The bow of the ship lifted in impetuous abandon as the wind caught her sails.
She'd been becalmed for the past three days, the air still and heavy, but now like an unfettered stallion she was eager to run free and show her mettle.
The crew let out an enthusiastic cheer as her sails tautened with the strong gusts.
They were glad to be on the move, the Captain had worked them as hard, if not more during the lull, using the time to check out the ship, keeping her in prime condition.
But there was no more than a good-natured grumbling, for every man laid his loyalty and devotion at their Captain's feet.
The Captain was at the wheel, one with the ship, man and machine bonded into a modern-day centaur, the varnished wood of the decks substituting the horse's hooves.
:A fine sight indeed, one of the two females on the ship mused to herself.
Dean Winchester was endowed with undeniably good looks; his tall muscled figure, dark hair, green eyes and full lips, a sure magnet for any woman.
She turned to go below decks to the ship's kitchen, when she noticed her daughter eyeing the captain with an admiring glance, and she sighed.
Jo was coming on fifteen, a woman in all but name. She could well understand the young girl's infatuation with the handsome man, but he saw her as a little sister and even when Jo came into the fullness of her beauty, Ellen knew she would never be privy to more than that.
:"You finished with the carrots? " she scolded, catching Jo's eye. "You'll get nothing done up here!"
Jo gave her mother a withering glance, not in the least embarrassed at being caught out ogling the captain.
"Not yet," she admitted. "Just needed a bit of fresh air."
Ellen harrumphed, nodding back towards the man at the helm "Fresh air my arse. Don't get any ideas in your head, young lady. He'll never be for you! Now the crew'll be wanting it's supper soon. The Captain's kept them working like slaves to keep his ship in order."
Jo rolled her eyes. Slaves indeed! Winchester treated his men like comrades. Everyone knew it. That's why each and every one would gladly die for him. Of course the amount of booty he shared with them after every boarding helped a lot too!
Captain Dean Winchester was oblivious to everything except the ship beneath his feet and the wind in her sails as he governed her through the swells of the ocean.
As a child in the back streets of London, if someone had told him he'd be the Master of a ship, he'd have laughed out loud. Yet here he was. Funny how fate had a way of surprising you.
For it could only have been Fate's benevolent eye that had given him the Impala.
:A pox had swept through the ship three years ago--the 'Loyal England' as she was called back then--regaling death to the entire crew except for three survivors, himself, the bosun Robert Singer and Pastor Jim, a cleric on his way to the Americas.
Just as suddenly as the disease had begun, it burnt itself out, leaving the three of them to free the ship from the stench of death and rotting bodies.
Dean had been only eighteen then, but in the six years he'd been on the ship, he'd learned all that was needed to govern her.
Strangely enough no other vessel had crossed their path during that terrible period.
Initially Dean had stared at the other two with dark haunted eyes, the horrific deaths of Captain Campbell and his ship-mates still a raw wound, but then a new awareness had set in.
The ship was his for the taking!
Sure, Bosun Singer was the highest ranking man left alive.
By rights Bobby should have taken command and veered towards England to consign the ship to the Naval authorities, but he'd always had a soft spot for Dean since as a twelve-year old the boy had been grabbed from the street on his way home and press-ganged onto the 'Loyal England', and so was willing to go along with the young man's plans.
Fate had killed off everyone except them. There had to be a reason in there somewhere, Dean reflected. He' d be a fool not to take advantage.
And so was born the legend of the black ship and its unbeatable Captain.
The sight of her black sails and silver figurehead was enough to generate fear into the heart of any god-fearing vessel that it had the misfortune to intercept.
Gradually the young captain had built up his crew taking only men who were willing, memory of how cruelly he'd been separated from what was left of his family.
He laid out his terms clearly. The newly baptised Impala was a pirate ship, owing loyalty to no man or nation except itself. Spanish, English, French, it was of no importance. They would all be prey for the Impala.
Dean had built up a small fortune in gold and silver looted from the slower galleons who plied back and forth from the Americas and until now, things had gone more than well for him.
He'd even flown in the face of the notion that women on ships brought bad luck when he'd rescued Ellen and her daughter on one of his rare stops on the coast of Pennsylvania.
She was accused of witchcraft, and just the sight of little Jo crying for her mother had touched his heart.
He'd meant to leave them somewhere on land with a purse of coins, but Ellen had refused. She wanted to stay on the ship and when Dean had explained that the crew would be against it, she pressed her case.
She was a good cook and had medic skills too. As for the vetoing of women on ships, it was just superstition, she argued. How could the presence of herself and her little daughter have any influence on the fate of the ship?
In the end Dean had given in, even against the grumbling of the crew.
But when their luck seemed even better than usual with the two females aboard, the grumbling ceased and with Ellen's good cooking filling the crew's bellies, no-one complained again.
Now the Impala was heading towards England.
Dean had left a father and a younger brother there when he'd been taken. If there was any hope of finding them, now was the time.
He'd had the men put up a new set of white sails, and painted on a different name to the ship, the 'American Eagle'. He'd dock in one of the smaller ports further up from London and make his way by horse to the city.
During his years on the ocean, he'd tried to push the memory of his father and brother from his mind.
There had been nothing he could have done for them then, now though, he was wealthy, with a ship and loyal comrades to cover his back. He had to find out what had become of them, especially his baby brother Sammy.
When he'd been taken Sam had only been eight, a skinny, angelic-faced little boy with a mop of chestnut hair whom Dean had loved with all his heart. He'd dedicated himself to protecting the child from the world outside of their poor home.
Their mother had died when Sam was a baby, and their father had taken it very badly, the once strong and smiling bear of a man changing into an ale-seeking sour individual whose bonhomie had died along with his golden-haired wife.
The Impala docked in the city of Bristol, flying a flag of the Colonies.
"I don't know how long I'll be gone," Dean briefed Bobby. "At the first sign of trouble, take the Impala out and head for the open sea."
"Aye, " Bobby replied frowning. "Just so you know, I'm not too taken with this idea, Dean. After nine years do you really think you'll manage to find your father and brother in the cesspit that is London?"
Dean sighed. " I don't know, but I've got to try, Bobby. Sam's my baby brother. I looked out for him when we were children. If he's still alive, he'll find a home with me here on the Impala, If not," he swallowed, "I'd rather know. Dad too."
Bobby understood that nothing was going to stop Dean from embarking on what Bobby considered a thankless undertaking, but he got that the kid had to try.
Dean's intention had been to ride into London but Ellen had pestered him with the idea of she and Jo coming along too.
"It's going to seem far more normal if you have an aunt and a younger sister with you. It'll get you into more places with much less suspicion."
Dean had to admit it was a good idea, so instead of a horse he procured a carriage and when the time came to leave, his eyes and those of the on-looking crew popped wide at the elegance of Ellen and Jo, dressed in clothes stolen from the Impala's prey on the high seas.
"After you, dear aunt," Dean grinned, helping her and Jo into the rented carriage. "I'll be more than proud to show you both off."
"Why thank you, nephew, " Ellen simpered, getting into the part, while Jo rolled her eyes in fond exasperation.
They found a genteel boarding house near the centre of the city, but by now Dean was impatient to get down to what he'd come for, finding Sam and his dad.
He left the women to settle into the rooms while he took to the streets. The area he'd grown up in had been a poor one, though still a good couple of steps up from the wretched slums.
It was no stretch of the imagination to believe Sam and Dad might still be living there, but as he approached the one-roomed house in which he'd been born, a little group of children were playing in the dusty street outside.
Four pairs of eyes stared up in curiosity at Dean, his tight grey breeches, stylish coat and white linen neck-cloth marking him as a stranger to this area.
"Do you live here? " he asked, hiding the anguish the sight of the place gave him.
"Yes sir," the tallest girl replied after a quick glance at the others. "Me mum's away to work, and so's me dad."
Dean felt his hopes dashed at the first attempt, but he was a man on a mission and he certainly wasn't going to be put off at the first obstacle.
"Since Betty was a baby, " she said, pointing to a toddler.
Dean sighed and threw the children some silver coins, which they scrabbled to catch. They wouldn't be able to tell him anything. He'd need to speak with the adults.
He made his way along the street to the tavern, careful not to dirty his polished boots on the shit that was profusely dotted along the way. His father used to come to The Cock's Rest; taverns were hot-beds of gossip, someone must surely remember his family.
Inside it was as malodorous as he remembered, the stink of unwashed humanity mixed with old vomit and spilt beer.
All eyes turned to him and he wished he'd dressed in something more suitable for scouring the back alleys of London. He stalked over to the bar, recalling how he'd often come to call his father for dinner when he himself was only a small child.
A silver coin glittered onto the counter. "Looking for John Winchester. You seen him around?"
The inn-keeper sniffed and pocketed the coin.
"Can't rightly say as the name comes to mind,"
Dean huffed and threw down another coin, copper this time. "This had better jog your memory, otherwise you might receive something less appreciated."
He schooled his face into a scowl, one that had put the fear of death into many a weathered sailor, let alone a mere inn-keeper.
"Now I remember," the man squeaked. "Used to be a good customer o'mine, specially after his kid went and disappeared. Spent all his time nursing a cup of ale."
"Where is he now?"
"Dead and gone, far's I know. Poor bugger. Buried in some pauper's grave."
Dean's anguish increased a hundred-fold. "What happened to the other child?" he asked, heart hammering in fear of the reply.
"Finished up in the workhouse poor kid. Sweet little thing too."
"Where?" Dean growled, reaching forward and grasping the man by his dirty shirt, all the veneer of a gentleman deserting him. "Where?" he repeated shaking his hapless victim.
"I dunno. I swear." the man vowed.
A hand on his arm caused Dean to desist. He turned to see a care-worn woman staring at him.
"It's you isn't it?" she asked." Dean."
Dean took her arm and walked her out of the tavern. No-one needed to know who he was.
"You know me ?" he asked.
"What a handsome man you grew up to be. Wouldn't have said it from the plain little kid you were."
:He stared at her trying to remember. "Maisie?"
She nodded wryly. "I've changed too, but not for the better. A girl on her own doesn't get by too well."
"Weren't you wed to Jim Jones? He had a good job, if I remember," Dean frowned.
"Had! Went and died on me. And here I am, Plying low-life taverns for a couple of pennies."
"Sorry to hear that, " Dean replied, and he was.
There was little left of the young woman she'd been, and who used to pass him new-baked biscuits now and then for little Sammy.
"Do you know what happened to my family?"
"John took it bad when you didn't come home, Dean. Sam took it even harder. Wouldn't eat nor speak. Poor kid was a walking ghost. First your mammy then you. Anyway it drove John even further down the road to drink. They found him dead on his way home one night, and Sam was dragged away yelling and kicking to a workhouse."
"I've gotta find him, " Dean said anxiously. "You know where?"
"Yeah, I can show you. But he's not there now. Some toff took a shine to him and spirited him away. Never seen him no more," she sighed.
"How do you know that?" Dean asked.
She shrugged. "Tavern gossip."
"Come on, show me where this place is. They're sure to know the person who took him."
:Despite the bad news, Dean felt a little more optimistic. He could do nothing for his father but maybe he was still in time to help his little brother.
Before long Dean found himself standing outside the front entrance of the most depressing building he'd ever seen. His heart went out to his baby brother. He guessed that even his own gruelling life on the 'Loyal England' had been better than this. At least Dean had been able to breathe in the fresh sea air.
At the sight of his seemingly well to do visitor, the Beadle smiled ingratiatingly.
"Welcome to the Workshop for Abandoned Children. What may I help you with?"
Dean smiled back just as ingratiatingly "I'm looking for one of your former inmates, Samuel Winchester. He was brought here some years ago when his father died, I believe."
The smile on the man's face grew tight. "Uh.. I don't seem to recall that name. Perhaps you have come to the wrong place. We are not the only establishment to help the poor."
Dean's smile grew wolfish. "Think harder, " he growled. "Or I may have to resort to some unpleasant persuasion."
"Are you threatening me, sir?" the Beadle stammered.
"Threatening you? Oh no. If you do not give me the name of the person who took the boy, I will do you harm, and be warned I'm very good at it."
:The man must have believed him for he went to rummage though an old ledger.
"Here we are. One Samuel Winchester was given over to the paternal care of Lord George Brampton, Earl of Borchurch."
"His address, " Dean hissed.
"12 Bluebell Crescent, London. "
Dean turned and walked out to where Maisie was still standing.
"Thank you, " he said, taking her hands in his. "I have a name and an address."
She smiled and some of her former spirit came to the fore."I hope all goes well and you find your brother."
"Come to my lodgings at this address and I will see you are well rewarded for your help, Maisie," he said. "If I am not there, I will leave word with my aunt to receive you."
She nodded, any pride she had in accepting charity long gone. Charity beat whoring any day!
Dean released her hands and made his way back to Ellen and Jo.
That night he tossed and turned restlessly, images of his baby brother in the hands of the Beadle and whoever had him now, too horrific to bear. He woke up just after dawn began to lighten the sky and pulled on his clothes.
He left a note for Ellen, hailed a cab and asked to be taken to Bluebell Crescent.
The cabbie stopped in front of an elegant town house which seemed already abuzz with activity despite the early hour. He told the man to wait while he went to inspect the building.
A horse-drawn cart approach the servants' entrance and Dean crossed the road. "Excuse me, " he said. "I'm looking for Lord George Brampton's house."
"Well, you've come to the right place then, " the man grunted. "But if it's money you're after, stand in line. Bugger owes me a fortune in food and drink."
Dean raised an eyebrow. "Bad payer is he?"
The man snorted. "Bad gambler. Nothing left but the clothes he stands in. Not that it stops him running up more debt."
Dean ran an eye over the loaded cart. "There's enough stuff here to feed an army."
"M'lord's having a big do tonight. Trying to win back some of his money. Stupid git!"
Dean was debating whether to steal into the house and look for Sam, but it wasn't his best option. If only he could get an invite to the night's entertainment, he'd have more time to work out what to do.
Getting his hands on one would be problematic but not impossible, he grinned to himself.
'Hang in there little brother. I'm coming to get you!'
"Dean, " Ellen's gruff voice greeted him as he entered his rooms. "Where have you been? We were worried you might have run into trouble."
Dean's smile was wide.
"I went to examine the house Sam's supposedly in. Tonight they're having a little get-together. We don't have an invitation, but I think we'll manage to get in just the same. You two are gonna have the chance to show off your finery, ladies."
Ellen grinned. "Never thought you'd ask!"
An hour before the required time, Dean, Ellen and Jo, were sitting in a hired carriage, waiting for the guests to begin arriving. He was waiting for a threesome to show up, hoping to be able to take their place.
:Once again fate came through and after a short while a carriage drew up behind theirs, from which a man, woman and young girl descended.
Dean nodded to Ellen and Jo, and each of them threw themselves onto the unsuspecting guests, dragging them hastily into the closed carriage. In a moment, they were gagged and trussed up like turkeys
Dean searched the man's pockets looking for the invitation, finally finding it in the woman's evening purse.
"Nothing's gonna happen to you," he assured the frightened prisoners. "I'll send someone out to free you soon."
He took Ellen's arm, and with a demure Jo by their side, they made their way to the front door.
A bewigged footman took their card and ushered them forward into the main salon where a small number of guests were huddled in groups, making conversation.
Dean looked around eagerly, hoping for a glimpse of his brother, not quite sure if he'd even recognise Sam right off.
Nine years had passed after all.
"We better not mingle too much," Ellen whispered. "If we're asked, remember our story. Wealthy merchants just back from the Americas, with the accent on wealthy! If the man of the house is penniless, I don't think he'd kick us out."
Dean smirked his agreement.
"I think I'll go mix with the younger girls, " Jo said. "They might not know who all the guests are anyway."
Dean stared admiringly as she glided off.
"She's all grown up now, Ellen, " he said. "You're gonna have your work cut out keeping the men away."
Ellen sighed. "Yeah. Though I've a feeling she's already set her heart on the wrong person."
Dean didn't answer, but Ellen got the impression he'd already worked it out. Very little got past their captain, she mused.
"I'm gonna take a look round, " Dean said.
"Be careful, " Ellen admonished him. We're on our own here, no crew to watch our backs."
"I will be."
Dean sauntered calmly into the next room where a game of cards was already taking place. He stood and watched, waiting to see if the owner of the establishment was seated amongst the players.
He didn't have to wait long until one of them addressed a bullish, red-jowled man wearing a dusky grey jacket. Lord George Brampton in all his glory.
Now that Dean had singled him out, he paid attention to his playing style. Though he was clearly experienced, the man had no skills in reading his opponents' tells. That was probably why he'd lost a fortune, Dean mused.
He was about to turn away and make a round of the other rooms when a name rang out from Lord George's lips.
"Samuel. Come here boy!"
Dean stilled, his eyes going to the door.
The tall gangly seventeen-year old who entered the room had little of the boy he remembered.
Sam, for it was he, no doubt in Dean's mind, was almost as tall as himself, shoulders beginning to widen as adulthood came nearer. But the hazel eyes and tousled locks were still the same.
Dean's instinct was to run to him and wind his arms around the slim body, but he held back.
He'd found his brother, but he wanted to know more, and that could usually be found by observing, something Dean was good at.
Sam's head was bowed, his eyes lowered as he approached Lord George.
"Come sit by me!" The older man patted the empty seat next to him. "I've a feeling you'll bring me luck tonight."
Dean watched as Sam perched on the edge of the seat as far away as he could.
' No love lost there,' he noted, feeling anger rise in his throat. Sam didn't like the man, that meant George had done something to cause that.
Eventually one of the players pushed back his chair. "I need to clear my head," he said but Dean had noticed how he'd been losing a good few games.
He took his chance and pushed forward, approaching the gaming table while pulling out a wad of banknotes. "You gentlemen mind if I sit in. Just back from the Americas. Looking to play for some real cash," Dean said smoothly.
George looked up. "Don't think we've met, old chap," he said, eyes going to the money in Dean's hand.
"We haven't. I'm good friends with the Ravendales. Kind enough to bring me along tonight," he smiled, seeming completely sincere.
George must have thought so too, or maybe he was hypnotized by the wad of money. In any case he graciously waved Dean to the empty chair.
The elder Winchester noticed Sam looking up at him through his eyelashes, but he didn't get enough time to interpret the glance before Sam lowered his gaze again, though Dean was sure he'd caught a hint of fear in the hazel eyes.
'Whatever's scaring you Sammy, it won't after tonight. Hang in there little brother.'
Dean found himself anxious to play.
He was good at cards. Sometimes on the Impala there was little else to while away the evenings.
Bobby had taught him, under Pastor Jim's disapproving glance, but the good churchman sometimes sat in himself so there was little for him to pass judgement!
As he concentrated on his game, Dean could feel Sam's gaze on him. He wondered if Sam saw anything of the big brother he'd known, or if this stranger was just another wealthy gambler Lord George hoped to rip off.
:Dean would have been glad to know that Sam did feel there was something familiar about the man who'd just taken his place at the gaming table, but as Maisie had said, Dean had changed mightily from the child he'd been.
But any familiarity Sam felt was overshadowed by fear.
Since John had died, Sam's life had been unspeakable atrocious. His childish good looks had been his downfall and strangely enough, the two years he'd passed in the workhouse had been the least terrible.
It had been when Lord George had plucked him from amongst the other orphans that his life had deteriorated into hellishness.
He shuddered as he remembered the first time the man had come to him. He'd been persuasive and gentle, never hurting Sam more than he could take, but his body had been defiled.
Eventually when Lord George's finances had taken a turn for the worse, Sam had been used as payment for some of the debts. He shuddered, Lord George had been an angel compared to some of the men who'd used him.
So when he'd seen the stranger sit in, he'd hoped with all his heart that George would win tonight and that Sam wouldn't have to satisfy this man in payment.
Dean concentrated on the game.
A couple of the other men at the table were excellent players, but Dean had no trouble in keeping pace.
He was oft distracted though, his eyes going to Sam, heart filled with joy at having found his baby brother.
They had just finished a hand which George had won. He signalled to a man-servant. "Fetch my snuff-box. It's in my bed-room."
Before the domestic could obey, Sam spoke up. "Uh, I need to excuse myself for a moment. I'll fetch the snuff on my way."
George frowned. "Be quick young Samuel. Verily you are bringing me luck tonight."
Sam nodded and made a hasty exit.
Dean's eyes followed his brother, something that didn't go unseen by Lord George. "Sweet little thing, isn't he?" he chuckled.
Only then did Dean's hackles rise. Had this man laid hands on his baby brother?
Dean was no innocent, he knew the facts of life as far as helpless children were concerned, but he'd have time for George later.
"Excuse-me, gentlemen but I have to pay a short visit." With a lazy stride he went to the door.
Sam had said he would go to the bedroom. Dean supposed it was upstairs and he quickly made his way up the winding staircase.
He glanced into the various rooms until he spotted Sam in the furthest one. He leaned against the doorway until Sam turned, taken aback by the expression of panic that appeared on Sam's face
"What are you doing here?" Sam gulped.
Dean held out his hands in a non-threatening motion. "Hey, it's okay. I only want to talk. Didn't want to say anything in front of the others."
Sam's features took on a pained expression. "Do I know you?"
Dean let a smile grace his lips."Yeah, Sammy. You do."
The younger man's mouth dropped open, a glint of hope in his gaze. "Only Dean ever called me Sammy," he said.
Dean smile widened into a grin as he stepped into the room. "Well then, what does that tell you, little brother."
Sam rushed forward and threw himself into Dean's arms, his head burrowing into his big brother's neck. "Is it really you Dean? Please tell me this isn't a dream."
His voice deteriorated in to a sob. "I waited so long for you to come home, but you never did."
Dean rubbed his baby brother's back.
"I know," he soothed. "I was kidnapped. I couldn't get back to you no matter how hard I tried, Sammy."
Sam stilled for a moment. "Take me with you Dean. Please don't leave me here, please, " he pleaded.
Dean pushed Sam back. He wanted to see his eyes. "Has Brampton laid hands on you?"
Sam lowered them.
"He'll pay for everything he's done to you," Dean swore, picturing himself as he gleefully strangled the life out of the pervert.
"No," Sam broke in. "No, he's not worth it...just take me away from here. I tried to escape more than once but I always got dragged back. Please Dean."
Sam gave him an entreating gaze that Dean found himself unable to refuse.
He nodded. "Okay, let's flee this place. There's a carriage parked out front. You'll know it's mine as there are three people tied up inside. Wait there."
"Why can't we go out together, " Sam asked, unwilling to leave his brother now that he'd miraculously found him again.
"I have to collect the two ladies I came with, then I'll join you. Can you slip out without being seen, Sammy?"
His little brother nodded.
Dean smiled encouragingly. "Go then."
Dean made his way down to Ellen and Jo, nodding to them.
Ellen gestured back in understanding. She gathered up her daughter. It was time to go. Dean had finished what he'd come to do. Either he'd found Sam or he hadn't.
Dean escorted the two women to the coach, hoping to find Sam safely inside, sighing with relief when he caught sight of his sibling's pale face through the window.
They quickly discharged the three captives, leaving them bound and confused on the side walk. Dean took the reins while the women studied the young man sitting across from them.
"HI, I'm Jo. This is my mom Ellen. Are you Sam?"
The women exchanged a smile. Two Winchesters were better than one, especially when both had such good genes!
A few days later, Sam was looking around him wide-eyed. "You're a pirate?" he asked awed, as Dean showed him round the Impala.
"What? You got something against pirates? " the elder Winchester grumbled, faking indignation.
"No, not a thing!" Sam said, a wide smile confirming it.