Chapter 2 – Oro Rojo

The average man will bristle if you say his father was dishonest, but he will brag a little if he discovers that his great-grandfather was a pirate.

- Mark Twain


It was the cock of the hammer that did it.

That all-too-familiar roll-click that signaled someone was about to take control and someone was about to lose it cleared the hazy cobwebs of surprise and pain that had clouded not only Dean's vision but his reason since the moment he'd opened the motel room door. Pulling his focus from the deadly opening of the gun barrel, Dean slid his gaze down the length of the tattooed arm and stared back at the blue eyes that bore into his. Seeing the cocky confidence there shot a rush of anger through him that created the balance the sight of his brother's blood should have.

From his position, he could see all three inhabitants of the small motel room. Just behind Emerson stood Mack, his gun pointed toward Sam, his attention split between his brother and Dean's. Across from him, Sam had squared his hips, his right hand up gripping his left shoulder, blood splattering his bare chest.

"What do you say?" Emerson sneered, the silver in his bottom lip catching the wan light spilling in from the bathroom window behind Dean. "Ready to be famous?"

In unison, Dean felt his blood cool, his breathing slow, his right eyebrow rise. "Really? That's what you give me? A bastardized line from a cheesy Western?"

The smug expression of confidence slipped from Emerson's features and Dean saw the gun tremble ever-so-slightly.

"Maybe you don't understand me, pal," Emerson snarled.

Dean couldn't help himself. He grinned.

Emerson frowned, and Dean counted two heartbeats before the blond shot a quick, paranoid look over his shoulder presumably to check on Mack. Dean didn't waste the opening this offered him. Bringing his left arm up in a sweeping arc, he slapped the inside of Emerson's right wrist, knocking the gun from its aim and slamming the back of his hand against the side of the wall.


Dean silenced him with a crack of fisted knuckles across Emerson's cheekbone, still holding the blond man's gun hand against the bathroom wall. As Emerson's head snapped back, Dean stepped forward, grabbing the younger man's T-shirt at the collar, his eyes darting over his would-be assailant's shoulder to see his brother pinning Mack against the front door, his powerful forearm across the red-head's throat; the gun responsible for the bleeding groove across the flesh of his shoulder now rested in Sam's hand and was pressed against the smaller man's side.

Emerson brought his head up, blinking and Dean used the momentum to yank him close, intending to slam his forehead against the kid's in a move that had stunned many an opponent in the past. At the last moment, Emerson shifted and Dean's brow came in contact with the silver hoops woven through Emerson's lips.

With simultaneous outcries of pain, both staggered backwards, away from each other, the gun falling to the bathroom tile. Emerson clasped his bleeding mouth while Dean pressed the heel of his hand to his split eyebrow.

"Son of a—"

"Wha' the fu'!"


Sam's bark of his name brought Dean's hand down quickly. He dropped, grasped the discarded gun by the barrel and stood, flipping the weapon around so that the butt rested comfortably in his palm, and raised it to aim at Emerson.

Only then did he realize it was empty.

"Wha' the fu—"Emerson started to repeat.

Dean glared at him. "Are you kidding me?" he interrupted.

"Dean! You okay?" Sam yelled again.

"I'm good," Dean called back, not taking his eyes from Emerson. "You can let Red go."

He saw Sam step away, keeping the gun pointed at Mack.

"Sam," he said, shaking his head at Emerson who was busy removing a bent hoop from the torn skin of his lip. "Check your clip."


"Just check it!"

Dean waited, glaring back at Emerson's angry eyes.

"It's empty."

Dean shook his head. "Unfrigginbelievable."

He pushed Emerson aside and exited the bathroom, striding past Mack, who still stood against the front door. Dean stepped up to Sam and took the now-empty gun from him, tossing both weapons to the table on top of the spread-out treasure map.

"They were going to kidnap us with empty guns?" Sam spouted.

Dean gently gripped Sam's muscled arm, turning it to get a better look at the wound. "Not completely empty," he grumbled, pulling his face tight as Sam hissed from the movement.

"Nah wha?" Emerson slurred, his bleeding lips puffy. He spat blood onto the tile of the bathroom floor.

Dean tossed a disgusted look over his shoulder, guiding Sam to the chair that faced the opened laptop. "Now, you get the hell out of here."

Sam blinked up at him, but Dean simply shook his head once, almost imperceptibly except to his brother's discerning eyes.

"Jus' lih 'at?"

Dean straightened and turned, his back to Sam, his body between his wounded brother and the two intruders. He could give himself the distraction of the map as an excuse for not being vigilant. He could forgive himself a previously-bruised neck as the reason this punk had been able to over-power him with the tip of a gun barrel. But letting the situation get out of hand to the point of Sam getting shot was not something he was going to get over anytime soon.

"You stole my car," he said, narrowing his focus past Mack's tight, worried face to Emerson's uncertain eyes. "You shoved a fuckin' gun in my face—"

"Em'ty 'un," Emerson tried.

"—and you shot my brother," Dean finished. "You're lucky I don't string you up in the shower and play connect-the-dot with your pores using my Bowie."

Emerson flinched, exchanging a look with Mack. He looked back at Dean, wiping the palm of his hand across his bleeding mouth. "You 'ouldn'."

Dean felt the heat and anger drain from his expression, his eyes flat and dead. He lifted an eyebrow. "Wanna put money on that bet?"

"The motel manager probably already called the cops," Sam chimed in. "Not like no one heard that gunshot."

The Guiley brothers exchanged another look. Mack put his hand on the doorknob of the motel room.

"Gi' us the ma'," Emerson demanded.

Until that moment, Dean hadn't really given the map much thought beyond curiosity. The bruises throbbing both inside and out on his throat coupled with the lingering smell of gunfire and blood had all but negated the importance of that parchment.

But when Emerson Guiley's greedy eyes fell on the table top, demanding Dean reward him for shooting Sam, Dean saw red.

He took a step to the side and reached into his opened duffel sitting on the edge of the nearest bed. Pulling free his Colt 1911, he pointed it directly at Mack's head.

"This one ain't empty," he said, his voice low, dangerous.

Mack swallowed audibly, his eyes darting to his brother. Emerson looked back, and Dean saw that he was starting to sweat.

"C'mon, man," he said, his voice still muffled by the blood filling his mouth. "It's ours."

Dean cocked the hammer, never taking his eyes from Emerson's face, his aim steady.

"Em," Mack pleaded softly, speaking for the second time since arriving at the motel.

Emerson, looked down, blood now coating his chin, slicking his neck, and soaking into the collar of his T-shirt. His fingers curled against the palms of his hands and he shook his head once.

"Okay, Mack," he said, his voice low. At that signal, Mack opened the motel room door, sinking into the space offered.

Dean kept his eyes on Emerson, waiting until the blond moved to follow his brother before stepping forward.

Emerson paused in the doorway, looking over his shoulder. "Charley Clusker," he said.

Dean lifted an eyebrow.

"Look him up," Emerson shifted his eyes to Sam. "You look him up. He found the map. He saw the ship."

"And your point is…"

Emerson looked back to Dean. "He's our great uncle," he replied, stepping out into the cool light of the California winter and pulling the door closed behind him.

The quiet left in their wake was odd. Dean slipped the safety back into place on his weapon, slowly lowering it to his side.

"You're really just gonna let them go?" Sam asked.

Dean shot a look over to him, realization like a cold brick in his gut. "You're right."

Before Sam could say another word, Dean wrenched the door open, strode out into the parking lot, tucking the gun into his back waistband, and stepped up to the Impala. The lot was empty; the Guileys had apparently beat a hasty retreat, but that didn't mean they wouldn't come back.

Dean opened the driver's side door of the car, leaned in, and pulled the release for the hood. Closing and locking the door, he moved to the front of the car and lifted the hood, propping it up, and reached in to deftly disengage the distributor cap from the engine. Closing the hood once more, he turned back to the motel room, greasy fingers slipping on the brass knob.

He stepped inside to see Sam fastening the button of his jeans.

"What are you doing?" Dean asked, tossing the engine part onto the bedspread, uncaring of the smear of grease as he moved quickly toward Sam.

"I was going after you!"

"Why?" Dean asked, pulling his outer shirt free and wiping his fingers clean.

Sam blinked at him, then sat carefully down, his expression a tangle of relief and worry. "'Cause… I thought…"

Dean lifted an eyebrow. "You thought what?"

Sam looked down, then away. "Well… you took your gun…"

Lips twitching slightly, Dean dug into his duffel and pulled out a small box of first aid supplies. He handed it to Sam, then moved to the bathroom.

"Sammy," he said over his shoulder. "I thought you knew me better than that."

"It's Sam," his brother grumbled.

Dean returned with a wet, soapy towel in one hand and a dry one in the other. He crouched down in front of Sam, setting the dry towel in Sam's lap. Sam turned obediently so that his wounded arm faced Dean.

"You think I started shooting kids who crossed me and just didn't tell you about it?"

Sam shook his head. "No, I just—"

"Hold still, Sammy," Dean said softly, cutting his wounded brother some slack. "This isn't bad. Kid's either got great aim or really, really terrible."

"Bullet went into the wall over there."

"Thin as these walls are," Dean said, pulling his lips tight in a sympathetic wince as he finished cleaning the blood from Sam's wound, "we're lucky it didn't go through and get someone on the other side."

He heard Sam swallow hard at the thought. The cut was too shallow for stitches, but Dean knew that didn't mean it wasn't going to burn like a son of a bitch for a few days. He opened the first aid kit, grabbed the antibiotic ointment and spread it over the gash with careful fingers, gentling his touch when Sam hissed and flinched.

"Don't be such a baby," Dean muttered good-naturedly.

He felt Sam's eyes on him as his brother flipped him off with a glance. "You should see your throat," Sam commented.

"Don't have to see it," Dean said, rolling his neck. "I can feel it."

Sam sighed as Dean finished wrapping his arm.

"You look tired," Dean commented.

"Haven't slept in awhile."

Dean stood, putting the bandages back in the box, and the box back in his bag. "Why don't you get some shut eye?"

Sam looked up, his bangs falling across his eyes making him look twelve. "What are you going to do?"

Dean shrugged. "I'll think of something."

"You're not going after those guys, are you?"

Dean rolled his eyes and went back into the bathroom, dropping the towel soiled with Sam's blood onto the splatter of red from Emerson's lip. "Forget those guys, Sam. They're gone."

"I'm not so sure," Sam muttered.

Dean looked over his shoulder, watching as his brother stood and dug through his duffel for a T-shirt. A fading bruise graced one shoulder where Dean knew Sam had slammed his body against the LeGrange's barricaded cellar door, trying to get free and save Dean.

"What do you mean?"

Sam tugged the shirt low, covering the waistband of his jeans. "Think about it, man. The cops back in… wherever the hell we were knew about that treasure."

Dean kicked the dirty towel under the sink, turning to face the mirror and cranked on the water, waiting Sam out. He knew nothing he said in this moment would effectively deter Sam from his line of thinking. The only thing to do was to wait him out and debunk him later. Sam crossed the room to lean his right shoulder against the door jamb, his eyes on Dean, but not really seeing him.

"I mean, the cops thought they were insane, sure, but they knew about it," Sam absentmindedly rubbed at his bandaged arm while Dean splashed water on his face, looking up at the mirror and running a careful hand down his whisker-roughened face and along the bruised skin of his throat. "That means those guys must have been talking about it for awhile."

Dean swallowed, turning his head first one way then the other, inspecting the fading finger marks from Billy's meaty hand and the darkening bruise from the barrel of Emerson's gun.

"And they hitched a ride in the back of a livestock truck to follow the map," Sam continued, his lip curling around the word livestock. "Must be pretty important to them."

Turning off the water, Dean sighed and reached for a towel, realizing too late that there weren't any left. "You got a point to all this, or are you just recapping?" He ambled the few steps across the room and grabbed the hem of Sam's T-shirt, leaning forward to dry his face.

Sam glowered at him. "My point is," he said, shoving Dean away, "that they're not just gonna give up because you pointed a loaded gun at them."

Dean moved past Sam, tucking his cheeks against each shoulder to slough off the water. "Why don't you let me worry about that?"


"You're beat, man. Get some rest."

Sam sat on the edge of the bed, his eyes on Dean, lips parted.

"What is it?" Dean prompted, knowing his brother well enough to see when there was something hovering at the edge of Sam's guilt threshold, waiting to be confessed.

Sam looked away. "Nothing. You're right. I'm just… I'm tired."

"We'll rest here a bit, and then head out," Dean said, pulling his gun from his waistband, automatically checking the clip out of habit, and slipping it into his duffel. He dropped his hands onto the two empty guns he'd taken from the Guileys, his body stilling completely at Sam's next words.

"And go where?"

Palms on the weapons, finger tips resting on the map beneath them, Dean simply stared at the table. For the first time since New Orleans, he didn't know. He had no idea where to go next.

"I'm gonna get rid of these," Dean said, scooping up the guns. "Probably stolen. Last thing we need is the law coming down on us because of two punks who can't cover their tracks."

As he turned from the table he paused once more, catching sight of John's journal sticking out from the top of Sam's duffel. He picked it up, and without another glance at his brother, headed outside.

He'd lived through winter in just about every state in the contiguous US. California winter was undoubtedly his favorite with the mild temperatures, the lack of snow, and the occasional rainstorm. Still, it wasn't warm enough to be outside for long without his jacket or long-sleeved shirt, both of which he'd left inside. Unwilling to return to the cloistered atmosphere of the motel room, he tucked the journal into his waistband, rounded the corner of the motel and found a green dumpster at the back of the lot.

Wiping the fingerprints from the weapons with his shirttail, he dumped one gun on one side, and the other on the opposite end, making sure they were buried in the middle of the rather rank-smelling garbage. The only witnesses to this task were a few sparrows and one crow who sat atop the dumpster ledge, staring at him with cold, judging eyes. Snarling at the black creature, he turned and headed back to the Impala, John's journal now in his hands.

I've been scouring the Internet for the last three days. Calling every contact in Dad's journal.

"Every contact…"Dean muttered, unlocking the Impala's door and sliding in behind the wheel. He pulled the door shut behind him, enjoying the sun-warmed leather at his back, the familiar smells of home surrounding him.

Turning, he put his back against the driver's door, stretching his feet out so that his boots rested on Sam's seat. He could feel the tension begin to seep out of him, his muscles warming and loosening. Taking a breath, he opened the journal, turning to the page that had bottomed out his heart half a year ago: DEAN 35-111.

Resting his elbow on the edge of his steering wheel, Dean rubbed calloused fingers across his lips. "You called Sam, Dad," Dean mumbled at the journal.

He looked up quickly, feeling the haze of tears gathering behind his eyes, hot and angry. Guilt at being caught showing such an obvious sign of weakness had him checking his six. The lot was empty. The motel room door closed.

He was alone.

Dean closed his eyes, his fingers stroking the inside spine of the journal, working to ground himself, to regain control. From the moment his dad had sent him on the hunt in New Orleans, his life had been tail spinning out of control. Returning to find John gone—to find everything gone… it spun him. The only thing he could think to do, the only thing he wanted to do, was get Sam.

And they'd been trailing after John ever since. Following his inept trail of scattered breadcrumbs. Dean opened his eyes, staring out at the empty, sun-drenched lot, and rolled his neck, listening to the joints crack and pop in the heavy silence of the car.

There had been the random lead—Sam's friends in St. Louis, Sam's vision that took them back to Lawrence—but for the most part, they'd been following their dad. Good little soldiers…

"Too much trouble to call back, huh?" Dean said softly to the journal, flipping carefully through page after page of notes and random musing captured in his dad's controlled handwriting. "You must have some kinda tiger by the tail, Dad. Not talkin' to Jefferson, Caleb… hell, even Joshua."

He flipped a page, seeing a name he hadn't come across since Sam left for Stanford: Bobby Singer.

"Yeah, but you wouldn't get in touch with Uncle Bobby, would you," Dean muttered. "Not after the way you left."

Names and entries swam before his eyes. Names like Missouri, Fletcher, Mike, H, Elkins. Names like skinwalker, shapeshifter, woman in white, jersey devil, spirit, demon. Entries of death, entries of loss, entries of lessons. He knew this book cold. Could recite it in his sleep. And yet he continued to read, to search for something that might offer a purpose, a reason that John had left it behind, had left him behind, had turned his back on them.

A reason his father seemed to accept that he'd given his oldest son up for dead. Closing his eyes, he pulled in a slow breath, willing the intake of air to slow his thudding heat. His own pulse was giving him a headache.

I'm alive

His eyes snapped open at the thought. He was alive.

"Alive," he said the word aloud, rolling it around his tongue. Tasting it. So many hunts, so many near-misses… He closed his eyes again, feeling the breath still trapped in his lungs beat against his ribcage like the wings of a caged bird.

I. Am. Alive.

Dropping the journal to the floor of the Impala, Dean braced his hands against the dash and the seat back, anchoring himself in the only reality that had been constant in his life since 1983. He continued to breathe, willing the spin of darkness behind his eyes to abate.

Stop following me and do your job…

He felt sweat gather on his upper lip, the base of his neck, his hands.

So, whatever you're doing, if you could get here. Please. I need your help, Dad…

Dean wiped the sweat from his face, pushing his lips out with his breath, willing himself to get a grip, to get focus. He hadn't been this close to losing it since he'd seen that lamp cord around Sam's neck.

I mean, why are we even here? Because you're following Dad's orders like a good little soldier? 'Cause you always do what he says without question? Are you that desperate for his approval?

He was going to be sick.

Panic at ruining the Impala's interior was the only thing that kept him in control long enough to fumble with the door handle and spill from the passenger side of the Impala to his knees on the blacktop.

The cool air hit him like a reviving blast of reassurance. He wasn't going crazy. He wasn't falling apart. He wasn't completely alone. He wasn't feeling his will, his soul, his life eek from him through his pores with the cold, lifeless touch of the reaper's hand. Falling forward to catch himself with his palms on the asphalt, Dean pulled deep, guttural breaths into his body, shoving the nausea back down.

As the trembling eased, he lowered his head until he felt the gritty surface of the parking lot digging into his forehead.

"Dad didn't call," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "Doesn't mean he doesn't care," he tried, and then brought his head up, easing his body back until he sat on his haunches in the opened door of the Impala. "Who am I kidding," he continued quietly. "Yeah, it does. It's all about the job. The demon. Revenge. Justice."

He looked over his shoulder and his eyes fell on the open journal. DEAN 35-111.

"Maybe I need some justice, Dad," he said, grabbing the journal and slapping it closed. "Maybe I'm ready for some freakin' revenge." He pushed himself to his feet, steadying himself with one hand on the Impala's roof, the other on the door frame. "Fuckin' reaper," he muttered. "You didn't get me."

He slammed the door of the car shut, swallowing as he caught his reflection in the window. His skin was pale, there were visible bruises on his throat, and he'd almost forgotten about the cut on his eyebrow from Emerson Guiley's lip piercings. But his eyes were dark, shadowed holes in his face. And if he allowed himself to stare long enough, he knew he'd see the cadaver-like ancient countenance of the reaper standing just over his shoulder.

"You didn't get me," he repeated, his voice quiet in the deserted lot, but a scream inside his head.

Nodding at himself once, he looked over at the motel, his decision made.


Sleep is an elusive mistress when exhaustion is king.

Sam knew he should be unconscious. He willed his body to give in, escape into darkness, let go. He rolled from back to stomach, stuffed his head under the pillow, covered his face with the pillow, kicked the covers free, stretched out on the floor. As a last-ditch effort, he opened his laptop and started iTunes.

Scrolling through his eclectic collection, he stopped at Candlebox and clicked play. Standing, completely intent on returning to his bed and blocking out everything but Kevin Martin's voice, his eyes fell on the discarded treasure map.

He sat back down, glancing once at the door of the motel, Dean's closed expression as he left burned on the backs of his eyelids, he picked up the parchment, his thumbs smoothing the tattered edges.

Charlie Clusker… he found the map… he found the ship…

Licking his lips, Sam minimized his music, letting it play in the background and focus him as he began to search. As he pulled up site after site relating to the Lost Ship of the Mojave and Charlie Clusker, he realized he was stepping off a bridge into an unknown abyss, and for all intents and purposes, he was doing it alone.

Dean's need to find their Dad had quickly been overpowered by his own need to find answers. And as far as he knew, the answers he sought lay in the tenacious grip of their father's 'need to know' category. He needed to know. He needed to know so badly he could taste it.

But… something had shifted with this last unanswered phone call. With the knowledge that John had reached out to help them, but had chosen to do so in such an indirect manner that his brother was outside at this moment thinking his dad simply couldn't be bothered to care.

With the realization that John was afraid.

"…We change directions, we watch the tides and we borrow too much. We form restrictions and we form lines and we separate you from me. Sometimes, sometimes we carry more weight than we own…"

Sam dug into his coat pocket and pulled out his phone, flipping it open and scrolling until he saw Joshua's name. His finger hovered over the 'send' button for a moment before he closed his eyes.

"What good's it gonna do," he muttered to himself. Closing his phone once more, he set it aside and returned to his search, reading up on the history of the supposed Lost Ship.

From everything he could find the ship very well could have existed. During the time of the Spanish explorers, when King Phillip of Spain was hungry for the wealth the unexplored and un-mined New World had to offer, ships made for the coast of California. The Spanish explorers turned pirate, however, when greed overcame them. According to Clusker's account, the pirates tried to swindle the natives out of their riches: rather than give them the promised seeds and cloth, they took the pearls and attempted to escape to the sea.

Anything from massive storms, to freak flooding, to earthquakes could explain how a Spanish galleon ended up beached in California's Salton Sea basin, but according to Charlie Clusker's detailed account—and map—it was there.

Sam sat back, worrying his lip against his bottom teeth as the music played on. What's the catch? This ship was simply out in the middle of the desert, laden with riches, and no one but a potentially crazy man—whose main claim to fame as far as Sam was concerned was to be the great-Uncle of two disturbed brothers who had tried to kidnap and kill both he and Dean—had ever seen it?

Drawing in a breath, Sam picked up the map once more, looking at the faded scrawl at the base of the map, then at his notes. Narrowing his eyes, he pulled up his translation url. As he worked the translation, he looked up at the door of the motel, wondering not for the first time where Dean had wandered off to. When he came back to find Sam researching instead of sleeping, he wasn't going to be happy.

Especially when he found out that it was related to the map and not to finding Dad.

"Screw Dad," Sam muttered, glancing at his phone once more as he typed in the Spanish phrases from the map, then wrote down a translation.

What's so freaking important in Minnesota that you can't even check in, huh? He stifled the urge to growl aloud, hitting the up arrow on his music volume.

"…It's sad to say that this pain is killing me inside. But it's time to say that this pain is keeping me alive…"

Sam tossed his pen down on the table, running his fingers roughly through his hair, then looked at the words he'd written on the paper.

She will return to the water on the winter solstice and the blood of men will flow until we rise again. For one night we will rise to battle the insurgents and lay waste to the betrayers. When the moon falls on the blade, she will bear her burden home.

"Holy shit," Sam breathed. "It's… a curse."

The door of the motel room opened suddenly, making him jerk backwards with a surprised yelp. Dean flinched at his cry and reached behind him for a gun that wasn't there.

"What the hell, Sammy?" Dean bleated, closing the door behind him.

"You scared the shit outta me, man!"

"Scared you? Check my shorts!"

Sam rubbed a hand over his face, pushing his bangs from his eyes as Dean crossed the room.

"And what the hell are you doing over there instead of in bed?" Dean demanded, predictably.

Sam muted his computer just as Staind began to roll expressively into So Far Away. "I couldn't sleep," he explained, "listen—"

"I gotta talk to you," Dean interrupted. "I think we should forget Sacramento—"

"Would you shut up for a minute?" Sam broke in. "I think I found… well, I'm not sure, but—"

Dean waved his words away. "It doesn't matter, okay, because I've been thinking—"

"Listen, this could be nothing, but I'm pretty sure that—"

Dean rubbed at the back of his head impatiently. "You don't get it—"

"Would you just hear me out—"

"Dude, I'm trying to tell you something!" they exploded in unison, Sam standing with the force of his words.

They blinked in surprise at each other. Dean sat carefully on the edge of the bed, then lifted a hand, palm up and indicated that Sam should go first.

Sam nodded, sitting back down, then swallowed, unsure where to begin now that he had Dean's attention.

"I was, uh, doing some research," he looked up at Dean, "y'know, 'cause I couldn't sleep."

Dean folded his lips down and lifted an eyebrow as if to say that only makes sense because you live in Bizarro World.

"Anyway," Sam continued, "I looked up that Charlie Clusker guy."


"The Guiley's great-Uncle."

Dean's other brow met the first in an inverted 'V' of surprise.

Sam lifted his hands and tapped the air. "Just, hear me out. From what I can tell, there's some truth to this whole treasure thing."


Sam nodded. "Dates back to the 17th century with Spanish explorers. Whole lotta… money and, y'know, betrayal."

"Uh-huh," Dean nodded. Sam couldn't tell if he were taking this in, or working up a clever way of poking holes into his enthusiasm. "What's this got to do with us?"

"I think… I think I may have found… y'know a job," Sam said, swallowing.

"As what, history geeks?"

"No, dude, a job. As in our kind of job," Sam said, grabbing his paper with the translations. "Look."

Dean took the paper and Sam watched his eyes scan the words, his lips moving as he whispered them aloud.

"Okay, so… it's a curse," Dean concluded.

"Exactly!" Sam sat back, feeling triumphant. "If I translated it right, on the solstice the… pirates will come back to kill whoever they think betrayed them, and if enough blood is spilt…" Sam shrugged, "they get to go home. Or… something."

"And this matters to us, because…" Dean prompted, effectively deflating Sam's elation.

"Dean, it's December eighteenth."


"The solstice is in three days."


Sam frowned. "Are you really not getting the significance of this?"

Huffing out a quick, amused laugh, Dean looked down, rubbing his eyes, not answering.

"Dean, if this curse says what I think it says, in three days, there's gonna be a crew of… of pirate ghosts guarding their treasure in the California desert."

Dean pressed his lips together, his eyes shadowed with thought as he studied Sam.

"We hunt evil, right?" Sam pressed. "I mean, it's a little off the reservation for us, but…"

"You realize that if we go off and play treasure hunters Dad's trail is gonna go cold," Dean spoke up.

Sam sat back, his eyes falling on his cell phone. Tell him, tell him, tell him… his heart chanted. Tell him that Dad cares. Tell him that Dad sent us to the faith healer. Tell him that the coordinates are for where Dad is.

"Uh, Dean…" Sam started, feeling his throat close up as he searched for words.

"Not like that really matters. Man doesn't want to be found," Dean lifted a shoulder, then stood, pulling his T-shirt off over his head. He moved to the duffel bag and Sam watched as he dug deep for clean clothes. "I mean… he knows where to find one of us at least, right?"

Sam nodded.

"Hell, Sammy," Dean half grinned, shucking his jeans and kicking them free of his ankles as he grabbed the towel Sam had discarded after his shower earlier. "That's basically what I came in here to tell you."

"What is?"

Dean headed to the bathroom, tossing over his shoulder, "That we should let Dad do his thing, head out on our own for awhile." He paused at the bathroom door and looked back at Sam.

Tell him tell him tellhimtellhimtellhim… "Yeah? That's really what you want to do?" Sam asked.

Dean nodded, then rolled his neck again, a motion that was becoming a little too familiar for Sam's liking. "What he wanted us to do anyway, right? The job?" Dean clapped a hand on the door jamb then headed for the shower.

"Right," Sam said softly. "So, are you thinking… I mean… well, what are you thinking?"

Dean glanced over his shoulder with a small grin. "Goonies never say die."

"Alright then," Sam nodded as Dean cranked on the water. "We hunt for treasure," he called to his brother over the moan of water through the old pipes.

"And pirate ghosts," Dean called back.

"Pirate ghosts," Sam replied. "Aye."

He shut down his computer and rolled up the translation with the map, resolutely ignoring the disappointed frown his conscience was tossing his way.


Sam sat in the car, waiting, while Dean reinstalled the distributor cap. Satisfied that all was as it should be inside the Impala's engine, he dropped the hood, slid behind the wheel, and turned the key in the ignition.

"Listen to her purr," he grinned as the machine roared to life. "I think I might have to make a habit of that."

"Taking the engine apart?"

"At least until we're sure those punks are long gone."

Sam sighed as they pulled from the lot. "Really don't think we've seen the last of them."

"Me neither," Dean turned on the radio, wincing at the static that greeted him. He started to spin the dial. "We know anyone in Southern California that could get us wheels to head into the desert?"

Sam tilted his head. "Good question. Joshua's in Needles."

Dean narrowed his eyes. "Yeah, not sure 'bout that."

"Why?" Sam looked over at him. "If it weren't for him, you could be dead by now."

Dean found a static-free station with a DJ talking and sat back, instinct leading him south. "Yeah, but… I mean, he's a hunter, right? How did he not know about Roy LeGrange's secret powers?"

"We didn't," Sam pointed out, his voice carrying an edge that had Dean looking at him askance.

"That's different," Dean argued. "We went on trust. He'd had to have heard enough about the tent healing magic to wonder."

Sam looked out of the passenger window, not saying anything.

"Besides," Dean continued. "Wasn't he a chopper pilot or something? Friend of Dad's from 'Nam?"

"Yeah, I think so," Sam nodded. "You know the journal better than me."

"Forget it," Dean shrugged, settling comfortably into his seat. "We'll figure it out. We always do."

"Dude," Sam spoke up.

"What? We'll just grab us some shades, maybe hijack a dune buggy—"

Sam's long arm reached out, the back of his hand smacking against Dean's chest. "Dude!"



Dean ducked his chin, sneaking a look in the direction Sam was pointing. Up a bit on the right, two figures made their way down the side of the road. The taller one turned as the roar of the Impala apparently reached his ears. Dean saw the tale-tell blond hair of Emerson Guiley just as the Beastie Boys declared they were getting no sleep 'til Brooklyn.

"You gotta be kidding me," Dean muttered as Emerson thrust his arm out, thumb up.

"Foot on the pedal - never ever false metal, engine running hotter than a boiling kettle. My job ain't a job - it's a damn good time. City to city - I'm running my rhymes…"

"Just go," Sam said, his eyes on the hitchhikers. "Go faster, man. Do not do what I know you're thinking of doing."

Dean pressed on the accelerator, eyeing the figures in the rearview mirror as Emerson's thumb turned into a finger. He felt his lips tug up into a grin.

"He's a bastard, but he's growing on me," Dean muttered, shaking his head and dropping his eyes to the road.

"You're insane, you know that?"

"Yeah?" Dean tossed a glance at his brother. "You're the one that wants to hunt pirate ghosts and desert treasure."

Sam ran his tongue across his bottom lip. "I needed a change," he offered lamely. "Picking up two guys that tried to kill us—"

"—with empty guns—"

"—is insane." Sam finished with a bounce of his eyebrows.

Dean punched the dial of the radio. "Get some sleep, Sam. We'll drive south until she needs fuel. I need your ass sharp if we're gonna do this."

Sam sighed and nodded complacently. Dean continued to spin the dial until the comforting sigh of Over the Hills and Far Away met his ears. The day continued to fade, turning the passing landscape into muted images of pre-fab buildings, billboards advertising items that guaranteed an easy life, sand, scruff trees and scraggly grass, and semi-trucks.

Daylight rolled into the half-light of evening, twilight softening edges and holding the wording of street signs for ransom until they had almost overtaken them. At some point, Dean slipped off of the highway and onto I-40 south, the ingrained compass in his brain coupled with the glance at the atlas before they left guiding him. Sam twitched in his sleep, and Dean reached over to turn down the radio, at the moment needing it only to hold back the hypnotizing sound of rubber on blacktop.

Dean looked over at his brother, taking in the way Sam's long legs jammed up beneath the dash when he slouched low enough to rest the back of his head on the Impala's seat. With his arms crossed over his chest and his jacket bunched up around his waist he looked like a human slinky. Babies had more room in the womb then Sam in the passenger seat of the Impala, yet he never complained.

At least not to Dean. There had been plenty of times when he'd complained to Dad. But since the night that Dean had returned to California, Sam hadn't spoken one word against riding in the Impala.

A live cut from Bad Company caught Dean's attention and he turned the radio up slightly, ignoring Sam's sleepy mumble. Tapping the flats of his fingers against the steering wheel, he began to unconsciously count the rhythm of the music, singing softly.

"Put out the spotlights, one and all, and let the feelin' get down to your soul. The music's so loud, you can hear the sound, reaching for the sky, churnin' up the ground—"

The blast of the semi-truck's horn shook him violently from his calm, causing him to jerk, grab the wheel and run the Impala's right wheels along the highway's rumble strips.

"What the—" Sam cried out, sitting upright and staring around wildly. "What the hell was that?"

"Some wise-ass road warrior wannabe," Dean growled, regaining control of the car and glaring at the taillights of the semi. He'd missed the markings on the front, but painted on the back, in bright-red letters, the words limits are for pussies mocked him. "Rednecks are everywhere, man."

Sam huffed out a breath, rubbing his hands over his face and blinking.

"How's your arm?" Dean asked.


Dean cast a glance to his right and watched Sam stretch his arm out, flexing his fingers.

"Had the weirdest dream," Sam mumbled, still trying to blink himself fully awake.

"Yeah? Define weird."

"Not vision-weird," Sam clarified, rolling down his window and letting a blast of night air into the interior of the Impala. "I was, like… falling…"

"Falling dreams aren't that weird."

"Through sand."

Dean tilted his head. "Okay, I'll give you weird."

"It was like… being under water, but… not."

"Thanks. That clears it right up."

"I told you it was weird."

"What did you eat before you fell asleep?"

Sam yawned. "Nothing."

"Maybe that's the problem," Dean said, stifling a yawn of his own. "I'll look for an exit with fuel for everyone."

"Hey Dean?"


"We got a plan here?"

Dean looked back at his brother, the yellow street lights of the highway gathering closer and indicating a nearing exit. "You mean, other than smoke the pirate ghosts? If there are any…"

"Got any idea how to, uh, take out a… ship?"

"Helluva lot of rocksalt."

"What if there really is a whole crew of pirates?"

"What's with the twenty-questions, man?"

"You ever been in the desert? I mean… like full-on desert desert?"

Dean shook his head.

"Me neither."

Dean pulled off at the exit.

"Are you worried about that?"

Dean lifted a shoulder. "Should I be?"

Sam ran his tongue across his bottom lip. "Well…" he paused. "There's the heat. And the lack of water. And the heat…"

"Aw, Sammy," Dean reached out, patting his brother's chest with his fingertips. "Do you trust me?"

"You know I do."

"We're gonna be okay," Dean grinned. "Have I ever been wrong? I mean, y'know, when it's important."

"Not that I can remember," Sam conceded.

Dean shut the car off in a spot outside the diner portion of a truck stop. Half a dozen semi-trucks were parked behind them in a separate lot, cabs darkened, mud flaps reflecting the diner lights.

"Relax," Dean grinned. He opened his door and swung one leg out of the car. "Food, fuel, rest, research. In that order."

Sam followed suit, a rueful grin tugging at the corner of his mouth and exposing a reluctant dimple. "Always like it better when you were in charge," he muttered.

"Better not let Dad hear you say that," Dean pointed out, pocketing his keys and heading into the diner. At the door he realized Sam wasn't with him. He turned to look at his brother, taking in the unfamiliar lines on Sam's face. "What?"

"Nothing," Sam shook his head, shoving his hands into the pockets of his coat and moving forward. He paused next to Dean.

"We're gonna see him again, Sam," Dean said with forced confidence, clapping a hand on his brother's shoulder. "When, y'know, he's ready."

Sam's lips twitched in an expression Dean had learned to mean that's the part that pisses me off. Ignoring the debate his brother was spoiling to initiate, he entered the warm diner, smells of pot roast and coffee wrapping around him and making him want to roll sideways in the scent until he was able to breathe easy once more.

Their dinner was completed without fanfare, and Dean left Sam talking to a grizzled trucker about California ghost towns while he headed into the bathroom to clean up. Life on the road taught lessons in efficient bathing while watching your own back. There were times that even the dives disguised as motels that they stayed in were considered a luxury.

As he dried his face, gingerly touching the puffy, red cut above his brow, his eyes tracked to the far side of the bathroom in the mirror's reflection. At the farthest urinal, trying to disappear inside himself, stood Mack Guiley.

Oh, you gotta be kidding me

Dean turned, but before he could say anything, Mack zipped up and darted out through the door. Dean's instant panic brought two thoughts slamming together in his mind as he raced from to the bathroom door and nearly ripped it off its hinges in his haste: Sam and the Impala.

"Sam!" he bellowed, startling two teens at the slurpie machine as he stalked past them. "Sam!"

Sam stepped into his line of sight, his face a question mark. "Yeah?"

"Did you see him?" Dean allowed himself to be caught and halted by Sam's solid grip.

"Him who?"

"That red-headed bastard that shot you, that's who," Dean growled, pushing past Sam, registering the raised eyebrows of the trucker Sam had been talking with, and headed outside.

The Impala sat where he'd left her, seemingly intact. He wasn't completely satisfied, though, until he'd check each locked door, and ran his fingers beneath the seam of the hood, ensuring it was still solid. Sam followed him outside.

"You okay?" Sam ventured.

Dean felt his lip curl. "They're here, Sam."

Sam was silent next to him, and Dean knew his brother was scanning the dark lot. The tall lights scattered throughout the lot drew a myriad of insects and shot cone-like illumination on the broad expanse, alternately revealing and shadowing the semi-trucks and cars. The brothers moved as one toward the back of the Impala, and Dean felt his own tension bounce off Sam and return to him, doubled.

"You think they're just after the map?" Sam asked.

"That or—"

A cry of pain followed by words flung in an angry challenge caught Dean's attention, silencing him and pulling his eyes right. The unmistakable sound of flesh connecting with flesh followed by another shout had him moving in that direction, Sam on his heels.

"What the hell man! You never asked for no payment when you picked us up!"

"I ain't askin' now either, but I sure as shit am gettin' me some."

Dean skidding to a stop at the edge of a semi-trailer, sticking his hand out to halt Sam and instinctively try to tuck his brother behind him, against the side of the trailer. Sam complied, but pushed Dean's arm away. Dean looked over his shoulder, motioning with his hand to stay close and move forward. Sam nodded.

"You ain't getting that, dude. No fuckin' way!"

"Interesting choice of words."

The sneer in the voice closest to Dean was sickening. He and Sam had been careful—very careful—to steer clear of men such as this in all their years on the road. Having a father like John Winchester with them had been one major pervert deterrent. One look from John's stony face and flint-locked eyes, and all lecherous glances their way seemed to slide into oblivion.

Dean ducked his head around the side of the trailer, taking in the scene and pulling back. He was breathing shallowly in an attempt to be noiseless. Ticking his head toward Sam, he indicated retreat; they both scuttled to the next semi-truck over, crouching behind one of the big wheels.

"It's them," Dean whispered, his voice nearly-soundless. "Three bad guys—"

"Counting the Guiley's?" Sam asked, eyebrows up.

"Okay, so five bad guys," Dean conceded. "Big black guy is holding Mack with a knife… oh, man, did I just say that out loud?"

Sam smacked him lightly on the back of his head with the tips of his fingers. "Dude! Focus."

The raised voices sobered Dean and he nodded. "Right. I saw two knives, one gun, Emerson is in the center of the circle, didn't see a weapon on him."

"Those truckers after what I think they're after?"

Dean lifted a what do you think eyebrow.

"Yeah, okay," Sam adjusted his weight, pressing his fingers into a football huddle point and leaned around the edge of the trailer. "So, we can't just leave them."

Dean was silent. Sam pulled back, looking at Dean.

"Dude! You're not gonna just leave them."

"I'm thinking!"

"Well, think faster!"

The sound of a fight met their ears, and Dean winced as he heard Emerson bellow his brother's name.

"You ready?" Dean growled out, not waiting for an answer—not needing one. He moved in a low run to the edge of the other semi, looking up. The words limits are for pussies caught his eye. "Figures," he muttered. Looking back at Sam, he jerked his thumb up, then circled a finger in the air and pointed to the cab of the truck. Sam nodded.

As the fight continued out of sight of the public eye, Dean used the door latches along the back of the semi as a ladder and began to climb as Sam moved to the front of the truck. When he'd reached the top, Dean shimmed across the surface, belly down, until he could see over the edge.

Emerson was getting the shit beat out of him.

Dean rolled his lip against his teeth and checked the weapons. Mack was now being held fast by two men, his face bleeding, his knees sagging. Emerson held his own against the big guy, but Dean could tell he was losing ground fast. He shifted his shoulders, pulling his legs beneath him, preparing to drop. He looked over and saw Sam circling behind Mack.

Catching Sam's eye, Dean nodded once. Sam held up one finger, then two, and Dean jumped.

At the same moment, Sam body-slammed the trucker with the visible knife. Dean landed, hard, on the back of the man turning Emerson's face into hamburger meat. The man dropped, face-first, to the ground and Dean rolled off, sucking in breath. His weight had knocked the guy cold just as it forced the air from his lungs and Emerson was pushing away in a crab crawl, looking wildly toward Mack.


Dean rolled to his knees, finding Sam with his eyes. He was slamming his elbow into the black man's face. The man went limp and Dean stood. Mack was held tight by the third trucker, the remaining knife at his throat, his blue eyes almost empty with fear. The sight of the knife reminded Dean of the gun and he instantly looked down, only to see Emerson's shaking hands wrap around the grip.

"Let him go, you fat bastard," Emerson demanded, spitting blood to the side and lifting the barrel of the gun to point at the man holding his brother hostage.

"Tell 'em to back off," the man sputtered, his eyes darting between Dean and Sam as he moved away, Mack choking in his grasp.

Dean shot his eyes to Sam and both stopped. Emerson, however, continued forward, cocking the hammer of the gun.

"I said, let. Him. Go."

"I'd, uh, do what he says there, Chief," Dean interjected. "Kid can't throw a punch to save his life, but he can shoot the wings off a fly."

Dean saw Mack's blue eyes slide toward him and he held his gaze a moment. Mack blinked and suddenly, Dean saw him relax. Completely relax. His weight became too much for the trucker's grip and he started to readjust his hold.

"Whatever you do," Dean said out of the side of his mouth, his voice low and meant only for Emerson. "Do. Not. Shoot."

"B-back off! I'll cut him! I mean it!" The trucker slipped a bit in a puddle of oil or antifreeze left behind by another vehicle and the trio backing him and his hostage into the dark left behind by the parking lot lights used that moment to advance.

Sam moved in from the side, his forearm sweeping forward and cracking the man across the temple as he blew past. Mack sank low just as Dean slapped the knife hand to the side, gripping the trucker's wrist and twisting it around behind him in a painful hold. Emerson dropped the gun and slid in to catch his brother.

"Now," Dean snarled through gritted teeth, pushing the big man forward and away from Sam and the Guileys, "you're gonna go pick up those two sacks of shit you call friends and get the fuck out of here or you'll be one of the only one-handed truckers out there. You got that?"

"Y-yeah, yeah, I got it! I got it!"

Dean released his wrist and pushed him forward, the man stumbling on his own feet and going to the ground. He stood, shot a terrified look over his shoulder, and headed for the trucker that Dean had landed on.

Sam stepped up next to him. "How you doing there, Batman?"

Dean rubbed his now-aching ribs. "Those superheroes always make that move look so easy."

"Uh-huh," Sam rested a hand on his shoulder, a grin in his voice, and they turned to face the bleeding Guileys.

"That was one crazy game of poker, dude," Emerson said, standing gingerly and hefting Mack to his feet. "How'd you guys even know we were there?"

Dean looked at Mack. "I saw your brother."

"Well," Emerson looked at his brother, then back to Dean. "Thanks."

Dean lifted a shoulder and started to turn away. "Just be careful who you get a ride from. Next group might not be so easy to back down."

"Easy? You call that easy?"

"Hey," Sam chimed in as Dean turned away, hiding a wince as he pressed the base of his hand against his sternum. "We've been doing this a long time. If you're going to keep living on the road, get a car. If you're not gonna do that, pick a place and stay there."

"I had a car," Emerson said, following Dean, pulling Mack along with him. "It died. So I tried to get another one."

"Yeah, well, you chose poorly," Dean pointed out, wondering how exactly they were going to shake these two.

"Listen, hey." Emerson's tone turned soft and pleading as he reached out and grabbed Dean's sleeve, letting go of his brother.

Dean turned and saw Sam step close to Mack, making sure the younger man didn't fall over. The gesture of help was so automatic for his little brother that Dean almost didn't think about it, until he remembered the bandage under Sam's shirt that wouldn't have been there had it not been for the quiet red-head. That memory clashing with the picture before him made him square up, set his shoulders, take stock.

"Listen," Emerson stepped directly in front of Dean and he had a hard time not wincing in sympathy at the cuts and bruises on the kid's face. "All we want to do is go after that treasure, okay? Take us there and we'll leave you alone. I swear."

Dean folded his lips in, sliding his eyes to Sam and Mack, then looking off to his left toward the Impala.

"I swear," Emerson repeated.

Stop following me and do your job. The memory of John's words hit him like a stab of ice to the gut. He shook his head.

"No." He started to move away and Emerson grabbed his arm once more, stalling him.

"Why? Just… just give me that."

Dean swallowed, not able to look back at Sam's hazel eyes, knowing they would hold the same question. "We, uh… we work alone, kid." Dean lifted his shoulder, shrugging out of Emerson's grasp. "That's just the way it is."

He turned and stepped away, fully out of Emerson's reach, intending to cross the dark lot to the Impala and drive away.

"Bullshit!" Emerson called, his voice carrying across the lot and drawing looks from several people who had simply pulled off for fuel and food. "I call bullshit," Emerson repeated. "You got the map. Stretch here did some digging. Now you're going after it yourself."

"It's not like that," Sam started.

"Oh, yeah, Stretch? What's it like then?"

Dean half-turned, but swallowed whatever he was going to say as Sam stepped up to Emerson, bending slightly to shove his face into the blonde's.

"First of all, it's Sam," his brother snapped. "That guy that just saved your ass? His name is Dean. And second of all, he's right. You got no idea what you're getting yourself into."

"Explain it to me, then!" Emerson demanded, and Dean was slightly impressed to see the kid not back down from Sam's imposing figure.

Stepping further away from Mack, Sam attempted to intimidate Emerson into backing up. "You ever bother to translate the writing on that map? Or did you just take your uncle's story and run with it?"

"Mack did," Emerson nodded toward his brother, not taking his eyes from Sam. "He speaks Spanish."

Having the words 'Mack' and 'speaks' in the same sentence tickled Dean and he looked over at the red-head, ready to make a pithy comment. Mack erased anything he was going to say, however, by sinking silently to the ground without the aid of Sam's arm.

"Whoa!" Dean darted forward instinctively, catching the kid before he cracked his head on the pavement. "How hard did he get hit?" Dean pulled his eyebrows together, gripping Mack's chin in his fingers and turning his face toward him. Freckles stood out against his pale features even in the dark.

Emerson shoved Sam out of the way and dropped down next to his brother. "I don't know," he shook his head, reaching for Mack's face. "He came running out here like the devil was after him, and before I could get out why, those bastards jumped us. I was too busy not getting ventilated to check on him."

Dean looked up at Sam, meeting his brother's soft, worried eyes. He sighed.

"Son of a bitch," he grumbled. "C'mon, help me with him."

Emerson looked up. "Yeah?"

"Kid, don't look at me like I just gave you a pony for Christmas," Dean snapped. "I'm the reason your brother ran out here like that, so I'll help you guys get cleaned up. That's it."

"Thanks, man," Emerson said, standing on shaking legs. "I mean it."

"Whatever," Dean muttered. "Sam?"

"I'm coming," Sam replied, stepping around Emerson to crouch next to Mack. Together, they lifted him to his feet, draping his arms over their shoulders and gripping his wrists. "Heavier than he looks," Sam puffed.

"No shit," Dean returned. "Impala?"

"Where else?"

The car lot had emptied significantly from the time they'd arrived. Balancing Mack carefully, Dean dug out his keys, unlocked the door, then helped Sam ease him into the back seat. Dean nodded at Emerson.

"Go in on the other side to hold him up. And don't get blood on my seats!"

Sam took a breath. "Hospital?" he ventured as he closed the back door, looking through the window as Emerson pulled his unconscious brother close.

"Yeah," Dean nodded. "I mean, we don't know how bad he's hurt…"

They were silent for a minute.

"You want me to keep them with us, don't you?" Dean asked softly.

Sam lifted a shoulder, not replying aloud.

"They're just gonna keep going until they find that damn treasure," Dean postulated. "And if you're right about the ghosts, which you usually are…"


"Don't mention it."

"They're gonna walk right into hell, Dean."

Dean sighed, rubbing the back of his head. "I know. Dammit."

Sam moved around to the other side of the car. "Might not be all bad," he said, his hand on the door.

"Right." Dean leaned against the Impala. He looked across at Sam. "I'm gonna have a stroke and they're going to find the words, I should've known better blocking the blood to my brain."

Sam shook his head with a soft chuckle. "Get in the car, man."


Sam knew Dean was ready to leave the ER the moment they turned the battered Guiley brothers over to the hands of the medical staff. He hadn't sat down once, and kept his bruises shielded from the savvy eyes of the passing nurses. Something made him stay, though. Something besides Sam having firmly planted himself in one of the uncomfortable chairs and picked up an out-dated news magazine.

"Did you know that 300 people were killed by a suicide bomber in Iran last month?" Sam spoke up, addressing the back of his brother's head.


"Yeah, me neither," Sam said, flipping through the magazine. It seemed odd that such tragedies were happening around their world. The world that they lived in, rather. Their world consisted of absentee fathers, dying loved ones, impossible elements of death, burning spirits, and avoiding the basic scum of humanity along the way. "You know I never even voted before?"

Dean glanced at him and Sam saw his eyes were far away. "Voted?"

"Forget it," Sam closed the magazine and tossed it aside. "You okay?"

Dean lifted a shoulder and looked back out through the window to the busy road that ran outside the ER. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Sam nodded, swallowing. He needs to know… I gotta tell him… "Dean, listen, I—"

"You know what I think?" Dean interrupted. "I think he called someone."


Dean turned to face him, his back against the glass. "Dad."

Sam lifted his chin, waiting.

"You said you called every contact in the journal, right?" At Sam's nod, Dean continued, "Well, then it just makes sense that one of those contacts got a hold of him, or he called them and we were mentioned."

"Before or after you were healed and then almost killed again by the reaper?" Sam spoke up, bitterly.

"Does it matter?"


"No," Dean stepped on Sam's protest. "It doesn't matter 'cause he's doing his job. He's hunting this thing. He's focused on the mission, and he's trusting me—trusting us—to keep going. Keep the bad guys away."

"That what we're doing here?" Sam asked, tilting his head back toward the big doors that closed the actual ER off from the waiting room.

Dean looked at the doors, biting his lip. "You think they're the bad guys?"

"I think…" Sam sighed, looking down. "I don't know what I think. They could be."

Dean slid into a seat across from Sam. "Hell, man," he said quietly. "We could be."

Sam nodded. "Want to know what I found out from that trucker?"

Dean looked up and Sam saw that his brother's fingers were tapping slightly on the top of his jeans. "What trucker?"

Widening his focus for a moment, he picked up Sister Christian on the musak pumped into the waiting room. He admired Dean's calm façade in that moment; the only outward evidence that he literally wanted to climb the walls in the waiting room was a rhythmic concession to Night Ranger.

"That old guy from the diner," Sam clarified. "We were talking about ghost towns in southern California, how to travel there, all that."

"Oh, yeah?" Dean leaned forward. "Got anything we can use?"

Sam nodded. "Just outside of a town called Ludlow there's a place that can rent us desert transportation and save the Impala."

"He know anything about this pirate ship?"

Sam grinned. "Just what everyone else knows: it's a mythic ship filled with pearls that sank in the Salton Sea hundreds of years ago."

Dean narrowed an eye. "Why do I get the impression that he was laughing at us?"

"'Cause he was, dude. Said everyone and their uncle went looking for that treasure back in the day. These kids' uncle was the only one to turn up with anything close to evidence it seems."

"Hey." Emerson's voice caught their attention and both brothers looked up. Sam blinked in surprise. Dean wasn't that subtle.

"Dude! I almost didn't recognize you without all that shit in your face."

Emerson's blond spikes had been crushed down, his piercings had been removed from both his eyebrow and his lip, and the bruise that had rivaled Dean's when they met was a faded yellow in comparison to the purple marks edged with red around his eyes and mouth.

"I look like a freak," Emerson mumbled, dropping into a seat next to Sam, across from Dean.

"Next time, don't use your face so much," Dean shrugged. Emerson simply looked at him.

"Hear anything about Mack?" Sam asked gently.

"Nah," Emerson said, gingerly touching his puffy lower lip with the tip of his tongue. "They wouldn't let me back there."

"You got someone to call?" Sam asked.

"He's gonna be fine," Emerson replied.

Dean leaned forward. "He will. But he may need to stay a few days—"

"We're not staying," Emerson broke in.

"Dude, you don't know if—"

"No," Emerson leaned forward with one arm on his knee. "We're not staying. And if you're gonna ditch us, go ahead. Wouldn't be the first time, won't be the last. We'll figure out how to get to the fuckin' ship on our own."

"Listen, you little punk," Dean hissed, a finger pointed at Emerson. "Where the hell do you—"

"Mr. Guiley?"

All three men in the waiting room straightened quickly. A young, slim nurse wearing baby-blue colored scrubs, her blonde hair pulled back in a low pony tail and a smile in her green eyes, approached them, a clipboard in her hand.

She looked from Emerson to Dean and a line appeared between her brows as she glanced at the paper on the clipboard. "Which one of you is Emerson Guiley?"

Emerson lifted a hand. "That'd be me."

She nodded, then moved to sit next to him, her eyes lifting and lingering on Dean for a moment. Sam watched his brother sink a bit under her gaze. There was no mood-altering substance on Earth like Testosterone.

"Are you in need of assistance?" she asked Dean, taking in the bruises on his throat and around his eye.

"Depends. Are you offering?" Dean asked, his mouth tipping up in a seductive, roguish smile.

"He's fine," Sam and Emerson replied together. "What did you need from me?" Emerson continued.

The nurse pulled her eyes from Dean and focused on the paper attached to her clipboard. "I have some insurance questions for you to complete for yourself and your brother."

At that, Sam and Dean rose in unison, turned and made their way across the room, Sam to the vending machine, Dean to the coffee machine. They busied themselves with snacks, keeping each other in their periphery, and keeping an ear open for Emerson's replies.

"I have my, uh, my Dad's insurance."

"Is it current?"

"Should be, yeah. Uh, COBRA."

"Can your dad be reached?"

"Not without some serious smelling salts and a warm blanket."

"I'm sorry?"

"He's dead, ma'am."

There was a pause and Sam leaned a shoulder on the vending machine, watching Dean stir black coffee with a red swizzle stick.

"How old are you, Mr. Guiley?"


"And your brother is…"


"Are you his legal guardian?"

"Don't need one, being that he's eighteen."

Another pause.

"If you're paid up on COBRA, everything should be okay."


"Tell me something," the pretty nurse asked, her voice dropping almost too low for Sam to pick up. "Did these guys hurt you? Your brother?"

"Those guys?" Emerson repeated.

The nurse was silent. Sam waited, his gut tense, his eyes on Dean's profile, watching his brother's jaw muscle bounce.

"Those guys saved our asses," Emerson said finally. "Can't really figure out why."

After a moment the nurse thanked him and left. Dean and Sam turned back to Emerson, and Sam saw for the first time how fragile the tattooed kid looked in the harsh light of the ER. They returned to sit near him, waiting until he was able to see Mack.

"Sorry about your dad, man," Dean said softly.

"Don't be," Emerson said. "Was his stupid fault."


"Lemme lay some wisdom on you. Never run a jigsaw after downing a bottle of Jack."

Sam winced.

"What about your dad?" Emerson asked.

Dean met Sam's eyes. "He's out there, somewhere."

"Your mom?"

"She died a long time ago," Sam replied.

"Ours, too," Emerson sighed. "Mack was real little."

Sam felt his skin tighten around his eyes, his stomach rolling slightly. "How, uh… how did it happen?"

"Car wreck," Emerson sighed, leaning back in the uncomfortable seats. "Mack was in it. Didn't talk much after that."

Sam slid his eyes to Dean, feeling an odd sense of relief at that. Dean was looking at the ground. Narrowing his eyes, Sam watched his brother's hands. They were still. No tapping out the beat of musak's version of Careless Whisper. No counting breaths or heartbeats. None of his usual focusing tells were present. He was simply still.

"He saw it?"


"Mack?" Dean lifted his head. "He saw your mom die?"

"Yeah," Emerson nodded. "I guess it was pretty bad. They had to cut the car up to get him out… but they basically cut her up to get her out."

"Poor kid," Sam said softly, still watching Dean. He swallowed when Dean met his eyes; he had to look away. There was too much unspoken pain held in the green.

"Emerson Guiley?"

Emerson jumped. "Yeah."

"You can go see your brother now." A male nurse pressed the door open, waiting for Emerson.

"Can he… is he…"

"He's okay, kid. Take a breath." The nurse smiled. "Just go on in and talk to the doc. Think you guys'll be going home."

Emerson disappeared through the door and Sam and Dean stared at each other, the word home hovering between them like a challenge.


December 19th, morning

"Mack gets one bed, Sam the other," Dean said as the foursome filed wearily into the room.

"Why you getta make the rules?" Emerson groused.

Dean locked the door behind him, dropping a duffel onto the floor. "'Cause I paid for the damn room."

"You mean Abe Froman paid for it."

Dean lifted an eyebrow. "You got any idea how much work credit card fraud is?"

"Oh, yeah, I bet you break a sweat," Emerson shot back.

"Enough, already," Sam broke in. "Seriously! Dean, let them have the beds. They were just in the ER."

"You have a bullet wound in your shoulder, Sam," Dean pointed out, staring at Emerson, challenging.

"Fine," Emerson dropped into an open chair. "Let him have the bed."

"We'll sleep in shifts," Dean continued. "Either Sam or I will be on watch."

"On watch for what?" Emerson shot back.

"On watch so that piss-ant punks don't get any bright ideas," Dean returned.

"Dude, what do you think I am?"

"Em," Mack broke in, his voice exasperated, his face pinched in pain.

Dean knew from experience that even though the word 'mild' had been inserted neatly before the word 'concussion' on the diagnosis sheet, Mack was feeling his heartbeat behind his eyes.

"We have two days to get down to the Salton Sea," Dean said, heading to the bathroom. "We'll grab a few hours here, let you rest up," he pointed toward Mack, "and then we're off."

"What happens in two days?" Emerson asked.

"I thought you said Mack translated the words on the map?" Sam replied.

"He did," Emerson looked at his brother, "but I never asked him what it said."

Sam looked at Mack. "You know, don't you?"

Mack simply looked back at him, then laid down gingerly, rolling to his side. Sam looked at Dean, then back at Emerson.

"What already?" Emerson yawned.

"The ship is cursed," Sam said sitting down on the bed and leaning back against the headboard. "Winter solstice is the 21st, and apparently on that day… the souls trapped on that ship return to life."

Emerson looked at him. "Return… to… life?"

"As in ghosts, man," Dean called from the bathroom where he was bent over the faucet of the tub, trying for a balance between hot and cold.

Emerson was quiet for a moment. Long enough for Dean to look back over his shoulder. When he did, he caught the laughter two moments before Emerson released it.

"You're serious?"

"As a heart attack," Dean said, shedding his jeans and T-shirt, then stepped into the shower.

The hot water eased the tense ache in his neck and he rolled it slowly under the beat of the spray. Sam's words carried in through the opened door of the bathroom, but were slightly muffled by the opaque shower curtain and the sound of the water. He wasn't about to close the door, however. Not with both brothers out there with Sam—wounded or not.

"Pretty much the only reason you're in on this with us is because we know what's out there. We know what goes bump in the night. And if the map says that on the winter solstice, the pirates on that ship are going to reanimate and kill until enough blood has been shed that they can return home, well…"

"Oh, I get it," Emerson returned. "You're getting me back for stealing the Chevy, right? This is like the rogue version of Scare Tactics, right?"

"It's true," Mack spoke up from his curled position.

"What?" Surprise infused the word. "You… you believe them?"

"Yes," Mack said.

Dean rubbed his face, careful of the cut on his eyebrow, then caressed the bruises on his neck, waiting out the silence in the other room. He unwrapped the bar of soap lying on the shower's edge, then began to rub down his skin, still listening to the quiet. He resisted the urge to call out to Sam, check on them. He was pretty sure Sam could handle himself, especially with those two down like they were.

Still… he hadn't been vigilant yesterday and Sam got shot.

"Quit it," Sam said, his voice inside the bathroom.

Dean jumped so violently he almost fell. "Jesus Christ, Sam. I didn't hear you come in."

"I'm okay; quit worrying."

Dean couldn't see his brother through the solid-colored curtain, but he heard the heaviness in Sam's voice.

"What is it?"

"They're both asleep," Sam assured him. "I'll wake Mack up in a couple of hours."

Dean tipped his head back, letting the water sluice over his face, skidding through the stubble on his cheeks. Straightening once more, he blinked the water from his eyes. "What is it, Sam?" he repeated.

"There's something I've been… something I should have told you awhile back."

"And so you thought… you'd wait until I was… in the shower?"

"Well," Sam sighed and Dean heard the pitch of his tone drop. He'd sat down, Dean realized. "We have company now, and… I didn't know when I'd get another chance… and you need to know this before we go any farther."

Dean felt chills rise on his flesh despite the temperature of the water. He turned to face the spray, letting is sooth the tender skin just beneath his sternum.

"Dad's in Minnesota," Sam said slowly, roughly, as if he were pulling bricks away from an internal wall and the words simply tumbled free.

"What?" Dean choked, spitting water out as it fell into his opened mouth.

"The coordinates he sent me were from Minnesota," Sam continued. "And Joshua…" Sam took a breath, "called yesterday. Said Dad had called him from some place called Windom, Minnesota. Said he'd called from there before."

Dean shut off the water, standing, dripping, behind the curtain, working to process Sam's words. "Wait… Dad called… Joshua?"

Sam said nothing. Dean assumed he was nodding.

"When?" Dean pushed out, bracing a hand on the wet tile, his skin pulling tight into goose bumps.


"So… I was right."

"Basically, yeah."

Dean reached out and grabbed a towel, wrapping it around his waist before pulling the curtain aside to reveal Sam sitting on the closed lid of the toilet, head hanging down, hands dropped between his knees. "What do you mean, basically?"

Sam swallowed audibly, then brought his head up. "Dad, uh… Dad was the one to tell Joshua about Roy LeGrange's church."

Dean shivered. He knew his brother saw his body tremble, but he couldn't care at this point. "So… Dad… Dad knew what LeGrange was doing? He knew about the reaper?"

Sam shook his head. "I don't know, Dean."

"He had to've, Sam." Dean gripped the edge of his towel tighter.

Sam closed his eyes briefly, then opened them once more. "So what if he did?"

"So what?" Dean cried out, louder than he'd intended. In his periphery, he registered Emerson jerking awake, but ignored him. "Sue Ann was using a reaper, Sam. Two people are dead because of me."

"You don't know that—Layla could…"

"Oh, don't give me that. She's as good as dead and you know it," Dean ground out. "And he knew it."

"Well, what if he did?" Sam stood, staring Dean in the eye. "He wanted to save you, Dean. Just like me. I was willing to do anything! Dad sent us the only place he thought might save you!"

Dean drew in a sharp breath. "He… holy… fuck, Sam, he sent us on a hunt."

Sam blinked. "What?"

"He sent us on a hunt," Dean repeated, leaning back against the wall as his legs lost strength. The cold tile was coated with condensation from his shower, and the alternating sensations were enough to ground him in his assertion. "He knew about LeGrange, knew he had to be stopped, knew you were looking for ways to help me… figured he'd kill two birds with one stone."

"No…" Sam shook his head lamely.

Dean swallowed. "Think about it, Sam. He called your phone with coordinates. He called Joshua to make sure the job was done."

"He was afraid, Dean," Sam protested. "Afraid that—"

"That he might've screwed up and I was dead?"

Sam closed his mouth, his eyes large and young looking.

"Get on out of here," Dean said quietly. "Get some rest."

"But, Dean—"

"We're heading to Ludlow in the morning, and we're taking out these ghosts. 'Cause that's our job."

"What… what about Dad?" Sam asked, standing carefully.

Dean looked at him, his eyes empty, his heart heavy, his body aching. "What about Dad?"

"Should we… call him?"

It was on the tip of Dean's tongue to shoot back a smart-assed answer. Something about serving their dad right. Something about two playing the same game. But Sam had once again pulled the kicked-puppy look from his back pocket and fixed it firmly in place when Dean wasn't looking. And his heart lurched at the pleading in Sam's eyes.

"I'll take care of it," Dean promised. "Now let a guy get dressed in peace."

Sam nodded, stepped out of the bathroom, then tossed Dean's duffel in behind him and closed the door. Dean stood draped in only his towel for a moment. Pushing back howls of protest screaming in his head, he reached into his duffel and pulled out his phone. Pressing his lips together, breathing shallowly through his nose, blinking rapidly to deny tears their hoped-for win, he scrolled down to 'Dad' on the menu, then hit send.

This is John Winchester. If this is an emergency, call my son, Dean, at 866-907-3235.

He opened his mouth; he willed sound to emerge. Then with a disgusted mental kick, he closed his phone, cutting off the connection without a word.


December 19th, evening

"So tell me again about these… alleged ghosts?" Emerson spoke up from the back seat of the Impala, his apparent intent to wind Dean up so tight that he pulled the steering wheel off the dash.

Sam sighed, hooked his elbow over the back of the seat, and rested his back against the Impala's passenger door.

"What did your uncle tell you?" Sam asked.

Emerson glanced over at Mack who was staring silently through the side window and into the dark.

"Nothing, seeing as how he died before we were born."

Dean glanced into the rear-view mirror. "So how'd you find the map?"

Emerson swallowed, shifting stiffly in his seat. Sam knew after the beating he'd absorbed, the younger man was going to be hurting for awhile. Didn't seem to stop his mouth, though. He'd been talking constantly since they'd left the motel and resumed their southern trek down I-40. Sam thought Dean was noisy. He didn't hold a candle to this kid.

"When our Dad died, we…" Emerson twisted his hand, palm up, and ran his index finger down the length of an intricate tattoo that graced the inside of his wrist. "We went through his stuff."

"So he had it?"

"Yeah," Emerson nodded, once again looking at Mack, then continuing on when his brother stayed silent and still. "He had it. Buried in a box at the back of his closet with the guns you took from us. Which I want back, by the way."

Dean shook his head. "Not gonna happen."


Dean lifted an eyebrow at the mirror. "'Cause I said so, that's why."

"Anyone ever tell you that you have an ass where your head should be?"

"Listen, we don't have to—"

"Okay, so, your dad had the map," Sam interrupted loudly holding out one hand toward Emerson and pushing against Dean's knee with the toe of his shoe. Dean looked over at him quickly. Sam dropped his chin slightly, his eyes asking Dean to calm down.

Dean muttered something under his breath, returning his eyes to the road. In the background, music played quietly and the Impala rumbled reassurance.

"What made you think the treasure was real?" Sam continued.

Emerson dabbed his wounded lip with the tip of his tongue. "Mack," he said. Sam looked over at the red-head, then back at Emerson. "He read the Spanish, then went and looked it all up online. We started looking for more stuff in Dad's closet related to the map or the ship or something, and we found this, like, black book."

"Black book?" Sam prompted.

"Well, more of a journal, but not like a dear diary journal. I think Dad had been losing it for awhile. Sometimes death is a gift, y'know?"

Sam toed Dean's knee, warning him to be quiet, before his brother could say anything in response.

"Anyway, he had plans for a trip to San Diego to go find the treasure. But all over the book he wrote, don't tell the boys, and shit like that. He wanted to keep it a secret." The bitterness in Emerson's voice was thick.

Sam watched as Mack shifted, rolling his head from the window and closing his eyes. He wasn't sure if he should be worried, and glanced at Dean to see if he'd been checking on the kid. Dean was rolling his neck, working out stiff kinks, and didn't even look like he was listening to Emerson's story.

"Mack found out that our Uncle Charlie had come back with the map, said he'd seen the ship, and was going back for the treasure, then basically disappeared into the desert. Dad's dad was sure his brother was nuts. Everyone wrote him off. And then Granddad died and Dad got this package in the mail and the map was in it."

"Why didn't your Dad ever go after the treasure?" Sam asked.

"Dunno," Emerson shrugged. "Too drunk, too scared. Doesn't matter. Mack and me, we're gonna get it, and we're getting out of this life, man. And don't think you're gonna be scaring us off with a freakin' ghost story."

Sam twisted back to face front, glancing askance to check on Dean. His brother was suspiciously quiet. Rubbing a rough finger across his bottom lip, Sam took a breath.

"So, you, uh, get through to Dad?"

Dean's eyebrows bounced once. "You think I would have waited this long to tell you if I had?"

Sam scoffed. "Yeah."

"Well, I didn't."

"Leave him a message?" Sam ventured hopefully.

"No," Dean said, then reached over to turn up the radio as AC/DC claimed that Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution.

"'kay," Sam nodded, looking out through the window.

His mind skipped over possibilities, second guesses, wanting a take-back, wishing he'd never told Dean, wishing he'd called John himself. Sam was almost glad when Emerson resumed his endless questioning.

"So, you guys do this ghost thing a lot then?"

"You could say that," Sam replied, eyes catching on a sign at the side of the road indicating Ludlow was just thirty miles further.

"How'd you get into it?"

"Just did," Dean cut off the game of twenty questions, his voice tight. Sam frowned and looked down at his lap.

"Did you start out small, like, y'know, with Casper, or did you just go full-on—"

"Kid," Dean looked at his reflection in the rear-view mirror. "Believe me when I tell you that I don't care enough about you or some damn treasure to make up ghost stories to scare you off. These things are real, and they can tear you up, turn you eight kinds of crazy, stop your heart inside your chest…" Dean took a breath. "They're real."

"Okay, okay," Emerson groused, slumping into his seat with an exaggerated pout.

"Pay attention," Dean said, drawing Sam's eyes to him. "This is how it's going to go. We'll get into Ludlow and wait out the night. In the morning—"

"We're staying in the car?" Emerson interrupted.

Sam sighed. Dean cracked his neck.

"In the morning we'll find a place to get a vehicle that can take us into the desert," Dean continued, his words so edged with frustration that Sam heard John's voice falling from his brother's lips.

"Why not take this one?"

Dean shot a look to Sam saying plainly shut him up or I'm gonna kill him.

"We can't take the Impala into the desert," Sam said with forced calm. "It's not built for that."

The next twenty minutes were filled with random questions from Emerson, silence from Mack, bit-off replies from Dean, and peace-making assurances from Sam. By the time Dean pulled off the Ludlow exit, the air in the car was crackling with tension. Dean found an empty parking lot that looked to be for an elementary school, shut off the engine, pulled the hood release, and stepped out of the car.

Before Sam could stop him, Emerson followed. Mack and Sam exchanged worried glances, and Sam took a breath, stepping out to greet the angry words uttered by two alpha males circling each other, ready to attack.

"—didn't have to bring you along," Dean was bellowing, his breath condensing in the cold night air to hover like a warning cloud just beyond his lips. He moved quickly to the front of the car, opened the hood and bent over the engine.

"So now I should be thanking you, that it?" Emerson fired back. "Thank you for getting me arrested, dude. Thanks, that was a fantastic freakin' time. Thanks for bustin' my lip open, too. Oh, and for stealing my Daddy's guns. That was swell."

Dean pulled the distributor cap loose, then slammed down the hood of the Impala, barely missing Emerson's fingers. Sam saw the look of blood in his brother's eyes even in the darkness that cloaked the lot. He stepped forward, but was stopped by Dean thrusting the distributor cap at him as he advanced on Emerson.

"You know what you should be thanking me for you little punk?" Dean jabbed his index finger into Emerson's sternum, making the blond stumble back a step. "How about keeping you and your brother from getting raped and killed by those good ol' boys back at the truck stop, huh? How about not leaving your brother to hemorrhage from a head wound? How about going with you after your little make-believe treasure so that you don't end up making a blood donation to the pirates!"

Emerson pushed him back and Sam set the distributor cap on top of the hood, his body tight, his arms at his sides, ready to catch or swing, depending on what Dean pitched his way.

"The treasure is more real than any fuckin' ghosts, you freak!" Emerson literally screamed back at him. "You are just as crazy as my old man! Talking about ghosts and spirits and seeing things!"

"Your dad was right, kid!" Dean yelled back, his deep voice echoing off the building far across the lot. "There's a lot of nasty shit out there, and you ain't seen half of it. You should be kissin' my ass—"

"Screw that, how 'bout I kick your ass instead!" Emerson lunged forward, his right fist raised.

Dean dropped into a ready stance. "Bring it on, Spike!"

"Whoa, whoa!" Sam grabbed Dean by the scruff of his jacket and pulled him back toward him. "You," he pointed to Emerson, "get back in the car and calm down."


"Shut the hell up already," Sam barked. "Get in there and check on your brother. NOW!" He fired the last missive when Emerson opened his mouth once more in protest.

The back door of the Impala creaked open and all three turned to see Mack leaning against the opening. He simply looked at his brother, and Sam was quickly reminded of the cocky confidence that had surrounded him when he and Emerson had broken into the motel room. It was gone now. As if it had never even existed.

Emerson turned toward his brother and Sam yanked Dean back and away, turning him and pushing him forward, away from the Impala and the Guileys. Grabbing the distributor cap from the hood of the Impala, he followed as Dean walked across the empty lot, cold starlight outlining his form and emphasizing the bow-legged stride that Sam had tried to emulate all of his life.

Sam's long legs easily ate up the ground, but he stayed just behind Dean, giving his brother the space he needed to cool his indignation, to temper his anger. When they had almost reached the brick building across the lot, Dean turned and Sam was a little taken aback by the way the silver light illuminated his brother's features. He looked…dangerous.

Dean glanced at him once, then looked away, beginning to pace, shaking his hands out as if to convince them not to curl into fists. Sam simply stood, his stance loose, his chin low, his eyes never leaving Dean's figure. There were things learned about a person when life was lived in synchronicity for so long; even two years away at Stanford hadn't erased the imprint of Dean on Sam's psyche.

His brother had a temper that he squelched for the sake of the moment. He had a grin that could cover a multiple of sins. He hid inside easy retreats: whiskey, women, and wit. He would fight for his family until he could no longer stand, and he'd pretend that nothing got to him. He'd shove his pain behind walls so tall and so thick he'd forgotten how to scale them and he switched his masks with ease.

But Sam knew his brother. And he knew that the reason Emerson Guiley got under Dean's skin so easily was that Dean saw himself inside the skinny, tattooed, pierced rebel… and he hated it. Because he saw vulnerability and pain.

"Little shit," Dean finally spoke, the words staggering from him.

"That he is."

"We oughtta leave them here, y'know," Dean stopped pacing, standing so that he faced Sam, but could see the Impala across the lot. "Just walk away clean."

"You mean before you go all Boondock Saints on them?"

Dean blinked, looking over at Sam. "What?" he half-laughed.

The bruise on his cheek from Billy's fist was fading but still looked dark in the starlight and Sam winced inside at the sight of the marks on his neck. But with that laugh, Sam saw tension begin to drain from him.

"You were ready to plug him on principle alone," Sam said, spinning the distributor cap around in his palm with a flick of his wrist.

Dean laughed again, his eyes twinkling in the starlight. He reached out for the engine part. "Gimme that, before you break it and we're stuck here."

Sam handed it over. "Bring it on, Spike," he mimicked in a high-pitched voice.

Dean chuckled. "Tell me that kid doesn't look like the dude from Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

"Maybe," Sam conceded. "Wrong accent, though."

Dean shook his head, looking down. "You hear what he said about his dad and the journal?"

"Think he was a hunter?"

Dean lifted a shoulder. "Maybe."

They were quiet for a minute, both looking down. Sam let his eyes roam from his blue Adidas sneakers to the scuffed up toes of Dean's well-worn boots. He wondered idly if his brother had ever worn sneakers.

"Just so you know," Dean said softly, "I'm not going to call Dad again."

Sam swallowed. He knew. He'd been surprised Dean had called in the first place. Dean had reached out one too many times and grabbed nothing but air. He needed a hand to reach back.

"And for the record," Dean brought his head up, meeting Sam's eyes. "If I did go Boondock Saints on them… I'd have to have a rope."

Sam laughed and playfully punched Dean's shoulder. "C'mon," he said. "Let's head back before there isn't any night left."


December 20th, mid-morning

"If you think I'm fitting in to some damn… sidecar, you got another thing coming," Sam grumbled.

"Dude," Dean grinned up at him, sunny despite a wicked knot at the base of his neck. He hated sleeping in the car period, but sleeping in the car with three other people—two of whom he didn't trust with his brother's life—did not make for a restful night. However, with the sun came new possibilities. Whatever haunted him in the darkness of midnight couldn't stand up to the bright light of morning. "Think about it! It'd be like… McQueen in The Great Escape."

"McQueen's motorcycle didn't have a sidecar," Sam pointed out.

"It didn't?" Dean frowned, scratching the back of his head in thought as he pictured the tough-as-nails actor.

"You think he jumped that barbed-wire fence with a sidecar attached to his bike?"

Dean nodded once. "Good point."

"Hey, guys!" Emerson called. "How about this one?"

Sam and Dean lifted their heads simultaneously to look across the dusty desert lot. A quick search through the local yellow pages and a flirtatious conversation over coffee had yielded Sam the location of a car lot with vehicles suitable for desert travel and Dean a discount consignment shop carrying clothing that would stand up to the heat. Mack stood with a bag of clothes slung over his shoulders looking down at the vehicle Emerson indicated.

It was a Jeep, of sorts. The wheel base was twice as wide as a usual Wrangler with deep-treaded tires flanking either side. The body had been broken down to the barest essentials: seats, two doors, roll-bar, dash. As the brothers got closer, Dean saw that there weren't even seat belts.

"Is this thing even street-legal?" he asked.

"Does it matter?" Emerson pointed out. "We're not gonna be driving it in the street."

Dean looked up at Sam who shrugged in reply. "He's got a point."

Dean whistled for the sales man, an aged hippie with yellowing teeth and dreadlocks. "You take credit cards, man?"

An hour later, Dean had stashed the Impala behind the diner where the waitress he'd flirted with earlier promised to keep an eye on it. He'd taken off the distributor cap—again—and stuffed it into the trunk with their duffel of clothes and the majority of their weapons. Sam had loaded bottles of water and some jerky in the jeep while Dean took out a spare canvas bag and filled it with two rock-salt-filled shot guns, extra salt, accelerant, holy water, flares, lighters, their own handguns, and Dean's Bowie.

Watching this, Dean saw Mack's eyes widen and Emerson's pupil's dilate.

"You, uh, got something in there for us?" Emerson ventured.

Dean looked at Sam, who simply chuckled.

"What?" Emerson looked from one brother to the other.

"You honestly think he's giving you a gun?"

"We wouldn't shoot you… again."

Dean rolled his eyes, pulling the loose-fitting, off-white Henley over his head and slipping it down over his jeans. "That's comforting, thanks."

"I don't know, Dean," Sam smirked. "They're pretty good with empty weapons."

"Dude," Emerson protested, tying a bandana over his bleached-blond hair. "Lead costs money."

Dean simply flicked his eyebrow, tying his own bandana to cover his head from the dangerous desert sun.

Sam closed the trunk. "Let's get going before that storm they warned us about gets here."

"You got the coordinates?"

"Coordinates, compass, GPS, map," Sam nodded.

"Coordinates for what?" Emerson spoke up.

Sam turned to him. "Just worked the latitude and longitude for the center of the Salton Sea basin. Figured that's as close as that old map would get you."

Emerson blinked at him, nodded, then climbed into the front of the Jeep. Dean looked at him, and Emerson sighed, climbed out, and clambered into the back.

"This is gonna be a long-ass ride," he predicted.


December 20th, mid-afternoon

"See anything?"


"Anything else?"

"You mean besides the bleached bones of animals too stupid to get the hell out? No, Sam, I don't see anything."

"'Cause according to the GPS, we're close."

"How do you know that thing is even working?"

"What did I tell you about shutting up?"

"Cut him some slack, Dean."

"Damn, it's hot out here. I think my sunburn is sunburned."

"Wind's picking up, too."

"I noticed."

"Think we should turn back?"


Three pairs of eyes turned to face Mack, his voice like a shock of water on their heated skin.

"Mack?" Emerson asked, over the increasing wail of wind and rough-sounding grind of the Jeep.

"Don't turn back," Mack shook his head. "Don't turn back."

Dean and Sam exchanged a glance, worry warring with curiosity.

Against their better judgment, they pushed on.


December 20th, night

"Shoulda turned back when we had the chance!" Dean called out over the scream of the wind.

The suffocating heat of day had given way with easy surrender to the shuddering chill of night. The Wrangler struggled over a small dune, rear wheels spinning in the sand. The wind had increased in intensity over the last hour until particles of sand and brush were lifted and thrown their way with enough velocity to raise welts on their exposed skin.

Dean saw nothing in the pale light from his headlights except sand blowing sideways.

"Dean!" Sam shouted over the wail. "We gotta find cover!"

They had taken off their bandana's and wrapped them over the lower half of their face, but the sand still slashed at their eyes, stealing into even the smallest opening.


"The Jeep!" Sam yelled. "Push it over!"

Dean stopped trying to breach the dune, shoving the gear into park and pulling the foot break. He shut off the engine and twisted slightly in his seat. "Everybody out!"

Four bodies spilled from the vehicle and Emerson and Sam joined Mack and Dean on the driver's side of the Jeep.

"One! Two! Three! PUSH!" Sam bellowed. They heaved, feet sliding backwards in the loose sand, eyes burning, tearing, closing as sand worked its way in between their lashes. The Jeep rocked, tilting slightly, the wind unforgiving. "AGAIN!"

They pushed once more, their grunts of effort audible over the storm. At last the Jeep gave way, rolling slowly to its side like a downed grizzly. Slipping in the sand, struggling against the wind, the foursome moved around to the lee of the Jeep, tucking up inside the tilted seats, burrowing low to get relief from the maelstrom.

"Gotta say," Dean panted, pulling his shirt down to free his lips, "this is a new one."

He reached above him and grabbed a water bottle from beneath the driver's seat, taking a long pull, then handed it to Sam, who drank greedily, then passed it to the Guileys.

"Yeah," Sam nodded, making his lanky body as small as possible under the sparse protection of the Jeep, gripping his still-tender shoulder.

Dean coughed, reaching for the water once more. He drank deeply, then capped the bottle to keep the sand out. Sam stared back at him, misery evident in eyes puffy from the blowing sand. Dean frowned at him, then twisted to look over his shoulder at the Guileys.

"Pull your brother closer!" Dean hollered to Emerson. "Put your backs to the wind."

Emerson complied without complaint, and Dean turned back to Sam.

"Sorry, Dean," Sam offered as they crowded close, letting their backs take the brunt of the storm, their shoulders meeting, their faces stinging from the sandy assault.

"What did you do this time?" Dean asked.

"Convinced you to go on a treasure hunt."

"What makes you think I'm not having fun?" Dean asked, blinking watery, red eyes at his brother. "Dude…" he coughed, and felt Sam pull him closer, effectively blocking the wind from his face completely. "Sitting with you in a sandstorm, in the middle of the desert, in the middle of nowhere is a helluva lot better than being in that lot back in Nebraska."

Sam huffed out a quick laugh, leaning his forehead close until it touched the top of Dean's head. Time ticked by. The night grew colder. At one point, Dean felt someone—probably Emerson—press closer to his back. The wind screamed, the sand collected, and soon it was swirled around their ankles, traveling up their legs.

"MOVE!" Dean called over the noise. "Shift sideways or it'll bury us!"

He began to hum inside his head. Zeppelin, Metallica, Seger. He counted the beats of the songs he knew, using the rhythms to calculate their time, and every few minutes pushed the group first one way, then the other, keeping the sand from covering them, staying under the Jeep so that the wind didn't tear them apart.

The change in weather was almost imperceptible.

Sam noticed it first. "It's… quieter."

Dean slowly lifted his head, his neck muscles crying out in protest from being in one position so long. Shifting, he looked hesitantly over his shoulder, sand sliding from his back as if he were a statue come to life. The complete darkness was slowly giving way to the pearly light of the stars. Dean eased Emerson away from him, tugging on Sam's arm. He stood, joints cracking, using the edge of the Jeep for support. Sand slipped down his shirt front, finding its way under his waist band, into his boxers, and along the edge of his boots. He wanted to shake violently, like a dog, and rid himself of the irritating element.

The wind had all-but died, leaving behind a few straggling clouds, the starlight turning the desert sand into glass. Dean looked around in awe, taking in the almost barren surroundings, the cacti and Joshua trees in the far distance, the absolute lack of anything that resembled civilization. They were definitely in the wild; they could have been on the moon. And in the tattered starlight, it seemed, there was magic.

"Sam," he said, tugging on his brother's arm once more. "You gotta see this."

Sam stood, his back to the cover the Jeep had provided, staring out into the expanse along with his brother. "Looks like something out of a movie."

"You ever see anything like this?" Dean almost whispered.

"No," Sam shook his head, sand falling from his hair and down around his shoulders. "I—"

The earth-shattering blast knocked both brother's off their feet, sending them tumbling forward and sliding down what was left of the dune as the world shattered to their left. Dean rolled slowly to his back, his ears ringing. He looked wildly around for Sam, finally seeing his brother push himself to a semi-seated position, the expression on his face as shell-shocked as Dean felt.

"What the fu—"

Another blast had sand blowing up and around them, tipping the earth sideways, and sending them crashing once more to the ground. Dean heard Sam coughing and cautiously lifted his head, blinking rapidly to clear his vision, tasting the tang of copper in his mouth. His head pounded; his world tilted dangerously.

"Sam!" he barked, coughing up sand and thirsty for air.

He looked toward the Jeep, and only then realized that he and Sam had rolled several feet from the Guiley brothers. Sam was to his right and up on his knees, tugging at Dean's shirt sleeve, trying ineffectually to pull him forward. Groaning, Dean struggled from his knees to a crouched stance, clutching Sam's arm. As they made their way back to the crest of the dune and the over-turned Jeep, Dean heard voices.

He found Emerson and Mack still huddled in the protection of the Jeep. They were staring back at him, their blue eyes wide and scared.

"You two okay?"

"Does it look like we're okay?" Emerson fired back.

"Fine," Mack said tersely.

"Do you hear that?" Sam asked as the voices grew louder.

Emerson frowned and before Dean could stop him, stood up, staring over the cover of the Jeep in the opposite direction that Sam and Dean had just returned from.

"Ho. Lee. She. It."

At Emerson's breathy curse, Dean pulled himself up, Sam at his side.

On the other side of the dune, in a gulley peppered with large, pale rocks and a few scattered Joshua trees, listing slightly to the side, sat a massive Spanish galleon. Dean felt his tongue curl up inside of his mouth, his lungs emptying along with every thought in his head. Sam clumsily slapped at his forearm. Dean looked over to see his brother's mouth hanging slightly open.

The ship looked to be perfectly preserved. Dark wooden decks gleamed in the moonlight, barnacles clung to the lower half of her belly, and her wide, white sails were unfurled, filled with wind as if on the high seas and not moored in the middle of the California desert. On her bow an angel reached out, her wings tucked close to her body, her face raised to the stars with a plea for salvation.

Beneath her carved, bare feet, in gold filigree, was written: ángel de la desolación.

"The Desolation Angel," Mack whispered, standing next to his brother.

"Dean," Sam's dry voice crawled out at him from the darkness.

"I see it," Dean replied.

At the top mast, waving in the now non-existent wind, flew the Jolly Roger.

"Think it's safe to say it's past midnight," Sam whispered.

The voices carrying from the ship increased in volume and intensity, but the words were foreign and confusing. Both sets of brothers stood, staring, shocked into stillness. Then, Dean's gaze dropped to the portside of the ship, his eyes registering the sight before him just as Mack managed to translate the words echoing across the expanse.

"Oh, shit," Dean breathed.

"Get down!" Mack cried out at the same time.

The cannon boomed, a white puff of smoke curling around the deadly opening. The foursome dropped as the cannonball exploded almost on top of the Jeep, sending them tumbling over each other like puppies. They came to a staggered halt, panting, shaking, ears ringing. Dean lifted his head, looking around

"Grab the weapons!" Dean shouted to Emerson, seeing his body had landed nearest the duffel. "Get it!"

Emerson fumbled with the bag handles, rolling away from the Jeep and out into the open space toward Mack.

"Dean!" Sam yelled clambering to his feet and reaching out to pull Dean away as another blast rang out from the ship.

Dean reached back for his brother, feeling the gritty texture of Sam's sand-coated skin slip through his fingers as the cannonball found its target and the Jeep exploded in an impressive spray of sand and metal shrapnel. Dean rolled in on himself, wrapping his arms around his head, feeling the hot shards fall down around him.

And then he was rolling, tumbling, head over heels, his world become an even exchange of light and dark, air and suffocation. He came to an abrupt stop as his body crashed against a rock. Coughing, blinking, he looked up as the last of the clouds parted revealing the sadly seductive sight of the crescent moon, its brilliant light washing the gulley and exposing the brothers to the eyes of the sailors manning the impressive, deadly cannons.

Several more sailors gathered at the portside of the ship, peering over the edge at the tangle of their bodies. Blinking away tears from his burning eyes, Dean narrowed his focus on the figures as he pushed himself to his elbow. As he stared, six figures swung over the edge of the ship and climbed down a rope ladder.

"Oh, God," Dean gasped, his breath like fire against his raw throat. "This can't be good."

"Emerson," Sam called. "The weapons!"

"I lost the bag!"

Dean whipped his head in the direction of Emerson's voice. "You did what?"

From the bow of the boat, a ragged, time-worn voice called out in Spanish, "¡Capturad a los infieles!"

"Did he say… capture?" Sam rasped.

"Sammy, get up," Dean rolled to his knees. "We gotta get out of here."

"And go where?" Sam exclaimed.

"¡Con su sangre volveremos a casa!" The voice called again, and this time, the mummified countenance of a man wearing a heavy, red coat and large, black hat complete with white plumage was visible in the moonlight.

Dean stood on hollow legs, the world spinning around him. Sam lay on his side, propped up on one arm, near his feet. To his right lay Emerson and Mack, both looking with wide eyes toward the ship.

"¡Con su sangre volveremos a casa!" The pirate repeated, anger infusing his words with energy, the air snapping like lightening around them. The brothers could hear an answering cheer surge upward from the boat.

"What… did he say?" Dean asked, dread making his words leaden.

As the others stared from their recumbent positions, the shadowed figures from the ship circled them, moving with slow purpose. Dean turned slowly, his chin down, his eyes scanning their thin, swarthy faces, and empty eyes. The unmistakable shink of metal sliding against leather met his ears and he saw the moonlight reflect off of the blades of half a dozen knives.

"Mack?" Dean prompted. "What did he say?"

One figure stepped forward, reaching for Emerson's blond hair, yanking his head back and pressing a blade against his exposed neck.

"He said…" Mack replied finally, backing himself into the leathery legs of another pirate. "That we're in big trouble."