The moment awareness returned, Dean wished it hadn't.
His head felt like it was in a vise, the pressure pushing in from each side until he was sure his eyes were about to pop out.
"Gross," he muttered at the thought. He reached up to scrub a hand over his eyes, mostly to convince himself they were, indeed, still safely tucked in his head, then bit back a groan as his shoulder loudly protested the slight movement. "Damn it, Sam. You get the number of the truck that hit me?"
Dean's frown deepened when there was no answer. Instinct told him his brother's ass should be parked close by. "Sammy?"
There was still no reply.
Dean peeled open his eyes. The room blurred and twisted before slowly sliding into focus. It took a moment longer for his pounding head to figure out the green light that filled the room every five seconds.
Right. Lighthouse. Maggie. Concussion.
"I can't believe she threw me off the freaking lighthouse," Dean muttered, jumbled memories slowly clicking into place. He threw back the blanket covering him and pushed himself up onto his elbows. As he screwed his eyes closed and swallowed against the wave of nausea the change in elevation fuelled, he failed to notice the piece of paper that wafted off the blanket, slipped between the wall and the bed, and disappeared under the cot.
Dean forced open his eyes and glanced around the room. "Sam? Where the hell are you?"
The room was empty, his brother nowhere in sight.
"Damn it." With another groan, he swung his legs off the bed and sat up. His back, his head, and his shoulder each shouted their disapproval. "Son of a bitch…" Dean leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees, holding his head in his hands. Whenever he felt like this, either a bender or a fugly was to blame. "With a bender at least you have some freaking fun first," he grumbled.
"Sam." He shouted his brother's name, cringing as the volume ratcheted up his headache. There was still no answer.
Dean lifted his head. "Dude, if you're okay, I'm gonna kill you." He exhaled loudly. "One…two…three…" On three, he pushed himself to his feet, staggered the few steps to the spiral staircase in the center of the room and grabbed hold of the handrail to stop himself from face-planting on the floor. The room tilted and twisted like he was viewing the world through fun house mirrors, the flashing green light doing nothing to ease his pounding head or roiling stomach. He stood still, eyes again screwed shut, waiting for the dizziness to pass.
When it did, he risked opening his eyes and letting go of the rail. "So far, so good," he muttered when he remained standing. He glanced around. Salt lines were in place at each doorway and each window. Sam's words echoed through his head.
"You're safe here. Maggie's not getting in."
Yeah. They were safe. Here. Which meant Sam should be parked on his butt in the safely sealed room, checking the inventory list. Why the hell would he leave?
Dean could think of only two reasons: to get help or to go after Maggie. Dean felt like crap but his injuries weren't life-threatening, which meant it was likely the latter.
"I think I know how to get rid of Maggie. I just need to go downstairs."
"Damn it, Sam." Dean lurched toward the door that led into the lighthouse and yanked it open. "Sam!" His shout echoed down the spiral stairs but, like before, there was no answer.
That knot in Dean's gut was getting bigger by the second. The cottage was secured and all but one section of the lighthouse locked down. The only questionable area was the lower section of the tower where Maggie seemed to come and go freely, where all the attacks had taken place. But why the hell would Sam go there? And wherever he was, why wasn't he answering?
Dean reached for his phone, then cursed when he remembered it was in his jacket, the one currently drying on the back of a chair in front of the cottage fireplace. Not that it would do him much good: reception had been almost non-existent since the storm began.
His gaze fell on his duffel next to the cot. The old photo of Maggie and Gideon was leaning against it. After stumbling toward it, bending down to grab the photo almost toppled him, but he kept his feet. He ferreted out a bottle of water from his bag and took a long drink while he stared at the photo. Something in it had given Sam a clue. "What the hell did you see, Sammy?"
Dean stared at the image of the young couple standing in front of the fireplace in the cottage, but nothing came to mind. He screwed his eyes closed, trying to remember what Sam had said.
"It's not the photo that's keeping Maggie around. Look, it's right here…"
Dean was drawing a blank. "Son of a bitch." His vision blurred and he blinked rapidly to clear it, again grabbing the stair railing for balance until the dizziness passed. He stared again at the photo, trying to pull something from his foggy memory, but there was nothing. "Screw it." He shoved the photo in his pocket, loaded the shotgun, and headed down the stairs.
When he reached the final landing, he was dizzy, his stomach churning, but he pushed on. The line of salt across the stairs that led down to the entrance was unbroken. Dean chambered a round, stepped over the salt line, then moved cautiously to the lower level.
His stomach heaved as he rounded the final turn: Sam's shotgun lay abandoned on the stone floor, his open pack not far from it, the contents spilling out. The print on the wall was askew and the small hall table and coat-rack were both overturned. A container of salt was on the far side of the room, likely where it had rolled after being dropped.
"Sammy!" The knot in Dean's stomach was now the size of one of those boulders that lined the shore. When there was no answer, he grabbed Sam's gun, his pack, and that last container of salt and stumbled up the run of stairs that led to the passageway to the cottage. He'd search the house on the off chance Sam had retreated there after a clash with the spirit, but Sam's abandoned gun told him the cottage would be empty. If Sam had left under his own steam, no way would he have left the gun behind.
Dean's instincts proved sound. There was no sign of Sam anywhere in the keeper's quarters. By the time Dean had searched each room, he was lightheaded and nauseated, his right arm feeling like dead weight about to separate from his shoulder. He sat down on the floor in front of the fireplace only when he was about two steps away from collapsing.
He stared into the fire, now mostly glowing embers. "If you've hurt him, Maggie," he muttered, eyes glittering dangerously, "Hell will seem like Club Med before I'm done."
Dean retrieved the bottle of water from his duffel, twisted off the cap and drank greedily, then yanked out the photo of the Westwoods from his pocket. He stared at the image, willing something – anything – to jump out at him. "Damn it, what am I missing?"
His gaze jumped from the photo to the fireplace and back. In the photo, a painting of a seascape hung on the wall over the fireplace, while a pair of silver candlesticks, a framed floral print, and a clock topped the mantel. In the parlor, both the wall and the mantel were bare, although the rectangle of wallpaper far brighter than the rest of the room said a piece of art had hung over the fireplace until fairly recently.
"Packed away, I guess," Dean mumbled, frowning as his brother's voice tickled the edge of his memory.
"Look, it's right here…on the mantel. It's like…"
The mantel. It was another puzzle piece but the big picture was still blank. "It's like…what?" Sam words skirted his consciousness, teasingly close but still out of reach. "Son of a bitch." Dean stared again at the photo, his frown deepening as he took in each item on the mantel before focusing in on one item – the framed print. "I've seen that before. Where?"
That memory returned suddenly – it was the same one that hung on the wall in the entrance to the lighthouse. Dean quickly pushed himself to his feet. Too quickly. The room spun and he staggered sideways, knocking over the chair holding his drying clothes but saving himself by grabbing hold of the one Sam's clothes hung on. He grabbed a handful of Sam's jacket and closed his eyes, waiting for the dizzy spell to pass. "Keep it together, Dean," he growled at himself. "Keep it together, for Sam's sake."
As his head cleared, he grabbed his duffel, his gun, and the photo and headed back for the lighthouse. He leaned against the wall as he stumbled down the stairs, eyes peeled in case Maggie made a sudden appearance. Once at the entrance, he crossed the floor and pulled the photo from his pocket, holding it up beside the print, comparing the two. They were identical. Yanking the frame off the wall, he staggered back up the stairs to the landing, then fell back against the wall, sliding down to sit on the floor, safely surrounded by salt lines.
Dean put down his gun and stared at the print, or tapestry really, threads in shades of dark brown and russet woven together to form a basket of flowers. "What the hell makes you so special?" As Dean studied it closely, he realized it was not created with silk or wool. "It's hair – human hair, by the looks of it." Multiple strands were woven together horizontally and vertically to create the basket, glued down in curving lines to create the stems of each flower, then looped to form the individual petals of each flower.
"It's like the Cassidy case in Atlanta, remember?"
Dean did remember. A poltergeist had been making life miserable for the owners and guests of an antebellum mansion that had been converted into an inn. The spirit turned out to be the original owner's wife, who objected to paying guests taking up residence in her home. When she didn't disappear after the brothers torched her remains, they discovered a brooch of hers was among the antiques on display. Preserved inside a glass frame was a single rose, made from locks of her hair woven together with strands from each of her two children.
"Apparently it was a common practice in the Victorian era," Sam had said, looking up from his research books. "Mothers would use locks of their children's hair to create a tapestry or a piece of jewelry. Or, when a loved one died, they'd cut off a lock of their hair before burial and use that."
Dean was less than impressed. "Let me get this straight. Before they say good-bye to grandma, they cut off some of her hair and turn it into jewelry?"
Sam shrugged. "Photography was in its infancy, and not everyone could afford a painted portrait of family members. This was something everyone, rich or poor, could do to create a keepsake."
Dean didn't get the appeal. "Good riddance," was all he said as he burned the brooch and dispatched the poltergeist.
Now, as Dean stared at the floral tapestry, he wanted nothing more than to do the same thing: smash the glass, salt it, and set the whole thing alight. That would get rid of Maggie, but it wouldn't tell him where Sam was. Or get him back.
He ran his finger down the glass, tracing the outline of each petal. Some of the hair was dark brown, likely Maggie's. The rest was a lighter brown, similar in color to Sam's. It was probably Gideon's, and that meant the tapestry was important to Maggie. He could use that.
Dean slammed the frame into the wall, shattering the glass. Dumping out the broken pieces, he leaned forward and grabbed a handful of salt from the line that protected the top of the stairs and sprinkled it over the tapestry. Picking up his duffel and his gun, he staggered halfway down the stairs. From that vantage point, he could see up to the landing and down to the entrance. He sat down, back against the wall, tapestry on his lap, and pulled his lighter from his pocket.
"Hey, Maggie!" he yelled. "How 'bout we make a trade?"
Violent shivers jolted Sam back to consciousness. He was freezing, his breath hitching audibly. His head hung forward, his chin knocking against his chest with each tremor that ripped through him.
He curled up his knees and moved to wrap his arms around them, trying to conserve body heat, then frowned at the strange, heavy weight pinning his arms at his sides. He fought against the hold, his frown deepening over the accompanying splash of water and clink of metal.
Sam forced open his eyes, not having a clue where he was. The cold made it hard to think but, as his vision slid into focus, he jolted in shock at his surroundings.
It was some kind of cave, the craggy rock walls climbing two stories above him to a ceiling covered in stalactites. Boulders of varying sizes lined the far side of the cave and the entire floor was covered in water that seemed shallow at the edges, unfathomably deep in the center. Only the slight ripple of a moving current disturbed the surface.
The water also glowed a brilliant, ethereal blue, like a swimming pool lit up at night, illuminating what would otherwise be a pitch black cavern. Only the outermost corners of the cave disappeared into shadow, but he could see no exit, no trace of daylight.
Sam stared at the water; it was breathtakingly beautiful. He knew that the glow was caused by phosphorescence, a natural chemical reaction created by deposits of calcium salts, but any fascination he may have had with the discovery quickly vanished when he tried moving again.
He was chained to the wall. He sat waist-deep in water, wrists pinned at chest height by metal shackles. He pulled desperately at his restraints but the chains held firm, the shackles locked tightly around his wrists. He tried to push himself up but his feet slipped on the slimy rock shelf beneath him, dunking him under the water. He hauled himself up, coughing out sea water, eyes wide with shock at the frigid temperature.
"Dean!" he yelled out for his brother, his deep voice echoing off the water and around the cave, cruelly throwing his cry for help back in his face. He leaned to the side, dragging his face across his shoulder to wipe away the salt water stinging his eyes, frantically trying to remember how he'd ended up there.
He'd left an injured Dean in the watch room and headed to the base of the lighthouse to burn the Victorian hair tapestry he was sure was the physical link to Maggie. He'd made it to the base safely but as he'd reached for the tapestry on the wall, he'd felt only the briefest drop in temperature before something had slammed into him from behind. He remembered smacking into the wall and knocking furniture over, but it had been lights out before he'd hit the ground.
"Maggie," he groaned.
"Yes, my darling."
Sam's head snapped around. The spirit stood on the far side of the water, staring at him. She smiled as she crossed the cave, seemingly oblivious to the fact she was walking on the surface of the water. She crouched down at his side, gently running her hand down his face.
Sam jerked his head away from her touch. "Don't."
Maggie shook her head slowly. "You tried to leave me. You shouldn't have done that. We belong here."
"No, we don't." Sam pulled at the chains in frustration. "Look at me. I'm not your husband."
Maggie slapped him sharply across the face. "Don't you say that." Her face hardened. "I won't be made a laughing stock, cast aside like spoiled goods." She leaned in closer, her face inches from his. "'Til death us do part – that's what you promised."
Sam's eyes widened in horror as realization struck. "Wait, this is what you did to Gideon? Chained him up down here?"
Maggie ignored the question. "You'll stay with me, like you pledged."
Sam stared into Maggie's wild eyes. History had always assumed that Gideon's drowning and the month-long isolation that followed his death had driven Maggie insane. But if she had imprisoned Gideon in the cave to prevent him from leaving, madness had obviously claimed her long before that.
He tried a different tack. "Maggie, please. Let's go back to the lighthouse. We can talk – work things out."
The spirit laughed softly. "You always underestimated me, took me for granted." Her eyes flashed with fury. "Without me, you'd be nothing – a clerk in a tiny backroom office at the harbor. This post was the start of big things for you. For us."
Maggie's gaze dropped to Sam's chest as she ran a hand down the front of his t-shirt. "It's thanks to me that you wear this uniform, that you have prospects." Her fingers twisted in the cotton fabric as she held Sam's gaze, seeing someone long dead. "And how do you show your gratitude? You tell me I'm a shrew…a harpy… that I have no role to play in your next post."
Maggie let go of his shirt, shaking her head adamantly. "No. We stay here. We were good here."
Sam didn't know what to believe. Was Gideon some poor schlub trying to escape a crazy wife, or was he a cold-hearted bastard whose ambition and indifference had driven her insane? Whichever it was, he had no interest in playing his role. "Maggie, look at me closely. I'm not Gideon. I'm not your husband. I-"
"Stop saying that," she spat out, slapping him again.
The blow was hard enough to knock Sam sideways and he slipped down in the water. Coughing, he pushed himself up and his foot dislodged a rock – or what he thought was a rock until a human skull floated to the surface, bobbed there for a moment before being carried away by the gentle current that flowed through the cave.
His gaze snapped back to Maggie. "Who the hell was that?"
Maggie's eyes were vacant. "My inspiration." She watched the skull float away. "One of your predecessors – the one suspected of smuggling rum onto the island and selling it to the local tavern. You thought he abandoned his post when the local constabulary was close to catching him." She turned back to face Sam, her mouth twisting into a half-smile. "Turns out he was here all along. He never left."
Sam's shivers were becoming more violent. "What did you do?"
"To him? Nothing. I found him here when I discovered this cave." Maggie ran a finger down the chain pinning Sam to the wall. "He was right here, where you are now, all handsome in his uniform." Maggie moved suddenly to Sam's side, curling beside him, wrapping her arm over his chest and resting her head on his shoulder. "I think he got greedy, kept more of the profits than he was entitled to, and his partners…they didn't like being betrayed." She tilted her head to look up at Sam. "No one likes being betrayed."
Sam felt cold now on a whole new level. Maggie seemed to love and hate Gideon Westwood with equal intensity, that conflict tearing apart her sanity in life and in death. Dean always said you couldn't reason with spirits, but it was all he had left. "I'm sorry, Maggie. Sorry you were hurt."
She looked up at him again, then nestled her head under his chin, gazing out over the cave. "It's magical here, isn't it? No one knows about it but us. I made sure of that – kept everyone away."
Sam wanted nothing more than to push her away but he fought to keep his voice calm. "Did you find the cave after your boat wrecked in the storm?"
Maggie shook her head. "I was never in a boat." She dropped her voice to a whisper. "I was cleaning the lighthouse…the wall opened and there was a hidden passage that led here. When I saw it, I knew. This would be our place." She turned and smiled up at Sam. "I brought you here, shared my secret but...you still wanted to leave." She ran her finger along the chain. "I couldn't let you do that."
She pushed away from him suddenly, her face hardening again. "But it didn't matter. You left anyway."
"How?" Sam yanked on the shackles. "If you did this, if you chained up Gideon, how did he leave?"
Maggie stared at him, the vacant look back in her eyes. "The sea took you."
Sam stared in horror as her words hit home: Gideon had drowned while chained up in the cave. Sam glanced down; the water that had been up to his waist when he came to, was now halfway up his chest. It was rising with the tide. His gaze jumped to the cave walls. Salt stained the rock to about six or seven feet above his head – likely the high tide mark. A lot more water was about to flood into the cave before the sea began receding.
Sam turned to the spirit. "Maggie, please…"
She smiled at him. "It'll be all right. The sea gave you back. We're together again – like it should be."
Maggie turned suddenly, staring at the far side of the cave. She pushed herself to her feet, walking a few steps away from Sam and listening intently to something he couldn't hear. Glancing back, she nodded. "I must take care of this. Rest. I won't leave you…any more than you'll leave me."
But the spirit was gone. She'd quickly crossed the water, then disappeared around a large rock that jutted out from the cave wall.
Sam yanked at his chains in frustration, his frozen fingers curling tightly into fists. Despite what Maggie in her madness believed, he knew the skull that had floated away wasn't the rum-smuggling keeper who'd been chained up and left to drown as punishment for cheating his partners; it was Gideon, accidentally drowned by Maggie in a desperate attempt to stop him from leaving her.
But the reasons and the identities really didn't matter. If he didn't get free or Dean didn't find him, Sam was about to meet the same fate.
"Gimme back my brother, you crazy bitch!"
Dean's voice, hoarse from shouting, echoed through the lighthouse. He was pissed, and he needed to stay that way because anger was the only thing keeping him going, the only thing keeping pain and fear at bay.
He dropped his head back against the rough lighthouse wall, his gaze sliding tiredly from the bottom of the stairs to the top. There was no sign of Maggie – no sign of Sam. Dean rolled his lighter between his thumb and forefinger as he looked down at the tapestry in his lap, then glanced up just in time to see the spirit materialize on the stairs to his right.
Dean flicked on the lighter, his eyes narrowing with fury. "Where's Sam?"
Maggie said nothing, until she caught sight of the tapestry. "Give me that. It's mine."
Dean tilted the lighter, its flame licking the edges of the cloth. His voice was hard. "You get your freaky artwork when I get Sam back."
Maggie's eyes flashed furiously. "His name is Gideon and he belongs here…with me."
Dean snorted. "You need yours eyes checked, sister. His name is Sam. Last name Winchester – same as mine. That says he belongs with me."
Maggie stared at the tapestry as the edges of the cloth blackened from the heat. Her eyes snapped upward to meet Dean's. "It's nothing but a keepsake. Destroy it if you must, but Gideon stays."
Dean snatched the tapestry from the frame, bunching it in his hand. "You're missing the point, Mags. If these funky flowers go bye-bye, so do you."
For the first time, Maggie looked uncertain, but she shook her head slowly. "You're lying. No."
"Then you're done being useful, and I'm done talking." Dean returned the lighter to the fabric, the brittle cloth smoldering first, then catching fire.
Maggie glared venomously at the burning cloth, flickered twice, then vanished.
Dean was immediately on edge. His breathing quickened as his gaze darted up the stairs then down.
Maggie reappeared suddenly, right at Dean's side, yanking the tapestry from his grasp, closing her hand over the flame and snuffing it out. Dean lunged for his gun but Maggie was faster, pulling it from his hand and tossing it down the stairs. Her eyes flashed as she grabbed him by the throat, dragged him to his feet and slammed him into the wall.
His grunt of pain as his injured back objected to the abuse was choked off as Maggie's bony fingers wrapped tightly around his neck.
Her face was inches from his. "You're not the first one to try to take him from me. But they all failed. They all underestimated me. They always do."
Dean was getting lightheaded from lack of air but he forced a smirk. "I know the feeling."
He pulled his hand from his pocket and drove his fist through Maggie's heart. Her eyes widened in shock as he uncurled his fingers, releasing the rock salt he'd stashed in his pocket while waiting for Maggie to show. The effect was slower than when shot from a gun, but no less potent.
Her dark eyes stayed locked on Dean as her spiritual form crumbled. She dissipated with one final threat. "If I've lost him, so have you."
And then she was gone. The tapestry fell from her hand and Dean crumpled to the stairs with a desperate inhale. Coughing, he dragged himself over to the scorched canvas, then grabbed the lighter he'd dropped to punch his fist through Maggie. Falling back against the wall, he flicked on the lighter, and froze.
What if Maggie was right? What if, by destroying her spirit for good, he'd lose his best chance to find Sam? Dean's chest tightened, but he shook his head. "No. Get rid of her. She'll never give him up." He flicked on the lighter and held it to the cloth, his hand shaking as it caught fire. "Hang in there, Sammy. I'll find you."
He watched the flames hungrily eat the ancient canvas, thin trails of smoke spiraling into the air. Then, as the heat seared his fingers, Dean let go, the blackened fabric falling onto the stairs where it dulled to gray ash.
From outside the lighthouse walls, he thought he heard the echoes of one final, anguished scream. Mad Maggie was gone.
Dean struggled to his feet, his mind now focused solely on finding Sam. He'd picked his vantage point on the stairs with one purpose in mind: to see where Maggie came into the lighthouse. If there was a secret entrance, she'd be forced to use it with every other access point sealed off to her.
And she hadn't disappointed him. She'd appeared on the stairs about six feet above him. Dean dragged himself up the steps, then ran his hand over the plaster wall there. It was dry and cracked, pieces flaking off under his touch but, if there was an opening, it was well hidden.
"Scooby Doo," he muttered as his fingers curled around the lighter in his hand. He flicked on the flame and held it up against the wall as Sam had suggested earlier, slowly moving it up and across. The flame flickered and Dean's heart skipped a beat, fuelling hope, until a shiver told him the draft came from the entrance below where the old door was also far from airtight.
The lighter wouldn't reveal any secret entrance in this part of the lighthouse.
Dean's chest tightened. What if he couldn't find it? What if there was no secret entrance? What if…? "No." He shoved the lighter back in his pocket and stared at the wall. "It's here somewhere. It has to be."
He scrubbed a hand down his face, willing his head to stop pounding long enough to figure things out. "Come on, Dean. Think." He slammed his fist into the wall in frustration, scraping his knuckles and jarring his injured shoulder. The hot, sharp pain faded when the obvious hit. "Maggie the ghost could walk through the wall to get to whatever's behind there, but when she was alive, there had to be a way to open the door. How the hell did she do it?"
He kicked and tugged at the baseboards; nothing moved. He tried lifting the treads and pushing the risers on each step; still nothing. He scanned the wall again, his eyes settling on the old oil lamp about two feet below the ceiling. In Maggie's time, the lamps would have been the sole source of illumination for the lighthouse stairs.
"Was that your job, Maggie?" Dean wondered aloud as he reached up and removed the glass cover from the lamp. "Cleaning these, refilling them. What did you find?"
He tugged at the arm of the lamp. Nothing happened. His gaze slid to the next lamp, then darted back and forth between the two. They were simple in design: a circular brass plate that sat flush against the wall, with a curved arm that extended outward, supporting the oil reservoir and its glass cover. At first glance they were identical, but close comparison revealed one subtle difference – the lamp in front of Dean featured a braided metal ring around the outer rim of the wall plate. It seemed purely decorative, but… He grabbed the outer edge of the plate, trying to turn it, first one way, then the other.
Dean's heart rate quickened when it gave a little. He tightened his grip and twisted again. It was stiff with disuse but a low grinding noise from inside the wall told him something was moving. After five full turns he heard a click and the arm of the lamp dropped slightly.
Eyes widening, Dean grasped the arm and pulled it down. There was another click, followed by the sound of stone grating on stone. He stumbled backward as a three-foot-wide section of the wall slid toward him then, from a pivot point in the center, swung open.
The space inside the wall was pitch black. Dean squeezed into the opening, straining to see into the dark. He could make out little beyond narrow stairs that led downward at a steep angle. "I am so done with stairs," he muttered. He yanked his lighter from his pocket, and flicked it on, but it offered little illumination. He still had no way of telling how far down the stairs went or where they led to.
"Sam!" His brother's name echoed eerily into the dark, but there was no answering shout. "Sammy!" Still nothing.
"Damn it." Dean turned back into the lighthouse, picked up his duffel and pulled out a flashlight. Shining the bigger light down the stairs revealed little other than the steps were wooden, looked ready to collapse the moment he stepped on them and … a scrap of cloth a few stairs down. Dean slung the duffel over his good shoulder and moved quickly down the stairs, each tread groaning under his weight. Snatching up the fabric, his stomach lurched – it was the bandanna that had been wrapped around Sam's injured hand.
"Sammy," he shouted into the dark. "If you can hear me, gimme something…anything!"
Silence was the only response.
Guided by the flashlight beam, Dean continued down the stairs. He'd counted fifty-seven by the time he reached the bottom, each creaking and complaining loudly. He stepped off the stairs into a tunnel through the cliff, the walls and ceiling rough, the downward-sloping floor covered in sand and scattered pebbles. To his right was a dead end, leaving him only one direction to go.
"Sam!" Dean's shout bounced off the rock, but the only answer was the echo of each footstep on the rock floor. The tunnel curved to the right, but still sloped down. "Sammy!"
Dean froze. For a moment, he was sure he'd heard Sam's voice but, standing there, listening intently, he could hear only his own rapid, shallow breathing. "Sam? Let me know where you are."
He inhaled deeply and held his breath. And there it was. Faint, but unmistakable.
Dean started running, ignoring the pain in his back and his head that ramped up with each step. "Sammy? Talk to me. Where the hell are you?" The beam from his flashlight bobbed up and down as he ran. He slipped on the sandy floor, grimaced, but quickly regained his balance and kept moving.
He turned a corner and skidded to a stop. The tunnel ahead appeared blocked by a huge boulder, but a strange blue light leaked in around it. Dean approached cautiously. On the right side, the boulder was jammed up against the cave wall but on the left, the path wrapped around the rock, disappearing on the far side.
Dean rounded the rock, squinting against the sudden assault of bright light. He'd stepped into a cavern that glowed brilliant blue from the pool of water in the center. He blinked, his pupils contracting painfully after the darkness of the tunnel, and surveyed the cave that soared two stories above him. The sounds of dripping water and soft splashes echoed around him. "Sam?"
Dean's head snapped toward the far side of the pool, eyes scanning the rock wall. "Where?"
"Here." There was a weak cough. "Hurry."
And then he saw him. For a moment Dean couldn't breathe. Sam was in the water, only his head visible above the surface. He shook noticeably, his head hanging forward, wet hair falling over his face, chin dropping below the surface with each violent shiver.
Dean dropped the flashlight and slipped the duffel off his shoulder before diving into the water. He gasped audibly at the frigid temperature, but kept moving, quickly covering the twenty feet of water that separated him from his brother. He frowned when he reached Sam's side and his feet easily touched bottom. "What the hell, Sammy? Come on, let's get you up."
Sam's voice was weak. "C-can't."
"Why not?" Crouching in the water beside his brother, Dean pressed his fingers to Sam's neck; his skin was icy to the touch, the pulse beneath sluggish. "You hurt?"
Sam gave a barely noticeable shake of his head.
Dean slid his hand under Sam's chin, lifting his face out of the water. Sam's eyes were half-closed, his lips blue, and there was a large welt on his forehead above his right eye. "You sure about that?"
Sam turned a heavy-lidded gaze toward Dean. "S-stuck."
Dean looked down into the water. Much of where Sam sat was in the shadow of the rock wall, making it hard to see below the surface. "Stuck, how?"
Sam coughed again. "Arms."
Dean ran his hand down Sam's arm, eyes widening when he felt the shackle around Sam's wrist. "What the—?" His hands, quickly numbing in the icy water, followed the chain that ran from the manacle to the wall. "Maggie did this?"
Sam coughed out water as his chin dropped again below the surface. He nodded when Dean lifted his head. "Th-this is how she k-killed G-gideon."
Dean pulled at the manacle, straining to force it open. "She chained him up down here?"
Sam nodded. "Was g-gonna leave her."
"Yeah, well, gotta side with him on that one. Damn it." The shackle wouldn't budge from around Sam's wrist and the chain was firmly entrenched in the wall. Dean could see Sam was fading rapidly. He needed to keep him talking. "So, what? You look like him so she decided to make you Gideon 2.0?"
"T-told you," Sam stuttered. 'I d-don't look like him."
"She was nuts, Sammy." Dean's hands were shaking with cold as he tried the shackle on Sam's other wrist. "Hadn't seen the real deal in over a century. Apparently, close was good enough."
Sam seemed to stir a little. "W-was?"
Dean smiled tightly. "Yeah. Figured out the clues you left behind. You don't have to worry about her anymore."
"G-good." Sam's head slipped forward again.
"No. Good is when we get you the hell out of here." Dean stuck his face in the water, wincing against the sting of salt water against cut skin, and peered at the restraints. It was hard to make out the locking mechanism but his fingers could tell it was designed for a key and not a bolt. That meant it could be picked. He lifted his head up, scrubbing the water from his face as his gaze jumped from Sam to his pack sitting on the far side of the cave pool. "Sam? Hey!"
His brother's eyes opened slowly.
"I just need to get the lock picks to get you out of here. Just keep talking to me." Dean leaned Sam back against the rock wall, worriedly taking in how much the water level had risen in just the past few minutes. "Look, you know I had onions for lunch and didn't shave this morning, so you really don't want me rescue breathing."
Sam was fighting to keep his eyes open and his face clear of the water, but the corner of his mouth quirked upward. "G-gross."
Dean's returned smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "Yeah, well just keep your head up and keep breathing, then it's a non-issue."
Sam watched Dean swim away. "Y-your…hurt."
"My arm feels like it's stapled on, my head feels like John Bonham's rehearsing in there." Dean grimaced as his muscles stiffened, the icy water taking a toll on him, too. "But that's as much from your disappearing act as from Maggie tossing me off the lighthouse."
Sam coughed out more water. "L-left you an n-note."
Dean frowned. "No you didn't."
Sam nodded. "D-did too. On the b-bed."
Dean was almost at the far side. "I think the cold is affecting your memory."
Sam coughed again. "Y-you're the one w-with the c-concussion."
"I don't think I'm the only one. Besides, I highly doubt your note said, Dear Dean: Gone to get Maggie. But if she gets me first, go through the hidden door. I'll be the one chained to the wall in the sea cave."
"Wasn't meant to be." Dean hauled himself out of the water, grabbed his duffel and dumped out the contents. "How'd you get down here, anyway?"
Sam tilted his head back, coughing out more water. "W-woke up h-here."
Dean thought back to finding the bandanna. "I think that bitch knocked you out, dragged you down the stairs. She jumped you when you were trying to burn the tapestry, right?"
When there was no answer, his head snapped around. Sam was struggling to keep his mouth clear of the water. "Damn it. Hold on, Sammy."
Dean grabbed the leather pouch holding the picks, jammed it between his teeth, shoved the small flashlight in his pocket, then jumped back into the water and swam quickly to Sam's side. He pulled out a pick, shoved the pouch inside the waistband of his jeans and reached for the shackle around Sam's right wrist.
"Son of a..." Between his increasing lack of co-ordination, the shadows and the refraction of light in water, he couldn't even get the pick in the lock. For Sam's sake, he fought back building panic. "I got this. Don't you worry."
Inhaling deeply, then holding the flashlight in his mouth, Dean dropped below the surface until he was close to the restraint. From that vantage point it was easier to insert the pick, but the mechanism fought him, rust and years of disuse complicating an otherwise simple job. His lungs were screaming for air when the lock popped suddenly.
He yanked Sam's arm free and pushed himself out of the water, gulping in air as he surfaced.
The water was now over Sam's head. He was fighting to reach the surface, his right arm clawing at the water to pull himself up, but the chain attached to his left wrist kept him under.
Dean took a deep breath, dropped under the water and grabbed Sam's arms, trying to calm his struggling brother. Offering what he hoped was a look of reassurance, he leaned in, fastened his mouth over Sam's and exhaled, filling his lungs. Sam's eyes were wide with panic, but he nodded sluggishly as Dean moved away.
Dean surfaced to grab a breath, then began picking the second shackle. Lungs tight as he worked, he could sense Sam struggling to keep it together beside him. Dean's hands were clumsy with cold and he almost dropped the pick. The second lock was even more stubborn than the first, and he bit down on the flashlight in frustration. He glanced over at Sam, ready to surface and grab another breath for him, when the lock snapped open. Dropping the flashlight, he pulled Sam's wrist free, grabbed his brother's t-shirt and pushed them both to the surface.
They broke through in a shower of water, Dean inhaling loudly, Sam coughing and choking, trying to both suck in air and expel water. Dean struggled to his feet, pulling Sam against him. With an arm wrapped around his brother's chest, he could feel Sam's lungs pumping fiercely, then gradually slow. But as they did, Sam went lax in his hold, his head lolling against Dean's shoulder. "Sam?"
Sam's response was an unintelligible mumble.
"Ok-kay, that's it. We are officially d-done here." Dean tightened his hold on Sam, pushed off the rock ledge he stood on and towed his semi-conscious brother across the cave pool to the far side. His fist tightly locked onto Sam's shirt, he dragged first himself then his brother from the water and onto the rocks near the tunnel opening.
Fighting to catch his breath, Dean lay on his back, shivering violently. He rolled his head toward Sam, who lay beside him, on his side, his eyes closed. He was no longer shivering.
"Not good, Sammy," Dean mumbled, pushing himself up onto his elbows, then sitting up with a groan. He reached over and gently shook Sam. "Up and at 'em, soldier. There's a nice warm fire upstairs, but I told you I wasn't hauling your heavy ass up any stairs. You're gonna have to give me some help here."
Sam's response was another mumble. Through illness, injury, and the occasional bender, Dean had had plenty of practice deciphering Sam's incoherent rambles. This one sounded suspiciously like, "Lemme alone. It's Saturday. No classes today."
"Damn it." Dean pushed himself to his feet with another groan, then crouched down and hoisted Sam to a sitting position. Sam's eyes slid open but there was little focus in them. Dean dragged Sam's arm across his shoulders and hauled his brother to his feet.
He was more than a little surprised when Sam stayed upright. Sam was leaning heavily on Dean but his legs held him up as he took a shaky step forward.
"Attaboy, Sasquatch." Dean tightened his hold around Sam's waist, gently encouraging him forward. "One step at a time. That's all I need. One step at a time."
Sam frowned as his eyes slid open, once again unsure where he was. He blinked, encouraging his sleep-blurred vision to clear. When it did, he saw Dean. His brother stood with his back to him. He wore only his boxers and was rubbing wet hair dry with a small white towel.
There was a long welt diagonally across Dean's lower back, the blues, purples, and reds of bruised skin fading to greens and yellows at the edges. There was also a large square gauze bandage taped to his right shoulder.
"Y'okay?" Sam cleared his throat when the words came out thick and husky.
Dean turned at the sound of Sam's voice, his mouth twisting into a grin. "That's my line, Sleeping Beauty. 'Bout time you woke up."
Sam's frown deepened at Dean's pasty color, the scratches across his face and the dark shadows smudged under his eyes. "You look like crap."
Dean snorted. "I should get you a mirror. Trust me, you're not winning any pageants, either."
"What happened?" Sam shivered, pulling the blankets more tightly around him, as he glanced round the room – their motel room. "How'd we get…here?"
Dean, in the midst of pulling on a black t-shirt, stared worriedly at Sam. He slipped his arms and head into the shirt, pulled it down, then sat on the edge of his bed, facing his brother. "How 'bout you tell me what you remember."
Sam closed his eyes, sorting through the jumbled images in his head. There was the lighthouse and Mad Maggie. There was Dean almost falling from the storm-battered bridge, then being tossed off the lighthouse by the angry spirit. There was waking up chained to the wall in the sea cave, with the water rising rapidly, threatening to drown him.
From there things got a little fuzzier. There were hazy memories of Dean being in the water with him, pulling him out and then dragging him up what seemed like the longest flight of stairs he'd ever been on. Then there were flashes of a helicopter and a hospital.
Sam cleared his throat, then looked up at Dean. "Did we go on a chopper?"
"Yeah." Dean shook his head. "And don't think I've forgiven you for that one yet. Planes are bad enough, but those things are flying deathtraps." His voice softened. "But it was the only way to get you off the island. Hypothermia did a real number on you."
"How'd you call it in?"
Dean shrugged. "Phones started working once the storm ended."
Sam's eyes slid closed as he remembered the bright lights and antiseptic smells of a hospital. He also had a clear image of Dean in scrubs and wrapped in a blanket, sitting on an adjacent gurney, batting away the hands of a doctor who was trying to shine a light in his eyes. "My head's fine, doc, but my brother's a popsicle. Take care of him."
Sam forced open his eyes, taking in the dark-paneled walls, the green and yellow floral bedspreads, and the heavy pine furniture. "This isn't the hospital."
Dean's grin returned. "Nothing gets by you, Matlock." He pushed himself off the bed, grabbed a fresh pair of jeans from his duffel and slipped them on. "I busted you out last night. Docs say you're gonna be weak as a kitten for the next week but you're over the worst. We were there two full days but cops were starting to ask questions, so it was time to go."
Sam's eyes widened in shock. "Two days? I've got, like, a brief glimpse of you mouthing off to a doc in the ER, that's it. Not to mention nada about checking out."
Dean put his foot on the end of the bed to fasten his boot. "Yeah, well, you were still pretty out of it. You hungry?"
Now that Dean mentioned it, he was. Sam nodded. "What about you?"
Dean slipped on a plaid shirt over his t-shirt and rolled up the sleeves. "Me? I'm always hungry. You know that."
Sam pushed himself up, then slumped back against the headboard with a shiver. "I meant what about your head? Your shoulder? Your back? My memory of you getting tossed off that lighthouse is still pretty clear."
Dean grabbed his wallet, shoving it in his pocket. "I'm good." He turned in response to Sam's audible huff. "Don't get your panties in bunch. Docs checked me out. I popped a few stitches hauling your over-sized self up the lighthouse steps, so they fixed those. Said I had a mild concussion, too, but headache's barely noticeable now. Like I said, I'm good. We need to concentrate on you, get you looking less like a smurf. Blue's really not a good color for you." He looked around the room, spotting his car keys on the dresser. "You up for a burger?"
Sam shook his head. "Soup, nice and hot."
Dean nodded. "Any particular kind?"
Sam offered a small grin. "Nothing with onions."
Dean's eyes widened innocently. "Is that crack about my breath?"
"Course not." Sam's expression turned serious, the memory of being trapped underwater, unable to breathe, suddenly tumbling through his head. "Without you, I wouldn't …" He shivered, pulling the blankets up around his shoulders.
The worried crease in Dean's forehead returned. "Look, there's plenty of hot water if you want a shower. That should warm you up. But if you need a doc, just say so. There's a hospital less than ten minutes from here. We crossed the state line last night, can use new IDs so it's not a problem."
Sam took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. "Nah, I'm just tired." He threw off the covers and sat up slowly with a groan. "That, and my muscles feel like spaghetti."
Dean snorted, but his eyes stayed locked on his brother.
Sam raked his fingers through his hair, grimacing at the greasy feel. Sensing Dean's scrutiny, he returned the stare. "What?"
Dean tapped his car keys against his hand. "You've been flat on your back for the better part of three days. If you plan on moving around, I need proof you're not gonna faceplant before I head out on a food run."
"Come on, pasta man, let's go."
Sam shot his brother a glare, but pushed himself to his feet. He was a little unsteady, and felt like he'd run a half-marathon by the time he got to the bathroom door, but he was in no danger of passing out. He rubbed his arms, trying to warm them up. "See, I'm good. Cold, but good."
"Right." Dean gestured to the end of Sam's bed. "Clean clothes are there when you're done with your shower. First-aid kit's on the dresser with fresh bandages to re-wrap your hand. Diner's 'round the corner. Shouldn't be gone more than ten minutes."
Sam leaned against the doorjamb to the bathroom. "How'd you find me?"
Dean shrugged. "Parked my ass at the base of the tower and used the creepy-ass hair tapestry to draw Maggie out. Once I sent her packing, started poking around near where she showed up until I found the hidden entrance. The mechanism was in one of those old gas lamps you were so fascinated with."
Sam's eyes widened. "How the hell did you figure that out?"
Dean grinned. "Let's say I had a little help from Scooby Doo."
"I'll explain over dinner. Right now you need to warm up." Dean gestured toward the bathroom. "Go."
Sam's voice was quiet. "I owe you one, man."
Dean snorted. "After this job, I'm not sure who owes who. Let's just call it even."
Sam nodded slowly. "But…when that water started rising, I thought…" He shuddered, and this time not from the cold. "Gideon was still down there. He never got out."
Dean frowned. "You saw him?"
"I saw a skull. It got wedged between some rocks and I kicked it loose. I think it was him." Sam swallowed. "Maggie insisted it was the first lighthouse keeper, the guy who was smuggling booze. I don't think she could admit, even to herself, what she'd done to her husband."
Dean shook his head. "You're not feeling sorry for her, are you?"
Sam rubbed his wrists, still bruised from his struggle to free himself from the shackles. "I don't think she meant to kill him."
Dean's eyes widened. "She chained him up, Sammy. Left him to drown."
"No, she chained him up to stop him from leaving, hoping, I guess, that he'd change his mind. I don't think she counted on the tide filling up the cave."
Dean snorted. "When she found that cave, that smuggler's remains were likely in those shackles. She must've had a pretty good idea what would happen when she put Gideon in them."
Sam shrugged. "I think she was mentally…fragile before all that went down, but it was his death that really pushed her over the edge."
Dean tapped the car keys against his palm. "Then you show up, look enough like him that she thinks she's got a second chance. Only you don't wanna stay and history repeats itself. Almost."
"Yeah." Sam looked a little green. "Almost."
Dean cleared his throat. "Well, she's gone to her reward, whatever that may be, and we've got ours. Mrs. J was more than thrilled that we evicted Maggie, not to mention found that secret passage and cave. 'Endless tourism potential,' she said. Thinks it will bring in a ton of cash to keep the place running. So, she paid our hospital bills, gave us a little extra so we can put hustling on the backburner for a while, and is running interference for us with the local cops."
Sam smiled. "Chalk one up for the good guys."
"For a change." Dean turned toward the door, then paused. "Sam."
Dean looked over his shoulder at his brother. "Next time I say we take a job at a lighthouse, clock me one, toss me in the trunk, and drive non-stop to the Grand Canyon before letting me out."
"Whatever you say." Sam grinned. "But, um, does that go only for lighthouse gigs?"
"Asshat. Take your shower; I'll be right back – and cross your fingers Soup of the Day isn't French Onion." With an exaggerated grin, Dean disappeared into the parking lot, closing the door behind him.
Sam watched him go. If it wasn't a lighthouse, it would be something else. It was the nature of the job. But whatever fugly they were up against, Dean had his back, and he had Dean's.
He turned toward the bathroom after one more glance at the door his brother had just left through and smiled. Yeah. However screwed up life became, whatever it threw at them, as long as they were there for each other, they were good.
A/N: This story is a blend of fact and fiction. There is a SouthEast Lighthouse on Block Island, complete with a poltergeist known as Mad Maggie. According to legend, Maggie was the wife of a lighthouse keeper. She was killed by her abusive husband when he pushed her down the stairs. She is said to haunt the keeper's cottage to this day, hates men and doesn't like her "stuff" being messed with. I put my own twist on that story. The land-based pirates known as mooncussers are also a part of Block Island history.
The description of the lighthouse in this story is a blend of two different lights. The physical description of the lighthouse and keeper's cottage is based on the Southeast Lighthouse on Block Island. The Indiana Jones-esque approach to it, however, is based on the South Stack Lighthouse in Wales. It did, indeed, feature steps cut into the cliff face that led to a suspension bridge over a channel and then a cliff path up to the lighthouse complex. I visited that lighthouse when I was little so the scale may be exaggerated by childhood stature and imagination, although it was closed to the public in the 1980s when it was deemed too dangerous. A solid bridge now connects the mainland to the lighthouse – much safer but nowhere near as much fun to write about.
The "hair art" is also pulled from the pages of history. In the Victorian era especially, it was common for families to use human hair to make everything from brooches to toothpick holders. I know: ewwww on that last one but I kid you not. Google "Victorian hair art" for examples if you're curious.
As for the phosphorescence that lights up the water in the cave like "a swimming pool at night," that also exists, although not on Block Island. If you want to see examples of this awesome natural phenomenon, just punch in "blue cave" on You Tube, or check out this link: http (colon backslash backslash)www (dot)youtube(dot)com(backslash)watch?v(equals)rGsjJO(underscore)oaMA.
Hope you enjoyed the fic, and I would love to hear what you think. Thanks for reading and, until next time, cheers.