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04 March 2015 @ 08:05 am
j'adoube: Pawn Sacrifice (chapter 6)  
Sam watched a small, spotted lizard dash past his nose.




J'adoube

Chapter Six
Pawn Sacrifice

****

Sam watched a small, spotted lizard dash past his nose. Cheek pressed to the earth, he bent his head to follow the track of the reptile as it scurried on its way. The simple movement agitated his singed lungs, and Sam choked on sooty phlegm, spitting it out and breathing in a lungful of dust on the return breath. That set off a whole new round of coughing until his diaphragm contracted and he lost the meager contents of his stomach. Spluttering rancid bile, he passed a hand across his lips and made to shift his body away from the mess, but something heavy stopped him. He levered up on his elbows and found Dean draped over him, his brother's limp body painted red from the lazy flames licking the charred remains of the cabin and gold from the impending sunrise striking the cirrus clouds high above.

As Sam eased out from underneath his brother, Dean moaned and folded into a patch of bloody earth, coughing. The boy hissed in pain as he curled his wounded hands into his chest.

"Oh God, Dean, your hands." Sam rose and examined Dean's wounds with a sharp intake of breath, wincing at the angry crisscross of cuts running up and down his arms. Somehow, the glass must have missed his major arteries, though Sam wasn't sure how, judging by the bloody mess that remained. Just the same, far too much blood had spilled, but the wounds appeared to have clotted on their own while they'd been unconscious. Dirt and ash filled each of the lacerations, swelling the skin. Dean's throat hitched with every slight movement.

Sam helped his brother into a sitting position, and Dean blinked dry, bloodshot eyes, a stark contrast to the charcoal mask covering his pain-stricken face. He sat, unspeaking, staring at the remains of the cabin, shell-shocked and numb.

A minute later, Dean's weary glance rolled over Sam. "Y'okay?" he croaked, his voice raw. He sat up higher, trying to buy a better look at Sam, but he lost his balance and had to fling out a hand to catch himself. The action wrenched a cry from him. "Aaghh!"

"Don't, Dean—Will. Don't try to use ‘em. Lean on me." Sam pulled on Dean's shirt, situating him so he could free his hands. His brother fell against his chest and Dean held his jerking arms out as he strove to manage the pain. The sudden movement had reopened some of the deeper cuts, and drops of fresh blood splashed onto the earth.

Dean gathered himself and asked again, "Y'okay?"

Sam puffed a breath. "Uh, yeah. Better'n you, I think."

"Huh, no offense squirt, but you don' look s'good."

That drew a small laugh from Sam, but he paid the price for it. He swung his head away, hacking more smoke from his burning lungs. Noticing Dean's backpack lying beside them, he picked it up, considering. "We need to wrap your hands. You got anything that might work in your pack?"

Dean gave a listless shake of his head. "Jus' army-men. Help me get m'shirt off. We can use it for m'hands. Ahhhgh." He hissed, lifting his arms so Sam could tug the t-shirt over them.

"Sorry, sorry!" he said when Dean released a sharp gasp. Working together, they got the shirt off, and biting one of the seams, Sam rent it in two, using each of the panels to bind Dean's hands. They had nothing to tape the fabric in place, so he tied them off at the wrists. After that, they ran out of material. The deep cuts above remained untended. Sam began picking off his shirt.

"Don't you do that." Dean shouldered into him, stopping him from removing the garment. "Keep it on. M'fine like this."

"No you're not!"

"The sun's risin' Sam. Y'gotta keep it on."

"So? You don't have a shirt."

"No, but you're gonna help me put my backpack on an' that'll be better'n nothing. You need your shirt, kiddo. Sun's gonna be too hot in another hour."

"But you're hurt, Will. You're hurt bad. We gotta do something."

Dean smiled weakly. "Yeah," he looked around them, studied the rising sun, "yeah, we're gonna do something, munchkin. We're gonna get into some shade. That's what we're gonna do, okay? C'mon." He struggled to his feet, holding his hands to his rumbling chest. "C'mon Sam, you good to go?"

"Yeah." Sam hawked up more phlegm and spit it in the dirt. He helped situate the backpack on Dean's shoulders with as little jostling as possible. Dean stifled a whimper when his arm became entangled in the strapping. Sam stopped. "I'm sorry. So sorry."

Dean stalled a moment, catching his breath. "M'good." He took his time rethreading his arm through the shoulder-straps and nudged his chin toward the large outcrop of limestone towering behind the remains of the cabin. "Let's head up there. Sun won't get to us for a few hours. Maybe by then your dad'll be here."

Sam swallowed. "Yeah, okay. He'll be here before that. He's probably on his way right now." With the sun breaking the horizon, the outcrop cast a long, purple shadow to the west. They'd be able to stay in the shade there and watch the road.

The brothers leaned against each other as they made their slow way to the outcrop, staggering up the slope. The distance did not test them, but the uneven and soft terrain did. Trickles of rocks spilled down as they climbed, unbalancing them. Sam supported Dean as much as he could, but even without setting off small avalanches, his brother swayed and tripped over small stones. Sam had to steady him several times, his own legs shaking with every step. They often stopped to cough, clearing their lungs of thick, smoky mucus.

Sam talked to keep up their spirits as they walked. "Dad's on the way right now, wanna bet? He'll have tons of water, and we have a big first aid kit, too. Lots of bandages and stuff for your hands." He'd also have a potion or a spell—something to undo what had been done to Dean, and the only lasting effect would be that his favorite shirt got ruined. He'd be pissed about that for sure. Sam didn't say any of that, though. Instead he nodded toward Dean's hands. "You picked those locks real good, Will. You did it perfectly."

Dean's brows corrugated, and Sam watched his brother fight his doubt, choosing instead to cling to his delusions. His brother disguised his fear with a flippant shrug. "Got lucky. Dunno what I was doing. Jammed the pin in where it mattered most and it opened. Wasn't skill, just dumb, blind luck." He remained quiet for a moment then, "And I was scared."

Sam glanced at him. "Of the fire?"

"I was scared you wouldn't make it out'a the cabin. That's why I got the locks open. Adrenaline rush or somethin', like a six-year-ol' lifting a car off a parent who's trapped underneath. That's all it was."

"Okay, Will." Sam had no intention of pushing him. He'd keep his focus on surviving until their dad came to get them. That's all that mattered right now. "You don't have to—"

"Because I ain' him. I'm sorry. An' you shouldn't a'said I was. You promised me you wouldn't."

Sam sighed. "I'm sorry."

"The locks jus' came undone. Prolly rusted or something."

"Okay, sure."

Reaching the rock wall, they scanned the desert floor. With a clear view of the road, they'd be able to see the Impala coming from a couple miles away.

Sitting on a flat slab of warm limestone, Sam traced the smoldering ruins of the cabin. Blinking beside him, his brother cleared his throat, went to say something but stopped.

After a long pause, he spoke. "'Cause if I'm him that means I'm gonna lose everything and everyone I love. Macy…" he said the name and swallowed, his jaw trembling. "Dad, Mom…" He hung his head. "I'm not him." His red eyes fell on Sam. "I'm not."

"Okay." Sam leaned into his brother. "Don't think about it. We just gotta get through today. Everything's gonna be okay."

****

A voice came out of the sweltering dark. "You're all right. Drink slow, Johnny. Slow."

Chasing the container, John grew angry and desperate enough to open his heavy lids. He clung to Chickapanagie's hand, preventing him from taking away the water and pressed the bottle back against his lips, taking several more instinctive, greedy gulps.

"Easy there. Don't swallow my fingers, I need them for dice games. The water's not going anywhere." The medicine man set the bottle down. "Take a break."

John peered at his friend squatting on the balls of his feet in front of him. "Wh'happened?" He rose with a grunt, rubbing his aching head.

The medicine man capped the bottle and ran a chestnut hand over his white, beaded braids, taking his measure of the hunter. "Sweat Ceremony, remember?"

"Uh, yes…and no." John licked his lips, cobbling his thoughts. His tattered memory of the ceremony consisted of a blur of drums and rattles, sage and cactus. The droning chants and prayers, plus the stifling heat, had gone on and on, round after round, hour after hour, until he'd lost all sense of space and time.

"Very common for first-timers. You did good, though. Our souls are clean. We will make ready to do battle at sunset. Not long, now." The shaman leaned in, offering him more water.

John startled at that, pushed the bottle away, craning his neck this way and that, noticing the sunlight pouring into the canyon, already high in the sky. "Sunset? What the hell time is it?"

"Past noon. We will prepare the bonfire, and begin battle as soon as we can assemble the tribe. It'll take a—"

"My kids," John lurched up too fast and found himself kissing dirt a second later.

"Easy there, Wobbles." Chickapanagie gripped his shoulder, keeping him on the ground as he strove to rise.

"I can't leave my kids another day. Can you see them? Are they all right?"

The Havasupai man's face clouded and he sat, breathing deep. A moment later he spoke, "I cannot feel them. Tochopa's Winged Ones are playing the Great Game even as we speak. All I see is white when I search for them. I am blocked. They do not want me touching the pawns. I think they know what we're doing. They mean to stop us. Come, let us break our fast with Meala bread, and then we will fight the gods."

****

They'd lost their shade at some point, Will couldn't remember when. Hunched on the rock slab, they'd made themselves as small as possible, hiding from the unrelenting heat preying upon them. Squinting at the sky, Will saw the sun had only just begun its slow, torturous journey toward the western horizon. His vision whited out from the dazzling light, and he folded his head over his knees, striving to remember what they were doing and why he was so thirsty. He swished his thick tongue around, trying and failing to moisten his mouth.

He vaguely recalled having a conversation with Sam when they'd first lost their shade. They'd considered chasing it around to the eastern side of the outcrop, but for some reason they'd never gotten up to do it. Or maybe they'd tried and failed. Or—no—maybe they'd discussed it and reckoned the distance was too great to be able to see the road or hear Sam's dad return from the other side. That was it. They'd decided to stay near the cabin so when Sam's dad arrived and saw the smoke, he wouldn't assume the worst. He also remembered them tinkering with the idea of hiking to the highway, but they'd never done that either. He didn't know why. He couldn't concentrate on anything but water.

"Y'okay?" Sam spoke hollow words around his swollen tongue.

Will shifted on the rock, surfacing from his swimming thoughts—or had he been asleep? Everything felt like a dream even when he was awake.

The day had been punctuated by false hope after false hope. He'd seen his dad more than once, walking up the slope with a big smile, telling him they were on for the Vegas Auto Show after all. He'd held out a bottle of water for Will to celebrate, but each time he'd grabbed for it, the bottle had evaporated. Macy'd been there, too, giggling as she ran toward him, three popsicles in hand, one for each of them—the fat kind that resembled red-white-and-blue rockets—their favorite. But the instant he went to take the treat, she'd disappeared too.

It had been so frustrating, and not just the tease of a drink, either. Every time his mom or dad or Macy disappeared it felt like he'd lost them forever. It terrified him. One time his dad had brought him a big bottle of Gatorade, but when Will'd reached to take it, he found his hands cuffed. It wasn't until he'd picked the locks that he'd been able to take the drink, and the second he'd done it, the moment he'd freed himself, his dad had given him the saddest, most mournful look. With tears dripping down his dad's cheeks, both he and the Gatorade had vanished.

Sam had nudged him several times, saying everything was going to be all right and to stay awake. He wasn't tired, though. He was homesick and thirsty, that's all.

"Will, answer me, please!"

Will swiveled his head around, finding Sam's soot-covered face. The kid's dry, chapped lips had cracked in the sun, and his flushed arms were tight with sunburn. He looked shriveled and tired, and his chest rattled with every breath he took. Sam jogged his shoulder, sending jolts of pain into his hands.

Will hissed, swallowed before he spoke. "M'here. Shuddup…stop. My han's hurt. Was jus' nappin', jeez."

"M'sorry. I'm sorry, Will. Don't g'back t'sleep, please!" Sam said with a throaty growl.

"Wh'time is it?" Will blinked at the sun. It hadn't moved since the last time he'd checked.

"Watch is on your wrist," Sam said with listless disinterest.

"Oh yeah." Will attempted to zero in on it the display, but the numbers wouldn't stop twisting and spinning long enough for him to read it. He gave up and looked at the sky again. "Guess it's sometime in the afternoon."

"Yeah. Dad'll be here any time, now."

"Yeah." He dipped his head, his heavy lids slipping shut. He heard bells ringing somewhere nearby. "Hear that?"

"What?"

"Ice cream truck."

"Stay awake, Will."

"I am."

And so they sat like that, thirst rolling over them, one wave after another. Sometimes Sam would say something to him. Sometimes he'd encourage Sam. Sometimes Sam'd talk to his brother or to his dad. One time, out of the blue, he laughed uproariously, stopping cold as if someone'd hit an off switch, and gone right back to hiding from the sun, head tucked into his chest.

"Y'okay there, Sammy?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah." And that was it. Sam returned to his muttered conversations and Will fell back to dreaming about picking locks for Gatorade.

Moments or hours later Will heard a splash in the distance, and he opened his eyes, pointing in his excitement.

Sam pressed his arm down. "Whud are y'doin'? There's nothin' there."

Will looked at Sam, thinking the kid'd lost his mind. He lifted his throbbing hand again, motioning to the shimmering lake in the distance. "Hah! Nothing there? See the lake? Sammy? See it?"

Sam followed Will's bandaged hand. He sighed. "It's a mirage, Will. M'teacher says it's light bouncing off hot air near the ground. It's not real."

Will shook him off. "It's a lake. C'mon! Mom, Dad and Mace are right there—" Will's legs crumbled the moment he stood, and he fell onto his back, slid down the rocky bank, dragging pebbles and sand with him. When he swung his arms out for balance, pain exploded through them. Everything came to a fizzling stop about thirty feet away. He heard the swish of more crumbling earth as Sam slid down after him. Will turned to the lake, his attention riveted on its rippling waters. He ignored the jagged pain in his hands and crawled toward it.

"Will, stop! It's not real. It's just a mirage. It's not real." Sam whimpered and held onto him until they both sunk into the powdery earth.

"Mom and Dad. They're there! Mace—she's right there!"

"S'not real," Sam said again. "They're not real. You're hallucinating or something."

Will's eyes darted back to his family smiling and waving fleetingly before their images fluttered and disappeared. "But—" he stammered, "—but it looked real. It felt so real." Will's voice cracked, brittle with smoke and grief and desperation. His chest hitched and he coughed ashy grit from his lungs. "Don' wanna lose ‘em. They're all I got."

Sam snatched the strap of Will's backpack and pulled him into a hug. "You got me." The words caught in the boy's throat as he clung to his big brother. "You still got me, okay?"

Will leaned forward, his head lolling against Sam's shoulder, collecting himself. "Yeah…'kay Sammy. Thanks."

"C'mon," Sam said, getting him moving. "Le's g'back to the rock. Can see Dad comin' better from there. M'sure he's on the way right now."

"Yeah, sure."

With that, they made the long ascent to their sandy rock, the punishing sun beating them down the whole way.

****

John took another long drink, dousing his head and neck with what remained. He couldn't get enough water into him, not after the marathon Sweat Ceremony, not after the scorching day in the canyon. On the open desert, it had to have been worse. He needed to get this done and find his boys. They had a few days of fuel left for the generator, but he'd told them he would be back yesterday. They'd be expecting him.

Ever since the medicine man had told him something or someone had blocked his ability to sense the boys, John had pressed Chickapanagie to perform the ritual as soon as possible. The Havasupai man had agreed, but it'd still taken several hours to gather everyone and make the final preparations.

Chickapanagie had pulled him aside and explained how the Sacred Ritual would work. It sounded insane—more than that—it sounded impossible—and reckless. At this point, though, John had no other option, so he prayed Chickapanagie knew what he was doing and that they could remove the spell from Dean, no matter how fucknut crazy the method sounded.

And so he stood there, amidst the crowd, outfitted in one of the finely-woven, intricately-beaded robes of the Havasupai people, stripes of wet, red clay running up and down his cheeks and chin. The others wore similar dress, and they stamped the ground, here and there, warming up for battle.

They took their places around a large bonfire situated on a sandbar below the Havasu Falls. Despite the thundering water, John plainly heard the roar of flames wreathing around wild juniper logs.

He set the empty water jug on the ground and ran his hands through his wet hair, pacing back and forth, waiting for things to start.

As sunset fanned across the sky in bursts of red and orange, Yunosi and Tlootha strode up, arriving last. They informed Chickapanagie the area had been cordoned off from tourists; they were ready to begin. The shaman nodded and held up his hands, silencing his tribe.

The normally light-hearted medicine man addressed the assembly with a grave voice. "Soon we will begin our Sacred War Song and do battle for the young pawn, Dean Winchester. Many years ago the pawn's father fought for The People of the Blue-Green Water and returned our sons and daughters to us. Now we must balance the mighty wheel and fight the Winged Ones. We must force them to return the pawn to his father. Be wary. Be brave. Tochopa's Warriors know we are coming and will seek to stop us. But we will be victorious. Let us begin."

Turning to John the medicine man held out his hand. "Give me the talisman, John."

"What do you need it for?" John asked, holding it tight in his fist.

"Focus for the ritual. The magic will be concentrated within it, and when I speak the banishing spell it will act as a conduit to your son, freeing him. But I must first ask for its cooperation."

John snorted. "Ask a piece of brass for its cooperation?"

"Yes, Johnny. It is as alive as you and I. Open your heart."

John blew out a dubious breath. "Whatever you say, chief." He passed Dean's amulet to him but raised a finger in warning. "Don't ruin it. My son'll want it back."

A smile crinkled Chickapanagie's sparkling eyes as he touched the amulet with reverent fingers. "It is as strong as the bones of the earth, and it loves your son, greatly. It will not break."

Looping the amulet around one hand, Chickapanagie passed his other palm over it, chanting vibrant words that buzzed deep within John's core.

"Han gwedáy yimá ìjyayyu! Nyach ‘swa:di a dála nyach he:dk ó'o bay inya'a ja wvk Tochopa-ay gwéjadi."(1)

He pressed the amulet first to his lips and then to his heart. Cupping it in his hands, he held it to the sky, chanting the words a second time. Finishing, he motioned to Tlootha to light the pipes, and the air soon filled with the robust smell of tobacco and dried peyote.

When Tlootha brought the pipe to John, he hesitated. "Do not worry, John. I must fly tomorrow, so I will keep my feet planted firm on mother earth tonight. I will not smoke, but I will watch over you. Chickapanagie will guide you through your journey. He'll stand beside you in battle. Together you will save your son just as you both saved me. I have no fear."

John took a stabling breath. He didn't have near the kid's confidence. But he accepted the pipe, taking a long draw from it. He also chewed the peyote button Tlootha insisted upon, explaining it was necessary for his journey.

Once everyone finished smoking, the War Song began.

Unlike the subdued, monotony of the chant that'd accompanied the Sweat Ceremony, the War Song had the ground beneath them quivering with each syllable. John's heart leapt as the staccato words tattooed themselves onto his bones, vibrating deep in his spine, exciting every nerve and cell. The steady drumbeat and whisk of rattles lent structure to the chaotic whoops and caws.

The tribe stormed around the bonfire in a dynamic show of power. These sonsabitches meant business. Spirit or God or lowly man—it didn't matter—John knew any enemy facing this kinetic spectacle would shit himself. These gentle-natured, docile peach farmers had transformed into a terrifying force, forging a supercell of energy that spread throughout the canyon. Every grass blade, every pebble, leaf and water droplet sprang to life, glimmering with multi-colored auras.

The Dance and Song went on, unabated. By the time the stars peeked through the last shreds of sunset, John had little sense of his own body. He stood silent and still beside the medicine man, his energies, his life force melded to that of the tribe's. Chickapanagie stomped his feet in time to the Song, holding the amulet in one hand and a beaded cottonwood staff in the other. With his arms stretched skyward and his body shuddering with every beat, a golden aura began to emanate from him, whirling around him in a cyclone of living light.

As the full moon crested the canyon, a rainbow formed from the billowing mist of the waterfall. John turned to point it out to Chickapanagie, but he stopped short, witnessing a pure, white light welling from his friend's eyes, nose…ears.

John's mouth fell open at the sight, but before he could do or say anything, he heard a high-pitched resonance, like wet fingers on a crystal glass. The sound grew in volume and intensity, flooding his ears, overtaking the wild thump and screech of the War Song. At the same time, the atoms of John's solid body rearranged, transforming him into molten radiance. Chickapanagie had warned him earlier, preparing him for this, but it still came as a shock. With a static pop, John's soul spilled forth from his body, floating free. But before he could adjust or find his bearings, a magnetic force drew him in, and he found himself torpedoing through a black vacuum.

He was dying…or being born…he didn't know which, and he wasn't sure the distinction mattered. As he traveled, his life unspooled before him, every thought, every deed playing out—and others' lives as well—his kids', his wife's, his friends' and on and on until he became a black hole of unfathomable knowledge, crushed to a pinpoint until his mind broke and he knew and saw no more.

****

Will's mind wandered far, far afield. He sat on the edge of a blue swimming pool, face to face with his mom and dad and Macy—even Sammy and his dad were there. Each one smiled and waved, laughed at him as they splashed water about, cooling themselves in the hot desert evening. He wanted to do the biggest cannonball into that pool, drink the whole thing dry, but a whimper at his side pulled him from his beautiful dream and into a painful, unending nightmare.

He opened his eyes to a red world, the warbling half-disk of the sun straddling the horizon. Something shifted at Will's side, and he looked over to find Sam sitting on the rock next to him. The kid's tongue had gotten so dry he'd stopped talking a couple of hours ago. He sat, staring at nothing, teetering to and fro, his eyes rolling every time he blinked, like a puppy falling asleep in spite of his best effort to stay awake.

Will started to say something to him, make sure he was all right, but the boy's eyes rolled back one final time and stayed there. Sam's body went slack and he pitched forward summersaulting off the stone and down the rocky slope.

With a hoarse shout, Will lurched after him, following in his wake. Sam skidded down until he came to a boneless stop, legs spread eagle, arms flopping at his sides.

"Saaam!" The word came out garbled, but a surge of adrenaline bought Will a few moments of mental clarity. He settled Sam's head into his lap, paying no attention to the pain in his hands, shaking him. "Saaam, wake up!"

"Aaghhh…" The boy moaned, his lashes fluttering but not opening.

"C'mon, Sammy, wake up!"

"Nuhhgh…"

Will's voice cracked with emotion. "No! Don' you do that, Sam. Don' you tell me no. Don't you give up! C'mon, your dad is gonna be here anytime. You said so."

"Nuhhh…"

"Yes he is!" Will shook the boy again, but he didn't respond. "Sam! Sammy!"

Will's eyes flew wildly about, searching the horizon for any sign of the car. But he saw nothing except the purpling desert splayed before him as the first stars twinkled overhead. Sam was going to die, right here, right now if Will couldn't find a way to help him.

And just like that, he remembered—as if someone planted the thought in his tired brain or whispered it in his ear—he remembered. And to think, he'd been practically sitting on it the whole time.

Easing Sam onto the ground, Will extended his sunburnt arms and tore off his backpack. With numb, shaking fingers he unzipped the pouch and upended the contents in front of him: a mound of army-men, an empty Funyuns bag, a few candy wrappers, a set of keys—and a half-full bottle of water.

Will huffed out a breath when he saw it, remembering every word, every second of his afternoon spent with Macy by the river. Mesmerized, he watched his sister's necklace waft against the currents as he cupped the bottle in his bandaged hands and gave it a swish. There wasn't much there—enough maybe to keep one of them alive if help arrived soon. Will remembered learning in Cub Scouts that sipping tiny amounts of water did not ease serious dehydration. So, splitting it would do neither of them any good. It was all or nothing—one or the other, but not both.

Will licked his dry lips. Faced with an unspeakable choice, he tore his eyes from the water and focused on Sam lying before him.

This was it. He had only to open the bottle and drink what remained, and maybe, just maybe he'd see Macy again. Maybe he'd get to go to the auto show with his dad after all. Surely if Will came home safe, his dad would take the weekend off—if the weekend hadn't already come and gone. Will no longer remembered how long he'd been away. It felt like forever. Maybe his mom would fuss over him and tuck him in like she used to—feed him tomato rice soup and sing Hey Jude to him.

No. Not Hey Jude…what was the song she sang? Oh yes, Angel of the Morning, that was it. And she always made him chicken noodle soup, not tomato. Still, everything he ever wanted was in that bottle, and his entire heart and soul ached for it.

New thoughts came to him as if dictated. He knew without a shred of doubt, he had two choices. He could drink the water. If he did, he would live and Sam would die. Or, he could give the water to Sam. But if he did, he would die. He had to choose one way or the other. No one would ever know or judge him if he took the water for himself. He alone would have to live or die with the consequences of his decision. It was all on him.

He stared at the bottle again. It was all right there: Macy's goofy face, his mom's quirked eyebrow as she scolded him without really scolding him, his dad bent over a '57 Bel Air, teaching him the beauty of classic era fuel injection.

But the water represented everything Sam ever wanted, too. And what made Will's life more important than Sam's? Weren't Sam's hopes and dreams equally as valuable? Did they mean any less because they weren't his? Sam was just a kid. He had his whole life in front of him, and he was hurt and tired and thirsty.

And the kid had big plans. How could he haul himself out of this crazy life, get away from his dad and go to college if Will didn't save him now? And didn't he deserve that? Didn't he at least deserve the chance to try?

But there was more. Right or wrong, logical or not, Will felt an obligation to this kid—to give him an opportunity to do all those things he was destined to do. It was Will's job to get him there, regardless of the price. He couldn't explain why—not even to himself. Just as he couldn't explain how he'd gotten out of those cuffs, he couldn't explain the compulsion he felt, now, to protect the kid at all costs. Will hadn't left Sam to face a fiery death, and he wouldn't leave him to die of thirst in the desert, either. He just wouldn't. He couldn't.

Will weighed the bottle in his hands, glanced at Sam then back to the bottle, his decision made.

"I'm so sorry guys," he said to his family. "I love you all so much."

Without another moment's hesitation, he lifted Sam, cradling the kid in his swollen, tattered arms. He uncapped the bottle, pressed it to Sam's lips, and let the water trickle into his mouth.

At the first drop, Sam's eyes bugged open in shocked, mindless need, and he sucked at the bottle.

"Easy kiddo. Slow. Take it slow." Will drizzled more water into his mouth, not wasting a single, precious ounce despite Sam's thrashing arms as he struggled to get the bottle tilted higher.

Will batted his hands away, taking his time, feeding Sam bit by bit until nothing remained but the rattling beads at the bottom of the bottle. He tossed the empty container down the hill where it rolled out of sight.

"You're gonna be okay, Sammy. Everything's gonna be all right."

He held the sleeping boy in his arms, sad and wistful but at peace with his decision. As time passed, Will's mental acuity disintegrated, and he soon forgot ever having made such a choice in the first place. His brain swarmed with the shadowy images of his loved ones wandering close, offering him drinks and fruit.

Moonlight shimmered over the desert when she appeared, walking toward him, carrying two glasses of lemonade. Her smile lit the world brighter than the noon sun.

"Mom…"

She beamed at him. Her cascading blonde hair brought a lump to his throat, despite knowing his mom's hair was short and dark. It was confusing, but it was right, too. And in the end, it didn't matter. She was here, and she had him, and everything was going to be all right.

Kneeling, she pressed a loving hand to his cheek. "You are my little angel," she cooed to him, a tender smile playing on her lips.

At that, Will smiled in return, leaning into her caress with a contented sigh.

****

John's body thrummed like a plucked piano string, and he sat on his knees, unseeing, unthinking until the vibrations slowed enough for him to perceive things beyond his quivering soul.

When his sight returned he saw only white—everywhere. The room or area or expanse, he wasn't sure what to call it, had no features, no furniture, no identifiable traits. It just—was.

He studied his hands, or what his mind built to represent the concept of hands. They appeared solid—beyond solid, in fact. Every scar, callus, and hair follicle came into sharp focus, and he could identify the finest details and flaws his eyes never caught before. The bite wound had vanished, and he flexed his hand as he studied it.

"Ah, there you are, Johnny. Very strong and brave of you to break free. I knew you could do it."

John stiffened and twisted around, seeing his friend standing behind him.

"Th'fuck?"

The medicine man laughed. "Eloquent as always." He offered John his hand, Dean's amulet looped around his wrist. "Come."

John bristled, "Come? Come where? There's nothing here!"

The medicine man smiled and lifted the amulet, casting his arm toward a window that had opened up in the sea of white. Together they wordlessly made their way to the vignette-like portal. John wasn't sure what the hell it was—a window, or screen, or fanciful vision maybe. Whatever it was, it provided a spectacular view of the Havasu Canyon flooded in moonlight. A speck of firelight below marked where the tribe continued their Song and Dance around the bonfire. John heard the faint rattles and drums, detected the muted shouts and brays of the singers. Even a dimension away, the Song intimidated and promised destruction to all who tried to thwart them. Several misty tendrils of energy spiraled away from the dancers, connecting to both John and Chickapanagie, allowing the travelers to harness the tribe's power for their task.

"They are holding us steady. But we must not linger too long here."

John's body continued to pulse with each beat of the Song. He glanced above the canyon, following the sprawl of the desert to the horizon, noticed a troubling curl of smoke rising toward the moon.

"Where are we?" John asked, uncomprehending.

Chickapanagie grinned, every bit his spritely self for the moment. "Somewhere over the rainbow, Dorothy."

"Over the what, now?" Of the myriad of experiences and stimulants John was busy processing, Chickapanagie's humor was low on the list.

The medicine man snorted and waved his hand about him, his demeanor sobering. "Our souls are In Between. This is where we would wait for our ancestors to guide us to the Lands Beyond, but we are not dead. Living souls do not come here, at least not often, but this is where we must stand and fight for your son. Just as I held the demon at bay within Tlootha while you sent it to the underworld, you must now trap the Warrior while I dispel his magic." He handed John the amulet. "Take this and use it to hold him. I sense he is not far away."

At that moment, the ground rumbled beneath his feet, and John grasped the leather strap, weaving it through his fingers. A high-pitched wail drowned out the tribal heartbeat below them. The splintering vibration scored like a white-hot dagger through his skull and his vision blurred.

"Nnghahh!"

"Inya'a gwéjadi jo:vk!"(2) With a few mumbled words from Chickapanagie, his cottonwood staff kindled with light, surrounding the area in a protective membrane that allowed their naked souls to withstand the shrill arrival of the hellspawn coming for them.

"Jesus Christ," John hissed, squinting in pain as a crystalline figure descended, standing no more than ten feet from them. John could make out few details, the light issuing from the creature shone too bright to see definition. He perceived humanoid features, arms, legs, and a head. But he noted animalistic traits as well, a large lion mane haloing the head and six serrated wings stretching out like liquid obsidian. They flapped discordantly, each wing a brash, autonomous entity, curling and uncurling, whipping up random bursts of hurricane-force wind.

Hatred welled within John at this thing—this creature who had dared to harm his boy. With a feral growl, he lunged at it, fists flying. But before his punch found its target, the spirit flicked a finger, sending both John and Chickapanagie tumbling head over ass. The medicine man woofed and shook his head to clear it, scrabbling for his staff.

John lurched up, bristling, legs stanced for a fight. "You sonofabitch! You keep your filthy hands off my boy!"

He snarled when he heard what sounded like smug laughter in reply. Charging headlong toward the thing again, he got to within a few feet of it before John went soaring through the air without ever having made contact. And John knew he'd only been able to get as close as he did because the creature enjoyed toying with him, enjoyed the sadistic sport of it.

Chickapanagie rose to his feet, leaning on his staff. "Now would be a good time to hold him, Johnny."

John spun toward Chickapanagie, panting. "Hold him? I can't even get close! How am I supposed to…"

"Fight with your fists and you will lose. Fight with your heart and you will have him. Fight for your son, not for vengeance."

John's third attempt ended before it began. Before he could find his feet, the creature approached them. It unsheathed a flaming sword as it strode up, poised it over its head, ready to scythe through them. John had no time to think, he instinctively reacted, raising his hand to shield the blow, the amulet dangling from his fingers.

"Va:m Jóhnach!"(3) Chickapanagie slipped into his native tongue.

"Dean!" The word flew from John's mouth as the sword descended. With that the amulet burst into light, the horned head blazing like a supernova. John gazed in wonder as the light took shape, twisting and solidifying as it enveloped Tochopa's Warrior where it stood, hand frozen in mid-stroke.

"Holy fuck…" John gasped with breathy awe.

From somewhere behind him, he heard Chickapanagie rise. "That's it, Johnny! You got him!"

John positioned his arm, holding the amulet aloft as Chickapanagie intoned the spell. John didn't know the Pai language, but he didn't have to. The gist was plain, the demand absolute. Tearing his eyes away from the trapped creature, John looked at Chickapanagie, his nut-brown face shining like a beacon as he chanted the command.

"Namákk! Gwèjadi a Tochopa. Nya che thigómk ge misma jiláyk a nyimsávk gwede. Gwa wway'i miswa. E vk. Nyájich Havasubáychyùjiyu. Nyach githyé, Chickapanagie-ye. Nyach gage k!"(4)

A shockwave of light blew past them as the medicine man uttered the final word. The creature remain standing before them, black pinions arched high. John could have sworn the damn thing served them with an arrogant smirk. An air of self-righteous disdain emanated from it, and, as if flicking an ant off a piece of coveted fruit, it aimed a mote of celestial energy at the medicine man's solar plexus. Chickapanagie coughed and doubled over in pain, holding his stomach.

"You bastard!" John seethed at the thing, drawing its attention. It cut toward him, gave him a casual shrug of its shoulders and crooked a finger in his direction. Before John could respond, pain exploded in his head, and his mind and soul went completely blank.

****

Sam shivered in the moonlight, unsure what had pulled him from his dreams. He didn't remember falling asleep. Maybe he hadn't. Maybe he'd fainted. Either way, he felt better for the rest. His mind was clearer. His thick tongue wouldn't let him swallow properly, his head throbbed, and his chest was near useless, but he was better. He was alive.

Dean laid next to him, unmoving, eyes rolled deep in his head. They must have passed out at some point and both tumbled down the slope. His brother's gaunt face clung to bone, his lips and nose having thinned from severe dehydration. Dean's smoky lungs fought a desperate battle for every rapid, shallow breath, and his heart labored under his jutting ribs.

"Dean!" Sam cried his brother's name. "Dean wake up, please. Dad'll be here any—" He couldn't finish. He swallowed a sob, knowing he was full of shit. Unless his dad came in the next hour, he'd be too late. Dean didn't have much time. And if he didn't come, Sam'd never forgive the man. Never.

His eyes darted to Dean's empty backpack, a pile of green army-men and some wrappers scattered next to it. Confused, he picked up a few army men, passing them through his fingers.

"Dean!" He gripped his brother's shoulders and gave them a violent shake. Dean never made a sound. Anger and grief and an ocean of regret rushed through him. "You should'a drank water in the cabin, Dean! You were stubborn, and now look what's happened. Why'd you refuse to drink when you had the chance? Why'd you do that, huh? How am I gonna live with that? I tried and tried to get you to drink!"

Sam stopped, laid his head on Dean's chest, crying dryly as he listened to the diminishing drumbeat of his brother's heart and the rattle of his lungs. He expected the flutters to stop any moment, and so he prayed.

He prayed Dean would wake. He prayed his dad would come back. He prayed that Dean wouldn't die believing he was Will Darnell, without knowing how much he meant to Sam. He prayed that if he did die, that he would learn the truth in whatever afterlife there might be. If there was a God, surely he'd let Dean remember he'd been a Winchester, the best big brother any kid could hope to have. He prayed until he lost all words and simply lay there, waiting for his brother's last breath. His heavy eyes slipped closed and his mind drifted for minutes or hours—he had no clue which.

When light struck his eyelids, he thought morning had arrived at first, but it was too bright, too white, for sunshine. Coming back to himself, he opened his eyes to see a flash of frosty energy surrounding his brother. Sam wasn't sure if his mind was playing tricks on him or not. He'd seen a lot of things today that hadn't been real. But it was there, a fine weave of crystal light cocooning Dean.

His brother must have felt it, too, because Dean reacted, squirming and bucking against it.

"Dean! What is it?" Sam shook his brother. "What's happening?"

Dean's eyes rocketed open, pupils dilated to full, mouth slack. He choked in a shocked breath as the scintillating light roiled around him, his body writhing with each ripple.

"Please, Dean! Don't!" Sam cried as Dean shuddered in his arms, the light growing brighter and more intense. A sharp whine emanated from the light, becoming so intense that Sam clutched his ears in pain. When he thought he could take no more, the light crazed into a thousand particles, peeling away from Dean before bursting outward in a supersonic shockwave that pulsed across the desert.

Total silence descended as Dean collapsed onto the desert floor with a sigh.

"Dean?"

Sam watched his brother's chest, waiting for him to inhale. He didn't.

"Dean?"

No response, no movement, no flutter of life. Nothing.

"DEAN!"

Continue to Chapter 7

****

Pai Translations:

(1)Goodly amulet, if you will dance with us, I invoke the energy of a million suns, and with The Great Father's power, we will fight Tochopa's Warriors together.

(2)Spirit of the Sun, please aide us!

(3)Johnny, now!

(4)Begone, spirit of Tochopa. Your dream shatters and the white pawn is now free. Hear the Song of The People and obey. I am the medicine man, Chickapanagie. My magics are strong.
 
 
 
jpgr: SPN Boys Peeringjpgr on March 5th, 2015 03:14 pm (UTC)
Whoa, very intense on all fronts. I may be reading a bit into it, but did we have the death of Will so Dean could be resurrected? And John, spirit walking?

I love how all your stories take on different genres, settings and backgrounds. Never the same thing twice
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 6th, 2015 05:13 am (UTC)
Thanks so much, hon! I'm so glad the intensity came through. You never know.

Hah! I do love a bit of variety. My next story takes place in an insane asylum...so I've been steeped in research on mental health so much, I think I'm going crazy! ;) Always something new to learn. :P

kat
The Long and Winding Roadamypond45 on March 5th, 2015 07:32 pm (UTC)
oh I love this so much! I must admit, I'm amazed that you note that this is extremely Dean-centric. I feel like I'm getting a lot of Sam's pov (poor kid just wants his brother back!) and I'm all stressed for John wanting to get back to his kids. This chapter was painful to read, but so rich in brotherly love, and Dean sacrificing himself for Sam, when he doesn't even think of Sam as his brother, is riveting. Maybe this is just who Dean is and he'd do this for any kid, but I'm having feels about this because it seems like at some level he KNOWS Sam is someone pretty important.

Thank you for this!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 6th, 2015 05:18 am (UTC)
Huh! You know, I always tend to write for Dean...or explore parts of Dean's psyche...so I pretty much put a blanket "Dean-centric" disclaimer on my stories, but you're right in a way. This is certainly the most "brother-centric" story I've ever written. I have this HUGE penchant of side-lining Sam while Dean has all the adventures around (or without) him. I'm terrible that way. But I wanted to make sure that Sam was very "present" in this story. So, yeah...we get to see a lot of Sam's POV in this...so that's pretty cool.

Yes, I think this is just who Dean is...and that will come into play very strongly next chapter. It's both a blessing and a curse. ;)

Thank YOU for reading and commenting!

Kat
(Anonymous) on March 6th, 2015 08:27 am (UTC)
It's a lot more family centric than your previous stories IMO. Loving John and the spirit walking as well.
:)
Ally
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 6th, 2015 03:32 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah...John is a trip and a half to write. He's a great character...so flawed and aggravating...but his heart is in the right place, I think...and he definitely loves his sons.
taylorariel on March 6th, 2015 01:54 am (UTC)
Action-packed and filled with intense emotion throughout. I could see each scene before my eyes as if I was there- flipping from John and the Native Americans to the two Boys. I could feel the pain in Dean's hands and the heat on my skin as the sun burned them. You paint the story with your words and the picture is vivid. Each chapter so well done. And then to leave it where you did and to know the last chapter is the last....made me both look forward to what is coming and to dread it also. Don't want a good thing to end. I wait patiently for your next chapter. Thank You.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 6th, 2015 05:21 am (UTC)
Thank you for this. Wow. Thanks. I have this HUGE imagery kink...hehe. I know I have the tendency to go overboard, and I'm learning with each story when to pull back and when to let go (it's such a balancing act). I'm not perfectly there yet, but I'm glad that this worked for you. That's wonderful to hear!

Yep...next chapter is the last, but I am already working on my next story. It'll be a bit longer than this one, but it'll be coming. I promise. :)

Thanks again!

Kat
lidia1991_anlidia1991_an on March 6th, 2015 05:02 am (UTC)

I'm here again, speechless!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 6th, 2015 05:22 am (UTC)
Yay! Your silence speaks volumes! :P

Thanks so, so, so, SO much for reading and commenting!

Kat
lnhartlnhart on March 8th, 2015 05:45 am (UTC)
This is really a great read. Thanks for taking us on this journey. You've got their voices down.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on March 8th, 2015 01:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much, Inhart! Thank YOU for coming on the journey with me! :)