Chapter 8

Dean had just turned around, when a cold gust shot past him, then he heard his brother yelp in alarm. Before he could aim the shotgun at the reverend's ghost, it had managed to draw Sam into the coffin and slammed the lid shut. "Sammy!", Dean called and fired another load at their adversary, hindering him from disappearing into the coffin where he couldn't reach him.

He heard a muffled response, focusing solely on the word "okay" and ignoring the fear for his brother's life that was building itself up inside of him once again. "Okay"just would have to do for now. Dean looked at the third sarcophagus in the eastern niche which had to contain the remains of the reverend, moving towards it without wasting another valuable second. When he felt the chilly breeze this time, he reflexively threw himself on the floor, used the impetus of the fall to roll around and get back on his feet and fired one more shot at the shade of the reverend that had built itself up behind him. Ten seconds till he'd be back. Dean laid the shotgun on the ground and grabbed the lid of the sarcophagus, lifting it as quickly as his muscles would allow and tossing it over as soon as it overbalanced. Inside, he could see the corpse of a man dressed in rotten black gowns, the handle of a dagger showing from his chest. Using what was left inside the flask, he soaked the reverend's clothes in gasoline, spread a handful of salt on the body and searched for a lighter inside his pocket when he was suddenly lifted up and tossed forward so forcibly that he let out a cry of surprise, abruptly interrupted by a desperate gasp for air when he hit the wall and crashed into the coffin holding Charleston's remains.

From the other side of the chamber, he could hear Sammy yell his name, but he hadn't any breath left to tell him that he was alright. More or less, anyways. While he still tried to regain full consciousness, he heard an inauspicious scraping coming from behind the sarcophagus, like stone against stone, then the lid came flying back into place so fast Dean hadn't the time to react. Almost inaudibly, he heard Sam call Charleston's name this time, then darkness engulfed him.

XXXXX

Sam didn't wait to find out whether he suffered from claustrophobia. Only a second after the lid had closed, he stretched both arms out, placed them on the inner side of the cover stone and tried to push it up, stemming his back against the bottom of the coffin. Nothing happened. Dammit!, he swore silently, attempting to apply more strength, but the lid just wouldn't budge. Through the thick stone, he could hear Dean call his name, another shot sounded. How much air did a solid stone sarcophagus hold?, he thought, feeling a tinge of fear arise inside him that he managed to brush away for now. Enough for him to survive an hour at the least, he calmed himself. More than enough time for Dean to get rid of the reverend. "I'm okay!", he shouted back at Dean, hoping his brother could hear him and would return to focusing on the task at hand.

Another bang, meaning Dean would have to reload. But the familiar clicking didn't sound. Sam tried to breathe as silently as possible, trying to pick up anything from outside the coffin. Nothing. His heart beat violently inside his chest, causing the blood to rush in his ears. Still nothing. Then, finally, he heard another thud, probably the lid of the third sarcophagus falling, which meant Dean had almost made it. But the relieve he had felt was overpowered by concern just an instant later when he heard a loud scream, followed by the sound of a body crashing against stone. "Dean!", he called at the top of his voice and tried once more to break free from his prison without succeeding. "Dean, are you alright? Talk to me, bro!", he yelled, not caring about how much air he was using anymore. He hammered his fists against the inner side of the stone lid, again and again, desperately trying to move the heavy cover. No use. He had to attempt something else. "I'm here, Charleston!", he called out for the reverend this time, hoping that maybe the spirit's desire for revenge was stronger than his sense of reason. "It's me you want, you bastard! Come and get –". He nearly choked on the last word, me, when he felt the air growing chilly around him, stopping every movement and fearfully staring into the darkness around him. He was here. He could feel him. Icy cold metal touched his left cheek, moved down, reached his chest and slashed right through his shirt, leaving a long, bloody mark on his skin. The next cut was deeper, closer to the heart and far more painful, causing Sam to let out a frightened yelp.

Embrace Hell, hunter, Charleston whispered. Sam cried out, first in panic, then in anguish when he felt the dagger being placed on his chest and pushed down, slowly, painstakingly slowly.

XXXXX

Dean coughed, racked with a searing pain in his back and his head, tasting blood in his mouth. "Son of a bitch", he hissed and tried to push the lid off as soon as his strength returned, but it wouldn't move an inch. Beneath him, the corpse squished at every one of his movements, but at least the gasoline drowned out the smell of the dead body. Cursing under his breath, he made an attempt to sit up and shove the reverend's remains as far away from him as possible. Sam shouted something more that he couldn't understand, but he seemed to be cut off in the middle of his words; not a good sign. Neither was the short scream that followed his words. Dean could feel his heart begin to race at the thought of his little brother being alone with that psychotic s.o.b. inside the darkness of the narrow sarcophagus. He made another effort to remove the cover stone, this time sitting on his knees and stemming his back against it, but again he failed. Charleston must be using his ghostly powers to keep it locked in place, he supposed, and if that was true, he wouldn't be able to break free by relying on his strength. "Dammit!", he exclaimed, hammering his fists helplessly against the lid.

Then he heard Sammy scream again, much louder and much more stricken by despair than before, and he knew without a doubt that if he didn't act now it would be too late for the both of them.

He had to do something, anything.

"I must be crazy", he muttered while searching through the pockets of his leather jacket. God, he only hoped this would work...

XXXXX

Though Sam's reasonable side knew only too well that he couldn't touch Charleston's spirit, not to mention hurt it, his body seemed to ignore that fact. At first, when the dagger only had stung his skin, he had tried to find something useful inside his pockets, before he recalled that the bag of salt was lying in front of the sarcophagus together with his lighter. Then, when the pain grew stronger, his fingers started scanning the inside of the coffin for anything that might come in handy, a piece of iron, a grain of salt that might have fallen into it, but he had to give up empty handed. After that, his reason had surrendered and left him to struggle against the reverend's murderous intentions without any weapons. He tried to hurl himself from side to side, hoping that maybe the dagger would slip off, then, when he felt how dangerously close its tip was to his heart, he raised his arms once again in a desperate attempt to fling the lid off the sarcophagus, screams accompanying his every move.

We will go together, you and I, my last service to this world, Charleston hissed and Sam could feel how the pressure on the dagger intensified. His screams turned into a frantic breathing, his fingernails tried to drill themselves into the stone beneath him and broke. For a second, he was sure he had passed out, when suddenly the dagger was drawn back. An orange glow filled the coffin, stemming from Charleston's ghostly shade and disappearing only a heartbeat later, then a horrible scream echoed through the chamber, trailed off into a quiet whimper and finally relapsed into silence. Dean had done it.

Sam needed a short moment to catch his breath and to check whether the weapon had inflicted any permanent damage he had to take into account before he overstrained his body, but changed his mind when he heard a panicky yell coming from outside. "A little help here!" Stemming himself against the bottom of the sarcophagus again, he mustered all of his strength and shoved the lid away in one forceful motion. The orange light was still illuminating the chamber, coming from the eastern niche, where flames stood high out of the stone coffin. In front of it, his brother was performing some kind of confusingly erratic dance that Sam first understood when he discovered the smaller flames burning their way through Dean's jacket and trousers. Without hesitating any further, he jumped out of the sarcophagus and hurried towards him, taking his own jacket off and using it to extinguish the fires on his clothes. When he accidentally touched Dean's hand, his brother jerked backwards and let out an annoyed groan, rubbing his fist and muttering something under his breath. "Let me see that", Sam demanded and grabbed Dean's wrist, forcing his fingers open. "Ouch", he remarked at the small blisters spread widely on the palm. Then he looked up at Dean and made a compassionate hissing sound as he discovered the burns on Dean's bare skin. "Dude, what happened?"

"I had to do something to get your ass out of there, didn't I?", Dean replied, his lips forming some kind of grimaced smirk. Sam could easily see how much the notion had to hurt, but he decided not to comment on his brother's semi-brave attempt to cover his pain. "And you thought setting yourself on fire was the best way to do that?", he replied in the same tone Dean was using, put his singed jacket back on and pointed at the hole in the ceiling.

"Guess we both have some catching up to do", Dean sighed and accepted Sam's helping hand to get the hell out of the crypt.

XXXXX

The way back to Pickens had been a blur to Sam. He recalled having used the first aid kit they had brought to the ruins extensively, first treating Dean's burns, then focusing on the wounds the reverend had caused. On the way back to the car, the adrenaline had stopped pumping through his veins and the past events had finally taken their toll. His head had started spinning, black shadows had danced in front of his eyes and the next thing he had realised was the purring engine of the Impala beneath him, a mild breeze of air coming from the ventilation system and a fuzzy blanket keeping him warm. Then he must have dozed off again, only vaguely remembering Dean calling his name and shaking him when they had reached the motel. He thought he recalled Dean supporting him part of the way to their room, but wasn't too sure about any details when he awoke the next day.

"Well, aren't you a Sleeping Beauty", was the first thing he heard, accompanied by the radio being turned on, playing Morning After byChester Bennington. Far too loud for his taste. "Ugh", Sam managed to groan. He tried sitting up, but sank back into the soft matress underneath him with a whimper. "Did... did you get the license plate of the truck that ran me over?", he muttered, rubbing his temple in a feeble attempt to sooth the throbbing pain inside his head. The rest of his body didn't feel much better, displaying a frighteningly large number of cuts and bruises.

"Nope", Dean replied with a wide grin and rustled with a brown paper bag, "but I've got you breakfast." His face was covered in band aids and he limped slightly when he walked over to the bed, obviously in an awful lot of pain but apparently too proud to complain about it. He must've scared the hell out of the poor waitress at the sandwich bar, Sam pondered, but then again... he was Dean, after all, and he was still able to smile.

"How long was I out?", Sam asked with some delay, this time forcing himself to stand up, grabbing his jeans that were lying on a chair beside the bed and putting them on with some difficulty. Damn, that hurt! He didn't even remember taking his clothes off last night.

Dean reacted on his clumsy movements with a raised eyebrow, a short laugh and finally a mocking "Need some help there, princess?"

"Funny", Sam shot back, sitting down on the bed again and opening the sandwich bag. "Seriously, dude, how long?"

Dean sat down on the chair opposite to him and took one of sandwiches before he answered, suddenly a lot more serious. "Bit more than a day. Whatever happened to you in that church, it must've really drained you for energy."

Sam sighed, not really up for a long resumé right now, but he finally gave in and told his brother about the events inside the church, stopping once in a while to eat his breakfast. Meanwhile, Dean packed their things, making sure they hadn't forgotten anything, then they checked out of the motel and were back on the road some time after noon. When Sam had finished his story, shortly after they had left South Carolina, Dean slowed down and stared at him with something that Sam interpreted as a mixture of distress and compassion, but didn't comment on his story. They stopped at an inn somewhere outside Ecusta, North Carolina, to get some dinner-to-go, then Dean recounted how he had spent the night, concluding with how he had set the corpse on fire while he was still locked inside the stone coffin. "You're nuts", Sam declared once Dean had finished, though he didn't really mean it. He would have done exactly the same to save his brother from anything threatening him. "But thanks anyways", he added an instant later, smiling warmly.

"Yeah, no big deal", Dean muttered, scratching at one of the band aids. A short moment of akward silence ensued, then Dean broke it by changing the subject: "Emma called me yesterday morning. Leyla sends her thanks. The voices are gone."

"That's good to hear", Sam replied with a smile.

"And I've done some research while you were out", his brother continued, not reacting to Sam's impressed whistle. "Turns out there actually is a way to pull a man's soul from his body, the so-called Astral Projection, possible by using an incantation, Animum vult de-something-vis, vis, vis. Combined with a Key of Solomon, you can drag the spirit out and keep it trapped. Very clever for a simple preacher."

"The man was insane", Sam pointed out, staring absentmindedly out of the window. "and if we can do research on the spirit world, so could he. I guess it's just a question of being devoted enough to one's faith."

"Yeah, probably..." Dean reached for a bottle of water and took a long sip, then he began searching for a new radio channel while continuing: "What I don't get is why Leyla went crazy after hearing the voices of her friends. I mean, I heard your voice too, kinda. Could even feel your pain when that nutjob tried to split your hands in half."

"Guess, she was just more sensible to the spirit world around her", Sam explained. "Once the other spirits inside the church thought they had found someone who could hear them, they came at her like hungry wolves, leaving some kind of imprint that existed for as long as they did. I could feel them too when we entered the ruins at night, remember?"

Dean snorted in feigned indignation. "So you're saying I'm an insensible klutz?"

"Your words, not mine.", Sam grinned, his eyes twinkling teasingly.

Dean stared at him and countered with a dry voice: "If you're feeling so much better, I guess it's your turn to sleep on the floor again."

"We'll see about that", Sam retorted and leaned back in his seat, stretching himself luxuriously and enjoying the comfortable normality of quarreling with his brother while Asia's Daylight played in the radio and the sun went down behind them.