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30 September 2011 @ 09:47 pm
The way of the warrior Chp 10, (11/14), R, Sam & Dean Winchester.  
The way of the warrior, chapter 10.

“This is the endurance test, Sam.” Amber watched as Dean ran out of the canyon and she looked up at Sam to see what he wanted to do.

At Amber’s words Sam looked around the canyon. He saw the ghosts of the tribe moving towards the canyon’s entrance. He was very tempted to just push his way through the throng to get out of there and see what was happening to Dean; instead he took a breath to calm the panic building in his mind. He could wait - he knew he’d see his brother suffering soon enough.

He turned back and saw the others were waiting for him to make his move. He spotted the entrance was clear, “Come on, we need to see what’s happening out there. We stay close together, and if there is no other choice we get ready to run, ok?” Sam spoke to the group, letting them know he was in charge of their safety; after a few seconds they nodded and got ready to move.

As they went to move Amber broke away from the group. She went to place Dean’s clothes and boots on top of his bag. “Sam, do you want to hand me Dean’s jacket? I’ll put it with the rest of his clothes.” She held out her hand towards him, and was surprised when he shook his head.

“Amber, do me a favour? Can you put Dean’s stuff on my bag? Thanks.” As Sam spoke he watched their guards closely for any sign they understood what was being said. It didn’t seem as if they did, but Sam didn’t want to take chances. He turned and led them out of the canyon. They were closely followed by their guards. When they reached the entrance, the crowd parted and allowed them to walk to the front, to give them a clear view of how Dean was dealing with this test.

By now Amber had managed to get close to Sam again, and, as before, he was watching his brother closely. She had questions for the young hunter, but she decided to wait until Sam seemed ready to talk to her. Now she too turned her attention to what was happening out in the desert.

Dean was running, attempting to keep up with the horse and rider. The speed of the animal wasn’t designed to be too fast for a man to keep pace with, but still it was a brutal test of a body’s endurance. Dean stumbled and fell; shouts rang out some of horror, others of joy. The group watched helplessly as Dean was dragged for several feet, until he managed to haul himself back to his feet and start jogging once more. The rider changed direction in an attempt to wrong foot Dean once again. But the hunter saw it coming and changed direction easily, and continued on, pushing his already battered body to its limits and beyond.

Amber couldn’t wait; she had to speak to Sam, “Ok, what gives? And why are you holding onto that jacket as if your life depends on it?” She spoke softly, so their guards couldn’t hear them. At her words the rest of their little group gathered closer. They too wanted to know what was going on, and if they really did have a way out of here if Dean failed.

Sam risked a quick glance around; he relaxed a little when he realized that everyone’s attention was on his brother’s struggle to keep running. “Ok, Dean had a Plan B in mind if things went wrong during the Trial, and right about now he’s helping me put it into motion.” He flinched as he watched his brother narrowly avoid a collision with a thorn covered bush. Then his heart leapt into his mouth, as Dean nearly lost his footing once more.

His vigil was disturbed once again by Amber, “How the hell can he be putting anything into motion, while he’s having his ass dragged all over the desert out there?” She hissed urgently and looked around at her friends; they were as puzzled as she was at Sam’s comment.

Sam sighed; he really didn’t want to have to say this out loud. He knew what Dean had in mind. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to do what Dean had asked of him, if he had no other choice but to put the plan into action. Sam clutched the jacket in his hands even tighter, “Put it this way. Dean’s figuring out how far we’d have to run before the ghosts run out of juice.” At that, all eyes turned to the figure struggling in the distance, as he was towed behind the horse. He ran, jogged and desperately tried to stay on his feet.

“I thought Dean said it would be impossible to escape with the tribe chasing us, and shooting at us.” Jim asked that question, wondering what the brothers had up their sleeves.

Sam sighed; he had no choice but to explain Dean’s risky measures for their escape. It felt that if he said it out loud he was tempting Fate. “My brother tends to take a very straightforward view of dealing with problems. If the appeasement ritual had failed last night, he definitely had a back-up plan to deal with the ghosts... Shit, Dean!” His anguished shout made the others look out into the desert once more.

Dean had fallen once again, dragged further this time, and just avoided being dragged into a rock by rolling out of the way. As he did that, he wrapped the rope around the rock. The rider was nearly pulled off his horse when Dean did that, and it gave him precious seconds to get back to his feet and catch his breath. He smirked at the enraged rider, and then he finally loosened the rope from around the rock. “Come on, dude, we’re burning daylight here, and I ain’t tired yet.” His voice was beyond hoarse. It was more of a ragged whisper as his lungs burned from the exertion and his throat was parched.

Dean was ignoring his body’s protests; there was no point in listening to them anyway. There was nothing he could do to ease the pain in his stressed and exhausted limbs. He could feel the sweat running down his skin, stinging when it came into contact with the welts that had bled. Now he waited for the rider to spur his horse forward once more, and a thought crossed his mind, almost making him laugh out loud. Dean thought ‘thank God dad never thought of this’, otherwise he would’ve spent his Saturdays being pulled behind the Impala, instead of running endless laps. He took one last deep breath as the horse bolted forward, and once again he was running.

Sam relaxed when Dean managed to give himself a few seconds recovery time. He looked at the others and saw similar expressions of relief. He carried on where he left off. “Remember what Dean said about napalming the canyon? Well, he wasn’t exactly joking. When I looked in his bag last night I didn’t just find candy, I found his back-up supplies.” Sam paused when another warrior came close, and waited until he went by.

When Sam said that, it was as if a switch was thrown in Amber’s mind, “Holy crap! That’s what you two were on about before the trial started. All that ‘hot under the collar’ stuff and ‘what’s he got in that damn bag’. But how’s it gonna help us escape, Sam?” Amber glanced around to make sure they weren’t being overheard.

Sam smiled at the shaman. She’d grasped the hidden meaning to the conversation between him and his brother. “As I said, Dean likes to have a back-up plan in place if our original plan doesn’t pan out. In this case he was carrying enough accelerant, and extra flares to burn out most of the canyon if there was no other choice. As for helping us, if it looks like Dean is gonna fail then he wants me to set fire to the bag and run like hell.” There was raw pain in his voice as he said those words out loud, as he was finally forced to acknowledge the possibility of Dean dying here.

There was silence, and then a small explosion of sound as everyone started talking at once. Amber calmed everyone down as quickly as possible, in case they attracted unwanted attention. Finally as the voices died away, Daryl stepped closer to Sam, his face thunderstruck.

“That’s your brother’s fucking great escape plan? Just blow up a bag full of gas. Then hope we get far enough away before Great Bear and the tribe come after us and kill us? What are you gonna do? Carry Dean over your shoulder? Because I really don’t think he’s going to be up to running very fast after this.” Daryl pointed out towards where the Trial still continued. The figures had gotten even smaller as they went further out.

Sam gave Daryl a tight lipped smile as he fought the urge to reach over and grab the man around the throat. Instead he explained the rest of Dean’s escape strategy. “Not quite, Daryl. The explosion is a distraction to help us get moving out of the canyon. If everything does go to shit then I’m going to use the spare flare in Dean’s jacket to set fire to the bag. Last night when I was searching his bag, I opened one of the cans of gas. When the bag blows we run for the canyon’s entrance.” He paused, marshalling his thoughts.

Sam looked around and spoke again, “I’ll be behind you. I’ve got spare rock salt cartridges, and I’ll break them open and lay down salt lines. Thanks to Captain Stoneman and his dynamite, the entrance has been narrowed, so it shouldn’t take too long.

“No matter how powerful they are, they are still ghosts, and the salt lines should hold them. Then we run to where we left our shotguns. Once we reach them, I’ll give you cover while you run as far as you need to, just in case they do manage to break through.” Sam fell silent, watching the reaction of the others to the plan.

There were looks of fear, as they considered what Sam had said. Finally Chris spoke, “Sam, it’s suicide. We still don’t know how far Great Bear and his men can go before they fade. And how the hell are you gonna get Dean out?” He looked at Sam wondering what the answer was, fear plain in his eyes.

Amber had been listening. Everything suddenly became clear as she looked out to where Dean seemed to be leading the rider further out. He was doing that by forcing his beaten body out to the full extent of the rope, and somehow he was managing to stay level with the rider.

She kept her eyes on the hunter as he staggered, then righted himself and ran on. “If that happens, Dean won’t be coming with us, will he, Sam? Dean knew that when he decided to do this. When I explained the Trial to him last night, he saw the endurance test as the perfect way to find out where the ghosts lose their solid form. He’s doing this to show us how far we will have to run to reach safety.” Her words were filled with both sadness and admiration for both of the Winchesters. There was Dean, ready to sacrifice his life for them, putting himself through hell, in order to give them even the slightest chance to escape. Then there was Sam, faced with the hardest part of all - the prospect of having to leave his brother with the angry ghosts to get them to freedom.

There was an outcry amongst the others telling Sam he couldn’t do this. He couldn’t leave Dean behind, not after everything he was going through.

Sam shook his head, “No, I have to get you to safety. I promised Dean. This is our Hail Mary Play. If there is no other way, and believe me, if we have to do this....then Dean will most likely be....” Sam couldn’t bring himself to say the words.

Amber reached out and put her hand on his arm. He and his brother were sacrificing enough for them; it was time to help out. “Ok, ladies and gentlemen, this is what we are going to do. Chris, Jim, take some of the cartridges off Sam. When we get back in the canyon, stay at the rear of the group, ready to move. If Sam gives you the signal, break them open and get to the canyon’s entrance and lay the first row of salt lines. Sam, hand me Dean’s jacket. We all know the ghosts are watching you as closely as they’re watching Dean. If you try to get to the bag they’ll stop you. I think they might not take as much notice of me. Please, Sam, let me do this; I’ll get to the bag and drop the flare in it.” Amber’s face was determined and she held out her hand towards Sam. After a few seconds he slowly handed the jacket to her. Amber slipped it around her shoulders, and smiled. She had one more thing to say to everyone.

She looked right at Sam and spoke, “Besides, something tells me, once we get clear, Sam won’t be coming with us. He’ll go back for his brother - he won’t leave him alone in there.” When Sam didn’t deny it, she smiled at him.

Amber wanted to rally her troops, “Now we all need to do is trust in Dean to get through this, and be the warrior that Great Bear, me and Sam, know he is. And let’s keep our fingers crossed that these two don’t have to blow up our sacred ground. Now, we all ready to do this? Are we gonna be as strong for Dean, as he is being for us?” She took in the small group of friends with a glance, and waited as they looked out at the hunter running for all their lives. They nodded as one.

Sam felt a wave of gratitude wash over him towards Amber. No wonder Dean had such a soft spot for the woman. She’d managed to convince her friends that this was the only way if things went wrong, and she’d also got them to promise to help. Now everything was in her brother’s hands. He offered a silent prayer that Dean would have the strength to finish this.

Dean ran on, keeping a constant watch on both the terrain and the ghostly rider who held the rope. The rough and uneven ground was brutal on his bare feet, and every step sent shock waves of pain through an already exhausted and battered body. He shook his head in an attempt to clear the sweat dripping in his eyes. He saw another large rock coming up. He could either go right and try and dislodge the rider, or go left and save putting even more strain on his mistreated shoulders. Dean feinted left; there was no need to alert the rider to what he was doing.

Ever since the trial had begun, he’d been luring the rider further away from the canyon and the ghosts sacred ground. Dean was certain that at some point the rider would start to flicker and behave like a normal ghost. It didn’t seem as if he’d managed to get far enough out yet. Just then the rider turned sharply and rode right at him. Dean swore under his breath; he knew why he’d done that. He’d managed to stay on his feet longer this time, and the rider was trying to unbalance him and get him to fall.

Dean weighed his options. He could play chicken and hope the rider would veer away at the last second; he could dive out of the way and get dragged behind the horse again. He shook his head at that, twice was more than enough of that. Or he could force heavy, tired legs to a greater effort. Dean managed a sprint, veering out to the right, and the rider rode past. His lungs burned as he moved. His skin felt hot and tight as it turned red underneath the merciless sun as he watched the rider turn his horse out of the corner of his eye. The horse thundered towards him, and as it clipped him, he spun and fell. Again he was being dragged. Shit! He had to get to his feet. He had almost no control when he was dragged, every piece of debris, even the smallest pebble became like shrapnel, cutting into him.

Dean was struggling desperately to get to his feet. For a second he thought he heard his Dad’s voice again, “Come on, Dean, get up. If you don’t, you know what’s gonna happen to Sammy and the others.” Those words, either real or imagined, spurred him on. He pulled on the rope, dug his feet in hard and pushed against the ground. It had the desired effect; he was jerked up, and managed to get his feet beneath him once more. And then, God, was it? He blinked and yes, the rider was wavering. Suddenly Dean could see through horse and rider. He gave a grim smile as he saw another large rock approaching.

This time he didn’t bother hiding what he was about to do. He aimed right for the rock, and before the rider could react he wrapped the rope around it. The rider was jerked back violently and came off his horse. But better still Dean felt his bonds giving. When the rider fell, he let go of the rope. The hunter grabbed the chance with both hands. He stepped back until, “Yessss! Well, don’t just lie there, buddy. I’m sure you got better things to do today than just lie there, catching some sun.” As he taunted the ghost, the rope around his wrists vanished and Dean raised his arms in triumph. In the distance he could see figures leaping up and down. He managed a smile; he’d given Sam the answer he’d need if he didn’t make it. Now it was time to finish this.

Then the ghost sprang to his feet. They looked at one another, and then the ghost turned back to the canyon and started to run. Dean followed suit, and soon hunter and ghost were running side by side in a race.

When Dean had stumbled the last time, the women had screamed, and Sam had taken an involuntary step forward, “Come on, get up, Dean, you can do it. Come on, man, don’t give up....YES!” Sam let a cry of joy escape when Dean got up again and began to play cat and mouse with the rider. Then Dean had faltered a little before darting towards a rock. Sam felt his heart accelerate; did that mean what he thought it did?

The group watched as Dean unseated the rider, “Hey, Amber, can he do that? Holy Shit! He’s free! Go on, run! For god’s sake, get out of here. What the hell is he doing?” Eric asked as Dean started to run back towards the canyon. He looked frustrated. “He’s free. Why the hell is he running back here?” Eric was almost beside himself at the thought of Dean not making good his escape.

Sam hadn’t taken his eyes off the figure in the distance, “For a start, Eric, where is Dean going to run to? You know how far it is to town, and if he runs, then Great Beat and his men will kills us. But most importantly, he’s just given me the distance we’ll have to run if there’s no other choice.” Sam looked back at Eric and smiled at the still puzzled man.

“It all stems back to how we were raised. Me and Dean spent our lives training to hunt. Dad was a Marine Sergeant, he was all for physical fitness. We would spend hours running laps, and if we got into trouble, one of his favourite punishments was sending us out on long-distance runs. Dean had a flare for getting into trouble.... well, he had a flare for taking the blame for stuff I did, as well as getting into his own trouble. It meant that Dean spent a hell of a lot of time running, with dad’s favourite mantras ringing in his ears.

Keep going, Dean. Speed’s only gonna get you so far, son. Do you think a Skin walker, or a Black Dog will wait for you while you catch your breath? Endurance is the key to a successful hunt.

And believe me, Dean has plenty of endurance. I can out pace him over short distances, but Dean can run all day if he has to.” Sam stopped speaking, his mind going back to the endless weekends he sat watching Dean train, doing everything he could to make his dad proud of him, being the good son.

Sam’s trip down memory lane was disturbed by Amber, “You said Dean had given you the distance. You can tell how far away that rock is just by looking at it?” She sounded impressed with Sam’s hunting instincts.

Sam grinned; he thought about letting them continue to think that. He shook his head. “Nothing as amazing as that. One birthday, Dean brought me a watch that had a stop watch built in, and I used to time him when he ran. I even wrote down his times. The shit he gave me for that, but it became a habit. I now know how long it takes Dean to run a mile, whether he’s healthy, or sick, or injured. I still do it from time to time, just so I can tell him he’s getting old and slow.” Sam gave a wistful smile at the memories of those more innocent times spent watching his brother.

Amber smiled and turned to the others and explained, “Sam’s timing how long it will take Dean to make it back, and that should give him a rough idea of the distance. Am I right?” Amber waited for Sam to confirm. He nodded then she turned back to watching Dean. “You know what? I think we should show Dean our appreciation for his efforts.....COME ON, DEAN! YOU CAN DO IT!” As she shouted, Amber started to jump up and down.

For a second nothing happened, and then the other women joined in, yelling, cheering and waving, making as much noise as possible. As they continued, Eric, Jim and Chris joined in. Sam looked around at the most unlikely group of cheerleaders he’d ever seen. He added his own voice to shouts of encouragement, hoping to spur Dean on.

When he’d started to run back to the canyon, his body had felt like lead. Each step felt as if he was battling through wet cement. His chest burned, and his arms felt like lengths of heavy chain, almost too heavy to lift. But with the rope gone, he was starting to get the feeling back in his arms and hands; they tingled as the blood flowed through them once more. He kept pace with the rider. His head felt heavy, and Dean knew he was starting to struggle. Everything he’d gone through in the last couple of days was starting to extract its price. From the beating in the bar, to the bullet graze and this morning’s entertainment were weakening him.

He hurt all over. There wasn’t a part of him that didn’t ache or throb. No wait, that wasn’t quite true - the little finger on his left hand was in pretty good shape. For the first time since this all began, Dean felt his resolve wavering, as he pushed his abused body onwards. He drew in great gulps of air, making his lungs burn and his chest tighten. He knew he should try and control his breathing, but he was just so damn tired. He’d give anything to just stop and rest. For a second his vision wavered and he stumbled. The hard desert floor was unforgiving on his bare feet, and he wouldn’t be surprised if they too were bleeding. Then he heard something. It sounded like voices, and one particular voice was louder than the rest.

Shaking his head in an attempt to clear it, Dean forced himself to lift his eyes from the desert floor. For a second he squinted into the harsh glaring light, and finally when he focused, it was a sight worth seeing. Leaping up and down, screaming their hearts out, were Sam, Amber and the rest of the group. They were calling out encouragement to him. Sam’s voice floated out over the rest and Dean fixed on that voice, a beacon guiding him back home.

Every yell of, “DEAN! DEAN! Come on, Jerk! Do you want him to beat you?” Acted like a shot of adrenaline through his body. This was the reason he was doing this - to protect Sam and the others. He was a Winchester and a hunter, and Winchesters were stubborn bastards who never knew when they were beaten. Dean turned his head towards the rider beside him. He grinned at the ghost and pushed himself on, passing the ghost and leaving him behind.

When Dean managed that, Amber and her friends went mad. “That’s it! Come on, Dean, you got him. He’s eating your dust.” There were whoops and cheers, as he pulled away from the ghost with an extra burst of speed from his reserves.

Once again, Dean pushed the pain away. His discomfort didn’t matter; he had a hunt to finish, and there was still a lot to do. He let his world shrink down to the canyon entrance and the sound of Sam’s voice guiding him back.

Sam was roaring his brother on. Hunter and ghost were close now. The younger Winchester started to walk closer to the entrance to the canyon. He wanted to be there when Dean reached it; he could still hear voices calling out encouragement. He found himself looking into Great Bear’s face. As usual it was impassive, but the warrior’s eyes told a different story. They burned with fire and Sam knew the chief was offering his own encouragement to the man fighting his way back towards them. For a second their eyes met, and Sam knew he’d been right in his assessment of the chief. He’d chosen his brother for this, and now both of them were just waiting for Dean to return.

There was a shout, and Sam turned his head towards the sound. Dean was nearing the canyon. He went inside to wait for him, being careful not to block the narrow entrance and hinder Dean. He found himself being followed once more by the small group of people he was coming to rely on.

Amber caught up with Sam, “He’s nearly here, Sam. What do you want us to do now?” She looked around at her friends; they were all waiting for Sam’s decision.

He took a look around and nodded, “Ok, we stay together. Chris, Jim, stay at the back like Amber told you. If I think Dean’s not gonna make it I’ll signal you, and then I want the rest of you to make a lot of noise and movement. The more we distract the ghosts the better our chances.” Sam saw Dean entering the canyon, “Ok, everyone, he’s here. Get ready and fingers crossed that we don’t have to do this.”

Sam fixed his eyes on his brother as he ran into the canyon. He’d left the warrior behind and now he staggered to a halt. Dean stood in the centre, breathing hard. Sam’s eyes ran the over his battered form. He was covered in bruises, scratches and welts. Sam saw that Dean was trembling from exhaustion, and again his arm wrapped around sore ribs.

As the ghosts began to reappear in the canyon, Dean managed to lift his eyes to meet his brother’s. He saw how much this was hurting Sam and wished he didn’t have to put him through this. But if the alternative had been watching Sam go through this, then he’d take the sad puppy eyes every time. He managed to get his breathing under control, slowly straightening up. He hoped they would get on with the next part of the trial before his muscles stiffened and he got cramp.

Dean didn’t have to wait long as Chuckles swaggered over, carrying a knife. He tensed, wondering if he was going to attack him. Then Chuckles threw the knife into the ground at his feet. The hunter glanced down, wondering if he could even hold a ghost knife.

Then he heard voices and it looked like Chuckles was calling for a volunteer. Dean watched as a muscular warrior stepped forward and unsheathed his knife. Without taking his eyes off the approaching warrior, he crouched down and pulled the knife free. He wasn’t too surprised that the knife felt ‘real’ in his hand, a good weight and no doubt, sharp. He moved slowly in a circle, assessing the man in front of him.

He was a few inches shorter and well built, but more importantly he was fresh. He hadn’t spent the morning doing the new and improved Jane Fonda work-out. If he survived this, Dean was going to take this to Hollywood; he’d make a fortune out of the fruit loop actors there.

As Dean and the warrior sized each other up, Amber stood close to Sam, nodding towards the combatants, “The test of cunning. Dean will have to defeat him. Is he any good at hand to hand combat?” She asked looking at Sam.

Just then the warrior lunged forward with the knife, and Dean managed to gracefully spin away. All previous signs of pain and exhaustion were gone, as he concentrated fully on dealing with the threat. As the ghost stumbled past, Dean kicked him behind the knee, making him fall. The warrior rolled and was back on his feet in a flash, a wary respect in his eyes for his opponent.

Amber blinked at the move, shocked that Dean had managed it after what he’d been through. She and the others watched as the fighters circled one another, waiting for the right moment to strike.

Sam leant down and whispered to her, “He’s ok, I suppose. I knew all those hours sparring with him might just come in useful some day.” He grinned at Amber as he said that.

Dean moved forward to attack, using the knife as an extension of his arm. He glided past the warrior’s defences, and tore the sleeve of his shirt with his blade. Dean was surprised to see blood on the warrior’s arm and the momentary distraction allowed the man to counter attack. The warrior lunged forward, the knife aimed at Dean’s stomach. He cursed to himself as he twisted away, forced to block the blade’s journey. He hissed as the knife bit into the flesh of his arm, deflecting the knife from his body.

Dean wheeled away, narrowing his eyes. The warrior seemed bothered by the injury to his arm; that sight gave him hope. It meant that here in the canyon the ghosts could be hurt, and if they could be hurt they could be beaten. He dropped into a crouch and moved slowly, watching for an opening, his concentration totally on the weaving figure in front of him.

When the warrior had cut Dean, it had taken all of Sam’s resolve not to step forward to try and help his brother. Dean was brilliant at this type of combat. He’d taught Sam everything he knew. He’d always listened to Dean better than to Dad, and now he was watching Dean use his extensive knowledge of this type of fighting. Just then the warrior darted forward, and Dean blocked the attack, launching one of his own. His elbow came up at speed, catching the warrior under the chin, snapping his head back. The warrior retreated a little, shaking his head to clear it.

“That’s it, Dean, you can take him. Come on, man.” Chris called out and once again the group began to call out encouragement to the exhausted man.

Amber looked up at Sam as he watched his brother battle on. “Come on, then, Sam. Just how far have we gotta run? We should be ok but Daryl might be in trouble. All that sitting behind a desk, planning world domination means you don’t get much exercise.” She saw Sam smile at that.

“Thank you very much, Amber. I’ll have you know I run three miles every night on my treadmill.” Daryl’s injured tones made everyone laugh.

Sam grinned, “Thank you for that, Daryl. I’ll bear that in mind that you’re awesome at running in place. Ok, Amber, we’re looking at roughly half a mile. Use the rock where Dean got free of the rope as a landmark, alright?” Sam spoke softly to prevent them being overheard, but he wasn’t too worried as everyone’s attention was fixed firmly on the fight. Sam watched as once again the warrior struck at Dean, managing to avoid serious injury, but he took a cut along his shoulder for his trouble.

Amber winced when that happened; she was worried that Dean was weakening. She saw the warrior was trying to wear the hunter down; the darting attacks followed by stepping back were all designed to tire Dean.

“Sam, it seemed much further than that. The amount of time he was out there, running. Are you sure about the distance?” Amber spoke so only Sam heard the question.

Sam managed to tear his eyes away from his battling brother to answer, “Based on how long it took Dean to get back, and the state he’s in, I’d say it was around half a mile. Listen, Amber, he was out there for over an hour, and they zigzagged back and forth. The rider never took a straight line. It took Dean that long to get the rider far enough out. Trust me, it’s about right. It was never going to be exact, but it’s the best I can do.....Dean, look out, damnit.” As they had been talking, the warrior had been making another series of quick attacks on his older brother, forcing the injured man to stagger back.

When Dean was forced back, the warriors roared out their approval, then the warrior fighting Dean, kicked out and swept his legs from under him. Dean crashed to the floor. The knife flew from his hand and for a second he lay there stunned, trying to catch his breath. The warrior leapt for him with his knife raised high. Just in time, Dean brought his knees up to his chest as the ghost pressed down on him. Dean desperately grabbed the warrior’s hands, and held them, trying to stop the knife being forced down into his chest.

Dean’s arms ached and shook as he tried to keep the warrior from stabbing him through the heart. He could hear the sounds of the tribe baying for his blood, but he could also hear Sam screaming out his name. Digging deep into his failing reserves of strength, Dean pushed hard with his knees and legs. With one last effort Dean forced his legs straight, and the warrior flew back. He rolled over and was back on his feet in a heartbeat. He staggered away, breathing hard. He began to limp and he looked disorientated.

Sam felt Amber’s hand curl tightly around his arm; he ignored the way she was holding it. He knew what she was trying to ask him. Had the time come? Was Dean failing? Sam narrowed his eyes, watching his brother carefully. He wasn’t watching the distressing display of pain and weakness; he was watching Dean’s eyes. As he did he felt relief wash over him. There was no weakness in those green eyes. Dean had been luring the warrior in, now he was waiting to strike. The tribe thought Dean was unarmed and helpless but they couldn’t be further from the truth.

The warrior circled the wounded man; he smiled in triumph as Dean limped, trying to keep away from him. He knew this battle was over and he would be victorious. The warrior looked over to his war chief, asking silently for permission to finish this.

Great Bear looked over to the small group of people huddled together in fear, and with great sadness, he nodded his permission. It was then he focused on the tallest member of the group, his Chosen One’s younger brother, and the hope that had been dying, reignited. The younger warrior was almost smiling at the scene before him; Great Bear turned his attention back to Dean. What he saw lifted the chief’s spirits. Yes, the man was tired and in pain, but he was far from defeated. He’d carefully laid a trap for one of his best fighters. Now Dean was about to spring that trap.

Dean limped backwards, watching as the warrior strutted around. He knew he was getting tired and he needed to finish the fight, the longer it went on the greater the risk he could lose. Both fighters had cuts on them from knife strikes, and Dean was aware that his strength was waning. He decided on a risky strategy to lull the warrior into a false sense of security. During the fight he made more of his exhaustion, allowing himself to take more punches and the staggering had boosted the other fighter’s confidence.

In the last skirmish he’d let himself be thrown to the floor, and deliberately lost his knife. Now the warrior was preparing to move in for the kill, the ghost drew himself to his full height. With a cry, he sprang forward just as Dean had expected him to. As the ghost reached him, Dean twisted to the side, grabbed the warrior and threw him over his hip. As the ghost hit the floor, Dean followed him down, driving his knee hard into his stomach. With his right hand he twisted the wrist holding the knife hard. And with his left he squeezed the warrior’s throat.

The warrior tried desperately to hang onto the knife but in the end he was forced to let go. Dean snatched up the knife and pressed it to the warrior’s throat. Silence had fallen in the canyon. All the shouts from the tribe had died, and the Sam and the others stood waiting to see what would happen next.

Dean stared down into shocked brown eyes, smiling slowly. There was none of the usual easy charm in the smile. It was cold and hard, his eyes flashed with a freezing fire. Dean spoke softly, not caring if the warrior on the floor understood, relying on the tone of his voice to convey his message. “Now I don’t know what will happen if I cut your throat. Can you die again? I don’t know if that’s even possible. But I beat you, and that’s enough for me. Now you stay there like a good boy. Don’t make me change my mind.” At that Dean let go of the warrior’s throat, managing to push himself to his feet.

For a moment there was silence and then Amber screamed with delight, and the rest of her friends joined in with the celebrations. Dean slowly walked the few steps away from the fallen warrior to where Chuckles stood next to Great Bear. He looked the enraged ghost in the eyes, and smirked at him, before flipping the knife into the ground at his feet. He looked over at the War Chief and gave a cheeky smile. He stood, waiting for what was going to happen next. Dean quickly glanced over his shoulder to where his brother stood.

Sam watched Dean as he made his way to the ghosts, then he looked back at him. He saw Dean’s face light up with a triumphant smile, happy that he’d made it this far and more importantly as far as Dean was concerned, he and the others were still unharmed.

Sam watched his brother as he stood in front of the tribe; he stood straight and met the eyes of those who would see him fail. Dean stood resolute in his defence of them, and he could see the evidence of what it was costing him to do that. He was covered in dirt from the desert, and mingled in with that was blood, sweat and bruises. Sam gave a slight smile as he looked around at the warriors. Some were wearing war paint, and looking at Dean now, he was wearing his own war paint. Dean’s body was painted in blood and pain, every cut and bruise added its own decoration, telling the story of this warrior’s journey to gain their freedom. Sam saw a movement and he tensed.

Once again two warriors stepped forward and took Dean by the arms. As they were leading him past he spoke to Sam, “Hey, Sammy, having a relaxing morning? It’s just like being kids again, ain’t it? A little distance training, followed by some sparring. I thought this was supposed to be hard?” Dean’s tone was light, but his voice was hoarse and Sam could hear the strain in it.

Sam folded his arms and rolled his eyes, “I’m having a relaxing time, thanks, although watching you is making me tired. Just be glad Dad isn’t here. He’d have kicked your ass for how long it took you to end that fight. You’re finally showing your age, big brother. And I’m really enjoying the sun, but I got some bad news for you, bro. I can tell you right now, I see a freckled covered ass in your future.” Sam grinned when he heard a laugh from his brother; he felt reconnected to hm.

Dean looked back, “Well, chicks dig those things as well as scars. I’m gonna be even more irresistible. You still taking care of my stuff?” Dean stumbled slightly, as shaky legs struggled to keep him standing.

Sam felt his chest tighten when Dean stumbled. Despite the bravado, Dean was running on fumes now. He knew his brother well enough to know that he’d reached his limit. Now he was pushing himself on, on sheer determination alone.

Sam licked his lips, “Of course I’m taking care of it, but you might not get your watch back. I’ve always wanted it.” Sam was proud that he’d managed to keep his voice steady when he spoke; he refused to show any weakness to either the ghosts or to Dean. He knew his brother needed him to be strong, and if that’s what it took to get Dean through this then that was fine by him.

“Hands off my watch, bitch. You want one like it, buy your own. Coming for a walk, Sam? Looks like we’re on the move again.” Dean called out, his voice calm and steady. But this last test was the one that worried him the most, and he needed his brother with him. He knew where he was being taken, and he could see signs of industry around the tree. While he’d been out for his little run, the warriors had tied a large broken branch to the trunk, making a cross shape. Dean took as deep a breath as he could manage and walked towards it as if he was talking an afternoon stroll, nothing more, and not the final part of an ordeal that would determine the survival of everyone.

At Dean’s words Sam moved forward and the others came with him. As they neared the tree, he noticed the change, and looked down at Amber. Her face was serious, and he saw a glimmer of fear in her eyes.

She never took her eyes from the tree or the man walking towards it as she spoke softly. “This is the final test, and the hardest part of all - the test of courage.”

Chapter 11.

Current Mood: nervousnervous