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.
The brothers didn't speak. After a moment, Dean rose stiffly and moved toward the bathroom door. Joe was right about being dizzy when he walked. He felt like he'd had one-too-many the night before and had to focus on reaching his destination in more-or-less of a straight line. Closing the door, he pulled off the gray T-shirt and jeans Max had brought to the clinic for him to wear to the motel.
He stood in his boxers in front of the sink, turning on the water as hot as he could stand. He watched the steam rise until it clouded the mirror above. Reaching up, Dean wiped the mirror with his forearm, regarding his rough, haggard expression.
This demon is a scary son of a bitch. I don't want you caught in a crossfire. I don't want you hurt.
He closed his eyes, shaking his head once as his father's voice came to him with startling clarity.
After everything, after all the time we spent lookin' for you…please. I gotta be a part of this fight.
Sam's plea slipped in between the cracks of sound in his head. Looking back at his own eyes, Dean took a breath.
It don't matter what you want...It matters what you're gonna do.
"What do I do now?" Dean whispered, thinking of Bird's large, trusting eyes, her unwavering belief that he'd find a way to make this right for her.
"Shave," came a voice from the doorway.
Dean looked over, startled. He hadn't heard the door open. "Dude. It's called personal space."
"Shave, Dean," Sam repeated. "Take a shower. Get something to eat."
"And then what?" Dean asked his brother, taking in Sam's tense stance as his brother held himself carefully against the doorframe.
Sam shrugged. "We'll figure it out."
"What, no plan?" Dean arched an eyebrow.
Sam gripped the doorknob and grinned at him. "I'm making it up as I go."
When Sam closed the door behind him, Dean felt his mind switch off. He moved as if on autopilot, trimming the longer parts of his beard, lathering up his face, pulled the razor down the skin of his cheek and along his jaw, ridding his face of the evidence that he'd been living hard the last couple of weeks.
Once his face was again his own, he shucked his boxers, turned on the shower, and stepped in. The water spilling magically from the overhead faucet onto his head, then flowing like silk down his neck and across his shoulders was nothing short of Heaven. He simply stood for a moment, tilting his wounded face away from the direct impact with the water and letting the heated liquid chase away the aches and gooseflesh.
Glancing down, he saw the pink tracks of still-healing skin where the Daeva had marked him. It was no longer tender to the touch, but he wondered if it would ever truly disappear. In the span of just a few months, he'd now felt himself dying twice. His whole life was a give and take between life and death. Kill one thing so another can survive.
And he'd been so close…so close to….
He was on his knees before he realized it, water splattering against his back and running in triple rivers on either side of his face and from his chin. He leaned forward on his forearms, folding himself and letting his forehead touch the water pooling on the floor of the bathtub. He knew he needed to get a grip, to stop shaking, to leave this room and be ready to take on the next thing and the next and the next.
But he couldn't get Bird's gray eyes out of his head, and he could still hear the rattle of Jake's last breath, and he could still feel the vise-like grip of Ivers' hand on his throat, and he could still smell the burning flesh of his brother's leg.
It was an impossibility that could not have happened to them.
And yet it did.
And people had died.
And he was going to have to find a place to put this. Somewhere inside of him where it wouldn't matter anymore. Where he wouldn't have to think about it every day.
The water began to cool and Dean pushed himself slowly to his knees, then finally to his feet. He used the bar of soap on the tray and washed his entire body, carefully avoiding the stitches and bruises, before rinsing off and stepping out. It wasn't until he was standing naked in the steam-filled bathroom that he realized the only towel available to him was a small hand towel draped over the edge of the sink.
"Fabulous," he complained.
Drying off as best he could, he pulled on his discarded clothes, the gray T-shirt sticking to the planes of his belly and chest with the excess water, and exited the bathroom ready to tear into Sam, despite the fact that it had been so long since they'd first arrived in town and checked into this motel room he couldn't remember who had used up the last of the towels.
It took him two angry strides into the room to realize that Sam was asleep. He stopped, mouth agape, and stared at his lanky brother, sprawled across the bed, wounded leg propped up on pillows, snoring softly through parted lips.
Sighing, the pointless anger sliding out of him, Dean approached the bed. He grabbed the blankets and tugged gently, covering Sam to the shoulders. Sam frowned slightly in his sleep, huffed a bit and turned, his wounded leg stopping him. Dean tensed, watching, but Sam settled once more. He straightened, his eyes on Sam, thinking about what his brother had been through in the last several days, how he'd fought through it, how he'd survived.
It was a strength Dean had always known was inside his brother, something he admired and was, in a way, envious of. Dean fought because he knew no other way. Sam fought because he knew this wasn't all there was.
"I'll be right back," he whispered to his sleeping brother.
He moved to his duffel bag. In the dim light of the room, he found his cell phone, the battery dead. Digging deeper, he located the charger and his keys. The only phone charger they currently owned pulled power from the cigarette lighter inside the Impala, not from a wall socket. With a glance back at Sam, he left the room and stepped in the lazy light of the Texas afternoon.
The Impala sighed as he sank into her seat, pulling the door closed behind him. For a moment, he simply sat in the quiet of his car, filling his senses with her familiar smell, the feel of her leather seats, the grip of her steering wheel. He turned the key one notch until the battery lit the radio and powered up the lighter. Plugging in the phone, Dean scrolled down his list of numbers until he found the one he wanted.
Clearing his throat, he dragged his hand down his face, pinching his lip, then hit send. For the first time in recent memory, he hoped for voicemail.
"Dean? That you?"
"Yeah, uh…yeah, Dad. It's me."
"Where the hell have you been? I've been trying to reach you for—"
"Dad, uh, your friend…your friend Leo is…."
The silence on the other end of the phone told Dean that John already knew what he was going to say. He rolled his lips against his teeth, not finding the words inside him to continue.
"How?" John's voice felt empty with that word.
"It's…a long story."
"Is your brother okay?"
"He's gonna be fine. He, uh…," Dean hesitated. "He got hurt, but, Max knew a guy that was able to help us."
"How about you?"
Dean was ashamed to feel the burn of tears at the back of his throat choking off a quick reply.
"Dean?" John voice grew softer, gentling with the name. "Hey. C'mon, kid. You're scaring me."
"It was a tough hunt, Dad."
Dean knew his father could hear the tears in his voice and he pressed his lips tight to try to keep them at bay.
"But you're okay?"
Dean tried to say 'yes.' He tried to simply nod. But all he could do was clench his teeth in frustration with himself as a tear escaped his lashes and trailed down his cheek.
He moved the receiver away from his mouth and cleared his throat, finding his control. "I'll be fine, Dad," he said, his voice once again steady.
"Why didn't you call me?"
"There wasn't time," Dean lied, roughly wiping the traitorous tear from his cheek with the palm of his hand. "We didn't realize we were in over our heads until—"
"Until you were already there," John finished.
They were both quiet a moment.
"Jake and Max take care of Leo?"
Dean swallowed. "Jake's dead, too."
"What the hell?" John's exclamation was more surprised shock than anger, but Dean flinched just the same. It was a lot of information for his father to take in—and he hadn't even scratched the surface.
"Dad, the reason Leo called you was…he wanted you to help him stop Jake from doing something…crazy."
He braced himself for John's next question, expecting to be primed for details on exactly what level of crazy they'd been dealing with.
"And you weren't able to stop him?"
Dean shook his head, his, "No," barely a whisper.
John was quiet for a moment. Dean felt the chasm of opportunity open wide for him, heard the cue in the silence to offer details.
"You tried, kid," John told him, finally. "Sometimes…sometimes a man'll get something in his head and…and nothing short of death is gonna keep him from doing it."
Dean huffed out a laugh he knew his father couldn't hear.
"When that happens…you got two choices," John continued. "Hang on for the ride, or get the hell out of the way."
"Guess it depends on who that man is to you, which one of those you choose, huh?" Dean said softly, his voice slightly choked with emotion.
"Yeah, I guess so," John conceded.
Dean chewed on his bottom lip. It would be so easy right now to tell his father what he knew of the weapon Jake had been after. The weapon he guessed John was looking for now. It would be so easy to tell him how he'd seen the demon fall in a hail of bullets only to rise again. It would be so easy to tell him how he saw one bullet slam into that same demon, how it lit the figure up from the inside out, how he'd seen a demon die.
It would be so easy and yet…the words stuck in the back of his throat.
They snagged on the telling of how he'd nearly died from the Daeva cuts his father hadn't ever known about—hadn't stopped long enough to check on. They snagged on the telling of how he and Sam had been physically torn apart by time, falling and crashing through history until they were rendered helpless and hopeless and bleeding.
He wanted to tell him about Bird and Zeke and the Ghost, about racing the rushing water of a destroyed dam and of holding Sam so tightly while his leg was cauterized he almost felt his brother's skin meld with his own.
He wanted to tell him all of it. But he didn't say a word.
"Where are you headed next?"
"We, uh…we're gonna stay put for a bit. Gotta heal up some."
"Banged my head pretty good," Dean confessed. "Nothing I can't handle."
"Good. You take care of each other," John said, and the cadence of those words echoed the last Dean had heard from his father before they'd left Gary for Maera. He allowed himself a smile and the luxury of thought that he'd been included in his father's standard missive.
"We will. You staying safe?"
"I'm good, Dean. Got a lot going on here."
It crossed Dean's mind to ask his dad where 'here' was, but he knew in his gut that if John had wanted him to know, he would have already said.
"Are we…y'know, gonna see you again anytime soon?"
"Yeah, kid," John said, and Dean heard the grin in his father's voice. "I'll find you."
"Okay," Dean swallowed. "You be careful, Dad."
"You, too," John said, and Dean heard a click.
He hadn't asked for more details about Jake and Leo, Dean realized. He hadn't demanded to know what had happened, how they'd died, why the hunt had been rough. He hadn't asked about any of it.
Frowning, Dean tried to remember if he'd heard any ambient noise around his father to indicate where he might've been, what he might've been doing, but it had been quiet. It was almost as if he'd caught his father in a rare moment of peace that John didn't want to disturb.
And, to be fair, Dean himself had been the one to argue that these three hunters who summarily changed the course of Dean and Sam's lives weren't really friends of John's. They simply shared a rare commonality of being soldiers and hunters, and in John's eyes, that bonded them. Perhaps it was simply enough for John to know that they were gone, that this life had claimed theirs.
Turning the engine off and unplugging the phone, Dean stepped carefully out of the car, knowing he was fooling himself. John would look into the deaths. He would look into this hunt. He'd find out the truth sooner or later.
Dean set his jaw. He can come ask me about it himself.
John wasn't the only one who could operate on a need to know basis.
Using that as his backbone, Dean returned to the motel room, glanced at his sleeping brother, pulled off his jeans, crawled between the sheets, and slept the dreamless, thought-free sleep of a pretender.
The first time Dean left it was to bring back food.
Though the diner was within walking distance, it took Sam too long to hobble on crutches and after several days of clear liquids, Dean was beyond starving. Sam wasn't able to stifle his laugh when his brother returned with four take-out dinners, a six-pack of beer, and one whole peach pie.
They passed the day eating, drinking and watching TV. Dean had entirely too much fun at Sam's expense when they stumbled across a rerun of Bonanza. Both were content to watch a marathon of CSI, but then turned the stations when the movie Gettysburg started. Sam saw the ghost of his grief reflected in his brother's expression when they thought of Zeke.
The man hadn't died—not with them present in any case—but they'd lost him just the same.
The next time Dean left it was in a fit of restlessness in the sleepy hours of the evening. He was gone an hour when he called Sam to say he'd made a friend, infusing into that word a meaning unique to Dean. Sam didn't expect him back the rest of the night and was surprised when just over an hour later, Dean returned, eyes cloudy, face tight.
"What? She wasn't your type?" Sam asked, shifting stiffly in the bed as he tried to adjust his position to accommodate his still-healing wound.
Dean tossed him a look and shrugged out of his leather jacket. Sam had noticed he'd taken to wearing it all the time lately. He also noticed that he no longer removed the gold amulet he'd given his brother when they were kids as he used to do when sleeping or showering. It never left his neck now.
"You weren't her type?" Sam prodded.
"It wasn't about type," Dean grumbled.
"What was it about then?"
Dean sat heavily on the edge of the bed and pulled off his boots. "You know…the only thing that stayed in one piece in that crazy ride were these damn things," he said, completely avoiding a direct answer.
Sam frowned. They'd spent two days in the motel room together, resting, healing up, and hadn't once brought up their trip to the past.
"And your lighter," he pointed out.
"Right. My lighter." Dean lay back carefully. "We've been here too long."
"You think you can drive without getting dizzy?"
"Dude," Dean groaned, closing his eyes. "I can't even get laid without getting dizzy."
Sam glanced away. "Sorry, man."
"Don't be too sorry," Dean muttered. "I closed the deal. I just did it like a teenager after his first shot of whiskey."
"I didn't need to know that," Sam grumbled.
"'S okay. She'll get over me. Eventually."
They sat in silence for a moment, the flickering light of the TV dancing shadows across their features.
"I called Dad," Dean said suddenly, not opening his eyes.
"I figured," Sam replied.
"I didn't tell him."
"Figured that, too," Sam said softly.
It was one of two explanations Sam had come up with for his brother's increased restlessness and inability to sleep.
"Not sure what to tell him," Dean confessed.
"Maybe nothing," Sam said. "Maybe…maybe this one is just ours."
"Don't want to share your toys, Sammy?"
Sam was quiet for a moment. "You know when Dad called us that time? From Sacramento?"
"Yeah…," Dean answered, his voice betraying his wariness at the direction Sam's words could be headed.
"He didn't trust us to help. Didn't tell us where he was. Just…told us it was a demon and that he was gonna take care of it and then sent us on another hunt."
"He was trying to protect us, Sam," Dean replied.
Sam swallowed. "And then in Chicago…I mean it was like…." He stopped, searching for the words. "I almost wish we hadn't seen him. Kinda made everything that much worse, y'know?"
Dean didn't reply, and Sam rolled on.
"You may have been the one to tell him to leave, but he was ready to go. He didn't even know about those cuts on your side. It's the second time since you came to Stanford to get me that you've almost died, and he had no idea."
"If we hadn't been back in True Grit, I wouldn't have almost died."
"Not the point," Sam shook his head. "He had his agenda. And it didn't include us. So I just think…this one is ours."
"I don't know," Dean rolled his head to look at Sam. "I know this lead of his…whatever he's working on to kill this demon…I know it's that gun. I know it, Sam."
"So?" Sam replied petulantly.
"So," Dean bit out. "We saw the damn thing, man. We could help him find it. Have something…legitimate to help get the demon that killed Mom. And Jess."
"Dean," Sam turned off the TV, dipping the room into darkness. "Do you even hear what you're saying? This is our fight—this whole thing. Not just Dad's, no matter what he says. We shouldn't have to have some…some token to bring him that lets us go after it with him."
"It's always gonna be like this, isn't it? You fighting Dad. Even when the man's not here."
"Listen," Sam relented slightly. "I'm just saying…we don't know where that gun is or even if it still exists. We saw it a hundred and thirty years ago—one time. For all we know it got buried with Zeke and no one's ever going to see it again. Is that what you want to tell Dad?"
Dean sighed heavily. "I feel like I saw the answers to a test I'm not even taking."
Sam rubbed absently at his leg. The scabbed-over skin had begun to itch, indicating it was healing quickly. The ache from the damaged muscle had waned to a once-in-awhile twinge. He knew that if Dean were able, they could leave tomorrow. And he was ready to go. He wanted to get back to what they knew, back to what had brought them together again. Plus, too much inactivity made Dean restless.
And a restless Dean was a dangerous Dean.
"I have an idea," he said into the darkness, light from the parking lot silhouetting his brother on the opposite bed.
"This can't be good."
"Bite me, Jerk."
"You want to hear this or not?"
"Lay it on me," Dean said with a suitably dramatic sigh.
"I say tomorrow we go to the historical society thing that Joe told us about, see what we see."
"You mean, look up everybody?" Dean asked, hope flicking the edges of his words.
"Yeah, I mean…I don't know about you, but I kinda feel like—"
"We lost someone," Dean said softly.
"Yeah, exactly. So, let's go find out what happened to everybody…then we can leave the next day."
"And go where?"
Sam shrugged. "I saw a report online earlier. Might be our kind of thing."
"Okay." He heard Dean exhale in the dark. "I like this plan."
When Dean left the next day, Sam was with him—free of crutches but limping. The walk from the little motel to the town library wasn't far and Sam found himself purposefully stretching his stride to out-distance Dean's bow-legged gait just so that he could work loose muscle grown stiff from inactivity.
He almost missed the familiar smell of manure, grass, and equine sweat until Dean smacked him lightly on the shoulder and nodded to an open field stretching out behind the small library where three horses—a bay and two Paints—meandered munching greedily on grass. He glanced sideways at his brother and caught the mischievous glint in Dean's eyes.
"Don't even go there, man," Sam said, reaching for the door of the library.
"What?" Dean asked innocently, following behind. "One last ride? For old time's sake?"
Sam glared at him, shaking his head. "Never. Again."
They met up with Jane McAdams in the library and she happily led them to the closet-sized room where she'd filed and catalogued the history of Maera, Texas, back as far as 1845, when Texas first became a state.
"I'm gonna choke to death on dust," Dean complained.
"Let's haul this out to the main table out there," Sam suggested.
"I'll haul, you sit," Dean instructed.
Sam frowned at him. "I'm okay to haul, Dean."
"You're gimping along like a three-legged dog. You want to leave tomorrow? Go sit. And prop that leg up."
Sam raised an eyebrow and held up two fingers in front of Dean's face. "How many fingers do you see?"
Dean flipped him off. "How many do you see?"
"Fine," Sam huffed. "But if your head starts hurting, we take a break."
"Fine," Dean replied, loading his arms with books and files.
He deposited his load noisily on the table and looked around apologetically. Jane didn't even look up from her perch at the main table.
"There's no one else here," Dean observed.
"It's a library in Maera, Texas," Sam pointed out. "I'm surprised they have books."
At that, Jane did glance up and Sam saw her disapproving frown.
"Sorry," he muttered, then pulled a book close to him. "Check this out. The Story of Maera."
Dean sat and tipped his chair back on its rear legs, waiting.
"It goes back to when the town was called Henry Creek," Sam reported excitedly. "The town was founded by—"
"Let me guess," Dean said, eyes closed. "Some guy named Henry?"
"Nathan Henry," Sam nodded. "Guess he was the sheriff and established the town in 1866, after he got out of the Army. He was killed in 1868 in a botched arrest. Town was renamed Sulfur Springs by the new sheriff."
"Dawson," Dean remembered. "Who was one of Ivers' men. Think Ivers killed this Henry dude?"
"Doesn't say," Sam continued skimming the pages of the book. "Kinda hard to follow for a bit—the type is all scrunched together and there aren't any breaks in the paragraphs."
"Skip down to 1870," Dean suggested.
"Huh," Sam muttered.
"What?" Dean dropped his chair back on all-fours and leaned forward. "Good 'huh' or bad 'huh'?"
"It skips over 1870. Goes from this report about a…well, it's about Tom O'Maera, actually. When he built that dam on the river that ran through both his and Ivers' property. Next thing is a new sheriff being elected—huh, elected, that's interesting—in 1871."
"Say who it is?"
"No one we knew," Sam said. "Someone named Finch. First initial 'B.'"
Dean rubbed his face. "So it didn't matter," he said. "None of it. Just about the whole town watched a," he dropped his voice, "a demon get killed right in front of them and went right on about their business."
"They didn't know he was a demon, Dean," Sam pointed out.
Dean lifted an eyebrow. "Right, 'cause any old bad guy can get shot a dozen times and then get up and drag someone across the room using the Force."
"Well, okay, yeah, that was weird, but," Sam flipped a page in the dusty book, "Ramirez had a point about not assuming that the bad stuff inside a person is actual evil."
Dean looked away, not answering.
"I mean…what if I said…Joe is an angel," Sam continued.
Dean arched an eyebrow at him, a smile playing around his lips. "Something you want to get off your chest there, Sammy?"
"Shut up and listen a second. He's a good guy, right? Decent guy?"
Dean shrugged. "Yeah, I guess."
"So, what if I told you that he was really an angel?"
"Whatever, dude. He's just a guy."
"Exactly. Just a good guy. So, why isn't it possible to believe that these people just saw a bad guy, not a monster from their Bible stories?"
Dean sighed, leaning back. "Still doesn't explain how they just…ignored what they saw. But…I kinda see your point."
"People can explain away anything," Sam said, scanning the page in front of him and speaking distractedly. "It's just easier for us to see it 'cause we know it's out th—holy shit!"
Dean sat forward. "What?"
"Wanna know when Sulfur Springs changed its name to Maera?"
Dean lifted his eyebrows, waiting.
"1887. Wanna know why?"
"Dude, you're like this close to getting your gimpy ass kicked."
"They named it after their first mayor. A woman named Hannah O'Maera."
Dean's mouth fell open. "Bird?"
Sam nodded, grinning. "Says here she was instrumental in peace talks between the town and a local Comanche tribe. Through use of Indian sign, she was able to work out trade deals and commerce and even created the first community garden where they grew medicinal herb remedies used by the local doctor and tribal healers."
"Son of a bitch," Dean said softly, drawing the words out in a whisper of wonder.
"How about that? If you hadn't fallen practically in her lap…she might not have ever left that barn and…I mean, she could've been killed when Ivers raided the Mission."
Dean frowned. "We don't know that, though. I mean, the town was called Maera before we were there."
"There's all kindsa reasons a town gets its name, though. I mean, it could have been named after Rory. The kid might've been the one to take out Ivers in the original history for all we know."
Dean rubbed his face. "We don't really know what we did or didn't change, do we? I mean, we didn't know what happened to anyone in the first place, so how do we know if we made a difference?"
Sam sat back, tilting his head at his brother. "Which way do you want it to be?"
Dean brought his eyes in focus on Sam. "What do you mean?"
Chewing his bottom lip, Sam peered at him, his forehead creased in thought. "I mean, do you want all this," he pointed to the opened book, "to have happened because we were there…or in spite of it?"
Dean frowned, looking down.
"I know you said you wanted it to matter, Dean." Sam shook his head, his eyes directed to the words of the town's history but seeing instead the sardonic grin of a doctor-turned-saloon owner and the generous curves of his brothel sweetheart. "And maybe it does, but not in the way you think."
"What are you saying, Sammy?" Dean asked, not lifting his head, his voice husky with thought.
"Maybe Ivers was always killed by Jake. Maybe we were supposed to be there. Maybe if we'd done research before we left we'd've read about ourselves. I don't know. But I do know that before I landed on his back step, Zeke McAdams was a drunk who couldn't get over the war. And I know that after we left…after he'd had to be a doctor again…he changed his life enough to hook up with someone and have a kid and eventually…there was Joe."
Dean's lips tipped up in a half-hearted smile.
"And I know that it's possible Rory and Kate got free from Ivers some other way. And that Bird could've been saved by anyone," Sam continued, ducking his head to catch Dean's eyes. "But I also know that this Bird," he pointed to the book, "that grew up to become mayor and have a town named after her…I know she's the same little girl who thanked you for saving her mom and who about ripped her arms out of their sockets trying to keep you away from Ivers."
"She had a pretty tight grip," Dean acknowledged.
"So, maybe us being there didn't…turn Maera into a metropolis or open people's eyes to the fact that monsters are real. Maybe people died that would have lived or lived that would've died. I don't know," Sam shrugged. "But we never meant to go back there. And…well, we did the best we could, man."
They sat for a moment, files and books around them, more evidence, more stories, more history of the town they'd shed blood in over a hundred years before.
"I'm gonna…walk around for a while," Dean said suddenly. "Think you can get back on your own?"
Sam looked at him, worry pulling his brows close. "You okay?"
Dean pushed to his feet and tossed Sam an I'm always all right grin. "Just need some air. Dusty in here."
"Okay," Sam said, hesitantly. "Got your phone?"
"Jesus, Sam, I'm not five."
"Just checking," Sam raised his hands in surrender and watched Dean walk away, pushing through the wooden doors of the library and heading in the opposite direction of the motel.
Sighing, Sam closed the history book and stared at the other documents and books spread out before him, unsure how far he really wanted to go.
It took Dean a moment to realize why the Mission felt closer to town: there were more buildings.
In Sulfur Springs, the town ended about a mile shy of the Mission. But in Maera, the mercantile and grocery store, hardware store and diner, two-screen cinema and mom-and-pop coffee shops all stretched along the asphalt-covered road until he was left with only about a couple hundred yards of dusty path beaten into the crab grass to walk until he reached the front door of the run-down Mission.
The barn was still there, Dean noticed, just as it had been when he'd first parked the Impala next to it, but it looked as if something—a fire, he recalled—had taken a large bite out of it. The door to the Mission was open, the latch broken from where he'd kicked it in that fateful night.
Dead candles were scattered across the make-shift altar and at various points around the empty room. Cobwebs hung from the rafters and between the broken pews, blowing languidly in the weak breeze from the open door. Dean made his way to the front of the chapel area. Someone—Max, presumably—had removed the items from the altar that Jake had gathered for the ritual.
Staring down at the floor Dean thought about waking up in the rectory, seeing his brother and the priest who'd saved him. He remembered distinctly how empty he'd felt. How weak. Sam's book—at least the one he'd read from—hadn't mentioned Ramirez, or the Mission. But this building had played a pivotal role in all of this. It had become their last line of defense. Their salvation.
I wonder if Jake knew that when he picked this place for his ritual.
"I don't know where Max buried you," Dean said, the sound of his own voice startling in the echoing quiet of the building. "I, uh…I wanted to say…I'm sorry, I guess. I wish we could've…made some kinda difference. Figured out a way to help you that wasn't…all this."
He sniffed, looking over his shoulder self-consciously. It wouldn't surprise him at this point if Jake's ghost suddenly appeared. Another quick glance around assured him he was alone.
"I'd like to think I'd never do what you did," Dean continued, clearing his throat around his confession. "But the truth is…we're not that different." He swallowed, his heart trembling as he pushed out his next words. "If I lost Sammy or Dad, I…," he paused, then took a breath, "well, I guess I can see why you took it this far. Not saying I like it. I mean, you kinda turned my world sideways, man. But…I get it."
He lifted his eyes, looking around the crumbling interior. One day he might tell his dad about the weapon. One day he might tell his dad about everything.
But Sam was right: for now, it was enough that it was just theirs. They'd lived through it. They'd made it out on the other side.
"I hope you find Sean," Dean said softly, then turned and walked out of the Mission and back toward the motel.
Sam heard the music before he reached the motel parking lot. The opening chords of AC/DCs Hells Bells were distinguishable from almost a block away.
He was grinning by the time he'd limped into the lot, the setting sun catching on the Impala's raised hood and opened trunk, Dean buried waist deep in her engine humming along with Brian Johnson. Sam approached the car from the rear, noticing that the false bottom was in place inside the trunk, hiding their weapons cache from any wandering eyes. On top of the extra towels and discarded flannel shirts, Dean's inherited holster was resting, belt wrapped around the main rigging, black leather gleaming in the waning light.
"I didn't know you kept this," Sam said.
Dean jerked and cursed. Sam winced hoping his brother hadn't cracked his still-healing skull on the underside of the hood. Emerging from the engine, Dean wiped his hands on a shop towel and made his way around to the trunk with a scowl.
"Sorry," Sam offered.
"'S okay," Dean sighed. "Shoulda been paying more attention. Not like you should be able to sneak up on a guy limping like that."
"Hey, I'm getting better," Sam protested. "Besides, you're the one who can't walk in a straight line."
"It's the damndest thing," Dean replied. "On my way back here from the Mission—"
"Is that where you went?"
Dean nodded. "On my way back…things just got clear. No more fuzzy lines." He waved his fingers in the air to illustrate.
"It's the hand of God," Sam smirked.
"Whatever," Dean shrugged. "What's that?" He pointed to the bag in Sam's hand.
"Got something for you," Sam said, his mouth working around a smile.
Dean looked genuinely surprised for a moment, but Sam saw the sardonic mask slip quickly back in place. "Aw, Sammy. You like me. You really like me."
"Ease up," Sam chuckled. "It's for you, but…kinda for me, too. What are you doing?"
"You're not gonna give it to me?"
"In a second, jeeze, you're like a kid at Christmas," Sam made his way past Dean toward the front of the car. "She okay?" He gestured to the opened hood.
"Yeah, she's aces," Dean nodded, tucking the shop rag back into the rear pocket of his jeans. "Just figured, y'know, now that I can see straight, I should get her tuned up and ready to roll out tomorrow."
Hells' Bells ended and Sam heard the cassette click to the other side.
"From this day on I own my father's gun…."
Sam frowned at his brother. "What's that? Elton John?"
"Dude, check this out," Dean opened the driver's side door, the music's volume increasing. He turned the dial to soften the noise and not scream over it. "I found this in the trunk when I was looking for a place to put the holster."
"It's your box of tapes," Sam said as Dean slid behind the wheel. He leaned on the opened door, shifting his weight to his good leg and the bag he'd been carrying from one hand to the other.
"Not that, this," Dean lifted the empty cassette case from the box and handed it to Sam. "It's Mom's handwriting."
"How do you know?" Sam asked in wonder, staring at the song list writing in neat, tight letters down the front of the cardboard insert.
"Saw a letter from her to Dad once. He had it tucked in the journal and I…uh, borrowed it. Long time ago."
Sam arched an eyebrow. "You stole a love letter from Mom to Dad?"
"Yeah. I did." Dean stared back at him, challenging. "I gave it back," he amended.
Sam looked back at the cassette. "A Mix of Us," he read. "She made him a mix tape," he laughed.
"Yeah, in '82, see?"
"AC/DC, Doors, Sex Pistols, Beatles, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Rolling Stones…oh, my God is that Pat Benatar?"
Dean held up his hands and rolled his eyes as if to say, women.
"This was inside it," he said, handing Sam a business card. On the front was the name Guenther's Garage and a Lawrence, KS, phone number. On the back, Mary had written, Before there was anything else, there was us.
Sam smiled. "Mom was a romantic," he said softly. Elton John's distinctive voice filled the void as he regarded his mother's list of music.
"As soon as this is over we'll go home to plant the seeds of justice in our bones, to watch the children growing and see the women sewing. There'll be laughter when the bells of freedom ring…."
"Yeah?" Dean's eyes were on the steering wheel, his gaze a hundred years away.
"You think this will ever…y'know, be over?"
Sam lifted a shoulder. "This…fight."
Dean looked at him askance. "You mean so you can leave?"
Sam didn't reply.
"You know what I think, Sam," Dean said softly. "This fight…I mean, it's bigger than us. Always has been. And now we know that first hand." He ran his blunt, calloused fingers along the ridges of the steeling wheel in an absent-minded caress. "It's been going on forever. It's never going to be over."
You and me. We're all that's left. So, if we're gonna see this through, we're gonna do it together.
Sam swallowed hard, his own words echoing in his head.
Wait until it's really over before you leave...
It was such a simple request. All Dean wanted was for him to wait. He didn't ask him not to go. He didn't ask him to live this life forever. He just asked him to wait until this fight was well and truly done.
Sam sighed softly. He couldn't leave Dean now…not now when they'd seen so much, survived so much, and when there were so many questions still to be answered. And there was something…breakable inside his brother. Something he'd not seen before; not while they were growing up on the road, not when he walked away for college, not even when he almost lost Dean to the volts used to take out the Rawhead. In the hours before they'd found Ramirez, Sam knew he had been as close to feeling his brother die as he ever wanted to get.
And it shook him to his core. Dean was simply always supposed to be there. It was starting to resonate with him why it mattered so much to Dean that Sam stick around.
"You ever gonna show me what's in the bag?" Dean asked as Elton John gave way to The Rolling Stones.
"You're a good brother, Dean," Sam said suddenly.
Dean jerked his head to the side, unable to slide the mask in place this time. "Huh?"
"I just mean…you're more than a hunter. A lot more."
Dean frowned. "I think you spent too much time with those dusty old books."
Sam didn't back away, didn't back down. He wanted his brother to hear this.
"I'll keep my promise," Sam continued. "I won't leave until it's over."
Dean cocked an eyebrow. "And what if I'm right? What if it's never over?"
"Wild horses couldn't drag me away. Wild, wild horses, couldn't drag me away…"
"Then I guess we'll be spending a lot of time together," Sam said with a half grin.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Oh, great. Live a life hunting evil and get a pain-in-the-ass as a reward."
Sam's grin widened. "You say that now," he took a step back from the car door and reached into the bag he'd been holding. "But you'll sing a different tune the next time I save that ass."
"I always have a plan, Sam," Dean protested good-naturedly.
"Uh-huh," Sam intoned. "Here."
Dean took the clear bottle from him. "I don't get it."
Sam handed him a hand-written label with an adhesive back. On it he'd written Holy Water. Dean took the label and started to laugh. Sam handed him a bottle of antiseptic. Dean's laugh rivaled the volume of the radio, which had slipped from The Stones to Pink Floyd.
"So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain…."
"Figured…better safe than sorry," Sam explained smiling as he watched his brother wipe tears of laughter from his eyes.
"Yeah," Dean gasped. "Wouldn't want to…y'know…mix up the Nair and shampoo."
"Why you even had Nair, I don't want to know," Sam shook his head, taking the clear bottle back and turning toward the motel room door. "I'll get us packed. You finish up here."
"Hey," Dean called.
Sam paused and turned. "Yeah?"
"Where are we going?"
Sam lifted a shoulder. "Not too far. Richardson. Some haunted house thing."
"Nice," Dean grinned, climbing out of the Impala and muffling the music a bit as he closed the door.
Sam started for the motel room once more.
"Hey," Dean called again.
"What?" Sam sighed, turning to face his brother, irritation clear in his expression.
"Thanks, Sam," Dean said sincerely.
Sam glanced down, then back up again, his smile genuine. "Sure."
"Maybe we can stop by a church on the way to this haunted house of yours. Stock up," Dean said, pointing at the soon-to-be-labeled Holy Water bottle.
"Whatever you want," Sam replied. "So long as we drive there. I'm never getting on a horse again as long as I live."
"Never say never, Sammy," Dean grinned, turning his attention back to the Impala's engine.
Watching his brother lean head-first into the greasy heart of the machine, Sam heard the muted musings of Roger Waters from his mother's mix tape.
"Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?"
Sam turned toward the motel room, his smile soft and sad as he felt the weight of those words.
a/n: Thank you so much for riding through this with me, for reading, for taking time to comment, and for getting from this story what I put into it: a moment of escape and some entertainment. It's such a pleasure to write these characters and I hope you have had fun on this journey.
I'm posting the Epilogue at the same time as this chapter. I hope it brings things full-circle for you.
Concluded in the Epilogue, here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/86845.html
Hells Bells, AC/DC
My Father's Gun, Elton John
Wild Horses, Rolling Stones
Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd (in honor of the story name)