SUMMARY: A ticked-off Mother Nature crashes the party when the brothers are ghosthunting at a rice plantation mansion in South Carolina. Set mid-Season 2, before the deal. Hurt/comfort.

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Sam & Dean Winchester belong to Eric Kripke who entertains us each week and graciously lets us play in his sandbox when he turns out the lights and goes home for the night. (Or we sneak in when he's not looking, I'm not sure which.) Definitely for fun not profit.

RATING: T, for some minor language.

A/N: This story first appeared in the fanzine Blood Brothers 3, published in spring 2009. When I was offered the opportunity to submit a story to this fanzine, I was in the midst of writing Puppetmaster which gets pretty dark at times. As a result, this story took a much more hopeful turn – although I still managed to whump both brothers. *g* While it appeared in BB3 as one complete story, because of its length I've divided it here into two chapters, but am posting both simultaneously. Hope you enjoy.

ALL FALL DOWN

Chapter One

Arm raised to shield his eyes from the driving rain, Dean ran toward the plantation house. The wind pummeled him, making him fight for every step, each footfall sending up plumes of water as he plowed through the deep puddles that now covered the long drive.

His gray t-shirt, soaked through by the wind-driven rain, clung to the contours of his chest, while his sodden over-shirt flapped and billowed around him.

The branches of the massive, centuries-old oaks that lined each side of the drive creaked and moaned as the wind blasted through the leafy canopy, twigs and leaves ripped from the trees littering the ground. Dean squinted through the wind-whipped branches to the dark sky beyond. The storm had been barreling toward them since the previous day, and now Mother Nature was hauling out the heavy artillery.

"Bitch," he muttered, ducking his head and pushing forward again. As if the curse had been heard, a sudden, powerful gust shoved him to the side; he staggered, taking several stuttering steps before regaining his stride.

A loud crack overhead made him flinch. Dean barely had time to look up before a heavy branch, dripping with Spanish moss, crashed down in front of him, missing him by just a few feet. Unable to pull up in time, he hurdled the obstacle. He cleared it easily but lost his footing as he landed, falling heavily sideways. Twigs snapped under his weight, and he sent up a shower of muddy water as he hit the ground.

Dean shot a glare at the sky. "Touchy, much?" He rolled onto his stomach, then pushed himself up with a groan. He sat back on his heels and shook the mud from his hands before clambering unsteadily to his feet and dragging the back of his wrist across his face to clear the water from his eyes.

The rain was falling even heavier now, the solid downpour making it difficult to see the stately white house less than a hundred feet away. He blinked, wiped his face again, and resumed his labored run. Another violent gust gave him a shove; he stumbled but kept moving.

The wind shifted suddenly, now pushing him from behind and forcing him to run even faster to avoid being knocked over. He was breathing heavily as he turned past the majestic shade oak that stood guard near the front entrance and staggered up the wide front steps.

He skidded across the covered veranda, rain making the painted wooden floorboards slick, and shoved open one of the double front doors. The wind yanked the door from his hand, slamming it back against the wall. Dean scowled as he lurched inside, grabbed the edge of the door and, surprised by the amount of effort it took, shouldered it closed. He flipped the lock and slid the deadbolts into place before turning around and falling heavily against the door.

Chest heaving, water dripping off his hair and running down his face, his eyes slid closed as he fought to regain his breath.

"Nice look."

Dean's eyes snapped open to see Sam standing halfway up the large curved staircase in the center of the wide foyer, a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth as he stared down at his dripping wet, muddy brother.

"Bite me." Dean dragged a hand over his face, succeeding only in smearing the mud even more.

Sam grinned. "Car safe?"

Dean nodded. "Yep. In the carriage house, right next to Bill's Lexus and his BMW. Don't think she cares much for the company, but she should ride out the storm safely." He pushed himself off the door and walked toward the base of the stairs, ignoring the muddy footprints he left on the polished wood floor as he shrugged off his sodden shirt. "Unless, of course, the carriage house takes a direct hit or the Whatchamacallit River overflows its banks." He shuddered at the thought.

"It's the Waccamaw River." Sam shook his head. "Only you would go out in weather like this to check on your wheels."

Dean offered his brother an exaggerated grin before using his wet shirt to scrub his face clean. "She's one of a kind, Sammy, like me. Deserves taking care of." He refolded the shirt, then used it to wipe the mud from his hands and arms.

The lights flickered, and Sam glanced up, then around the foyer. Shutters fastened securely to each window of the house obscured all means of visually tracking the advancing storm. "It's getting bad, huh?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "It's a hurricane, Sam. By definition it's bad." He tossed his soiled shirt on top of the weapons bag that sat beside the stairs. "Any official updates?"

Sam resumed climbing the stairs. "Radio's a little iffy right now, but, last I heard, she's expected to make landfall within the hour." The lights flickered again as the howl of the wind outside grew even louder. "But from the sound of it, I'd say she's ahead of schedule."

Dean frowned. "Then why the hell are you up there? The deal was, the minute the storm got anywhere near here, we'd hole up in the root cellar until it passes."

Sam returned Dean's frown. "Yeah, great advice from the guy who was just out on the front lines. Besides," he held up the EMF meter, "this went off. And since figuring out who's haunting this place is why we're here in the middle of a hurricane instead of on the mainland with all the sane people, I figured I'd check it out."

Dean ignored the sarcasm. "And …?"

Sam shook his head. "It stopped making noise just before you came through the door. I'm just gonna check upstairs."

Bobby had fed them the tip about the haunting in Litchfield, South Carolina. The main house of the former rice plantation on Pawley's Island was being renovated to re-open as a boutique hotel. But before the owner welcomed paying guests, he wanted it exorcised of a ghost that appeared every time the weather turned nasty, everything from a run-of-the-mill thundershower to a full-scale hurricane.

"Bill, the owner, believes ghost stories will be a great selling point," Bobby had told them. "But he's marketing the place to retirees with money in their pockets. Last thing he needs is guests dying of fright on the premises if they run into the real thing.

"Problem is, nobody seems to know who the ghost is. Hopefully you boys can put a name to it, send it on its way before month's end when the inn opens."

It was Winchester luck that as they arrived on Pawley's Island, the forecast storm had escalated into a late-season hurricane. When it became clear the storm would pass directly over the island, the hotels emptied and most of the residents left for the mainland. The brothers, however, decided to stick it out. With work crews gone, they had the run of the house and, if the storm got really bad, the owner had set up a fully-stocked and reinforced shelter in the former root cellar.

Dean shook his head as he looked around the elegant, two-story foyer. "I don't get how this ghost can have haunted this place for almost two hundred years and nobody's gotten a good look at its ugly mug. The stories are all over the place. It's a Confederate deserter caught stealing food from the kitchen…It's a house slave who fell or was pushed down the stairs…It's the angry owner who—"

"None of which match up to any family or historical record." Sam sighed. "It's like a centuries-old game of telephone. The story keeps changing a little with each generation and, right now, we're so far from the truth, we don't have a clue what we're looking for." He glanced down at the EMF, which stayed silent. "All we've got are sudden cold spots, strange noises, and formless apparitions."

They'd been on the island for almost a week. The weather had stayed clear for the first couple days and there had been no signs of the spirit. But, since the storm had begun the previous day, they'd repeatedly heard someone running through the house and a strange, tinny crashing noise that sounded like thunder but came from inside the main foyer. They'd also found numerous cold spots, but the closest they'd come to seeing the spirit was a formless shape near the top of the stairs that had dissipated like mist when they approached.

Dean shivered, rubbing his arms to warm up. "So why the hell is it here? Any deaths or accidents blamed on a run-in with our mystery spook seem accidental. Besides, if it was out for revenge, you'd think it would want his or her victims to know who's after them."

Both brothers jumped at a loud bang from the back of the house.

Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. "Just a shutter coming loose. Something tells me it won't be the last one." He glanced down at the weapons bag. "Hold on. I'm coming with you."

Sam shook his head. "Go put on some dry clothes. I can handle this. Like you said, it's not vengeful." He held up his shotgun. "And if for some reason it tries to pull something, I've got this as backup."

"No, you've got me as backup." Dean grabbed his shotgun, then riffled through the bag until he found the salt rounds. "Dry clothes can wait. Besides, I wanna see whatever it is that's dragging its haunted ass around here as much as you do. A quick room-by-room check and then we—"

"You hear that?" Sam interrupted, stopping at the top of the stairs.

"What?" Dean listened for a moment. "The wind tearing off more shutters, the wind trying to rip off the roof, or the wind trying to bust down the front door?"

Sam shot Dean a look, but the whine of the EMF meter made his point. Then, as the howling wind lulled briefly, they both heard it: childlike laughter, followed by the sound of someone running.

Dean's shoulders slumped as he slipped the salt shells into the gun and shoved four more into his pocket. "Oh, don't tell me it's a kid." His jaw clenched as he snapped the gun closed and began climbing the stairs. "I hate it when it's kids, Sammy. Kids shouldn't be ghosts."

Sam nodded. "No argument from me, but between TB, polio, malaria, even the flu, this house has seen a lot of children die over the years. Throw in the occasional accident and-"

"Thank you, Mary Freakin' Sunshine." Dean scowled as his brother disappeared into the upstairs hallway. "Why couldn't it be that yellow-assed Confederate deserter, huh? I'd have no problem ganking a coward…but a kid? Man..." He shivered involuntarily, his wet clothes clinging uncomfortably. He pulled at his t-shirt as he climbed up the stairs. "And why is a kid still hanging around, anyway? Why would—?"

He froze as the temperature plummeted suddenly. His breath clouded in front of him as the strange thundering sound they'd heard earlier again began to build inside the foyer, the stairs vibrating beneath his feet in synch with the escalating rumble and the shrill whine of the EMF meter.

"Dean?"

Dean heard his brother call out to him, but before he had a chance to answer, a ghostly figure materialized suddenly on the stairs in front of him. It was a young boy, laughing as he sped toward Dean. The elder Winchester had no chance to raise his gun; the spirit barreled into him, its energy knocking him backward.

Dean grabbed frantically for the railing in a futile attempt to stop his fall, but gravity and momentum conspired against him, pulling him down the stairs, limbs tangling helplessly as he somersaulted backward. To Dean, it was a blur of movement and pain: the shotgun flying from his grasp, the back of his head cracking hard against the edge of a step, his arm slamming into the railing, followed by a splintering sound he prayed was wood and not bone, his knee twisting as his toe caught the edge of the carpet runner, and the sudden, harsh stop as he hit the hardwood floor at the base of the stairs.

He landed sprawled on his stomach, one leg bent under the other, his right arm trapped beneath him, his left arm wrapped around his head. He blinked slowly, wavering on the edge of consciousness.

He frowned at the sound of thunder echoing ominously from somewhere above. It would be much later before he realized that it was no sign from the heavens but his brother, pounding down the stairs to get to his side.

xxxXXXxxx

"Dean?" Sam's eyes widened as the same tinny crashing sound they'd heard earlier echoed from the foyer, clear even over the whine of the EMF meter. It was followed quickly by a muffled grunt and a sound he knew all too well: a body falling down stairs. "Dean!"

He spun quickly and raced back to the staircase, skidding to a stop in time to see his brother tumbling backward down the lower part of the stairs. Dean hit the railing, splintering the wood, before somersaulting again and landing facedown in the front hall.

Sam raced down the stairs, heart pounding against his chest, then fell to his knees at Dean's side, dropping his shotgun on the floor. "Dean? Hey. Talk to me."

Dean's eyes turned vacantly toward Sam before sliding shut.

"Damn it." Sam reached a hand forward, gently pressing his fingers against the side of Dean's neck. His brother's pulse was fast but steady. Sam nodded in relief and slid his hands under Dean's still-wet t-shirt, searching for the rise and fall of his chest. His brother's breathing was rapid and shallow.

"What the hell happened, huh?" Sam kept up the one-sided conversation as his hands ghosted over Dean, searching for any signs of broken bones or internal injuries. "I'm guessing you didn't trip over your own feet. So what gave you a shove?"

He grimaced in sympathy as he gently pulled free Dean's right arm, which had been trapped underneath his brother. Dean's wrist was already starting to swell. Sam inspected the limb, shaking his head worriedly. "Looks like a sprain, not a break, but since it's your gun hand, you're not gonna be happy either way."

He frowned as the lights flickered yet again, a frown that deepened when he caught sight of a deep gash on the back of Dean's head, hidden in his hair near the base of his skull. Sam pushed himself up, stepped over Dean, and ferreted out the first-aid kit from the weapons bag, still tucked beside the staircase. Returning to his brother's side, he pulled out a large square of gauze, ripped open the packaging and pressed the pad against the wound.

He glanced worriedly at Dean's lax face. "Listen, any time you wanna wake up and start bitching about everything I'm doing wrong is fine by me."

"He is badly hurt?"

Sam's gaze snapped up toward the young voice. A small boy, eyes wide with fear, stared down at the Winchesters through the railings of the stairs. A slight flicker confirmed what Sam already knew: the child was a spirit. He was about eight or nine years old, wearing a white shirt and black pants, and his small fingers held the railing tightly.

Keeping his left hand on the cloth pressed against Dean's head, Sam reached slowly for his shotgun with his right. "Did you do this?"

The boy's eyes tracked Sam's movement, and he recoiled at the sight of the gun, shaking his head. "It was an accident. He got in the way."

Sam's eyebrows peaked. "In the way of what?"

"Mmmmm…"

The moan quickly drew Sam's attention back to his brother. "Dean?"

Dean's eyelids fluttered briefly, then slowly slid open.

Sam smiled. "That's it. Talk to me." He risked a glance upward, but the young spirit was gone.

Dean groaned, screwing his eyes closed.

Sam pressed the gauze pad tightly against Dean's head. "Come on. You can do better than that."

Dean opened one eye and frowned up at his brother. "Ow."

Sam's smile widened. "That's a start." He shook his head. "You fell down the stairs. From out here, you're a little banged up but mostly okay. How's it feel from the inside?"

"Peachy…" Dean groaned again. "An' didn't fall…I—" His protest disappeared behind a howling gust of wind that rattled the front doors and ripped a few more shutters from their hinges. The sound of exploding glass echoed from somewhere upstairs. The lights flickered one last time and then went out. "Crap."

Sam blinked as his eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness. He reached across his brother, gently picked up Dean's uninjured left hand, and placed it on the back of his head, on top of the gauze dressing. "Hold that in place to stop the bleeding, and don't move." He pushed himself up and fumbled his way to the weapons bag. Rooting around inside it, his fingers latched instinctively around one of their large flashlights. Sam flicked it on and moved back to Dean's side.

Dean's eyes snapped shut as the flashlight beam fell on his face. "Damn it…"

"Sorry." Sam grimaced. "But I'm pretty sure power's out for good. That's our cue to get to the shelter. I'll finish patching you up when we get below. You ready to try moving?"

Dean nodded tersely.

Sam moved to Dean's left. "Okay, I'm gonna roll you onto your back and sit you up. Now, on three…one—"

"Jesus, Sam," Dean muttered grumpily. "I fell down the stairs, not off Mount Rushmore." He rolled himself over and shakily pushed himself up to a sitting position — only to immediately slump sideways against his brother. "Son of a bitch…"

"So much for 'peachy'." Sam shook his head. "You whacked the back of your head. In case you've forgotten basic brain anatomy, your balance center's back there. You're gonna be a little shaky, so just stow the stubborn crap and let me help you, all right?"

Dean peeled open his eyes and scowled up at Sam. "And you call me bossy?"

Sam smiled. "I had a good teacher." He kept his arm wrapped around Dean as he sat his brother upright. "You ready?"

Dean frowned. "Grab the guns first."

Sam's eyebrows peaked. "We'll deal with the guns when the storm's passed. We need to get you—"

"Guns, Sammy." Dean's frown deepened. "I want'em safe and dry with us."

Sam's jaw clenched. Head injuries tended to amplify his brother's stubborn streak; they could butt heads all afternoon but, bottom line, giving in to his demand would get them downstairs and to safety faster. "Whatever." He helped Dean lean back against the stairs, then stood up and used the beam of his flashlight to scan the floor of the foyer.

His own gun lay at his feet; Dean's gun had flown from his grasp, tumbled down the staircase, and skittered across the polished floor, coming to rest in front of the double front doors.

Sam bent down and grabbed his gun, then crossed the foyer to where Dean's lay. He snatched it up and turned to face his brother. "Happy now? We could—"

His voice disappeared inside an unearthly howl of wind, followed by the splintering of wood. Sam turned instinctively in the direction of the noise in time to see one of the front doors ripped from its hinges, fly toward him and slam into him at full force, knocking him off his feet. He was unconscious even before he hit the floor.

xxxXXXxxx

"Sam!" From his vantage point on the floor, Dean saw the whole thing play out in silhouette, backlit by the cold gray light of the storm pushing in through the now open entrance. He shakily pushed himself to his feet and lurched toward an unconscious Sam, who was pinned under the fallen door.

The howl of the wind was louder now as the storm pushed its way into the house through the broken doorway but, as Dean moved toward his brother, it didn't quite mask the unearthly groan from outside. Squinting against the driving rain, Dean's chest tightened at the sight in front of him.

Joining forces with the torrential rain, the hurricane winds had torn up the majestic oak which stood directly in front of the plantation house. Roots ripped free of the sodden earth, it slowly toppled over, smashing into the house, crushing the second-floor veranda and breaking through the ceiling of the two-story foyer.

Dean looked up in shock as the ceiling caved in. He could do nothing but cover his head protectively as he was knocked to the ground. Plaster and timber rained down, followed by the huge oak as it demolished the wall of the house, punched through into the foyer, and slammed into the staircase. It smashed the stairs at the point of impact before coming to rest at an awkward angle with the ground.

The storm winds seized the opportunity, barreling into the broken house, screaming loudly and dragging sheets of rain with them. Dust and debris swirled wildly in their wake as timber and plaster continued to fall from the second story. One large beam broke free, first at one end, then the other, dropping vertically to the floor. It landed on its end, wobbling for a moment before tipping over and slamming into the fallen front door. Another beam fell horizontally, kicking up dust as it hit the floor. Still another dropped, smashing the stair railing before getting caught up in the tree branches and slowly sliding through to join the other debris littered throughout the foyer.

Again and again the wind battered the house until, tired of the fight, it moved off to the north in search of new victims.

An eerie quiet settled over the ruined house, only the occasional moan of a latent gust breaking the silence. Rain still poured in through the broken walls, turning dust to mud, soaking into the plaster and running behind the once-elegant wallpaper, now blistered, puckered, and torn by the storm's assault.

The floor of the foyer was covered in rubble, feet deep in places. And somewhere beneath it all lay the two Winchesters.

Continued in Chapter 2