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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: So this is it…the show-down. Here goes nothin'... *bites lip*

 

 

"The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving."

~ Ulysses S. Grant

www

Sulfur Springs, Texas 1870

"I can see the ranch from here," Dean called down from his perch atop the wooden dam. "I mean…it's like…a spec, but I can see it."

Dean looked over his shoulder at the large reservoir of water pooled into a sizable lake on what had once been Tom O'Maera's property. When the solidly-constructed dam gave way, the wall of water was going to be…impressive.

"Told you it wouldn't take long for the water to get there," Zeke replied from below him.

Zeke and Sentenza were setting the sticks of dynamite, then weaving the fuses together so that Sentenza could light them from a protected location. On the East side of the creek bed, tied down behind a cluster of rocks, rested Sentenza's mount and the donkey that had carried the boxes of dynamite. Sam stood off to the West of the creek, holding their horses, and looking increasingly uncomfortable. Dean climbed down from the dam and approached his brother.

"Relax, Sam," he grinned. "This is gonna work."

"You're insane," Sam replied. "This is insane. And I should get a medal for going along with this."

"How 'bout I make you a T-shirt instead?" Dean said, taking the Ghost's reins from Sam and smiling at him. "I Survived the Dam Run with Dean Winchester And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt. Huh? Huh?" He bounced his elbow against Sam's arm teasingly.

Sam reached out and grabbed his sleeve. "This isn't a movie, Dean," he said through clenched teeth. "There's not gonna be music playing as we ride these damn things in and throw our make-shift bombs and rescue the lady and go home. People could die. A lot of people."

"Well, if we do it right, it won't be us," Dean replied, pulling free of Sam's grip and ignoring the block of ice Sam's words shoved into his gut.

"Dean!" Sam barked, reaching out and grabbing the front of his brother's shirt. "I'm serious. This isn't a joke—"

"I know that, Sam!" Dean turned, leaning into Sam's hand and taking a step closer to his brother, thrusting the weight of his words into his eyes and making sure his brother saw it all. "I know."

Sam closed his mouth, blinking, surprise evident on his face as he took in the shift from humor to ferocity in Dean's stance.

"Last time we were at this place? I was barely hanging on," Dean reminded him. "In fact, I was pretty sure that if you made it home, you'd be bringing my body back with you."

Sam swallowed. "Then why do you act like it doesn't hit you?" he asked. "I can see that you're still weak, man. I see your hands shaking. I see how…how pale you are. I see you."

"Well then, look closer, Sam," Dean ordered in a low, dangerous voice. "You said you knew me. Before all of this started. You remember that?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, I remember."

"If that's true? Then you know there's nothing more important to me than saving Bird's mom, getting Jake, getting us the hell out of here, and keeping as many people alive as we can in the process."

Sam slowly released his grip on Dean's shirt-front, but didn't step away. They were once again toe-to-toe, the scent of the horse's nervous sweat surrounding them, the daylight beginning to turn flat and tired as the afternoon burned away.

"Then why…why don't you…," Sam asked, helpless to find the last of the question.

"Act like it?" Dean replied.

Sam nodded.

"'Cause I can't ever let the fact that we might lose stop me from doing what I know we have to," Dean replied, taking a step back. He shrugged. "So, I joke around. Helluva lot easier."

Sam sighed. "No wonder I can't ever figure you out," he muttered.

"You two done kissing and making up?" Zeke called from several yards away.

Dean waved at him. "We're good."

"Good, 'cause this is all set," he jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "I sent Sentenza that way," he pointed to the East side of the creek bed, "with enough fuse he won't get squished or drowned."

"You sure you got enough dynamite?" Dean asked.

"Kid, I used enough sticks that I could blow The Beacon all the way to Washington," Zeke replied, then looked concerned. "You do know where Washington is…right?"

Dean lifted an eyebrow. "Washington?" he asked, feigning puzzlement.

Zeke paled.

"Don't listen to him, Zeke," Sam said, swooping in for the rescue. "We know where Washington is."

Zeke narrowed his eyes good-naturedly and pointed an accusatory finger at Dean. "You're gonna play the wrong card one of these days, y'know."

Dean nodded with smiling concession. "Probably."

Clapping his hands together and startling the drowsy horses, Zeke took a breath. "You boys ready for this?"

Dean looked at his brother, saw the tension tightening his boyish features. "You still scared, Sammy?"

Sam looked back at him and Dean flipped a mental coin: truth or bravado?

"Hell yeah, I'm scared," Sam replied. "Aren't you?"

Dean smiled softly, thankful for the quiet permission for honesty Sam's admission gave him. "Yeah, I'm scared."

"If you aren't scared, you aren't living," Zeke said, swinging his leg across Hooker's back and reaching down to Sam for the reins. "That's my motto. Or it might be if I start having a motto."

Sam gave the saloon owner a half grin and turned to flip the reins over the neck of his big horse.

"Hey, Sam," Dean called, pulling his brother's attention. "Remember what Dad says."

"Shoot first, ask questions later?"

"No," Dean shook his head. "The other thing."

"Watch out for your brother?" Sam smiled.

Dean chuckled softly, appreciating the humor and the subtle reminder that Sam knew he had his back. "Fear keeps you sharp. Gives you an edge. Use that edge to cut 'em down."

"Oh, right. That," Sam said, then shoved his foot into the stirrup and sat stiffly in the saddle.

Dean climbed aboard the Ghost, wincing slightly as he settled himself in the unforgiving seat and looked toward where Sentenza sat waiting.

"All right, boys, listen up," Zeke said, turning Hooker in a circle. "We start riding. When we hit that tree there, Sentenza lights the fuse. We have about three minutes until the dam blows and then a helluva lotta water is heading our way. You run them horses. Run 'em fast."

Dean nodded, his jaw tense, and moved the Ghost over closer to Sam's mount.

"When we get there," Dean said picking up the cadence of the plan, "Sam and I'll head around the back of the house and throw the whiskey bombs."

"And Zeke turns any horses they've rounded up loose," Sam chimed in. "Then he breaks in through the front, gets Kate out of the house."

Zeke nodded. "We have to assume that Jake's gonna be with the hands rounding up the horses and preparing for the assault on the town. So, you two set the back of the house on fire and smoke everyone out, then circle around and find him."

"And then we head back to town," Dean wrapped up, "using the loose horses as a shield and drawing Ivers with us."

For a beat they sat on their horses, staring at each other, the quiet hum of cicadas offering a back drop to their hammering hearts.

"This is crazy," Zeke spoke first.

"Freakin' insane," Dean nodded.

"No way this is gonna work," Sam agreed.

"Well, that about covers it," Zeke said, gathering his reins.

"Let's do this thing," Dean turned the mare and held her steady alongside Sam.

"YA!" Zeke kicked Hooker in the flanks and the bay horse launched into a flat-out run.

Dean followed suit on the Ghost checking to make sure Sam was keeping up. He felt his body respond to the stretched-out gait of the horse, leaning forward and moving his arms with the up and down motion of her neck. She didn't require much encouragement; the horse loved to run. He just had to keep his feet in the stirrups. Keeping his ass in the seat was a bonus, but didn't seem to be crucial to staying on.

He saw the tree approach and pass them in a blur and within minutes he felt the world rock. Ducking his shoulder and looking back he saw that Sam was right at his heels, and close behind Sam was a wall of churning, rolling water that pounded down the river bed, overflowing the banks, slipping across the rocks and slamming against the small trees that flanked the edges.

"Go, go," he breathlessly encouraged the Ghost.

"Move!" Zeke yelled from in front of him, somehow throwing his old warhorse into fifth gear and powering away from the brothers.

"Go, Sam!" Dean yelled over his shoulder, hesitant to kick the Ghost and leave Sam behind.

"I'm going as fast as I can!" Sam screamed back at him. "What else am I supposed to do?"

"Go faster!"

Dean heard the rush of the water behind them, a roaring scream ripping over the thirsty land. He leaned so far forward the barrel of the gun tucked into the front of his belt dug into his thigh and the saddle horn rhythmically slapped against his belly. His muscles began to shake and he instinctively tangled his hands in Ghost's dread-lock-infused mane.

"YA!" He heard behind him and dared another glance back, watching in amazement as he saw Sam lean low and use the ends of his reins as a riding crop, smacking the flank of the big horse and speeding past Dean.

"Atta boy!" Dean hollered after him, relaxing into the Ghost's run and following his brother and Zeke down the length of the rapidly filling river, the push of water thundering against the air behind him.

Before he was ready for it, they reached the bunkhouse. The shouts of panic and surprise from the men working Ivers' ranch were audible over the sound of the rushing water. Following Zeke and Sam around the far corner of the bunkhouse, Dean cleared the building two strides before the water slammed into it, rushing through the windows, filling the empty spaces, and shifting the wooden building off of its questionable foundation.

The distraction was working. Men were scrambling, running, calling out to each other. Several dozen horses were circling and squealing nervously in the corral as overflow from the rush of water spread beneath their hooves. The earth was soon a mess of red mud. Dean followed Sam around the side of the huge house, catching sight of Zeke as he swept past the corral gate and lifted the latch, once again freeing the horses the men had worked so hard to round up.

Dean pulled Ghost up short, the horse panting as hard as he was, her sides heaving, white flecks of sweaty foam built up along her neck and at the corners of her mouth. She worked the bit nervously, prancing and ready to keep moving.

"Whiskey," Dean gasped, digging into his own saddle bag.

Sam reached down, and Dean saw his hands were shaking.

"You okay?"

"That was a freakin' rush, man," Sam panted, grabbing a bottle of whiskey with a corked piece of Stella's petticoat tucked into the top. "Oh, shit! Shit!"

"What?" Dean looked up and around quickly.

"We left the matches with Sentenza!"

Dean grinned, sweat rolling down the side of his face and along his jaw line. Before Sam could say a word, he pulled his Zippo from his pocket.

"Where'd you get that?"

"Brought it with me," Dean replied. "Aside from my boots…it was the only thing that survived the trip."

"Son of a bitch," Sam breathed, his dimples showing.

"That's what I said," Dean replied, flicking the lighter once, twice, three times and catching the end of the scrap of material with the flame.

Tossing the lighter to Sam, he moved the horse toward the back then stood a bit in his stirrups and threw the bottle against the back of the house. It broke with a satisfying burst of flame. In a moment Sam's joined it on the opposite end of the house and they shared a grin as the flames licked the outside of the large, wooden structure, smoke curling in through the windows.

They circled around to the side of the house, hearing the curses and shouts of men in the destroyed yard spread out before them. The side porch of the house was just at their left, a shelter for firewood and an outhouse situated off to their right. Dean looked around for some cover; they were exposed here, caught in an alley with only two exits, and both could easily be cut off. Dean pulled the Colt from its holster and saw that Sam gripped the Winchester. Amazingly, no one had come after them, yet; it appeared that the melee with the water and horses was scattering the men like ants.

"Where's Zeke?" Sam panted.

"Should be in the house," Dean reminded him. "We gotta find Jake. Let's—"

The volley of gunfire seemed to come out of nowhere.

It echoed off the side of the house and spooked the Ghost into bucking. Dean wasn't firmly seated and had no experience staying on a bucking horse. He tumbled from the saddle, landing hard on his shoulder and rolling to his knees in a coughing, gasping execution of awkward motion.

With a shaking hand, wincing from the impact with the ground, he pointed the Colt toward the opening of the alley, seeing only men coming toward them, and fired back, drawing the attention of the men shouting at each other and milling in the yard. Ducking instinctively, he caught a glimpse of three riders heading down from the top of the ridge, firing toward Ivers' men.

"Sam! Plan B! We gotta—" He turned, expecting to see Sam firmly seated on the back of the big black horse.

Instead, the horse was dancing between the shed and the outhouse, and Sam was on the ground, face pale, eyes blinking dimly at the sky, a deep red stain growing across the top of his left thigh.

"SAM!"

Dean's cry echoed more loudly than the gunshots and he was up and running for his brother before he registered that more bullets were heading their way.

www

He'd been shot.

It took him a moment to register this fact. It had never happened before; he hadn't expected it to feel quite this way.

For a half-second, he thought Dean had hit him, knocked him from his horse. It had literally felt like a slap on his leg—hard, like being hit by a two-by-four—and then he was on the ground, blinking at the sky.

"SAM!"

For a brief, suspended moment there was nothing but the sound of his name caught in his brother's anguished voice.

And then the pain rolled over him. A spike of bright agony as if someone had shoved a white-hot needle the size of his arm into his leg.

Oh, shit…shit…Dean, I've been shot…Dean….

"I gotcha…I gotcha, Sam," Dean was saying, gasping, his voice trembling like he couldn't get enough air.

"M-my leg…," Sam tried before the nausea hit him. He instinctively sucked in a lungful of air through his nose.

"I know, I know," Dean said, grabbing him and pulling him up against his chest. Two things always struck Sam about his brother when Sam was hurt: Dean seemed to become unnaturally strong, and he repeated everything. "I've gotcha, kiddo…lemme look, lemme see it."

"Bastard shot me," Sam muttered, looking down at his leg. A red stain was growing across his thigh. His vision blurred and narrowed until for a moment all he saw was smears of light and all he heard was Dean's voice.

"Okay…okay, yeah, it's not bad. Not bad at all."

Dean maneuvered behind Sam until he was crouched at his back. He hadn't touched Sam's leg, or given it more than a passing glance as far as Sam could tell. He felt Dean tip sideways and in moments he saw the white bandages that had been wrapped around Dean's ribs, protecting his still-healing cuts, whipped out and Dean's hands descending toward the red mark on his leg.

"It's not bad, Sammy," Dean repeated just before he turned Sam's world white as he pulled the bandage tight in a make-shift tourniquet.

"Jeeeeeeesus," Sam cried out in a breathy whimper.

"I'm sorry! Sorry, kiddo."

"That…hurts."

Dean tucked his hands under Sam's shoulders. "Here, lemme have your arm, Sam. There you go, okay. Gonna lift you."

"Lost m'horse," Sam said.

He felt dizzy, drunk, sick. As Dean lifted him up, the world swayed around him and he groaned.

"N-Not getting on a horse," Dean grunted, tucked up under him, taking the weight off his bad leg.

They shifted, and Sam felt Dean reach for something, heard him curse, and then they were once again balanced. He tried to focus on what Dean was doing but it was all he could do to keep from rolling into the beckoning darkness and way from the lurch of pain that was climbing his leg with hot fingers.

Sam jerked, surprised, when Dean suddenly fired two shots toward the confusing mess of people that seemed to be four million miles away. He blinked dully when he saw two people fall.

Better not be Jake…or we're screwed, he thought dimly.

"Let's getcha inside," Dean gasped, tugging on Sam. "Need you to work with me here, okay?"

Dean fired two more shots and Sam heard an answering cry. Someone else was shot. Someone else was feeling the white-hot fire burning in them. Someone else was feeling the twisted spin of the world. And his brother had made it happen.

Good…Kill 'em all, Dean…don't let 'em win….

"Sammy! Sam! Hey! Hey! Don't you pass out on me."

"'Kay," Sam replied, blinking his eyes wide. "Why 'er we goin' inside? Zeke's 'posed to go inside."

"Plan B, kiddo," Dean said, forcing Sam to move. "We gotta find Zeke. Get you some help. I need you to move, Sam. Move with me, okay? Sam!"

"Move. Gotcha." Sam nodded, working to obey.

The disorienting dizziness was starting to pass and in its place grew a clear-headed, pain-filled panic. He started to see everything with sharp-edged lucidity, feeling his heart pound with the adrenalin rush from before and the realization that if he didn't help Dean now, it was Dean who would be taking a body back to 2005, not him.

He moved his good leg forward, helping Dean limp toward the porch and awkwardly climb the steps to the main door. Dean fired his weapon again, then clicked on an empty chamber. Tossing the now-useless gun away with a curse, he reached into the front of his belt and pulled out one of the spares.

"The rifles are on my horse," Sam said, thankful that he no longer sounded three-sheets to the wind; however, the cold fire in his leg was starting to heat up and the roll of pain made it hard to catch his breath.

"We'll get 'em later," Dean grunted.

Sam tried to pull some of his weight away as Dean struggled through the doorway, but found he needed his brother's stocky support if he was going to avoid face-planting on the expensive-looking rug spread across the floor in the room they stumbled into. Keeping up with Dean was an exercise in focused determination.

His whole being narrowed to the rhythm of step, lean, drag, step, lean, drag.

"Zeke!" Dean yelled. "ZEKE, goddammit," the curse was executed on an exhale, "where the HELL are you?"

Sam looked blearily around. The front half of the house was empty; all of the noise, confusion and gunfire was outside. The front door was shut; he wondered if Zeke had even made it inside.

"Too many guns," Sam said suddenly, realization simmering to the front as Dean continued to move them through the house.

"Huh?"

"Outside," Sam said. "There's too many guns. Who're they shooting at?"

Dean stopped and Sam saw his sweaty, dirt-streaked profile whip to the side as he looked out through one of the tall, curtained windows. "That's a good point, Sam," Dean complimented him. "We've got company."

"Hope they're on our side," Sam muttered.

"Help! Up here! Help!" A woman's voice cried out from a room at the top of a narrow staircase tucked into the back corner of the front room.

"Hello!" Dean called back.

"Help us!"

Smoke from their whiskey-triggered fire was beginning to roll into the front room. Sam couldn't feel or hear the flames just yet, but he knew they didn't have much time before the smoke them out part of the plan affected them. Dean turned them toward the stairs.

"Hang on a sec, little brother," he said breathlessly.

In a flash, Sam realized that Dean was about to set him down to go investigate the cry for help. He reflexively gripped Dean's shoulder, pulling his brother close to him.

"No."

"Sam, c'mon, just—"

"Don't leave me here," Sam pleaded.

He hadn't meant for it to come out so pathetic. He'd meant to calmly and clearly explain that it made more sense for them to stick together; that he couldn't fight off anyone who came through the door. But when he opened his mouth, the voice of a twelve-year-old emerged.

He felt Dean's shoulders square up and he was adjusted against his brother's body. "We gotta get up these stairs."

"'Kay," Sam nodded, saving his breath for the journey.

It felt like each step took them forty years, but before Sam realized it, they had breached the top and Dean was calling out to the woman.

"Tell me where you are!" he demanded. His voice sounded crusty, as if he'd put it away a long time ago and was just getting it out now because he had nothing else to use.

"Here! We're in here!"

Sam resumed the rhythm of step, lean, drag, step, lean, drag, working with Dean to get to the door. He was surprised when Dean turned the knob with the hand holding the back-up weapon and the door opened. Boxed-up heat and the smell of burned flesh and sweat rolled out of the room in a sickening wave and Sam tucked his mouth against his shoulder in retaliation from the nauseating lurch of his stomach.

Dean coughed once. "What the fu—"

"Oh, thank God," the woman's relieved voice interrupted Dean's curse. "Please, please, untie us! Before he comes back!"

Dean hauled them both through the door and across the room, leaning down and easing Sam away from him and to the floor in a protected corner facing the door. Next to Sam was a small fireplace with glowing coals and what looked like a couple of branding irons buried in it. Without looking back at the woman, Dean met Sam's eyes. It was then Sam realized his brother had been carrying one of the extra whiskey bombs with him this whole time.

He set the bottle next to Sam, then pulled the third Colt from his waistband and handed it over, his eyes flat-out serious as he stared directly into Sam's.

"Keep that pointed at the door," he said. "You shoot anything that's not Zeke."

Sam nodded, pushing the moral objections and fear of killing a human to the back of his brain. Dean's sole focus in this fight was their survival; Sam was determined to back him up.

Dean shifted away and Sam caught sight of the other occupants in the room.

"Oh, God," he breathed, fear and horror lacing his words. "Jake."

Jake Brand was tied to a chair in the opposite corner, his hands behind him, his shirt ripped open, his chest displaying the angry welt of a pentagram that had been burned into the flesh. His face was craggy with pain and exhaustion, white stubble covered his cheeks and jaw line, his graying hair was greasy and unkempt and spun about his head in a wild swirl. His eyes were fever-bright. And they were pinned on Dean.

Behind him, a woman was hogtied on the ground, her skirts rucked up to her knees, her black hair spilling around her shoulders and sticking to her face in sweaty ringlets. Her face was pale with fear, but her gray eyes were intense as they bounced between Sam and Dean.

"Kate?" Dean asked, moving toward her first. "Kate O'Maera?"

"Yes," she breathed, sagging into the floor. "Yes, that's me. Please, untie me."

Sam watched Dean reach into his boot for his throwing knife and come up empty. He winced: he'd used that to cut away Dean's wraps the day prior and hadn't replaced it in the confusion. Not slowing, Dean reached up to the table on the wall next to the door and slapped the unlit hurricane lamp sitting there to the floor, shattering the glass and spilling the fuel held in the basin. He picked up a sizable shard and started cutting through the rope that kept Kate's feet attached to her hands.

The moment she was in a better position, Dean went to work on her hands.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"We're, uh…friends," Dean said, his jaw tightening as he worked to cut the ropes and not Kate's skin. "We know your daughter."

"You've seen Hannah?" Kate's voice was liquid with relief. "Is she okay?"

"She's fine," Dean reassured her. "Your boy, too. He's back in town. At the saloon."

"Oh, thank God," Kate breathed and Sam heard her breath hitch as she fought back tears. "I thought for sure he killed Rory to get that gun."

"Gun?" Jake suddenly rasped.

Sam tore his eyes between the hunter and the mother.

With a grunt of effort, Dean finally got the ropes at her wrists free and moved to her ankles. Kate immediately started to rub feeling back into her hands. Sam could hear the gunfire that had served as so much background music begin to grow louder outside.

"Tom's gun," she said, her eyes moving to Sam and worry tightening the corners of her mouth as she saw his bloody leg. "Last thing he told Rory before Ivers…," she stopped, swallowing, then continued, "was to keep that gun safe. No matter what."

"A Colt?" Jake asked, his voice so thick with pain and madness that Sam felt himself shrinking away from it. "Made special?"

Kate reached down and began to help Dean pull the ropes from her ankles. "Yeah, I think so. I never wanted to know."

"Son of a bitch," Jake growled. "A fuckin' kid had it."

"Shut up, Jake," Dean snapped as he tossed Kate's ropes away and moved to the wounded man's bindings.

Kate scrambled quickly across the floor toward Sam and gently pulled away the tourniquet. Sam hissed as the numbness he'd begun to enjoy gave way once more to fire.

"Slide one of those pieces of glass this way," Kate ordered.

Dean obeyed without question. Sam looked at his brother, saw the tension in his face, the paleness of his skin. He couldn't see his hands. He could always tell all he needed to know about whatever Dean was hiding if he could see Dean's hands.

"Dean?" he called out, seeking some kind of reassurance.

"Hang in there, Sammy," Dean replied. "Lemme just…get these…damn ropes."

"Ivers is a demon," Jake said needlessly.

"No shit, Sherlock," Dean muttered. "You and your freakin' brilliant plan got my brother and me stuck in this hell hole. Think we figured out we were dealing with a demon awhile back."

"It's worse than you know," Jake told him.

"It usually is," Dean sighed, gaining freedom for one of Jake's hands and moving to the other one.

As Kate cut open Sam's pant leg around his wound, Sam looked beyond Dean's unprotected back to the hallway. He couldn't tell if he saw a shadow moving, or if it was smoke from their whiskey bombs finally curling its way to the upper floors of the massive house.

"He's managed to turn half the men on this ranch into monsters," Jake was saying, his voice ragged, his words rambling. "And not our kind of monsters, either. These sonsabitches are doing it for power. I'd rather die…."

"I won't stop you," Dean muttered.

Sam narrowed his eyes, lifting his weapon and pulling back the hammer as the shadow moved again. The shadow stopped and Sam took a breath. Dean brought his head up at the sound and half-turned, but Sam knew he wouldn't be able to draw his last weapon in time.

Sam fired through the door and heard the grunt as his bullet found its mark. A fat man fell through the doorway, unconscious, blood blossoming on his shoulder.

Kate all-but hissed at him.

Dean looked at the fat man in surprise, then over at Sam. "Thanks, Sam."

Sam smiled back weakly, dropping his head against the wall as Kate moved away. Without a word, she grabbed the ropes that had bound her and shoved the fat man over, pulling his hands behind him and with the speed of a modern-day rodeo cowboy had him hog-tied and was returning to Sam.

"Wow," Sam murmured.

"You don't grow up on a ranch without learning a few tricks," Kate commented. "This leg doesn't look so good, honey," she glanced up at Sam.

Sam looked past her to his brother. "Liar."

"Dammit, Sam, I'm a hunter, not a doctor," Dean tried, his half-hearted grin not reaching his worried eyes. "That's why we need Zeke."

Kate looked over her shoulder at Dean. "Zeke McAdams?"

"He's with us," Sam told her. "I think…."

Dean cursed and pulled his hand back, shaking it and flicking blood to the floor. The shard of glass he was working with to cut Jake's ropes was slipping in his grip.

"Hurry up, kid," Jake growled, shaking his hand against his ropes.

Kate shook her head and began to tear up her petticoat, creating a compress and tying it down against Sam's wound. Sam tried to hold still under her ministrations, but the fire had rolled into a bone-deep ache and it was all he could do to keep from whimpering aloud.

"Listen," Dean growled at Jake. "The only reason I'm saving you right now is because we need you to get home, and I can't go home until I know these people are safe from Ivers. You're nothing but a ticket, get me?"

"I hate to break it to you, kid," Jake returned, his lips pulling back in a snarl. "But there is no way home."

"Yes, there is," Sam spoke up. "It's your blood."

Jake frowned, then looked at Dean as if for conformation.

"That's right, chief," Dean said, standing and tossing the blood-slicked shard into the pile of glass and looking down at Jake. "My blood might've brought us here, but you're blood's taking us home."

"What's all this about?" Kate whispered to Sam, leaning close.

"Try not to pay too much attention," Sam implored. "It's all gonna be okay."

"You're sure my children are safe?" she asked.

Sam met her eyes. "They're more than safe. They're amazing," he told her. "You've done a great job with them. They're gonna be real happy to see you."

Kate's eyes filled with tears and she put her face in her hands.

"You weren't even supposed to come back with me," Jake was saying. "It was just supposed to be me."

"Yeah, well," Dean replied, "that's what you get for messing with black magic, you moron. Should've maybe done a little more research, huh?"

"It worked, though!" Jake shouted, lurching toward Dean, then falling back into the chair where he was still bound. "I got back here, didn't I?"

"And your got your friend killed," Dean reminded him. Sam watched Jake's face pale at this. Dean pressed his anger forward. "Yeah! You got him killed and now my brother's been shot and the only way we're getting back is through your blood and don't think I'm not going to use it!"

"Who?" Jake asked tightly, grief slicing through his question. "Who…was it?"

"Leo," Sam informed him. "Max wasn't there, remember? He wasn't in the Mission."

"Leo," Jake almost sobbed. He put his free hand over his face and Dean looked away for a moment. "Dammit, Leo."

"I'd say I'm sorry," Dean said softly, his voice still carrying an edge of anger, "but it's your own fault."

Jake dropped his hand and lifted red-rimmed eyes. "If he hadn't have called John, none of this would've happened!" he shouted. "I would have been there by myself, finished the ritual, and no one else would have been…caught. No one else would have had to die!"

"Except the girl you were planning to kill," Dean reminded him. "And while we're on the subject of insanely stupid ideas, if you had no way home, what the hell were you going to do with this weapon you're after?"

"I had a plan," Jake said, his eyes manic.

"Sure you did," Dean commented, kneeling once more at Jake's ropes and cutting with a new piece of glass. "Bet it was just as brilliant as this one."

"Well, well, the gang's all here," came a snake-slick voice from the doorway.

Sam brought his Colt up and Dean jerked back and away from the door. Ivers stepped into the light, his eyes sliding to onyx as his cold smile took in the room.

"We have the whore, the liar, the hunter, and, oh dear…looks like the brother isn't doing too well."

Dean moved to stand between Sam and Ivers. Kate pressed her back against the edge of the fireplace, her hand fumbling for one of the branding irons.

Ivers tsked at her. "Now, don't do that," he said, and flicked his fingers. The branding iron she was reaching for flew free and across the room, the glowing end in the shape of a pentagram smoking against the wooden floor. Kate gasped and flinched back closer to Sam.

"After all our…touching, intimate moments?" Ivers said to Kate. "One might think you weren't…appreciative."

Kate gasped and Sam and Dean looked at her. She began to claw at her throat.

"Hey!" Dean barked. He took a step forward.

Ivers jerked his eyes away from Kate and she sagged against the wall, coughing.

"Well, look who's finally ready to play," Ivers said, tilting his head to the side and stepping closer to Dean.

Sam felt his stomach tighten and he eased the hammer back on his weapon. Ivers spared him a glance and the Colt flew from his grasp across the room. Sam snarled, watching Dean's rigid back as the demon stepped closer to his brother. His leg throbbed at even the thought of trying to get up.

"Y'know…I've heard things about you," he said to Dean, his tone almost conversational.

"Yeah?" Dean replied, his voice controlled, snarky, but Sam heard the undercurrent of we are so screwed rolling just beneath the surface. He wished he could see his brother's face. It was hard to tell Dean's exact level of fear by the set of his shoulders and the tilt of his head.

"Seems your family likes to create a bit of a…ruckus in our world," Ivers said. "Gotta say…a few of my brothers are really looking forward to meeting your dad."

"What the hell do you know about my dad?" Dean snapped.

Sam saw Jake tug at his still-bound hand and Ivers flicked his fingers in that direction. Jake's chair slid across the room, slamming against the wall. Kate covered her mouth, trying to hold back a scream. Sam thought furiously, trying to figure out a way to distract Ivers long enough he could at least help Dean get Kate out.

It was then he realized he couldn't move.

Sam's eyes flew to Ivers and he saw that the demon's hand was stretched toward him and Kate. He remembered this feeling well. He remembered being pinned to the wall in their childhood home, unable to move, barely able to breathe, as his mother's spirit approached, her eyes large and luminous, her face achingly sad.

He remembered the fire in her voice, the determined set of her shoulders as she turned from him and demanded that the spirit holding him against the wall release him and leave. He saw that same determination in his brother's stance as he stood between Sam and this demon.

"I know he won't live to see your destiny play out," Ivers informed him, his tone placid.

"You son of a bitch," Dean snarled and launched at the demon.

Ivers pushed against the air, flinging Dean across the room and slamming him against a wall. Sam grunted in sympathy, watching helplessly as Dean slid to the floor, his face fisted in pain. He saw Dean start to push himself up; Ivers lifted his hand, rocketing Dean's body to the ceiling and slamming him against it hard enough Sam heard the air vacate his brother's lungs in a pain-filled rush. Ivers curled his fingers into a fist and Dean fell to the ground, unable to do more than desperately thrust his hands in front of his face in protection.

"Dean!" Sam cried, his voice crawling up from his gut. "Leave him alone, you bastard!"

"Wait your turn, kitten," Ivers said over his shoulder. "I'm not done playing."

"I'm gonna…gut you…," Dean rasped, getting to his knees.

Sam saw blood trace a path down the side of his face and more staining his lips red.

Ivers bent over Dean's trembling form. "Oh, are you? Really? And how exactly are you planning on doing that?"

Reaching down, Ivers picked Dean up by the throat with one hand, slamming him bodily against the wall. Sam struggled against the invisible ropes that held him in place as he watched Ivers lift Dean off his feet, his fingers digging into the soft underside of Dean's jaw.

Dean's fingers clawed at the demon's black-gloved hand, his breath slipping free in a choked, struggling gurgle. His pale face grew red as Ivers slowly cut off his air, and his eyes began to flutter as he struggled.

Sam saw Jake pull lamely against his ropes, his hate-filled eyes pinned to Ivers.

"You hunters…you're all alike," Ivers was saying as Dean squeezed his eyes shut.

Sam saw one of his brother's hands drop away from the grip Ivers had on his throat and his heart lurched.

Don't give in, Dean…fight him!

"For hundreds of years you've fought against us. Finding new ways to get yourselves killed. Maybe you manage to send one or two of us back to Hell. But in the end, we will always win."

When Dean's hand slammed into the side of Ivers' neck, Sam gasped. Ivers cried out and backed away, dropping Dean into a heap of loose bones on the floor. Dean's cough was wet, wounded; he visibly worked to drag in air as Ivers grasped his bleeding throat, backing away. Shocked, Sam saw the shard of glass Dean had been using to cut Jake's ropes sticking out of the side of Ivers' neck.

"Didn't win this one," Dean rasped from his hands and knees, his eyes pinned to the staggering demon.

Half turning, Ivers ripped the glass from his neck, blood spurting from the wound. He dropped the glass on the floor and stumbled to the doorway. Sam felt his body suddenly free from its invisible bonds and he automatically leaned forward.

"This isn't over!" Ivers declared, then stumbled from the room, leaving a smear of blood on the doorway.

"Fuckin' demons always did talk too much," Jake declared.

"Dean?" Sam started to push away from the wall, the pain in his leg halting him.

Dean's head hung low and Sam could hear him wheezing. He held up a gimme a minute finger in Sam's direction. When he lifted his head once more, Sam flinched. A cut on the side of Dean's head, near his hairline, was bleeding enough that Dean had to wipe blood out of his eye as he gained his feet.

"Are you broken?" Sam asked, remembering the crash into the ceiling and again on the floor.

Dean shook his head. "Shaken. Not stirred." He stumbled forward, holding a hand to his side. "Now, I really want that bastard dead," he said, bending over to pick up the shard of blood-covered glass. He fell to his knees beside Sam. "You okay?"

"You look like hammered shit, man," Sam said honestly.

"Yeah? Well, I feel fantastic," Dean snarked.

"Dean!" Zeke's voice echoed from below.

Dean called back through the door, his voice sounding gutted and reminding Sam oddly of their father's. "Zeke! Get up here! Sam's hurt!"

Sam heard Zeke's footsteps as he pounded up the stairs, then swung into the room, breathless.

"Where the hell have you been?" Dean demanded.

Zeke's eyes tracked quickly from the fat man hog-tied in the corner, to Sam and Kate next to the fireplace, to Jake still partially tied to the chair, to Dean kneeling next to Sam, blood running down his face and neck and burying itself beneath the collar of his shirt.

"I, uh, ran into some…friends," he said. "What the hell happened to you?"

"Ivers just about beat him to death," Kate said, her voice trembling.

"Kate," Zeke nodded at the woman.

"Zeke," she replied.

"Friends?" Dean pressed.

"Larabee made it to the Mission," he informed them. "He had some friends with him. Sent them our way. Good thing, too, 'cause…well, it's a mess out there."

"Where's Ivers?" Kate asked.

"Forget about Ivers," Dean said, motioning to Zeke. "You need to take a look at Sam. Now."

"What about you?" Zeke's worried eyes traced the path of blood running down Dean's face.

"I'll be fine! Sam was shot," Dean snapped.

Sam watched his brother use the back of his hand to wipe more blood from his eye. He could see finger-shaped marks on Dean's neck where bruises would eventually blossom and he could hear Dean working to swallow.

"Dean…," he tried, but the closed-lipped glare he received in return silenced him.

Zeke licked his lips, sliding his weapons in his holsters, and moved across the room. He knelt next to Sam, tipping his head toward Jake. "That your friend?"

"If you define friend as a maniac who traps you in a spell and gets your brother shot, then yeah, that's him," Dean replied, gingerly touching the tender skin beneath his jaw.

Sam grimaced watching him.

"Still tied up, here," Jake reminded him.

Dean turned and tossed the piece of glass that had saved his life toward the older hunter. "Knock yourself out," he said, then face Zeke. "What do you think?"

Zeke lifted Kate's bandage and frowned. Pulling Sam's sliced pants wider, his frown deepened. He looked up, then around the room, running the back of his hand over his mouth. Suddenly, Sam started to smell the smoke. He closed his eyes.

We have the worst timing. Ever.

"Zeke?" Dean asked, his voice tight.

"Well, I got good news and I got bad news," Zeke said. "Sam, I want you to look at me."

Sam obeyed, too tired in the moment to do much else.

"Good news is, the shot went clean through your leg. It doesn't appear to have broken bone, though. Clean through the meat. Were you on your horse at the time?"

Sam nodded.

"Well, the bullet's either buried in the saddle, or we owe Frost another horse," Zeke sighed.

"What's the bad news?" Dean asked.

"Bad news is, he's lost a lot of blood and we have to get the bleeding stopped. Now."

"How?" Sam asked, his voice sounding young and scared even to his ears.

Zeke looked over his shoulder at the fireplace, then at the whiskey Molotov, then back at Sam. "Sam, listen to me. I don't have my tools…I don't have any chloroform."

"Kinda figured you didn't…keep in your pocket," Sam replied, wincing as Zeke probed the wound again. "You trying to tell me this is gonna hurt?"

"I want you to…forget everything I said about whiskey and losing too much blood," Zeke said. "You don't have a fever, so we've got that going for us."

Sam felt himself begin to panic. He couldn't catch his breath. "Dean?"

Dean's hand was gripping his within seconds and Sam's eyes flew to his brother's.

"Hey," Dean said, turning Sam's whole world into one connection.

Dean twisted Sam's hand around and pressed the back of it against his chest. It was an instinctive, natural move and one that had anchored Sam to the belief that they were going to be okay more than anything else had in his youth.

"You remember when you were a little kid? And Dad'd be gone for weeks?"

Sam nodded, staring at his brother, feeling Dean's heart beating against their clasped hands. He was aware that Zeke and Kate were moving around him, that there were other voices in the room, that something was happening with his leg, but the only thing he focused on was Dean.

Not the pain, not the panic, not the heat, not the fear. Just Dean. Battered, bloody, and currently his whole world.

"Remember what I told you when you'd have bad dreams and it was just us?"

"You said you weren't going anywhere," Sam whispered.

"That's right, Sammy," Dean nodded, his pupils large as he kept his eyes on Sam's. Large enough Sam barely saw any green. "I'm not going anywhere without you, okay? I'm not gonna leave you."

Sam nodded, taking a breath, smoke tickling the back of his throat, but not enough to make him cough.

"Dean," Zeke was instructing. "I want you to sit behind him. Hold him, okay? When I tell you, I want you to put this in his mouth and help him hold on."

Sam looked up. "That better not be a bullet," he said.

"Look who still has his sense of humor," Dean said from behind him, the waved a long piece of white material in his face. "It's Kate's unmentionables."

"Swell," Sam grimaced.

"Kate, you hold his leg down. Sit on it if you have to," Zeke told her.

"You got it," Kate replied.

"Jake?" Zeke called.

Sam looked up, surprised, and felt Dean go still behind him.

"Yeah?" Jake replied, hesitantly.

Zeke pulled his gun and handed it to the older hunter. "Make yourself useful and guard the door."

Sam didn't have time to wonder if arming Jake was such a good idea. Zeke was pulling the corked fuse off the bottle of whiskey and handing it to him.

"Take a long pull on that," he instructed.

Sam obeyed and coughed as the fire from the liquid burned down his throat and into his belly.

"Another one," Zeke ordered.

Sam's eyes were watering and his head was swimming. He felt buoyant and sick at the same time. Now he knew why Zeke wouldn't let Dean go this route when he'd already been burning up from fever.

"Okay, hand it back," Zeke said. "Dean? You okay?"

"I got him," Dean said and Sam felt his brother at his back, pulling him up against his chest.

Sam couldn't seem to calm his breathing; he felt it skittering against the edges of his lungs, hammering out through his clenched teeth. He needed something to focus on, something to distract him, and currently, Dean was behind him, out of his field of vision.

"Easy," Dean was saying, and Sam found himself instinctively tuning in the sound of his brother's voice. "Easy, Sammy. I gotcha, okay?"

He suddenly felt an odd kinship with Dean's horse; there was something calming about hearing Dean speak in such a reassuring, confident manner. His brother's body was strong and solid beneath him and Sam felt him breathing. It was a familiar, constant rhythm and had him ignoring the intermittent sound of gunfire and pushing back on his fear of what was to come.

"Use the rag," Zeke said.

"Here, Sammy," Dean said, easing the cloth into his brother's mouth.

Sam saw Zeke tip the mouth of the whiskey bottle over the wound in his leg and he instinctively reached up, grabbing Dean's bicep. Dean held him tight as fire licked his leg, chewing through his flesh and eating away at any brave resolve he might have fantasized he had.

He cried out against the cloth in his mouth. He heard words murmured against his ear as heat spread from the bullet holes through his leg and up into his belly. His head swam, his heart beat at the base of his skull, his leg ached to the bone.

And then Dean's grip tightened. Sam heard something clang to his left. Where the fireplace was. The fireplace with the other branding iron resting in the hot coals.

"Zeke?" He heard Dean say.

He heard Zeke take a breath. "Hold him tight," he said in a low voice.

Oh God, oh God, oh God….

Sam squeezed his eyes shut and reached up with his other hand to dig his fingers into Dean's shoulder, pulling his brother as close as possible. Dean's cheek was pressed against his ear and Sam felt the tremble of their bodies as heat from the branding iron singed the hairs on his leg.

"Easy, Sammy. It's okay. It's gonna be okay. I've got you. I've got you. I'm here, I'm not gonna let you go, okay? I'm not gonna let you go."

Sam concentrated on the stream of words coming from Dean's mouth. When the heat touched the open wound, his scream sounded as if it were coming from miles away. The sound was muffled with the twist of cloth, but he felt it. He felt his heart crack with the weight of his own scream.

He bucked against the hold on him—thrashed in desperation to escape. He was aware that the grip on his leg and arms tightened, aware of his brother's breath on his face, but it all felt as if it were happening elsewhere. He was tumbling away, slipping into the dark.

The heat was gone almost as quickly as it came, but then his leg was rotated and the heat returned. His throat felt raw, his body spiked into overdrive to get away from the pain. He wanted to throw up, explode, cry, pass out.

With Dean's voice in his head, Sam gave into the last option, finding solace as he finally sagged back against his brother.

Continued in Part 8B here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/86096.html

 


Comments

( 7 Tall Tales — Tell Me A Story )
seesmooshrun
Jun. 21st, 2010 05:37 am (UTC)
Omigod that was intense! I knew when we switched to Sam's POV that it was gonna be bad but OUCH! At least you are an equal-opportunity whump!-er.

Have I told you lately I love your way with words? " 'Tell me where you are!' he demanded. His voice sounded crusty, as if he'd put it away a long time ago and was just getting it out now because he had nothing else to use."

On to 8B...
gaelicspirit
Jun. 24th, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC)
*GRIN*

I love that you love my way with words. Thank you for saying that. It's really good to hear that it resonates with you because I live with the thought that it's never 'just right.'

So, so glad you're enjoying this. :)
simplycolourful
Jun. 21st, 2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
I think Bobby says it all :) This is so awesome, I love the way it's written.

I always thought that burning a wound was a bad idea, but I guess this is the way it's done in the olden days :)
gaelicspirit
Jun. 24th, 2010 05:23 pm (UTC)
YAY for Bobby! :) Thanks so much!!

I'm sure that the medical community by and large would probably frown upon cauterizing an open wound like that...and I will admit that I didn't do much medically-related research for this fic. But I have seen several movies (some of them Westerns) where they used this method and it was effective for bringing about a visceral reaction in me as a view and so I went with it. :)

I'm glad you are enjoying this. :)
annie200
Jul. 4th, 2010 06:03 am (UTC)
"That's right, Sammy," Dean nodded, his pupils large as he kept his eyes on Sam's. Large enough Sam barely saw any green. "I'm not going anywhere without you, okay? I'm not gonna leave you."
And that line? Made me cry in a very Swansong kind of way, Gaelic. On to the next part!
gaelicspirit
Jul. 5th, 2010 01:47 am (UTC)
*sniff*

There are only two people who can validate this, but I had chapter 8 written before Swansong aired. When Dean started repeating, "I'm not gonna leave you," I was bawling. For more than one reason.

Thank you for reading -- I hope you enjoy the rest.

annie200
Jul. 5th, 2010 04:47 am (UTC)
Just proves how you totally "get" Dean, which i think I may have mentioned a few times???
Oh Gd, every mention of that line makes me tear up, even now!
( 7 Tall Tales — Tell Me A Story )

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