caranfindel (caranfindel) wrote,
caranfindel
caranfindel

Fic: We are merely players, performers and portrayers (2/3)

Continued from Part 1


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2008



The ancient little church sits in a bed of sand and scrubby sea oats, its painted clapboard faded and peeling. Maybe it's been abandoned, or maybe it's just not in use on the tail end of a hot Tuesday afternoon, but no one's around to see Dean quietly test the salt-corroded doorknob. The unlocked door swings open easily. "All right," he says, turning to Sam. "Let's find Goldilocks."

It's surprisingly cool inside. Damp, but not sticky. The windows are made of colored glass, obviously situated to allow for a glorious display of light during a morning service, but leaving the building dim this late in the day. Dean's flashlight picks out neat rows of wooden pews, a narrow center aisle, and a small communion table. Jesus gazes down on them from his cross on the far wall, and for a second, the thing that doesn't belong in this church is Dean Winchester himself, still reeking of brimstone, and he has to resist the urge to cower under that knowing look. He's in sudden, desperate need of a drink.

Next to him, oblivious, Sam hesitates before approaching the altar. He finally makes a small genuflection, a cross between a nod and a bow, and walks up the aisle. It's a move Dean's never seen him perform in any of the dozens of churches they've been in. Maybe learning about the existence of actual real-life angels is getting to him.

Sam sweeps his own flashlight around the perimeter of the room and stops in the corner by the door they just walked through. "There," he says quietly. The beam of light reveals a dark human-sized shape. It looks like a wooden carving, but Sam still approaches it carefully, as though it might bite. He tentatively reaches out a hand and rocks the object toward him, just enough to show the life-sized figure of a woman holding a child, carved from dark wood. He pulls out his phone and takes a couple of photos, then gently releases it to rest back against the wall.

Dean blinks away the afterimage of Sam's flash. "Yeah, okay, that's weird." His voice echoes uncomfortably despite the small size of the church. "What is it?"

"I've got some ideas," Sam says quietly, almost reverently. "But I need to do some more research before we can do anything."

"Wait. We're not taking it now?"

"I don't want to mess with it until we know more about it. Let's hit the library."

But Dean needs a drink, and he can't get one at a library. "How about you hit the library and I'll…" The stricken look on Sam's face stops him cold. "…Go with you," he finishes. "I'll go with you."

Sam smiles gratefully. "It shouldn't take more than a couple of hours." His protective clinginess is equal parts oddly reassuring and extremely frustrating. And right now it's the only thing standing between Dean and a bottle of whiskey. Fucking Florida.

When Dean looks back up toward the altar, Jesus's eyes are sightless, painted-on spots. There's no knowledge there, no accusation. But it's still a relief to slide back into the Impala and leave Him behind the closed door of the church.

~~~



Sam does his research thing at the tiny Apalachicola library, and Dean does the only thing required of him, which is to stay in Sam's line of sight and not die. When Sam finally closes the last book and shuts off his laptop, Dean doesn't even let him get started. "Food first," he says, hustling his brother to the car. He finds a restaurant just off the beach that calls itself a bar and grill, which means he can pretend he's there for the grill part and not for the bar part. With a burger and cheese fries ordered, and a Jack-and-Coke (heavy on the Jack) in front of him, he's ready for what Sam has to say.

"It's a Black Madonna. Specifically, the Black Madonna of Candelaria," Sam says, pulling a sheaf of printed pages and handwritten notes from his laptop bag. Research Mode Sam is a good thing. It's a normal thing. Research Mode Sam is not Freaking the Fuck Out Over Nothing Sam.

"All right. So tell me what you know about the Black Madonna of Candelaria."

"Well, in 1390, a statue of a woman holding an infant was found near a beach at Tenerife, in the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain. Originally she was venerated as a physical manifestation of the vudou spirit Candelina, and was given credit for bringing miracles to the island."

Dean is familiar with this type of history. "But when Christianity got popular, and voudou practitioners had to keep it under the table…"

"Right. In the mid 1400s, Christian converts declared her to be Mary, holding Jesus."

"And you said a Black Madonna, not the Black Madonna, so I assume there are others. Why do you think this is her, and not some other Black Madonna?"

"She's holding a candle," Sam explains. "That's the Candelaria part. Also, tradition says she's found facing the wall."

"Facing the wall? I thought you said she was found on the beach?"

Sam gives him a quick exasperated glance. "She was stolen by people who heard about the miracles and wanted their share. They took her to a different island and kept her inside a building, and she was always found facing the wall there, according to the lore. I'm pretty sure this is her. Or one version of her, anyway. The original was swept out to sea in a tsunami in 1826, and they made a copy after that. I don't know if this one's the copy or the original. But honestly, it doesn't really matter. Either way, she's not supposed to be here. She needs to go back to Tenerife."

Their food arrives and Dean holds up his empty glass with a smile. "Make the next one a double," he tells the waitress.

He turns back to Sam, who's giving the empty glass a pinched, angry look. "What's she doing in Apalachicola?" he asks, hoping Sam will get caught up more in the story of What is The Black Madonna of Candelaria Doing in Florida and less in the story of How Much is Dean Drinking.

"I have no idea. No one knows what she was doing in Tenerife either, so… I guess she gets around. We've just got to get her in the water and let her find her way back."

"All right, well, that seems easy enough."

"I don't understand how it's going to help, though," Sam muses. "I mean, yeah, she goes back to Tenerife, but isn't the seal already broken? If leaving her home church broke the seal, or if showing up in Apalachicola broke the seal, it's too late. The seal's broken. That's what Castiel told you about the Witnesses, right? That it doesn't matter that we undid it? The fact that it was done at all broke the seal?"

Dean shrugs. "All I know is, Cas said she needs to not be here, so we need to make her not be here."

"Guess so." Sam's not content. Dean just wants to fix it, but Sam wants to understand it, and that ain't gonna happen.

And the truth is, Dean doesn't even care all that much about fixing it. Right now, this Black Madonna's biggest draw is that she's a distraction from whatever the fuck Sam started doing while Dean was gone, whatever it is that Castiel expects Dean to stop. And from the memories clawing their way around the edges of Dean's consciousness. But Sam doesn't need to know any of that.

"Listen, this is important," Sam continues. "When we go back to the church pick her up, you've got to be careful. You have to treat her with respect."

"Respect? It's a statue, Sam."

"Yeah, and the lore says one of the shepherds who found her tried to throw a stone at her, and he lost the use of his arm. And the other one tried to stab her, but the knife turned on him and he stabbed himself."

"I'm not gonna stab her! What kind of moron stabs a statue?"

"I'm just saying, be careful."

"Jesus, Sam. I'm not gonna stab the statue. I'm not gonna throw rocks at the goddamn statue. Just chill, man."

For just a second, Sam's expression is an open mixture of fear and fury, more emotion than he's exposed since the day Dean knocked on his hotel room door with grave dirt still caked under his fingernails. "Well, excuse me for not wanting to watch the goddamn statue smite you, all right?" he snaps. "Forgive me for not wanting to watch you die again. I think I've had enough of that to last me the rest of my life."

Fucking Florida. And Hell and Lilith and angels and seals and just… Fuck it. Just fuck it all.

Sam sets his lips into a thin line and looks away. After a minute, he sighs and returns to his notes, his face deliberately neutral. "The people who stole her from Tenerife eventually returned her, because, quote, 'a slew of troubles and illness befell them,' "he reads.

"How bad were these troubles and illnesses?"

"Well, the plague. That kind of bad."

"Then we need to get her out of here before the plague hits Apalachicola, right?"

"Probably. I mean, I don't know if she's going to bring the actual plague, but yeah. Bad things could happen here." Sam taps at his laptop while Dean considers the logistics of loading a life-sized statue into the Impala. "So, check this out," Sam says, spinning his laptop around so Dean can see Mapquest on the screen. "We need to get her to the Atlantic Ocean. The east coast of Florida is pretty heavily populated, but we can head north to the Georgia coast. I think Wassaw Island National Refuge would work. It's probably about six hours away, maybe closer to seven since you won't take the Interstate. We can put her back in the water there."

"Georgia?" Dean generously ignores the slur on his driving, even though Sam knows damn well why he prefers back roads and state highways to the Interstate. Too many people, too many eyes, not enough scenic distraction. He's gonna let it slide because he's cutting Sam some slack today, but this Georgia suggestion is too much. "Sam, explain to me why we'd drive six hours to put her in the water in Georgia when we are literally a minute away from the ocean right now."

"That's not the ocean. It's the Gulf of Mexico."

"Does it matter? She'll find her way back."

"But if we want to get her back to Tenerife, we need to get her into the gulf stream, into a current that will take her across the Atlantic. We've got a better chance of that if we get her to the Atlantic coast." Sam's voice is climbing, and he's starting to sound a little desperate.

"Oh, come on. She made it here, didn't she? If it's bad luck to have her here, we've got to get her back in the water. You just told me that a bunch of awful shit happened when she wasn't at her home church. We've got to send the old girl on her way. Now."

"Okay, but—"

"No. No buts." Sam can talk about currents all he wants, but Dean saw his map, saw how it takes them directly north, on a path clearly designed to get them out of Florida as quickly as possible before turning toward the coast. He knows what Sam is up to. "Look. Cas didn't say we need to get her home. He said something is in this church that needs to not be in this church. That's the important part. Now, how much of this is you wanting to get her ass back to the Canary Islands, and how much is you wanting to get our asses out of Florida?" That was probably a low blow, and Sam sags a little in defeat, but dammit. If Sam's right, they need to get moving. "Maybe you want to spend six hours in the car with a vengeful statue, but I don't. I think getting this thing back in the water ASAP needs to be our immediate goal here."

Drink number two arrives, and Dean finishes it in two big swallows before Sam speaks again

"Thing is, we can't drop her off at the coast here. There's too many people who might intercept her and possibly bring her back to shore. We've got to get to the other side of the barrier islands." He sighs heavily, looking away from Dean and running a hand through his hair. "Okay," he says, like he's making some kind of agreement with himself. "We'll take her to St. George Island. There's a wildlife reserve. Not a lot of people. Should be safe."

"See?" Dean smiles. "That'll work. That's a plan."

"And we need to wait until dark." Sam sags even more, looking pale and limp and completely drained. He looks like shit, honestly.

Dean doesn't particularly want to sleep — he's had enough nightmares for the time being — but Sam clearly needs it. "Okay, so we've got a few hours," Dean says. "You want to find a place to catch some shut-eye? You've been up for a while."

Sam still won't look at him. "I'll sleep when it's Wednesday," he says.


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2010

When Dean wakes up, Sam's watching him from his perch on the other bed, and there aren't really words to describe how uncomfortable he feels about sleeping under RoboSam's watchful eye. "Look what the cat dragged in," he mutters.

Sam's smirk suggests he's about to make some kind of joke about the cat and pussy. Leaving him that opening was a really bad idea, and Dean's only excuse is that he's not yet equipped to quickly predict RoboSam's sense of humor. But Sam just packs the smile away, raises an eyebrow at Dean's still-fully-dressed state, and says "Morning, sunshine. Sleep well?"

"Like a baby." No reason to reveal that he was more passed out than asleep, that it took a bottle of whiskey and then some to make his brain stop churning, that something furry apparently crawled into his mouth overnight and died there. Sam doesn't need to know what happens when Sam's not here. Not that Sam's ever really here anyway.

(But what if he was? Maybe if Dean stares at him long enough, hard enough, Sam's eyes will flip black and he'll laugh a throaty demonic laugh. You finally caught on, he'll say. Yes, I'm a demon, and I'm so powerful that your silly little salt and holy water and devil's traps have no effect on me. I've had a grand time playing this game with you, pretending Sammy's soul was still downstairs. But I've had my fun and now I'm done. And Sam's head will tip back and a thick black cloud of smoke will roll out of his mouth, disappearing through the gap at the bottom of the door. Sam will collapse onto the bed, still alive even though a demon's been riding him for over a year. Then he'll open his eyes and blink in confusion and say Dean? and Dean will say it's okay, you're okay, and for once it won't be a lie.)

Dean crawls out of bed and heads for the bathroom. He needs to brush his teeth and piss and brush his teeth again and maybe find a little hair of the dog. In that order. "What about you?" he asks. "Enjoyed your night on the town? No details, please," he adds quickly.

"It's a draug," Sam says.

"It's a what now?"

"I remembered where I'd heard about the toe thing. It's a Norwegian legend. They're animated corpses."

"Zombies," Dean mumbles around his toothbrush. "Sweet."

Sam laughs. "Yeah, not exactly sweet. They're huge, bloated, walking dead people. And they're killers. According to the lore, anyone killed by a draug might be destined to become one themselves. One way to prevent that is by tying the body's big toes together, to keep it from escaping the grave. Which is why Lund told his family to tie his toes together if he died."

Well, isn't that nifty. If only it were that easy to prevent other unnatural infestations. "So Lund thought a draug was after him. And he didn't want to turn into one himself. But why did he think it was a draug?"

"The smell, I imagine. They stink. A draug's stench is supposed to be pretty strong."

Oh, crap, the smell they're still talking about. "Marta said you can still smell it around Norway sometimes. So it's still there. Or it keeps coming back."

"Yep."

"Well, at least we know where to find it. We gotta end Zombie Mouse before it gets anybody else. How do we kill it?"

"That's the part I don't remember."

"Okay. I told Bobby we might be on the tail of some Norwegian ghost. Hopefully he's been looking into it." Since Dean's still wearing yesterday's clothes, his phone is still in his pocket. Bobby answers on the second ring.

"Hey, Bobby. I'm putting you on speaker." There was a time he didn't feel the need to warn Bobby that Sam was listening, but, well. Times have changed. "What do you know about draugs?" Dean asks.

"Draugar," Sam corrects him. "The plural is draugar." Because if RoboSam had to keep any of Sam's habits, he picked the most annoying ones, the fucker.

"Yeah, they were on my short list," Bobby says. "They're a form of revenant. Nasty critters. Big and heavy, got a foul odor. Sometimes they're out for revenge, and other times they're just killin' for no good reason. What makes you think you got one?"

"We've got something real smelly, and a dead Norwegian who insisted that his survivors tie his big toes together."

"Well, that adds up. Who's it going after?"

"People who work at Disneyworld," Dean says. "We don't know what they have in common other than that. Don't seem to have any enemies, though."

"Ah, well, you never know what evil lurks in the heart of man. And draugar can be oracles; they can see into the future. So, who knows what this one was pissed off about. Maybe something that ain't even happened yet. Anyway, they usually hang out around their own graves, but I'm guessing this one wasn't buried at Disneyworld, so it's one of the more mobile variety. Any sign that it's killing anywhere else?"

"Not that we've heard of, but we'll double-check. How do we kill it?"

For a minute, there's only the soft sound of Bobby flipping pages. "Iron repels, but won't kill it. You could wrestle it back into its grave… or behead it with its own sword… but… looks like your best option is to stab it through the heart with a wooden stake, cut its head off, burn the corpse, and scatter the ashes at sea. Basically, overkill it. Make sure it can't pull itself back together again."

"Of course," Dean sighs. Just once, it would be nice if a simple head shot solved all of his problems.

"They mostly come out at night, so that's prime hunting time for this thing." Bobby pauses and clears his throat. "So, ah… You boys need any help? Doin' okay?"

"Doing great," Dean replies decisively, without looking at Sam. "Thanks, Bobby. We'll let you know how it goes." He ends the call and slips the phone back into his pocket. "So. We wanna figure out who wanted revenge on the victims, find the grave, hit this thing where it lives? Or do we hope it shows up in Norway again?"

"I vote Norway," Sam says. "We don't even know if revenge is a motive. Marta couldn't think of anyone who'd want to kill sweet old Uncle Will, and we don't have any info on Anderson. We could spend all day chasing leads, but as far as we know, it's only killing people at Disneyworld. Might as well stick to that."

Dean agrees, partly because it makes sense and partly because he really isn't in the mood to talk to more family members. He takes a shower to wash off the smell of whiskey and vomit, and then goes out for food and supplies (and a couple of cheap ties, godfuckingdammit) while Sam scours local news sites, just to be sure the draug hasn't killed anyone outside of Disney property. By the time he gets back, it's too hot to do anything else and he's tired of Florida and every damn thing in it, so he delegates the stake-carving to Sam and falls asleep watching a shitty courtroom reality show.


~~~

When he wakes up, Sam has not only whittled a couple of decent stakes, but has acquired an old beat-up pickup. "Well, we're not going to burn a draug at Disneyworld and scatter its ashes on Pirates of the Caribbean," he shrugs. "Gotta have some way of hauling it around." At least he found something nondescript, not like that stupid flashy asshole Charger he was driving when he first showed up on Dean's doorstep. This truck is something Sam would have picked out.

It's long after midnight when they pack the stakes into the weapons bag and drive back to Disney. Even at this hour, Orlando is too bright and shiny and twinkly and false, and Dean silently promises that if (when) he gets the real Sam back, he'll never make him come to this godforsaken state again.

The version of Sam he does have, who doesn't notice or care how awful Florida is, quietly pilots the stolen truck along an unfamiliar route. "We're going to the staff entrance to Epcot," he explains. "Closer to Norway. Less security."

When they arrive, the parking lot is reassuringly empty. They shoulder their bags and head for the low grey Cast Services building. It's easy enough to break into, and after they navigate the darkened halls, they discover the building backs up almost directly to the Norway pavilion.

"Much better," Dean says. He hadn't been relishing the thought of dragging a draug corpse all the way through Epcot to the main parking lot, or dismembering it in the park. "How'd you find it?"

"This is where Marta had me drop her off this morning."

"Wait. What?" Dean replays Sam's statement in his head. "You were with Marta this morning?"

"Well, yeah. Last night. When I went out."

"You and Marta? That's who you were with last night? And you were talking to her about the case, or you were…?"

"Little from column A, little from column B," Sam says, with another of those RoboSam smirks.

Dean stops, astonished. "You're telling me you had sex with Marta."

"Um, yeah, and? You weren't kidnapped by fairy aliens this time. You got some other rules about when I'm supposed to be a monk?"

"You slept with a witness. A victim's family member. On a case."

"Oh, come on," Sam scoffs. "Don't pretend you've never comforted a grieving widow, or helped a terrified damsel in distress get her mind off things, cause I know that's bullshit."

"This is different!"

"Yeah, I know, believe me. You were dying for me to bang that werewolf chick, or the art dealer in New York, or just about anyone who you didn't already want to bang, but now it's different. Because I'm different."

"Yes," Dean snaps. "This is different. You're different. There's a difference between snuggling up to somebody when you're sharing a foxhole, and shitting where you eat. This is shitting where you eat. And I don't think you know the difference."

"Fine. I'm wrong. Whatever."

But Sam just rolling over somehow makes Dean even angrier. "You don't even know why it was wrong!"

"The fuck I don't." Sam voice is like ice. He practically throws his bag on the ground. "It's wrong because your Sam wouldn't have done it. Of course, your Sam did some fucked-up shit back in the day, and I remember you getting pretty pissed off about that. You do know I still have all those memories, right? And I don't remember you ever saying Sammy can do no wrong back then. I actually remember you saying Sammy was a big fuck-up and, oh yeah, a monster. But now he's Saint Sammy, and anything I do is wrong, but anything he would have done is A-OK. So, should I go bang a demon instead of a witness? Would that meet your approval, if I followed in his perfect footsteps?"

"Shut up," Dean growls.

Sam's eyes narrow dangerously. "Or what about an angel? That would be okay, wouldn't it? I mean, you've done it, and Saint Sammy's probably giving it up to an archangel right now, so—"

Dean's punch connects with Sam's jaw before he even realizes his hand is curled into a fist, and suddenly Sam's laid flat on the ground, arms raised in self defense. Dean wants to beat him into the pavement, wants to punch that goddamn mouth into a bloody pulp, and he can't. He can't. He stands with his hands still clenched, shaking with fury, glaring at the figure sprawled on the walkway in front of him. He unleashed all his emotions on that face once before, after they killed Veritas, and he wants to do it again. Wants to take all of his fear and anger and guilt and regret and unload it right into this changeling. Beat him unconscious and walk away. But now he can't. This belongs to Sam, and now that he knows that, he's got to take care of it.

To his credit, RoboSam seems to realize he's gone too far. "I'm sorry," he says, his eyes fixed somewhere around Dean's collarbone. "Really, Dean, I'm sorry." He sits up and tentatively dabs at his bleeding lip. "I know you don't think of me as your Sam, and you want me to be him again. And I understand that. But there's a good chance it would kill me, or turn me into a drooling vegetable. Me being that Sam… it's probably something you need to give up on, okay?" He blinks up at Dean with the closest thing he can get to an earnest expression. "Look. I'm trying here. I don't know what you want me to say."

(What Dean wants him to say is Hey, Dean, it's really me. I've been here the whole time. I'm sorry I pretended to be a soulless dick and I'm sorry Cas is being so weird and I'm sorry we had to trick you into thinking my soul was in Hell, but there was a really good reason, and he's going to tell you all about it. Right now I've got to get some sleep, because I've been pretending I don't need to sleep for over a year, and damn, that shit got old. But I'm sorry. I'm not in Hell. I'm right here.)

Dean rubs a hand down his face and counts to ten. Then twenty. Then thirty. He finally extends a hand to Sam, who doesn't flinch but does hesitate for a second before he lets Dean help him up. "I'm sorry," he repeats, brushing himself off and not looking Dean in the eye. "But it's my body. It's my life. You've got to let me make my own choices."

Except it's not. It's not his body; it's not his life. Those both belong to the little brother who asked Dean to kill him rather than let him become a monster. You have to watch out for me, Sam had said. If I ever turn into something that I'm not, you have to kill me. And sure, he was drunk; it was easy enough to write it off as whiskey-induced melodrama. But he'd reiterated it the next day, stone cold sober. He'd rather be dead than be something that hurt people.

"I'm sorry too," Dean says. Sorry he ever let any of this happen. Sorry he supported Sam when he thought it would be a good idea to jump into Hell. Sorry he didn't realize, as soon as he saw him, that this asshole with Sam's face wasn't really his brother. Sorry for a lot of things.

~~~

(A lone hunter walks into a bar and asks for two beers. The bartender brings the beers and asks who gets the second one. "Here's the thing," says the hunter. "I need you to take this to my brother. He's in Hell. You need to find a gateway, fight your way inside, kill hundreds of demons on the way, and find the lowest, deepest part of the Pit. You'll know when you get there because it's darker than dark and colder than cold. There's a cage there that's strong enough to hold an archangel. In fact, the Devil himself is inside that very cage. My brother's in there with him, being tortured in every way you could possibly imagine, and in some ways you couldn't even dream of. I need you to get into that cage and give my brother this beer."

The bartender stares at him like he just grew a second head. "Are you out of your mind? I'm not fighting my way into the deepest part of Hell and facing the Devil himself just to give your brother a beer."

"Yeah, you're right, that's crazy." says the hunter. "Better make it a whiskey.")

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2008

The little church looks even more abandoned when they return after dark. There aren't any functioning exterior lights, and the only illumination comes from the street lights a few yards away. The front door is still unlocked, with the dark statue still sullenly facing the wall.

Hope you haven't started the plague yet, sister.

"Dean," Sam hisses. "Respect."

Oh, for fuck's sake. He really didn't mean to say that loudly enough for Sam to hear it. He probably should have stopped after the three or four drinks at the restaurant instead of continuing after they left, sipping from his flask under Sam's baleful eye. "Sorry, ma'am. Don't mind me. Just a couple of innocent hunters trying to get you back home, if you please, ma'am." He bows obsequiously to the statue and turns to grin at Sam, who is not the least bit amused.

They haul her out of the church and jam her into the back seat of the Impala. Sam spreads a tarp over her, which makes it look a little less like they're transporting a vengeful statue and a little more like they're transporting a body, and Dean makes a mental note to keep it a couple of miles below the speed limit as they put Apalachicola behind them.

Highway 98 becomes the John Gorrie Memorial Bridge just outside of Apalachicola. It's six miles of narrow two-lane road suspended over the calm, dark water of East Bay. Dean usually prefers that he and his baby stay on the ground, thank you very much. But there's a gentle gulf breeze tickling his hair through the open windows and a spectacular view of a thunderstorm far off to the east that sets the midnight clouds alight every few minutes. It's warm, serene, and nice. Florida's not a bad place, as long as you've got a slight buzz and you're not stuck in some asshole's endless death loop. Dean's actually enjoying it right now.

Sam, on the other hand, is as miserable as Dean's ever seen him. And given Sam's seemingly endless capacity for misery, that's saying a lot. He sits with his arms crossed, heedless of the hair whipping in his face, staring straight ahead. Only the minute and constant tapping of his thumb against his arm reveals his anxiety.

They hit land again in the little town of Eastpoint, where they're greeted by a sign directing the way to Tate's Hell State Forest. Dean considers making a joke about some asshole named Tate getting his own Hell, but it ends up sitting bitter and unspoken at the back of his throat. He turns south onto Highway 300, over another long skinny bridge to St. George Island.

St. George Island is long, but it's divided into two sections by a man-made channel. On the other side of the channel the island is a wildlife preserve, but this side of the island is dotted with expensive houses and old cabins that will eventually be demolished to build more expensive houses. Sam directs him along a series of narrower and narrower roads until he finally says "stop here, this is good." Dean pulls over at a public beach access point next to a cabin that's apparently in the midst of being torn down. The giant rental dumpster is a good place to hide the Impala. He slips her into the shadows behind the dumpster, hoping her engine didn't wake any of the neighbors.

They're about fifty yards away from the beach. The Madonna is heavy, smooth, and bulky, and she's going to be difficult to carry that far. While Sam heads off to scout the boat launches along the shore, Dean wraps the tarp around the statue, tying both ends off with rope. He leaves a couple of loops slack enough to serve as handles, because he's smart like that. But when Sam trots back to the Impala, he's not impressed by Dean's handiwork. In fact, he flinches at the sight of the shrouded statue, looking like he's going to bolt, or vomit, or something. But he shoves down whatever's coming to the surface, picks up his end, and leads the way to the boat he found.

Dean eyes the small rowboat Sam came up with and gives him a puzzled, disapproving look. Rowboat? Sam frowns and flicks his eyes pointedly toward the nearest house. Engine noise. Oh well. It's really too small for a couple of grown men and a life-sized statue of a woman and a child. Dean's not entirely sure he's comfortable taking it out into the open Gulf. But Sam picked it, and Sam's still wearing his mask of desperate unhappiness, and just this once, Dean's not going to mess with him. Not the time or the place. He climbs into the boat and helps maneuver Sam and the statue in with him. The Madonna ends up halfway in Dean's lap, heavy and dark and quite honestly, creepy as fuck. The idea of an angry, vengeful statue isn't quite as amusing as it was on dry land. When the impulse strikes to make a joke about her head being in his lap, he remembers Sam's warning about respect and tamps it down right quick.

"You're not trapped, are you?" Sam asks quietly, suspiciously examining the statue lying across Dean's legs. "Can you get out if we tip over?"

"How about you just don't tip the boat, Sasquatch?" But Dean slides his legs out to demonstrate how not-trapped he is. Sam nods, then turns to scan the eastern horizon. The thunderstorm fizzled out long ago, leaving a mostly clear, moonlit sky above them.

"No storm," Dean points out. "No sharks, no pirates, no Loch Ness Monster. Just you and me and a pissed-off statue. So how about we get this started?"

Sam picks up the oars and starts rowing.

There's no sound except the squeak of the oars in their guides and the water lapping against the side of the boat. Sam doesn't talk, either because he's saving his breath for rowing or because he just doesn't talk anymore, and Dean doesn't feel like breaking the silence. Finally Sam looks back at the island behind them, apparently decides they've gone far enough, and puts the oars down.

They untie the rope, remove the Madonna from her wrapping, and carefully heave her over the side of the boat. She slips into the water with a faint splash. For a second Dean's sure she's going to sink like a stone, but she bobs back up to the surface, her dark wooden face staring placidly at them, and no, that's not freaky at all. Dean prods at her gently with an extended oar and pushes the statue as hard as he can without tipping the boat. She begins to drift away, but God only knows whether she's heading for Tenerife or Galveston.

"Think she'll make it?" Dean asks.

"Hope so. Either way, she's not our problem any more," Sam replies. "Can we just get out of Florida now?"

Dean's ready to take his turn at the oars, but Sam snatches them up and vigorously paddles at one side of the boat, turning them back toward the island.

"It's not really that bad, is it?" Dean says. Sam sets his jaw and rows harder than ever, but Dean's feeling a little more comfortable now that the Madonna is safely out of the picture. "I could see spending a little time here. We could enjoy the beach."

Sam glares darkly at the black smudge of the island ahead of them. "Not this beach."


On to part 3
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