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The lost plateau - The lost daughter

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August 8th

Brother. Lover. Grandson.

I've gained so many titles here on the plateau. So many new places to fill to the best of my abilities.

Separating the different levels of my love for my brother has proved quite impossible. Standing next to him, I feel like the orphan I used to be has married into royalty and now sees the world from the top. I have but to want and my wishes will be satisfied.

And yet I've already lost my grandfather's regard. Was it selfish of me to want it all ? Want Dean and Samuel to both love me? To accept me as I am ?

The professor lied to me for quite a few years, earning my trust and gratitude for his help and moral support during my studies. But I'm still in the dark as to why he never told me about our kinship. He came to me again today, told me that I must protect myself against Dean's devilish seduction, that my mother would be appalled by my attitude but that there is still time to make amends and renounce the error of my ways. I asked in return why it is so important that my mother be proud of me when he never told me I was her child in the first place. He left, and I'm beginning to think he doesn't even know himself.

When I remember the way he treated Dean, I imagine that perhaps he doesn't know how to love anyone else than his daughter.

 

The more time passed, the less Sam minded being stuck on the plateau. The days were well spent, a few mild rainy days keeping them inside the Tree house more, which gave Sam the opportunity to stay in with his brother, make love with him and encourage him to talk about his life, all that time they had spent far from one another after being separated by their mother. Everything Dean could remember about their childhood, their life back in Kansas, that Sam had no memory of at all, and then in England after Dad inherited the castle that stood big and a tad frightening in his mind. With his adult eyes, Dean said it was just a country manor, lovely and homey but hard to warm in winter, a place Sam would learn to love as soon as he got back there.

Dean generally obliged Sam and told him everything he wanted to know until he couldn't stand being cooped up anymore. He then took Sam with him to go on whatever adventure he might be interested in at that particular moment. Sometimes, Sam would help someone else, Professor Singer for example, who had been trying for a while to come up with a trustworthy map of the plateau, using the sketchy ones already drawn by the previous expedition as well as his own surveys and Castiel's knowledge.

They didn't see much of Meg and Jenn outside of the meals and a few excursions, the two women sticking together to do their chores and pass the time ; Sam suspected their relationship might have turned to look a lot like his and Dean's, something meaningful and destined for the long haul.

Or, he thought, something that looked a lot like a honeymoon. He had never dreamt of living such happy times, but here he was, stranded in a dangerous land, far from everything and everyone that used to make his life, and he couldn't be more satisfied.

Even the menial tasks pleased him and taught him more things about his lover. Cooking and chopping wood were parts of their daily chores, but there was so much more to do when no one was around to do it for you. The men had learned to sew when it had become evident that neither Jenn nor Meg would mend their torn clothes. In this just like everything else, Dean strived to be the best, and if Sam at first had believed this was another show of his annoying competitive streak, he had later realized that Dean simply strived for efficiency because of his upbringing.

"One of the pieces of advice I remember from our father is this," Dean told him once, altering his voice to a deeper level to imitate an older man, as he was carving a feather for Sam in order to make up for the lack of pencils, "'If you should learn something, son, do it to the best of your ability, or don't do it at all.' He believed in efforts and drills, in labor and pain, and thought that if you couldn't do it well, then 'Let someone more talented than you proceed in your place.' Samuel is right about this, Dad was very military on this account : the best use of the resources at your disposal implies a gathering of talents, but also the constant need to challenge yourself to make sure you're always the best you can achieve, in as many fields as possible."

Just like making ink and feather-pencils for his brother, long before Sam ever realized he was going to need them and ask for anything. It was also probably a good example of something Jenn had told Sam about their childhood spent together after her parents had taken Dean under their wings, Dean's need to prove he wasn't living off somebody else's work, that he was doing his part, and to make sure he wouldn't be left behind once again.

Sam had managed to put together a large part of Dean's life after their father's death. Dean had told him quite a bit, and then Jenn had filled in a few blanks when Sam had grilled her, more or less subtly, to get the information he wanted.

It indeed wasn't a pretty story, and Sam had discovered the darkest side of his grandfather he still had a hard time believing, even now that he was shunned by the man almost as much as Dean himself for the close relationship they didn't try to hide.

Maybe he should be more concerned about the whole incestuous situation, but if Dean didn't freak about it, Sam didn't see why he should. He felt happy, cared for more than ever, loved, important. He had his brother back, along with his personal history, his roots, and all these didn't preclude the most intense relationship he had ever experienced.

Samuel could rant about his sacrilegious, devilish urges all he wanted. Sam wouldn't let go of his happiness. Not for anyone, and certainly not for his grandfather as he was still wondering about the man's alleged reasons for hiding their filiation from Sam during all those years.

-------------

Dean took advantage of one of Castiel's visits to pick up his extended shamanic knowledge while they were all seated at the table for lunch.

"I need the ingredients to make more cartridges. We're running lower than I like, so we're gonna have to make another trip to find it all."

"He's right," Campbell approved.

"Am I ?" Dean asked, flabbergasted that they were for once in agreement. "Right, I am."

"You are," the professor confirmed as if the words had been torn out of his mouth and left the most disgusting taste behind. "Don't let it go to your head."

"Okay," Dean smirked and went on. "First, the gunpowder. For that, I've found the saltpeter already in a nearby cave. Charcoal will also be relatively easy to get, so we have to find sulfur."

Castiel piped in.

"I know of a mine exploiting the sulfur from the volcano."

"A volcano ?" Professor Singer repeated, more than a little surprised. "There's a volcano on the plateau ? And no one ever knew about it down in the valley ? How long since the last time it erupted ?"

"I am not sure. The last I heard was two of your years ago, but there might have been some small eruptions in the meanwhile."

"Well, I'll be damned. A volcano. I need to see this."

"Seems you're going to get your wish, Professor. Will we be able to trade with the miners ?" Dean asked.

The shaman nodded.

"I'm sure if you offer to work for them the way you did for the Tapuils, you'll get your sulfur."

"Okay. Now the hardest part is going to make the casings. Cas, do you know some blacksmith tribe that would be able to manufacture something like this ?"

Dean took a cartridge out of his pocket and showed it to the shaman.

"There's no mechanical plant on the plateau, Dean," Meg reminded him.

"I know, but we just need someone able to create some kind of master print for the bullets and then I'll be able to produce them as soon as we get the raw material. It probably won't work as well as the bullets I brought but it's better than nothing if we have to face dinosaurs."

"You want to make your own bullets ?" Sam realized.

"I'm hoping you'll help me," Dean answered with a smile. "We have to do it by ourselves. We can't afford to show these people what our rifles do, the risk would be too great that they turn on us to steal the arms and go to war with their neighbors. And if we lose the rifles… I can make bullets, I've done it already, but I can't make a pistol."

"What else do you need ?" Castiel wondered.

"Lead, copper... I'm hoping you know of other mines, or maybe some easily reachable deposit."

"I do."

"Great ! So, can you draw a map of the mines and other villages that might agree to help us ?"

"No, I won't."

Dean and everyone else looked at the shaman, taken aback by his unusual negative attitude.

"I believe you will need more than a map on this trip. A map wouldn't be able to avoid the most dangerous dinosaurs and you might not find your way back in case you have to wander. I will accompany you."

"Man, that's great !" Dean rejoiced with a big slap on Castiel's back, pushing the shaman to lose his wooden spoon which splashed into the bowl and broth below.

Sam sent an annoyed look to Dean, who looked contrite for all of two seconds before laughter took him.

They spent the rest of the afternoon making plans for the upcoming trip. They would leave two days later, after preparing bags of food and drinkable water for a two-week journey.

That night, as Sam and he were already in bed, Dean went back to his grandfather's surprising support.

"I wonder why he's so eager to travel. Probably couldn't find what he's looking for around here and hopes to discover it along the way."

"You still have no idea what it is he's searching for ?"

"Nothing more than clues and theories. No real detail or evidence."

Dean sighed and then let his hand wander over Sam's body.

"Better make the best of tonight, we won't be able to have sex that easily once on the road," Dean said as he lowered his head towards Sam's arching chest.

He played with Sam's nipples for a few moments before he felt content that he had all his attention and traced Sam's ribs towards his flanks, making sure not to tickle, and then continued on his way down to lick and play with each of Sam's balls in its turn, pushing Sam's legs back to get better access and earning himself arousing moans of pleasure. When he finally took Sam's cock in his mouth and turned Sam into a big pile of mush, Dean's left hand went further down to gently massage his entrance, stroking to arouse but never penetrating.

Sam wasn't afraid. Dean and he were so very different in life, but they had this uncanny understanding in the bedroom that made sure Dean wouldn't go where Sam wasn't ready to follow. For this reason, they hadn't done penetrative sex again since it had been more or less forced on Sam for his first time during the virgin sacrifice the Amazon-like warriors had kidnapped him to achieve, and Dean had never pressed the issue, quite content to get Sam any way he could. And Sam felt exactly the same.

Sam soon returned the favor, proud to see he had gotten better and better at this and Dean was the one reaping the reward for what Sam liked to call with a smirk his sucking prowess.

-------------

They left as soon as the sun was up, marching right to Castiel's village first.

The shaman was there, waiting for them in the company of Guyel.

"Hey, nice to see you," Meg exclaimed, happy and surprised to meet with her friend.

They exchanged a quick hug before Guyel turned to the explorers and saluted them. Their relationship had improved with time but still, they were all stunned to see his large smile and welcoming attitude ; not that much to discover that the man could in fact speak English, even with a strong accent. If Rachel had learned with Meg's parents, it made sense for Meg to teach her language to her best friend. It was also a clear show of trust that the explorers appreciated for what it was.

"I'm proud to announce that in the month after my father passed away," he said, and Dean could see the weight taken off the native's shoulders in the way he stood straight and kind of majestic, "I have passed the trials and am now officially the leader of my tribe. As such, I've decided to take back my real name, Guy, which you are authorized to use to address me."

Meg jumped straight into her friend's arms to congratulate him. Dean and the others turned to Castiel but the shaman silently asked them to wait with a single stare.

"What does that mean, his real name ?" Sam later wondered as they had left the village to begin their trip. "Why change it in the first place ?"

"Uriel did it," Castiel answered. "You might have remarked that some of our names end in "el", like Uriel or Rachel, or even my own name. This is the sign of the spiritual power the owner of the name is capable of wielding. Sometimes even magical power."

"That's interesting," Professor Campbell said, "and once again, just like this Amazon-like tribe we encountered, brings forth the question of cross-reference between the plateau and other civilizations. El is the Semitic word meaning god or deity. It also speaks of power in many ancient cultures of the middle-east."

"A suffix can bring you power in this land ?" Professor Singer asked Castiel more directly, never one to dismiss an idea simply because it looked stupid or farfetched. "Or did Uriel just wish it did ?"

"He hoped that forcing the issue would result in a positive increase in Guy's power. Once Guy's mother was dead, he had me celebrating a ceremony to elevate his son's power and then changed his name. Guy became Guyel. Against all advice – Uriel had a huge fight over this with Rachel, before she joined the tribe you call Amazon, as she disagreed too openly with him, wanting to protect the child – he raised his son to act as a priest and ignored the boy's true talents. Guy always had both feet firmly planted on the ground, no change of name could make him look to the stars."

"That's why the Amazon priestess wanted to know about Sam's name, right ?" Dean remembered suddenly and turned to Meg. "You wanted Rachel to feel he was close to her. She thought he was some kind of fellow priest, simply because of the el suffix, and that's why she accepted the change of sacrifice, that I took him instead of the beast, because Samuel would be able to speak with the gods."

"And she was right," Castiel said before Meg could answer. "Samuel does have a connection to the gods, and maybe even more to this planet. The plateau resonates highly when their energies align."

"What does it mean ?" Sam asked, thankful for the supporting hand Dean brought to the small of his back as they kept walking.

"That you have a predisposition to connect with the elements and understand the mysteries of the universe. Had you been born here, your destiny would have clearly brought you to become a shaman, with your brother by your side as the tribe leader. You two would have been powerful and invincible."

They looked at each other, a small but true smile appearing on Dean's face that included all the promises to make it true in any world they would inhabit in the future. Side by side, together.

"What about our grandfather ?" Sam asked. "He's also called Samuel."

Castiel watched the professor in this all-knowing, all-seeing way he often used, before he averted his eyes.

"Despite his many talents and vast knowledge, Professor Campbell suffers from his incapacity and unwillingness to connect with others around himself. His empathetic self has been truncated and ripped from his soul. He would not have been a good shaman for his people."

"Why thank you, Castiel," Professor Campbell cut in, his voice dripping irony. "So, where are we going exactly ? Where do you take us first and what will we get there ?"

"Good questions," Dean agreed. "Not to be difficult, but judging by the sun's position, we're not heading in the right direction if we hope to find this volcano someday."

"First, we need another mean of transportation," Castiel announced to the group walking behind him, not fazed in the slightest by the professor's reaction and choosing to address Dean's concern. "This is too long a journey to do it by foot."

"Really ? Can you summon an automobile up here on the plateau ?" Dean joked.

"You're not making any sense, Dean."

Sam laughed and got a black stare from his brother for his trouble.

"How big is this plateau, anyway ?" Dean changed the subject.

"Very," Castiel answered unhelpfully.

"Well, thanks for the precision, Shaman Obvious. Now what's this alternate mean of transportation ?"

"Dinosaurs, of course."

"What ?" Sam exclaimed.

"You don't need to worry, Samuel. These dinosaurs belong to the herbivore genre and they're very playful characters. My tribe doesn't ride them much but we know how to tame them. Often, they get attached to their human rider and refuse then to take on another one. Very touching creatures."

Sam decided to reserve his opinion for later since he was having a hard time believing the shaman. And judging from his companions' faces, he wasn't the only one.

"So where do we find them ?" Bobby asked.

"At this time of the vegetation's yearly life, very close from here, thankfully. We're already walking that way, we will be there soon."

Less than half an hour later, they broke out of the forest to step onto a huge clearing they had already seen, but the animals placidly grazing around were new to all of them but Castiel and Meg.

A dinosaur detached from its herd as they approached, the explorers tense and ready to run as the beast joined with Castiel who climbed on its back as soon as he was done stroking it to say hello.

"Now you each need to find your own ride," Castiel said, showing with his hand the rest of the herd.

Most of the beasts watched them back with curiosity but a few others, already belonging to someone or simply uninterested, kept on chewing happily on the grass.

Dean stepped further into the meadow and took a look around, fascinated by the big animals strangely graceful despite their huge torso and small forelegs, until the moment one of them, seemingly out of nowhere, decided to jump high in the sky, as if its weight counted for nothing and gravity couldn't match the need to show its happiness to the world at large. It was soon imitated by quite a few other dinosaurs. Most leaps were followed by a crazy run, especially in the case of the smaller specimens, probably youngsters in need of release and showing off for the pretty dinosaur ladies surrounding them.

Their hardened skin was mostly grey-green, save for the tanned beige underside going from their chin to the pointy end of their tail, passing through their long neck and torso. Powerful muscles rolled with each movement, evocative of a strength best left untested, just like the two long claws at the end of their front legs or the four scratching the soil with each step.

Strangely enough, it was not the younger ones who seemed the most interested in the humans admiring them from afar, but already adult ones intrigued by the way they laughed at the dinosaurs' antics.

One stood out thanks to its one-of-a-kind, gorgeous black hide glinting in the morning sun, making it stand out next to the others. It seemed it was as taken with Dean as Dean was with it, eyes fixed on the hunter before it made its way towards him in a series of timid steps and incredible leaps.

"Does it have the hiccups or something ?" Dean joked, but his amazement was clear on his face. "Nice dino, come here !"

"It looks more like a wooing dance," Sam remarked in jest. "Seems like it's trying to seduce you."

"Just as awkward as you are," Campbell intervened in a mean tone. "I remember your father calling you Deano when you were a kid. Now I get why. Dino, Deano… Spastic and uncontrollable, that's just you."

The professor and Dean exchanged belligerent stares, Campbell unimpressed by the collective anger aimed at him.

"Yeah, well," Dean finally answered as if his grandfather's venom hadn't touched him, "there's a lot of things my father used to do and say that you never got and never will. Your loss."

Dean turned his back and ignored him to greet the dinosaur now very close to him, offering his hand to smell like he would with a dog.

"Hey, boy ! Want to travel with me and my friends for a little while, see the sights and sleep under the stars ?"

"I believe this dinosaur to be a female, Dean," Castiel explained.

"How was I supposed to know that ?! I didn't look down there," Dean grumbled through his friends' sniggers.

The dinosaur came closer in response to his tone, caressing its snout against Dean's face, the eye on the right side of its head fixed on the human.

"Good girl," he praised her, already seduced. "Dean Winchester, always a hit with the ladies !"

Love at first sight had been mutual, and Sam felt stupid for the little bit of jealousy he went through when Dean stroked the dinosaur's flank and then soon found the way to imitate Castiel and settle on the animal's back.

Dean was amazed by the immediate connection he felt with this wild beast who could flatten him with one of her hind legs, not to mention the rest of her big body. He knew she would never harm him ; on the contrary, she would defend and protect him to the best of her ability, and he also knew he would do the same.

"I'm calling her Impala," he announced to his friends, "like the African animals. It's fitting, she leaps just like them."

"You've seen impalas ? You visited Africa ?" Sam deduced. "Was it for a safari or one of your hunts ?

"The safari was the reason we gave everyone not in the know," Jenn answered for Dean, too occupied with learning to master his dinosaur, "but we went down there and traveled through the continent while hunting after my husband passed away."

Sam didn't understand the link with the death of her husband, but there it was again, the proof that Dean and Jenn had experienced together so many things Sam hadn't. That Jenn was trained in many areas Sam wasn't. It made him want to prove himself right here, right now, show his brother that he could do just as good as his old partner, that Dean could rely on him for just about anything.

He had to get on one of these beasts before Jenn, but for that he needed to find the right dinosaur first. He decided to walk further in the meadow, just like Dean had done, in the hope to attract his own match. He felt Dean and Impala following him closely, the dinosaur soon pushing him in the direction she wanted with a small but firm pressure of her head on his back.

Sam ignored Dean's amusement when he saw the animal waiting for him. Something in it reminded Sam of Impala, her unusual color replaced by another rare one, waves of charcoal and lighter grey coating its back harmoniously.

"This one is definitely a boy," Meg said from the back of her own dinosaur. "And probably Impala's brother."

It was so fitting. Sam smiled and closed the distance between him and his dinosaur who stood from its seated position. It was bigger than Impala but somehow less imposing thanks to its non-showy color. And it was just as cuddly, bending its long neck down to caress Sam's head with its own.

"Hey," Sam said before he stroked its neck in return. "If your sister's called Impala, I guess you could go by Buck."

He didn't rush this first moment before he found the point over Buck's knee on which to put his feet and push to climb on the dinosaur's back. It felt a lot like horse riding, with a bigger horse and no reins, but gripping the hard ridges of the animal's skin was enough to remain stable. They would probably grip the neck of their beasts in case running or leaping was needed.

The look of love and admiration on Dean's face was quite pleasant as Sam watched, out of the corner of his eye, Jenn only approaching her own dinosaur.

-------------

 photo TheLostDaughterSM.jpg

Traveling on dinoback, as Dean put it, was far more pleasant than the long hours they had spent walking on other occasions. It was pretty hard on the backside, but Dean was always ready to rub Sam's butt better before they slept and they were all a lot less tired each time they stopped for the night. There were no complaints either the next day when they left as soon as the morning dawned.

They were also able to talk leisurely before sleep took them and Sam kept using the time when Dean wasn't too busy with something else to ask the many questions floating in his mind about all the years he had missed far from his brother.

"How come you don't have more of an English accent ?"

"Hey, I can if I want to," Dean insisted and then proceeded to speak with the worst cockney accent Sam had ever heard.

Dean saw his grimace and became more serious.

"We were born in Kansas and I grew up there for my first seven or eight years. Then I guess living in an American family, both ours and then Jenn's, kept me from adopting the local accent. Plus I didn't spend that much time in England once I was old enough to decide what to do about my life, constantly traveling around the world."

There was something Dean wouldn't say, not entirely at least, Sam was sure of it. Never mind, he would get it out of him or Jenn sooner or later.

"How long did Jenn's family take care of you ?" he tried anyway.

"When they realized our dear grandfather wouldn't take me with him, they took me home and raised me as their son. Jody and Sean Mills, they're the best people you can imagine. They had lost a son a few years prior, and they were very protective of Jenny. This feeling extended to me, even when I was being a jerk fighting against any show of tenderness or interest. They've always been there for me."

"Are they still alive ?"

"Thank God, yes, and they take care of the domain while we're here. If we ever make it back, they're gonna love you. Prepare to be mothered to death by Jody. Subtly, but relentlessly."

"Don’t they mind that you've gone on so many dangerous adventures ? Especially Jenn ?"

"I guess they do, but there's not a lot they can do apart from making sure we're ready to take everything thrown at us. And if Jenn has to leave the nest, they sure prefer that she be with me rather than with anybody they can't know for certain will take care of her, and vice versa."

Sam made sure to talk to Jenn the next day about these new elements of Dean's life, comparing his information to try and find what he thought Dean had kept quiet.

"Exactly how much time did Dean spend at home before he became an adult ?"

"Not that much, really," Jenn answered dolefully, and once again Sam was left with the certainty that Jenn had harbored much deeper feelings for Dean than his brother would ever know. "He hid his loneliness for a long while, the fact that Campbell had discharged all servants at the castle but one, old and deaf, to avoid paying wages. And then my parents knew better than to try and restrain him when he turned 18. The truth is, he was just as obsessed as Campbell with finding his family again. You especially. His mother's death was one thing, but he couldn't easily face the fact that she had abandoned him, you know, and understand why. The only obvious answer was that she didn't love him that much. But you, his little brother, he had always protected. He loved you so much, and it killed him to be unable to be there for you anymore.

"One day, he was sure you were all dead. The next, he left for Nowheresville, Oregon, because he had heard about a young man and his disabled mother living in squalor in some tiny apartment. Each new disappointment would keep him running, at the mercy of any new, woolly lead."

Jenn extended a hand and wrapped it over Sam's.

"He missed you so much," she whispered, "and I knew I would never be enough to make up for your loss."

Sam turned his hand to squeeze hers and Jenn felt happy she had talked to him.

Seeing Dean with Sam, back at the Amazons', had been the most effective cure for whatever lingering feelings Jenn might have had for her best friend. Dean was in love, and there was no coming back from this.

He had had no chance, really, to avoid this ending. After all the years spent looking for his Sammy, the multiple hopes and disappointments, there was only one possible outcome and they had been naïve not to see it coming. That Sam was handsome, brave and had a great personality was just icing on the cake, Dean would have taken and loved his brother any way he came back to him.

The same chance that had given her Meg had permitted that Dean and Sam found each other in a place where they could take the time to learn to know each other again, where they didn't have to hide their relationship the way they would have to, should they ever find a way to make it back home.

"If we couldn't be together," Sam said, "I'm glad he had you and your parents at least."

He didn't have that many memories of his younger years but he was now pretty sure that his becoming a journalist, as well as agreeing so readily to relocate to England for his first job, had all to do with the unconscious desire to find his family too. Maybe his father had passed away in all those years, but his lost brother ought to be there, somewhere.

He still couldn't quite believe that it had taken a dangerous trip on a weird plateau deep in South America to bring them back together, nor that Dean was now so much more than a fragment of his past or his badly missed brother.

Day after day, Dean invaded every aspect of his life, and Sam pushed for more. He wanted to make Dean a part of his universe, take him to Boston, to his home and his old dorm at Boston University, and then have him meet his mom and his friends, show him his little apartment in London and the articles he was proud of. All the people and things he loved, his accomplishments.

But as he thought of the lonely child Dean had been, left alone with some old servant who might have been nice but probably couldn't communicate that well if they were deaf, Sam wanted just as much to make a place for himself in Dean's day-to-day life, to become the one permanent feature Dean couldn't live without. And he would.

-------------

They passed many villages on their way, most of them very welcoming and impressed by the presence of a shaman as revered as Castiel in their midst. The Tapuils hadn't been the only one to benefit from the man's help over the years and everyone wanted to try and give him something back, even if it was only by offering the protection of a tent for a night for him and his friends.

One week and a half into their trip, the volcano was now more than a silhouette in the distance, its grotesque form looming big and menacing to take pretty much all the place and block their horizon.

"Did you smell that ?!" Dean asked.

"Sulfur," Jenn answered with a troubled look.

"What does that mean ?" Sam enquired when nothing more came forward.

The two others exchanged a look that annoyed Sam more than anything. He was so done with their silent conversations.

"Dean ?" he insisted.

"Demon activity."

Sam looked at him and began laughing – it so wasn't what he had imagined the answer could be, a real danger of asphyxia, an explosion maybe – until it became clear that it wasn't a joke.

"What ?" he asked again, voice strangled in his throat with incomprehension and a bit of fear in front of the unknown – not to mention the excitement always so close to the surface with him, so easy to tease out. "You really think… demons exist ?"

"We know demons exist," Jenn confirmed, abrupt and not that sympathetic to Sam's bewilderment. "We've faced them more than once, and it's none of our most pleasant memories."

"Wait," Sam pleaded for a bit of sanity back in this conversation, "why imagine the worst immediately ? We came to this place to find sulfur, doesn't it seem logical to you that it smells like it ?"

"Yeah," Dean grumbled but neither he nor the others seemed really convinced, save maybe for Castiel who wore his usual mask of serenity.

"What's your instinct telling you ?" Dean asked Sam.

"That we're in no imminent danger," he replied after a few seconds of concentration. "We can go on. We need to."

Dean watched him with a small smile.

"Okay," he decided, "let's go."

They pushed their mounts and carried on with the trip.

-------------

They stopped earlier for the last night out of the miners' village, knowing it would be the last occasion for a while to talk freely and act without being observed. They also found a safe place for the dinosaurs to wait for them without risking an attack by the villagers.

As they ate, Castiel addressed Dean with a serious expression that didn't bode well.

"Dean, as I understand it, you're the only one who knows the specifics about your bullets, is that right ?"

"I guess, yes," Dean answered, turning to the others for confirmation.

"So if we go with our plan to offer to mine what we want ourselves, you need to stay on top of the facility and to present us as your people, free laborers to mine the ore you're looking for."

"What ? No ! I can't let you people do all the work. And the women ! It would be too dangerous for them to go down the mine with all those men who have probably been celibate for too long."

"Don't worry about us," Meg told him, "we can defend ourselves, and we will all be together, defending each other. In fact, you'll be the one left alone, and thus the most vulnerable."

"I promise I'll take care of them, Dean," Sam said, "but you have to promise to be careful too."

"Sam, this is crazy. Why can't I go down with you all ?"

"Because we can't trust these people blindly," Castiel answered. "The rumor says that the miners are men from the valley, or even further ; men who look like you, who used to dress like you. But even without the risk of falling into the hands of slave drivers, you need to ensure that the quality of the ore is good and, if they agree to create the casings you want, that their work is well-done."

Sam had been the one to come up with the idea that they could have the casings made by a blacksmith rather than Dean if they pretended it was something else, some useless bauble no one would try to steal from them. It left Dean with no argument to oppose Castiel's logic, but he hated the idea to stay on top while the others did all the hard work. Hated even more the idea of not watching over Sam and being unable to protect him.

As soon as they were lying on the ground to sleep, Dean took Sam in his arms and held him tight.

"I can't let you go down there, it's too dangerous. I don't want to lose you, not now."

"Don't worry, you know we'll all protect each other."

"And Jenn ! If Jody and Sean learn that their daughter went down mining, they're gonna kill me."

Dean felt Sam tensing in his arms.

"What is it ?"

Petulantly, Sam moved aside, lying on this back, and let go of all his bitterness.

"She'll always be one of your first loves, you had a sexual relationship with her long before me. It should have been me all along, we should have fallen in love living together, sharing everything. Learning to fight demons and ghosts together, protecting each other. Not you and her."

"We can have all this now, and more. And we're so different, maybe it's best we met later. You can't be sure we would have become lovers growing up together."

"Yes, I can. What I feel for you is too big, too important to stay buried under our blood ties. We are family, beyond everything our parents and grandparents did. Mom could never really pull us apart."

"I feel like you resent Mom so much for what she did."

"And you don't ?"

"Yeah, a bit, but I know there's something I don't understand. Why did she leave in the first place ? From what I remember, even the fights between her and Dad didn't justify her leaving under secrecy, with only one of her children in tow. There's a mystery there."

"Do you think the professor knows why ?"

"I'm not sure. It's possible but he ain't talking, and it's not for lack of asking on my part."

Sam rolled over to put his head on Dean's shoulder and wrapped his arm back around his waist.

"Anyway, don't think you've made me forget about Jenn."

"Sam, she's not in love with me. She married the man she loved and losing him was a tragedy, but now she has Meg. As for me, she's been my best friend for so long and I love her dearly, but even with all those years apart, you had my heart first. The rest is just circumstances."

Sam moved to kiss Dean.

"You've had mine too. My big brother. I looked up to you all the time, wanted to be like you, because I admired you so much."

"So now you remember me ?"

"It's sketchy and fragmented, but I do have some memories. Knowing what I know now, it helped me put those memories into relief, put some flesh on the bare bones, so to speak. So instead of a faceless hero, now I have you."

Dean felt his throat closing and he forgot about his fears for the future, enough that he was able to fall asleep after a few more kisses.

-------------

The miners' foreman was called Osir and it was doubtful he was born on the plateau. But he spoke its dialect without a trace of accent and so Dean stuck to the story they had all agreed on, posing as an entrepreneur looking to sell worthless trinkets to the uneducated population of this land.

"I was already able to sell some of those baubles and make a nice profit. This time I want to double my lead and win the jackpot."

Dean saw in the other man's eyes that his speech had gotten incomprehensible and he came back to the subject at hand.

"Here's the deal : my men here go down in your mines and help with digging the ore. We get to keep a portion of what we dig and with the rest of our hard labor, we make a deal for the copper and lead that will be used to produce the baubles your blacksmith will forge. What do you say ?"

"I say I'm curious to know what you need the sulfur for ?"

"Simple," Dean answered, remembering what Bobby had told him, "it's a great medicine : a tonic and laxative that will sell just as well as my pretty baubles."

Osir went silent for a few seconds.

"I'm willing to consider your deal, but I need something more to accept. What can you do for me ?"

Fortunately, Dean had already thought about that too.

"I'm pretty good with machines. I can make the work of your men easier, and faster. Build a belt conveyor system maybe, or anything else that will free your workers for more important tasks and make this place safer."

It didn't take a genius to realize this place, just like any other mine Dean had seen in every country, was all about productivity, and that the men's health had little to no importance in the process. He could maybe do something about it.

"Interesting," Osir admitted. "So let's say, three months of hard labor down in the mine should do nicely."

"Three months ? For the small quantities we're trading ? I don't think so. One month, and I get to keep my lover as my assistant."

"Which one is your lover ?" the foreman asked, turning towards the women.

"This one, Sam."

Osir whistled, amused.

"I could have done without one of the women but I can't let go of your best worker. Two months, and you get to see him twice a week."

"So give me one of the women back," Dean demanded.

"Nice try, friend," Osir chuckled, "but you already made your choice. My offer stands."

Dean knew he wouldn't get a better offer so they agreed.

"Shake on it !" Dean offered his hand but once again the look of incomprehension on Osir's face made it obvious the custom wasn't in use on this part of the plateau.

With a last kiss to Sam and a quick hug, Dean watched his friends being accompanied by burly guards to the entrance of the mine, a deep shaft to the bottom of which they were taken thanks to a simple cable and a pulley. Dean didn't feel himself breathe freely again until they were all down safely, ready to go to work.

-------------

The job was terrible, excruciating, back-breaking. Sam thought all the sports he had played, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, could never have prepared him for such a mindless and repetitive task. At the end of every shift, he dropped next to his friends for as long as the guards let them sleep, dreamless nights that hardly restored his strength. He could see the toll the brutal work was taking on his friends, especially the women who were pushed to obtain the same results as the men but just couldn't deliver, however tough and strong-willed they might be, for a task where muscle power was key.

He had tried to get to know the other workers, especially the English-speaking ones, vaguely thinking that maybe starting some sort of union down there would make the tunnel supervisors more accommodating, should all miners present a united front against too much work. But the men were wary at best of the newcomers, if not downright aggressive.

Their first encounter was with a man named Morrison and it wasn't exactly warm and fuzzy : he simply pushed Sam out of his way and down to the floor as he found him working to extract what seemed to be a good vein.

"Filthy robber, get your own damn place !"

The guards didn't move to break up the scuffle, didn't even try to make it look like they had seen anything. Sam watched the miner perplexedly as he stood back up.

"What do you mean ?" he asked.

"This place is mine, and the ore in there too. Go find your own vein."

Sam raised his hands to show he didn't mean harm.

"I'm sorry, I didn't know."

Alerted by this misunderstanding, the man kept a tight vigil on Sam and his friends, ready to defend his territory at the first sign of a toe walking over some invisible but just as real to him frontier the miner had traced in his mind and refused to budge on. Sam tried to ignore him but he found it was quite difficult to forget about someone constantly watching your every move. Jenn tried to lighten the situation by joking that Sam had gained an admirer and Dean wouldn't like it, but the thought of his brother just made him more miserable. Sure, he got to see him every three or four days, but Sam was so exhausted that these furloughs of sort were spent mostly sleeping and eating. For Dean's sake, who hated so much remaining topside, Sam also took care of shutting up his guilty conscience at being allowed some reprieve when the others weren't.

Morrison was crazy, no doubt about it, but not really dangerous ; a yappy dog rather than a guard one. The same couldn't be said of every guy working the mine. Especially the ones who couldn't deal with the proximity of two beautiful women who were just as unapproachable as Queen Victoria.

Not that some of them wouldn't try anyway. Their group was small, and the four of them who weren't targeted by the lust of their fellow miners had had to step more than once between Jenn or Meg and a potential aggressor.

One guy was obviously at it again as Sam returned one day from a restful night spent in Dean's arms. Sam recognized him immediately as Martin, a lunatic they all avoided. The man had managed to corner both girls, menacing them with his pick.

"You leave them alone !" Sam ordered, puffing up his chest to appear more threatening.

"Yeah ? And why would I do that ?" Martin asked with a nasty smile, showing off the bulge in his trousers when he turned away from Jenn and Meg.

The women had the good sense to use the opportunity to leave the trap they had been pushed into, a jagged cell breached by the men in the cave's walls and then abandoned when it showed no good vein.

"You propositioning me instead, Sammy ?" Martin asked. "Offering me your tight little ass in lieu of their cunts ?"

Sam blushed, feeling his face burn and hoping the bad lighting would hide most of it.

"As if !" he answered with lots of fake bravado as he remembered the way the man had insistently looked at him more than once while he was washing himself. "I have someone far better waiting for me, I won't sully myself with you."

"Ah, don't be like that, sweet cheeks, you have no idea how good I could make you feel."

Before he could respond, Sam felt himself pushed aside by Bobby.

"And what about me, sweet cheeks," the older man offered, more gruff than ever, "would you care to compare techniques ?"

With a grimace of disgust and a look of fear in the direction of the guards, back from their morning meal at the same time as the professor, Martin turned his back on them and returned to his previous place of work. Sam sighed with relief, even knowing they would all have to be wary of him in the future. But Sam didn't feel very confident about their ability to keep every one of them safe in case someone really tried to harm them. They did keep vigilant, but they couldn't remain watchful every minute of every day, if only because exhaustion hit hard every night, making them incapable of staying alert at all times.

Four days later, a brawl broke out as Martin tried again to get frisky with Ashley, the only other woman down there – that they knew of in this part of the mine, at the very least – but the move didn't please her boyfriend Roy. One of the few people to have a vague idea about the way they had ended up there, the man maintained they had been abducted during a hunt in Bolivia. He and Ashley were the only real allies they had made so far, necessity pushing them together with the tried and true mentality of "the enemy of my enemy is probably my friend."

Once again, Bobby got in the way. Sam saw the hatred directed at him by Martin and did his best to redirect the man's attention to himself this time.

"Everybody, back to work !" the guards bellowed, generously distributing smacks and hits with their heavy wooden sticks to separate the fighters.

They worked under tight supervision for more than an hour, then most of the guards returned to their previous patrolling positions, leaving only one of them behind to provide control in this section. As soon as the man disappeared into another tunnel, Martin left his working place. Hidden by the noise of the rock continuously beaten, he crept towards Bobby and raised his pick.

His shadow against the wall alerted Bobby to the danger. Older he may be, but he turned swiftly and caught the pick midair. They fought for its possession for as long as needed for the other miners to come to Bobby's rescue, separating the two men.

The guard came back running and swearing like the sailor he might have been before he ended up in this godforsaken place. For a moment, Sam imagined his eyes were all black, but surely the bad lighting explained this illusion.

"Get back, all of you bastards ! Get back !"

They did, and Martin seized the opportunity. He threw his pick sideways and got Bobby right in the thigh.

-------------

Less than two weeks into his stay into the miners' village, Dean was visited by a new and weird character. Short and round, the man looked like a notary who had just escaped his office in his black and very formal attire. Nothing out of the ordinary on the streets of London, but not exactly the kind of vision you were expecting on the plateau.

"Winchester," the man offered his hand. "The name's Fergus MacLeod, owner of this mine and the adjoining land. Osir tells me he concluded a deal with you."

"Mr. MacLeod," Dean answered, shaking the hand of the newcomer. "Indeed, we've got a deal going. I'm currently working on a conveyor belt while my friends work in the mine, in exchange for some ore and a few baubles. I promise you won't be disappointed."

"We'll see about that. A deal is a deal, even up here, I hope you get that."

"I do, sir. No need for a formal contract or a judge to enforce it. My word should be enough. Just like I hope yours is."

There was some amusement on the man's face as he replied.

"My word is law, Mr. Winchester. Should we kiss, following some of the plateau tribes' fashion, to make it more official ?"

Dean stared at MacLeod, dumbfounded. He had had some offers in his time, but never any quite as direct as this one.

"I think your word will be enough," he finally answered.

"Very well. Now I hope you'll give me the pleasure of your company tonight for dinner."

Something in MacLeod's tone indicated no wasn't an option. Dean nodded and followed the man's retreat with his eyes, still wary.

Dinner was affable and worldly, composed of some delicious dishes Jenn or his grandfather would have probably appreciated far more than Dean and seemed quite out of place outside of the best tables of upscale London. It was par with the conversation. MacLeod had visited as many countries as Dean, if not more, and he proved incredibly knowledgeable of the world's customs, reminding Dean of details he had long forgotten or downright ignored as not essential to the hunt.

"May I ask how you came to visit the plateau ?" MacLeod wondered as they were served the next dish.

"Familial hazard," Dean answered in a laugh, not ready to give away the real story. "My grandfather happens to be a serial globetrotter – you know how it is after a certain age, you feel like you've seen it all, and only the most atypical voyage will alleviate your boredom. It depends on me to make sure nothing bad happens to him on a trip. And here we are."

MacLeod's smile at Dean's words didn't quite reach his eyes.

"Yet I'm told you brought your lover with you."

Dean decided to be even less forthcoming, for fear MacLeod entertained the old world's prejudice. Maybe Osir hadn't been too thorough with the details describing the expedition.

"Absolutely," he acquiesced, "as well as a friend of my grandfather's, and one of mine. Not to mention some we made here."

"That's quite the party, Mr. Winchester. I'd love to meet them all once they're back topside. Including your shaman friend and your very tall lover."

So much for Dean's hopes, but at least MacLeod didn't seem fazed by Sam's gender.

"What about you, Mr. MacLeod ?" Dean redirected the conversation. "You seem more at home in a law firm than here on top of South America's roof. What urged you to travel up here ?"

"The oldest motivation known to mankind, really : greed. Pure and simple greed. I thought such a place, surely, would be bursting with treasures easy to get my hands on. No competition to speak of, no petty decree taxing my hard work to fill the loose government's pockets. The only flaw in this theory of mine was about a way out."

"I'm sorry to hear that. I was hoping you could lend us some advice on this particular topic."

"Sorry, Mr. Winchester. It seems we're condemned to remain neighbors for the time being."

MacLeod raised his glass and Dean copied the movement, toasting their new acquaintance.

He couldn't quite put a name on what about MacLeod was bothering him, other than his obvious cagy attitude under the appearance of naked truth. He only knew that all his internal alarms were firing at once in his presence and Dean had long learned to listen to them. He was quite happy to remember that the neighborhood they had alluded to was in fact quite tenuous, separated as they'd be by miles of jungle and wild fauna as soon as he and his friends were able to get back home to the Tree house.

The rest of the dinner went quite the same way, each trying to outsmart the other and gain a bit of information, but to no avail. Dean's questions about the provenance of the men working the mines were gently swept under the rug, as well as MacLeod's interrogations about the future use of the ore Dean's friends were currently digging. They said their goodbyes quite amicably but Dean was relieved to learn the next day that MacLeod was gone, away to inspect another one of his plants, and never to reappear during their stay. He hated that kind of man, a slaver and opportunist who didn't mind working other men to the bones to make a profit and desecrated other people's land in the name of expansion.

The few discussions he had been able to have with the local workers in the absence of Castiel's help had taught him that the volcano and his surroundings were considered sacred by the natives and that digging the ore was forbidden, thus the need for outside workers that Dean couldn't help but wonder about. So many men from below the plateau, most of them poor and uneducated, which meant there was no way they had come searching for anything else than money to take care of their family. Which also meant there was indeed another way to come up here, and probably to go back down. But even after talking about it with Sam and asking him to question the other miners, none of them were able to give a satisfying answer. Their only memories were of waking up in the tunnels next to other workers who would show them how to dig the ore and stay alive. Dean was pretty sure they had all been drugged and kidnapped, an easy and free labor supply who had to work or die.

It was the only way to explain why MacLeod would dig the ore : he had to know of a way back down the unending cliffs leading to the plateau. A way he was able to use to get his products back down and sell them around the world. A way he clearly didn't want to share with Dean and his friends, for fear of competition and dwindling profit.

After one month spent on top of the mine, safe and well-rested, Dean thought he was going to turn crazy. He had done everything Osir had asked of him, built an ox-actioned conveyor belt to get the ore, once on the surface, to the area where it was reduced and extracted, and then to take it to the open-air yard where it was stored. He had also built two lifts modeled on the one at the Tree to get in and out of the mine, the first one big and sturdy enough, and actioned by two dinosaurs of the small head/big muscles kind, to get the ore out of the mine, and a second, smaller one, actioned by the men using it this time, to make sure they would get out of the shaft in a safer way. He could breathe again now every time Sam visited him and didn't have to use that cable at the end of which a knot permitted insertion of a foot. Dean had had nightmares because of that cable, seeing Sam and their friends plunging to their death after they slipped or the knot unraveled and they fell down the shaft.

It was actually Sam who had helped him make his decision to go down the mine in his turn. Seeing his brother's utter exhaustion was already difficult to bear – and Dean had pleaded with Osir more than once to get him to go easy on his friends, to let them take a day off at least once a week, always to no avail – but Dean couldn't take it anymore when he learned that Bobby had been incapacitated by a nasty wound, thanks to the pick of another hard worker, and he was still obliged to work, even though he was clearly declining fast.

Dean let Sam rest and went to Osir as soon as his brother was asleep. It was easy enough to exchange one wounded and slow worker for a fresh, younger and healthy one, so Osir accepted his deal this time, especially after Dean promised with total bogus confidence that Bobby would be able to continue his work to extend the conveyor belt. As soon as the night was over, the foreman sent someone to look for the professor and Bobby was brought back up the shaft by Dean, and Sam who didn't know yet what Dean had agreed to in order to get their friend to safety.

It was indeed a nasty wound Bobby sported on his left thigh and Dean made sure to clean and bandage it once he had installed the older man on his cot in the little room he had been assigned in the village to work on his projects. He explained all he could to the professor and told him he was now in charge of inspecting the smithy's work with the bullets.

"I also told Osir you would keep on building the conveyor belt. All the plans are here, you shouldn't have trouble figuring it all out."

"Don't worry, boy. I'm good with my hands too, and I learned early on to read schematics. I'll do my best to keep up with your good work."

Bobby had been able to take in a lot of Dean's work as the Winchester brothers transported him out of the mine to the barracks, and he was pretty sure he could handle the rest. As soon as his wound had healed enough, he would resume Dean's task and make him proud. Anything to repay the sacrifice Dean was making by taking his place down there.

"I met the mine's owner, Fergus MacLeod. I kept information about what we're doing here to a bare minimum, so don't let him fool you if he visits again. Don't let him kiss you either."

With a last smirk at Bobby's bewilderment, Dean turned to Sam who had been looking at him for a while with a mix of anger and pride.

"You were safe up here !" Sam argued. "Why would you want to go down there ?"

"Because it's the place I need to be. Sam, don't you get it ? After all these years apart, I need to be there."

He didn't need to add with you for Sam to hear it. He felt exactly the same, but knowing Dean was safe out of the mine had been his only silver lining during his time underground.

Dean kissed him and made him forget everything else for a little while, right before Sam and he were taken back to the shaft and pulled down to the mine.

Sam was not happy with him, of course, but Dean could live with that. He was now there to do his part and take care of his friends, make sure nothing bad could happen again to Sam or anyone else.

"I imagine hell doesn't look much different !" Dean mused as he arrived in a dark tunnel full of shadows and burning oil lamps.

"You would know," Campbell muttered, silently slipping behind them.

Dean ignored him as he took in the unending and maze-like hallways dug into the rock. It was so dark down there that he had troubles reading his friends' faces and deciphering their level of exhaustion. High, very high, and they were no more happy to see him here than Sam had been, which only reinforced his need to be there with them.

He worked twice as hard as anyone else, decided to make up for the good time he'd had up there and to make their release quicker, taking on his friends' work to ease their load. He forged bonds with as many other miners as he could and brought Sam along, using their very different skills and assets to net them a web of allies they could rely on in case something went so wrong they needed to escape swiftly.

Following his example, Sam went out of his way, like he used to do as a reporter, to lose the image he had generated in the previous weeks of a prissy boy who thought he didn't belong here, and increase the number of friends they were making in the mine. Even some of the guards tentatively began to joke around him and not about them. Sam was very aware of the quality of Dean's smile to appease and conquer the biggest brutes, the vibe he was giving off as "one of the boys" that few people were able to resist when he did his best to win you over – just like he was able to rattle chains and piss you off with the best of them, as proved by his constant strained relationship with his grandfather.

In his turn, Castiel tried his best to imitate Dean's friendly attitude, gaining the ear of Gadreel, the mine's shaman, and a few hours of reprieve here and there to exchange with him about practices and rituals. Castiel found him to be not overly worried about the workers' fate.

"Can't you do something about the way the miners are treated ?" Castiel asked him when he felt they had become close enough.

"Those men have earned in the course of their previous lives the unpleasantness visiting them today," Gadreel argued passionately. "Castiel, you know as well as me that paying the price of one's actions is paramount to wipe the slate clean and advance to a higher level of understanding. As the circle of life and death goes, they are actually lucky to be put to task in the present. Dying here, under the flog or a cave-in, and after much suffering, is the guarantee of their advancement."

Castiel soon reported that there would be no help coming from the shaman, should they need it.

The worst part of this belief was that Gadreel has succeeded in convincing not only the guards, but also most of the miners that their fate was an enviable one. That their next reincarnation would be so much sweeter for all the pains and troubles they were going through right now. Many refused to be treated when sick or wounded, in the hope that it would lead to a swifter ending on the path to the liberation from all grief. The mortality rate was high, and the need for new workers constant.

Gordon Walker was one of the miners who had been brought such a long time ago he seemed undefeatable and his endurance made him kind of a surrogate boss thanks to some unspoken rule among the miners, self-appointed overseer who the guards tolerated as long as he got results and enforced the rule in their absence. He and Dean got on like a house on fire at first – and wasn't that a kick in the teeth for Sam who had been mocked, taunted and slapped around by this particular miner from the very first day for refusing to follow his orders – but Gordon's intense dislike of Sam brought their kinship to a dramatic halt. Dean kept getting between him and his brother to protect Sam from Gordon's wrath, challenging his authority every day.

It certainly didn't help that Dean, as well-liked as he was down in the mines for taking care of anyone in need, quickly eclipsed Walker's fame. It became worse when Dean began to fight with all his might the pervasive resignation and realized Gordon had been capitalizing on it to strengthen his leadership.

Dean tasted his work ethics on the fifth day down in the mine, still full of taunt, but he got an instantaneous adjustment in his attitude when the overseer, mad but certainly not stupid, aimed his whip at Sammy's body as Dean kept on provoking him despite the harsh bite of the whip on his own back. No surer way to make Dean obey than threatening his little brother.

The worst part of the time down in the mine, right after the brutal work and the mistreatments, was the sheer boredom due to uneventful days passed doing the exact same things. Nothing ever happened, save for working, eating, and sleeping. Nothing changed, until the day the Earth shook.

The cave walls seemed to tremble like paper in the wind and the members of the expedition looked around in dismay, not just a little scared. The accompanying noise was just as frightening, but they soon realized that no one had moved and tried to escape. Everyone had stopped working, unable to stay upright without at least a hand on the wall to stabilize them, waiting for the end of the volcano's anger.

"Shouldn't we leave ?" Sam finally asked when no else suggested it. "Fast."

"No need," Walker answered, "we just have to let it pass. Unless you're too much of a pussy, hiding in your lover's shadow, to tolerate a little mountain shake."

Sam closed his fists and squeezed them tight. He would not be goaded into responding to the man's taunts, as vile as they might be. Plus Walker was right, the tremors had ended and nothing was left to show there had been the beginning of an earthquake, save for a few workers thrown down and now getting back up.

"Morrison," the overseer bellowed, "stop taking your sweet time and get to it. You're hardly meeting your quotas these days, do you need to be encouraged ?"

The older man sputtered and tried to defend himself without looking threatening, but only ended with a hit in his stomach for his trouble. He was then expected to go back to work immediately. Sam and Dean didn't even think before they went to his aid. Sam took his pick and worked on his vein for a little while, leaving to Dean the time to soothe him back to a standing position and the assurance that whatever Sam mined would be for Morrison, not for them.

"Morrison ?" Samuel suddenly asked. "Are you Professor Morrison ? Did you write a journal mentioning the location of the plateau ?"

"I did," the miner responded, wary anew. "It got lost some time ago."

"Well, we found it. You're the reason we're here, Professor."

The explorers looked at this broken man, dumbfounded, and tried to imagine him in good clothes, masterly teaching a class. They came up empty.

"I'm sorry about that," Morrison replied with derision, "but I've got no idea how it left the plateau in the first place, and it's not like I forced you to come up. How did you do it, anyway ?"

"Hot air balloon, " Sam answered, "and a lot of bad and good luck entwined. What about you ?"

"I don't have the slightest idea. One night I was asleep in my bed ; the next day found me here in these mines. Waking up to join the crew and realizing I was on the very plateau I had spent my life searching for. I never even got to see any dinosaur, and they were all I wanted."

Sam's heart did a somersault, and it was clear on everyone else's face that they had thought the same thing and this confirmed Dean's theory after talking with the mine's owner : if Morrison had arrived here so quickly, then it meant another way definitely existed, one much shorter and easier, and they just had to pinpoint what it was and where it stood.

"Had you found the plateau's location before you were… brought up ?" Dean enquired, stopping his work to wait for the answer.

"Yes. Someone else's journal came into my possession and it helped in narrowing down the possible locations. After that, it was just a question of logic."

Dean and Sam exchanged a look that clearly said how fishy this all smelled, how convenient that all those journals moving down the plateau were to be found by professors whose hobby – euphemism for obsession – was to discover its coordinates.

Morrison's antagonism died that day and the former professor became a kind of honorary member of their expedition, now placed under their protection. Which meant more bad blood between Gordon and them, as Morrison had always been his whipping boy. They made it their mission to keep him from harm as much as, if not more than, the other workers.

Dean was still clinging to this need one month later when the overseer came to tell them with a snarl that their time was done.

"We can't leave and let these people work to their death !"

"We're not numerous enough to fight, Dean," Meg was once again the voice of reason. "We can try and find MacLeod again later, talk to him and see what we can do for the miners, but we can't fight directly. Not now. And you know it."

Dean indeed knew it, but it broke his heart to abandon those people to their fate.

His month in the pit was one of those times he would never forget. He had experienced pretty awful stuff in his life, but brutal, constant and hopeless work was not a life he wished on anyone, not even his worst enemy. Especially in a place where the hope of escaping was null, ordered around by a mad overseer like Gordon Walker who distributed whiplashes like candies to make sure he wouldn't be downgraded back to miner if his laborer didn't work hard enough.

And now Dean had to accept to leave all the other workers behind, including Professor Morrison, the explorer whose journal had been found through mysterious ways by Samuel Campbell, bringing them all here to abandon him anyway to a more or less quick death by exhaustion.

But if it was a choice between Morrison and Sam, Dean already knew the answer.

-------------

They felt gross and smelt worse. Their first act out of the mine was to take a long bath in the nearby river, led by a now back-to-health Bobby Singer.

There was no need to fetch their mounts ; even after all that time spent separated, something had tipped them off. The wide animals had felt the tug of their riders' need for them and came to meet them.

They arrived, leaping with joy, as the humans were playing delightfully in the water. Impala immediately went to Dean, right into the river, and fussed over him for a long time. Buck did the same with Sam, imitated by all the other dinosaurs visibly happy to see their humans again. Only Campbell's mount, Mare, played it aloof, just like the professor himself, and waited on the shore.

Clean and dry, they went back to the village to collect their things. Dean didn't forget to gather all the schematics he had made to create his conveyor system and the lifts, as well as all the paper and graphite pens he had accumulated, knowing it would be difficult to find more elsewhere and Sam and the professors were always in need of them to take notes while they worked on Meg's books.

They loaded their dinosaurs' backs with the ore they had traded for, as well as the casings created by the blacksmith, then quickly left the mine behind them, ready to forget this interlude in their existences and never to visit it again.

-------------

They had hardly traveled half a mile when they felt and heard a deep rumble coming from the volcano. Sure, it wasn't the first time the mountain seemed to wake up during their stay, but today the tremors kept going for long enough that Castiel's face finally took on a worried expression.

"We have to hide, quick," he urged them all.

"Where ?" Sam asked. "Do you think this hill will be high enough ?"

"Probably, but it won't protect us against the burning cloud. Our only chance is to hide in the mazes."

Dean didn't know what a burning cloud could do but it didn't seem fun. Judging by the professors' faces, it was anything but.

They urged their dinos with thighs and heels to go fast, following in Castiel's path, retracing their steps to the mountain. The plateau's anger seemed to build up with each minute and fumes began to escape the volcano's top, making them doubt they would get to their hiding place in time.

Indeed, a first explosion happened as they neared the foothills of the volcano and spotted ruins of an ancient village, maybe one mile from the current one. They couldn't help but shudder as they took in the growing quantity of ash and fire pervading the atmosphere and plummeting down the mountain, still far enough from them to give them a chance to reach their goal.

The dinosaurs didn't need any prodding to run fast, as fast as they could, as if their human charges and the ore loads weighed nothing. They had picked up on the danger probably even before Castiel but where their instincts would have pushed them to go as far as possible from the volcano, they trusted their humans enough to follow their lead.

Menacing cracks were heard much closer by the time they reached the entrance of the tunnels they were looking for, abandoned areas whose veins had been drained by the ore mining, fortunately high and large enough that the dinos were able to get in. They only stopped long enough to light some lamps then ran again, galloping at great speed to hide deep inside, out of the way of whatever the volcano would throw at them. They burrowed into the maze, hoping the many twists and turns of the tunnels would prevent the lava from following, before they dismounted on the highest spot they could find and lighted the rest of their lamps.

"There's nothing we can do but wait, now," Castiel stated

"How did you know about these tunnels ?" Jenn wondered.

"I asked," he answered, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. "Gadreel told me about them. He said the miners are used to hiding in the old tunnels whenever the volcano becomes too angry."

"Well, I've never been as glad as now that you came with us !" Jenn rejoiced with a quick hug that left Castiel speechless.

"But how come the magma or the gas don't fill the tunnels entirely ? Did he explain this to you ?" Bobby enquired.

"I don't think Gadreel is that knowledgeable. If he is, he didn't share with me. I can surmise that the miners probably realized they had been protected after they were first stuck in the mines but didn't die. This is the way the ancients adapted to their environment, learning through lucky happenstance."

"We should remove the loads so that the dinos can be at ease," Dean suggested, taking pity on the beasts. "How long do you feel we'll be stuck here ?"

"The dinosaurs will tell us, they will know instinctively when the danger is over. Nature seems very displeased, so I would say at least one day, maybe two."

"Okay, we better get cozy."

They all installed their bedrolls, Sam next to Dean's, their dinosaurs immediately flanking them as they used to do on the surface every night, and then listened to the elements growling and clashing above their heads.

"Bobby," Sam interrupted when he was fed up with the noise, "what's happening up there exactly ?"

The professor seemed relieved to find an occupation and get his mind off of nature's battering.

"What Castiel calls burning cloud is known in the scientific world as a nuée ardente, a pyroclastic surge. It means that very hot gas erupts from the volcano along with rocks. It all flows downhill, gaining very high speed on the way, but it can also rise over hills, and it travels far. It's lethal. No human, animal or tree can resist or outrun this kind of surge, for they would immediately combust at such temperature. In recent past, this is what killed about 30,000 people in Martinique when Mount Pelée erupted in 1902 and incinerated the town of St Pierre."

"You make it sound like you're surprised we're still alive."

"I am. These mazes have been dug to reach the sulfur ores and surely they communicated at some point with the volcano. Now I'm no specialist, but I'm more than glad the gas didn't pass through the tunnels. Same thing about the lava."

"I agree," Campbell intervened, "and I understand now why the land in the direct vicinity of the volcano is quite arid. Frequent eruptions, even mild ones, probably keep the vegetation at its minimum. I'm more surprised that the flow seems to stop astonishingly close to the crater, no more than a mile or so. And as Castiel said, I guess the villagers and workers hide in other parts of the maze, just like we did."

"I'm not sure MacLeod really minds losing his workers as long as he can find replacements," Dean lamented, still incapable of letting go of the idea he had let these people down. "He seems to be quite adept at finding new laborers."

Sam tried to soothe him with a light caress on his face that he prolonged down his arm until he could reach his hand and lace their fingers together.

"I know how you feel, I do too, but we couldn't do anything about it. As it is, we were barely able to walk right."

"I know," Dean repeated, but it would take time before he sounded convinced and felt it.

Sam was most happy about getting his journal back in his hands to be able to write down some of his experience. He found it rippled in some places and it was obvious someone has read his thoughts without bothering to hide it very much. He doubted Bobby would do that kind of thing, which meant it could only be his brother.

"Did you read my journal ?!" Sam asked him, bewildered by such a disrespect of his privacy.

"Don't be mad, Sammy. I needed it to feel close to you, to not go crazy at night when I tried to sleep and couldn't stop thinking about what might happen to you in the mine."

He was mad, but Sam couldn't resist Dean's sad expression, understanding despite himself what his brother had been going through. Then something very much like love tore at his heart when he saw that Dean had kept up with his calendar, noting each day to make sure they knew exactly how much time had passed since their arrival. He had even asked the professor to continue in his place on a loose sheet of paper.

He was further distracted when he realized Dean had already forgotten their discussion, instantly watching their grandfather who was also taken with his own journal, writing down whatever he thought important to keep memory of.

"If we could…" Dean began, thinking hard. "There might be something in his journal that would help us find out what he's after."

"Dean, as much as I disapprove of the professor's attitude and beliefs, I still think the man has a right to his privacy as much as I do."

"I'm not so sure. You're a good man, and every line you wrote proved it to me once again. I don't think the professor will earn this comment if I get my hands on his journal."

Sam knew a lost cause when he saw one. Dean would find a way to get it, and Sam would cave and look too. In the meanwhile, he could try and make sure Dean wouldn't put his nose in his stuff again.

"Just stay out of my own journal !" he concluded.

 

November 2nd

I am now convinced that the worst punishment a man can suffer is penal servitude and a life spent bent in two to collect and carry whichever stuff he is told to. Nothing is worth breaking a man's back and his hopes for a better life. Nothing.

I wish I could have prevented Dean from going down in the mine in his turn. One of us was one too many, and I kept fearing for his life – and mine – knowing he wouldn't be able to keep quiet for long in front of Gordon Walker.

Time to put all this behind us. Our life on the plateau isn't easy, but it's a damn nice one compared to the slow death down in the mine. I wonder how long it will take me to forget, in my dreams at night, about the screams of those men dying, forgotten and hopeless.

-------------

Crowley took care to stay invisible as he appeared at one end of the tunnel the explorers had hidden in, glad to see them all alive if a bit… drowsy. Working in the mines would do that to any simple man.

He had been well inspired to allow the proselyte Gadreel to talk genuinely with the other shaman, or he might have had to intervene himself to save them all from the eruption, leading to many questions he preferred to avoid right now. He wasn't sure yet how important the youngest Winchester boy might prove to be in the future, but he definitely had a vested interest in keeping him safe as long as destiny remained cloaked and uncertain.

He took the time to check the new entries in the journals three of the men were keeping, a window into their souls or projects. All of them had Sam Winchester's best interests at heart, save maybe for the older professor Crowley already knew. The one who had made it possible to attract Winchester on the plateau with his foolish obsession. It seemed that, in exchange for a small gold nugget, Campbell had managed to get information through some hushed conversations with one of the guards in the mines– Crowley would have to send that one back to hell after a good month of torture – who had offered him new leads in his research for the perfect ingredients to cast efficient spells.

Sam's journal entry, as well as Professor Singer's, were badly verbose sentimental nonsense and brought no information at all. Done with his readings, Crowley was certain he didn't need to stick around, nor to make sure his protégés wouldn't go out too soon. The dinosaurs would see to it that the men and women didn't try to leave before danger was over, just like they sensed his presence. All the animals' eyes were now turned towards his location, ready to move and protect their humans.

These beasts were useful for many things. He had one of his own, although a tad different than the species hiding in the mine, waiting outside the cavern, flying the turbulent and lethal storm with a delight Crowley still could feel that far inside the mine. This typical lack of fear made Hellraiser a particularly good hunter when he knew the scent of his marks.

Crowley raised his hand and summoned to himself the fragrant molecules of each person and animal present in the room to take back to his mount and get his plan in gear. He'd have Hellraiser follow the expedition home and check on them now and again. He wouldn't let anyone or anything come between him and the chosen child.

-------------

They ended up spending the better part of three days in the tunnels and used the time to rest as much as needed, feeling safe under their dinosaurs' vigilant watch. They had food and water for a little while, and no need to be anywhere in a hurry. It fitted Dean's amorous mood ; he and Sam might not be able to make love in this cramped space shared with too many people, but it was easy to snuggle and let your hands roam over hot, beloved skin once the oil lamps were all turned off to allow for sleep. Dean always fell asleep better with both of his firmly splayed over Sam's ass.

Thanks to the dinosaurs' presence, the whole of them were able to sleep at once, no watch needed, and they abused that privilege shamelessly for most of the time, weeks of hard labor and little rest catching up with them. Exhaustion was the only reason why they could stand to spend so much time in the mines again so soon after their release.

Sam passed the rest of his time writing in his journal while Dean was pestering someone else to counter his feeling of cabin fever, often fussing over Impala to groom her or preparing the simple and mostly cold meals they shared. Leaning against Buck, Sam wrote down all the details of their mining days that he could remember, learning to detach himself from the fear induced by the man lusting after him or Gordon Walker's craziness.

"Is this your mother ?"

Startled, Sam looked up to find Bobby kneeling next to him, a photograph in his hand. It was indeed his mother the professor was admiring, the picture fallen from his journal's cover, and Sam nodded with a smile.

"My adoptive mom, Ellie. Eleanor Visyak. She let me kept my name when she adopted me."

"Your name ?"

"Wesson. I know now that it was not my real name, just the one Mary Winchester chose for us when she ran away from home and hid us both. Anyway, Ellie didn't mind about that kind of detail. She just wanted to protect me and offer me a good life."

"You were lucky to have her."

"I was indeed."

Ellie had told him how she had found him, alerted by a child's unending cries to Sam's presence in the closed apartment his mother had left him in before she left and probably died soon after. Mrs. Visyak was supposed to visit a distant sick relative and bring her some soup. She looked terribly out of place in her pricy dress and feathered hat, but her appearance had impressed the men of the social services she had called for Sam, enough that they agreed quite easily to let her care for the lonely boy a few days later. After a year had passed, Sam's mother still missing and thus presumed dead, Ellie had been allowed to adopt him. Knowing how the foster care system worked, the adult Sam was pretty sure Ellie had bribed the right people to get things moving the way she wanted.

Sam had often wondered what his life would have looked like without this incredible woman to raise him and offer him all the opportunities to become someone.

"She's beautiful," Bobby said as he gave him the photograph back.

Sam looked at her for a little while, seized by a tremendous need to see her again that he could only master by going to look for his brother and silently asking for a hug that Dean was all too happy to give him.

When Impala and her friends showed signs of impatience, Dean went outside with her to check the area and ascertain they could leave their hideout. Soon followed by Sam and Jenn, and then the rest of their group, they decided to take the road back home.

-------------

They made it back in a bit more than two weeks, refusing to hurry the dinosaurs loaded with their purchases. As they left Castiel to his tribe, Guy invited them to celebrate with the village their safe return but they took a rain check, too tired to make small talk and play the perfect guests.

Two days after their return, as they needed fresh meat, Dean volunteered to accompany his grandfather to everyone else's surprise. They straddled their dinosaurs – the whole band had stuck around but Dean was now pretty sure there was some sort of bond between a dino and their human, psychic or other, that allowed the animals to know when they were needed – and departed for an area they knew to be well stocked with game.

Dean wasn't really sure what had pushed him to go, only that the professor hadn't found what he was searching for during their trip and showed an increasing level of agitation and verbal aggression that would surely lead sooner or later to some bad decision they would all suffer from. It seemed wise to keep a tight watch on him.

He got more than he hoped for. As Campbell shot his prey, the backpack he had abandoned on the ground was kicked by the dinosaur roaring in distress and slid down a steep slope. All objects inside spilled around, including the precious notebook that got stuck between two rocks. Dean saw it from his position but kept the information for him, remembering in an instant the value he had already put on such an item in his quest to learn about his grandfather's intentions.

The trip home was spent under a constant barrage of criticism mostly aimed at him, at least every time Samuel stopped raging against this forsaken land and its pitfalls. Dean answered none of his barbs, singing all the way to drown the sound of his voice as much as in the hope to annoy his grandfather all the more. Two hours after they had returned, he discreetly escaped everyone's surveillance and ran back to the hunting ground. His heart beating too fast, he almost missed it : the journal had slipped further down the slope, forcing him to climb down the ravine and ignore his nausea in front of the terrible height before he could finally put his hand on the notebook and snatch it.

Dean patted himself on the back – not so metaphorically – until the moment he sat in his bedroom and tried to read the damn thing.

It was coded ! From first to last written page, each and every one covered in gibberish, well-known alphabet forming indecipherable words.

Dean wanted to march to his grandfather and demand excuses for being so aggravating once again.

Luckily for him, he had a secret weapon securely tucked up his sleeve : a brother so intelligent and learned that Dean was pretty sure no code would ever resist his sagacity.

Sam felt bad for all of two seconds when Dean told him about his theft – technically more of an opportunity seized, in Dean's opinion – but his curiosity got the better of him, the challenge combined with his need to decipher the code and to help Dean.

They recruited Bobby to assist them when some of the hidden words proved too alien for Sam's knowledge, needing a professor's expertise. He too sent them a look that seemed to mean they should be ashamed of themselves, right before he started working on it.

With his support, they narrowed their search over a few specific questions that had left Sam floundering, supernatural topics neither he nor Dean had ever heard about : the Willis, the Wiht (probably an old English version of Wight, Bobby surmised), or some other thing called Sarramauca… Dean passed on to them both his certainty that they had to learn quickly about Samuel's intentions, this feeling of urgent need to be prepared for whatever the professor was about to throw at them.

It turned out Dean was right.

-------------

She opened her eyes to a darkened world. Her dulled awareness felt completely in sync with the absence of colors.

She didn't recognize her surroundings. Trees and leaves outside of the wall walk she stood up on, bare feet on a floor covered in what seemed to be osier. Nothing like the parquet floors of her parents' house or the stony ground of the university.

She needed Sam to make everything right. He was the only one who could made sense of everything, this place, the bottomless anger she felt at being alone when she needed him. He would make everything right. He would.

He would take her in his arms and make her feel safe again. He would love her and take her back to where she belonged. Together, against the rest of the world, in the nothingness that was now her common, truly blessed life.

-------------

He cried in pain, a pain of the likes he had never known, but no one heard him, not even himself, over the beast's roars of pleasure and the encouragements of the women watching with delight the sacrifice promising them their gods' good will and love. Each time the beast pushed some more inside his body, Sam felt himself split in two, his flesh and muscles giving way under the assault, his mind losing any coherency to fall into a world of madness in which he could try to rejoin his dead comrades – he could see Dean get back up, zombie-like, to support him, followed by Professor Singer, but not before he had helped Jenn and Meg up. All of them, except for Professor Campbell, approaching to offer their love in this terrible moment when he was molded forcefully into something new, changed into a new shape. He looked ridiculous. A man resembling a monster, bloody and feral.

"Sam ! Sammy, it's just a bad dream, you're safe with me. Come on, wake up now !"

He opened his eyes and saw Dean watching him, remembering none of this had ever happened, nothing so bad anyway, because Dean had talked the Amazons into allowing them to make love instead of being raped by a dinosaur, saving his body and future at the same time.

But still, something felt wrong. Laying his head on Dean's chest, he tried to go back to sleep, soothed by his brother's heartbeat and his beguiling scent.

It was suddenly so cold in their room, his breath an opaque shadow in the still mostly dark night. He hadn't felt this cold since long before their arrival on the plateau.

Dean had picked up on it too. His heartbeat quickened, his muscles tensed. When a low, mesmerizing song began to fill the silence, he sat up and rummaged for something on their nightstand, soon lighting up the wick of their oil lamp.

The hissing sound abruptly replacing the song had them both turning their head towards a corner of the room to take in the tall, slender young woman standing there. Her white nightgown over skin so pale, the long blonde hair floating freely on her back, her whole appearance screamed ghost at Sam even more than the fact that this particular woman's presence in his bedroom should have been impossible. He squinted to make sure he was not mistaken, hardly recognizing her smile, so hungry and harsh, so different than Jess's happy and carefree attitude.

Dean put a hand on his shoulder and the hissing got stronger, in time with the storm unexpectedly brewing outside and the lightning shedding light on all things. Jess was pissed. She was very pissed.

She was on him in a second, kissing him hungrily, cold and inhumanly strong, forcing his mouth open like she never did when she was alive.

And then she disappeared. Sam blinked, only seeing Dean holding the special long iron knife he had explained one day was useful to disseminate ghosts. He had also said it wasn't a permanent solution. They needed to burn the piece of Jess he still retained that had allowed her to come back.

"The lock of hair in my fountain pen," he realized, "we have to burn it."

"Go, run," Dean insisted, "I'll take care of it."

Dean had seen it and he knew what to look for. He had never said he thought it was a rather terrible gift ; he didn't want to damage Sam's memories of the girl nor ask for a story Sam was obviously not prepared to talk about, but he wouldn't miss the shady thing.

Sam didn't run far before Jess caught up with him. He wished he had taken the time to put on at least some trousers, feeling very vulnerable when she pushed him against one of the wooden pillars sustaining the wall walk surrounding the house and kissed him again, her grip so tight on him that he couldn't escape or move in the slightest.

He felt her hard and cold body against his, nothing to do with the lovely, athletic girl he could remember, locking him effectively in place as one of her hands started to roam all over his chest and then lower, taken by a sexual frenzy he couldn't match that made him physically ill.

"Hey, you wench, stop with the tonsillectomy !" Dean yelled before he brought his lighter to the strand of hair he had taken out of a small casing in the pen's reservoir.

The hair consumed immediately and the ghost kind of hiccupped but Dean's smile disappeared just as quickly when she went back to molesting Sam as if her life depended on it. Which was kind of stupid when talking about a ghost. Unless… unless it was the plan, using Sam's life essence to build her own back up.

Her mouth descended on his neck, lips open to create a fierce suction and Sam felt worse as his life force was drained away.

Even in the very dim light of their lamp and that offered by the lightning, Dean was able to witness Sam getting paler by the second and he was desperately out of ideas to get rid of the persistent and unusual ghost.

"Dean !" Bobby appeared behind him from nowhere, attracted by the commotion and closely followed by Jenn and Meg, "I think this might be one of those Willis Campbell mentions in his journal."

"Does he say how to kill them ?"

"No, but I can try to come up with a counter spell."

"Do it !"

Dean only recognized a few of the words Bobby began to utter.

"…ex corporis… vade retro… incursio magna… audi nos…"

"Dean," Sam rasped, "can't breathe…"

Dean ran back into the bedroom to fetch his iron knife while Bobby continued to intone a spell in Latin which seemed to have little to no effect. Dean ran again and temporarily pulverized the ghost who reappeared in front of Bobby and sent him sprawling.

Jenn immediately replaced him with the spell – she had always been so much better than Dean with languages – and found herself attacked too, pushed over the balcony to certain death if Meg hadn't reacted so swiftly to break her fall and pull her up.

Dean was torn between joining them and going to help Sam as the ghost had materialized again next to him, hands roaming over his naked body and sucking life from him like a vampire would drain blood. Sam tried once again to resist, his hands closing on her hair to push her back. She didn't like the feeling, that much was obvious in the roar she emitted before she plunged once again as if to eat him whole in one big mouthful, squeezing his body tight against hers with both hands applied on his butt.

Dean had a moment of inspiration and certainty ; he knew that was it, that Sam had found the solution. Like the Samson of the bible, Jess' current hair had to be destroyed, and not some souvenir of the once-living girl, to touch the source of the apparition's power. He searched for his lighter that had disappeared somewhere during the battle, too conscious of Sam's wheezing sounds to be really efficient, but something must have clicked with Bobby too, slowly regaining full consciousness, who found the object next to his still-sprawled body and picked it up for him.

Lighter ablaze, Dean approached from behind the ghost that had already begun to gain firmer consistency and lit the tip of her hair aflame. Immediately, the woman let go of Sam and screamed, head of hair going up in flame before her body turned to ashes and disappeared forever.

Sam fell into Dean's open arms, weak and wrecked by the events.

"I got you, Sammy, you're safe. She won't come back."

As soon as Sam felt strong enough to stand on his own, Dean loosened his grip and walked him back to their bed where he sat down next to him, one arm around his shoulders to show his support. And possibly to assure himself that Sam was safe with him. He pulled on the light covers and tied them around their waists in the manner of a loincloth to hide their nakedness.

"Her name is Jess," Sam volunteered while the other explorers sat around. "Was Jess, Jessica Moore. She was my fiancée."

Dean sent him a questioning look.

"Back during college, I met this beautiful girl – I simply bumped into her. We had these fantastic conversations about everything – she was the dean's daughter and had access to as many courses and books as she wanted. Her very liberal upbringing had her coming to me in the first place when I proved too shy to talk to a woman I hadn't been introduced to. Every student flirted with her with more or less intent, some even courted her, but she seemed to be interested only in me, maybe because I didn't try to force her hand or didn't play any part to look good. We dated for a while, and then she was the one who said we should get married, knowing I would take forever to make that decision, despite all the logical reasons to do it : we were a lot alike, we loved to learn and we wanted to travel. We would have made a great team, I think. I realize now that my feelings for her weren't as deep as I imagined, but I still loved her."

Dean deposited a kiss on his brother's head, reminded of other moments of their childhood when he had consoled a very young Sam after a big booboo. This time, though, was not only about the support, a lot of the gesture designed to reestablish that Sam now belonged to him, and not some girl turned ghost who had once claimed Sam's heart for herself.

"So what happened ?" Dean asked in a rusty voice, half-jealous and half-sad for Sam at the gloomy ending he could see was coming for his brother's first love.

"She died and we never understood why or even how. She was found burned in her room, while everything else around her was still intact. She must have suffered so much, and she was all alone."

"And now she's come back to get you," Dean concluded.

Sam looked stricken.

"I don't understand why, Dean. She was not that kind of person. She would have been happy for me that I found you."

"I hear what you're saying, but ghosts are different creatures, Sammy. They're kind of trapped between two worlds, and sometimes it makes them so pissed off that they strike at everything getting in their way, including the people they used to love. Plus this one clearly needed your life essence to make a comeback into this world."

Dean couldn't help but shiver in retrospective fear.

"Do you think it's my fault ?" Sam worried. "That I had something to do with her being killed and… trapped ?"

"What ?! No, of course no. Why would you think that ?"

Sam remembered a time when he wouldn't even have understood or admitted tonight's apparition was a ghost, that someone could be brought back from the dead. He would have theorized that the woman found burned was someone else and that Jessica had somehow lost her mind, attacking him in a fit of jealousy. Searched for another, scientific way to explain the swiftness with which her ghostly body had burned away. But here he was now, questioning his own involvement in her fate.

"I was her fiancé, I pledged my faith to her, and tonight she came after me."

"Were you unfaithful to her when you were together ?"

"No! Of course no."

"Did you attack her, burn her, or do anything harmful to her that caused her death ?"

"You know I didn't."

"Then there you go. She might be pissed that you stopped living like a monk, but you're not the reason she died, nor why she came back tonight."

"So what is ? Is that what you meant when you said that you were here to make sure Professor Campbell didn't summon something bad ?"

"Absolu… Son of a bitch ! He did it ! And he targeted you !"

Dean's fury was so palpable that even Sam felt a bit of fright. His brother stood up and flew out of the room, yelling "Where is he ? Where's that sack of shit ?!" as if possessed himself. Sam tried to follow but his legs were like jelly and he had to accept Jenn's help for the first few steps.

By the time they found his brother, Dean had gone through every room of the Tree house and discovered Campbell was missing. Dean was still furious, and a lot pissed at himself for not thinking of Campbell's involvement earlier, even though Sam's ordeal and his subsequent confession about his former fiancée easily explained his temporary slowness.

They didn't see him before the next morning, when Dean threw himself at the older man and nearly choked him, prevented from doing so only by Sam and Bobby's gripping his arms to force him to let go.

"What the hell ?!" Campbell demanded.

"I knew we couldn't trust you ! You always had your own agenda, and you almost got Sam killed, you giant dick !"

"Watch your language, boy, and get off me. I didn't do anything to Sam."

"Really ? So you didn't invoke those Willis ? No vengeful spirits like Sam's late fiancée who tried to strangle him last night and feed off him ?"

"What ?!"

Campbell turned to Sam and stared at him.

"So even in your heart… I had so many great hopes for you, Sam, and you threw it all away."

It wasn't a clear acknowledgement of what he had done but everyone took it that way.

"I know that's how you feel," Sam answered softly. "But you never asked what I wanted, Professor. You warned me many times against Dean, but you never wondered about my own intentions and dreams, never imagined I could want him too."

"Then I'm glad Jessica came for you and I wish she had punished you the way you deserve."

Sam felt the words like a punch to the stomach.

"You can't mean that !"

"I do, just like I wish both you and Dean had died instead of Mary."

Campbell turned tail and went back to his own room.

-------------

Meg didn't wait to be asked before she went to Castiel's village to bring him back to the Tree. Halfway there, she found the shaman already on the road, riding his dinosaur who had sensed before anyone else that his human would be needed and showed up in front of his cabin. Castiel had followed, just like he had done every other time Dashel had showed up to take him somewhere.

Right after Dean had related the attack on Sam, Bobby told him he suspected the apparition to be a Willis.

"I think this is what we call Thy Nah," Castiel recognized, eyes closed to communicate with nature, "but some kind I've never seen. I feel strong black magic at work here. Someone forced this spirit out of her rest, though I don't understand why."

"Black magic ?" Sam repeated. "So does it mean she wasn't willing to harm me ?"

"Probably not. I don't know if she was obliged to attack, if the spell was responsible for maddening her, but I doubt she really felt so betrayed by your relationship with Dean that it pushed her to act that way."

"She was not the kind of woman to make a scene or to become violent. She had too much class for this. This attitude doesn't resemble her at all."

"So who did that to her ?" Dean asked, voicing everyone's question. "And why ? As sure as I feel that Samuel did the spell, I can't see what profit it will yield for him."

"Maybe it hasn't come to pass yet. Or maybe he simply failed in his spell, and Jessica was not who he intended to bring back."

"That's what I imagined !" Dean approved. "You're right, he's always wanted to bring back my mother. But why this spell ? Dad wasn't unfaithful."

"Unless he knows something you don't," Jenn softly said in a voice that was already an excuse for suggesting such a possibility.

"No," Dean persisted. "My father's flaws were numerous, but cheating wasn't one of them. And he loved Mom, whatever Samuel always tried to imply. It broke his heart when she left. Not to mention she wasn't a virgin, Sam and I are the best proof."

"Evidently," Bobby seconded him with a light blush to his face, "but that might explain why the spell went wrong. These Willis we read about in Campbell's journal ? They're known around the world under different names, Wilis, Wiles, Samodivas… and ignoring the slight differences from one tale to another, all versions pretty much amount to spirits of fiancées who died before the wedding, female vampires with long blond hair as their source of power, who kill young men often by dancing with them until they drop. Basically, angry virgins who come back to exercise their vengeance over their unfaithful lover. Campbell's goal might have been to bring back a younger Mary, one who hadn't married John Winchester yet. He probably modified the spell in order to try and avoid the vampire-sucking-the-life-out-of-young-men part, but then it backfired. That's how you get a pissed off virgin trying to entice her lost beloved to the great beyond with her."

"So you're all sure it wasn't Jess' will that brought her here ?"

"Absolutely, Samuel," Castiel confirmed. "Otherwise, every remarried widower around the world would be visited by their dead first wives. You don't have to worry about it happening ever again. She's back to the souls' resting place now."

 

December 13th

My two great loves met and everything went wrong. It could have been the climactic scene of a raunchy vaudeville, the moment when one's wife and lover face each other and the audience can't stop laughing at his misfortune, but it turned into something quite different. Take a dead fiancée in lieu of the wife, and a found-again brother to play the lover, and you get some tragic and quite fantastic story in the manner of a Poe tale.

And I was, of course, cast in the part of the damsel in distress who needs to be saved by all her friends. Which is getting old and rancid, quickly.

But then at least I was indeed saved.

Dean is certain that our grandfather is to blame for Jessica's ghostly reappearance and it seems he's right, even though the professor didn't really confess to any wrongdoing. I'm left reeling, trapped between confusing feelings awakened by Samuel's actions and hateful words, and even more by the memory of Jess trying to kill me. I guess it will take time to reconcile the gentle love we used to share and the furious image of a vengeful Willis.

-------------

That night, Sam lay awake for a long while before Dean joined him. He had gone to bed early, so weary after the previous night's ordeal, but sleep was ignoring him. He didn't know if he was more afraid of the nightmares or the possibility of Jess reappearing and trying to suck his life out of him.

All he knew was that his need for Dean felt bigger than ever. This was why he had disrobed entirely before going to bed, despite his shame at having been seen naked once more by pretty much everyone in the Tree and the risk it might happen again in case of danger. But then Dean had been seen, too, and he didn't seem fazed by it one bit.

"Where were you ?" Sam asked, his tone almost accusing, when his brother finally held the sheet up to take his place next to him.

"Talking with Bobby. Making sure you're safe."

Dean's arms encircled Sam's body, in a gesture that had become the most natural thing in the world for them, and got him on his side, face against Dean's chest, with a sigh of happiness.

"Are we ? Safe, I mean."

"Think so. Castiel swung by again to bring hex bags he's sure will protect us from intruders. For good measure, Bobby and I added a few spells to try and deter any wicked stuff Samuel could get up to. And Jenn tried to make me drink the local equivalent of chamomile tea, which I gently but clearly refused. She wanted to offer some to you too but I told her you were asleep already. Why aren't you asleep ?"

"The bed felt too empty."

"You needed big manly me to feel safe, sweetheart ?"

Sam gave him a slap on top of his right thigh to make sure Dean understood he was not to be confused with one of the many girls he had slept with and he didn't have much of a taste for his brother's sense of humor.

"Say that again and big manly you will land on the floor, ass first."

The threat wasn't particularly ominous, the floor being so close, and Dean took it in jest.

"Ah, where's the love ?"

"You tell me. It's your job to make me forget everything else."

"I think I know just the way."

Sam found himself on his back again, his big brother leaning down above him to find his mouth and make out for a long while, distracting Sam from all his worries and troubles with his talented tongue and warm hands.

Soon Sam began feeling like his body was too tight to contain him and his need for Dean. He whined involuntarily, arching his back and pushing his hips against Dean's to make his desire as clear as possible, encouraging Dean to do the same. He could only compare these moments of bliss to a dazzling and far too short fever that left him weak but satiated, a thirst that only Dean could quench. Nothing felt as right as Dean's body rubbing against him, marking him once more as his, day after day.

Dean's mouth descended upon his neck, teeth and lips offering soft tingling kisses on his heated skin, as his hand found Sam's balls to massage them in time with his thrusts against Sam's groin. Sam's breath became shallow and difficult but it just pushed him to increase the friction to enhance all sensations.

He hiccupped like a drunken man, desperately reaching for air, when Dean's fingers wandered further and found his hole. They stopped at gentle caresses to avoid bringing up particular memories of the sacrifice and scare him. Gentle but insistent, in true Dean fashion, coaxing along rather than pushing.

"Inside," Sam pleaded. "Get them inside me. Please."

Instead, Dean brought his hand to Sam's mouth and Sam thought for a second that Dean was denying him until he remembered the need for lubricant. He opened up and wrapped his tongue around his brother's fingers for as long as necessary before Dean deemed them wet enough. Or maybe the gauge was all about Sam being turned on enough to accept the digital penetration.

Whatever. The fingers found his entrance again and one pushed in just as gently as they had rubbed. Sam quickly realized he was clenching his ass cheeks despite his incredible level of lust and did his best to welcome Dean inside him. The tip of Dean's thumb kept stroking his balls and it helped in a huge way to relax him enough to open up.

He was able this time to concentrate exclusively on the feelings brought by Dean's intrusion, instead of worrying about their audience, and it felt so damn good. Weird and sexy at the same time, the excitement of giving himself voluntarily to someone else for the first time nearly overwhelming. He pushed back, forcing Dean's finger deeper inside him.

He wanted them all in him already. Not his cock, not yet, he didn't feel ready for that today, and he knew Dean was aware of his limit, the total invasion that would make him a victim once again.

But he wanted all the rest, to feel full with Dean's fingers, leaving behind the fears and the loneliness, a contact so tight and close that no one else could come between them.

"Get another one in !" he ordered, and Dean obliged.

Maybe it was too early and Dean should have worked him open longer before he ventured with a second digit, but Sam loved it. He surrendered to Dean's heated kisses, let Dean's tongue make love to his and enter his mouth in the same dance the fingers were enacting deep inside him. But two soon didn't seem enough anymore, and Sam begged for a third one.

Dean granted his wish, adding the third finger, and not long after a fourth one, without any prompting this time. Sam tried to push back against the fingers to get them further in and at the same time up against Dean's cock to enhance the frottage. He felt so uncoordinated, but Dean didn't fare that much better, close to losing it, or so he said.

"Now, Sam, now, you got to let go… won't be able to last much longer !"

It felt too good to let it go, but then Sam's body betrayed him, exploding in delightful waves and sparks of pleasure at the next touch of Dean's fingers against his prostate. A few seconds later, a splash of come against his belly brought him back to the world, and then Dean moved away, slowly slipping next to him to lie on his back.

Breathing laborious, they took the time to calm down. Sam was the first one to move, taking one of the soft vegetal towels he had weaved for this purpose to clean them both of the come staining them before he turned towards Dean and brought his arm around his waist. In return, Dean encircled his shoulders and brought him closer.

"I love to see you getting so much better."

Which meant I love you in Dean speak. Sam didn't really mind that his brother had a hard time saying words of love. Translation was easy when your lover kept his arms tight around you and looked at you as if you were the eighth wonder of his world.

"I love you too," he answered, and Dean closed his eyes.

Sam didn't mind Dean's inability to take words of love at face value either.

He knew he was loved, unconditionally. Verbal appreciation wasn't needed. He would enjoy it, but he didn't need it. And he had the rest of their lives to get Dean to open up.

-------------

Samuel made himself scarce in the next few weeks, spending his days out and taking his meals in his room. Everyone was quite relieved about it, if only because it meant that the frantic research to make sure he couldn't ever cast the Willis spell again, not against them anyway, was facilitated by his absence.

Castiel's help was paramount as usual. He sent Meg and Jenn looking for particular plants and items needed to create broad-effect hex bags. Bobby and Dean never missed one word of his teaching, and Sam discovered he was getting quite proficient at this too, putting his great memory and inquisitive mind to good use.

They made a break for Christmas, deciding to retain a measure of normalcy by celebrating one of the big holidays with the best menu the plateau could offer. No sturgeon caviar ? The eggs of the billo fish, bigger but so tasty, made for a good replacement. Short on the chicken breast in cream sauce and filet mignon served with mashed potatoes and asparagus tips ? The trill consommé, followed by stegosaurus steak and varied herbs, might have fooled a gourmet's palate. Lack of a three-tiered cake ? Easily remedied thanks to the frozen gunja fruits found in deep sealed caverns.

Of course, they had already decided to renew the experience on New Year's Eve, to try once again to dispel the thought of all the people who were missing them, who were probably wondering if they were still alive somewhere after so many months without news, maybe in need of help no one was able to bring them. None of the explorers could face the idea that maybe those people had given up on them, writing them all off, never to be seen again. Dead in the name of science, forgotten along the thousands and thousands of unsuccessful people, savants and researchers of all fields, who could never show to a thrilled audience the marvels and secrets they had discovered or conquered.

A joyful dinner was much needed to quell such fears, but the supernatural knocked at their door again before they had even finished the preparations.

-------------

Jenn felt out of breath. Worse, she felt as if she couldn't breathe anymore, not enough at least to fill her lungs and survive.

She batted away Meg's arm and the hand loosely curved around her right breast. Meg turned over, facing the wall, but Jenn was still unable to move, as if a terrible weight had settled on her chest, preventing her from sitting up.

She opened her eyes to chase the nightmare away in the clear skies of a full-moon night and let out a breathless cry of shock.

"Eddy ?"

The snarling figure of her deceased husband sat upon her, crushing her ribcage with all his weight. His hands fondled her naked breast for a second, before one went to her hair, forcing her head up to reveal her throat that the other squeezed so tight she felt the last few ounces of air in her rush out through her open mouth. She couldn't even move her own arms, control lost over her limbs.

She began to black out and she knew the end had come. Eddy was here to claim her back.

A guttural cry answered that thought, and she lifted heavy eyelids to see Meg, her angel, holding a flaming torch in the place where Eddy had been seconds prior.

"Dean !" Meg yelled again and again until he appeared, gun in one hand and iron knife in the other.

Sam was right behind him, holding a slowly burning bowl of plants they had collected together, common fennel and hawthorn, exotic harish and polltta, and already reciting some invocation he had learned from Castiel.

Weakly, in the dim light of the storm lantern lit by Dean, Jenn moved to put on the colorful poncho-style shirt she had been offered by Castiel's tribe, similar to the one Meg was wearing. As the professors came in too, Meg stayed close, still freaked by what she had witnessed, her own herbal torch ready to be used again to disperse Eddy's ghost.

And then all hell let loose.

A powerful gust of wind threw everyone away save for herself. But then she felt her feet leave the floor, Eddy's powerful arms lifting her before he ran towards the elevator. She tried to take hold of the walls or anything heavy enough to stop their course until her friends could get back up and come to her rescue, but the ghost, or whatever new supernatural creature Campbell had invoked this time, was far too determined to let her go.

She wondered why the thing that wore Eddy's beloved face needed the elevator to get her out instead of simply taking the plunge towards the forest ground or disappearing and reappearing down there with her in tow. Maybe her own corporality prevented it from doing just that. Maybe it just wanted to block the others up the Tree, make them lose time calling the elevator back up and then down again to chase after them. If this was the case, it meant this ghost didn't really know Dean Winchester, who would find some other way to get down despite the great dislike of height he thought he hid so well but had been evident to Jenn since they were kids. And Meg… Meg wouldn't let her go so easily either. She had ropes stacked all around the house, ready to be thrown over the balcony to slide down to the forest ground.

For all her faith in her friends, Jenn was beginning to feel dizzy again, the arms around her back and chest squeezing too tight to let her breathe sufficiently. She needed help now, before she passed out and died, before the monster looking so much like Eddy, scratchy moustache included, took her too far for Dean and the others to find and save her.

The ghost came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the forest. Jenn willed herself to turn her head to see what was happening and she saw Castiel on Dashel – the dinosaur with the ridiculous bits of external ears that always brought a smile to her face, because no other dinosaurs of his family had anything close to it, and why was she thinking that in this terrible moment !

She was possibly delirious from the lack of air already. She shook her head several times to clear her ideas.

Cas was facing Eddy with his hand raised, chanting in his own language words that had an immediate effect on the ghost. Jenn felt the compression hurting her slowly giving, and soon she slid down to the leaf-covered ground, trying with all her might to keep track of what was happening instead of welcoming the sweet oblivion beckoning her.

She felt hands on her shoulders lifting her up to lie against the body of her lover, heard the combined voices of Sam and Bobby Singer mixing with Castiel's. She saw Dean, in a sowing-like movement, drawing a circle of plants around the ghost stuck in place by the incantation, and then setting alight the delineated perimeter at the risk of seeing the whole forest go up in flames.

She could guess that the special fire was there to contain to their plane the ghost and its unnatural power when the words changed after that, now exuding lethal aggressiveness, and Dean joined the other men to add his own power to the spell to send the spirit back where it belonged. She heard Meg behind her reciting in time with them all and Jenn fought to find her own voice, to repeat the words in her turn.

Her eyes widened as the creature began to crack and crumble, eroding from the tips of gloved fingers to the top of its head into a fine dust. It seemed to try to gather again in the form of a small tornado, but the incantation, as a barrage fire, kept the grains apart until they lost power and intent, disappearing back into the great beyond.

As soon as the ghost was over and done with, Dashel jumped and stomped on the real fire to put it out. He extinguished the last embers with his tail, making sure without any human prompting that his forest was safe after all those shenanigans.

Jenn finally felt safe enough to let herself go against Meg's soft body and close her eyes. She opened them up again only when she heard Dean's voice.

"Cas ! Thanks, man," Dean saluted the shaman, who had now dismounted, with a squeeze of his shoulder. "Glad you got our phone call."

"I do not know what a phone call is, but I didn't need it. I felt a great disturbance in the Flow and decided to patrol around the Tree, all night if needed."

"Well, thank the Flow, then ! But I wish it would get rid of this disturbance once and for all. I'm getting tired of those Willis crashing our beauty sleep."

"Tonight's ghost didn't belong to the Willis, I think. I tried a combination of anti-spells. The words that achieved sending it back to its realm came from the one against what we call LeiSh."

"LeiSh ? What are they ?"

"Spirits manifesting during sleep, sitting on your chest to stop your breath with their weight. They are also responsible for nightmares."

"We know those too in my world," Bobby said. "They're called Mara, or Mare – they ride on a person's chest when they're asleep, and they bring nightmares, hence the name. They're generally pegged for feminine spirits, though, which was clearly not the case here."

"Gender has nothing to do with any of this. Unless the one calling the LeiSh to our plane of existence expresses his clear will in this matter."

This seemed to remind Dean of Jenn's encounter with the phantom of her dead husband. He closed the distance to crouch down in front of her, taking her hands in his.

"Do you feel good enough to stand ?"

She nodded her answer, letting Dean and Meg help her up. Then she made the mistake to look him in the eye and saw the sad compassion aimed at her. She crumpled instantly.

"I can't… Dean – Eddy, he hates me, I can't live with that."

Dean closed his arms around her and pushed her face against his chest as she cried, cradling the back of her head in his hand.

"Shhh, sweetheart. He doesn't hate you. I know how much that man loved you, and it's not something death can take away. He loved you a hundred times more than he loved himself, and you know that means something with those aristocrats who all think they are the sharpest tool in the shed !"

Jenn couldn't help a laughing sob as he went on.

"So don't you worry your pretty head, and remember it's the same thing as Jess the other day, just some tricky spell perverted by my grandfather. I'm sorry he put you through this."

"Why are you still accusing me ?" Professor Campbell asked. "I was sleeping in my bedroom, I've got nothing to do with this."

"He's telling the truth, Dean," Bobby confirmed. "We were both awakened by Meg's shouts."

Jenn turned her face to the dim light of the dawn rising, gauging the professor. Dean was so tense against her chest, she didn't doubt that he didn't believe for one second in his grandfather's innocence. Her own knowledge about spells wasn't good enough to prove it, but she felt certain that if there was a way to delay a spell to make it look like you hadn't cast it, this man could find it.

"I take it this was your husband ?" Sam asked from closer than she had seen him coming while she was lost in her thoughts.

He seemed torn between the empathy he had to feel, knowing exactly what she had gone through, and the jealousy induced by seeing her in Dean's arms. She wanted to reassure him but Dean beat her to it.

"Lord Edward Shore. Upstanding guy and devoted husband. Killed in 1902 in the second Boer war."

"He didn't want to go there," Jenn reminisced, "he didn't believe in that war. We had so little precious time together."

Smoothly, Dean disentangled himself and gave his place to Meg, who took Jenn in her own arms immediately.

"Darling," Meg said, "I don't want to hurt you, but if he died at war, are you sure his body was laid to rest ?"

"Yes, I am. The war was over by the time we received the news. So my parents, Dean, and I, we travelled down to South Africa and brought his body back with us."

"I checked," Dean added. "It was definitely Edward, and I made sure no funny stuff was used to embalm his body and that his organs were cremated. He now rests in a peaceful place, in the cemetery of the village where he was born. In a coffin protected by the most powerful sigils."

"Why didn't you have him entirely cremated ?" Bobby wondered.

"Because Edward didn't want it," Jenn said, "and I asked Dean to respect his wishes and find the next best solution."

"So that's it ?" Meg insisted. "Jess and Edward, they were just freaky incidents and we can now sleep soundly ?"

"Well, I'm not sold on the incident theory," Dean said, sarcasm dripping from his voice. "First thing I saw when I came in was that the hex bags in your room have disappeared, which seems to prove me right. Do you have something to say about this, Samuel ?"

"Again with that ?! I already told you I was asleep."

Everybody was looking at the professor with suspicion, including Castiel.

"Even if I was able to cast such a spell," Campbell continued, "then why would I try to get a man back ? You heard the shaman, he said it himself."

"That's not exactly what I said," Castiel denied. "You're misinterpreting my words on purpose."

Jenn turned away from the men's quarrel, too conflicted and rattled with her own anguished thoughts.

She had deeply loved two men in her life, two worth mentioning among the ones who had played a part in her love life as an adult woman most men seemed to find pretty and reasonably pleasant and entertaining.

Edward, the first, had been her everything. He had taught her love, had given her such happiness she thought unattainable on this planet. His death had taken it all away.

Dean, her best friend of many years, for all his love had made her feel incomplete in his unending quest for his lost brother, like she would never be enough for someone else than her dead husband. Like her life was already over somehow before she was even 25 years old.

Now she had Meg, and she didn't dare to get too attached. What if they found a way back home ? What of them if Meg decided to remain on the plateau where she had lived most of her life ? How could Jenn survive another loss of such magnitude, even with Dean by her side to console her ? Dean who now had Sam and didn't confide in her that much anymore. Who would want to live with Sam and offer him the world, follow all the dreams he had entertained for years.

She had to be brave and live from day to day, until she regained her bearings. Make the best of this situation and enjoy life.

The life she had been so close to losing.

She turned to the shaman, rudely interrupting Professor Campbell without a smidgen of remorse.

"Thank you, Castiel. I don't know where I'd be without you."

"You're welcome," he answered casually. "Now, will you explain to me what a phone call is ?"

-------------

Dean knew he had to take measures to protect everyone better than they had done so far. Sam still wasn't entirely convinced that their grandfather was guilty but Dean didn't have any doubt, and it needed to stop now, before someone got badly wounded or killed.

He arranged to get away with Bobby for a little while to talk about the problem at hand, meeting with Cas in the forest. He preferred to leave Sam out of the loop for the moment, up until he could prove Samuel's guilt to him without the slightest possibility of error.

"There's no way it's not him," Bobby approved when Dean told him why Sam wasn't with them. "Each creature that keeps appearing, he talks about in his journal. I read this old grimoire, a long time ago, and Castiel telling us yesterday about the LeiSh jogged my memory : this last spirit, that we call Mare in English, is the equivalent of the Sarramauca from Occitania. I think Campbell used lesser-known names in his journal, mainly to protect himself and his research, in case someone found it and managed to translate his code. That's why we had a hard time understanding what he was looking for when we deciphered the Sarramauca word in the middle of seemingly generic spells and other topics."

"You could have told me that to convince me, you know."

Everybody turned, startled, to look at Sam standing a few feet away.

"If you don't want me to follow you," Sam added for his brother and Bobby as he approached the circle of conspirators, "try to act less cagey and more natural."

Dean recovered first.

"I don't want to force you into actions you don't approve of. You'd be a liability. You could get killed."

"The only way for me to be a liability," Sam countered with a frown and a stormy tone, "is if I'm kept apart. I need to know everything to make the right decisions and defend us against danger. I need to play my part, just like you."

The brothers' wills fought and clashed for a moment through intense stares, until Dean capitulated, relieved to have his brother back at his side.

"Alright. Do you believe now that Samuel is the one behind the apparitions ?"

"Before you answer that," Bobby intervened, "you should know that even if Campbell was indeed there with us this time, all the hex bags we stocked, all around the house, and that Castiel had created for us, have now disappeared. I can't imagine anyone other than him having a reason to do that. He didn't do anything to help us stop the Sarramauca. It seems to me it all adds up."

"So," Dean repeated, "do you believe me ?"

"I do. Now what are we gonna do about it ? We don't have the luxury of a prison to throw him in and guards to keep him and make sure he won't get the ingredients to cast any more spells."

"Simple," Bobby said. "We have to create a global protective counter-spell that will keep everything at bay. One that Campbell doesn't know about and has no way to dismantle."

"Don't forget it should also be long-lasting," Castiel reminded him, as if the task wasn't daunting enough already.

 

December 28th

We had a new surprise last night : Jenn's late husband paid us a visit and tried to kill her.

First a Willis, now a Sarramauca. A mare. No one remarked about it, but that Professor Campbell named his dinosaur Mare now makes even more sense. I thought at first it was short for Mary, his beloved daughter, but I'm pretty sure it also means that his plan for using a mare spell was already in place before we headed for the mine. Possibly much longer than that, before we ever got on the plateau.

Who was he trying to summon this time ? A man, certainly. Whoever was the intended target, poor Jenn almost paid the ultimate price. Hearing about the sad ending to her love story with Edward Shore makes me want to cling to Dean and protect him. He deserves all the best in the world and I will do anything to give it to him.

-------------

Castiel had been warned that one of the male all-dressed foreigners was waiting for him at the entrance of the village, which was a curious attitude. Dean was usually the one visiting him, with a reason or not to do so, and he was now far past the time when he still asked permission to go through the village to find him. Everyone was used to him and most enjoyed his quirky and irreverent personality. Those who did not were generally too stunned by his whirlwind moods to say something, and too respectful of Castiel to demand that his foreigner friend be forbidden access.

Probably Sam then, or maybe Professor Singer. Hopefully Dean wasn't sick and in need of Castiel's healing knowledge.

But it was Professor Campbell waiting for him. Castiel hadn't seen him since Dean had accused his much-despised grandfather of summoning Jenn's dead husband and, unless he could use the opportunity to find out something interesting about the professor's scheme, he wasn't sure how he felt about socializing with this man whose moral compass seemed to lead him down a road Castiel heartily disapproved of.

Still, there was only one reason he could imagine why Samuel Campbell would visit him.

"Did something happen to Dean ?" Castiel asked.

He had the distinct impression that the other man altered his next words because of his question.

"In fact, yes. We were visiting a cavern closer to here than the Tree when Dean slipped and broke his arm. I'm not a doctor, that's why I thought about you. I'm sure your talents will be much more useful than mine."

"Very well. Let me get my medicine and we'll go there immediately."

Castiel was ready in less than five minutes. He wondered about the professor's honesty but found he couldn't take the risk to leave Dean unattended if indeed he was wounded.

Back at the village's entrance, Samuel held out a hand for Castiel to ride behind him on his dinosaur's back. Castiel didn't accept before he looked Mare right in the eye – the animal had a fierce temper, Castiel had seen her throw her rider down on two occasions when he was being what Dean would call an ass, and the professor had said she was just as recalcitrant as his late daughter – and he felt it was safe to climb on her back.

"I'm surprised Dean and you decided to spend time together, especially these days," Castiel mused as they were making their way to the cavern.

"We figured we couldn't let all this animosity grow any more between us. We're family. We have to find a way to live together."

"That's very mature of you both. I'm still surprised, but glad for this turn of events. Family is very important to Dean."

He received no answer and the trip went on without any other exchange, not even one of those meaningless conversations so many men and women were fond of.

They dismounted at the cavern's entrance and Campbell led the way, their hesitant and stumbling steps along the gravel-cluttered ground of the tunnel eased by the light of day on one end and the artificial kind glowing irregularly where it turned into a cavern.

"Samuel !" Dean's angry voice resounded, echoed through the tunnel. "You let me go right now, you hear me, or God help me, I won't have a grandfather anymore by the time I'm out of here !"

"What is this ?" Castiel stopped and asked.

"He's pissed I forced him to stay here and wait till I got help. Come, he will be happy to see you."

It was very untoward that his significant friendship with Dean pushed him to go on as requested, instead of turning back to get help when all his being urged him to do so. But Castiel had ceased trying to understand what made Dean Winchester such a fascinating character, one he was prepared to do anything for.

He continued walking down the tunnel behind the professor.

The man-made light became much more efficient as they approached their goal and soon they entered the cavern Castiel had visited more than once, walls painted yellow and red by the dancing flames of the torches animating the ancient drawings made by faraway ancestors of the plateau's tribes. Campbell went directly to Dean and pulled without concern on his left arm that Dean kept bent and close to his body. The right one was already pulled over his head, wrist encircled in a strange bracelet tied to its twin, looped around a hole in the rock.

"You bastard !" Dean accused his grandfather, while gritting his teeth in pain, "I told you not to involve him in our quarrel."

"And I told you to stay put, but I see you managed to detach your ankles. Now Dean, this is not a very polite welcome for our friend who came all this way to heal you."

"I am not a magician," Castiel saw fit to clarify. "But I can reset your fracture and help with the pain."

"I can take the pain, Cas, but I don't want him to take advantage of you."

"How would he ?"

That made the professor laugh.

"Don't think I haven't seen the way you look at him. I know you don't want me to harm Dean any more, so do as I say."

Troubled by the cryptic sentence, Castiel nodded and walked to the makeshift table indicated by Samuel Campbell, taking in the ingredients at his disposal. They were not made to heal a fracture or ease pain.

"What do you want me to do ?"

"I figured that my many theoretical disputes with Professor Singer might as well serve a greater purpose. You see, the dear professor believes in the inherent goodness of shamans and their goodwill towards their tribes. I maintain this is all sorcery and imposture, that shamanism is just as much these people's opium as any other religion, the way to keep them in line by telling them this is how nature and the world goes, accept it or die. Or be cast away. But I'm a scientist, and nothing is sure until it's been proven right or wrong. If Singer is persuaded that, as a shaman, you have direct access to special currents of life and death, then I owe it to science to test his theory. Therefore, you are going to work in my place this time, read the spell written on the paper and summon my dear son-in-law, the not-quite-missed John Winchester."

"So you admit it, it was you again summoning Edward," Dean raged. "I swear as soon as I'm free, I'm gonna hunt you like any demon I've ever sent back to hell."

"Stop bragging, Dean. You're not scary, just really tiring."

"Don't worry, you won't have to suffer me much longer."

"You're right about this, but I doubt we imagine the same ending to our little social event. Come on, Castiel, do not make Dean wait any longer. Bring his dear daddy here to us and let's be witnesses to the touching reunion !"

Castiel knew Dean had been wondering about his grandfather's wish to travel but he could now see the older man had been able to find through the plateau the most used ingredients for his plans and then some, along with the paraphernalia needed to cast spells. Save for one thing.

"I need blood," he said, foolishly hoping this would delay the inevitable.

"I know," Campbell answered, and then Castiel heard Dean try to suppress a grunt of pain.

He turned hastily to see that the professor had cut a deep and long incision on Dean's already broken arm and was collecting the dripping blood in a small cup. Castiel went to his friend in two rapid steps and knelt down in front of him.

"You need to let me take care of him. A fracture can be very dangerous if it touched an artery or if it becomes infected."

"He would be dead already if an artery had been nicked, instead of abusing my ears with his witless jibes. Now the quicker you're done with the spell, the quicker you'll be able to see to him. So take the blood and do your job. And don't pretend you don't know how. I've heard you talk with Dean and Sam. Heard how a descendant's blood is sure to make for the best spell casting."

Indeed they had broached the topic, wondering if Campbell's intention was to use his own blood to summon his daughter, and Castiel had been fool enough to reveal that children's blood always worked better.

"There's always a chance a spell won't work," he warned to compensate his earlier blunder.

Not much chance for it to fail ; Castiel indeed enjoyed a direct connection to the life's essence imbuing the primeval forest, one that was much more powerful than anything Samuel Campbell could ever match, closed off as he was to his surroundings by his foolish quest, and it was very bad luck that he proved still smart enough to realize the faulty ingredient of his spells might have been himself all along.

"Then Dean here will not see tomorrow dawning on this fine plateau," Campbell answered. "Better be at the top of your game, shaman."

Castiel then knew he had no choice but to obey. He mixed the ingredients, the way he had learned from his master but never got to do before, connected with the Flow then chanted the sacred words that would open the great beyond to their earthly realm, and called for Dean's father in the words chosen by the professor. Eyes closed, he didn't stop until he heard his friend's voice behind him, shocked and higher than usual.

"Dad ? Mom ?"

-------------

Dean had been gone for more than three hours and Sam couldn't find him. It was not like his brother to disappear like that since Sam had insisted on being a part of their little cabal ; Sam was officially worried. Bordering on panicking.

And the professor was missing too. Sam could imagine all sorts of scenarios and none of them ended well. He wasn't even sure if these images in his head were only his imagination or something else, something more for which he didn't have a name. All of them featured Dean injured and needing Sam's help as soon as possible.

It was worse as he heard Buck, Impala and the other dinosaurs – including Dashel, even though Castiel wasn't visiting – waiting for them down by the Tree's foot, making enough of a ruckus to attract someone's attention. Mare's absence was conspicuous and foreboding.

They were all galloping and leaping in the time it took everyone to get down the Tree and straddle their mounts. Sam didn't stop worrying. Even if the dinosaurs had felt Dean's need for help immediately, there was no telling where they were at that moment and how long it had taken them to join the explorers. Maybe they were already too late.

"Looks like we're heading towards Guy's village," Meg remarked with an encouraging smile for Jenn when they stepped out into the meadow leading to the village. "I'm sure he and Castiel took care of him. Don't worry."

Sam didn't contradict her, although Dashel's presence proved that Castiel wasn't there waiting for them. But then the dinosaurs turned and rushed along the forest's edge in the opposite direction, leaving the village further behind by the minute.

"I know where we're going !" Meg realized when they disappeared into the primeval forest once again. "The cavern. It's been used by shamans for centuries to perform secret ceremonies."

Samuel Campbell and secret ceremonies mixed together didn't bode well in Sam's book. He pushed Buck to run faster and the dinosaur answered immediately, second only to Impala in the race to get to Dean.

He felt relieved when he finally saw Mare, waiting in front of the entrance to the cavern. More than dismounting, he leaped from Buck's back and entered the tunnel, too small for dinosaurs to come and help, without even waiting to see if the others followed. Five steps in, Bobby's hand on his shoulder slowed him down.

"Be silent," Bobby ordered. "We don't know what's happening in here, we might need the element of surprise."

Annoyed, he still agreed with the need to use his head instead of letting his feelings for Dean make the situation possibly worse.

They crept along the uneven tunnel, slowly but silently, until they reached a huge room lit by dozens of torches disposed all around the walls, no doubt the secret place Meg had talked about. Castiel was there in front of an altar carved in the rock a long time ago, officiating the ceremony.

Dean was there, too, closely watched by Samuel. His left arm was bent at a strange angle and the view pushed a cold shiver down Sam's back ; it was just the exact scene he had pictured earlier in his head. Dean's other arm was chained to the wall – probably the remnant of the sacrifices offered in the past by Castiel's ancestors – another image that had made Sam reel with worry.

Before he could show himself and run to his brother's aid, Dean's voice rose, reverberating against the walls and high ceiling.

"Dad ? Mom ?"

Incredulous, Sam followed Dean's eyes to where two shimmering silhouettes had appeared, getting denser by the second.

He didn't recognize either of them but something deep inside of himself told him they were familiar.

"Dean," the woman said with so much fondness that tears prickled Sam's eyes.

But it was nothing next to the hammering of his heart when she turned to him.

"Sam, you found your way back to your brother."

"Of course he did," the man next to her asserted, "he's a Winchester."

His parents were standing here in front of him, gentle apparitions at last, and Sam couldn't speak to save his life. All he could do was walk into the cavern to stand by Dean, slide his fingers around his brother's bound hand to anchor himself and help Dean just the same. The move seemed to wake Samuel up from his trance-like state, allowing his legs to take him closer to the revenants.

"Mary ? Sweetheart ? Don't you see me ?"

The ghost turned to Samuel, expression guarded.

"I see you, Father."

"Mary, you have no idea… I've been searching for you for such a long time. I've gone all over the world, tried everything I could think of, and now… now I can't believe you're finally here, back with me."

It was the strangest feeling for everyone present to see the hard, no-nonsense man suddenly on the verge of tears.

"You knew I was dead. I was resting, content in my life in heaven."

"But you had been torn away from us too soon. Your time hadn't come, you shouldn't have died ! Why didn't you come to me ? I would have protected you from him."

Campbell didn't even look at John.

"I didn't need protection from my husband, as you're well aware. You were the only reason our lives went wrong ; you and your doubts about John's fidelity, your never-ending questioning about the way he treated me, your cursed artifacts that you said were to protect me but just made me crazy with anguish and fear. I let myself fall for your tricks and I paid the price. We all paid the price, my children more than anyone else !"

Mary's eyes looked like they were going to throw fire at Samuel.

"The way you treated my boy, Father, I will never be able to forgive you."

"He's the demon spawn, Mary !"

"No child of mine has ever deserved such a designation. Dean proved it when he dedicated his life to saving people. Can you say the same about yourself ? Have you ever shown him any kindness that would make me feel indulgent towards you ? You, his flesh and blood. And Sam ? You found him and yet you kept him in the dark, prevented him from being reunited with his family. And you wonder why I never wanted to appear to you !"

Realization hit Samuel and his face turned ashen. He had been so close, probably more than once, but Mary had refused to show up until her boys really needed her.

"I'm so sorry, sweetheart. I didn't plan to hurt him, but he was there, and you were dead. I couldn't… seeing him was a constant reminder of your death. Why did it have to be you ?! It should have been him ! Not you, not my sweet little girl !"

"Your sweet little girl was a grown woman who thought of her sons exactly the way you did about her. You should have known that and protected Dean. Strangers were kinder to both my boys than their own grandfather."

"I only knew that your married life was a constant suffering next to this man."

"By your own doing. John loved me, and I made his life hell by listening to you. We were happy before you interfered."

"You left me. Deanna was dead, but still you moved to England, far from me, and I was so alone. Every time I asked you to visit, you said you didn't have time. I had to come to you, again and again. You were forgetting me."

"I was taking care of my family. Making sure my boys didn't feel left behind like I did when I was a child and you kept traveling around the country, constantly leaving Mother and I alone for months on end without news. I guess payback is your karma in this life already."

Samuel took a deep breath of air as if in need of fortitude.

"Do you know how I managed to get you back ? I used many spells combined, but the main one is called To appease souls in pain. You can't tell me this isn't a proof that you've been suffering all this time."

"My only suffering comes from you, Father. From seeing my sons apart, grieving alone. You could have ended this years ago."

John put his arm around her shoulders and looked at his sons.

"We're so happy you two found each other again, that you're not alone anymore and that you love each other so much despite all the time you spent separated," he added.

"Why am I not surprised ?" Campbell snarled. "You were always a deviant yourself."

"That's enough !" Mary intimated. "You managed to drive us apart in real life, you won't try this again now, and you won't do it to our boys, whatever false assumptions you're operating under. Let them be happy, Father, and let us do the same in our afterlife."

"They are lovers, Mary ! They sleep with each other, have intercourse, shamelessly defying all taboos known to mankind. They are the worst abomination one can think of."

"Do you really believe that this kind of thing takes on the slightest shred of importance once you're dead ? We only see the love shining from them both, for each other and their friends. You should have been a part of this ongoing flow, but you chose to remain apart willingly. You let your heart become black and shriveled in the depths of hell. I fear there's no hope left for you, Father."

Samuel felt everyone's eyes landing heavily on him at the revelation of his trip to hell. Something he had made sure to keep a secret because Mary was right to think he had been forever altered by the dreadful experience he had voluntarily sought to gain knowledge and power. To get Mary back.

He heard Castiel mumbling some chants in his own language and suddenly felt himself pushed against the rock face, unable to articulate one more word.

Mary and John floated towards their sons, lifting their hands to their faces for a ghostly caress. Both Dean and Sam swallowed hard under this sign of love.

"We have little time," John lamented, "and so much to tell you. Dean, you were right to believe in me. In your mother and me. We loved each other, we were just stupid enough to let someone with a grudge come between us."

"I know you thought many times that I had abandoned you voluntarily," Mary continued, "but nothing is further from the truth. I had been targeted by one of my father's cursed objects, and then Sam was hurt by it. I know now that it was all part of his plan to get me to leave John, but I was mad with worry after Sam had been wounded, and I acted harshly, taking the first opportunity to disappear to put him out of danger while John and you had been gone for a father-son hunting trip. I knew you were safe with him, that's the only reason I left you behind. But believe me when I tell you it was my deepest desire to go back and get you too."

"She's telling the truth, son," John confirmed. "We were both pretty miserable examples of parents to leave you alone with Samuel, but never would I have guessed he would treat you that way."

Dean slowly nodded and cleared his throat.

"I believe you," he said, his hand squeezing Sam's tight without realizing it when Mary gave him another caress before she turned to her second son.

"I know what you heard those social workers say, Sammy, and how it stuck with you. But you have to know that I wasn't out to whore myself when I got killed by that carriage. Nor did I try to abandon you too."

Dumbfounded, Sam stared at the shimmery form that was supposed to be his mother. He had never told that to anyone, too ashamed and too young to be able to refute those nasty rumors the men who had come to take him at Ellie's request had spread with such glee, such wrong delight.

"I was looking for a job to feed us both, and then I was dead. Of course, the papers I had with me mentioned my real name, not the one I was hiding under. Nobody ever made the connection between Mary Winchester and Mary Wesson, not even when they found a little boy named Sam Wesson crying for his mama, alone in an apartment. I'm so very thankful Ellie took you in and adopted you, that she gave you the love I couldn't."

Sam felt tears spill from his eyes. He smiled to his mother. At least he tried, just like he tried to answer with an I love you of his own.

"We have to go back now," John said, turning to the other people in the cavern. "Thanks to all of you for helping our sons and being their friends and support."

Mary smiled her thanks to them, and then looked at her father one last time.

"Don't summon us back again, Father. We only came today to make sure you won't hurt anyone else with your foolish plans."

"Bye, boys. Remember, we love you both."

John and Mary retreated silently to the end of the cavern, becoming more transparent and fluid as they neared the wall, and then disappeared into it.

A loaded, heavy silence ended this overwhelming experience. Sam crouched down next to Dean, hiding himself against his brother's neck and forgetting about his broken arm until a pained grunt reminded him of it. He modified his position but stayed where he was, too much in need of comfort and a link to his only love to give it up. He was not above abusing the opportunity offered by Dean being chained to the wall.

But then he was kind of forced back to the moment by Bobby's hand landing on his shoulder.

"We've got to take care of Dean. Let him go, son."

Reluctantly, he sat back and wiped his leaky nose and teary eyes. He realized that Castiel had worked on Dean's chain while he was crying his heart out and freed him.

"Dean," Castiel asked, "what do we do with him ?"

He was of course talking about Samuel, still tied to the wall by invisible restraints.

Dean assessed his grandfather for a long while, weighing his hate for the man against the terrible blow he had just been dealt by his own daughter. Hopefully, today's lesson would serve him right.

"Let him go," he sighed.

He just wanted all this to be over, to live happily with Sam in their shared knowledge that they had been loved by their parents as much as they loved each other now. He felt like he had gone ten rounds against a heavyweight champion. He needed to sleep it off and forget the pain in his arm. Tomorrow, he would see to it that Samuel was taken care of once and for all.

Preferably cast away, far from them all. Let him find some village to take him in, where he would be seen as the leader and hero he'd like to be.

But no, they couldn't do that. They needed all the help they could get, especially now with his own broken arm, and certainly they couldn't afford to lose someone as erudite as Samuel. Untrustworthy, sure, but a definite source of knowledge that would be sorely missed if they sent him away.

In the end, Samuel made the decision for them all. As soon as he was freed, he marched to the rucksack he had stashed behind the altar and took a gun out of it that he pointed towards the rest of the group.

"I think it's time for me to take my leave. All of you, get behind Dean and turn towards the wall. Alright, kneel now, head on the floor and hands on your head. Good."

Dean didn't move. He eyed Samuel with contempt.

"If you choose to abandon us now, don't ever come back. And rest assured that be it here or if we ever make it back home, you better make yourself scarce, dear grandfather, because your ass is mine. I don't care about the way you treated me but you put Sam's life in jeopardy, not to mention Jenn's, and there's no forgiving this."

Campbell didn't bother gratifying him with a response. He got inside the tunnel before he lighted a match to set the oil he had previously poured on the ground aflame and then ran. Hopefully, by the time the others had gotten their bearings back and found their way out once the oil had finished burning, he would be far away.

-------------

The girls rode immediately back to the Tree, to make sure Samuel wouldn't be able to steal their rifles or any other stuff they desperately needed.

Castiel stayed long enough to set Dean's fracture and bandage it, then followed Jenn and Meg to offer his help in case Samuel created trouble.

Finally, Bobby and Sam supported Dean out of the cavern, back to Impala who was waiting for him right at the entrance, impatient and almost angry to be left to her worries for so long. Dean took his time comforting her.

"It's all right, baby. Just a little wound, nothing serious."

The dinosaur crooned, showering Dean with love and affection by caressing her head against his. She really seemed to understand the problem and showed it a few minutes later by sitting on the ground to make it easier for Dean to climb on her back and then strolling leisurely back to the Tree.

Still, both Sam and Bobby kept close and ready to do whatever necessary to ensure his safe return home without looking like they tried too hard.

"I read the notes Campbell gave Castiel," Bobby said. "As far as I can tell, the spell was mainly a combination of the previous ones he used to get the Willis and the Sarramauca to appear. He finally found the way to make them work for his real goal."

"Mostly, he realized Castiel had a far bigger talent than him at casting spells !" Dean ironized. "But there's worse."

Bobby and Sam watched him in dismay.

"Samuel got his journal back," Dean announced. "I saw it in his bag."

"Maybe you mistook another journal for the one you stole ?" Sam dared to hope.

"No, it was the one, same bits torn and stained. We lost our only advantage, and now Samuel's in the wind, free to do anything he wants."

"Don't fret too much about the journal," Bobby advised him in a tone that tried hard not to appear too smug but utterly failed. "Why do you think I needed so many sheets of paper and pencils ? I made copies of every single mark and scratch drawn on that damn journal, and I hid them well."

Bobby's words lifted the mood quite a bit.

The journey back to the Tree lasted more than an hour at this slow pace. They were greeted with pleasure by their friends at home, reassured that nothing had been stolen and they were safe. Castiel had even prepared a decoction of herbs for Dean in order to lower the pain and help his swift recovery.

"Dean, how do you feel ?"

It was clear to anyone else that the question meant to ask about his physical state but Dean was far past this.

"Pissed !" he answered, but then Castiel's narrowed eyes helped him realize he was off the mark. "You mean about…" he added, looking at his cradled arm for the first time. "A broken arm !" he pestered. "I'm going to be useless for a month. Shit !"

Sam thought it was time to intervene. He brought his mouth to Dean's ear.

"One month for me to take my time with you," he murmured. "One month to learn and love your body. One perfect month."

He ended his suggestion with a kissing caress of his lips, a slow glide across Dean's neck that resulted in a whimper that had nothing to do at last with pain.

 

January 1st

A new year is dawning, blessed by the apparition of my parents.

I truly feel different right now. Empowered, rooted. I still have so many questions, and I want to kick myself for being unable to say anything when I had the chance. My only relief is to know that Dean didn't fare better than me, just as speechless and overwhelmed. He still is. I need to talk about all of this but he's closed off. Hopefully time will help.

I still don't understand what our grandfather was trying to achieve. Hold John hostage to force Mary to appear ? Capture her then and trap her soul to our plane ? Dean says that spirits forced to stay in this realm turn vengeful. The professor cannot want this, not for the daughter he pretends to love so much. What is he going after ?

Are we still in danger ?

-------------

Now that they were peacefully lying in bed against each other, sleep proved elusive.

"What did Samuel tell you to get you to that cavern ?" Sam finally asked. "Without any back-up !"

To say that Sam was mildly pissed at his brother for this stupid stunt would equate saying that he liked the idiot a little bit.

Huge understatement.

"Nothing. I saw him get away and I wanted to know what he was doing, maybe make sure he wasn't preparing another underhand trick."

"And what about your arm ? Did he break it ?"

Dean squirmed for a few seconds under Sam's glare.

"Dean ? Now is the right time to come clean. Tell me."

"He got a gun on me, okay ? And I tried to take it, but he twisted my arm, and it broke. End of story."

"What's so terrible about that ? What ? Are you just ashamed that he had the upper hand in a fair fight ?"

"He's over sixty, Sam ! He shouldn't have bested me."

Dean's pout was kind of adorable, but Sam didn't want to absolve him too soon.

"So you're not sorry that you did this without me, you're merely shameful he bested you."

"You got it."

Sam let out a sigh of exasperation to mark his frustration with his brother's priorities.

"Do you know what Mom and Samuel meant when they talked about hell ? Had you ever heard about that ?"

"Nope. But that explains a lot."

"I guess… you think he really went to hell, whatever that means ?"

"I do, and I'm not sure why I never thought about it before. It makes so much sense, not only in his fucked-up quest, but also considering the way he treated us all. Like there was no place in his heart for anything other than his obsession with Mom. I imagine that's hell at work. Truth be told, I almost feel sorry for him."

Silence enveloped the bedroom again but they still wouldn't fall asleep.

"So how many times did you go to Africa ?" Sam wondered aloud, changing the subject and still bummed by what he had learned recently about Dean and Jenn's story.

"Twice, why ?"

"Just wanted to get my timeline right."

"I went first with Jenn, Jody and Sean. Jenn and I, we fell in love with so many places, so we decided to go back once she felt she had grieved enough, stuck on her domain. She shocked quite a few people, fresh widow going on such a trek with only a male friend !"

Dean laughed at the memory, but it was short-lived, sadness over the remembrance of Edward's death and what it had done to Jenn written all over his face.

"Is that when you became lovers ? Down in Africa ?"

"You never let it go, do you ?" Dean marveled with a smirk at Sam's determination to know everything about Dean's past, and especially his love affair with his best friend. "We stayed there for more than a year, traveling from one country to another, north to south, east to west, and lots of locals were welcoming and thankful after we had rid them of their supernatural foils so there was no reason really to hurry up. Somewhere down the road, our relationship changed. It was beautiful and very loving, but not something destined to live on once we got back home."

"Yet you gave her one year of your life."

"It's not even a tenth of what I gave to find you."

Sam turned his head to find Dean looking at his lips with insistence. He leaned and kissed him.

"I would have gone to hell and back to find you," Dean said against his mouth. "And it doesn't even scare me to find I can be so much like Samuel."

It hadn't escaped Sam's notice that even while talking about what had transpired thanks to their parents' visit, Dean still hadn't volunteered any thought or feeling about them. But Sam wasn't afraid. Dean needed time to process, and so did he.

Sooner or later, alone together, deep in the forest or surrounded by the dark of night, Dean would confide, and Sam would be there to listen. He planned to be there forever anyway.

------FIN------