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Heroes for Ghosts, Part 3/9, PG-13, Dean, Sam, GEN

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 for coming back! I have been trying to carve out time for the last two days to post this but a combination of RL commitments and post-finale-emotional-basketcase-ness delayed me. But! It's still a day earlier than when I'd promised to post, so that's good, right? As we move forward into the next chapters, those of you who are fans of Westerns may recognize some things such as a character name or cadence of a scene. I wanted to pay homage to some of my personal favorites, and I was also honoring a request from the lady to whom this story is dedicated. I hope you enjoy this next part!

 

"Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday."

~ Inscription on John Wayne's tombstone

www

Sulfur Springs, Texas 1870

He felt hands on his face.

Small hands, the fingers lightly stroking the vulnerable skin just beneath his eyes. Something about the touch had him sinking once more, falling inside the black, slipping just to the edge of consciousness when he realized he could hear humming.

With effort, Dean opened his eyes.

The hands fell away. He blinked slowly, feeling the motion reverberate through his skull, grit weaving the edges of his lashes together. His mind felt as if it were wrapped in fog, not quite engaged. The only thing he could really register was that it was night and he was lying on something soft.

"Wh-who's…there?" he croaked, the sound painful.

He tried to turn his head, needing to determine where he was, but the hands stopped him.

"Shhh…"

"Where am—"

"Hush a minute." The voice was soft, young, but commanding. "And don't move yet. You're gonna mess up all my work."

"W-work?" Dean swallowed, feeling as though someone had scraped the inside of his throat with an ice cream scoop.

There was something he should know, should do…something big, but time was missing and pain had filled the gap.

The hands were moving again. Touching, shifting, feather-light but at the same time too heavy. As if suddenly registering awareness, the various wounds on his body chose that moment to stand up and be counted. His neck ached—a specific bite that told him he'd been cut somewhere—and his side was on fire. His whole body felt as though he'd attempted to pile-drive himself into the ground.

And then he remembered.

He remembered screaming.

"Where's…Sam?" He tried to roll, to sit up, to lift his head. The small hands stopped him too easily.

"Stop it, now," the voice commanded gently. "Just wait until I change the dressing."

"Dressing?"

His small-handed healer sighed. "You musta hit some stuff on your way out."

"Out? Out…of what?"

His eyes searched the darkness around him for the source of the voice. His thoughts were jumbled fragments of disjointed memories, partially-drawn conclusions, and flashes of an impossible reality with only one thing cutting a clean line through the maze: Sam's panicked voice calling his name before the world exploded.

"I g-gotta get to m-my brother…."

Dean worked to roll once more to his side but found that his body was held in some sort of canvas sling making the motion difficult if not impossible. A frown puckering his brow, he felt along the edges of the contraption and as pain returned clarity to his cob-webbed thoughts, he realized he was on some sort of cot.

"Hey!" he called out weakly. "Where am I?"

A face appeared in his field of vision, a slash of swaying, yellowish light cutting across the delicate features. Gray eyes…pug nose…. "Do…do I know you?"

Quick flashes of bright light burst at the corners of his vision, causing him to close his eyes and shake his head, working to rid himself of the disorienting images, the memory of screaming, of the world folding around him, the weight of air crushing him….

"I'm Bird," the child said, a quick smile revealing mis-matched teeth—the front two too big for the baby teeth that flanked them, one missing from the lower ranks. "You probably know me as Hannah, though."

"Hannah," Dean repeated, slowly, as if trying the name on for size. He had never met a Hannah—certainly not one this age. "I-I don't…."

"I hope I wasn't supposed to help other one," she frowned, dipping her chin and dropping all but her gray eyes from the beam of light. "He was scary."

"Other one?" Dean tried once more to push himself up, unsuccessfully. "Where'd he go?"

Bird shrugged. "I tried to pull him in after Sentenza and I grabbed you, but he just...jumped up and started yellin' something and just…ran off."

"Tall guy?" Dean pressed. "Kinda floppy hair?"

Bird shook her head. "Kinda short and…round. Old. Gray hair."

It took him a beat, but the recognition swam upward. The only thing missing from her description was the madness in the eyes of the man whose image was burned onto the back of Dean's eyes like a negative.

Jake…. Dean surmised. Where the hell is Sam?

He slid his stiff legs off the side of the cot, one after the other.

"Do you remember falling?" Bird asked.

You fell…you fell from the sky. "Falling?"

"Out of Heaven," Bird continued, her head tilting to the side, the light hitting half of her face. "I got to thinkin'…maybe you were watching me, y'know, real close-like. And tipped over too far or something…."

"Kid," Dean croaked, realization finally dawning. "I'm not an…an angel."

Bird blinked and backed up so that she was completely out of the beam of light. If Dean couldn't hear her breathing, he'd have thought she vanished.

"You…you ain't?"

The disappointment in her voice had him wanting to suck in his words, lie to her, tell her what she wanted to hear. "Sorry," he said softly, hearing his own regret at the choice of honesty. "Just a guy," he groaned, finally able to rise up onto his elbow, then slowly push himself into a slouched seated position.

"How…how'd you fall, then?" Bird asked, suddenly sounding as young as she had appeared in his limited glimpses of her.

Dean reached up and touched the base of his neck, near his left collar bone. He felt a loose bandage covering the biting sting of a cut there, the piece of material wrapping around his neck like a soft noose. He remembered Jake's knife separating his skin as the older hunter chanted what he'd mistakenly thought to be meaningless Latin.

"Still trying to work that out," he breathed, gingerly touching the skin around the bandage. A slick paste was smeared along his throat and the exposed area of his chest, disappearing beneath the bandage. "What's…all this…goop?"

The soft light—a lantern he now realized—swept forward and he caught sight of the little girl's profile as she leaned close. Her dark hair was close-cropped, and the dirt on her cheek appearing almost purposeful, as if she were attempting a disguise. She held the lantern aloft in her right hand and reached out, gently shooing his fingers away and adjusted the edge of the bandage.

"Some aloe for the pain. Catnip, lavender, Echinacea for infection. Marigold and myrrh—"

"Myrrh? As in…the three wise men?"

Bird glanced at him sharply. "You sure you ain't an angel?"

"Hannah—"

"Bird," she corrected, her smoky eyes almost angry.

"Bird, I'm about as far from an angel as you can get."

She arched an eyebrow with such adult-like skepticism he would have laughed if his head wasn't spinning. "You mean you're a devil?"

"No," Dean sighed. "I'm not…listen," he sagged a bit further on the canvas cot, "my name is Dean."

"So if you ain't an angel…what are you?"

"I'm a—" A thousand words fell into that gap of silence. Soldier. Brother. Son. Survivor. Hunter. "I hunt things."

She narrowed her eyes. "Without no guns?"

Dean matched her expression. "What do you know about guns?"

"Probably more'n you," she shot back, leaning over him to hang the lantern on some kind of nail above his head.

Dean could smell the fuel and the fire; it was distinctive, familiar. All that was lacking was the dusty taste of rock salt in the air. He ran his tongue across his lower lip, registering that he did taste something: dirt. Dirt was everywhere around him, he realized now. Dusting his hands, the cot, grinding against the hard, wooden surface where his boots rested. Dirt and…was that hay?

"Why does it smell so bad in here?" he wondered aloud.

"What does?" Bird asked, sinking back to her heels.

He straightened slightly, looking around. The lantern now illuminated more than just the face of his healer. Low-slung walls and thick support beams flanked them. And on the ground beneath Bird's worn boots there was, indeed, hay.

A barn…he realized. I'm in a barn.

Pulling himself taller, his face now level with Bird's, Dean looked down at his body. His shirt was in tatters; the bandages covering the stitches Sam had laced into his skin were dirt-smeared. The legs of his jeans were shredded. The only things still intact were his worn, brown boots. He looked as if he'd tangled with a windmill.

And lost.

"Bird," he said, strength returning to his voice. "Where are we?"

"Sentenza's barn," she replied immediately.

Dean swallowed. "And...who's Sentenza?"

"He works for Mr. Frost. He protects me. He don't talk, though. Sentenza, not Mr. Frost. Mr. Frost don't shut up. And he's not from 'round here so, his words sound all funny—"

"Bird," Dean interrupted, working to find his way through the maze of thoughts, the hedgerows of information flowing from this child halting him at every turn. How did I get into a barn? Why did she think I fell? Why the hell do I freakin' hurt so bad?

And where the hell is Sam?

"This is going to sound really…strange, but…is there like…an old church nearby?"

Bird frowned, crossed one arm over her belly, and reached up to scratch at the dirt smear on her cheek. "Y'know, if you being an angel is a secret and all 'cause you don't have no wings anymore, I can keep a secret."

Dean closed his eyes, reaching up to rub at his forehead, the swiftly-healing slices from the Daeva's claws the only thing that didn't hurt at the moment. "I promise…I'm no angel. I just…the last time I saw my brother was in this old church."

"Well," Bird sighed as if giving her answer some thought. "There's no church in Sulfur Springs. They tried with the schoolhouse, but Ivers ran off the preacher when I was a kid. But there's the Mission."

"Mission, yes!" Dean opened his eyes and pointed at her. "San something…."

"San Jose de Valero," she replied, the Spanish inflection rolling from her tongue with ease.

"That's the one." Dean pressed a hand to his aching side. The burn was almost impossible to ignore.

"It's just on the other side of the paddock area. But it ain't really all that old."

Dean closed his eyes again, the jumble of his memories playing bumper cars in his brain. What had Leo said Jake had been up to? He rubbed at the back of his neck, wanting to ease the tightness there, and trying to figure out why he couldn't get the image of Christopher Lloyd's Dr. Emmett Brown out of his head.

"Your head hurtin'?"

"You might say that," Dean muttered.

"Hang on," Bird said.

Eyes closed, Dean eased back until he rested against the rough-hewn wood on what he now realized was the wall of a stall. The smell was manure, he surmised, but the absence of animals was curious.

"Here," Bird said, her voice slightly breathless. "Drink this." She shoved a small, warm tin cup into the hand he'd rested on his lap.

"What is it?" He asked dubiously.

"Catnip and mint tea," she replied. "Don't taste all that good, but it'll help with the pain. Probably make you sleepy, though."

"How do you know all this, kid?"

Dean opened one eye, regarding the slip of a girl standing before him: a too-big, long-sleeved brown shirt rolled up to her elbows and exposing thin, fragile wrists, suspenders holding up graying cotton pants with cuffs shoved into the top of laced-up brown boots. She stood with her hip cocked to the side, one arm wrapped around her middle, the other up, fingers twisting absentmindedly in a lock of thick, dark hair short enough to resemble a boy's cut. In fact, he would have been willing to swear that Bird was indeed a boy were it not for her eyes.

"My Mama," she replied, her expression turning wistful. "She's a healer. She had her own garden. Ranchers came from miles around for her to fix 'em up. She was teaching me before Ivers came. Sentenza helped me move the plants here."

The words came at him like bullets, foreign names and phrases that didn't connect with his version of reality and made him want to get up and walk away. Instead, he sipped the foul-tasting tea.

"Who's Ivers?"

He gasped as the tea slipped down his scream-raw throat, leaving a path of solace in its wake. He felt the tightness in his chest and neck ease. He continued to drink until the cup was empty and the tension in his body began to seep from the ends of his fingers, dissipating with each blink of his eyes.

"He's a bastard," Bird said, the bitterness in her voice sending a slight shock through Dean's rapidly-numbing system. "I don't really know what it means, but that's what Mama called him and she knows stuff. He came into town one day a long time ago and tried to be the boss of everyone, but my Papa didn't like him so he said no."

Dean tried to focus on Bird's face, feeling his body slide slowly down the wall as the healing agents in the tea took hold. The little girl reached over and helped ease him back down on the cot, continuing to talk as she did so.

"He came to our ranch about three weeks ago," she said, her voice softening. She picked up Dean's legs and set them on the foot of the cot. "He killed my Papa, took Mama and my big brother, Rory, and left."

"He left you?" Dean asked, feeling the weight of his tongue as he worked to form the words.

"I was hidin'," she confessed, looking away. "He didn't even see me. I buried Papa, but…well, he needed words said over his grave, so…I came here for help. Sentenza's been hiding me from Ivers ever since."

"Jesus," Dean slurred. "How old are you, kid?"

Bird frowned. "I forget," she said, tilting her head again. "I was born a couple years before the war, and that's been done for about five years now—"

"Wh-what…war?" Dean asked, feeling an answer to a question he hadn't thought to ask slip through his weakening grasp.

Bird gave him a bemused glance. "The war between the states," she replied.

War between the…oh, fuck me….

"You musta hit your head pretty hard when you didn't fall outta Heaven," Bird muttered, reaching for the lantern.

Lantern…barn…Mission isn't old…

"Bird," Dean reached up and caught her arm in a clumsy grip to grab her attention. "What was the name of this place?"

"Huh?"

"This town," Dean forced out, his lips rebelling. He could barely keep his eyes open.

"Sulfur Springs," Bird replied, blowing out the flame from the lantern and pitching them into the dark.

A ritual…for time travel.

"Oh, shit," Dean breathed, his eyes falling closed. "Sammy…."

www

"Easy, take it easy now."

The words were familiar, but the voice wasn't. Neither was the hand on his back.

Maybe Dean had a point about us not being normal…I shouldn't know the weight of my brother's hand.

"'M okay," Sam managed to gasp out as the he gripped the sides of a large wooden bucket.

"Oh, that I can see," replied the not-so-familiar voice. The voice that had told him to open his eyes. The voice that had said everything was fine. The voice that had lied to him. "I'm usually okay after I throw up a few vital organs."

Sam sank back away from the bucket, falling hard to his rear and dropping his head back against the wall. The world was spinning and he was rolling along with it, unable to grip onto anything solid, real, despite the rough-hewn wood of the floor he sat upon and the clean smell of the linen draped on the bed next to him. He kept his eyes closed, flattening his hands on either side of him.

"Tell me again," he demanded.

"Uh, you sure? 'Cause I don't have another bucket."

The voice held the rounded tones of an East-coast accent.

"Just, tell me."

"Okay…I woke up when I heard the crash. Came outside and you were...well, you were lying on the ground—"

"And the other guy?" Sam gasped, not yet daring to open his eyes, willing his equilibrium to balance out as he pressed his hands hard against the floor. He felt sweat gathering on his upper lip and back of his neck.

"Yeah," the voice sighed, "he was a mess."

"You sure he's dead?"

"I'm sure, kid."

Sam felt his face fold in, his lips pulling low as his chin trembled. A cry of denial boiled from his belly and he felt his lungs stretch to contain it. He can't be dead, Sam thought, shaking his head once, twice. He can't die thinking I'm ready to leave.

"Kid?"

"M-my…my name is Sam." The words leaked through teeth clenched against emotion. He wouldn't cry, not now, not yet. Not until he killed the bastards responsible. "I need to see him."

"Open your eyes again first," the voice demanded.

"Why?"

"So I can see if you have a concussion."

That got Sam's attention. He opened his eyes slowly, feeling the grit at the edges work to seal his lashes together. Reaching up with a clumsy, sweaty hand, he swiped at them, triggering a resurgence of the burn of tears.

"How would you know if—" Sam started, then closed his mouth with a click.

The man crouched in front of him looked to be a few years older than Dean and had a long, narrow face, wide hazel eyes, and brown hair that seemed insistent on sticking up in a soft pseudo-Mohawk giving him an appearance of youth the lines around his eyes denied. He wore brown pants held up with suspenders over a collarless white shirt and around his neck Sam saw an ancient stethoscope.

Sam blinked as the man held a lit candle up close to one eye and then the other, nodding to himself.

"Your pupils appear reactive," he said, his wide mouth twisting into a contemplative frown. "And those scratches on your cheek are way too healed to be from whatever happened to you last night."

"Yeah, they're from—" Sam closed his mouth once more, horrified that he'd nearly let honesty slip through lips trained to lie.

The man cocked his head to the side and pursed his lips. "Your inability to complete a sentence could be latent trauma from your…fall, or whatever landed you on my doorstep."

Shaking his head, Sam started to push himself to his feet when his body suddenly screamed in protest to such an extent that he gasped. He hurt everywhere. And it wasn't just from emptying his stomach into a bucket.

"What the hell happened?" he groaned, resting a hand on his ribs and rubbing gently at the back of his neck.

"See, I've been spending the better part of the night attempting to figure out that very thing," the man commented. "Name's Zeke, by the way."

Sam squinted at the hand thrust out to him: long, tapered fingers, soft, uncalloused palms. He reached back and took the hand, noting the strength in the grip.

"Zeke McAdams," Zeke continued, shaking Sam's hand once and releasing it. "Ezekiel, really, but that was more my mother's idea than mine. Bit too pretentious for Texas, don't you think?"

"Uh…yeah," Sam replied, blinking quickly to keep his vision from blurring as he stared at the man.

The sour taste at the back of his mouth was starting to burn across his tongue as his mind tried to weave through the maze of nothing mixed with memories of bright, blinding light, screams of unmitigated pain, and then a man sitting before him using words like pretentious while Dean….

He was going to be sick again.

"Whoa, okay, easy, now," Zeke soothed, putting a hand on Sam's shoulder as Sam closed his eyes against the wave of nausea. "Just breathe, okay? In through your nose, out through—"

"I know the drill," Sam snapped, feeling the sickness fade. "You got a drink?"

"Well, I got water and I got whiskey," Zeke told him, dropping his hand. "The whiskey's better."

"Fine," Sam said, cautiously pulling his head away from the wall.

"You stay put," Zeke ordered, standing up and taking the candle with him.

The gray fingers of dawn worked through a bare window off to Sam's right and turned his surroundings into a black and white image.

Sam looked around the small room and frowned. It was bare except a wrought iron bed, a dresser with a warped mirror atop it and an old-fashioned basin and pitcher combination. The floor was made up of wide, rough-hewn boards. Looking down at himself, Sam saw that his jeans were torn to the point of indecency and his T-shirt was shredded as if he'd been mauled. Lifting the scraps of fabric, though, he couldn't see a mark on the skin of his belly or chest.

Nothing that would explain why he felt as if he'd jumped from a plane without a parachute. He tried once more to push himself to his feet, but Zeke's return had him reaching instead for the two-fingered shot of whiskey in the wide-mouth glass.

"Ah ah! Slowly!" Zeke admonished as Sam tossed back a swallow.

The liquor burned fire through his mouth, down his raw throat and started to coat the hollow place in his chest where his heart used to reside. Hissing a bit in reaction, Sam ignored Zeke's protests and swallowed the rest. The shock of alcohol on his weakened system had him blinking away a different kind of tears and looking around himself with clearer vision.

"Where the hell am I?" he gasped.

"Back of my saloon," Zeke replied.

"Your…saloon?" Sam asked, gaping at the man. Not bar, not pub…saloon? Who says saloon anymore?

Zeke flicked the stethoscope and nodded a bit sheepishly. "Yeah, the doctor getup," he sighed, sinking back on his heels and looking toward the window as sunlight began to grip the land. "I was a different person in Boston. But, uh…I left the doctor back there."

"And…now you own a bar?" Sam asked, trying to work out how he'd ended up in a room at the back of a bar when, before the world exploded, he'd been standing in an old Spanish Mission fighting a hunter for possession of his shotgun.

Zeke looked puzzled. "Well, yeah, there's a bar here. And tables and a piano, and—"

Sam closed his eyes and waved a hand at the man. "Forget it. Help me up."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure, just gimme a hand," Sam grumbled.

Zeke took Sam's glass and set it aside, then with one hand gripping Sam's and another at Sam's waist, he worked to lift them both to their feet. Zeke held on as Sam swayed, gravity deciding to exhibit its power.

"You okay?" Zeke said softly.

"Just…need a minute," Sam breathed, reaching out a trembling hand to brace himself against the wall. "Where's my—" He couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence.

"I put him in the back room," Zeke said, following Sam's thinking. "I'll get Pritchett in a couple hours. He's not really a morning person."

"Pritchett?" Sam repeated, finding his balance and moving away from Zeke.

"Town undertaker," Zeke clarified. "Also owns the general store."

Sam stared at the man. It was as if he was speaking another language. He rubbed the back of his head. "I think maybe I do have a concussion," Sam muttered.

"Come on," Zeke turned and led Sam toward a door.

Stepping from the small bedroom into what appeared to be a storage room, Sam felt chills crawl along his exposed skin. A waist-high table made up of a door and two saw-horses sat in the middle of the room lit only by the ambient light from the uncovered window. On top of the table lay a body.

Sam stopped breathing, moving forward with hesitant, fragile steps. His legs were made of glass, his body trembling atop them. It wasn't until he stood just beyond the foot of the body that he registered what he was seeing wasn't what he'd expected to see.

"It's Leo," he breathed, feeling his knees almost disappear. A hand was at his elbow and Sam absorbed the strength until he was able to once again stand on his own. "It's Leo," he repeated with something akin to glee in his voice, looking at Zeke. "It's not Dean!"

"Who's Dean?" Zeke asked.

"My brother," Sam grinned, feeling a burble of near-hysterical laughter bounce up around his words. "My stubborn jerk of a brother." He wanted to jump, run, hug Zeke. Dean isn't dead! Leo is! "Oh, man, though." Sam sobered, turning back to the body. Dean isn't dead. Leo is. And Dean...isn't here. "How'd it…happen?"

Zeke moved up to Leo's head, frowning down at the still, blue-tinged face. "Pretty sure he broke his neck when you…when whatever happened to you…happened."

Sam looked around the room, seeing the shelves of liquor bottles and cans with antique labels. Only…. He stepped closer, peering. They weren't exactly antique labels.

They were brand new.

"Zeke?" Sam asked, picking up a can of potatoes and staring sightlessly at the label. The suprachiasmatic nucleas controls the body's biological clock…. "Where… where are we?"

"I named it The Beacon after where I grew up in Beacon Hill. 'Cause y'know, you can never really get rid of your childhood home, no matter how far—"

"No, not the…the saloon," Sam interrupted, feeling himself sink inside as understanding finally clawed free of the fog of pain and confusion and the blinding heartbreak at the thought of his brother's death.

Jake, Max, and I…tortured and exorcised a demon about a month ago…so that we could get the elements of a ritual from it…a ritual for time travel.

The memory of Leo's words hit Sam with the impact of a fist and he felt himself stagger, reaching for a shelf for balance. "What's…what's the date?"

"Uh, the 15th, I thi—"

"The year!" Sam snapped, replacing the can.

Zeke's voice retreated a bit and Sam heard the man take a shuffling step back. "It's 1870, Sam."

"Holy…shiiiiit." Sam breathed out the word, leaning forward and pressing his forehead hard against the wooden shelf, the scent of alcohol and dust assaulting his nostrils.

"What is it?" Zeke asked, his voice hardening. "What happened to you, Sam?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Sam said to the shelves.

He heard Zeke sigh. "Last night, I pulled in a strange kid wearing strange—completely destroyed—clothes and a dead man into my…well, where I'm living. I have no idea where you came from—looks like you dropped from the sky, to be honest."

Sam rolled his forehead against the shelf, turning to look at Zeke. "It's crazy," he warned.

"I run a saloon in the middle of Sulfur Springs, Texas, kid," Zeke replied, dropping his chin and leveling his eyes on Sam's. "Believe me. I know crazy."

Sam swallowed and stepped away from the shelf, facing Zeke. "Last night, I was standing in San Jose de Valero with my brother trying to stop three guys from…making a very big mistake."

Three…and one is here, dead, with me…where the hell is Dean? Are Jake and Max out there somewhere? Am I the only the only one that—

Zeke lifted a shoulder. "The Mission? That's just outside of town. Those guys jump you or someth—"

"I was standing in the Mission…in 2005."

"Two thousand five…what?"

"In the year 2005," Sam pressed. As Zeke blinked blank-faced at him, Sam continued, pointing to Leo's body. "He's one of the guys. I was fighting with…." He stopped talking, realization dawning. "I was fighting with Leo, but Dean was with Jake…nearest the altar! If I'm here, he's gotta be here…I bet he's still at the Mission!"

"He who? Who what? Slow down!" Zeke flung up his hands. "Just slow down a goddamned minute!"

Sam swallowed, watching the man work to wrap his mind around the facts Sam had just tossed his way.

"You're telling me…you're from…the future?"

Sam looked down, nodding.

Zeke stared at him, his eyes wide and blank. "So…there's now, and then there's a hundred and," he bounced the tips of his fingers against his thumb, counting silently, "thirty-five years and then…there's you?"

Sam swallowed. "Basically, yeah."

"But…how?"

"I can't tell you," Sam said softly. "I've probably already told you too much as it is."

"Are you insane?" Zeke bleated. "You haven't even scratched the surface of too much!"

Sam stepped forward, earnest in his need to make Zeke understand. Zeke stepped back, putting Leo's body between them.

"Listen," Sam implored. "I can't tell you everything, okay? I don't know what it might…do to you to know more. I look like this," he gestured to his ruined clothes, "because I kinda did fall out of the sky."

"Son of a…," Zeke muttered, moving around the table holding Leo's body and grabbing a bottle of amber liquid. He pulled the cork out with his teeth and pressed his lips to the opening, drinking deeply. Sam watched in slight amazement as Zeke swallowed three times before pulling the bottle away. "…bitch," he finished, breathlessly.

"I told you it was crazy," Sam offered lamely.

Zeke swiped his arm across his mouth and looked at Sam. "You get points for honesty, kid." He stared at Sam a moment longer. "Why should I believe you?"

"You come up with any other reason for why I look like I do? Where I came from?" Sam challenged.

"You jumped off a late-night stage," Zeke tried. "Only…there is no late-night stage. Wait! You were jumped by Indians and they dumped you here…even though there haven't been any Indians around Sulfur Springs since Ivers came to town." He paced in a tight four-step pattern near Leo's head. "I've got it! It's so obvious! You were up in one of Stella's rooms and her girls threw you out of the window."

"Your explanation is that I fell out a window?"

Zeke thrust out his jaw stubbornly.

"What about Leo?" Sam asked, tilting his head.

Dropping his chin, Zeke reached up and rubbed his face, the motion admitting defeat. "The future, though? I mean…you have to admit it's pretty farfetched."

"Look, I'll tell you as much as I can," Sam promised, "but I gotta find my brother."

"How do you know he's here?" Zeke challenged.

Sam shrugged, a lead weight in the pit of his belly. "I don't know for sure."

"How do you know he's not dead like this poor bastard?" Zeke pressed.

Sam felt the blood drain from his face.

"Oh, hey," Zeke set the bottle down on the edge of the shelf and took a step forward. "Hey, kid, I'm sorry. I didn't mean—"

"ZEKE!"

The bellow came from another room followed by the slam of a door and made both Sam and Zeke jump. Zeke let his head fall back with a groan. "This is just not my day."

"ZEKE! Get the hell out here, you drunk bastard!"

Sam's brows met over the bridge of his nose and he looked toward the sound of the voice. "Who is that?"

"Graham Ivers," Zeke sighed.

"Put the fuckin' bottle down, and roll that skinny ass out here!" The voice was clipped, insistent, entitled.

Sam felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He didn't realize his hands had curled into fists until he felt Zeke's hand on his shoulder.

"It's okay," Zeke said. "You stay here; I got this. You'll find some extra clothes in the suitcase under the bed in the other room. I never got around to unpacking."

"You sure?" Sam asked, tossing Zeke's favorite question back at him.

"I can handle a bully like Ivers," Zeke nodded, looking at Sam out of the corner of his eyes. "It's the kid that fell out of the future I'm having trouble with."

"He called you a drunk," Sam said, surprised to feel his lips curling up in a snarl.

"Yeah, well…a drunk makes a better saloon owner than doctor," Zeke explained as he stepped out into what Sam could see was the main room of the saloon.

Left alone with Leo's body, Sam gave the older hunter an apologetic glance. The older man's face was unmarked, his clothes mirroring the time-travel carnage the same as Sam's. There wasn't any blood, any obvious signs of trauma. Stepping closer, Sam tilted his head, wondering why Leo had been broken and he was spare. Hesitantly, he reached out, running his fingers along the side and back of Leo's head, then froze when he reached the man's neck.

The bone there jutted beneath the skin at a horrible angle. Sam swallowed. He'd survived by chance, pure chance. And he'd been found by someone with the instinct to help.

Dean….

What if Dean hadn't been so lucky? He'd been at the epicenter of the spell—Jake had been gripping Dean's arm. If Sam was here...and Leo was here...there's not way that Dean was not here. The question was...had he survived the journey as Sam had, or was he lying on someone else's make-shift table? Closing his eyes, Sam easily recalled the desperate terror on his brother's face as he ordered Sam to go!

And then the world had turned into a lightning bolt.

He shivered, turning away from Leo's body and hurried into the bedroom to find Zeke's extra clothes. As he stripped out of his ruined jeans and shirt, he was thankful to still have his own boots as Zeke's polished, black, ankle-high shoes were about two sizes too small. He twisted stiffly, looking at as much of his body as he could, checking for bruising, marks, anything. The way he felt he was sure there would be signs of trauma on his body somehow, but all he saw were the faded scars of his past snaking across the pale skin of his sides, lower back, and inner thighs.

Keeping his own boxers on, he pulled on the one piece underwear and cotton, collar-less, button-up shirt before finding a pair of brown pants that matched the ones he'd seen on Zeke. It took him a moment to adjust the suspenders, but once he was done he saw in the wavering reflection of the mirror above the washbasin stand that he could have easily passed for Zeke's younger brother. Rolling his still-aching neck, Sam balled up his ruined, twentieth-century clothes and stuffed them under Zeke's bed, then made his way through the back storage room, past Leo, and to the door Zeke had walked through.

Cracking the door slightly, Sam looked through, finding Zeke, his back to him. The man identified as Graham Ivers was leaning against an impressively long, polished wooden bar, a foot resting on a brass runner down near the floor, and a glass of whiskey clutched in his fingers. He was dressed completely in black, his hat tipped to the back of his head, black leather gloves covering his hands. Sam could see pockmark scars on his cheek and a crescent-shaped scar on his neck.

"Dude, it's like… six in the morning," Sam whispered. "Pot or kettle?"

"Told you I'd be by at dawn," Ivers was saying. "I don't mess around."

"No, Sir, I know that," Zeke placated, "but he's not here. Hasn't been back for days."

"I got two new hands coming in today, Zeke," Ivers informed him, tossing back the finger of whiskey. "I don't want trouble from that priest. You get him out of town on the next stage, or he's mine. You get me?"

Zeke nodded vigorously. "I get you."

Ivers set the glass down with a heavy thunk, then turned from the bar, his gaze ghosting across the cracked door. Sam knew he stood enough in the shadows that he couldn't be seen, but something on the man's swarthy face caught him and Sam shivered. For the briefest of moments, he thought he saw Ivers' dark eyes slip completely black before the man turned away.

Pulling his hat down low over his eyes, Ivers adjusted his coat. Sam bit the inside of his cheek, thankful for the moment that Dean wasn't standing next to him, knowing the crack his brother would make at the expense of Ivers' swagger.

"Next stage, Zeke," Ivers repeated, then stepped out through the door of the saloon, letting it slam behind him.

Sam stepped into the main room as Zeke picked up the glass Ivers had used and threw it into a box on the floor. The sound of shattering glass met Sam's ears as he leaned against the bar.

"You got something against washing?" Sam asked.

Zeke snarled, his lips curling up to expose his upper teeth. "Everything that man touches is poisoned," he replied. "If I hadn't spent everything I had on this saloon, I would've left a long time ago."

"So, what? He the sheriff or something?"

Zeke huffed, not taking his eyes from the closed door. "No. That would be Dawson."

"He can't do anything about Ivers?"

Zeke looked over and Sam felt his stomach clench at the fury he saw lying dormant in the man's eyes. "Why should he? Ivers pays him too damn well."

Sam looked down, nodding.

"You hungry?" Zeke asked suddenly.

Sam shook his head. "I don't think I could eat," he confessed, pressing his hand gingerly against his stomach.

"You said you think your brother is up at the Mission?" Zeke asked.

Sam brought his head up quickly. "That's the last place I saw him."

"Get your coat," Zeke said, moving around to the end of the bar. "I gotta go find me a priest."

"I, uh…I didn't find a coat," Sam shrugged.

"Oh, right," Zeke frowned. "Wait here."

As Zeke disappeared into the back room, Sam looked around the saloon, marveling at the sight.

Dean would really like this place.

A smattering of small tables with rounded-backed chairs flanked a small, slightly raised stage with a piano atop it. Sam saw a cluster of green, felt-covered poker tables on the other side of the bar clustered near the base of a staircase. The swinging saloon doors were latched back against the wall, flanking the heavier door that Ivers had slammed closed behind him, and on either side of the door, stretching wide enough that Sam could see the town waking up around him, were two multi-paned windows, the words The Beacon painted in red and green on the glass.

Everything look worn and used and yet strangely new at the same time.

The saloon seemed to be positioned on a corner of the town's main streets, and as Sam approached the windows, he saw that to one side was a barn with the word Livery painted across the top and on the other side of the saloon was a white-washed building boasting a clean room and bath for five cents a night. Down the street from the Livery, Sam could see the General Store, the Sulfur Springs Sentinel, a bank, and what looked like it might've been a schoolhouse.

"Here," Zeke said from behind him. "You can keep it."

Sam turned and took the proffered coat. It was blue, made of heavy wool with faded brass buttons; patches of darker material were on the arm and shoulder. A soldier's coat.

"1870," Sam whispered to himself, turning the coat over in his hand as he realized the significance of the time period. "You fought in the Civil War?"

Zeke shot him a puzzled glance. "The what?"

Thinking quickly, history class lectures from various schools swimming in his head, Sam corrected, "The, uh, war between the states."

Zeke shrugged into a long, brown duster, his frown answering for him.

"At least you were on the winning side," Sam offered.

Zeke pinned him with a look. "Nobody wins when a country fights herself, kid."

Nodding humbly, Sam pulled on the coat. Devoid of military insignia, it became relatively non-descript once on.

"Is that where you learned how to be a doctor?" Sam asked.

Zeke shook his head. "I was already a doctor," he replied, pulling on a dirty, off-white, wide-brimmed hat. "That's where I learned how to drink. We'll have to find you a hat somewhere else. I only got the one."

"I don't need a hat," Sam replied.

Zeke lifted an eyebrow. "They still got sun in 2005?"

Sam frowned. "Uh, yeah."

"Believe me, kid," Zeke chuckled. "You're gonna want a hat. Come on."

"Wait—" Sam put a hand on Zeke's arm. "What about Leo?"

Zeke cocked and eyebrow at him. "I don't think he's going anywhere."

"But what if someone comes in?"

"I told Stella I was going after Pritchett," Zeke opened the heavy door and Sam blinked at the dust blowing in.

"Who's Stella?"

"She runs the brothel," Zeke said. "I run the bar."

Shooting a look over his shoulder as he followed Zeke out into the cool morning, Sam squeaked, "Brothel?"

Scratch that, Dean would love this place.

"Gotta give the men someone to drink with," Zeke shrugged, heading across the street.

"Wait up." Sam jogged to keep in step with the other man.

The road was rutted and dusty, boardwalks surrounding each building and running along the edge of the adjoining streets. From the corner of his eyes Sam could see blinds being raised and doors opening as the town came alive. As the sound of his own voice seemed to echo off the buildings, it struck him at how quiet it was.

No ambient noise, no traffic sounds, no hum of electricity providing a forgotten undercurrent to the soundtrack of a town—even a small town like Maera.

Wait…Zeke hadn't called it Maera.

"Zeke," Sam called as they paused to allow a wagon to pass. Mouth open, his eyes followed the sight of the dusty, tired-looking man sitting slouched on an uncomfortable-looking wooden seat, worn leather reins lax in his dirt-crusted hands as two black horses plodded their way across the grooved dirt street, harness chains jingling with each step.

"It's called a wa-gon," Zeke said.

Sam narrowed his eyes at the saloon owner. "Funny. Remind me to tell you about—" Sam stopped himself. "Forget it. Listen, what did you say the town was called?"

"Sulfur Springs."

"Not Maera?"

Zeke lifted an eyebrow. "There's a ranch outside of town—not too far from the Mission, actually—that was owned by a Tom O'Maera. Until Ivers had him killed," he said. "But…no, the town is named Sulfur Springs."

They continued across the street. "What for?"

"What for what?" Zeke replied.

"Why is it named Sulfur Springs?" Sam pressed, frowning dubiously as they vectored toward the Livery.

"I guess 'cause there were springs of sulfur around here at some point. I never bothered to ask," Zeke said. "I just got off the stage here because I was too drunk to ride anymore and it turned out there was a saloon for sale."

They passed through the wide, opened door way of the Livery, the smell of manure, oats, alfalfa, leather and sweat wafting over them. Zeke took a deep breath. Sam wrinkled his nose.

"What are we doing here?"

"Getting my horse. Do you always ask so many questions?" Zeke shot him a look.

"Horse?" Sam felt his stomach tighten.

"How did you think we were going to get to the Mission?"

"Walk?" Sam offered.

How did I get so far away from where I started? Was I…blasted here by the spell?

Was I even supposed to be caught in the spell?

He stopped next to the first stall and leaned for a moment, his body not enjoying the demands of movement, muscles still tender from his flight through time. He closed his eyes, remembering the horrifying sight of Jake sitting astride Dean, cutting into his brother's neck as he chanted a Latin phrase Sam couldn't begin to recall.

How are we gonna get home?

"Sam?"

"Yeah," Sam opened his eyes to find Zeke's hazel ones peering at him intently. "I'm okay."

"If you can't do this, I'll—"

"I can do it."

Zeke frowned.

"I gotta find my brother, Zeke," Sam pressed. "I can do this."

"What if he's out looking for you?"

"Then we'll find each other," Sam replied confidently.

Zeke nodded, then moved away from Sam into a small anteroom, returning with a saddle over his shoulder and a bridle in his other hand. "FROST!" he shouted. Sam jumped. "Frost!"

"Hush yer bloody yellin', Yank!"

Sam jerked around at the voice, searching for the source. In moments he saw a small man—barely reaching his elbow—wearing a striped shirt, black vest, and Bowler hat come around the corner of the Livery. His graying beard was down to the middle of his chest and one eye was nearly shut with scar tissue.

"Hey, old man," Zeke greeted. "Need to borrow a horse."

"Do I look like the generous sort, then?" Frost replied. Sam rolled his lips in against his teeth. The decidedly British accent was almost expected after the morning he'd had. "Y'wanta horse, y'pay ferit."

Sam looked at Zeke, puzzled. Zeke shrugged. "He says we have to pay for it."

"I, uh, don't have—"

"Who's this, then?" Frost peered up at Sam.

"This is, uh, my…cousin. Sam. From back home."

"Another Yank!" Frost seemed pleased at the idea, so Sam nodded. "Well, that's fine. Yer' still payin'."

Zeke licked his lips. "What about Ramirez's mare?"

"The Padre's horse?" Frost asked. "No one's been on t' bitch since he stopped that git from shootin' 'er."

"We're heading up to the Mission," Zeke informed him. "We'll take Father Ramirez's mare."

Sam watched Frost twitch his lips his un-scarred eye turning up in what looked like an attempted grin. "Y'ever been on her?"

Zeke shook his head.

Hooking his thumbs into the small chest pockets of his vest, Frost looked at the ground as if contemplating something, then nodded. Half turning, he said, "You see Sentenza up there, you tell him t' stop messing wi' that garden and get back down here. I'm not payin' 'im to be a gardener."

"Will do," Zeke nodded. "Oh, uh…any chance you're seeing Pritchett later?"

"Might be one," Frost replied, puckering his lips and narrowing his eyes at Zeke.

"You think you can send him over to The Beacon?"

"Why? Someone drink himself t'death?" Frost asked as he turned away, not waiting for an answer.

"Where are you going?" Zeke called after the small man.

"Breaking fast," Frost said over his shoulder, then disappeared around the corner.

"Hmmm," Zeke muttered. "Wily little bugger."

"What did he mean…y'know about shooting the horse?" Sam asked, his eyes on the saddle in Zeke's hand.

Zeke shook his head and turned, indicating Sam should follow. "One of Ivers' men…uh, Cutter I think, bought this mare, sight unseen. Fool doesn't know a horse from a hole in the ground; she's too hot-blooded for him. Bucked him off in front of Ivers and everyone."

"And you think I can ride her?" Sam replied, his voice cracking.

Zeke continued as if Sam hadn't spoken. He set the saddle down, leaning it forward on its horn, then hooked the bridle over his shoulder as he slid a wood brace from the front of a stall housing a gentle-eyed, bay horse.

"Cutter gets up and pulls his gun," Zeke was saying as he rubbed the horse's nose, pulling the long mane away from the animal's eyes. "Ramirez calls out, but Cutter ignores him. So, Ramirez pulls out his whip."

"He whipped the guy?" Sam asked, caught up in the story as he watched Zeke quickly slip the bridle in place, rolling the bit into his horse's mouth.

"No, he whipped the pistol from the guy's hand, but it pissed Cutter off. Ivers told him to kill Ramirez."

Sam blinked. "He told him to kill a priest—for stopping him from shooting a horse?"

Zeke nodded, pulling a thick, coarse-looking blanket from the stall wall and tossing it over the bay's back. "You cross one of Ivers' men, you cross Ivers," he explained. "And nobody crosses Ivers."

"Who is this guy?"

"He's the devil," Zeke said, picking up the saddle and setting it across the horse's back. He continued talking, providing a running commentary on the evil Ivers had wrought in the town of Sulfur Springs as he caught the cinch and threaded it through the buckle, pulling it tight then moving to the latigo, his hands effortlessly checking each strap of the rigging, but Sam had ceased to listen.

His mind was replaying the sight of Ivers turning from the bar, the flash of oil-thick shadows crossing the man's eyes for the briefest of moments. Text from his father's journal and excerpts of research on demons floated before him almost visibly. Sam rubbed his face.

This can't be happening….

"Anyway, Ivers ended up killing Cutter because the man wouldn't kill a priest. I managed to get Ramirez out of the way and hide him for a short time, and now Ivers is convinced I know where the priest is. Guess he wants revenge or something because he had to go hire two new hands," Zeke explained.

Sam just stood watching the man, working furiously to thread the random thoughts that were sparking behind his eyes into a semblance of meaning.

"Sam, meet Hooker," Zeke said, leading the bay from the confines of the stall.

"What?" Sam blinked, staring stupidly at the reins Zeke held out to him.

"Named him after the man I served under in the war—General Joseph Hooker from Massachusetts."

"The horse's name is…Hooker?" Sam repeated.

"Yes." Zeke frowned. "You, Sam. Him, Hooker. Try to keep up."

"What am I supposed to do with those?" Sam asked, still looking at the reins.

Zeke sighed. "Just hold him while I go get the Bitch."

Sam looked up, his lips quirking. "The what?"

"Father Ramirez's horse," Zeke explained. "No one ever got around to naming her and Frost just calls her the Bitch, so…." Zeke shrugged, heading back to the tack room and returning with another saddle and bridle, then disappearing into the shadows of the Livery.

Sam looked at Hooker. The horse's dark brown eyes regarded him patiently. Hesitantly, Sam reached up and rubbed his knuckles along the horse's nose, marveling at the feel of the soft—yet at the same time oddly coarse—hair covering the rock-hard bone. He stretched his hand out and gently ran his fingers down to Hooker's muzzle, stroking the velvet skin around the flared nostrils. Hooker bumped his head against Sam's chest.

"Can you keep a secret?" Sam whispered to the animal. "I've never ridden a horse before."

Hooker tilted his head, rubbing the side of his nose against Sam's shoulder, the might in that motion tipping Sam slightly to the side. He regained his balance, holding the reins loosely in his left hand as he moved down the horse's body, gently stroking along the dark-brown neck to the thickly-muscled shoulders.

"Lead him out, Sam!" Zeke called.

"Out?"

"Of the barn," Zeke said, exasperation in his tone.

"Right," Sam nodded. "Lead him out." He turned, trying to recall the ease at which the cowboys in the movies always moved. "Just like John Wayne, right?" He started to walk toward the opening, Hooker following obediently, when he heard a high-pitched whinny from the depths of the barn. He jumped, turning to look behind him, but Hooker seemed almost bored.

He stepped out into the sunshine, standing in what appeared to be a breezeway between two main paddock areas, and peered around at Sulfur Springs in the morning. A ring of a blacksmith's hammer sounded out not far from where he stood. He could smell baking bread overpowering the scent of manure and alfalfa. A woman called out to a child and Sam watched as two men with thick, handlebar mustaches and wide-brimmed black hats rode down the street, tipping their fingers to their hat brims in unison as they passed a lady carrying a basket, who was heading into the General Store.

It looks like a movie.

"Mount up," Zeke called to him as he rode out of the barn atop a gray mare.

Sam looked up at him, at once feeling relief that he wasn't riding the mare and admiration that Zeke looked so natural doing it. The mare's head was fine-boned and pretty to even his untrained eye. Her legs danced in place and Sam watched as Zeke turned her in a tight circle twice before holding her still once more. Her mane and tail were both black and long, hanging down in unkempt tangles and giving her a decidedly wild look.

"What are you waiting for? Swing up! Let's go!"

"Uh, yeah, see…about that…."

Zeke sighed. "You can do this, Sam," he said patiently. "Cross the reins over Hooker's neck so you don't lose them. Okay, now put your left foot in the stirrup, no, no…yes, like that. Grab hold of the horn—the thing sticking up there, yeah, there you go. Okay, now…uh, hop a couple of times to get your momentum and just…swing your other leg over."

It looked so easy in the movies. The horses appeared to be simply extensions of the men, moving as if able to read the rider's thoughts. Hooker was impossibly tall. Sam hopped three times, then shoved all of his weight to his left leg, leveraging himself up and swinging his right leg across the saddle.

"Settle your ass on the seat—in the curve of the cantle there. Okay, now, put the balls of your feet in the stirrups and drop your heels down. No, uh…picture a cannon ball tied to your heel. There, you got it. How does the length feel?"

Sam gripped the saddle horn as Hooker shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "F-fine, I guess."

I can't believe I'm doing this.

"They're set for me and we're about the same height, so I think they'll be fine," Zeke said, turning the mare again to settle her down. "Okay, now, pick up the reins and hold them in one hand. Hooker neck reins so you just want to lay the reins against his neck on one side or the other to turn him. Like this." He illustrated with the mare. "See how I did that?"

Sam nodded nervously.

"Take a breath, Sam," Zeke ordered. "This guy's been to war and back, okay? A cannon could blow up next to him and he'd yawn. He's gonna take care of you."

"If you say so," Sam replied.

"Okay, when you want him to move, nudge him in the ribs with your heels. When you want him to stop, pull back on the reins—low, toward your hips. Not up here like this."

"Okay."

"Just keep your ass in the seat, don't lean too far forward…and remember," Zeke danced the mare around Sam and Hooker, "if you fall off, you just get straight back on."

"Yeah, thanks," Sam said, sliding a look at Zeke.

"You ready to find your brother?"

Sam nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"Yah!" Zeke kicked the mare into a canter and headed down the street, past the General Store.

"We shoulda called Dad," Sam muttered as he held the reins in his right hand, the saddle horn with his left, and followed suit, gently kicking Hooker's flank. The horse's eyes were already on his master and he followed Zeke down the dirt street at a quick trot, Sam flopping loosely on his back gasping a nervous, "Ohmygodohmygodohmygod…."

www
 

a/n: *bites lip* Okay... lay it on me.

Next chapter takes them further down the rabbit hole; the old west wasn't a very easy time. Especially for our boys.

I hope you continue to enjoy!

Part Four can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/82793.html



 


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