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.
"It's done," Zeke was saying, panting as he tossed the branding iron back into the fireplace. "It's all over."
Dean was shaking.
He'd never heard Sam make a sound like that before. That strangled kill me now scream.
He wondered if he'd sounded anything like that when they'd poured the Holy Water over his wounds. Sam was pliant in his arms and Dean was relieved. He knew Sam needed the healing rest and honestly, he needed a minute. It was all too much; Sam was not supposed to be this limp, this still, this pale. Sam was not supposed to scream like that.
Sam was not supposed to be bleeding, branded, broken.
"He gonna be okay?" Dean asked, listening to the razorblades of his voice slice against the air.
Zeke nodded tiredly. "Keep the wound covered. Don't let it get infected. He should be fine."
"Here," Kate said, crouching next to them.
Dean saw she'd been crying and found himself wanting to apologize to her for having to be part of all of this. She handed Zeke another strip of her petticoat. Dean wondered if she had any of it left. Zeke carefully wrapped the sealed wound on Sam's leg until it was thoroughly covered.
"We have to get out of here," Zeke said softly, his eyes on Sam's pale face.
"How?" Dean asked. "He can't ride."
Zeke rubbed his forehead, then glanced at Jake. "He might have to."
Dean frowned, watching their friend. "What aren't you telling me?"
Zeke looked back at him, his eyes tracking to the cut on his head. He reached for it with a piece of petticoat. Dean knocked his hand away. Zeke scowled, his expression clearly stating he was unimpressed with Dean's stubbornness.
"I made it in here just as Ivers and a few others rode out—toward the Mission," Zeke informed him.
"You said Larabee was there, right?"
Zeke nodded. "Yeah, he's there. Protecting Ramirez."
"What about his friends that showed up?" Dean asked. "They still alive?"
"Far as I could tell."
"They probably went to back up Larabee at the Mission, then," Dean surmised, shifting Sam's boneless form against him to get a better hold.
Zeke looked at him for a moment, then said. "I can't leave them to fight him alone, Dean," he said softly. "I gotta be there."
Dean looked down at his brother's closed eyes, still face; he felt the responsibility of Sam's full weight heavy against him. He glanced over at Jake who was finally free of the bindings and simply standing there, body hunched in instinctive protection of his burned chest, watching them.
"It could be all over for us," Dean said softly, feeling exhausted emotion choke off the strength of his words. "I could…I could get Sam home."
"I know," Zeke replied. "I know."
For a heartbeat of time, nothing was said. Then Kate stood, using the wall for support.
"I need to get to my children," she said softly. Dean lifted burning eyes to her. "I don't understand any of this. Not one bit," she shook her head, "but I hope you make it home. Wherever that is."
Zeke glanced once at Sam, then back down at the ground. "Dean…." His eyes were sunken into his face, despair and helplessness evident in his expression. "I gotta see this through," he said finally.
He stood, joints popping with the motion, face drawn with regret. Slowly, he turned to follow Kate from the room. Dean felt as if time were slowing as he heard his own heartbeat slamming hard inside of him.
What if this is the way it was all supposed to happen?
He hurt. He was scared.
Sam lay unconscious in his arms.
But he couldn't let Zeke walk away.
What if we were the ones to defeat Ivers all along?
Dean closed his eyes, feeling Sam's weight against him, feeling the slow ticks of pain in his own body, feeling the world shift around him.
You have to promise me something…Ivers has my Mama up at the house…I ain't leavin' until she does…This is our fight…I think it's time we finished it…if you promise, I'll believe you….
He couldn't leave these people to fight a demon alone. Ramirez was right: he was a part of this now. Whether he liked it or not.
"Wait," he called. Zeke stopped, turning to face him with almost comedic eagerness. "Will you…can you help me…get Sam?"
"You got it," Zeke said quickly, his face smoothing as he quickly crossed the room.
"I, uh, can't lift him offa me," Dean grunted as he tried to push Sam gently forward.
"What about Jake?" Zeke asked as he cradled Sam against him, allowing Dean to slide free.
Jake looked at Dean. "Yeah. What about me?"
Dean spared the older hunter a derisive glance. "You're coming with us. You started this mess. You can help end it."
"Hey, I didn't start—"
"Shut up!" Zeke and Dean shouted together.
Zeke took one of Sam's arms, hefting the lanky hunter up and over his shoulder. Dean grabbed the discarded Colt Sam had used to shoot the fat man, then grasped the wall and the stones from the fireplace to help pull himself to his feet. The world tilted crazily for a moment and then reluctantly settled, his perception dialed a little too bright, alerting him to the fact that movement was going to be an interesting adventure. He felt each bruise, each place his body had forcefully impacted the wall, ceiling, and floor as he walked forward.
His vision blurred with every other step and his head pounded. As he passed Jake, he reached out and jerked the borrowed Colt from the older man's grasp, practically willing the hunter to resist. He was in the mood to be mean.
Jake simply released the weapon and followed behind.
As they reached the top of the stairs, Dean found himself wondering about the fire. It should have eaten through half of the house by now. Frowning, he followed Kate and Zeke down the stairs, keeping an eye on Sam swaying over Zeke's shoulder as he did.
Just smoke…no fire…what the hell?
"Did Ivers' men put out the fire?" Dean finally asked, swallowing as the smoke tickled the back of his bruised throat.
Zeke frowned, looking as confused as Dean felt. "I don't know," he said, glancing back toward the back end of the large house.
Dean followed his glance and saw a heavy door beneath the staircase separating the front entrance where they stood with the back end of the house. He moved toward it, cocking his head to the side, listening. He could hear what sounded like…popcorn popping. He put his hand on the door and felt an unmistakable surge of heat.
In an instant, scenes from multiple movies flashed through his memory. He looked down and saw smoke curling under the door and stepped back hurriedly.
"Go," he said, waving to Zeke. "Go, the fire's in there—on the other side of that door."
"But—" Zeke started.
"Just go!" Dean ordered. "First bad guy that opens that door is gonna be blown to kingdom come, I promise you."
Frowning, Zeke hurried to the front door and stepped through as Kate opened it. Jake followed and Dean was the last one out, staring around the ruined yard in a fair amount of awe.
"Look what we did," he said softly, gaping at the chaos of the trampled corral, ruined bunkhouse, and at least a half dozen prone bodies.
"Ivers' men are gonna do worse if we don't get moving," Zeke said. "It looks like everyone's gone…or dead."
They moved through the muck of red mud. Zeke whistled a sharp, three-note call and Dean saw Sam flinch from his position over Zeke's shoulder. Hooker appeared out of nowhere. Trailing behind him was the gray mare and Sam's big horse.
"Looks like the saddle stopped the bullet," Dean said, relieved that they had at least these three horses. "Gimme a sec to climb on and then you can help me with Sam."
"I'll hold Sam," Zeke said, shaking his head. Dean opened his mouth to protest, but Zeke cut him off. "I can tell just by looking at you that you're barely hanging on, Dean. Let me help you. I'll get your brother back safely."
Dean closed his mouth, looking at Sam's pliant form hanging limply over Zeke's strong shoulder. He didn't really have much choice; his first priority was making sure Sam was okay. His pride could come in second this time.
"Fine," he snapped, narrowing his eyes at the saloon owner. "But you better hang onto him. Kate, you ride with me."
Kate nodded silently, her focus clearly on getting the hell out of there and back to her kids. Jake wordlessly swung up on Sam's horse, his quiet obedience worrisome to Dean. He hadn't said a word about the disfiguring wound on his bare chest; once more, all he seemed focused on was the weapon—that was apparently in the possession of Rory O'Maera.
He didn't allow himself to think much about it, though, as he pulled his weary body up into the Ghost's saddle. Kate effortlessly swung up behind him. They turned their mounts toward the Mission and weren't more than thirty yards away when the world behind them exploded.
Dean and Kate instinctively ducked, the mare hopped, bucked, and jumped, nearly unseating her riders. Dean darted his eyes quickly forward to see Zeke's broad back covering Sam's slumped one as splinters of wood rained down around them. Straightening, gasping, holding the mare as still as he could, he hazarded a look over his shoulder and saw the large house light up in a fireball, flames and smoke billowing out from the windows on both floors.
He thought of the fat man they'd left tied up in the room and of Kate's venom as she pulled the knots tight. It was hard to muster up much sympathy.
"Guess not everyone was gone," Zeke called back to him.
The ranch was destroyed. There was no home, no men, no horses. Nothing to indicate that this was a place that could be owned, possessed. Dean wondered with a blush of raw hope if that was enough to break the hold Ivers had on the five locations.
Maybe it doesn't matter if he gets the Mission anymore….
It didn't change anything, though, he knew. There was still a man to save from a demon and a town to protect in their efforts at resistance of evil. He kicked the Ghost into a run behind Zeke and Jake, heading directly for San Jose de Valero. He tried to keep an eye on his brother's slumped form, worried for the moment Sam woke with Zeke behind him and not Dean, but after awhile, it was all he could do to stay astride the anxious mare.
His body wasn't cooperating with his need to be superhuman. He hadn't been fully healed from the Daeva attack; Ivers beating was taking its toll. He didn't register exactly when Kate let go of his waist and reached around him to hold the reins; he only realized that she'd done so when they pulled up to an exhausted stop in front of the Mission.
The ground around the stucco and wood structure was torn up; evidence of a battle was held in the bullet holes and broken fence that the starlight easily exposed. Dean saw that Bird's make-shift herb garden was destroyed and part of the barn had been burned away.
"Where is everyone," Dean heard Sam asking.
His spirits immediately picked up at the sound of his brother's voice—despite the weariness held tight inside the words. Sam was awake. Sam was alive. Anything was possible. He took the reins back from Kate, squaring his shoulders.
"You okay, Sammy?"
"Peachy," Sam grumbled. "You?"
"'Bout the same," he replied, though he was willing to bet Sam was in a unique world of hurt; he didn't want to imagine what it felt like to have a cauterized wound rubbing against a saddle—regardless of padding.
"Figured," Sam replied.
"Ramirez?" Zeke called, bringing them back to point.
"I am here," came Ramirez's voice.
The slim priest emerged from the shadow of the arched Mission doorway.
"Ivers?" Zeke asked.
"He…paid us a visit," Ramirez nodded. "We were prepared."
"Where'd he go?" Dean asked.
"Town," Ramirez informed them. "He was led to believe I was there."
"Who led him to believe that?" Sam asked.
Behind Ramirez, Dean saw Chris Larabee standing in the open doorway, leaning casually against the edge. He would have been irritated by the gunslinger's nonchalance if he didn't think the man looked so bad-ass.
"I might've said something," Larabee drawled.
"You think about warning the town he was coming?" Kate asked from behind Dean.
Larabee straightened at the sound of her voice and Dean saw his bright eyes track to her. He tipped his chin down. "Yes, ma'am. I did. Sent a couple of friends down ahead of him as…well, decoys."
"How many friends you got?" Zeke exclaimed.
"Enough," Larabee commented dryly.
"You had Ivers follow your friends?" Dean concluded.
"What about the ones at Ivers' ranch?" Sam asked.
Larabee nodded. "They went on ahead to join in the fun. I stayed back here to make sure Pablo was covered."
"The ranch is gone," Dean said, looking at Ramirez. "Blew up."
"You…blew it up?" Ramirez stepped away from the mission into the starlight.
Dean nodded. "If it's gone, and you chased him away from the Mission…he can't—" he stopped, feeling Kate shift behind him, remembering Sam's plea to keep them innocent. "He can't do what…he was planning…y'know…to do."
Ramirez looked down, a frown shadowing his face. "This could very well be true. If you've destroyed one of the points, and we've denied him another…."
"He doesn't know that, though," Zeke pointed out. "He wants Ramirez. And he aims to get him."
Dean swallowed, nodding. The town was in trouble. Those people were about to be in the fight of their lives. He looked at Sam hunched over in Hooker's saddle. He couldn't see his brother's face clearly, but he felt his resolve bridging the distance between them.
"Okay, let's—" Dean's order was interrupted by noise of a high-pitched whinny and the clatter of hooves departing into the night.
He looked around, confused at first.
"Jake!" Zeke called out.
"Son of a bitch!" Dean exclaimed at the dust trail. "He's going after that goddamn weapon."
"We have to get there first," Sam exclaimed.
"Think you can make it, Sam?" Zeke asked.
Dean's eyes flew to his brother profile.
"I'll make it," Sam stated, false bravado securely in place and ready to challenge anyone who dared said differently.
Dean looked back at Larabee. "Thanks, man."
Larabee put a finger to his hat brim. "Anytime."
The ride to town was a blur for Dean. He had no energy left to be worried for Sam's pain. He could only work to block out his own and focus on two things: how they were going to stop Ivers and how he was going to kill Jake. He had no clear plan for how they were going to accomplish either one.
And he hated not having a plan.
The noise from the fire fight greeted them before they'd reached the back end of the town. Immediately, Dean saw that the Livery was on fire.
"Dammit!" He cursed, trying to control the frightened mare as they approached the burning structure. "Bird!"
"My Bird?" Kate cried from behind him. "She's in there?"
Dean felt cold, helpless fear slip through his bloodstream the likes of which he hadn't felt since the spirit had trapped Sam in their home in Lawrence, shutting him out with a slam of the front door.
"No!" Zeke shook his head, pinning Dean with his eyes. "No, Dean. Listen! Listen!"
At first Dean's fear clouded him to the logic of Zeke's demand. But then he realized what the man meant: he couldn't hear any frightened whinnies or crashes emanating from the interior of the structure. Dean surmised that the horses had either been freed or were being used. And if the horses were free….
"She's in the saloon," Zeke declared. "With Rory. Has to be."
Hoping the saloon owner was right, Dean followed him to the blacksmith's shop, three buildings down from the burning Livery. Shouts and gunfire echoed off the seemingly-abandoned buildings of the town, the burning Livery tossing specters of shadows along the walls. The majority of the chaos seemed to be focused on the main street and the saloon, just as they'd hoped it would be.
At least something's working in our favor.
The grey mare danced in place, the flames working her up. Hooker, however, lived up to his status of a war vet and stood still as Zeke dismounted, easing Sam off and catching him as Sam's wounded leg buckled beneath him.
Dean swallowed as his gut jumped at the sight of his brother's pain. He helped Kate slide off the back of the Ghost and then dismounted, taking Hooker's reins and moving stiffly to the hitching rail in front of the shop, tying both horses there.
Any of the natural fluidity of movement Dean prided himself on was gone. In its place was a stiff-gaited lurch that telegraphed pain to anyone that looked his way. Sam stood next to Zeke, his arm across the saloon owner's shoulder.
The brothers nodded at each other and Dean offered Sam a small smile, sliding into that expression every small moment of hope he could muster.
"I know," Sam whispered back.
Their voices hushed and hurried, wanting to be ready, but not wanting to draw attention, the battered warriors huddled quickly, gathering weapons as shouts, breaking glass, and quick pops of gunfire sounded in the distance over the roar of the flames eating through the Livery.
Zeke gave Dean a revolver. "I lost everything else back at Ivers."
Dean held up the Colt he'd taken from Ivers' place. "I have this."
"One shot down."
"Give it to Kate," Zeke instructed.
Dean glanced at the slim woman who was tying her long hair back in a twisted knot at the base of her neck. "You know how to use one of these?"
Kate lifted an eyebrow, her eyes saying words he doubted she'd ever speak out loud.
"Okay, then," he whispered, handing over the weapon as an act of apology.
"What about me?" Sam asked.
"You just stay upright, kid," Zeke instructed. "Though, I do wish we had that Henry rifle."
"Was the Henry on the saddle of the big horse?" Kate asked.
"Yeah," Dean grumbled. "That Jake rode off with."
"That big horse right there?" Kate asked, pointing past them to a horse wandering, rider less, down the street, away from the flames.
Zeke moved quickly. Handing Sam over to his brother, he jogged down the street, catching the reins of the horse. Dean hefted Sam's weight, trying to take as much pressure off of Sam's wounded leg as possible, and watched as Zeke tied the horse, then pulled a rifle free from the saddle scabbard.
Jogging back, he said, "Jake must've taken the other one."
Dean handed the revolver to Sam, then took the rifle. Thus armed, they hobbled, limped and loped toward the rear entrance of the saloon. Zeke paused at the door.
"When we get in, Kate, you find Rory and Bird. Don't worry about anything else."
She nodded, looking behind her to the brothers. "Good luck," she whispered.
"You, too," Dean said.
Zeke looked at Dean. "If this works…."
Dean felt a torrent of words catch against the back of his throat, fighting against each other for dominance. At the behest of no one and with the encouragement of nothing but his own conscience, this man had joined their fight, made it his own. This man had put himself at risk, had saved him—saved Sam.
No matter what he said in this moment, it wouldn't be enough.
Zeke swallowed, his hazel eyes slipping from Dean's face to Sam's, then back again, filled with a symphony of unspoken sentiment. "Well, it's been interesting."
"We're gonna miss you, too," Sam said quietly.
"Zeke," Dean said quickly. "Thanks…thanks for saving our lives."
Zeke tossed him a half-crazy, half-genuine grin. "Something tells me I was doing everyone a favor."
"Let's roll," Dean said.
Zeke opened the door and led the way into the firefight.
He'd never once pictured himself in such a situation. But here he was, and he was determined to survive.
Moving through the back room where Leo's body had once lain, the foursome stepped through the door and Sam almost choked on the smell of gunpowder and blood. It was impossible to tell where everyone was at first, but as Dean tightened his grip and brought them both down into a crouch, his vision cleared and he saw his way through the smoke.
The big mirror behind the bar was shattered and sprinkled across the floor of the saloon, light from the lanterns reflecting off the slivers and dancing around the room. The front windows were broken out, the red and green letters that had once boldly depicted the name of the saloon were now tattered bits of color along the boardwalk and the tables being used as cover. A few people lay prone and still, their bodies pulled to the side of the room. Sam saw Frost among them and he felt a pang of remorse for this man's death.
Sam's leg refused to hold him, shooting electric bolts of hot pain up through his hip and into the base of his skull each time he tried to put weight on it. Dean seemed to instinctively pick up on how to hold him, shoving his sturdy body beneath Sam's shoulder and tucking his hip against Sam's side.
As they found temporary shelter along the side of the large wooden bar, Sam saw several men he'd not encountered before—and hadn't seen among the small group of Sulfur Spring resistance fighters earlier that day—tucked up against windows, firing through the broken glass. Big Bob was near the door, Stella in the far corner, a rifle in her hands. The deafening noise stuttered for a moment as the embattled townspeople rolled for cover and reloaded.
The brothers moved through the melee to find cover behind one of the tables. They dropped down, side by side, their backs to the outside, facing the destroyed interior of the saloon. He'd lost sight of Zeke, and peered through the smoke.
Sam craned his neck just in time to see Bird fling her little body directly at Kate. He swallowed hard as he saw Kate wrap her up and duck into the shelter of the bar. He could hear the woman's happy sobs.
"Are you okay, baby? Are you hurt? Let me see…let me see you."
"I'm okay," Bird assured her breathlessly. "I'm okay, Mama. Sentenza took care of me. He watched over me, until Dean came."
"Until Dean came?" Kate asked, voice thick with tears.
"He ain't an angel," Bird sniffed. "But he kept his promise."
Rory dashed from the protection of a window, finding his way to his family. Sam was surprised to see a rifle in his hands and not the old Colt he'd been charged with protecting. Remembering Jake's words, he glanced quickly around, but didn't see the Colt lying discarded in the melee.
"Good," Dean breathed. "Least we did one thing right."
Sam looked at his brother and saw Dean's eyes were wet as he watched Kate kiss her son's face while maintaining a firm grip on her daughter. Bird darted her head out from the protection of her mother's arms long enough to find Dean with her eyes. Sam watched her mouth thank you and looked back in time to see Dean's answering smile.
The moment of peace was not to last, however.
As the brothers watched the small reunion, Ivers' men were reloading. Another volley of gunfire swept through the saloon sending people ducking for cover and Sam saw a man he'd played poker with flinch and fall beneath the hail of bullets. He brought his weapon around and fired two rounds blindly through the window behind them.
"Send out the priest!" Ivers bellowed.
"Go to hell!" replied a man wearing a colorful brocade vest and sporting a gold tooth, a Southern drawl evident even in just those few words. Sam had never seen him before.
One of Larabee's friends? He wondered.
Dean exchanged a look with Sam. "This is not going well," he said.
"You see Jake?"
Dean shook his head.
"Send him out, or the Mexican dies!" Ivers declared.
Sam felt the room full of people take a collective breath as everyone glanced around them in puzzlement. Firing ceased; murmuring began.
"No! Sentenza!" Bird's heartbroken cry was like a bucket of cold water on the room.
"Son of a bitch," Zeke growled from somewhere off to the side of the main doors.
Sam looked up to see Zeke crouched next to Stella, hurriedly reloading his pistol. He watched as Dean peeked over the edge of their cover to look outside.
"He has Sentenza," Dean confirmed.
"What the hell?" Zeke snapped. "How'd he get ahold of him?"
"He…he was going for help," Stella informed them in a low voice.
"Is Sentenza okay?" Sam asked Dean.
"I can't tell," Dean said. "He looks like he's unconscious."
"Really, what's one more scar," Ivers was saying as his voice drew closer to the saloon. "The man isn't really much to look at, is he?"
Dean sagged for a moment, his face pinched with worry. "I can only see about four other guys out there."
"Lot of bullets for five men," Sam muttered.
Dean looked toward the back of the room. "I know…."
"You let him go!" Bird screamed, her voice desperate.
Sam looked at the O'Maeras huddled together in the shadow of the heavy, wooden bar. Kate gripped the girl tighter, trying to hush her.
"Is that…a child?" Ivers almost laughed.
Dean twisted once more, keeping his body covered by the table, peering out through the broken front window. Sam pushed himself to his good knee to see what Dean was seeing. Ivers had wrapped a cloth around his neck where Dean stabbed him. He was holding Sentenza against him like a human shield, a gun at his temple. The mute Mexican looked as if he might already be dead, until Sam saw him slowly roll his head.
"You'd rather risk a child than this priest?" Ivers asked. "Don't you see? You send out Ramirez, I get what I want…and then we're all happy. I can bring you peace, people!"
"That ain't true!" Rory shouted, standing and cocking the rifle in his hands. Kate looked beside herself trying to rein in her willful children. "You're gonna kill everyone. I heard you say it!"
Ivers stepped up to the boardwalk, Sentenza in his arms, a revolver pointed at the man's head. The four men that had been flanking him closed ranks and stayed in the street, their weapons raised. Shocking all inside except Zeke, Kate and the brothers, Ivers lifted a hand and slammed the saloon doors back against the wall, stepping boldly through with Sentenza as his shield.
"You're right, of course," he said calmly. "I am going to kill you all. But, then you'll be at peace."
"You bastard!" Bird yelled. Kate wrapped her arms tightly around the girl.
"Such language," Ivers shook his head, his cold eyes finding Kate and Bird easily. "Kate, I really thought you'd teach your daughter better."
"At least she tells the truth," Rory said.
Ivers leveled dark eyes on Rory. "She'll have a special place in Heaven, then," he snarled, backing the boy down.
"Dean," Sam hissed, nodding to the other side of the room. In the group of bodies where Sam had seen Frost, there was movement. "Look."
"Son of a bitch," Dean whispered. "It's Jake."
Sam looked again and saw the older hunter rise from the floor and try to move, undetected, around to flank Ivers. Dean frowned, thumping his back against the table in frustration.
"What the hell is he doing?"
"I don't know, but he's gonna get Sentenza killed," Dean whispered back, drawing his legs under him.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"I can't just sit here," Dean snapped.
And in that moment, Sam knew what his brother was about to do. He reached out to stop him, but before either of them could move, Bird finally broke free of her mother's grasp and darted forward, desperate to get to the person who'd been her protector all this time.
"NO!" Kate's cry was ripped from her heart as she reached for Bird.
Time seemed to stutter, both moving too fast to absorb and too slow to react. Looking back, Sam remembered taking a breath in that moment and then couldn't recall breathing again until it was all over.
Bird rushed toward Sentenza. Ivers lowered the weapon he'd been training on Sentenza's head to track the slim figure of the girl. Dean dropped the Henry rifle and sprang up from the protection of the table, moving faster than Sam thought possible, and ran for Bird.
Without stopping, Dean scooped up the little girl, the bullet from Ivers' gun burying itself harmlessly into the base of the bar. His momentum carrying him across the length of the room, Dean hit the floor and Sam heard him cry out with the impact before he rolled away, his body curled around Bird's.
Before Sam could force his wounded body to react, Zeke took advantage of the distraction and launched for Sentenza, pulling the wounded Mexican free from Ivers' grip and diving clear from another bullet fired from Ivers' gun.
Sam grabbed the Henry rifle, pushing up on his good knee and without pausing to think, fired at Ivers. A volley of gunfire echoed his. The sound was deafening, filling the saloon with declarations of rebellion, defiance.
Ivers' body jerked as bullets from half a dozen guns burrowed into and through him.
When he fell through the doorway of the saloon, the ensuing quiet roared across Sam's ears. Shaken, he tracked his gaze from Ivers' body around the saloon, seeing Stella lowering a revolver, Big Bob holding a rifle, two men Sam had played poker with and two others Sam didn't recognize holstering their weapons, Kate dropping the weapon Dean had given her, and Rory gripping his rifle. He didn't see Jake anywhere.
Sam sank forward, catching himself on his free hand, his leg screaming at him.
Rory dropped his rifle with a clatter, his face ashen. "Bird?" he called out in a weak voice, his eyes searching for his sister's petite form.
"'M okay," came the muffled reply.
Sam shot his eyes over to his brother. He could see Dean's back; he wasn't moving.
"I think…I think he's okay," Bird replied.
"Dean!"Sam barked, fear turning his voice sharp. "Answer me."
Slowly, as if he were using someone else's body and not his own, Dean rolled to his back, freeing Bird. The little girl popped forward, then wrapped her arms around Dean, helping him sit up. Dean looked over at Sam and swallowed.
"You okay?" Sam pressed.
"It's been a helluva week," Dean said softly.
Kate's strangled scream wiped the relieved grin from Sam's face and he and Dean twisted in unison to see Ivers mirroring Dean's stiff movements: rolling to his side and awkwardly gaining his feet. Every person in the room who had bravely stood against the man shrank back in horror at the reality of the evil.
Ivers' eyes were solid black. Blood poured from the multiple bullet holes that had felled him. And his expression was one of cold fury.
"I've been patient," Ivers said in a low, dead voice as he looked around at the people in the saloon. "I've played by your rules. More or less."
Sam watched as Zeke backed up, holding the still-unconscious Sentenza in his arms, herding Stella behind him toward the group of men by the bar. He turned to see Kate push Rory behind her, her eyes pinned to her daughter, who was across the room. He looked back at Dean and saw his brother struggling to gain his feet, lurching with fatigue.
"But I'm starting to think you people don't appreciate the tolerance I've shown you!" Ivers bellowed. "So, now we play by my rules!"
The men who'd stood in the street behind Ivers began to back up until Sam could no longer see them. The firelight from the Livery tossed disorienting shadows on an empty street and suddenly he wasn't in a firefight. And this wasn't the Old West. And there was nothing surreal about this moment.
He was a hunter facing off a demon. He was doing his job, what his father had trained him to do. It just so happened to be taking place in the middle of a saloon.
"I want that fuckin' priest, and I'm going to take each of you apart, piece by piece, until I get him," he growled, his voice tripping down a couple of octaves. "Starting with you."
He flung his hand out toward Dean, who was standing more-or-less upright near the center of the room, Bird tucked behind him. The demon curled his fingers into a fist. Sam gasped as Dean cried out, his body bowing backwards as it was yanked across the floor, away from Bird. Sam saw the young girl reach out, fingers digging into Dean's calf, trying to pull him back toward her.
Ivers brought his hand toward him and Dean came with it as if tied to an invisible string.
"Dean!" Sam yelled.
Dean's eyes rolled closed and Ivers tightened his fist, his scarred face showing delight as Dean cried out, helplessly.
"No!" Sam breathed, bringing up the Henry rifle, knowing it wouldn't stop the demon, but desperate to do something to stop his brother's pain.
"Ivers!" Jake's voice was a shock of sound in the suffocating quiet of the room.
Sam's eyes flew to the shadows of the room near the stairs that led up to Stella's brothel. Jake stood there, his shirt clinging to his wounded chest with blood too fresh to be from the pentagram branding, his eyes wild with pain and insanity, his body solid and still as he held Rory's ancient Colt on Ivers.
"I told you I was here to watch you die," Jake said.
Before Ivers had time to mock him, Jake pulled the trigger.
The bullet slammed into the side of Ivers' skull and the demon collapsed, dropping Dean into a crumbled heap. Bird immediately ran to him, tearfully tugging his shoulders upward and wrapping her arms around his neck.
Sam began to crawl to his brother, his wounded leg dragging uselessly behind him. Just before he got to Dean, he stopped to watch in arrested shock as Ivers' skeleton glowed a bright orange, his eyes lit up unnaturally, his ears smoked, and his body shook.
It was as if the bullet fired from that weapon had lit the demon on fire from the inside.
Trapped by the unreal reality he was bearing witness to, Sam reached out blindly for Dean and found his brother reaching back instinctively. Their eyes were pinned to the body before them, shocked by the realization that they were watching a demon die.
In moments, Ivers stopped twitching. And he didn't move again.
No one spoke. Sam barely dared to breathe.
Dean's fingers curled against Sam's shirt, the tremble there not of weakness or fear, but of exhausted relief.
"Is…is he dead?" Bird finally asked.
"Yeah, kid," Dean rasped, using his grip on Sam's wrist to pull himself to a sitting position. "He's dead."
Bird released her hold on Dean's neck. The brothers sat very still, breathing in tandem as they stared in disbelief at the body of a demon. Sam heard the shuffle of boots against the gritty wood floor and saw Rory O'Maera crouch next to his sister, pulling her slim body to him and wrapping his arms around her. Sam felt Dean flinch as the girl finally gave in to tears, sobbing quietly against her brother's chest.
The slam of a door snapped Sam's attention away from Ivers' body.
"Oh, shit," he looked at Dean with a sickening realization. "Jake."
Dean's eyes caught his and in them Sam saw time slipping through their grasp. If they lost Jake now….
"We have to go after him," Dean said.
"He went out this way…out the back," Zeke called to them from his position near the stairs that led up to Stella's brothel. "C'mon, I'll help you."
"No," Dean shook his head, looking over at their friend. "You've done enough, man."
Sam watched as he looked over at Stella who was huddled on the floor, holding Sentenza, then at Bird who was tucked against her brother's chest, her tear-streaked face peering back at them. Kate moved from the shadow of the big bar and found her children, sinking to her knees behind them and pulling them close to her.
Lifting his eyes back up to Zeke's, Dean said, "You take care of them. We got it."
Sam knew what his brother was thinking. If they found Jake…and if they figured out how to get home…there was no way they were going to risk taking anyone back with them. It seemed too fast, too soon. They'd been through so much with these people just to walk away from them.
But walking away was the only chance he and Dean had.
Dean got to his knees, then with a groan and a grimace pushed to his feet reaching down for Sam. Grasping his brother's forearm, Sam allowed himself to be tugged upwards until he was basically on his feet, listing away from his throbbing, wounded leg. They leaned against each other, neither having enough strength to stand on their own, both determined not to fall.
In unison, they faced Zeke. Sam swallowed as the saloon owner stared back at them, a revolver in one hand, a rifle in the other. Swallowing audibly, his lips pressed tight against words Sam imagined he wanted to say, Zeke nodded at them, then moved aside, allowing them space to pass. Sam moved forward, clutching his brother with a desperate grip.
"Hey," Dean called, pausing and looking back over his shoulder.
Sam saw Zeke lift his chin in question.
"Take care of my horse," Dean implored him.
Zeke's mouth twitched in an appreciative grin and he saluted Dean with the barrel of a familiar-looking weapon before the brothers turned once more toward the back door. Sam's heart was beating a tricky cadence.
This is it.
They had to find Jake and they had to make a decision.
"Jake!" Dean called out as they stepped through the doors of the saloon into the Texas night. Light from what seemed like a billion stars turned the empty side street silver. "Where the hell are you?"
"He was bleeding pretty badly," Sam said. "He couldn't have gone far."
"Sam…," Dean started as they lurched down the boardwalk. "If we're gonna make it home…."
"I know," Sam said, his throat closing around the words. After so much death…there was still one more. "Jake!"
"Stop yellin' already," came a voice from the shadows.
Sam stumbled, grabbing Dean for support. Dean went to his knees under Sam's weight. And they were suddenly eye to eye with Jake Brand.
He'd fallen into an alley behind the saloon, then apparently dragged himself up against the side of the building. The brothers crawled to either side of him, peering at his pale face. Shadows from the dying fire dancing across all three of them. Sam saw that the entire front of Jake's chest was black with blood.
"God, Jake…," he murmured, easily able to imagine the pain the man must be in now that he knew what it felt like to be shot.
"Don't hurt much…anymore. Caught a bullet when the fighting first started. Thought I was dead. Guess…guess I still had some fire in me," Jake chuckled weakly. "I can tell you, though…if you have the choice…being shot hurts a helluva lot less than being branded."
Says you, Sam thought.
"Jake," Dean asked, resting a hand on the man's shoulder. "Where's the weapon? The…the Colt?"
Jake swallowed. "Y'know…it's funny. My plan to get back…I thought I could do it all again. I thought I could kill again…. Keep moving through time…. Take these sonsabitches out one by one…. Maybe Max and Leo…maybe they were right. Maybe I ain't some bad-ass killer."
Sam felt his heart twist.
"I…wanted to make it right…for m'boy," Jake wheezed. "Couldn't save him…."
"Jake," Sam leaned forward. "You saved us. All of us."
Jake's cough was wet and Sam realized the man was trying to laugh.
"Fuckin' ironic, ain't it?" Jake coughed. "All this…just to find that Colt…and now…."
"Jake," Dean pressed. "Where is it?"
"I left it," Jake rasped. "I gave it to…to the doc." He looked toward Sam. "The one that fixed you up."
"Zeke?" Dean asked, surprised.
Sam blinked, remembering the weapons Zeke'd held when they passed him, wondering if the man had any idea what it was he held in his hands.
Jake nodded. "Figured…if anyone could protect it…it'd be him."
Sam looked at his brother. Dean's face was tight and pale in the silver glow of the stars. He grimaced as he pulled apart Jake's shirt and sympathy rolled through his expression as he exposed the older hunter's wounds to the night.
"Jesus, Jake…all this…all this pain…for nothing." Dean shook his head, his voice choked.
"No…not nothing," Jake whispered. "I killed a demon. I killed the thing that took my son away from me. I…I was cursed…used the blood of another man's…another man's son. But, I killed the bastard. I did it for Sean. Eye for an eye. My…my boy can be at peace now."
Sam swallowed, thinking of John, of the look of utter relief in his father's eyes when they first glimpsed him standing at the window in the hotel room in Chicago. He suddenly, desperately missed his dad.
Jake exhaled slowly, a wet rattle in his chest. Sam looked at Dean and saw his brother's chin tremble. He realized what was causing the look of sick understanding to claim Dean's expression: Jake had taken the decision out of Dean's hands.
His foolhardy—yet heroic—actions had claimed his life and with that, he would send them home.
Where will we land? What if we're not together? What if what happened to Leo happens to us?
"You boys…you tell your Dad…," Jake whispered. "You tell him…to hang on to you…. Nothing…nothing as strong as family."
"You got it, Jake," Dean promised, pressing his hand on the man's mangled chest, Jake's blood coating his palm and bubbling up between his fingers.
Sam found that it was suddenly hard to breathe. He felt the hairs on his neck stand up.
Oh, God, this is it.
He reached out, and placed his hand on top of Dean's, Jake's blood smearing between his brother's fingers to run down Sam's hand. Looking at Dean, he saw that his brother's eyes were already on him.
Sam was suddenly afraid. To his bones afraid.
The first time he hadn't known what was happening. This time he knew not only what to expect but what to fear. And he almost pulled his hand away.
He almost let go.
But electricity had begun to snap around them, humming between them, turning his skin into a live wire and rushing the blood through his veins.
He meant to take a breath. He meant to say something to Dean. Good luck. Good bye. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for being my brother.
But before he could open his mouth, he felt Jake's breath leave his body and with that surrender, time sparked and Sam's world turned white, Dean's eyes an image burned into the back of his brain before everything stopped.
Time, breath, heartbeat, meaning.
And then in a dizzying rush, a vortex of truth folded around him and the ripping sensation of being eaten by silk teeth tore through him and he was suddenly overwhelmed with images of everyone he'd ever loved and everything he'd ever felt and all of the death he'd caused and all of the lives he'd saved and he was burning.
Fire screamed through him and rendered him powerless to do anything but scream back until light was cutting him with its brilliance and he was falling.
The impact rocked through him and he tasted tears and blood and he felt himself sobbing, shaking, reaching. A hand gripped his and he opened his swollen, gritty eyes to see the blood-smeared face of his brother lying next to him before he succumbed to the quiet peace that was darkness.
a/n: Home! Sort of….
One more chapter and an epilogue left to go (and I'll post them both at the same time). Working to twist the remaining pieces of this story into a solid weave that leaves you satisfied.
Continued in Part 9 here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/86343.html