Characters: Dean, Sam
Rating: PG-13 for language and themes
Spoilers: This story is set in Season 1 after 1.16, Shadow
Summary: In an attempt to save a disillusioned hunter from himself, Dean and Sam are caught in a spell that sends them to 1870 Texas. Surviving the old west is hard enough. Escaping it could prove to be impossible.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
A/N: I'm glad to see you back! Thank you so much for reading and for taking time to review. Those of you who are simply enjoying the story, I thank you as well. *smile* Still working out how to break up my usual chapters into 'shorter' chapters. I've noticed that they get longer after this one simply because a lot happens to the boys. This one is a skosh shorter than I generally like to post, but in any case, herein lies the reunion ya'll were asking for. Hope it meets your expectations.
"Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment."
Sulfur Springs, Texas 1870
"How'd you get those cuts?"
The girl's gray eyes were on him as he stepped from behind the barricade of the empty stall and shrugged the shirt she'd provided for him over his shoulders. He woke earlier to the light of morning, his head clearer, his body aching, and one thought on his mind: find Sam.
Bird had been waiting for him, ready with a cold biscuit and something that might have been bacon, hot coffee, and a change of clothes she said had belonged to her father. He'd swallowed the rest of the aspirin he'd tucked into the pocket of his ruined jeans with a gulp of coffee and stepped into the abandoned stall to change into the clean pants safe from her watchful eyes.
"If this is a barn, where are all of the animals?" he countered.
"Sentenza moved 'em to town," Bird replied, "and you didn't answer my question."
Dean arched an eyebrow, pulling the black shirt closed around his wounded side. He'd removed the dirty bandages but lacked anything to replace them, so the stitches and tight, hot skin around the cuts brushed painfully against the cotton material. He knew he was running a fever: he only ever felt his clothes rubbing against his skin when he was feverish. The thing that troubled him was that the slices on his forehead were practically healed; he didn't understand why these Daeva cuts on his side were causing him so much trouble.
"Well, they're not from where my wings used to be," he replied softly as he buttoned the shirt.
Bird tossed him a dirty look. "I'm not stupid," she said, then slid her eyes to the side. "'Sides…I already checked your back while you was sleepin'."
Dean tucked the shirttail into his dark pants. The only things of his own that he'd been able to salvage were his amulet, ring, the Zippo that had been in the pocket with the aspirin, and his boots. Bird had brought him a well-worn belt, which he pulled to the closest notch. Apparently her Papa had been a bit stockier than Dean. He had to roll the sleeves of the shirt up a couple of times, but other than that, the clothes fit rather well.
"Thanks for the clothes," he said sincerely. He looked down at the cot. A black duster and hat lay on top. "They fit really good."
"You kinda look like him," she said. "My Papa. Only…."
"Only what?" Dean asked.
"Only his eyes were…softer, I guess."
Dean picked up the rest of the clothes, pleased that the hat fit easily on his head, the brim shadowing his eyes. For a moment, he wished he could see his own reflection. I knew I'd make a bitchin' cowboy….
"Was it from that other man?"
Dean frowned as he pulled on the coat, feeling the skin against his side stretch a bit with the motion. "Was what from the other man?"
"Those cuts on your side."
"Jesus," Dean breathed, rolling his eyes, "you don't give up, do you?"
Bird shrugged. "If I did…I wouldn't be here."
"My brother and I got in a fight with a…bad…thing," he tried, faltering a bit around his explanation. "We won, but it hurt us a bit."
"Is your brother okay?"
Dean swallowed, sliding his arms into the long, black duster she'd brought him, the edge of it brushing his calves. Her question panged against his heart as he thought of their situation. "I sure hope so," he replied. "I'm gonna head over to the Mission. See if I can…figure out what happened to him."
"I already told you there ain't nobody over there. I checked twice."
Dean lifted a shoulder. The aspirin was taking affect, easing his aches. "I'm just gonna check myself."
"Wait," Bird implored, turning away and digging through a satchel.
"Bird," Dean sighed, pulling off the hat and turning the brim around in his hands. He wasn't used to the feel of it. "You saved my life, and I thank you for that, but—"
"Here," Bird interrupted, shoving a thick piece of leather toward him. "It was Papa's. He don't need it no more."
Frowning, Dean took it from her, surprised by the weight. Turning it over in his hand, he realized it was a pistol slipped into a black leather holster, the belt section wrapping around the holster. He slid the weapon free and whistled: it was a beauty. Colt Navy revolver with ivory grips. It looked almost new—he wondered how many times it had even been fired. He rolled the cylinder free and saw it was loaded with six rounds.
"I thought you said your dad was a rancher."
Bird shrugged. "He owned a ranch," she said. "Mama always said she had to tame him a little."
Dean wrapped the leather belt around his waist, finding a spot on his hips that felt oddly right. He buckled the holster then looked down at where the gun hit his thigh. Dropping his right hand, he found that the butt of the pistol rested on the inside of his wrist and as he brought his hand slowly up, he pulled the gun with it in a such a natural, automatic motion that he caught his breath.
"Use those strips there to tie the end to your leg and it'll stay in place," Bird said, pointing to the bits of leather at the base of the holster.
Dean did as she instructed and pulled the gun once more. Hefting it in his palm, he turned from Bird and pointed it toward the opposite side of the small, abandoned barn, checking the sight. Spinning the weapon on his finger, he caught it in the hollow of his hand once more and thumbed back the hammer.
The gun had a decidedly different feel from his 1911; there was something intimate about the way the grip curved into his hand. He spun it again, then dropped it into the holster. He couldn't help but admit that he liked the feel of the sidearm. He pulled the gun up and out of the holster in one quick, sweeping motion and found himself grinning. He was used to tucking his weapon into a side holster—or in the waist band at the small of his back—but this felt just as natural.
He turned to face Bird, his grin sliding from his face when he met her wide eyes.
"I believe you," she whispered.
"You believe me?" he asked, puzzled.
"No angel would handle a gun like that," she stated, licking her lips in a quick, nervous dart of her tongue.
He tried to ignore the sad pang her words worked in his heart and nodded carefully. "Yeah, well," he shrugged moving back to where he'd dropped his hat on the cot. "I tried to tell you."
A shadow appeared in the doorway causing Dean to flinch back, squinting at the dark figure, the light from the outside turning it into a black outline.
"Easy," Bird soothed. "It's just Sentenza."
Sentenza moved deeper into the dimly lit barn and Dean saw the reason the man didn't speak. A horrific, disfiguring scar ran along the right side of his jaw, tucking down against his throat, carving an almost crescent-shaped concave hollow in his neck. Dean blinked; amazed that someone had survived such a wound. He forced his eyes up and met the dark-skinned man's gaze.
Though his scarred mouth didn't move, his eyes smiled. Dean smiled back, watching as Bird moved to the petite man and threw her arms around him. She spoke in rapid Spanish and Dean watched as Sentenza replied with a complicated, confusing flurry of hand motions. Bird flung worried eyes back toward Dean.
"Riders are coming!"
"How many?" Dean asked, tensing in reaction to her fear.
"Two, he says."
"How'd you learn sign language?" Dean asked, grabbing his hat and moving toward the entrance to the barn.
Bird shrugged. "It's Indian sign," she told him. "Papa taught my big brother, Rory, and Rory taught me. That's how come he calls me Bird; it was the only sign I could do for a long time."
Dean put his shoulder to the entrance of the barn and peered out. The Mission was roughly fifty yards to the East. Looking South, he saw dust billowing and coming closer.
"That them?" he asked Sentenza, nodding toward the dust.
Bird translated and the man nodded.
"How the hell's he know there's two?" Dean muttered.
"He just knows stuff," Bird explained, the tremor in her voice betraying her fear. "I gotta go. If it's Ivers' men—"
"Go." Dean took her shoulder and turned her toward Sentenza's arms. He gave her a quick, reassuring squeeze. "You've done enough for me, kid. I'm heading to the Mission. I'll wait for them there."
"But Father Ramirez ain't there!"
Dean looked at her quickly, about to ask who Father Ramirez was when it clicked: the Mission's holy man. "Doesn't matter," he called. "Just go. I'll be okay."
"Don't forget me," Bird implored, tossing a quick and desperate glance his way, then grabbed Sentenza's hand as he led her through a small back door of the barn and out of sight around the corner.
"Not a chance," Dean muttered, looking back at the approaching dust cloud.
It had yet to morph into two riders; he suspected he had just enough time to get over to the Mission. Shoving the black hat down on his head to keep it in place, he jogged awkwardly across the barren paddock area, the motion pulling at him in interesting places as his wounds tugged one way, his gun belt another.
He pressed his arm tight against his side, seeking to provide support for the aching wounds, and ducked in through the small side door of the Mission. Inside it was quiet. Candles burned in deep red glass votives at the front of the chapel area beneath a stone carving of Mary that he'd not noticed the last time he'd been in this room. There were alcoves and doorways flanking the carving that must have crumbled and disappeared over time. Evenly spaced pews covered the area where he'd last seen Sam as he'd fought Jake for control of a knife while Max Thomas scooped up the innocent girl and hauled her to safety.
Exhaling slowly through parted lips, Dean searched for the best place to hide as he heard the thunder of hooves approach the stone building. His heart hammered against his ribs with impatient demand; his mouth was dry. The stories from only person he'd talked to in this time had made him extremely wary of meeting anyone else, while the fact that Jake was out there running around free had him wanting to head to town and question everyone in sight. The only thing that mattered was finding Sam. He refused to entertain the idea that Sam might not even be here...in this time...in this place.
Pulling the borrowed weapon from its borrowed holster, Dean rolled his shoulder against one of the walls along a stone alcove and pulled himself into the shadows, listening as the horses slid to a stop and voices rolled dully toward him from the exterior.
"Doesn't look like anyone is here, but I'll poke my head inside. You good?" Dean tried to weigh the threat of this first, unfamiliar voice. He lifted the barrel of the revolver.
"I'll live," came a tight, weary reply.
Dean felt his heart stop beating, then thud painfully against his ribcage once more. He'd know that voice in a sea of noise.
"You did pretty good for your first time."
"Didn't remember the Mission being so far away from town."
"It's barely a mile—"
Dean had bolted from the protection of the alcove and flung open the main door to the Mission before he truly registered moving. He stood in the open arch, the black duster blowing around his calves in the wind from the Texas plain, the borrowed hat shadowing his eyes, and the Colt held loosely in his grip, staring with hungry eyes at his brother.
"Sam?" He was breathless with gratitude and relief, his body going cold then spiking up hot inside the back-beat of his slamming heart.
The men standing next to the two horses had looked up in unison at the sound of the door slamming against the stone wall. The one in the brown duster reached for a rifle tucked into a scabbard behind the saddle of a bay horse. The other one, though, seemed to straighten and sag inside himself at the same time.
"Dean?" Sam's voice sounded ancient and far too young at the same time.
Dean stepped out of the Mission and crossed the short distance between himself and his brother as if bound by a magnetic pull. Without pausing, he reached up and wrapped his arms around Sam's shoulders, pulling the other man against him in a tight, fierce hug.
"Damn, it's good to see you," Dean confessed through clenched teeth. He closed his eyes as he felt Sam reflexively grip him back, holding on just as tightly.
"'S good to see you, too," Sam replied, his voice choked with emotion.
Memories flooded Dean's senses, ricocheting through his brain. Memories of times Sam had been gone before—the emptiness that had surrounded Dean during those bleak days—battled with memories of Sam returning and left him momentarily weak as he gripped his brother to him. He could feel Sam's heartbeat against him and took a breath, at home once more in the knowledge that regardless of where here was…they were here together.
Dean clapped his brother on the back with his free hand and then stepped away, holstering the pistol he'd almost forgotten he was still gripping. He couldn't stop looking at Sam, searching to make sure he was in one piece, wasn't broken, was whole.
"What the hell—" They started speaking at once, then stopped.
"How did you—" Another pause and then Sam grinned, his eyes suspiciously wet.
"Where were you, man?" Dean asked, feeling his entire being relax at the sight of his brother's dimples.
"I ended up in town—outside of a saloon."
"How the hell did you end up all the way out there?"
"You got me—what about you?"
"I was here." Dean gestured toward the barn just off the Mission. It struck him that when he'd first laid eyes on it, the barn had barely resembled a building. "So was Jake, but I guess he ran off."
Dean lifted a shoulder. "I wasn't exactly…with it when we…y'know…beamed in or whatever."
"Yeah, my head was a little Swiss-cheesed, too."
"I'm just glad—" Dean had to stop, lifting his hand once more to rest on Sam's shoulder.
He pressed his lips together, blocking the tide of emotion that threatened to spill free into the space between them and betray the intensity of his fear and worry. He hadn't let himself consider the fact that he'd made this journey without Sam; he'd only focused on finding his brother. Now that Sam was here, solid under the grip of his hand, relief turned him weak and shook his heart in ways he wasn't prepared for and his mind ran through a loop of what might have beens.
Sam's hazel eyes caught his; the tears that had turned them bright a moment ago flooding and threatening to spill. He nodded once at Dean, his chin quivering slightly as he wordlessly join Dean in silent gratitude.
"You're okay, though?" Dean gripped Sam's shoulder in a one-handed hug, his voice the scratch of a needle on a well-worn record.
Sam's eyes skipped over Dean's face, then skimmed the borrowed clothing before coming back up to meet his brother's gaze. "I'm okay."
"Well, I'm not!" Sounded a new voice—one Dean recognized as having spoken earlier.
He turned, facing the brown-haired man.
"I'm guessing you're Dean, the brother he was all fired up about finding," the man said, a wide mouth forcing a frown that was betrayed by a light that danced in his eyes as he took in the sight of the brothers, still standing close, framed by the two horses.
Dean nodded. "That'd be me."
"Dean, this is Zeke," Sam said, stepping forward. "Owns the saloon where I, uh…landed. He kinda helped put me back together."
"Gave him some clothes," Zeke brought his chin up. "And whiskey."
Dean worked to suppress a grin. "Thanks for taking care of my brother, Zeke." He looked quickly at Sam. "Did you tell him—"
"I only told him where we're from," Sam interrupted. "Or, y'know…when."
Dean lifted an eyebrow his brother. "Worried about messing up the space-time continuum?"
"Something like that," Sam shrugged.
"Okay, I have absolutely no idea what the hell you just said, but, yes, I know you are—and I can't believe I'm going to say this—from the future," Zeke said, holding up his hands as if warding them off. "What I don't know is what you're going to do about it."
Sam swallowed so hard that Dean heard it. He frowned, recognizing the shift in the air around Sam: his brother was worried. "What is it?"
"Dean, Leo's dead."
Dean blinked, a lead weight suddenly replacing his stomach. "What? How?"
Sam lifted a shoulder helplessly. "Broke his neck in the…the fall, I guess."
"Oh, that's…very…not good," Dean breathed, feeling his chest cave slightly with the implications. "Jake's alive, but…I mean, I have no idea where he is. I didn't see Max. He wasn't in the Mission when…y'know…ka-blew-ey," he bounced his finger tips off each other miming an explosion. "Maybe he wasn't caught in the spell. Jeeeeze," he blew the word out on a slow exhale. "Leo's dead? How'd we make it in one piece?"
"One piece? How'd we make it back in time, man? Screw that—how are we gonna get home?" Sam asked, his voice losing years as his eyes implored Dean to fix this. He shied nervously away from the gray mare as she shifted her weight and then moved to the other side of Dean, closer to the bay horse.
"Hey, Sammy, don't worry, okay? We'll figure something out," Dean soothed, pulling off the black hat and letting the wind cool his suddenly sweaty brow. The aspirin was starting to wear off a bit. "Not sure what, exactly, but…," he looked at his brother. "What is it? What are you staring at?"
"Dude, you look like you walked right out of an old West movie," Sam chuckled.
Dean looked down at his all-black attire, then grinned.
"What's a moo-vee?" Zeke asked, a line bisecting his brows.
Dean shook his head at the other man. "Forget it. Probably best you didn't know."
"Well, I gotta see a man about a horse," Zeke sighed, rolling his neck.
Dean smirked, looking over at the bemused expression on Sam's face.
"Thing is?" Sam said. "He means that literally."
Zeke leaned into the Mission, hands bracing him on the outside of the door frame. "Ramirez!"
"He's not there," Dean informed him. "Apparently he hasn't been here for days."
Zeke shot a look over at Dean and Sam asked him, "How do you know that?"
"The kid that found me told me."
"What kid?" Zeke asked.
Dean closed his mouth, suddenly hesitant to betray Bird's identity or location. The fear on her face, in her eyes, when Sentenza had told her riders were approaching had been palpable.
Sam bumped him with his shoulder. "It's okay," he assured him. "You can trust him."
You always knew me too well for your own good, Sammy.
"Her name is Bird—"
"Bird O'Maera?" Zeke suddenly stepped forward, close enough that Dean squared up his shoulders and brought his eyes level in an instinctive, defensive posture. "She's here?"
"She was," Dean hedged. "Sentenza has her hidden from—"
"Ivers," Zeke said, turning away and rubbing a hand over his mouth. "Son of a bitch. I thought he took them all."
"He took her mother and brother," Dean said. "She hid from them. Kid buried her own father, man."
Zeke looked over at him, eyes stricken. "She's eleven years old!"
Dean lifted his shoulders in a helpless shrug. "She's smart," he said. "Used herbs to fix my neck." He pointed to the healing cut.
Zeke turned away, running a hand through his hair and causing it to stick up on top.
"I'm sorry, Dean," Sam said suddenly, his eyes on Dean's neck. "When I saw Jake cut you, it didn't click. Until it was too late. And by then...Leo was..."
Dean waved him off. "Don't worry about it, Sam. I didn't think it would work either."
"Blood of an innocent," Sam said nodded. "Yeah, gotta say…you're not the first person on my list."
Dean arched an eyebrow. "Thanks. That's sweet of you."
"Not like you're Mother Teresa."
"Guess all he needed was someone who hadn't killed a human being," Dean revealed, looking down. "Not that I haven't been tempted."
"This is fascinating, really," Zeke broke in, grabbing the reins of the bay horse, "and I have to say that I haven't been this confused since my first year in medical school. But, if Ramirez is missing, and Bird's not with Ivers, I gotta find her."
"Why?" The brothers asked.
"Why?" Zeke turned to face them, fire in his eyes. "Because Ivers is a truly evil man and Sentenza can only protect her for so long and if she doesn't have Ramirez here, it's only a matter of time before he finds out she survived and comes looking for her. She's a witness; he can't afford to leave her wandering around out here...all...alive and...and talking."
"But…I thought Ramirez was in trouble, too," Sam pointed out. "Ivers wants him dead, he said."
"All the more reason to get her the hell out of here. Ivers comes looking for Ramirez...finds this little witness," Zeke shoved an impatient hand through his tussled hair once more, "has himself a field day."
"I don't know that she's gonna want to leave," Dean said softly.
"Who do you think could last longer against him? A grown man or a little girl?" Zeke shot back.
Dean looked down, turning his hat around in his grip. "I wouldn't sell Bird short. She's pretty damn tough."
"She's a kid," Zeke stressed, staring hard at Dean. "You were a kid once, right?"
"Not really," Sam answered softly for him.
Zeke took a breath and in the shift of his expression, Dean saw something that grabbed him. Something he recognized. Zeke reminded him of certain hunters he'd encountered in his youth and when hunting on his own over the last four years. It was a secret, haunted expression. One that he could see the man kept carefully guarded and that only escaped when he wasn't looking.
"I knew Bird's dad," Zeke revealed. "He was a good man. He'd lived a hard life, made some mistakes—but who hasn't?" He rubbed a hand across his mouth. "He didn't deserve to die that way—killed by that bastard. The fact that his little girl had to bury him…."
The trio stood silently for a moment.
"Well, regardless of her being safer with Zeke than Sentenza," Dean said, taking a breath and shifting under the new weight Zeke's words had settled on his shoulders. "We gotta find her anyway. She's the last one that saw Jake."
"And you need to find this Jake fellow because…," Zeke prompted.
Sam looked up at his new friend. "He's the only way we're gonna get home."
"Why? Did he bring you here or something?"
"Or something," Dean sighed. "He's looking for a weapon."
"Dean!" Sam protested.
"What? We're not gonna be able to pull out a neuralyzer and erase his memories, Sam. He knows when we're from…he can't unknow that."
Sam looked away, saying, "I just think we gotta be more cautious, is all! Every second we're here we run the risk of screwing things up so bad we change the course of history!"
Dean saw Zeke's eyebrows bounce up.
"Oh, would you calm down?" Dean rolled his eyes, turning slightly away from Sam and rubbing the back of his neck in an unconscious gesture of weary tension. His body was starting to tick out an internal beat of aches. "Telling one guy the truth isn't going to…echo through time and make it so that…Kennedy isn't born or something."
"Who's Kennedy?" Zeke asked.
Sam thrust out a hand toward the saloon owner, his face a picture of indignation. "Great! Now he knows about Kennedy!"
"Sam! Simmer down," Dean ordered, his voice growing hard as he stared down his brother. "This? It's not helping. We're in big trouble here. And besides, you said I could trust him."
"It's not about trusting him, Dean," Sam snapped, rounding to face him, the expression on his face mirroring the anger Dean had seen in the motel in Gary before the world went dark. He resisted the urge to slide a hand over and shield his wounded side as Sam continued his rant. "It's about protecting him! We don't know anything about him—who he is, or who he's supposed to be…we could completely ruin the lives of anyone we encounter just by them…seeing us."
Dean took a breath. "You really want to get into some existential argument in the middle of nowhere? Fine!" He stepped forward, causing Sam to back up, his shoulder brushing the rear flank of the bay horse. "What if we never get out of here? What if this is what was always meant to happen to us? What if there are no accidents? What if we were born just to fight monsters and end up in eighteen-fucking-seventy to die?"
"Uh, guys?" Zeke hesitantly tried to break in.
"We're all we got, Sam," Dean quieted, ignoring Zeke, but unable to ignore the devastated look in his brother's eyes. "We can't fight each other on this."
"So…you win, is that it?" Sam challenged softly.
"Guys?" Zeke tried again.
Dean felt himself sag a bit, feeling the sting of his cuts and the ache of his joints. "No, man. No…I don't win." He half-turned, looking toward the town of Sulfur Springs. "You want to do it without help? We do it without help."
"What?" The brothers snapped in unison.
Zeke pointed wordlessly toward the barn. Dean followed the line of his finger and saw Bird standing at the edge of her garden, Sentenza behind her, watching them.
"Is that Sam?" She called back. "Is that your brother?"
Dean nodded. "Yeah, I, uh…found him."
"He don't look like one, either," she sighed, disappointment obvious in her voice.
"He's not," Dean took a step forward. "You okay?"
Bird nodded, looking down. Sentenza rested an arthritic hand on her shoulder.
"I'm not one what?" Sam whispered.
"Angel," Dean whispered back.
"What?" Sam bleated.
Dean shot him a look. "I fell out of the friggin' sky right in front of her, man. What was she supposed to think?"
"Huh…," Sam mused, his lips twitching. "Dean Winchester, fallen angel."
"Oh, shut up," Dean grumbled and started toward Bird.
"I ain't goin'," Bird suddenly declared, her declaration stopping him in his tracks.
"I haven't asked you to go anywhere," Dean called back.
"No, but you're fixin' to," Bird said. "I know you." She pointed to Zeke. "You drank with Papa."
Zeke nodded, looking slightly chagrinned. "I did."
"He fixed up your horse once," she continued.
"He did," Zeke nodded again. "Your daddy was a good man."
"You want me to come back to town, don'tcha?"
"I just want you somewhere safe, Bird," Zeke called back.
"I'm safe here," Bird countered. "He don't know nothin' about me here."
"Sentenza can't protect you forever," Zeke replied. "Pretty soon Ivers is gonna come here looking for Ramirez."
"He ain't here," Bird said. "I told Dean that like a hundred times."
Dean glanced at Zeke and held up two fingers. "Twice…but who's counting."
"Ivers doesn't know that, Bird," Zeke said. "I just…what if you came to the Livery? Sentenza, too. Frost wants him back down there anyway."
Bird was silent a moment, her smokey eyes seeming to suck them all toward her in a glance. "I don't want to leave my garden," she said, the defiance of her earlier tone beginning to wane. "They're my Mama's plants. She's gonna want them...when...she comes back."
Dean glanced over at Zeke and saw the man's face pale with the child's words. Sam shuffled his feet next to Dean, but neither man said anything in reply.
"Bird," Dean spoke up. "Why don't you take some with you—like the ones you used on me? Sentenza could check on the rest when he gets done with whatever he's gotta do back at the...uh..."
"Livery," Zeke supplied.
"Right," Dean nodded. "He can come up and check on them for you until your mom..."
He felt Sam look at him sharply, eyes warning him to not make a promise he couldn't keep.
"Until your mom comes back," Dean finished, feeling fire replace the lead ball where his stomach used to be.
Dean watched Bird frown, then look up at the small, scarred man. They spoke for a moment.
"What happened to him, Zeke?" Sam said softly.
"Who, Sentenza?" Zeke asked. Sam nodded. "Happened when he was a kid, I guess. His family was attacked by Comanches. He was the only one who survived."
"Indians did that to him?" Dean asked. "But he…uses Indian signs to talk to Bird. They have a change of heart or something?"
Zeke spared him a glance. "There's more than one tribe out here."
Dean frowned, opening his mouth to retort when Bird called out, her tone heavy with resignation. "Okay, we'll come. Just lemme get my stuff."
The men waited, shuffling feet in the dirt, tossing pebbles against the wall of the Mission, adjusting the straps of the horses' saddles, generally keeping their hands busy. Dean kept Sam in his eyeline, unwilling to even let him wander to the other side of the bay horse without Dean's gaze following. Their reunion was much too recent to taunt the ire of the random events that seemed to avidly chase them. Eventually, after Dean had started to feel the heat of the sun beat on his neck without the shade of his hat, Bird reappeared with a pack slung over her shoulder.
They straightened up when they saw the small girl. Dean noticed she'd cleaned the dirt from her face and brushed her hair, turning her façade of toughness into glass and making her look even more like the child she was.
"Where's Sentenza?" Zeke asked.
"He'll be along on his own," Bird replied. "He don't like crowds much."
Sam and Dean exchanged a look.
"You want me on Hooker?" Bird asked.
Dean choked on a suppressed gasp of laughter. "Who?"
"Zeke's horse," Sam informed him.
Dean guffawed. "The…the horse is named Hooker?"
Zeke gave him an exasperated glance. "Yes! Hooker. After General Joseph Hooker. What is with you two?"
"What's this one's name?" Dean asked, gesturing to the gray mare.
"She doesn't have a name," Sam said.
Dean's eyebrows went up. "You're telling me we're gonna be riding through the desert on a horse with no name?"
Sam rolled his eyes at his brother's humor.
"If that's a problem," Zeke said, tying Bird's pack to the saddle's back jockey, "Frost just called her the Bitch."
Dean started to laugh again. "Hooker and the Bitch, huh?"
He saw Bird and Zeke exchange a confused look.
"Wait…you're serious?" Sam said suddenly. "We're…riding the mare?"
Zeke looked over at Sam. "I'm not gonna put Bird on her. And you two will be fine."
"What's the problem?" Dean asked, brow folding in confusion.
"The problem is that there's a reason she's called the Bitch, Dean," Sam sputtered. He quickly recounted the story of Ramirez stopping Cutter from putting the horse down, pulling a, "good for him," from Bird.
Dean moved around to the mare's head, running his hand along her sweaty neck under the unkempt, black mane. Sliding his palm up to her ears, he rubbed at the seal-soft hair there and gently massaged the bridge of her forehead beneath the bridle band. The mare leaned her nose into Dean's chest as if subtly asking for more.
"It's not like you've ever ridden a horse before, either, Dean," Sam was saying. "It's not easy."
"What's so hard about it?" Dean asked, slowly running both hands down the curved jaw of the horse and rubbing the pads of his thumbs under her watchful eyes. "You just put one leg on either side and hold on."
"Yeah, hold on. Right," Sam scoffed. "You got a thousand pounds of power between your legs and you just…hold on."
Dean couldn't help himself. His grin showed teeth and he caught Sam's I can't believe I just said that look with his quick upward glance. "Doesn't sound so bad…."
He rubbed the velvety underside of the mare's muzzle, then stroked the hard bone of her nose. She brought her head up as he continued to scratch under her jaw and her lip curled in a bounce of helpless delight.
"Yeah, you like that, don't you?" Dean spoke softly to the horse. "See? You just gotta know how to talk to them," he said, not taking his attention from the horse.
"She's not the Impala, Dean," Sam grumbled. "You're not gonna be able to sweet-talk her into not bucking us off."
"The Impala never bucked us off," Dean countered.
"Your brother has a point, Sam," Zeke broke in from atop Hooker. "She's not a bad horse; she's just…misunderstood. Needs someone to treat her right."
"Don't be scared, Sammy," Dean said quietly, rubbing the mare's head, but looking at his brother. "I won't let you fall."
"That isn't very reassuring," Sam muttered.
"You boys ready?" Zeke said.
Dean glanced over, checking to see that Bird rode behind the saddle on Zeke's horse, her arms securely wrapped around the saloon owner's middle.
"I'll drive," he said.
"Why am I not surprised?" Sam grumbled.
"They talk funny," Bird commented to Zeke.
"You noticed that too, huh?" Zeke tossed back to her.
Dean wrapped the reins around the mare's neck, getting a fist full of her unruly mane, then shoved his left foot in the stirrup. He felt the pull in his side and winced, closing his eyes for a split second. Before anyone could say anything about his not being able to mount a damn horse, he shifted his weight and swung his leg over, barely able to bite back a groan.
"Nothing to it," he gasped out, smiling tightly as he shifted his weight in the stirrups, instinctively finding a comfortable pocket of space on the back of the horse.
"Where are you hurt?" Sam countered immediately.
"'M fine," Dean shook his head.
"He's got some cuts on his side," Bird said.
Dean glared at her. "Traitor."
She simply lifted an eyebrow, unaffected by his tone. "They look infected."
"Dean!" Sam said, exasperated.
"What?" Dean protested. "It's not like I did it on purpose."
Sam blew out a breath. "How do I get up there?"
"Kick a stirrup free, Dean," Zeke instructed. "Sam, grab his arm and use the free stirrup for leverage. There you go. Okay now swing up behind the saddle. You got it."
The mare danced a bit sideways under the added weight.
"Easy, honey," Dean soothed, rubbing her shoulder. "You're okay."
"She likes how you talk to her," Bird said. "Watch her ears."
"I've got a way with the ladies," Dean grinned at Bird.
She raised her eyebrow again. "Not all of them."
"Shut up," Dean muttered, shifting the duster free from beneath Sam's legs. "And keep your hands to yourself."
"Where'm I supposed to hold onto, then?"
"Hang onto the saddle," Dean ordered. "Just no grabby hands."
"You're such a jerk," Sam muttered.
"Bitch," Dean replied. "Oh, wait…."
Zeke turned Hooker and started back toward town at a slow canter. Mirroring his movements, Dean turned the mare, pressing his heels into her sides. She trotted for a moment, drawing a quick gasp of pain from Dean and a curse from Sam. He kicked again and she shifted into the smoother gait of the canter. Dean found that once she began to really move, the motion wasn't as jarring. Instead, the steady, rocking horse-like roll felt natural to him. He moved his hips with the motion of the horse, bouncing slightly up when she moved a front leg forward and absorbing the impact in his thighs. He knee fit against the stiff flaps of the saddle and he felt his heart quicken as the mare gathered herself and picked up speed to keep pace with the bay horse in front of them.
He felt Sam's hands bounce to his waist as the mare hopped over a rough patch of ground, but didn't say anything. Sam didn't reach high enough to brush against the wounds on his side and the contact reassured him that his brother wasn't going to tumble off the back of the horse. In no time at all, they reached Sulfur Springs and Dean followed Zeke to the Livery. They rode into a paddock area, the swinging wooden gate held open by a short man wearing a bowler hat and sporting a long, gray beard.
"Who's the mini Gandalf over there?" Dean asked over his shoulder.
"That's Frost," Sam replied, slightly winded. "Owns the Livery."
Sam put a hand on Dean's thigh, gripped the back of the saddle, then slid awkwardly to the ground. "Why didn't you let Bird use herbs on the cuts on your side?"
Dean sighed, knowing his brother wasn't going to let this one go easily. Truth be told, he didn't mind so much; they weren't going to heal on their own. And he could feel his fever returning. "They still had the bandages you put on them until this morning. I didn't know how bad they were myself until I changed clothes."
"You didn't say anything?"
"I had other things on my mind, Sam," Dean grumbled, dismounting with a grunt of pain.
"I don't understand why they're infected," Sam said as Bird jogged over and took the mare's reins from Dean, tossing him a quick grin as she did so. "The ones on our faces are practically gone."
Dean shrugged, watching Bird lead the gray horse into the barn while Zeke and Frost spoke in hushed, yet animated tones. Another man emerged from the shadows of the Livery, taking the horse from Bird. It took Dean a moment to realize that Sentenza had arrived, quietly and quickly, and was once more positioned as Bird's shadow and guardian. Motioning to Sam with his head to follow, Dean moved away from the men and around to the front of the Livery where they looked around at the town.
"This is just…bizarro world," Dean said quietly, eyes taking in the boardwalks fixed to the sides of the false-fronted buildings, the single-paned windows, the women with dirty-hemmed skirts and bleached-white blouces, and the men with side arms and thick mustaches. "I feel like I'm an extra in a movie."
"In a movie where people we know die," Sam said softly, reminding Dean of Leo. It seemed impossible that the rough, worn-down hunter that had perched in the back of the Impala mere days before and had confessed that he was willing to kill his friend to stop him from doing this...was dead.
"And where there aren't any movies," Dean pointed out, glancing back toward the opened door of the Livery, trying to catch sight of Bird. She would have liked movies, he felt certain.
"Fox? Ray?" A man with shoulder-length black hair, a thick, black mustache, and an almost sombrero-sized hat approached them, beady eyes glowering. He looked first at Dean, then at Sam. "Where the hell have you been? You know what Ivers is gonna do when I come back late with you two?"
Dean pressed his lips together. "'Fraid it's not your day, man. 'Cause I'm not Fox, and he's not Ray."
The man's frown deepened. "You're not Fox?"
Dean shook his head.
The man looked at Sam. "You're not Fox, either?"
"No, I'm not Ray," Sam replied straight-faced.
"Goddammit," the man kicked at the ground. "Ivers is gonna have my ass on a spike for this one."
"Maybe they're at the saloon," Sam suggested.
At that, the man's beady eyes brightened and he turned on his heels.
"Gotta tell you, man," Dean muttered. "I'm really not a fan of this Ivers' dude."
"Dean," Sam leaned close, dropping his voice to a conspirator's whisper. "I think Zeke might be right about Ivers being evil." He told Dean about seeing the man's eyes go ink-black and the signs of a demon he'd read about while researching. "I think there's a reason this place is called Sulfur Springs."
"A demon, though? You sure?" Dean felt a shiver slide through him, fingers of worry crawling slowly up his spine.
"No, I'm not sure sure," Sam replied, sighing. "But…something's going on."
"Maybe he's just your basic bad guy," Dean said, his hand sliding to his side under the duster, gingerly touching the swollen skin around the puckered stitches. He was hurting. He just had to figure out how much to tell Sam; the kid worried too much as it was. "Trying to take over the town and bend it to his will. Hollywood must've gotten its ideas from somewhere, y'know?"
"I think it's more than that, Dean," Sam said, shaking his head slowly. "I've just…got a really bad feeling about this."
"Yeah, well," Dean muttered, lifting his eyes to glance around the quiet motion of the town. "You're not alone."
"Boys," Zeke called out from behind them. "Something you need to hear."
Exchanging twin looks of dread, the brothers turned to face Zeke.
"I think I know where your other friend is."
"Jake?" Sam asked. "How?"
"That man that was just here?"
"The one with the flying saucer for a hat?" Dean asked.
Zeke frowned. "What's a flying—oh, forget it. The one looking for Ivers' new hands."
The brothers nodded.
"He was here earlier, too," Zeke informed them. He motioned with a quick toss of his head back toward the opened door of the Livery where Frost stood, watching Sentenza check the hooves of a black horse. "Told Frost how Ivers was recruiting like crazy—pushing for this one other piece of land and needed more hands to ride with him. Paying extremely well, so I hear."
"What's this got to do with Jake?"
Zeke looked at Sam. "Frost said the man was going on about some geezer named Jake Brand who showed up at Ivers' place insisting on being hired; says he thinks Ivers brought him on for the fun of it. Apparently, guy's not all there."
Dean sighed. "Oh, this just gets better and better."
"What the hell is he doing there?" Sam exclaimed, looking at Dean. "Do you think that was his plan all along?"
Dean rubbed the back of his neck. "How should I know, Sam? We never really got a chance to find out what the hell his plan was before he hauled us back in time with him."
Sam rubbed two fingers along the bridge of his nose as if trying to press back a headache. "This is our fault, you know."
"How do you figure that?" Dean frowned.
"If we'd just talked to him-"
"Before or after he killed that girl, Sam?" Dean countered. "He was intent on going back that night no matter what anyone said."
Sam sighed, nodding. "You're right," he conceeded. "But now...he's working for the man that killed Bird's dad and is," he lifted his head glancing quickly around, "apparently trying to take over this town. So much for keeping a low profile."
"What's he doing for Ivers?" Dean asked, looking at Zeke.
"I don't know," Zeke replied, his eyes over Dean's shoulder and focused on the saloon, "but I've got a saloon to run, and there just so happens to be a dead body in my store room."
"What about Bird?" Dean asked, looking back toward the Livery.
"Bird's all squared away," Zeke told him. "She's gonna stay up in Sentenza's loft here at the Livery until we figure out a better place."
"Uh, Zeke, about Leo...," Sam started, glancing quickly at Dean.
Dean nodded. "We'd appreciate you…uh…keeping him until night. We can take care of him then."
Zeke shrugged. "I'll just get the undertaker to—"
"No," Dean shook his head, holding up a hand to stop Zeke. "It's okay. He's uh…one of us, and," he looked back toward Sam for support, "there's a certain way he'd want to be buried."
"A time-traveler burial? Do I even want to know?" Zeke asked.
"Probably not," the brothers replied in unison.
"Come on, then," Zeke sighed. "Stella should have an extra room up there. You," he pointed to Sam, "need to eat. And you," he pointed to Dean, narrowing his eyes for added emphasis, "need to let me look at those cuts on your side."
"He used to be a doctor," Sam offered. "In the war."
Dean looked at his brother. "Oh, swell. That makes me feel a ton better."
They followed Zeke across the now-busy street, Dean returning the index-finger-to-the-hat-brim salute offered to him by a few of the men he passed.
"I can't get over how much you look like a freakin' gunslinger," Sam commented as they moved to the swinging doors of the saloon.
"I know," Dean shot him a grin. "Bad-ass, right?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "Why do I think it's just gonna make a complicated situation that much worse?"
"You worry too much, Sam," Dean said, pushing through the saloon doors.
a/n: Ready for more? Hope you're still having fun! It gonna get dicey from here….
Continued in Part 5 here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/83089.html