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HFG Icon #2
Title: Heroes for Ghosts
Author: [info]gaelicspirit
Genre: GEN
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: Thanks so much for reading and for all of your lovely, thoughtful comments. You may have noticed that the length of the chapters has returned to my usual 40-ish pages; I basically stopped trying to keep it short and decided to just tell the story. This chapter is a necessary calm before the storm. I hope you enjoy.

 

The thing about family disasters is that you never have to wait long before the next one puts the previous one into perspective.

~Robert Brault

www

Sulfur Springs, Texas 1870

The first thing Dean saw when he opened his eyes was the top of Sam's head.

It seemed to be a habit, lately.

He found comfort in the sight, the nearness of his brother. In the strange, complicated life that surrounded him, Sam was a constant. If nothing else, Dean knew Sam was in the world and that knowledge staved off much of the fear he had no other way of combating. It gave him purpose, direction; watching Sam grow up had offered Dean a history he knew he wouldn't have had on his own.

For a moment, he simply laid there, the bare skin of his upper body finding comfort against the well-washed material of the sheet beneath him. The silence that surrounded the building they were hidden within was pervasive. If he held his breath, he could hear the wind peppering the side of the Mission with dust from the empty paddock area. No voices, no traffic, no music…nothing but the wind.

The bed he lay on was narrow, the mattress more of a gesture than anything else. The room was nearly bare: a wardrobe, desk, and a lantern the only adornments. There was no window; the light from the lantern bounced in odd, surreal shadows along the walls and ceiling. Unfamiliar objects, unfamiliar smells; it was all just a rhythm to remind him that even though his home was essentially the road and they were forever without grounding, this place, this time was not his.

He didn't really remember falling asleep.

He remembered talking about Jake. He remembered feeling a reluctant resolve, and like they had the beginnings of an actual plan for the first time in a long, long time. Since before they'd climbed that damned elevator shaft after Meg.

And then…nothing.

An overwhelming weariness tucked up against him, wordlessly telling him he wasn't yet ready to face what was to come. Yesterday, he'd been dying. He knew that as surely as he'd known it when the volts from the weapon he used on the Rawhead rocketed through him and seized his heart.

Today, though, was different. The broken pieces inside of him that had been slicing through his will, separating his desire to fight from his ability to hold on, were starting to mend. He no longer felt that hole; he no longer felt that something was wrong, that something was fading inside of him. He felt himself healing.

He just needed a little more time….

If Sam didn't look so uncomfortable, Dean would have allowed himself to fall back into the darkness that had held him like a lover. But there was an odd tilt to Sam's head that told Dean his brother hadn't meant to fall asleep that way. Shifting slowly, Dean rolled to his right side, amazed how he felt even that small motion in every cell of his body.

His muscles protested with abbreviated whimpers of pain. His joints swore at him. His skin was alight with increased sensation, as if the air itself caressed him with scalpel-sharp blades. He managed to bite back the groan building at the base of his throat and reached out a slightly-trembling hand to rest his palm on the top of his brother's head.

Sam snuffed a bit against the side of the bed, rubbing his face against the thin mattress, and then settled down again. Vision clearing, Dean could see that Sam was sprawled alongside the bed; his back slumped against the wall by the headboard. He'd all-but nestled his head against the mattress next to the thin pillow Dean lay upon.

"Sam," Dean half-whispered, his voice sounding rusty. His throat protested the usage and threatened to close. Forcing himself to swallow, Dean flexed his fingers against Sam's scalp. "Sammy."

With a harsh inhale, Sam snapped his head up, Dean's hand dropping to the mattress. Sam stared straight ahead, his eyes wide and unseeing, having been startled conscious, but not fully awake.

"Hey," Dean said softly. "Go on and wake up, now."

When he was young, Sam had suffered from intense nightmares. Dean knew not much had changed except for how his brother was able to handle them. And now, he apparently got the added bonus of seeing visions of death behind closed eyes.

Dad's gonna freak when we tell him about those….

As a kid, Dean remembered, Sam would open his eyes, stare directly at him, and have no comprehension of anything that was said or done around him until Dean could get him to move and shake off the hold of the dream.

"Sam." Dean reached out again, this time resting his right hand on Sam's shoulder. If he sat up, he knew he'd be able to easily jostle Sam fully awake. The problem was he wasn't entirely sure he could move much under his own power. "Wake up, man."

He worked his fingers into the muscle of Sam's shoulder, a motion as familiar for him as tuning the timing of the Impala's engine. Sam blinked once, then again rapidly. Dean watched as his brother took a deep breath and the vacant look on his face finally subsided, reality crashing against him, making him appear so much older than his twenty-three years.

"Dean?" Sam asked, foggy-voiced as he turned sideways to meet Dean's eyes.

"Hey," Dean greeted. "Bad one, huh?"

"I was falling," Sam said.

"I've had that one," Dean told him, knowing Sam didn't comprehend how literally he meant those words.

"I think…I think I was remembering…," Sam said softly, leaning back against the wall, closing his eyes and raising a hand to grip the bridge of his nose. "Head's killing me."

"Maybe Ramirez knows Bird's trick with the herbs," Dean suggested.

With that Sam shot forward once more, then looked at Dean with wide eyes. "Are you okay?"

Dean started to nod, the intention to reassure his brother that he was always all right balanced on the tip of his tongue. But then he tried to push himself up—even to his elbow—and felt the lingering weakness that permeated his body deny him even that.

"I, uh…don't know."

"Ramirez said you'd be weak," Sam informed him, pulling his legs under him. "That you'd need some time."

"He wasn't lying," Dean groaned, rolling once more to his back.

"What do you remember?" Sam asked, grunting a bit as he took his feet.

Dean turned his head and watched Sam begin to pace stiffly in the small confines of the room. He gripped his lower back—which Dean knew had to be sore from his chosen sleeping position—and kicked his legs in an odd rocking motion with a grimace on his face.

"Enough," Dean replied. "How long was I asleep?"

Sam twisted at the waist. "Awhile. I don't really know what time it is," he said, shaking out his hands. "One minute you were with us, looking at me, then next," he shrugged, "you were out. You kinda did that off and on until they left. Then I just…," Sam made an abbreviated you're out motion with his hands.

"Sorry, man," Dean said softly, trying once more to push himself upright. He didn't like the vulnerable feeling of lying down while Sam moved around. It put him at a disadvantage he didn't want to think too much about.

"Want some help?" Sam asked, moving closer.

Dean nodded, and reached out to grip his brother's forearm, pushing his other hand into the mattress and letting Sam lift him up, then scoot him back against the headboard.

This sucks out loud.

"This is going to be interesting," Sam said softly, starting to release Dean's arm and back away.

"Sam, wait," Dean tightened his grip, feeling the thready beat of panic build in his gut and climb his spine. Sam froze, bent over the bed, his hazel eyes meeting Dean's. "Promise me you won't do this without me."

"Dean, you're a mess," Sam protested, his face folding into a frown of concern.

"I'm better than I was," Dean pointed out, feeling something churning inside of him: desperation twisting and warping and becoming determination, strength…resilience. "Just give me a little time. I'll be fine, Sam."

Sam released Dean's arm, pulling away, forcing Dean to free him. He began to pace, his gait awkward and stiff in the small space. Watching him, Dean worked through the right words to offer his brother solace and convince him that they had to do this together. Sam rotated, coming back toward the bed, and Dean caught a glimpse of his brother's expression.

It sent his heart into a sideways slide. He'd seen that expression before. He'd lived it.

It was anger and pain and relief and resolve. It was every near-miss, every just-about, every moment he'd almost lost the one thing that really mattered: his brother. It was the look Sam carried through those long, painful days after the Rawhead attack and before the 'miracle' in Roy's tent. It was the ragged sorrow John had worn in the weeks after Sam had left for school.

"I was scared."

Dean blinked and tilted his head to the side, not sure he'd really heard his brother clearly.

"I was really scared, Dean," Sam repeated, his lips barely moving, his body unable to stop. "I messed up. And you were so close to…." Sam swallowed.

"I'm okay, Sam," Dean said softly.

Sam huffed. "Yeah, because we just so happened to find a priest that knew about demonic…wounds."

Dean reached up and dragged his fingers down his face. He felt the familiar calluses on his palms against his skin and noted the newer, tenderer ones as they scratched against his scruff of a beard. Skin that was more accustomed to a 1911 handgun and a steering wheel than a Colt Navy revolver and leather reins.

"I mean, what if he'd just been a regular priest, huh?" Sam was saying as he continued his quest to leave his mark in time by wearing a groove into the floor of Ramirez's rectory. His eyes were on his boots, his hands flopping at his sides in frustrated helplessness.

"A regular priest would still have known how to bless water, Sam," Dean pointed out. "You did good, kid. You did everything right."

"But it almost wasn't enough. You…God, Dean, you screamed so loud…I've never…," Sam swallowed, continuing his pacing.

"I…I don't remember that part," Dean confessed.

The last clear memory he had of the previous night was firing his weapon to start the stampede of horses. Everything after that until they were in this room, talking to Ramirez about the ritual was a blur of colors and sounds and…pain.

Gingerly, he touched his side, felt the loose bandages there, the tender skin. It felt like a fading sunburn, not the white-hot, bone-deep ache of the previous day. He looked at his biceps, saw the purplish bruises the shape of fingers, knew that his brother had held him there, had kept him close and still while the priest had used the Holy Water to chase the demon away.

"I remember you," Dean said softly, drawing his brother to a halt. "I…I remember your voice."

"That was…I don't ever want to go through something like that again, Dean," Sam confessed, listing slightly to the side.

Dean swallowed, trying to remember if he'd said thank you. "Sit down a minute."

"I don't want to," Sam replied, not meeting Dean's eyes.

"Sit down," Dean repeated, firmly. He watched as Sam carefully lowered himself to the edge of the bed. "What's the matter with you?"

"I'm…," he looked away, then shoved a hand through his hair. "I'm sore as hell, man," he finally confessed. "I'm not built to ride freakin' horses."

Laughter burbled out of Dean before he could catch it.

Sam glared at him. "Shut up."

Dean laughed harder. Tears began to gather at the corners of his eyes and he held a hand limply over the sore muscles of his belly, his fingertips resting on the bandages there. After a moment, Sam's lips quirked up, and as Dean weakly wiped at his eyes, Sam's dimples flashed and his shoulders shook as he chuckled.

"Okay, so it's a little funny."

Dean leaned back against the headboard, sighing, latent hiccups of hilarity skittering up as he worked to gain control. "Sorry, Sammy."

"No, you're not," Sam shook his head, still grinning. "I think you actually like it here."

"Are you high?" Dean swallowed, slowly sobering.

"C'mon, man. You have the tricked out gun-slinger rig going for you. You're like a freakin' Horse Whisperer…you'd fit right in."

"Sam, my body feels like a cracked egg that was lit on fire, I'm gritty, I stink, and I haven't heard Metallica in three days."

Sam folded his lips down in a good-natured frown of concession. "So what you're saying is…you want to go home."

"Hell yes, I want to go home," Dean exclaimed. "Why do you think I want you to take me with you?"

"Because you don't trust me to get the job done," Sam replied instantly, innocently.

Dean blinked in complete surprise. "What?"

Sam shrugged. "I just…I figured you didn't think I could find Jake on my own."

Dean shook his head, closing his eyes a moment. "Sam…you are probably the dumbest smart kid I've ever met." He tipped his chin, catching Sam's eyes with his. "You think I don't know you could take care of you and me and a hunt on your own if you had to?"

"Well…I…."

"I know you could, Sam," Dean informed him with conviction.

He ignored the burr of fear that buried itself under his skin at the thought of becoming obsolete, insignificant, unnecessary. One day, Sam was going to leave him again. He'd as much given him permission to. And he knew his brother. He knew Sam had to believe that Dean knew he could handle himself.

"I know you," Dean said softly. "You haven't needed me in a long time."

"That's not tr—"

Dean held up a hand. "Not in that way," he amended quickly. "We're family. We're always going to…y'know, need each other. Just like we're always gonna need Dad, even if he is a stubborn ass."

Sam bounced his eyebrows in a nod and looked down at his hands resting in his lap.

"But you're smart, Sam. And you're…y'know…decent with a gun." Dean grinned, though Sam didn't look up. He sighed, thinking. "You gotta be able to kinda…look at the world sideways in this job."

"No kidding," Sam muttered, picking at the palm of his hand.

"You gotta make judgment calls that nobody else has to make. Ever. You gotta live on this…edge."

Sam held himself very still as he listened. Dean continued.

"Thing is…you're never alone on that edge, Sam. I'm always there with you."

"I know," Sam whispered.

"And I know the same is true for you," Dean informed him. "I trust you."

"Yeah?" Sam glanced at him out of the corner of his eyes.

"Hell, yeah." Dean poked at him with his foot. Sam smiled at him. A real smile, but with too much thought lingering in his eyes for Dean to call it happy. "I just need to be part of this, y'know? See this one through."

Sam nodded, taking a breath. "But this time we go in with a plan."

"I'm a fan of plans," Dean replied.

"Whatever, Mr. I'm Making This Up As I Go," Sam scoffed. "Name one plan you've made."

Dean raised an eyebrow. "Elevator shaft in the Chicago warehouse with the shotguns."

Sam pushed himself to his feet. "Oh, 'cause that worked out so well." He grabbed Dean's black shirt from the desk and handed it to him.

"You didn't say it had to be a successful plan," Dean pointed out, shoving his arms in the sleeves. The cloth felt slightly damp, but smelled fresh, as if someone had taken the time to wash the sweat—and, presumably, blood—from the material during the night. As he buttoned up the front of the shirt, he glanced toward the table and the flickering lantern. "Speaking of plans…where's the priest? And Zeke?"

Sam frowned. "Good question. After you fell asleep, Zeke was trying to get Ramirez to high-tail it outta here before we brought hell back with us from Ivers' place."

"He can't do that," Dean protested. "He leaves and—"

"I am not leaving," Ramirez's calm voice informed them from the doorway.

Sam turned quickly and Dean brought his head up.

"I have already made that mistake once," Ramirez said as he entered the room, a tray of bread, water, and something that looked like beans balanced in his hands. "I allowed my fear to control me and I abandoned my calling." He set the tray down on the table, shaking his head solemnly.

"Ivers scared you," Dean said, somewhat surprised by this realization.

"He did," Ramirez nodded. "You see, I didn't know the face of the demon," he turned toward Dean. "I only knew that one would come. I stayed here, safe from the events taking place in town, ignoring even the words of warning from Tom O'Maera. I did not want this fight to come to me. But then…I saw him kill Cutter."

"What did you see, exactly?" Dean asked. How did you know he was a demon?

John had never told him how to tell if someone were actually a demon. Knowing what he knew now, Dean had to wonder why. He'd read about tests and indications in John's journal after his dad left, but with the exception of the Daeva, he'd not yet encountered a true demon. It wasn't until he saw Ivers' eyes slip black that he knew…really knew that they were, in a word, screwed.

Ramirez looked directly at him, and the contrast of fire and serenity in the man's eyes was disconcerting. It took everything in Dean to not look away.

"I saw his eyes," the priest said simply.

Sam moved to the tray, pouring water into one of the mugs and handing it to his brother. Dean took it gratefully and drank deeply, feeling the cool liquid splash down in his belly, filing his body with languid relief. He took the bread from Sam and began to eat.

It's no cheeseburger, but it'll do….

"What'd you mean…you didn't want this fight to come to you?" Dean asked around a mouthful of bread.

Ramirez folded his arms, his dark eyes trained on the floor. "There aren't many in this town who still visit this Mission. At first, it was a slow attrition. People were struggling at the end of the war…the town…it suffered."

The priest looked up, taking the brothers in with a glance. "I had been charged with the protection of this Mission. I was given guidance, instructions. I was told that there would come a day when San Jose de Valero could be all that stood between salvation and evil. I believed it. But I didn't believe I would be the one to face it."

"Life's just full of surprises, huh?" Dean commented.

"Ivers took over this town. Slowly, over the last year, he drained it of life. I watched it happen. I let it happen." Ramirez covered his eyes. Taking a breath he lifted his head. "But the moment he took that man's life—for nothing…nothing—I felt something awaken inside me. And I feared it."

"Y'know, it's funny," Sam said softly. "Zeke said that moment changed something for him, too."

"Did he?" Ramirez asked.

"So, let me get this straight," Dean said, resting his head back against the wall and trying to decide which he wanted more: a stiff drink or a cup of coffee. His system was thirsty for something strong, potent, bracing. "You've lived here for years, knowing there was a gate to freakin' Hell in your back yard, and when you saw some guy taking over the town and killing people…it didn't occur to you that it might be the big bad you'd been warned about?"

Dean didn't miss Sam's frown. Ramirez was silent for a moment, then nodded.

"That is correct," he nodded. "It is not a natural to assume that the evil inside a man is more than the man himself."

"Says you," Dean scoffed.

"Dean," Sam shushed him.

"I understand that you're upset," Ramirez started.

"No, see, I don't think you really do," Dean rebutted.

His instinct was to rise, to face this man, to square off with the level of intensity he felt burning behind his eyes. But he body rebelled and as he pushed himself forward, his belly muscles began to tremble, his eyes blurring. He felt rather than saw Sam tense up next to him as he sank back against the headboard.

"No offense, Padre," Dean continued, irritated that his voice betrayed him with a breathy weakness. "I owe you for this." He touched his side. "And I won't forget that. But my brother and me…we've been fighting shit like this our whole lives." He shook his head. "I just...I can't make it make sense. A demon is here, now, and a hundred years from now a hunter finds him…but now we're here and you could have stopped it a year ago….."

"I did not know—"

Dean held up a hand. "Yeah, yeah, I know. There was no way you could have known. I get that. It's just…," he sighed and looked over at Sam. "This whole thing…it's all just…."

"Messed up," Sam said softly.

"Yeah, that's exactly what it is. Messed up." Dean nodded, talking more to himself than Ramirez as he continued. "You've got stuff in that book that we've just started to learn about…and we've been doing this for so damn long…."

"It is still possible that you two being here is more than a simple accident."

"Yeah, well," Dean groaned, closing his eyes. "It's also possible that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn't alone."

Ramirez opened his mouth, but Sam held up a hand. "Don't," he pleaded. "Just…go with it."

"We are all in this now," Ramirez said quietly. "Whether or not we wish it."

Dean kept his head back but opened his eyes, finding his brother. Sam pulled off a piece of bread and put it in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully.

"Somehow…Ivers was defeated," Sam said. "In our history, I mean."

Dean nodded, following his line of thinking. "If we don't buy into the whole we were always supposed to be here theory, then our job isn't to stop him," he agreed. "It's to get Jake and get the hell out."

Sam stopped chewing and swallowed hard. "You still think…I mean, are you really going to kill him?"

"You wanna go home?" Dean shot back, feeling his heart sink as he spoke. He was a hunter. He wasn't a killer. But if it meant getting them back…if it meant protecting his brother…. "Don't see much of a choice here, Sam."

"I don't like this," Sam grumbled. "Just…it feels wrong."

There was silence in the room for a moment as each man sank into his own thoughts.

"I pray you make it safe back to your time," Ramirez said, pausing at the door as he turned to leave. "This is not where you are meant to be." He lifted his eyes and met Dean's once more, the peace in his voice a mask for the turmoil on his face. "You have a job to do. And it isn't finished."

Dean felt his heart stutter. For a moment he couldn't breathe. He simply stared at Ramirez as the priest left the room. The food in his mouth turned to ash, the water changing to acid in his belly.

"Well that was…cryptic," Sam grumbled, eating once more. "Larabee was right; he does talk in riddles. I wonder where…Dean? Hey, you okay, man?"

"He said the same thing," Dean managed, his voice barely above a whisper.

"Who?" Sam asked setting his bread down and moving closer to his brother, his brows fisted in worry. "Said what?"

"LeGrange," Dean clarified, clearing his throat. "When I went…y'know, to his house? Before we figured out about the wife…he said those same words."

"About having a job to do?" Sam asked.

Dean nodded, feeling his heart resume its normal rhythm as Sam stepped away. "Why would…what's that even mean? A job to do? A hunt?"

Sam took a sip of water. "Maybe it's just…y'know…existential religious rhetoric."

Dean blinked at him. "Did you just use the word rhetoric in a sentence?"

Sam smirked, then sobered. "Listen, I wouldn't make too much of it," he said. "Pastor Jim used to say stuff like that to us all the time, remember? That we were…special. Meant for something more and all that?"

"Yeah, but," Dean lifted a shoulder. "I just figured he was trying to get under Dad's skin."

"He probably was," Sam nodded. "Kinda reminds me of Jim, y'know."

"Who, Ramirez?"

"Yeah," Sam nodded. "He's got that same…I don't know…calm personality."

"He's a priest and a hunter…it's not a big leap, Sam."

"Dude…Ramirez saved your ass last night."

Dean shook his head. "No, you saved my ass."

"I got you here," Sam conceded, "but without him…that fever would have burned you up and I…," Sam faltered for a moment. "Anyway, he was probably just trying to get you ready to…y'know…fight."

"Maybe," Dean sighed. "Kinda…I don't know…weird to find out there were hunters back then. I mean now. I mean…oh, hell."

"I know what you mean," Sam said, sparing him. "I had this idea that it was just Dad. I mean, for the longest time, I thought Uncle Bobby and Pastor Jim were just…."

"What? Dad's drinking buddies?"

"Kinda, yeah," Sam chuckled.

"Well, I didn't want—I mean we didn't, Dad and me—want you to have to know, Sam."

Sam slipped a sly look his direction and Dean looked away. Sometimes his brother saw too much.

"We met Caleb like a year after you finally told me the truth," Sam reminded him.

"Yeah, I remember," Dean nodded, realization sinking in. "You mean…that's when you figured out that Bobby and Jim were…?"

"In on the big family secret?" Sam finished for him. "Yeah, pretty much."

"Huh," Dean bounced his head. "Now…I kinda wonder."

"What?"

Shrugging Dean twisted his silver ring around his finger in thought. "Y'know…just if there are more out there. In our time. I mean, if a rancher and a priest in the old west…."

He let the thought hang unfinished, glancing over as Sam's face closed a bit in reflection. He could practically see the thoughts ricocheting through his brother's over-active brain. It was making him anxious. He needed to get up. He needed to move. He needed it like he needed his next breath.

"I'd give my left arm for a shower right about now," he muttered, rubbing his face.

"Yeah, no kidding," Sam nodded. "I don't think that's happening anytime soon…unless it rains. Anyway, you should eat more. We may know what have to do, but we don't know how we're gonna do it."

Using the edge of the small desk, Dean pushed against it, gaining his feet. His legs felt shaky, weak, but they held him.

"What do you mean?" he pressed his brother, looking for Sam's quick mind to make the necessary connections he was simply too tired to thread together. Leaning a shoulder against the wall he poured himself more water and continued to eat the meal Ramirez had provided for them.

Around a mouthful, Sam said, "Well, first, we gotta go back up to Ivers' ranch—undetected—and get Rory out of the bunkhouse—which is heavily guarded—and rescue his mom from the house—which is where Ivers is. Then we gotta find Jake and…y'know…get home."

"You make it sound like that's gonna be hard, Sammy," Dean commented.

"Well, I got an idea about one of those things," Zeke said suddenly from the door way.

Dean turned quickly to face him and nearly fell over. Without looking, Sam thrust out a hand and caught him by the elbow, holding on until Dean found his balance. He sat carefully on the edge of the bed, the muscles along his inner thighs breathing a sigh of relief.

"Where've you been?" Sam asked the saloon owner.

Zeke lifted a shoulder, slipping around the edge of the doorway and leaning against the wall opposite the bed. His eyes were on the floor, his face serious. "Been out…thinking."

Dean exchanged a glance with his brother, then looked back at Zeke. "Should we be worried?"

"Kid," Zeke replied glancing up. "I were you? I'da been worried a helluva long time ago."

"Have you been drinking?" Dean asked suddenly.

Zeke cut his eyes to him. "No. But don't think I don't want to."

Dean swallowed at the strange look of empty resolve in Zeke's eyes. He was suddenly reminded of his father after a night of battling the kind of monsters that lived only in his memory. John had said once that there were things he'd seen people do to each other that no supernatural being could touch. Until they'd met the Benders, Dean hadn't really known what he meant.

Looking at Zeke now, though, he saw that same understanding in the man's hazel eyes. He saw the footprint of war, the resignation of facing another battle, more death, and the understanding that he could be the cause of it.

"What is it?" Dean encouraged Zeke to continue, registering in his periphery that Sam rested his backside against the desk, his eyes forward, his whole body tense and quiet as he listened. It was one thing that he'd always admired about his brother: when Sam really listened to someone, his did so with his whole self.

"You know I fought under General Joe Hooker in the war," Zeke began. Dean blinked, swallowing the natural inclination to smirk at the name. He hadn't registered that bit of information, but tucked it away to ask Sam for details later. "I was with him at Lookout Mountain. In Chattanooga." He looked up, his eyebrows quirking in question. "That's still there, isn't it?"

Sam nodded. "Still there. Still in Tennessee," he reassured the man.

Zeke sighed. "Good. Pretty place. Even with all the…the smoke and gunfire and…blood."

The brothers remained quiet, waiting.

"Anyway, the Rebs were set on starving out our men. See, Lookout Mountain is actually a ridge that runs along the Tennessee River. Reb artillery on top of Lookout Mountain controlled access by the river, and their cavalry launched raids on supply wagons heading toward Chattanooga. It was really only a matter of time until every one of those Union soldiers starved to death..."

Zeke ran his tongue across his bottom lip, taking a breath as his memories almost visibly wrapped around him. In that moment of brief silence, for a dizzying second Dean imagined he could hear the roar of cannons, the cry of men and horses, smell the acrid odor of gunpowder mixing with the sweet, wet scent of the mountainside. Zeke looked up and Dean caught his breath, bringing his focus back to now.

"It was October, y'know. Cold in Tennessee. General George Thomas found a break in the Rebel defenses and attacked Brown's Ferry, building a bridge across the Tennessee River and making it possible for our forces to link up and break through the Cracker Line."

"The what?" Sam asked, puzzled.

Zeke pressed the tips of his fingers together. "The Cracker Line—you ever hear of hardtack? It's pretty much what I ate for about three years. Called it that 'cause we were finally able to supply the Union troops with food. Anyway it was…brutal. All of it. But we won, and those soldiers didn't starve."

"What's this got to do with Ivers?" Dean asked.

Zeke pushed away from the wall, his hip cocked, stance relaxed, as if he were truly warming to his topic. "See, Thomas' plan only worked 'cause the Rebs thought they had it all tied up. They thought they had the tactical advantage on the ridge. They didn't think about us being able to use the river."

Sam narrowed his eyes. Dean looked at him, recognizing that expression. "What are you thinking, Sammy?"

"There's a river bed over behind the bunkhouse at Ivers' place," Sam said slowly, his eyes on the floor and also miles away.

Zeke nodded and moved to the wardrobe. He dug around inside for a moment then emerged with the map Ramirez had used the night before to illustrate Ivers' plan to open the gate.

"See this?" He pointed to a mark on the map.

Dean stood once more, leaning on the table to get a better look, pleased his legs felt more solid.

"About a year ago, Tom O'Maera and I built a dam here. It's on the edge of his property; he needed the additional water. Ivers ranted about it for awhile, but Tom, he…well, looking back I think he did it specifically to rile Ivers up. But at the time he just talked about property lines and didn't let Ivers get to him. Lot of people 'round here think that's why Ivers ultimately killed Tom."

"Ivers was using that river as a source of water?" Sam asked.

Zeke nodded. "So I assume."

"Where's he get his water now? For all those horses?" Sam continued.

Zeke shrugged. "You got me, but I can tell you one thing. If the dam goes? That bunkhouse would be flooded in minutes. Probably smash it up."

Dean looked at Sam, already visualizing the ramifications. "They'll be looking for us to come from the ridge. Ivers has gotta be pissed our stampede took out the front porch of his house."

"Not to mention a couple of his men," Sam nodded. "But what about Rory?"

"We go during the day. My guess is they won't be in the bunkhouse," Zeke pointed out, "they'll be rounding up them horses and fixing the corral."

"So…you're saying we blow the dam, and…then what?" Sam frowned, looking over at Dean. "Not like we can time an attack on the ranch with the flood of water."

"What I wouldn't give for a cell phone right about now," Dean muttered.

Zeke shook his head. "I'm not even gonna ask."

"Zeke," Dean straightened. "How long do you think it'll take the water to get from the dam to the bunkhouse?"

Zeke shrugged. "Amount of water in that reservoir…ten minutes. If that."

Dean looked at Sam, eyebrows raised.

"No," Sam shook his head.

"What else are we gonna do, Sam?"

"That's just…insane, Dean."

"C'mon!" Dean frowned, turning his hands up in a work with me here gesture. "You'd have to ride there anyway. Not like it's in walking distance."

"Everything is in walking distance if you have enough time," Sam pouted.

"That's one thing we don't have," Dean pointed out. "Ironically."

"Hey!" Zeke finally exploded. "In case you forgot, I don't have your super-special brother mind-reading powers. What the hell are you two goin' on about?"

"He wants to race the water," Sam grumbled, flopping down on the edge of the bed, his hands hanging loosely between his knees.

"Do what now?" Zeke looked at Dean.

"We start at the dam," Dean explained. "When it blows, we blow. I figure we hit the ranch right when they're scrambling to deal with the flood. Everyone comes out of the house to see what the hell…we head in."

Zeke listened, absorbing Dean's—somewhat demented—logic. "Only one problem I can see."

"One?" Sam exclaimed.

"What's that?" Dean asked, ignoring his brother.

"You still need three people at the ranch: one to get Rory, one to get Kate, one to get Jake."

"Who's Kate?" Dean frowned.

"Bird's Mama," Zeke explained.

"Oh, right," Dean nodded. "Okay yeah, you've got a point. So…someone else has to blow the dam."

"Not Ramirez," Sam spoke up, his voice dully resigned to the inevitable. "He has to stay at the Mission."

"Sam—"

"Dean," Sam interrupted, standing up and facing his brother. "I'll go along with this insanity because I know I'm not going to be able to stop you and there's no friggin' way I'm letting you go alone, but we're not leaving this place unprotected."

"I know—"

"And before you say it," Sam holding up a hand, "I get that Ivers being a demon and all isn't our problem. I do. I get that he was doing his demonic thing before we even got here. I get that he's probably the whole reason Jake was able to find out about the location of the weapon and that it's not all random circumstance and it all has meaning and all of that crap. I get it."

"Listen, just—"

"No, you listen, Dean." Sam's face was tight as he pointed at Dean's chest. "I said we had to have a plan, and we do, but…part of that plan has got to be to somehow help these people stay protected against Ivers. We've messed up enough lives in this town by just being here; I'm not gonna risk making the one mistake that would allow that bastard to open a friggin' gate to Hell."

He took a breath, folding his lips down as he stared hard at Dean.

"Are you done?" Dean asked calmly.

Sam rolled his shoulders back and nodded. "Yeah. That pretty much…y'know…covers it."

"Good," Dean said, then turned to Zeke. "You know how to find Sentenza?"

Zeke nodded, covering his mouth as if to hide the grin that was blatantly reflecting in his eyes. "He's not gonna be able to make that ride, though."

"No, but he can light a fuse."

"Oh," Sam said softly, sitting back down on the bed. "Oh."

Zeke lifted his chin in acknowledgement. "He lights the fuse…and I go with you," he said slowly.

Dean mirrored the man's nod. "You know the layout of the place, you're good in a fight—"

"How do you know that?"

"You survived the war, didn't you?" Dean pointed out.

Zeke tipped his head to the side in concession. "Who's gonna protect Ramirez?" he asked.

Dean looked down, thinking. He glanced at Sam and saw the same question reflected in his brother's eyes. He thought of the slender, quiet man who had saved his life.

"Think there's any way we can reach his friend, Larabee?"

Zeke rubbed his chin. "We gotta go back to town and get the dynamite…get Sam another horse…I could send a telegram, maybe, but by the time he gets it…," Zeke shrugged.

"Do we even know where he went?" Sam asked. "All he said was that he had to meet a friend. Maybe he's still in Maera."

"Sulfur Springs," Dean corrected, erasing Zeke's confused frown.

"Good point," Zeke said. "I'll put out some feelers."

"We could ask Stella," Sam suggested. "I bet she knows."

Zeke arched an eyebrow, his lips quirking, but he said nothing. Dean was about to make a comment when he heard the unmistakable low rumble of thunder. He looked at Sam, pleased to find an echoing expression of delight on his brother's face.

"C'mon," Sam said, and led the way from the room.

Dean followed, slowly, relishing the feel of his body in motion, doing what it was told, gathering strength as the damage done to his spirit by the claws of the Daeva continued to heal. There was an echoing tremble inside of him, but he felt it slowly calming.

Regardless of what he thought about God, he sure did love the Big Guy's water.

"Where the hell are you two going?" Zeke called after them.

Dean smelled it before they reached the opened archway of the Mission's main doorway: rain. Sharp, clean, cool. The smell of earth and gravity and new beginnings. He joined Sam at the opening and breathed deeply, shivering with pleasure as gooseflesh rose along his skin in reaction to the sudden chill in the air.

Together they watched the storm approach from the West, a wall of water falling in a thick shower from heavy clouds, beating down on the thirsty land and rumbling toward them with the power of nature unleashed. Just before the rain hit the Mission, the brothers stepped out of the doorway and in unison closed their eyes and lifted their faces. The rain poured down on them, thundering over their bodies and soaking them in moments.

The rain roared in Dean's ears, filling the hollows of his eyes, spilling down his face and running in a river from his chin to tumble to the ground and join the puddles of red earth churning around his boots. It sounded different; it wasn't rain on the metal roof of his car, hitting the blacktop of a motel parking lot, or even slamming against the glass window or prefabricated roof of a building.

It was real and raw and perfectly overwhelming.

"Are you two crazy?" Zeke yelled from the doorway, safely tucked indoors away from the downpour.

Dean ignored him. He ran his hands through his short hair, rubbing away the grit and sweat from his face and neck, scrubbing his fingers through the coarse hair that framed his jaw line. Blinking the rain from his lashes, he peered at Sam and grinned, watching as his brother shook his longer hair from his face.

"What do you think, Sam?" he yelled over the storm. "Are we crazy?"

"You bet your ass we are!" Sam yelled back, water tripping from his lips and flinging itself into the void between them.

Dean laughed, the sound filling him, permeating the left over cracks that had dug into his fragile soul when the fever had burned through him. An unfamiliar feeling of joy slipped inside of him and Dean felt…whole.

The untucked shirt clung to him, molding against the shape of his body. The black pants were plastered against his legs. He felt oddly weightless without the borrowed Colt revolver strapped to his hip, but in that moment, all that mattered was the freeing sensation of rain washing his worn and weary body. Spreading his arms wide, Dean lifted his face to the rain, the surge of the storm against his skin already beginning to wane.

You may be right…we may be crazy….

Crazy might be the only way to live when trapped in a world where rituals tore them from their time and where death was their only means of escape.

Continued in Part 7B here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/84864.html



 


Comments

( 10 Tall Tales — Tell Me A Story )
simplycolourful
Jun. 12th, 2010 05:25 pm (UTC)
Was that a nod to I, Robot I stumbled over there? :)

I'm liking it so far, the boys need a grace period, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out.
gaelicspirit
Jun. 12th, 2010 09:24 pm (UTC)
Ooh -- well, if I nodded to I, Robot it was by accident. I've woven in several western nods, some Firefly, and a few other pop culture references as well, but that one, I missed.

I only saw that movie once, though, so it didn't stick with me as much...

I'm glad you're liking the story! The closer I get to finishing it, the more nervous I am. :)
dreamlitnight
Jun. 12th, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC)
Loved this chapter. You capture the essence of the Winchester boys perfectly. This line... "In case you forgot, I don't have your super-special brother mind-reading powers."
and this little tidbit ... "What do you think, Sam?" he yelled over the storm. "Are we crazy?"
"You bet your ass we are!" Sam yelled back...They are crazy... like a straw. (or a fox would make more sense if you don't watch "Friends" )
This story is amazing. Can't wait for more. Want to see Dean- racing the water. lol. Hope his plan works. hee hee. YOU + Writing About the WINCHESTER BOYS = WIN!
gaelicspirit
Jun. 12th, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC)
Awww! Thank you! I'm so pleased you've enjoyed -- and I personally love your equation. ;)

Dean racing the water? Coming up...
amber1960
Jun. 12th, 2010 08:40 pm (UTC)
And you know with the Winchesters - crazy works!
gaelicspirit
Jun. 12th, 2010 09:26 pm (UTC)
You said it, sister! :)

Thank you for reading - hope you continue to enjoy!
seesmooshrun
Jun. 13th, 2010 06:05 am (UTC)
"Sam, my body feels like a cracked egg that was lit on fire, I'm gritty, I stink, and I haven't heard Metallica in three days."

Hee. Nice to know Dean's priorities.

"Around a mouthful, Sam said, 'Well, first, we gotta go back up to Ivers' ranch—undetected—and get Rory out of the bunkhouse—which is heavily guarded—and rescue his mom from the house—which is where Ivers is. Then we gotta find Jake and…y'know…get home.'
" 'You make it sound like that's gonna be hard, Sammy,' Dean commented."

That's just what I was thinking!

My only disappointment? Who on earth takes a cleansing shower with their clothes on? Tsk, tsk...

On to Part B.
gaelicspirit
Jun. 13th, 2010 01:08 pm (UTC)
My only disappointment? Who on earth takes a cleansing shower with their clothes on?

Oh, you naughty thing you ;) I suppose I could have had them heading out into the rain and strip out of those pesky clothes.

But...and don't kill me for this...it honestly didn't occur to me.

There is an honest-to-God shower scene in the final chapter, if that makes up for it.

Thank you for reading and commenting on both parts of this chapter. :)
txgirl0302
Jul. 29th, 2010 09:04 am (UTC)
It is 4 am and I don't want to stop reading this amazingly awesome story you have going on. I am loving every single word! However, I have to be up in three hours lol. I can't wait to finish this tomorrow!
gaelicspirit
Jul. 30th, 2010 09:10 pm (UTC)
YAY! I love that I kept you up! LOL! I mean, I feel bad that you'll be tired in the morning, but I love that you were so engrossed in the story! Wheee!

Thanks so much.
( 10 Tall Tales — Tell Me A Story )

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