled, bending down to pick up Dean's duffel. "No problem, kid. I'll see you downstairs when you're ready." He headed out the door leaving Dean leaning against the wall by the window and Sam packing his last few belongings.
Dean watched him for a moment. "Talked to you doctor, Sammy. Looks like surgery is off the table. He says your shoulder's doin' well – swelling's way down, muscle damage is minimal. It's gonna take a while, a little bit of rehab before we can start sparring again, but you're gonna be good as new in no time."
Sam nodded as he dropped his shaving kit into his duffel. "Yeah. I was lucky – we both were." He looked up at Dean. "Had a chat with your doctor, too." He smiled. "How did he put it? 'Pleased with your progress despite a reluctance to follow doctor's orders'."
Dean waved a hand dismissively.
Sam glanced down at his right wrist; the bruising there was starting to fade, the black and blue morphing into yellow and green but the shape of his brother's hand still clearly visible. He turned to face Dean. "In case I didn't say it before, thanks, man – you know, for, um, not letting go."
Dean stared at Sam for a moment then turned his gaze out the window. "Yeah, well we both had a little supernatural help on that score."
Sam sat on the edge of the bed. "I don't doubt the spirits helped us but Tommy said the one in the wheelhouse didn't show up till they'd been looking for us for almost four hours. You said you sensed the spirits with us just before you passed out. That means, for most of the time in the water, it was just you and me."
Dean turned back to face Sam, hands shoved deep in his pockets. "We kept each other goin', Sammy. It's what we do, right? Besides, I had to pay you back for that cuddle time when my legs quit on me." He pulled a hand from his pocket and jabbed a finger toward his brother. "And if you EVER mention that again, I really will have to kick your ass."
Sam's smile became a broad grin as he turned back to his packing. He reached into his bag, pulled out a T-shirt, held it tightly for a moment then turned and threw it at his brother.
Dean caught it reflexively. "What the hell?"
His brother turned to shove his journal and a couple of magazines into his bag. "I asked Bobby to pick it up for you."
Dean unfolded the shirt, then snorted when he saw the front. It was the souvenir shop shirt, featuring the cartoon rendition of a drunken Mari-Elena under the phrase "I got wrecked in Chaleur Bay."
A smile was tugging at the corner of Dean's mouth when he looked up at Sam. "I dunno, after everything that's happened, hits a little too close to home, don't you think?"
Sam shook his head. 'For you? Nah. Besides you need a new one – to replace the one with the bullet hole in it."
Dean glanced again at the T-shirt. "But if you don't mind, from here on in, when I get wrecked, it'll involve lots of liquor, straight up. No water." He looked over at his brother. "All set?"
Sam zipped the duffel closed and gave the hospital room one last glance. "Yeah."
"Good." Dean winced as he pushed himself off the wall. "Then let's hightail it before Nurse Ratchet and crew show up with mandatory wheelchairs."
Sam shot his brother a look. "Hightail it? Dude, the way you're walking, I've seen patients from the geriatric ward overtake you in the hallway."
Dean scowled good-naturedly as he walked toward the door. "You were such a sweet kid. How you grew up to be such a smart ass I'll never know."
Sam grinned, grabbed his bag and followed his brother. "Not a clue, Dean. Not a clue."
A/N: For those curious, this story was inspired by a 'true' legend, although I'm pretty sure that's an oxymoron. Anyhoo – Chaleur Bay is actually the Baie des Chaleurs in eastern Canada. The translation from French is Warm Bay but, because of tales of a fire ship said to haunt the waters, it is known colloquially as the Bay of Fire.
The fire ship is thought to be 'ghost light' (or light of no known origin). The light is usually seen before a storm and speculation as to its cause ranges from rotting vegetation releasing natural gases to the naturally occurring electrical discharge known as St Elmo's Fire.
But some insist it is a blazing ghost ship. There is no definitive story behind the legend; some say it is sailed by a Portuguese crew who swore to haunt the bay for 1,000 years after being attacked by natives (who, understandably, objected to being kidnapped for the slave trade); others say a dying woman cursed the pirates who killed her, saying 'for as long as the world is, may you burn on the bay.' Still another version says superstitious sailors blamed recent bad luck on a crew member and killed him. When the ship caught fire, it was thought to be spilled catholic blood reaping vengeance.
I added yet another twist to the legend. :) I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading and please let me know what you think.