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.
There was a brief moment of clarity when he registered that he was shifting from oblivion into the tumultuous confines of a dream, but before he could hold onto that assurance—before he could convince himself that none of this was real—he was falling.
There was light above him—brilliant with the promise of warmth and safety. But he was tumbling backward, away from it. He flung his hands out, but came in contact with something smooth, slick, wet. Nothing to grasp, nothing to hold.
He could smell it around him. On him. His fingers skidded through it as he flailed, trying desperately to cease the dizzying sensation of falling. He looked up; the light was still there, just as far away, just as close. And still he fell.
He called out, forced the sound from his gut, the word tripping against his throat, but he heard nothing. His voice was stolen by the fall, by the smell of the blood, by the sense that any moment he would slam against the ground and it would be over.
Nothing. He began to kick out, feeling madness dig greedy fingers into his heart, gripping and pulling at his skin. Chaos bubbled up inside him, gleefully stripping his bones of its protective skin. He fought, every cell in his body throwing up a shield against the invasion.
But still he fell, his fingers coated in blood, the smell wrapping around him, the light too far away to save him.
A cool, soft hand stroked his forehead.
"Sam…." He felt his mouth move around the word. He heard the whisper of his own voice.
"Shhhh, it's okay."
Dean's eyes popped open and he jerked to awareness, groaning in reaction to the instinctive movement. The fingers of the dream reluctantly released their grip. Silver light spun around him, filtering in from somewhere to his right. Its presence confused him. He was awake...right? If he was awake, why was the light still there? If the light was there, where was the blood?
He curled his fingers against the palms of his hands, feeling as if his hands belonged to someone else. His head felt as though it was caught in a vice, his skull working to crush the gray matter within.
"Take it easy. I'll get your brother."
He smelled her before he focused on her: sugar, whiskey, and tobacco.
"Stella," he managed, the sound like sandpaper on rocks.
"Hey there," Stella greeted him, her honeyed voice coating the sharp edges of awareness. "Some dream you were having."
"What…what…," he couldn't find the next word. His memory was like a skipping record, searching repeatedly for the one thing that he couldn't grasp.
Something isn't right.
He hurt. Everywhere. And his heart was slamming against his ribs so hard he was certain it was going to break free. For horrifying moment he was certain that he was going to be sick. He pulled in a shallow breath, willing the bile to retreat back to his stomach where it belonged.
"Zeke said you might be a little confused—chloroform does that to people sometimes," Stella said, sliding a hand beneath his neck and tipping his head forward until his lips met the edge of a glass. "Here, drink this. It's from Bird. She said to tell you it won't make you sleepy this time."
He drank greedily, memories flowing back through the fog as the water filled his aching insides.
"He's out there," Stella tipped her head toward the saloon. "Finally got him to leave you for a bit."
"How long?" He hadn't meant to sound quite so desperate; he was glad Sam had been convinced to leave the tiny room. But he wanted him back. Now.
"You slept through the day," Stella replied, misinterpreting his question. "You hungry?"
Dean closed his eyes, thinking. "Yeah."
"Feel like getting up?"
"Yeah," he whispered, not yet fully trusting his voice. "But, I—"
"It's okay, Dean," Stella soothed him with a pat on the leg and a softening of her large eyes. "I'll go get your brother," she repeated, seemingly picking up on his need for this reassurance.
"What's he doing out there?"
"Lightening the pockets of a few n'er-do-wells." Stella smiled her cat smile once again. He suddenly, irrationally, wanted to know what her lips tasted like. "Pretty decent card player, that kid."
Dean grinned weakly. "Taught him everything he knows."
"He said that," Stella said. "You wait here."
She was out of the room before he could tell her not to worry. He wasn't going anywhere fast.
He shot a cautious look over to his right. It was the moon. Moonlight was slipping through the wavy glass in the narrow window. The moon. It was only the moon, not a phantom specter looking to deprive him of safety.
Get a grip, Dean.
Taking a slow, deep breath, he ran his hands carefully down his body, skipping lightly over his left side. He felt the packing beneath the bandage, the skin tender even under the wrapping. Mentally bracing himself, he rolled slowly to his right side, the movement stealing his breath and sending shivers coursing through him. He made it to a seated position, his legs off the bed and his boots solid on the floor, when Sam came in.
"Hey!" Sam greeted, a sunny grin complete with dimples lighting up his face. "You're awake!"
"Hey yourself, Fast Eddie." Dean returned his grin. "I hear you've been collecting some antique cash."
Sam chuckled. "The cards…Dean, they don't have any numbers on them."
Dean arched an eyebrow. "And yet you still managed to win a hand or two."
Sam made a face at him, then his eyes skimmed Dean's bare chest, resting on the bandages.
"How are you feeling?"
"Like shit," Dean replied truthfully, then caught sight of Sam's expression. "But, uh…kinda better."
"Really?" Sam looked so hopeful that Dean didn't have the heart to be completely honest with him.
Why not let him believe for awhile longer?
There was something wrong inside; Dean could feel it tremble through him. He had no idea what happened when cuts from an ancient demon went untreated by Holy Water, but he was starting to get a pretty decent idea that it wasn't anything good.
"Yeah, really," he replied, infusing the words with false bravado. "Hand me that shirt."
Sam did and Dean worked to keep his motions fluid, relaxed as he slid his arms through the sleeves and fastened the buttons. He didn't bother tucking it in quite yet.
"Gotta piss like a racehorse," he complained.
Sam's grin was wry. "You gotta go outside."
"I was afraid of that."
"Need some help?"
Dean glanced at his brother.
"Getting to the outhouse, I mean."
"Nah," he bluffed. "I'm good." He started to push to his feet. The room tipped crazily to the side and Sam was next to him in an instant.
"Whoa," Dean breathed.
"I gotcha," Sam promised softly.
"You drugged me, man," Dean accused as Sam steadied him. "That was low."
"You telling me you wanted to feel him clean out those cuts?"
Remembering the gut-twisting pain, Dean tipped his head in concession. "Okay, no. Hey—where's my gun?"
"Here." Without question or comment, Sam handed him the holster, the shiny Colt tucked safely inside.
Bracing his legs apart so that he didn't sway, Dean tucked the black shirt into his waistband to get it out of the way, then strapped the Colt and holster around his hips. He felt more balanced, solid, with the weapon close to his body.
"Okay, where to?"
"Out back, across from the Livery," Sam said, leading him out of Zeke's room, along the edge of the now-bustling saloon, and toward the back door.
Dean's legs felt hollow, his chest made of glass. Each breath stretched his skin uncomfortably, and his head ached. But taken as a whole, he felt better being upright and mobile than lying on that narrow bed in Zeke's room. He caught sight of the former doctor behind the bar pouring a shot for one man while talking to another, his eyes constantly moving until they landed on Stella.
The heat Dean caught in that glance had him looking away, eyes skimming across the rest of the humanity filling the saloon. He smelled their sweat, their dirt, the alcohol on their breath. Making his way behind his brother, he imagined he could even feel their worry, their weariness, their fear as if something in the room with them had everyone on edge.
As they paused briefly at the door for Sam to pull it open, Dean felt eyes on him and glanced to his left, seeing a man at a poker table, slouched low in the curved-back chair, dressed all in black—much like Dean. His lips were pushed out, flattened in thought, his eyes oddly bright under the shade of his short-brimmed hat. He nodded once at Dean, who tipped his chin up in recognition of the greeting.
"Sam." Dean plucked his brother's sleeve.
"Who's that guy?" He nodded to the left, watching as Sam's eyes tracked in the correct direction.
"The guy in black?"
"Yeah." Dean followed his brother outside into the bracing, surprisingly fresh air of the Texas night.
"Name's Larabee," Sam said. "Stella said he was passing through town. Only one that beat me, by the way."
"You play Texas Hold 'em?" Dean teased.
"Funny," Sam grinned, nodding forward. "Outhouse is there. Just, uh…hold your breath."
"Swell," Dean sighed, grateful that the dark hid his sudden shiver. "Don't suppose they have showers around here?"
"Found out they have a bath house down thataway," Sam jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Seems kinda weird…taking a bath with a bunch of other guys."
"Never known you to be shy, Sammy."
"Dude, you're my brother. It's totally different."
Dean chuckled softly. "Maybe we won't be here long enough."
"Tell you one thing," Sam sighed, kicking the toe of his boot into the dirt. "Already miss my toothbrush."
"Me too," Dean slid him a sidelong glance, then gathered himself.
Moving was an easier task when he made it automatic. Thinking about it triggered a fire-brand of pain through his chest and back, slicing across his shoulders and slipping up his neck into his hairline before he even took a step.
Don't think…don't think…just move.
He opened the door of the outhouse and stopped breathing, blanking his mind to the specifics of his task. When he was done he stepped out into the fresh air, catching sight of his little brother leaning against an empty hitching rail, moonlight striking his face and tucking his eyes into pockets of shadow.
In the silvery light, for one horrifying second, Sam looked almost like a ghost.
"Fine," Dean called back. Something caught his eye on the other side of the Livery, wrapped in what appeared to be a sheet, lying in the back of a wagon. "What's that?"
"Leo," Sam answered, making his way forward until he was standing next to Dean. "Zeke and me wrapped him up, loaded the wagon with a block of salt. They don't, uh…well, rock salt comes in a slightly different form."
"'Course it does," Dean said softly. "You have wood?"
"Yeah," Sam nodded. "Seems…I don't know…weird to just burn him out in the middle of nowhere. No tombstone…or graveyard…."
"He was a hunter, Sammy," Dean reminded him. "You remember what Dad said. There's no consecrated ground for the body of a hunter." He rested his eyes on the small, still body that had once been a man with a history and a family and a home. "One day, we'll all end up that way."
Sam shook his head. "I don't want to think about that."
"Why not? It's true," Dean said softly, watching his brother.
"I don't care!" Sam turned his ghost-face toward Dean once more, his eyes dark shadows in the moonlight. "I don't want to think about…burning the bodies of my family on some funeral pyre in the middle of nowhere. It's not gonna happen to us."
"It's not, okay?" Sam snapped.
Dean quieted, running his tongue across his lower lip, thinking.
"Zeke tell you where we could take him?" he asked eventually.
Dean sighed. "You want to do this now?"
Sam looked at the wagon. "I don't know how to hitch up the horses."
"I do," came a small voice from the shadow of the building.
The brothers turned. Bird stepped into the moonlight, shrinking back slightly as an especially loud shout echoed from inside the saloon. Dean grinned at the sight of her. Someone—Zeke or Stella, he guessed—had given her a clean change of clothes and her face was dirt-free, her short hair tucked behind her ears.
"You want horses?"
"Yeah," Dean nodded, moving toward her. "You can help us?"
She nodded and ducked back into the barn.
Feeling eyes on him, Dean glanced at his brother. "What?"
"You're not okay, are you?" Sam's voice was subdued.
Dean looked at him, weighing his options. He waited too long, however, because the light in Sam's eyes shifted, turning dark.
"I got this, Dean."
"Don't be stu—"
"I'll help him," Bird chimed in from the front of the wagon. The huff of horses and jingle of rigging echoed her declaration.
"What is this, a conspiracy?" Dean searched the shadows for the girl. "You don't even know what he's going to do."
"You think I don't recognize a body when I see one?"
Dean pressed his lips together, looking at the ground. "Bird…."
"Go back inside, Dean," Sam said, putting a hand on his arm. "I'll take care of Leo and come right back."
"I don't like this, Sam," Dean confessed. He didn't like not feeling strong enough to do his job. He didn't like Sam going off by himself. He didn't like the almost tangible countdown he could feel inside his own body.
"Yeah, I know," Sam sighed. "But…I came here with him."
Dean frowned. "So?"
Sam lifted a shoulder. "Kinda feels like poetic justice, I guess. Me burying him."
"What do you—"
"If you think about it," Sam rested his eyes on Leo's body, something crossing his face that cut into Dean's heart. "He's only here because of me."
"That's bullshit, Sam."
Sam shook his head slowly. "He came to us, asked for our help. If I'd have been stronger… faster…if I'd gotten him out of that building…I mean, Max isn't here. He got out of the Mission. Could be I…I could've saved Leo, too."
"Don't do this, Sammy," Dean implored him. "If you'd have done any of those things, you wouldn't be here with me."
Sam looked at him.
"And I'm sorry Leo's dead. I am." Dean looked at the back of the wagon. "Dad said he was a good man. But," he shifted his eyes to his brother's somber face. "I'm not sorry to have you watching my back."
After a moment, Sam nodded. "Go back inside, Dean," he said again, softer. "Get something to eat. There's still plenty left to do, y'know."
"Horses are hitched," Bird declared and Dean watched as she climbed into the seat. "You comin'?"
Dean looked at his brother, giving in to the necessary. Sam was right: there was plenty left to do. Getting Jake and getting home being the first two on the list. Dean didn't have enough left inside him to be everywhere.
"You be careful," he ordered.
"I'll be back before you know it."
Dean nodded, feeling cold as he watched Sam climb into the wagon seat next to Bird—shrinking her with his bulk—and head off into the shadows of the night.
"Can I ask you a question?"
Dean jerked violently, spinning to face the new voice. "Jesus!"
"Sorry," Zeke stepped into the moonlight. "I thought you'd heard me."
"You thought wrong," Dean worked to catch his breath, a hand instinctively going to his throbbing side. His head pounded, causing his vision to blur slightly with the incessant thrum. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Not long," Zeke said. "I got worried when you two didn't come back."
"I figured you were too busy making eyes at Stella to notice we'd left," Dean commented dryly as he slowly made his way back to the back door of the saloon.
Zeke's mouth tipped up in a half grin. "Stella and I…have an understanding."
"I'll bet you do," Dean said, pausing next to the other man. "What was your question?"
Zeke looked at him for a moment, and Dean saw something he couldn't identify shift through his eyes. "I guess it doesn't matter. Not really." His focus pulled in, his gaze on something Dean knew was buried in the man's memory. "Y'know…I've seen a lot of brothers. Never had one of my own; mother apparently thought once was enough. But I've seen brotherhood forged in battle and brothers torn apart by the same thing."
"What are you saying?"
Zeke looked out toward where Sam and Bird had disappeared into the night. "You two…there's something different."
Dean arched a brow. "Different…how?"
This time Zeke's smile was sad. "I'll let you know when I figure it out," he said cryptically. "Think you could eat something? It'll keep your strength up…help fight off the infection."
Dean looked at him a moment, realizing Zeke knew. He knew Dean wasn't going to get better. Not without Ramirez's help. "Sure, Doc. I could eat."
The saloon was alive with a sea of voices, out-of-tune piano music, and tired laughter. Scattered like confetti throughout the cluster of men in dark clothing were several women—girls, really—with boldly colored corsets and skirts that didn't quite reach the floor, brazenly exposing narrow, heeled, lace-up boots. Lips quirking in appreciation for the surplus of skin the women offered, Dean sat at a vacant table; he smiled up at Stella when she set a plate of stew and biscuits in front of him.
"It's the only thing I know how to cook," she shrugged.
"Looks delicious," he said honestly.
"Is Sam coming back?" Stella asked.
Dean grinned. Puppy-dog eyes gets 'em every time. "He'll be back soon," he said. "Just taking care of…a friend."
Stella nodded and he watched her walk over to the table where the man Sam had identified as Larabee sat. She rested her hand on the man's shoulder and he watched as Larabee tipped his face up toward the light from one of the burning lanterns hung from hooks on the support beams. The man smiled at Stella as she continued on, letting her fingers trail across his shoulder, then dropped his eyes to meet Dean's once more.
Dean nodded at him, then focused on his food. It had no taste; the biscuits turned to dust on his tongue, the stew sat heavy in his gut. Thankfully, the coffee was hot and strong, cutting through the muck in his mouth and chasing away a to-the-bone chill that seemed to wrap around him.
Need to find Jake, kick his ass, and get home…. That or find Ramirez….
Neither option seemed likely at the moment. So engrossed was he in his own misery, Dean missed the first few beats of an argument brewing at the bar. Frowning, he stood as he recognized the man with the flying saucer of a hat who'd been searching for Ray and Fox earlier staggering back away from a smaller man with dark eyes and a pock-scarred face.
The man in the large hat was obviously drunk, barely able to stand on his own; this didn't seem to deter the other man as he advanced, a gun in each hand, hammers cocked. Zeke, Dean saw, had foolishly stepped between the two and was now caught smack in the middle.
"I really don't have a problem killing you, Zeke," the man with the weapons growled, and Dean felt the room quiet, chairs scraping back as people began to scatter away from any stray gunfire.
Dean instinctively put his hand on the butt of his own gun, blinking as he caught Zeke's eyes searching for his.
"I get that, Ivers," Zeke said, emphasizing the name.
Feeling his heart drop, Dean released his grip on his gun and moved around the table slowly, weighing his options. The man who had saved his life—saved Sam's life—was now being threatened. Dean knew what he would do were he back in his own time, with his own weapons and his own means of escape. He wasn't sure the same approach would work in a world where arguments were more often than not solved via justice-by-gun.
His eyes were full of the confrontation in front of him; he had no thought to the other patrons in the saloon.
"Just don't see any point to killing this guy," Zeke continued. "He's about gone on whiskey."
"He was supposed to bring two men to me today," Ivers snapped. "Two men to replace the one you got killed."
Zeke raised his hands. "Now, now, that's not exactly true. I mean…to be fair…you killed Cutter."
Ivers smoothly shifted the barrels of his weapons from the man in the hat to focus on Zeke's forehead. Dean heard Stella's gasp from across the room and the sound pushed him forward as if she'd rested her hand on his back.
"Hey," he greeted, his voice unnaturally bright. Zeke turned incredulous eyes on him, his lips tight and his teeth clenched as he mouthed get back. Ignoring him, Dean moved on instinct: distract, evade, conquer. "You Ivers?"
The man with the guns turned slowly to look at him. "Yeah. Who the hell are you?"
"Name's…Young. Angus Young," Dean replied, offering the man a dead-eyed grin. "Hope I'm not…interrupting anything." He let his eyes fall with disinterest on the drunken man and his protector before continuing. "Heard you were hiring."
Ivers tilted his head, studying Dean a moment, then released the hammers on his weapons. "You heard right."
"You're down two men?"
"Seems that way," Ivers nodded. "You got two others in mind?"
"My brother and me," Dean said, quickly eyeing Ivers' guns. "We're, uh…new in town. Could use some work."
Ivers studied him once a bit longer, then holstered his weapons. "What can you do?"
Dean shrugged, then moved in closer to Ivers. "I'm good with a gun."
"Your brother, too?"
"He's better with a knife," Dean replied, reaching the bar and leaning against it, his position turning Ivers around, his back now to Zeke. "What are you looking for?"
Zeke moved, grabbing the drunken man whose life he'd just saved by the collar and dragging him back away from the bar, dropping him in an empty seat at the table Dean had occupied, shoving his face down.
Ivers was still watching Dean; he felt as if the man were somehow turning his skin transparent with his gaze, peering into his soul and seeing the lie. Dean emptied his eyes, turning his face impassible and met the other man's look of scrutiny with an opaque stare.
"I'm looking for men who obey without question," Ivers said, his voice losing all amiable warmth. "I'm looking for soldiers."
Dean felt his stomach tighten and he forced himself to blink slowly. The chill that chased the edges of the man's words shifted Dean's confidence, but he made himself play through.
"Yeah, well...we might not be soldiers, but...we've been to war," Dean replied, the rest of his words fading as Ivers stepped forward. Dean felt the air around him constrict. His heartbeat turned sluggish for a moment before speeding up and slamming his aching head with a rush of blood.
It's just a man, Dean. A bastard of a man. He is nothing. He is nobody. Do not let him shake you up.
Then Ivers' eyes slid black. All black, no irises, no whites, just ink-black.
It happened so quickly that Dean had to blink to refocus, but it was enough to send him off-balance, exposing him by laying bare his recognition. Ivers pressed his sudden advantage and quick as lightening, grabbed Dean by the throat, turning him, and shoved him backwards against the bar. Dean's hands instinctively flew up to grip the man's wrists, unable to do a thing to relax Ivers' grip.
"You think you can best me, hunter?" he growled against Dean's ear, his voice hot, the spit that flew from his lips seeming to sizzle on Dean's cheek like acid.
Dean couldn't breathe for a moment, the pain in his side playing second fiddle to the soul-numbing shock of being seen for what he really was: a man raised to recognize evil and destroy it. The heat radiating from Ivers' body seemed to melt into Dean, making him shake from the intensity.
"First the priest and now you?" Ivers said, his face so close to Dean's that he choked on the feral breath. "You guys really need to find some different tactics."
"I-I don't know what you're t-talking about," Dean forced out, his lungs folding from the pressure of Ivers weight against him, bending him backwards over the bar. His side had become achingly cold. Dark spots started to gather at the corners of his eyes.
"You...," Ivers spat, his lips pulling back in a snarl and exposing yellowing teeth. "You know exactly what I'm talking about. And if I wasn't so damn close to opening that gate, I'd sacrifice you here and now."
The roll-click of a revolver was the prettiest sound Dean had heard in a long while. His eyes shot past Ivers' angry features to see the long barrel of a gun pointed directly at the man's left ear.
"You have a barrel of a Remington revolver set to open up the side of your head," declared the voice connected to the gun. "From this distance, it's guaranteed to kill you and make a helluva mess on my clothes. Let him go and we won't have to worry about either of those things."
a/n: Remember the phrase 'it's always darkest before the dawn'? Yeah, well…keep that in mind as we move forward.
Continued in Part 6, here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/83830.html