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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: Thanks so much for reading and a special thanks to everyone who has taken time to leave me a comment. If I haven't replied directly yet, I will. Promise. Real life has me running to stand still a bit lately. I'm really pleased ya'll have picked up on the various scenes, lines, and even names that have been inserted in the story to pay homage to the Westerns I have most enjoyed. There's more where that came from.

This chapter (and a couple of others yet-to-come) fulfills one of the special requests Kelly made for this story. Some of you may recognize a cameo appearance of another fictional character. If you do, kudos to you. *smile* No crossover classification intended or planned. I hope you enjoy!

 

"I have a very strict gun control policy: if there's a gun around, I want to be in control of it."

~ Clint Eastwood

www

Sulfur Springs, Texas 1870

Thoughts slipped through the web of his mind as though coated in axel grease, never quite gripping, pausing long enough to tease him with clarity, then skimming away in a blur of color and light, leaving an aftertaste of reason lying heavy in his head.

I'm here.

It was the only thing he could hang onto for long. He was here. He wanted to tell Sean, to assure him that it was going to be fine, now, it was all going to be okay…but he couldn't remember where he'd told Sean to go. He was sure he'd hidden him away, safe from all of this. It would come back to him, he knew. Just as every important fact did.

But for now Sean was safe and he was here.

The confusing rush of rage and pain that had propelled him away from the dust of an empty paddock area into the cool of the Texas night had subsided. In its place, filling him like a rising tide, was a trembling combination of disbelief and realization: it had worked.

He had a job to do. He just had to remember what it was.

Strange smells filled his nostrils. An unfamiliar mixture of manure and mud, alfalfa and sweat brought his cloudy thoughts into a narrowed, perplexing focus. He was standing in a corral, surrounded by sleepy-looking horses. He looked around, seeing a rough-hewn fence with a deep trough of water shoved up against it.

A bewildering sense of utter openness pressed in around him. It was as if the world had been emptied of all superfluous attachments, shaking anything unnecessary loose and leaving only those things necessary for survival. He felt as if he were suffocating on space.

Looking down, he saw a curry brush in his hand and it slowly began to click. He'd maneuvered himself into the corral under the guise of brushing down the horses just turned loose so that he could better spy on the activities of the main house. What he was looking for there, though, slipped through the wide-holed net of purpose in his mind.

He dropped the curry brush in the dirt and patted his pockets, searching for something that might provide him a clue as to his next steps. He came up empty. Again. And then he remembered: he wasn't wearing his own clothes.

His clothes had been shredded. He'd stolen these. He couldn't even remember who he'd taken them from. Plucking at the garments in frustrated confusion, he saw the blood. His hands felt almost coated with it; it seemed to stain his shirt wherever he touched.

The blood of another man's son. The blood of the innocent.

He shouldered two horses aside and plunged his aching hands into the slimy water trough, vexed that he was unable to rid his skin of the sticky substance. He remembered the face…the green eyes filled with hate and panic, the pain in the cry as he cut through the skin.

"Brand!"

Jake brought his head up, irritated at being interrupted. If nothing else, he had to get that kid's blood off of his hands.

"What the hell you doin' out with the horses?"

"Cleanin' up," Jake snarled at a heavy-set man who was sizing him up from beneath bushy eyebrows.

"Well, get your ass up to the house," the man replied, lightly tossing the short leather lash of a riding crop over his shoulder and spitting a stream of brown liquid into the water trough. "Ivers wants you."

Hands dripping, suspended over the trough, Jake glared at the man until he finally turned and left, ambling back the way he'd come. It took Jake a moment to remember: that man was his boss, now. The foreman for Ivers' ranch. He now worked for Ivers. He wanted to work for Ivers. Because Ivers….

Think, dammit. Why the hell do I give a damn about this Ivers?

Running his wet palms along the legs of his stolen pants, Jake dragged in a shuddering breath. The world shifted around him and his vision doubled. Leaning against the flank of a Paint horse, he tried to pin down a thought—just one thought—that made sense in the slick maze that was his mind. He'd managed to get here, to this ranch, this house, on purpose.

He just couldn't remember why.

A shout caught his attention and he made his way through the cluster of horses to the wooden fence creating the circular corral that penned in the animals. Climbing to the top rung and throwing his leg over, he saw a smaller building attached to a barn. Two men moved from the door of that building carrying a figure between them. He frowned, watching as they made their way to the other side of the building and dropped the figure next to a hole.

A hole dug in the Earth.

"He keeps this up, we're not gonna have enough men," grumbled a rough voice near him.

Jake looked down to see an ancient man, time-worn with wrinkles lining his face in deep creases. "Keeps what up?" he asked.

The man tipped his chin toward the two men who were now swinging the figure—a body, Jake realized slowly—over the hole and dropping it in.

Dropping it into a grave.

Jake's heart skittered.

Sean….

"Ivers killed that one because he asked why we needed so many horses," the man said. "You're new here, right?"

Jake nodded, his head suddenly pounding. He pressed two fingers against his forehead, working to push away the images that beat against the backs of his eyes.

The image of Sean, shredded, bloody, staring up sightlessly.

The image of another man's son, struggling, fighting, bleeding.

The image of face after face as he cut through their skin, broke open their skulls, and pulled out the pivotal piece from inside their heads.

"You want to get old here, keep your head down and your mouth shut," the old man said, then moved slowly toward the grave, tugging his battered hat from his bald head.

Jake closed his eyes against the sight of dirt being tossed in over the body. He pressed his palms against his temples, wanting to stop the noise, wanting to blank out the memories.

Sean isn't safe. Sean isn't safe at all….

Sean is dead.

All he needed was to find it. The weapon. He just had to find it and then he could fix this. He could fix all of this.

He took a deep breath and ran his hands down his face, surprised to find his cheeks wet. Climbing down from the corral fence, he walked slowly toward the main house, trying not to think about the fact that he was the one who'd broken it all in the first place.

www

As they stepped from the bright light of day into the shadows of the saloon, it struck Sam as odd how normal the whole situation felt now that Dean stood next to him.

The surreal quality of the reality he'd opened his eyes to before dawn had now been replaced with a feeling of solidarity and purpose. They'd survived the impossible: time travel. They were now standing in a moment before they had even been ideas; when their great, great grandparents were children.

Now, far removed from No-Tell Motels and empty highways, he and Dean crossed the wood floor of the saloon, their boots hitting a synchronized beat, the sound captured by the slowly-filling establishment.

In the time they'd been away, the saloon had come to life, despite the fact that it was mid-morning. The interior still smelled of dust, whiskey, sweat, and old smoke, but for one unbalanced moment, Sam felt as if he recognized those scents from his regular life. As if there were no other smells he would associate with home, life, heartbeats. Moving in unison with Dean toward the bar, Sam worked to recall the smell of motor oil, gunpowder, leather... anything that had grounded him in the past.

A middle-aged man maneuvered glasses and drinks easily behind the bar and nodded at Zeke as they entered. Sam watched with wry amusement as the man wiped down the overturned shot glasses, then flung the thin white towel over his shoulder. It was implausible, but if he didn't know better, he'd be willing to guess he and Dean were sharing a dream. That at least might make sense.

But reality was bending to fit this new shape of now and Sam was just trying to keep up.

Dirty, weary-looking men in various stages of dress—some clad only in pants, suspenders, and long underwear—graced various tables and he saw a poker game had started at the green felt table nearest the base of the stairs. The man who had approached them at the Livery leaned against the far end of the bar, a mug of beer in front of him, his head hanging low.

Guess he didn't find Fox and Ray.

"I'll get Stella," Zeke said to them as he moved toward the stairs. "She can rustle up some food for us."

"I ate," Dean waved a hand at him.

Sam leaned on the bar, hooking the heel of his boot on the brass floor runner, and looked at his brother. "You're passing up food?"

Dean removed the black hat and set it on the bar, rubbing the top of his head until his sandy hair stuck up in familiar tufts. "For now," he said, looking at Sam's reflection in the big mirror behind the bar. "Don't suppose they have cheese burger and fries in the old west, do you?"

"I'm guessing no," Sam replied, trying to surreptitiously inspect his brother.

Weary lines drew down Dean's eyes, leveling his mouth into a slight frown as his gaze took in their surroundings. Sam recognized what only someone who'd spent hours alongside another would see: well-masked pain. Dean was hurting, and Sam guessed he was running a fever based on a light sheen of sweat on his brow and a slightly heightened color to his cheeks. But he seemed to be holding it together.

For now.

"Sam." Dean's voice startled him, pulling his eyes forward to meet his brother's in the mirror. "Stop it."

"I'm not doing anything," Sam protested, looking away.

"Relax, okay? I'm not going anywhere," Dean assured him. "Not without you, anyway."

Dean's quiet words shifted a delicate balance inside of Sam's heart. There was only so much unreality he could take. He felt the world swim around him, doubling his vision and bringing a sour, wet taste to the back of his mouth as the events of the morning caught up to him.

"Whoa," he breathed, closing his eyes and slowly lowering his forehead to rest on his folded arms, drawing air in slowly.

"Easy, Sammy…slow, deep breaths."

He felt Dean's hand on his back. His muscles instantly eased. He knew that weight, that touch: the blunt fingers digging gently into the cut of his shoulder, the palm heavy and warm.

A hand on his back had been Dean's way of comforting him since Sam had been very young. He never rubbed or patted the way John had when Sam had been scared or upset or sick. There was no motion to distract from the weight. It was just a touch; a simple reassurance that Sam wasn't alone, that he had someone to lean on.

"I'm okay," Sam muttered toward the bar, wincing as the fetid smell of his own breath wafted back at him. "Just…been a long morning."

"You're not wrong there," Dean sighed, lifting his hand.

Sam brought his head up when he heard the sound of a glass hitting the bar near him. "You're drinking?"

Dean lifted an eyebrow. "When in Rome…," he commented and tossed the shot of amber liquid to the back of his throat. Sam watched tears gather in his eyes as the alcohol hit him and bit back a smile as Dean gasped. "Damn."

"Strong, huh?"

"Yeah," Dean wheezed. "'S good stuff."

He coughed once, banging a fist against his chest, then turned and glanced around the saloon. Sam did a mental count-down as he watched Dean's mouth tip up into a slight grin.

"Dude, I think I like this place," he said, his eyes narrowing as he sized up the poker game.

"Figured you might," Sam replied. He started to reach for the bottle next to Dean's glass, but thought better of it as he stomach rolled slightly. Food first, he lectured himself. He'd never been able to hold his liquor as well as his brother.

"All that's missing is a willing woman," Dean glanced at Sam, winking, "or two."

Sam shook his head, smiling at the incorrigible way Dean seemed to gravitate to the same vices, regardless of their location. "Well, Stella? That Zeke went to get?"

"Oh, dude, don't tell me…," Dean closed his eyes in anticipated pleasure, the edges of his mouth tipping upward.

"She runs the brothel," Sam said.

"Scratch that," Dean turned back around, leaning against the counter and pouring himself another shot. "I friggin' love this place."

"You're so easy," Sam shook his head.

"But not cheap," Dean lifted the glass in a slight salute to Sam before sipping the whiskey slowly. "Where do you think they are?"

"Who?"

"The…brothel…ladies," Dean said, looking at Sam's reflection in the mirror. Sam could see him trying to figure out what the term for prostitutes would be in this time period. "Sleepin' late?"

Sam shrugged. "Who knows? It's not even noon. Maybe they don't…y'know…work until it gets dark."

"A man has needs any time of the day," Dean said, his lips pressed forward.

"Easy, cowboy," Sam chuckled. "You might not want to…you know…I mean, with the women…."

Dean glanced up at him, eyes twinkling. "What, Sam?"

Sam felt his cheeks heat up. "You know what I mean."

Blinking innocently, Dean shook his head. "Seriously…drawing a complete blank here."

"There are, y'know…diseases, Dean," Sam whispered. "The kind that you might not want to contract if we can't get back to the twentieth century."

Dean started laughing.

"Shut up," Sam grumbled, rethinking his decision to hold off on drinking.

"Loosen up, Sammy," Dean chuckled. "There's plenty to appreciate about women without contracting a disease. "

Sam scowled a moment longer, but his disgruntlement at being teased vanished when he caught sight of a woman descending the stairs with Zeke.

"For example," Dean whispered, and Sam knew he'd seen her, too.

"Boys, meet Stella," Zeke said as the duo approached.

Sam felt his mouth go dry, all the dizziness and uncertainty of the last few moments vanishing as blood rushed from his head down, his body reacting to the sight before him.

She was easily old enough to be his mother; the light in her dark eyes held echoes of wisdom only years of experience could gather. Her black hair was piled high in finger-curled ringlets with one or two falling down her nearly-bare back. Her eyes were painted with smudges of dark shadow—just enough that Sam found himself looking longer as if afraid she'd expose her secrets the moment he dared to blink.

Her lips curved up in a smile as she glanced from Sam to Dean.

"Eyes up," she ordered, her throaty voice betraying a hint of humor. "Those don't say much."

Confused, Sam glanced over at Dean and watched as his brother dragged his gaze slowly from Stella's barely-concealed, ample breasts up to her face with considerable effort. Sam skidded a glance down the rest of her body, noting the black corseted waist and deep red skirt that ended at her well-muscled calves exposing netted stockings and high-heeled, lace-up boots. She wasn't tiny; he didn't think his hands would span her waist even with the corset.

But her curves left him thirsty.

"Ma'am," the brothers nodded in unison.

"Oh, Ma'am, is it?" She glanced at Zeke. "What lies are you telling this time?"

Zeke held his hands up in surrender, his eyebrows hitting his hairline. "Haven't said a word. I swear."

Stella looked back at the brothers, her smile knowing as she skimmed Dean's face, then softening as she rested her gaze on Sam. "Zeke says you boys need some help," she said. Sam nodded. Dean didn't move. "I have food and an empty bed. Which one do you want first?"

Sam heard the low-throated whimper Dean tried to suppress and had to give his brother credit for reining in his obvious desire to crank the Winchester charm up to eleven.

"Food would be great, Ms…," Sam replied.

"Just Stella," she replied with a grin. "I left the Missus with my man, and he ain't coming back. So Stella it is."

"Why don't you get Sam some food," Zeke suggested. "I'll just take Dean back and check out those cuts."

"I'll go with you," Sam spoke up.

Dean blinked over at him, but stayed quiet. The fact that he didn't protest—didn't wave Sam off with a you worry too much comment—cemented Sam's resolve.

"You need to eat something, Sam," Zeke said. "I know for a fact you're running on nothing but whiskey."

"Whiskey for breakfast, Sammy?" Dean smirked.

"I've been hanging around you too much," Sam replied. He glanced over at Zeke. "I can eat back there with you."

Zeke shrugged. "Suit yourself." He tipped his chin up at Stella. "You know where my room is."

As if their heads were on a joint swivel, the brothers looked between Zeke and Stella, landing on the brothel madam, whose lips were curled into the grin of a cat.

"Indeed, I do," she replied. "See you boys in a bit."

The brothers looked back at Zeke as she walked away. Zeke grinned, looking more than pleased with himself. "This job does have its perks."

"No shit," Dean muttered. He met Sam's eyes. "Why are we trying to leave again?"

Sam raised an eyebrow, then started ticking off his fingers one by one. "Impala, Metallica, bottled beer, movies—"

Dean raised his hands in surrender. "You win, you win."

Zeke started back toward the doors that led to the store room. "You mean to tell me that beer is in…bottles where you come from?"

Dean clapped Zeke on the shoulder. "Oh, the things I could tell you, man."

"But you won't!" Sam protested, close behind.

"But I won't," Dean sighed with a pretense of dejection.

Zeke pushed through the storeroom door and veered left toward the shelves, leaving the brothers in full view of Leo's body. In the thrill of getting Dean back, Sam had almost forgotten the dead hunter and his stomach tightened at the sight. He felt Dean go still next to him. It wasn't ever easy, seeing the body of someone they knew.

Even someone that'd had a hand in getting them into this mess.

"I almost said we gotta call Dad," Dean said softly.

Sam looked over at him quickly, seeing the frown set in deeper as his brother's eyes seemed to reflect a foreign pain that Sam found he couldn't connect to.

"He's not gonna be happy about this…y'know, if he ever finds out," Dean continued. "This guy was a friend of his."

"I thought you said you didn't think they were friends," Sam countered.

Dean slid a look to him out of the corner of his eyes. "You know Dad, man. They both wore the uniform. Makes them practically brothers in his book."

Zeke continued to fill his arms with random supplies pulled from various points on the storage shelves, glancing over his shoulder at Dean. "Your father was a soldier, too?"

Sam absorbed the way Dean's eyes cut from Zeke's face, to the blue jacket on Sam's body, then back, an understanding filtering through inside of a heartbeat of time. He gave his brother serious flack for his vices, but he had to credit him this: the guy was observant.

More so than Sam thought anyone realized.

"Yeah, he was a soldier," Dean replied, dropping his chin, then glancing back up at Zeke. "Different war, though."

Zeke let out his breath and his shoulders seemed to sag a bit.

"What is it?" Sam asked.

Shrugging, Zeke's eyes tracked with a disconcerting emptiness back to Leo's body. "Just a bit…depressing to know that even a hundred years from now…there's still war."

Sam looked down at his hands, the thin, white scars there testament to his own battles.

"There's always gonna be something to fight for," Dean said quietly. "And someone to fight against."

Taking that in, Zeke moved past the body and toward the door that connected the store room to his bedroom. The brothers followed.

"Speaking of…," Zeke said, setting the supplies in his arms down on top of the dresser. "You boys thought about how you're gonna get to your friend while he's working for Ivers?" He gestured with a flick of his finger for Dean to sit on his bed.

Dean complied, removing the black duster and dropping it over the wrought-iron footboard of the bed as he did so. His gun belt followed. With deliberate slowness, he started tugging his borrowed black shirt free from his waistband. Sam put his back to a wall and slid down, making himself comfortable on the floor, out of the way, where he could watch Zeke work and keep an eye on Dean.

"Not really," Sam confessed. Replaying the fight he and Dean had overheard inside the old mission before everything went to Hell, he recalled Max yelling at Jake about finding a weapon that didn't exist. "Whatever he's looking for…he's gotta think it's there with Ivers," he muttered to himself. "He's not gonna just…leave."

"He will if we make him," Dean grumbled.

Sam focused on his brother, catching the barely-concealed wince in Dean's voice. Dean unbuttoned the black shirt and slid it free of his shoulders, exposing his bare upper torso. Sam sucked in his breath as he caught sight of his brother's wounded side.

"Jesus—"

"—Christ." Zeke finished the curse.

Sam was on his feet before he registered standing. "What the hell, man!"

Dean glared at him. "Don't start, Sam."

"You couldn't have said anything earlier?"

"And when would I have done that?" Dean shot back, his voice hard and his eyes flinty. "When I was trying to figure out if you were alive or dead while also not scaring the shit out of the kid that found me? Or, hey, maybe when we were riding back to town—"

"I get the idea," Sam snapped back, his voice matching his brother's in tone and ferocity. "It just looks…."

"Bad," Zeke said.

One arm around his middle, the other hand up near his mouth, Zeke took a step back, tapping his fingers against his lips as if in thought as he sized up Dean's wounds. The shallow cuts that Sam hadn't stitched were crusted over with scabs, the skin around them swollen and bright pink. The two longer, deeper cuts that Sam had sewn were now puffed up around the stitches and the skin was rolling between the sutures, exposing the torn flesh.

"Who stitched you up?"

"I did," Sam replied as Dean leaned back on one hand as he surrendered to Zeke's scrutiny.

"You did a good job."

"He's had a lot of practice," Dean muttered, his fever-bright eyes hitting Sam's face.

Zeke took a breath. "What did this to you, Dean?"

Sam caught his brother's eyes. We can't.

Dean raised an eyebrow. What's it gonna hurt, Sam?

Sam shook his head once. No, Dean.

"You boys want me to give you a minute?" Zeke looked between them.

Sam sighed. "It's complicated."

Zeke nodded carefully. "Mm-hmm, I see." Tilting his head to the side, he regarded Sam with narrowed eyes, his voice laced with pointed sarcasm. "More complicated than traveling a hundred years back in time?"

"Well, not exactly, but—"

"Or, how about more complicated than the fact that the man in my store room died before he was even born?"

Sam licked his lips. "We, uh…have kind of a weird job."

Zeke arched an eyebrow. "Define…weird."

"We hunt evil," Dean replied, his voice without leeway.

"Evil?" Zeke replied, pursing his lips as he looked back at Dean.

Dean nodded. "Monsters, ghosts, werewolves…," he looked at Sam, "demons. If you've had a nightmare about it, we've hunted it."

Sam watched Zeke carefully, noting the way the color seemed to slowly escape the man's face. "Kid, my nightmares are about an entirely different kind of monster."

Sam frowned as Dean replied softly, "I believe you."

"So…," Sam started, stepping forward and carefully touching the saloon owner's shoulder, drawing his attention. "You're…okay with this?"

Zeke huffed out a rough laugh. "No, I'm not okay with it." He flapped his arms against his sides in impotent frustration. "I'm not okay with any of this!"

Sam looked at his brother, trying to figure out how long Dean could last if they had to escape the tenuous protection of this man and his saloon.

"But unless I'm caught in one helluva vivid dream," Zeke continued, "you're here, with me, in my room. And I have no other explanation for what I'm seeing except that…you're not lying to me."

"We're not lying," Dean said tiredly.

"In that case, let me ask again," Zeke pressed. "What did this to you?"

"It's called a Daeva," Sam replied.

"Uh…huh," Zeke nodded slowly.

Dean rolled his neck tiredly, but stayed quiet, so Sam continued.

"They're…ancient demons. The word actually means demon of darkness."

"Think demonic attack dogs," Dean offered.

"Right," Sam nodded.

"And you fought them?" Zeke shot his eyes between the brothers.

Sam nodded. "Didn't actually…defeat them, but fought them off."

"How?"

"Sammy lit a flare," Dean grinned proudly. "Cut through all their darkness and chased them off."

"A flare?" Zeke's brows practically met across the bridge of his nose.

"Yeah, it's a…y'know, what? Forget it. The point is, these bastards had wicked long…talon thingies and they weren't afraid to use them," Dean said.

Zeke's eyes went to Sam's cheek. "Those scratches," he concluded.

Sam nodded. "Yeah, but…these scratches," he gestured to his face, "and the ones on your forehead…they're practically healed."

"So, what did you do differently with them?" Zeke asked.

"Nothing!" Sam exclaimed. "Dean…passed out and I cleaned his side. He woke up when I was stitching him up."

Dean was frowning. "Sammy…."

"What?"

"What'd you use?"

"For…what?"

"To clean out the cuts."

Sam shrugged. "Antiseptic, soap…."

"And the Holy Water, right?"

Sam literally felt the blood drain from his face. It left his skin feeling tingly, as if miniature needles were being rolled across his cheeks. "The…what?"

Dean looked down, his body appearing to bow. "It's my fault, dude," he said in a rough voice. "I put the extra Holy Water in the spare antiseptic bottle."

"I can't believe I didn't think about that." Sam closed his eyes, his fingers going to his forehead as a headache worked its way through his skull. He felt a hand on his shoulder and knew instantly that it was Zeke's.

"Sam, sit down," the man ordered. "You look kinda pale there, kid."

Sam opened his eyes. "Ya think? This isn't something I should miss, Zeke!"

"Sam," Dean tried. "Calm down. It's okay…."

"It's not okay!" Sam protested, feeling ire at himself build heat behind his eyes. "This shit was drilled into us, man. I should have thought of this."

"We were both kinda messed up that night, Sam," Dean reminded him. "And besides, you were…."

"What? I was what?" Sam challenged.

"I was gonna say you were away from the routine for awhile."

Sam held himself still, his stomach churning. "I've been back long enough," he said quietly.

"I coulda double checked," Dean shrugged. "Neither of us is perfect, man. Shit like this…it happens."

"It shouldn't happen," Sam said in a low, dangerous voice. Guilt and self-punishment were turning his guts to ice. "You wouldn't have let it happen to me."

"Hey. Hey! Listen to me, okay?" Dean ordered, apparently ignoring the last missive. "It's gonna be fine. We got us a doctor—"

"I used to be a doctor," Zeke corrected.

"Good enough," Dean replied. "Better than we usually have. Anyway, we'll just head up to the Mission, get some Holy Water—"

"Ramirez is gone, Dean," Sam reminded him dully.

"Huh?" Dean's eyebrows puckered over the bridge of his nose.

"No priest, no Holy Water," Sam continued. "Unless you memorized the rite and have a rosary in your boot so we could bless the water ourselves."

"Uh, no," Dean confessed. "Always had Dad…or his journal."

"Or a church nearby," Sam said softly.

Dean blew his air out slowly. "Okay, then we'll improvise."

"With what?"

"Easy, dude." Dean held up a hand. "I've made it this far, haven't I?"

Sam turned away, shoving his fingers through his hair. Facing the wall, he balled up his hand into a fist and slammed it, hard, against the wood.

"Hey!" Zeke exclaimed. "I don't need two patients!"

"Shouldn't even have one," Sam muttered. "Dad will kick my ass for this."

"So we don't tell him," Dean countered.

"Not the point," Sam said, sliding down the wall, his knees tented, arms hanging across them.

"Okay, Dean," Zeke replied, visibly shifting away from disbelieving wonder to the business at hand. "I'm gonna just…deal with this like any other infected wound. We'll cross the whole Holy Water bridge when we come to it. Deal?"

Dean nodded, "Deal," he said wearily.

"Lie back against the pillows," Zeke ordered as he poured water into the basin on the dresser and began to roll up his sleeves.

As Dean obeyed, there was a brisk knock on the door and before any of the men could move, Stella stepped through carrying a tray of food. Sam started to get up.

"Sit yourself down," Stella ordered, kicking the door closed behind her. "Do I look like some wilting flower to you?"

"No, ma'am," Sam replied, watching as she knelt carefully next to him and set down the tray of biscuits and stew.

"Do I smell coffee?" Dean called out.

"You do," Stella confirmed, standing up and making her way over to the bed. Sam watched as she lightly trailed her hand across Zeke's back and moved to the foot of the bed where she could better see Dean. "And from the looks of you, you're gonna need something a lot stronger."

"No more whiskey," Zeke shook his head, picking up Dean's wrist and pressing two fingers against his pulse point, frowning.

"No offense, doc," Dean grunted, trying to sit up. Sam saw that once he was down, forcing his stomach muscles to work was not an easy task. "But if you're gonna do what I think you're gonna do…I'd rather not be sober."

"I am," Zeke replied, "but the last thing you need is to dehydrate from too much alcohol. You've lost blood, your color is for shit, and your pulse is racing. Trust me on this—liquor would be a bad, bad thing. "

Dean sagged against the pillows. "Always used whiskey in the movies," he muttered to himself.

"You're going to take the stitches out, aren't you?" Sam asked, pushing the food aside.

Dean continued to grumble. "Least give a guy a piece of leather to bite on…maybe a bullet?"

"Dean," Sam snapped, watching Zeke inspect Dean's wound. "They're not giving you a damn bullet."

"Why not? Phrase had to come from somewhere…."

"What phrase?" Zeke asked, distractedly

"Bite the bullet! Guys are always biting on something to deal with the pain in—"

"No bullet!" Sam yelled, causing Dean to flinch in surprise.

"Take it easy, Sam," he said softly. "I was just—"

"I know what you're trying to do, Dean," Sam said, rubbing at his aching temple. The pain felt like the onset of a vision, but deeper, duller. The kind of headache that declared it was going to hang around for awhile. "But it's not gonna help. I screwed up and you're paying the price."

He saw Zeke and Stella exchange a look.

"Sam, why don't you come on out here with me?" Stella asked, crouching in front of him and giving him an unobstructed view of her bosom.

"No," Sam snapped. "Sorry, but I'm not leaving him."

"You need to eat; Zeke knows how to take care of your brother," Stella put a hand lightly on his arm.

"Stella," Sam said, feeling the edge of his voice cut through the air between them. "I know you're just trying to help, but I'm. not. leaving. him."

Sighing, Stella looked up at Zeke. The saloon owner shrugged and tipped his head toward the door. "Make sure everyone plays nice out there," he said. "I'll let you know if we need anything."

"All right, Sugar," she said, standing. She tossed another look at Dean, winked at Sam, then left.

"Since you're here, you may as well help," Zeke said, his freshly-scrubbed hands still dripping as he reached for a small linen towel. "Get that clear bottle off the dresser and bring it here."

"What is it?" the brothers asked in unison.

"Chloroform," Zeke replied. "Used it on plenty of soldiers during the war, Dean."

"I'll be okay," Dean replied quickly.

Sam turned from the dresser at the sound of panic in Dean's voice. His brother's face was so pale the freckles across his nose stood out like constellations. His eyes were wide and the sheen of sweat Sam had noticed earlier now coated Dean's chest and belly.

"He doesn't like drugs much," Sam said, handing the bottle to Zeke, not taking his eyes from Dean's face. "Can you try without it?"

"I won't lie to you," Zeke said, his voice a sigh, as he set the bottle down on the edge of the dresser nearest Sam. He turned to the wash basin and rolled up his sleeves. "It's gonna hurt like a bitch on fire."

"I'll be okay," Dean repeated, shaking his head stubbornly.

"We'll try it," Zeke said, scrubbing his hands and forearms. "I'm going to take out the stitches, drain the infection, and pack the wound. I'll have Bird mix up some herbs for you that should help."

"Herbs aren't Holy Water," Sam said grimly, moving to the head of the bed.

"Don't worry about it Sammy," Dean said, teeth clenched as he anticipated the pain. A tremble ran through his body.

Hell, yes, I'm worried about it. Sam caught his lower lip in his teeth to keep the automatic retort from flinging itself free.

"You ready?" Zeke asked Dean.

"Let's do this thing," Dean grunted.

Sam bounced his eyes between Dean's face and Zeke's hands as the former doctor began to clean the skin around the puckered wounds. Dean groaned and his eyes slammed shut. Sam worked to breathe carefully, in through his nose, out through his mouth forcing himself to calm down. His heartbeat was slamming against the base of his throat.

"So, I've been thinking," he said as casually as he could.

"That's…never…good," Dean forced out, working to balance the tone Sam set for the conversation.

Hoping that Zeke wouldn't pay too close attention to what they said, Sam continued, "Maybe we don't need Jake to get home."

"H-how do you…ah! Son of a bitch," Dean exclaimed as Zeke carefully clipped the first stitch. The first of eighteen. "How d-do you f-figure?"

"It was a spell, right?" Sam said, watching as Zeke reached for the bottle of chloroform and a folded handkerchief. Catching the former doctor's eyes, Sam shook his head. Not yet. Zeke frowned at him and moved back to Dean's side. "Maybe we figure out a counter spell."

Dean began to puff air through his mouth, his body twitching as he instinctively tried moved away from the pain, but continued to hold himself as still as possible. Sam watched his brother's hands grip the sheet on the bed as Zeke slid a towel next to Dean's side to catch the pus that began to leak from the re-opened wound.

"There's gotta be some…books. At that Mission, maybe. Or someone around here who can—"

Sam's ramble was cut off as Dean cried out, his voice ragged from pain. His hand shot up as if to instinctively push away the thing that was hurting him and Sam caught it, gripping it tightly with his own. He could feel Dean's body shake and pulled his brother's hand against his chest, pressing it tightly.

"I got you, man," Sam soothed. "I got you."

"Gah…dammit, Sam…this fuckin' hurts," Dean gasped.

"I know," Sam nodded, resting his other hand lightly on Dean's head, wiping away some of the sweat that ran into his brother's eyes and tented his lashes. "I know…you just hang in there, okay?"

"One done," Zeke said in a low, tense voice.

Sam shot a look down at Dean's side and saw that one of the cuts was now free of stitches. He exhaled slowly.

"Okay, just one more, okay, Dean? Hang in there, man."

"This is…uh…this might hurt…more," Zeke said in an attempted warning.

Sam looked back again and saw what he was about to do: flush the infection from the wound. His stomach rolled over at the thought of Dean feeling every bit of that process.

"Easy," Zeke breathed out and then pressed the tips of his fingers on either side of the swollen cut, watery fluid and thick, greenish-white infection oozing free of Dean's body, followed by a sluggish flow of blood.

Dean's cry of pain sounded as if it were pulled from his gut, starting low with teeth clenched against release then rolling upward until it all-but exploded from him.

"Nnnnnnnarrgggahhhh!" Dean gasped, his sweat-soak face turning away from Sam. "Argh…son of a fucking bitch…" His curses were quick pants for air, helpless and angry.

Zeke withdrew his hands, breathing heavy, then lifted a fresh towel and began to gently clean the area around the wound. Still holding tightly to Dean's hand, Sam watched as Zeke lifted a bottle of whiskey, confused that he'd changed his mind.

Until he saw that he was going to pour it over the wound.

Screw this.

"Dean!" Sam barked. Dean jerked, turning his head slightly on the pillow. "Look at me. Now."

Dean opened his eyes and Sam felt his stomach clench at the pain he saw there.

"I'm not going to let you go, okay?" As Sam spoke, he reached with his free hand for the chloroform bottle. "I'm gonna be right here. I'm not going anywhere."

He breathed a quick sigh of relief as he saw that Zeke realized what he was doing and had poured a small amount of liquid onto the handkerchief, then handed it to Sam.

"I'm s-sorry, man," Dean gasped. "Sh-shoulda listened…t-to you…not gone in after J-Jake…without a p-plan."

"Hey, hey," Sam shook his head, gripping Dean's sweaty hand tighter. "It's okay. Did you hear me coming up with a plan? Hell no! We did okay back there, Dean. We saved that girl."

Dean closed his eyes, nodding his head once. "We d-did."

"Damn right we did," Sam nodded, though Dean couldn't see him. Keeping the handkerchief well away from himself, he moved it closer to Dean's face. "Big damn hero, man," he said softly, then eased the rag over Dean's nose and mouth.

Dean's eyes flew open and he tensed, his grip crushing Sam's hand.

"Easy!" Sam soothed. "Easy, man. Just breathe, okay? It's okay. I'm right here. Just breathe."

Eyes slowly clouding, Dean's grip relaxed and when his lids fluttered shut, Sam started to remove the rag.

"Wait," Zeke coached softly. "Just wait a moment."

After another heartbeat, Sam felt the tremble in Dean's body slow and glanced back at Zeke, who nodded. Sam removed the rag and lowered Dean's hand. Dean's face was lax, his mouth slightly parted, his tented lashes shadowing pale cheeks. Zeke pressed two fingers against Dean's throat, checking his pulse, then nodded.

"You did good, Sam," Zeke praised him, taking the rag from Sam and setting it and the chloroform bottle on the other side of the room. As he passed the narrow window, he shoved it up an inch, allowing fresh air to filter in. "Real good. Coulda used you with me in the war."

Sam slid to his knees beside the bed, his legs refusing to hold him. "No way," Sam shook his head. "There's no way."

"Just take a breath," Zeke said, turning his attention back to Dean's side. "Sit down and shove your head between your legs if you have to, but do not pass out on me."

"I'm not gonna," Sam said, rolling away from the scent of the chloroform, blood, and sweat. He leaned against the wall, his head back. "How bad is it, really?"

"I've seen worse," Zeke said. "Not often, but I've seen it."

"Think you can fix him?" Sam swallowed, embarrassed by how close tears were to the surface.

"Well…if this were a…knife wound, yes," Zeke said, his voice undulating as he worked. "But I don't know about those David things."

"Daeva," Sam corrected.

"Right."

"He never said anything," Sam said, closing his eyes and letting his feet slip until his legs were straight out in front of him. "When he got hurt…he never said anything."

"He make a habit of that?" Zeke asked, his voice tight as Sam heard more snipping of stitches.

Sam huffed. "He's my big brother," he said softly. "So…yeah, kinda."

For several moments, quiet ruled the room. Sam listened to Dean's ragged breathing, to the muffled noise of the saloon, to the movement of Zeke's hands. He knew they had to find Jake. He knew there was really no other way to get home. But he was in foreign territory and coming up with a plan seemed almost impossible. He reached for the biscuit on the tray, chewing without thought.

"You okay?" Zeke asked suddenly.

Sam looked up. "Yeah."

"You're…quiet."

"I'm thinking."

"You just haven't been…quiet," Zeke shrugged. "You run out of questions?"

"There's only two that matter anymore," Sam shrugged.

Zeke's eyes softened. "I don't think I have the answer to either of them."

Sam sighed. "Any idea where we can find Ramirez?"

Zeke shook his head, then started to clean up his supplies. "I'm sorry, kid."

Sam narrowed his eyes. "If you did…would you tell me?"

Zeke looked surprised. "Why would you ask me that?"

"Just wondering if you'd…pick keeping the priest safe from Ivers over saving my brother."

Zeke's eyes cut over to Dean. "Fair enough." He wrapped a bandage loosely around Dean's middle, his face tense, serious. "I've drained the infection and packed the worst of the cuts. We'll have to check it pretty frequently…make sure the infection is continuing to drain. He should sleep for a few hours. Probably have a headache when he wakes up. I'll get Bird to help out with something for his pain. You should get some rest yourself—after you eat."

Sam watched the man move around the room, packing away the medical supplies. Zeke put his hand on the door knob, then paused, his shoulders bowing slightly. Sam waited. After a moment, Zeke looked over at him.

"I became a doctor because I wanted to save lives," he said. "The war…changed that. I lost more than I saved."

Sam simply watched him.

"It…broke something. Inside me." Zeke looked down his jaw line tightening. "That day I saved Ramirez from Ivers was like…finding the missing pieces." He grabbed Sam's eyes with his own. "I won't let your brother die."

"I'm glad to hear it," Sam replied softly, feeling his being relax at the words.

With a final nod, Zeke moved into the now-bustling interior of the saloon, closing the door behind him. With a tired sigh, Sam leaned against the bed, reaching up and resting his hand on top of Dean's limp one.

Continued in Part 5B here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/83448.html

 


Comments

( 7 Tall Tales — Tell Me A Story )
simplycolourful
May. 31st, 2010 07:42 am (UTC)
Great way to start my Monday :)

I really like this chapter so far. I really like Zeke, he seems to take all the boys' secrets i stride.
gaelicspirit
Jun. 4th, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm so glad you are enjoying this. I like Zeke, too. *smile*
(Anonymous)
Jun. 9th, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
I am loving this! I started reading it yesterday between calls at work & am enjoying the heck outta it. I know you are a Young Riders fan so loved that you had a paint horse......good ol' Katie! I'm a big fan of Firefly and think of that whenever I read the phrase "big damn heroes." Can't wait to keep reading, but I'll save it for tomorrow at work......makes the day go faster!

Teri Copeland =)
gaelicspirit
Jun. 11th, 2010 03:05 am (UTC)
Hi Terri! You got it -- that is pulled directly from Firefly/Serenity. Not only that? But I used Nathan Fillion (Mal) as my "actor" for Zeke. I always pick actors/actresses when I write OCs so that I can better visualize them as I go.

Thank you for reading -- so glad you're enjoying! More to come soon.
saberivojo
Jun. 13th, 2010 02:49 am (UTC)
Great chapter. I can't believe the boys don't have the ritual memorized for holy water. *smacks Sam and Dean upside the head*

I love Dean and his horn doggedness. He cracks me up. Then both boys when they see Stella.

"Ma'am," the brothers nodded in unison. Every time the boys say something in tandem like that, in Show or otherwise, it makes me grin.

On to the next chapter.

gaelicspirit
Jun. 13th, 2010 01:12 pm (UTC)
I agree. I like tandem speak a really lot. :)

Thank you for reading! I'm so glad to see you and I love that you're enjoying this.

I thought a lot about them not knowing the blessing for Holy Water before I went this direction, but I was able to justify it pretty easily by the fact that they needed Bobby's books or John's journal or something to that effect up through Season 3.

I'm glad you could go with it. :)
saberivojo
Jun. 13th, 2010 01:18 pm (UTC)
Well, canon has them needing books or the journal. Just like phone numbers saved in your phone. If you don't need to memorize, you don't. I suppose just one time of needing and not being able to access it would probably put it high on the list of required recitation!

Now I have a strange thought of Sam and Dean reading off of a Kindle.

*snerk*

( 7 Tall Tales — Tell Me A Story )

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