Title: Heroes for Ghosts
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.
He should have known better.
All it had taken was one man looking for favor, one whisper of possibility, one kernel of suspicion. He could have avoided all of this. He was good enough—correction, he used to be good enough.
He was better with Max and Leo there to back him up. They'd always been stronger as a unit. But he'd let grief warp him and his singular obsession destroyed a lifetime of friendship. He hadn't been able to hold on to the mission for long enough periods of time.
It's amazing the clarity that pain brings.
In too-bright, sharp-edged images, he recalled the fight with the demon that had taken Sean from him, the vow he'd made at his son's unmarked grave, the killings—so many killings—to get the ritual right, and the blood of another man's son on his hands. He heard his friend's voices in his head, pleading with him to stop, asking him to think about what he was doing, and backing him up as best they could as he continued through this nightmare.
He'd stopped screaming several minutes ago, but it was only because his voice had given in long before his consciousness. The branding iron marked his chest with a five-point star, the smell of burning hair and flesh filling his nostrils.
Leave it to a demon to be unoriginal.
"Enough for now," Ivers finally spoke up. "Don't want to kill him quite yet."
The fat man backed away, taking with him the glowing iron. Jake sagged against the bindings that held him to the chair, his hands secured behind him, the ropes at his legs tight enough to cut off circulation. Sweat ran into his eyes and he forced himself to blink it away as he regarded Ivers.
The man stood across the room, leaning against the edge of a windowsill, his dark eyes regarding Jake with what might be misconstrued as disinterest. But Jake recognized this act. He'd seen it before: the demon that had killed Sean behaved the same way.
And he remembered that now. He remembered every agonizing minute of it.
"So, tell me," Ivers said, his voice almost amicable, as if they were sipping brandy and smoking cigars. "How do you know the hunters from the saloon?"
"I…," Jake rasped, his voice barely audible, "d-don't know what you're t-talking about."
Ivers looked almost sad, turning his hand around to casually inspect his fingernails. "That's not what I heard. I have spies everywhere in that piss-ant town. Tucked into corners like cobwebs. Watching, listening, bringing it all back to me. I miss nothing. So, you see, when I heard that you knew that little peon of a hunter and his brother…I knew there had to be some truth to it."
Still looking at his nails, Ivers stepped away from the window and slowly crossed the room. The dull, rhythmic jangle of spurs sounded off with each step. Jake's eyes begged to close, his body pleaded to give in, but he knew his only hope lay in focusing on Ivers, watching for his chance.
"And that's not the only thing I heard," Ivers said, looking somewhat innocently troubled as he lifted his eyes and skipped them over Jake's haggard, sweaty face. "I heard that the inebriated idiot of a saloon owner somehow managed to kill the man that showed up with them."
Jake blinked, his stomach churning. He couldn't keep his heartbroken horror from his face. One of his friends was dead. One of the men who had once been as close to him as a brother was dead because of what he'd done.
"Oh, didn't you know?" Ivers smirked, his eyes cold coals burned into a placid face. "Brand," he said softly, running his index finger down Jake's wounded chest, pressing the tip against the weeping, burned skin. Jake groaned, his body trembling in reaction. "Ironic, don't you think?"
"Go to H-Hell, you bastard," Jake gasped.
Ivers raised his eyebrows, straightening and brushing the tip of his finger down his shirt front as if touching Jake had sullied him somehow. "Oh, I don't think so," he replied. With unnatural, inhuman swiftness he was suddenly leaning close, peering into Jake's face, his hands gripping the arm rests until Jake felt the chair shake, his eyes solid, onyx black. "I think Hell's going to come to meet me."
Jake drew back; he couldn't help himself. He'd looked into the eyes of a demon before, but it wasn't something one grew accustomed to. He had no one to blame for his predicament but himself. He'd been the one to research, to find the omens that had run rampant in this area in this exact moment in history. He had known about the gate and about Graham Ivers' obsession to be the one to open it.
And he had known the demon had been defeated.
It was the reason he'd chosen this moment in time, this place in history. It was here that the weapon had been used in a public display of execution, where people long protected from the existence of very real evil were exposed to the truth. It had confused him at first, that history had shown Ivers' defeat, but not a surge of hunters joining the fight.
The truth is not what you know; it's what you believe.
Max had been the one to point out such a simple, basic fact to him years ago as they worked to wrap their minds around the horrors of their first war. And it was still true. The people of Sulfur Springs, TX, had defeated a monster, changed the name of their town, then gone on about their business as if evil was simply something that existed in fairytales.
"You're wrong," Jake rasped.
Ivers' eyes returned to human—or as close to human as the demon could portray—and he tilted his head in curiosity.
"You're going to die," Jake informed him.
Ivers simply raised an eyebrow. "You first."
He backed up a step, motioning the fat man with the branding iron forward. Before the fat man could move, however, the door to the small room where they sat slammed open and one of the men from the bunkhouse that Jake had never bothered to meet came in with a slim, attractive woman struggling in his grasp.
Ivers' frown was ferocious. "Explain!"
The woman stomped on her captor's foot with the heel of her boot and he cried out in pain, releasing her. She moved quickly away from him—to the other side of the room, not out and away as Jake had expected—and turned furious gray eyes on Ivers. The man who'd tried to hold her fumbled his way back out of the room.
"I want to know where Rory is," she demanded. Her black hair had been twisted into a bun at the nap of her neck but it was falling loose, flying around her fine-boned face as if it had a life of its own.
"Who the hell is Rory?" Ivers replied.
"My son," she spat, marching up to the man, fists clenched.
Jake felt true fear for this woman. She was a head shorter than Ivers and slim enough that even without supernatural powers Jake knew Ivers could cause her true harm. But she faced him with the unabashed fury of a mother whose child was in danger.
"We had a deal," she continued, her voice like venom. "I stay here and do whatever you tell me to and Rory is safe."
Ivers lifted a shoulder. "What makes you think he isn't?"
"He's not in the bunkhouse," she said. "No one is."
Ivers cut his eyes over to the fat man. The man spit a thin stream of tobacco juice onto the floor then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Sent 'em all out after the horses," the fat man explained. "Said you needed 'em back, Boss."
Ivers turned back to the woman, spreading his hands wide as if to say there, you see? It wasn't enough for her.
"Fetch him back," she demanded.
"I don't believe you're in a position to give orders," Ivers replied, his voice cold.
"You might think differently the next time you try to put that thing inside me," she practically growled. Jake grimaced at her implication, and at the sneer that found a home on Ivers' face. "I want my son back. Now!"
Even Jake jumped at the sound of her shout. Ivers stared at her for almost a full minute before he sighed.
"I don't know why I don't just kill you all right now," he muttered.
At that Jake lifted his increasingly-heavy head.
"Why d-don't you?" Jake asked.
Ivers looked at him. The woman looked at him, her eyes registering a level of horrific surprise that showed Jake she hadn't truly seen him before that moment. The fat man spat tobacco again.
"Are you that ready to die, Brand?" Ivers asked.
Jake suddenly felt at peace; it was a feeling of control that came over him only in moments when he found a purpose.
"I got nothin' to lose," he informed Ivers. "The only reason I'm here is to watch you get killed."
Ivers rolled his eyes. "That again," he said as if the very notion were ridiculously amusing. "Don't you know, hunter? You. Can't. Kill. Me."
"Wanna bet?" Jake retorted.
Ivers cut his eyes from Jake to the woman. "Tie her up," he ordered the fat man. "Leave her here and come with me. We've got work to do."
"What about him?" the fat man gestured toward Jake with the cooling end of the branding iron.
"I haven't decided," Ivers said, his lips pulling up to expose yellowing teeth in a snarl. "Which would you prefer, Brand? Wearing your intestines like a necktie? Take off your fingers at the knuckle and feed them to you? Deforming you feels a bit like overkill; I've already marked you for whatever remains of your miserable life."
Jake saw the woman's face pale at Ivers words, the true horror of her captor's capabilities sinking in. He looked at Ivers with dead eyes, not bothering to answer.
"Leave him where he sits," Ivers snarled at the fat man then turned toward the door, a muscle in his cheek bouncing as he stared at the humanity left in the room. "I'm about done with this place anyway."
As he slammed the door behind him, Jake felt a smile inexplicably tug up the corner of his mouth.
"What are you grinnin' at?" asked the fat man as he grabbed the woman and shoved her up against the wall.
"Those guys," Jake said, a chuckle thickening his words, "back in town…they're coming after me."
"Too bad Ivers is gonna kill you, then," the fat man said, pressing his rotund belly against the woman's back as he tied her hands.
Jake knew the only reason she didn't fight back harder was because her son was still out there, unprotected. She would die to see him safe; it was etched on her tense face.
"Don't matter," Jake said, allowing his eyes to fall closed. "As long as they take every one of you bastards out to get to me."
The last time he'd ridden behind Dean, his brother had passed out in his arms.
This time, he clutched at Dean's waist in a desperate attempt to stay aboard the horse. Their clothes were still somewhat damp from the rainstorm, but Sam had to admit he felt as close to good as he had since watching Meg fall from the opened window of the warehouse. Even the scattered rest and bland food had done amazing things to strengthen his body, and seeing Dean move around under his own power—albeit a bit slowly—without the lines of pain drawn across his face had returned the hope he'd almost lost.
The sun had licked at the heels of the storm and was now beating down, burning the exposed skin on his brow and neck. Dean's black hat shaded his brother from the same abuse, but Sam hadn't gotten around to finding a hat that fit him. He dug his fingers into the gun belt strapped tightly to Dean's slim hips and gripped the gray mare with the trembling muscles of his inner thighs.
Never again…never again…never again….
The four-beat thrum of the horse's hooves seemed to drill the chant into his head. It was his personal vow: when they got home, he was never getting on a horse again.
Dean leaned a bit forward in the saddle. The Bitch took his body's cue and found another gear. Sam gasped and moved his hands from the gun belt to Dean's waist, his fingers digging in and he worked to mirror Dean's posture as they hauled ass through the edge of town to the front of The Beacon. Anticipating Dean's motion just before he hauled the mare up to a stop, Sam leaned back and felt his brother's shoulders against his chest as the horse skidded to panting halt.
Sam slid from the mare's back and made his way to the boardwalk just in front of the door as Dean dismounted and flipped the horse's reins around the hitching rail. They followed Zeke inside.
"I'll find Stella," Zeke said. "You two get—"
His voice slammed to a halt as he caught sight of the people grouped in front of the bar, facing him.
Sam and Dean drew up short just before crashing into Zeke's back. Sam blinked, his eyes tracking along the cluster of people. Big Bob was behind the bar, Stella in front. Next to her stood Frost, Sentenza, and Bird. The little girl gripped the hand of her brother, Rory, who stared out at them with too-old eyes. On the other side of Rory were four men Sam didn't know, but had seen in the saloon the previous night.
"Stella?" Zeke asked.
"You're going up against a very bad man, Zeke," Stella said, her voice husky and soft. Sam felt the weight of her words, the unspoken acknowledgement of necessity and deep-seated worry for a friend. "You're not gonna be able to do it alone."
Sam exchanged a look with his brother. Is this supposed to happen?
Dean lifted a shoulder and looked back toward the people of Sulfur Springs.
"I…was gonna find you," Zeke tried to explain.
"Rory found us first," Stella explained, nodding toward the boy. "He took a pretty big risk coming here."
Rory's eyes were on Dean. "I thought you'd be dead."
Sam felt his stomach tighten at the thought.
"Almost was," Dean replied. "Thought you weren't gonna leave without your mom."
"Counting on you to go back and get her," Rory countered. "I, uh…heard some stuff."
"What'd you hear, Rory?" Sam asked, his voice soft.
They hadn't moved from the doorway and none of the town's people had moved from their positions at the bar. It was as if they were in a verbal stand-off; the only thing that was going to break it would be a mutual concession for help.
Rory glanced down at Bird.
"Go on," she encouraged. "I told you. They promised."
"Ivers sent us out to round up them horses ya'll let loose," Rory stated. He shifted his feet and Sam saw that the large Colt he'd held on them when they encountered him in the bunkhouse was slipped into his belt, the barrel nearly meeting his knee. "He's planning on taking out the Mission. Killing the priest there."
Zeke tipped his chin up in a nod. "We kinda figured that part."
"Yeah, well," Rory narrowed his eyes. "He's gonna do it tonight."
Zeke looked over his shoulder at Dean and Sam.
"That ain't all," Rory said.
"What else?" Dean pressed, taking a step forward.
"He ain't just gonna kill the priest. I snuck into the house while everyone was busy trying to catch a horse on foot to go after the herd. I was gonna see if I could find my mom. I heard him talking funny," Rory's voice cracked across the last bit.
"You heard Ivers you mean?" Dean clarified.
"Yeah," Rory nodded. "Some stuff I didn't understand and then…then he said something about gutting the priest and that no one would be left alive."
"He's gonna sacrifice Ramirez," Sam muttered.
"And then annihilate the town," Zeke concluded.
"No, he's not," Dean shook his head. He rotated to face Sam. "It doesn't happen, Sam. None of that does."
"But what if we've changed things, Dean?" Sam said, fear plain in his voice. He pitched his volume low so that only his brother and Zeke could hear. "What if it happens now?"
"We don't let it," Zeke replied. He turned his back to the people gathered at the bar and faced the brothers. "We prepare them to fight. We keep our plan with the dam. We get Kate and Jake the hell outta there…," he swallowed, his eyes looking dangerous in their intensity, "and we get you two home."
"What about Ivers?" Sam asked.
Zeke glanced over his shoulder. "Ivers is our problem," he said toward the people standing behind him. He looked back the brothers. "He's been our problem. We let him control us, take our land, kill our friends. And we did nothing."
He turned and walked toward the bar, the eyes of the people of the town on him.
"This is our fight," Zeke said. "I think it's time we finished it."
Sam shook his head and saw Dean roll his lips against his teeth. "This…this isn't just some…some normal bad guy, Zeke," Sam said.
"You gotta know," Dean said, his voice strained as he echoed Sam, "that this might not be a fight these guys can win." He lifted his chin to the people behind Zeke.
"That's what they said about half the battles I survived," Zeke replied. He half-turned, his glance bringing the two groups of people together. "And what I learned was that in a real fight, you don't try to win," he looked back at Dean. "You try to make the other guy lose."
Sam watched Dean's eyes take this in, soften, then drop slightly as he agreed with the other man.
"What about them?" Sam motioned toward the people gathered at the bar. "You willing to pit them against Ivers?"
"Seems to me we're pitting ourselves," replied Stella. Sam watched the others nod in agreement. "Ivers killed some good men in this town. Changed a lot more into…monsters," Stella flinched as she forced that word free. "And he did it to keep us afraid. To keep us in line. So you all go off and do what you have to. If Ivers comes this way?" She tilted her head, pulling a small knife from the folds of her skirt. "We aim to misbehave."
Zeke's grin was triumphant as he stared at her.
Rory spoke up. "I'm gonna come with you."
"No!" Dean and Zeke replied at the same time.
"You stay here with Bird," Zeke said. "You keep that pistol of yours ready and you prepare to defend this town from Ivers and his men."
"But I thought he was gonna go to the Mission," Rory replied.
Zeke glanced back at the brothers. "I think we might be able to convince him otherwise."
The surreal quality of their surroundings that Sam had felt when he'd first woken up in the back of Zeke's saloon had faded as he'd fought to keep his brother alive. It returned in full force as Zeke ordered everyone into action. As he watched, Rory, Bird, and Frost began to move tables and roll barrels in front of windows, creating an effective barricade.
"This will be our front," Zeke told them. "If Ivers and his men follow us, we want them to follow us to this place, understand?"
Dean nodded, moving toward the backside of the bar. If they had been in their own time, Sam knew, they would be heading to the back of the Impala, gathering weapons, gearing up for whatever the fight threw at them. Here, though, he felt out of place, off-balance. He moved to follow Dean, knowing that when push came to shove, his brother would be shoving with weapons in both hands.
"What about Ramirez?" he asked Zeke.
Zeke stopped mid-stride as he approached his store room where Leo's body had once lain. He looked over at Stella, who was busy tearing strips of petticoat and piling them up on the bar.
"You know where your friend Larabee got to?"
"He's not my friend, Sugar," Stella replied, then glanced sideways at Zeke. "But I might know."
"Think you could find him? Ask him to hole up at the Mission with Ramirez until…well, until this is all over?"
Stella turned, resting her hand on a hip and tipped her head sideways as she regarded Zeke. "What makes you think he'll do it for me?"
Dean had been pulling down bottles of whiskey from the shelf behind the bar and handing them to Sam. Both stopped and watched as Zeke approached Stella.
"I suspect there's not many men who'd say no to you," Zeke replied, his voice dropping, turning husky.
"You have," Stella replied softly.
"Once or twice," Zeke conceded, stepping closer to the brothel owner. "When I was foolish enough to think about what I was doing."
At that Sam looked away, turning his back to the couple who were apparently oblivious to the fact that they had an audience. Unfortunately, by turning his back to them, he faced the mirror and it gave him a clear view of the unfolding events. He glanced up at Dean and saw that his brother also had turned his back, his chin down, his eyes up on the mirror.
"You aren't thinking now?" Stella asked, her face impassive, her stance unchanged.
Zeke shook his head. "Thinking just left me lonely," he said softly, his face tipping closer to hers.
Sam jabbed Dean in the side with two fingers as he saw his brother's lascivious grin. Dean met his eyes in the mirror and mouthed what? Shaking his head, Sam motioned for the bottle of whiskey Dean still held by the neck.
"Uh, we're gonna…y'know…go…," Sam mumbled without looking back at Zeke and Stella. He pushed Dean ahead of him toward the store room.
"Dude, they are totally—" Dean started as he strained to see over his shoulder while Sam continued to propel him forward.
"Eyes front!" Sam ordered and used Dean's shoulder to push them through the door.
Chuckling, Dean set the bottles of whiskey he'd been holding on the makeshift table where Leo's body had rested. Sam put his two bottles next to them. Dean pulled out the Colt Navy revolver from his hip holster, spun the chamber and set it down next to the whiskey bottles.
"Five shots left with this one," he said, sobering in a beat. "This gun takes lead balls and combustible paper cartridges. Gonna have to reload on the fly; not like I can fill a belt with bullets."
Sam rolled his lip against his teeth. "I have the Winchester," he said.
Sam shrugged. "I'd have to ask Zeke."
"You see any shotguns around?"
Sam shook his head. "We'd have a helluva time making rock salt rounds from a salt lick."
Dean nodded. "We need more weapons," he said softly, running his hand over his mouth. "A few Molotov cocktails and two guns against all those bad guys?"
"We'll have the water from the dam…the element of surprise…." Sam's words sounded weak even in his head.
How the hell are we gonna do this?
They stood for a moment, listening to the waterfall of voices and moving furniture from the outer room, staring in silence at their arsenal. Dean sighed and leaned both hands on the table, hanging his head low. Looking at him, Sam thought about Ramirez's warning that his brother would be weak, that strength would return, but it would return slowly.
It took him a moment to realize Dean had been talking to him.
"Sam. Earth to Sam. Sam Winchesters wears women's underwear."
"Only when I borrow it from you," Sam retorted, drawing his focus back to the present.
"So that's where it went," Dean chuckled. He'd straightened away from the table and was holding a hand loosely on his side, fingers moving casually along his ribs.
Sam sighed, glancing sideways at Dean. "You think it's weird that none of these guys really sound like they're from Texas?"
Dean huffed a small laugh, tilting his head. "Okay, left field."
"Seriously—I would've expected…I don't know, long drawls and…y'know, cowboy talk."
"Well, Bird and Rory kinda sound like that."
"Yeah, I guess."
"Y'know, Texas is barely a state, man," Dean conceded. "Most everyone here is from someplace else."
Sam bounced his elbow off of Dean's arm. "Look at you, Mr. History."
"Hey, I read."
I'm more than just a blunt instrument, Sam.
Sam didn't often give his brother credit for surviving the life they'd led. He didn't really know how to say, thanks for putting yourself between me and the bad guys. Or even thanks for being my big brother. But he needed to learn how to do that.
He needed to learn how to say thank you and make Dean believe it. They felt…thin to him. As if they were stretching hope over too great a space. He had an irrational urge to reach out and grab Dean's arm, grip it tightly and not let go.
"What's the first thing you're gonna do when we get back?" Sam asked.
"Get behind the wheel of the Impala," Dean answered immediately. "Turn her on, feel her hum, crank up the music, roll down the windows, and haul ass."
Sam couldn't hide his grin. "To where?"
"Anywhere," Dean replied. "Screw this one-horse-power shit. I miss my baby."
"Would I lose my status as your geeky brother if I said I missed her, too?"
Dean half-turned and clapped a hand on Sam's shoulder, the side of his mouth pulled back in a genuine grin. "Your rep is safe, man."
Sam was grateful when Dean left his hand for a moment. "Can we do this?" he asked softly.
Dean squeezed his fingers once, then dropped his arm to his side. "We have to."
Taking a breath Sam nodded. "Dad's never gonna believe this," he muttered.
"I've been thinking," Dean started. "This…weapon that Jake's after. If Ramirez is right…if it's here 'cause of Ivers…and if it's the reason Ivers didn't win…."
"You're thinking we bring it back with us," Sam said, his words feeling flat against his tongue.
Dean lifted a shoulder. "I'm not convinced there is such a weapon, but…well, Dad said he had a lead on a way to kill a demon…and Jake picked this time…this town…."
"I'm following you," Sam nodded. "But, Dean…things happen for a reason."
Dean snorted and turned away, pulling open drawers situated beneath the shelves of liquor and rifling through them.
"No, listen for a second," Sam crossed the room until he faced Dean's profile. "This…weapon had to've…disappeared or something…for who knows how long. Long enough that it turned into a rumor that Dad is chasing."
"We're talking about something that can kill a demon, Sam," Dean snapped, pulling out a bag of small lead balls and tossing it onto the table. He moved to the next drawer. "Assuming we can make it home…just…think about the good we could do back there with something like that!"
"Now you sound like Jake," Sam said.
Dean rolled his eyes, turning away. "Maybe Jake had a point."
"What?" Sam yipped. "He…he killed for this, Dean. He…he ruined lives to get back here for this weapon."
"I know, man, I just…," Dean pressed his lips flat, tossing something back in a drawer, his eyes down. "Zeke said it himself. These guys, in this town…they just let evil run 'em over. They didn't do a thing to stop it."
"So the hell what?" Dean turned to face his brother. "I've been scared my whole life. Everything we've ever done is to save people like them," he pointed over Sam's shoulder at the door closed between the store room and the saloon, "from things like Ivers."
Sam stared at his brother for a moment. Watching Dean fight against the inevitable, watching him struggle, and hating himself for letting it happen.
"Y'know, whether we're in…1870 Texas, or 2005 Chicago…it's all the same, isn't it?" Dean said, narrowing his eyes a bit. "It's still us against them and there's this whole world of people who don't really give a shit."
"You saying you want it to be different? You want them to know?" Sam felt his brows pull close.
"I'm saying…I want people to be accountable. I'm saying we pay a price for the choices they make. I want…I want to know it matters, dammit. All of it. Because if…if all we've done is for nothing…and people just go on living their lives like evil never walked here…," he shook his head, looking down, the fire dying out of his voice.
Dean looked up, a strange light in his eyes. "Answer me this. If you had the chance to kill the thing that killed Jess, would you do it?"
"Yes," Sam answered immediately, his gut hollowing out at the thought. "You know I would."
Dean bounced his eyebrows up, one last spark of hope.
"But," Sam said, stepping forward, one hand out imploringly, "I wouldn't change history to stop it from happening."
"You wouldn't?" Dean's face smoothed with surprise.
Sam shook his head. "Everything happens for a reason," he repeated, his lips quivering around the words.
Dean looked down. "Guess that's where we're different, Sammy."
"You'd risk everything? Risk the…the future to change one thing that you think went wrong?"
Lifting his eyes, truth shining in them bright enough to skip against Sam's heart, Dean said, "If it meant I could save someone I love…yeah. Yeah, I'd risk it."
Sam shoved a hand through his hair, real fear gripping him. "Dean, this weapon…it isn't the way…the time…I mean…what if we get back and it isn't our world anymore? What if by taking this weapon out of this time changes the course of history so much nothing we knew is there anymore?"
Dean looked down, his shoulder sagging as the weight of Sam's truth finally hammered him into submission.
"We can't risk…everything for that…we just can't, Dean."
"Yeah, I get it, okay?" Dean snapped. He met Sam's eyes, and his face softened. "I understand what you're saying, Sam."
Sam nodded, swallowing hard. He felt something pang in his heart when Dean smiled at him. It was one of the saddest things he'd ever seen.
"Woulda been nice, though, to have something…y'know…to bring home to Dad besides… possible leads."
What about us, huh? Isn't bringing us home to Dad enough, Dean?
"We gotta get back first," Sam reminded him, his heart sinking at what they would have to do to make that happen.
"Yeah," Dean nodded. "Yeah…," he repeated, softer, his eyes on the floor.
He didn't intentionally assume the task would fall to Dean, but the next question was out before Sam could stop himself. "Do you know how you're going to do it?"
Dean jerked his head up, stricken surprise on his face. Sam wanted to pull his words back, erase them from Dean's mind.
"I don't know," Dean replied honestly. "He's one of Dad's friends, y'know? I just…," his eyes clouded, hiding his heart from Sam. "We gotta get home."
Sam swallowed. "We will, Dean. We'll see Dad again."
Dean's mouth tipped up in a small, appreciative smile. "Hey, think he knows about that Devil's Trap stuff Ramirez was talking about?"
"It's in the journal," Sam pointed out. "He knows something."
"Yeah," Dean nodded. "He knows something…too bad he didn't get a chance to tell us much in Chicago."
Sam shook his head. "Whatever," he grumbled. "Not like the man doesn't have access to a phone. He's had plenty of time to tell us stuff. He just hasn't done it."
Before Dean could respond, the door behind Sam opened. He turned to see Zeke sticking his head in.
"Wondered where you boys got off to," Zeke said.
"Interesting choice of words," Dean smirked.
"Forget it," Sam covered for him. "Stella know where Larabee is?"
Zeke lifted his chin. "She does. She'll send him up toward the Mission. You ready?"
"Zeke," Sam said. "We don't have enough weapons for this."
Zeke's answering grin was slightly manic.
The new horse was bigger than Little Joe, and about as calm as Hooker, but it was uglier than sin. Sam felt his legs strain at the hip with as wide as he had to spread them to settle his feet in the stirrups. The tan, soft-brimmed hat Zeke had found for him shielded his now-pink forehead and nose from the sun, and he had to admit, he actually felt the part for the first time since they arrived.
"Okay," Zeke was saying. "You follow my lead until we get to the house."
"Yessir," Sam replied automatically, responding to the tone, not the speaker. Zeke rolled with it.
"Sam, you're our rifle man," Zeke said, stating the obvious.
Sam had the reloaded Winchester in the scabbard of his saddle, a Henry rifle strapped just behind his right leg, and another Winchester borrowed from Frost across the front of his saddle. In his saddle bags were two of the whiskey Molotov cocktails. Two more were in Dean's saddle bags, though with the way the Bitch was fidgeting beneath him, Sam wasn't sure those bottles would survive the journey to Ivers' house.
"Easy," Dean said softly, putting the flat of his hand on the horse's shoulder. He looked up, glancing quickly over at Sam. "It's gonna be okay. You're gonna do just fine."
Sam opened his mouth to reply until he realized his brother was speaking to the horse. He watched, amazed, as the animal quieted, her ears twitching back toward Dean's voice.
"You'll just slip into that bastard's lair like a…a ghost. Quiet as death and just as dangerous." Dean patted the supple, gray shoulder, then moved his fingers beneath the tangled black mane.
"That's what you should call her," Sam suggested. "Ghost."
Dean grinned, then straightened. "Would be kinda ironic, huh?"
The Colt Dean had all-but inherited from Tom O'Maera was fully loaded and resting in its holster. Big Bob and another man had donated two other revolvers and Dean had tucked them in the front and back of his waistband. When he patted the mare one last time, the afternoon sun glinted off of the firepower that surrounded him.
"Ghost," Dean said softly. "Suits you."
Sentenza arrived silently astride a small, black Mustang, a donkey laden with two boxes of dynamite followed him, a rope fixed to its halter and tied to Sentenza's saddle. Sam smiled hesitantly at the Mexican; he wasn't sure if the answering expression was a smile or a grimace, but he saw the man's face shift and nodded back before averting his eyes.
"Dean," came a small voice from the recesses of the Livery.
Sam twisted slightly in his saddle to look over his shoulder as Bird emerged, her gray eyes large and red-rimmed, her short dark hair curling up around her face in sweaty ringlets. On an unspoken cue, Sam and Zeke pulled their mounts to the side. Dean leaned down, a creak of leather accompanying his motion.
"Hey there," he greeted her softly.
Bird licked her lips and in a flash looked so achingly young that Sam felt tears burn the backs of his eyes. It was always the young that were burned deepest by the touch of evil. This man they'd declared to be not their problem had killed her father, stolen her mother and her brother, and forced her to live in fear. He knew better than anyone how deeply something like that could burn into a soul.
He knew how impossible it was to fully return from a wound like that.
"I know you're not…not an angel," Bird whispered, her voice almost adult in its husky seriousness and combating the naked need to believe in something that shone from her large eyes like a beacon. "I know that you're…you're just a person. My…Papa, he was just a person, too."
"Bird," Dean started. "I'm not gonna let Ivers do to me what…what he did to your dad."
Bird stepped forward, gripping Dean's calf. "I don't want you to die," she said softly. "But…more than I want that…I want my Mama back."
Sam blinked, pulling back slightly as Bird voiced his own secret wish buried deep within him and forgotten over the years. Dean, however, didn't move. His eyes stayed locked with Bird's, his body rigid as he leaned toward her.
"I know you do," Dean replied. "I'm gonna bring your Mom back to you, Bird."
"He won't let her go," she shook her head. "Her or Rory. He'll always have them. Here." She pointed to her head. "He'll hurt them forever."
"Aw, dammit, kid…," Dean breathed.
"But he can't hurt them…if he's dead," Bird finished.
Promise me…. Sam remembered her voice the last time they'd ridden away from her. Promise me….
"I hear you, Hannah," Dean said, gripping the girl's attention with the use of that name. "I hear you."
Taking another moment to pin Dean with her soulful eyes, Bird nodded, then glanced at the other two men. Zeke tipped a finger to the brim of his hat; Sam offered her a small smile. Wiping her face with the back of her hand, Bird simply blinked at them, then turned and walked with stiff-backed resilience into the Livery.
Dean's voice was rough, edges of sound turning to ash against Sam's ears.
"Yeah?" Sam replied, hearing the same pain echoed there.
"I wanna take this son of a bitch down."
Sam nodded, finding it hard to swallow around the lump lodged in his throat.
It knows I'm gonna kill it. Not just exorcise it or send it back to hell—actually kill it.
His father's declaration echoing in his memory, Sam looked at Zeke, noting edge that cut across the man's eyes. He looked over his shoulder at The Beacon and the small group of resistant town's people he could see clustered together through the window.
He turned finally and met his brother's bright eyes. "Me too."
Dean gathered the mare's reins in his hand and pulled the horse around. "Let's remind this demon what Hell is like."
a/n: Storm's coming. Next chapter is gonna be hell…so to speak.
Continued in Part 8 here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/85764.html