He was still a mile from town when his pony broke her trot to stomp and snort at the incredibly strong smell that had just wafted their way.
"Easy, girl, easy," he soothed, clicking his tongue to return to pace.
He reached into his vest for the small pouch containing his already-rolled, wrinkled cigarettes and lit one, hoping to kill the stench. He was following the new cattle trail that led into Fort Griffin Flat, the town that grew underneath the watchful eye of the 4th and 6th Cavalry and 17th Infantry at the bend in the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. The trail was only a year old and went from San Antonio all the way up to the Dodge City, Kansas railhead. It was easily followed; hills and trees broke up the generally flat landscape, and longhorn didn't leave much in their path.
Spurring the paint to pick up her gait, she whinnied in irritation.
"The sooner we get outta this mesquite the happier you'll be, darlin'," he said.
Eventually the scrub and plain gave way, and near the small hill he had been following to his left the land carved a deep trough where cottonwood, pinyon, live oak, elm, and hackberry trees lined the banks of a creek. This had to be Collins Creek, the indicator of which he was told would lead him right into the Flat. From there he came upon a group of dwellings, crudely constructed, some of adobe but most of uncured, warped timber. The split-oak, mud-daubed structures were comprised of two or three rooms, obviously townspeople's homes. Rough-hewn logs formed makeshift corrals in which the settlers kept livestock.
He passed along the creek and came to a clearing, where he could see the beginning of the town itself, and then the Clear Fork to the north. Off to his right on a bluff above the river he could see the fort, such as it was. There were a few stone structures, although most of the fort was comprised of shacks and scrap wood buildings. Picket houses -- canvas tents with wood around the base -- were the main source of shelter for the enlisted men. The fort had been there since after the war, but it was never meant to be permanent. The longer it stayed and kept the Comanche and Kiowa at bay, however, the more people moved to the Flat.
He'd been in the saddle for too damn long. The sight of the town as it came into view made him want to whoop with joy -- whiskey and a hot meal were foremost on his mind. He could hear the town before he even got close. It sounded like a raucous outdoor revival when the cacophony of sounds hit him, everything from piano and organ music to singing, talking, cursing, shouting, and the whinnying of horses.
There were buffalo hunter wagons weighed down by immense stacks of hides; freighters unloading wagons of supplies; trail outfits equipping themselves for the next push; and all sorts of cowpunchers, buffalo hunters, Tonkawa Indians, gamblers, businessmen, soldiers, gunslingers, and soiled doves smashed together in a filthy, lurid ball of sin.
He was in heaven.
The boarded sidewalks afforded some protection from the dusty street, which was lined on either side with thriving stores, as well as saloons, dance halls, and restaurants.
His pony's gallop stuttered for a moment and she snorted, and now he could see exactly what had been causing the smell.
Immense stacks of buffalo hides were piled in huge formations outside of a stone building to his left as he entered town. It must have been the hide yard where the hides were measured, weighed, bought, and shipped. The smell was unbelievable. The long building had a vaulted sign on top that announced "Frank Conrad & Charles Rath" its proprietors, and a connected building touted provisions of all kinds.
The Occidental Hotel on the corner to his right boasted Clean Rooms, Cheap Stay, but his first thoughts went to his horse.
A surly-looking man sat scratching his filthy beard atop his freighter, piled high with stinking hides. Dean drew his attention.
"Can you point me to the livery, friend?"
The buffalo skinner belched and picked something from his hair. "You ain't no friend o' mine, but head over yonder and turn on the next street for Pete Haverty's."
"Then which way?"
"Town ain't that big, sonny," the man replied idly, going back to fingering his hair.
Dean touched his hat and continued up the road.
The livery was crudely constructed but sound, large enough to accommodate a number of horses without crowding. A man in an expensive Stetson hat greeted Dean when he dismounted. "Lookin' to put that paint in here, mister?"
"I am. Don't know how long I'll be in town. Ain't gonna be longer than a few days, I expect. You're Haverty?"
The man nodded.
"Keep her nice," Dean said while he dismounted on the Indian side of the pony. He retrieved his Winchester rifle, bedroll, and war bag from the horse. "Send the return for the cost to Captain G. W. Campbell, Company C, Texas Rangers. He'll be in town by-and-by."
Haverty looked Dean over, appraising his dust-covered clothing. "A Ranger ridin' an Indian pony?"
Dean probably didn't make of an impression, despite wearing clothes that were common to most of his Ranger compatriots: a dark brown, wide-brimmed slouch hat; a vest, the pockets of which held his tobacco pouch, rolling papers, matches, coin purse, and pocket watch with chain; a wool boiled shirt with a collar and tie; heavy canvas trousers; a gun belt cinched high on his waist that held his Colt Army .45 revolver, Bowie knife, and ammunition; and knee-high, square-cut boots with a high heel and large roweled spurs.
Dean narrowed his eyes at the man. "The Comanche buck I killed that was ridin' her don't seem to mind none, neither does my captain, and neither should you."
Haverty held up his hands in a pleading gesture. "Didn't mean to give offense, mister."
"Sergeant. I'll keep 'er here fine, like you said."
"Good," Dean said, running a calming hand over his mustache. "Now we're settled, where can a body find a place to sleep on the cheap in this town?"
"I reckon you'd be looking for a boarding house, then," Haverty mused, "to save pay and all. Plenty of houses on Griffin Avenue -- that's the main road -- and lots to see and do for a man been in the saddle for a while."
"I was plannin' on it."
"Any of them boarding houses'll do you. For saloons you got Mike O'Brien's Hunter's Retreat, Uncle Billy Wilson's Frontier House, Charley Meyers' Cattle Exchange -- that one caters to the drovers -- and we got Donnelly and Carroll's Bee Hive, which draws the gamblers. All are good for whatever you need."
Dean threw the war bag and bedroll over one shoulder and rested the Winchester on the other. "Obliged for the help."
"Glad to, Sergeant," Haverty answered, touching his hat.
"Oh, one more thing," Dean said, turning around. "Mind the tack. It was my daddy's."
* * *
The principal business of the Flat was equipping the cattle drives traveling the new road to Kansas and outfitting the buffalo hunters for their excursions into the plains in search of the southern herd.
The town grew from this influx of customers, so much so that almost anything a man might need could be purchased from the many merchants and tradesmen lined along Griffin Avenue.
It boasted a boot shop, grocer, bakery, post office and chemist, a blacksmith, and even a telegraph office that had opened earlier in the summer.
Walking along the avenue, Dean made a mental note of the confectioner's shop where he planned to buy candies for his nephew, and the watchmaker, who could repair the loose winding mechanism on his father's gold watch which hung from the chain on his vest.
Half of the people he passed on the street seemed to either be in the midst of pressing business, or stumbling around in a carefree drunken stupor. As much as he wanted to be tits-over-ass in the latter, he had to attend to finding a place to sleep first.
The Gus was a clapboard structure with a common room in front and rooms for boarders in the back. It wasn't a hotel, but he only made $50 a month and thus couldn't be picky. A rope bed, pitcher, and basin were all he could expect. It was still better than the canvas tents he was used to when out patrolling with the company.
He asked the matron to relay his whereabouts to Haverty's livery, dropped the war bag and bedroll in his room, had the Winchester locked in the house safe, and went out to look for a little fun.
* * *
He had already spent more than a week in the saddle after visiting his brother Samuel, wife Jessica, and little Johnny down at their house in McLennan County, so the sights and sounds of the crowded saloons and dance halls were a little overwhelming at first.
Peeking in each of the boisterous shacks as he walked by, Dean could see that most of the saloon girls were scarcely dressed -- not that their admirers seemed to care. Cowpunchers and buff hunters were hooting and shouting out their appreciation while the girls danced and plied them with expensive liquor.
The Bee Hive was definitely the center of gambling in the Flat, with games of Faro, poker, Chuck-A-Luck, and Three-Card-Monte going on at several tables. The sign above the saloon door brought a smile to Dean's face:
Within this Hive, we are alive;
Good whiskey makes us funny.
Get your horse tied, come inside;
And taste the flavor of our honey.
But he wasn't in the mood for card games tonight, tired as he was. A decent meal and a drink were all he was looking for, and he chose John Shanssey's saloon and restaurant. Like the other buildings of the Flat it was a rough-hewn wood affair, with one peaked gable leading to a flat roof, held up by five vertical logs. The hitching posts out front had quite a few horses tied to it.
Inside, the long-paneled mahogany bar beckoned. The walls were bedecked with aspects of the drover life: ropes, saddles, and even a set of longhorns. A polished mirror shone from behind the bar, the shelves of which were lined with bottles of rye, bourbon, whiskey, and a bizarre assortment of liquor Dean had heard about but never tried, such as "Cactus Wine," or tequila and peyote tea, and "Mule Skinner," which was whiskey and blackberry liquor.
The base of the bar held a glowing brass foot rail. Spittoons were spaced along the rail at regular intervals, and grimy towels hung on the edge of the bar, used to wipe beer from damp mustaches. Dean liked beer when he could get it, but it went too flat too soon for his tastes.
Dean wandered over to the bar and beckoned for the bartender. "Firewater, straight. I'm lookin' to eat, too."
The scruffy bartender poured Dean a shot of the house rotgut. "We got beef, beans, biscuits, coffee. Bacon is cheaper. Ain't nothin' gone bad, neither. We got good provisions coming through here, guaranteed above-board."
"I'll take the beef, and make the coffee strong. You got any fresh butter?"
"Reckon I could find some for an extra cost."
"I'm flush enough for some butter, don't worry," Dean replied quietly, and polished off the whiskey shot. "I'll take the table yonder." He motioned to the far side of the room, close to the back wall.
The bartender poured another, and Dean brought it over to the table he chose in the rear of the saloon. His food arrived in short order, along with the fresh butter Dean ate without bothering to put on his biscuits.
He took his time, drinking in both the atmosphere and the whiskey with equal enjoyment. Some saloon girls were dancing and singing with a raucous group of trail riders, who held their overpriced drinks aloft while singing off-key. There were men playing fiddle and guitar. Some men were hunched over cards or betting on Faro, a few were shooting billiards, while others lined the bar in a huge tangled pile of drunkenness and tobacco smoke.
A man sitting by himself eating a meager meal of a biscuit and beans drew Dean's attention, mostly because he wasn't wearing a hat. His hair was short and disheveled, as if no amount of combing could ever coax it into a behaved position. His shirt was plain button-up striped wool and looked well worn, and it didn't appear he carried a gun, which was even more curious. He was hunched forward in his seat, eating hurriedly and trying to make his presence unfelt.
Suddenly the man looked up, sensing Dean's eyes on him. He was older than Dean, though not by much. He had neither mustache nor beard, but a two-day growth emphasized the world-weary look on his face. Even the man's striking blue eyes were dim.
He didn't drop Dean's gaze, though. He simply stared back and grinned.
Dean had been a Ranger since the Frontier Battalion had been instituted the year before, performing admirably during Indian raids and encounters with rustlers and outlaws. He was always alert for that telltale sideways glance that gave a man away as a liar. He knew when to draw his Colt based on a man's body language, and considering he wasn't dead yet that practice had been useful. A man's facial expression could tell you how desperate he was. In Dean's experience, the truth spoke through a man's eyes.
Finally the man blinked, looked down, and went back to his meal. Dean realized he had been staring for an uncomfortably long time, but there was something in the man's eyes that seemed familiar.
Despite the odd smile, Dean knew this man was broken inside. He was sure of it.
* * *
The following morning Dean arose early to check on his horse. Finding her suitably well cared for as Haverty promised, he decided that he would stock up on provisions. Since he was waiting for the rest of Company C to rendezvous at the Flat before their late summer scout across the prairie, now would be the time to attend to his needs.
His first stop was the confectioner's shop to pick out a good selection of candy to send down to his nephew Johnny in Waco. His brother Samuel has been admitted to the bar earlier in the year, and taught school in between his rare law jobs in order to provide for his family. Dean never had taken much to book learning, which was why he and his father had made it a point to send Samuel to one of the good pay schools in Austin. The school money was a sacrifice when Dean and his father were on the trail, but Dean always knew Samuel would make them proud. Dean was happy enough to be able to read and write.
From there he visited the post office and carefully labeled the package to Samuel C. Winchester Esq., Waco, McLennan County in his neat, practiced script. Then it was to Gleck's boot shop a few blocks away to get the heel of his right boot fixed. Dean stared longingly at the crisp, fresh-smelling boot leathers. He really wanted to get measured for and buy a new pair. Unfortunately, it was beyond his means right now to do so.
At the watchmaker's shop he had his father's watch repaired. The man sitting behind the counter eyed it carefully, examined the movement and hunting scene engraved on it, and pronounced it a fine specimen. Dean only shook his head when the man offered to buy it.
Finally he stopped at Conrad & Rath to purchase lye soap (made with a fine hand by the washerwomen at the fort he was told), a razor and strop, tobacco, rolling papers, salt, turpentine, and baking soda in preparation for late summer Ranger life out on the plains. He also budgeted for a new pair of underwear and some wool socks, knitted by the ranchers' wives, who traded them to the store in return for dressmaking supplies. Dean found the homemade socks lasted the longest.
By late afternoon Dean finished his shopping with a shave and a haircut. He made sure the barber trimmed his hair to above his ear and waxed his mustache, which passed the sides of his mouth and drew to a stop at his jaw. His chin and sideburns he kept clean-shaven. Dean slid a hand through his hair and placed his hat back on, tossing 25 cents into a cup.
He decided to return to Shanssey's saloon, since the beef he had had the night before really was fresh like the bartender said. He chose the same table and ate the same meal, only this time with the addition of two eggs he picked up at Conrad & Rath. They were rare on the trail and he relished them.
Once again the man with the haunting blue eyes sat near him, ignoring the revelry going on around them. He was using a spoon to scoop up the last of his beans when a large buffalo hunter came up behind him and leaned over the man.
Dean watched as the buff hunter whispered something into the seated man's ear. The other man shook his head and attempted to reason with the hunter, but as soon as he stood up the hunter pulled his Bowie knife. The larger buffalo hunter easily overpowered the blue-eyed man and pulled him through the saloon out the back door.
Dean hesitated for a moment, unsure whether or not to intervene. Contrary to what many people thought, a Texas Ranger couldn't kill or arrest with impunity, though many considered the Ranger a "shoot first, arrest later" sort. His decision was made when he heard a strangled cry emanate from the behind the saloon.
He was on his feet in a moment and barreled through the back door to find the blue-eyed man pressed face-first against the clapboard wall of the saloon, his arm wrenched behind his back in an awkward angle. The Bowie knife hovered close to the blue-eyed man's throat, and Dean could see the wild-eyed, glazed look that came over the smaller man. He seemed to accept his fate at that moment.
The smaller man couldn't -- or wouldn't -- fight back, which incensed Dean. He pulled the hunter off the smaller man by his buckskin shirt.
"That man ain't fightin' you. Let 'im go."
"Cut a path, cowpuncher. I'm takin' what's mine."
Dean drew down on the man before he had the chance to speak another word.
"I'm a Texas Ranger, and I got a right mind to send you up to the sheriff for assault."
The hunter got a lot more skittery after Dean identified himself. "This benny boy owes me money," he insisted.
Dean wasn't exactly sure what a "benny boy" was, but he wasn't about to let a man who couldn't even defend himself get slaughtered like a fatted calf.
He nodded to the blue-eyed man. "Do you owe this buff hunter money?"
"No, sir, I do not. This man fell asleep and I left. I don't know what happened to his money, I promise you."
"Good enough for me," Dean proclaimed, holstering the Colt.
The hunter looked stunned.
"I trust the man who don't got a pig sticker jammed up in his throat," Dean said. "Now let 'im go."
The buffalo hunter sneered and spat into the dirt in front of Dean before he skulked off.
The blue-eyed man wiped at his face where it had been cut by the rough wood of the saloon wall. He tried to brush himself off as best he could and walked over with his hand outstretched.
"Thank you for coming to my aid, Ranger," the man said, shaking Dean's hand. "I assure you I was telling the honest truth. My hand to God."
"No need for swearin', friend. I believed you. I've seen the way a lyin' man looks. You don't look like a man to tell tales."
"He would have killed me, I'm certain."
"Just doin' what's right, is all." Now that Dean could see the man more closely, he had the vague feeling they had met before. "Do we know each other, friend?"
The man cast his eyes downward.
"I don't mean the other night at dinner," Dean said. "I mean from somewhere else."
"I don't believe so, sir."
"Hmm. My mistake, then."
"You must allow me to repay you," the blue-eyed man said.
"No offense, friend, but you're lookin' a might down in the mouth, if I can be honest. I don't think there's anything I need you can give me."
"Oh, I disagree," the man answered, digging through the pockets of his trousers. He handed a coin to Dean. "It's not worth much, but...here. I insist. Ask for me. The name's Castiel."
Castiel bowed his head slightly to Dean in acknowledgement, and disappeared around the corner behind the saloon.
Dean held the gold coin up to the lantern light to make out what it said. When he saw it, he realized exactly what a "benny boy" was. The coin read:
Fort Griffin Flat, Texas
Good for One Screw
* * *
Dean palmed the brothel token and placed it in his vest pocket.
He had heard about brothels in San Francisco and New York that offered men as well as the women common to a house of ill repute, but he never thought he'd see one in Texas.
As unusual as it sounded, Dean could understand the interest in a benny boy near Fort Griffin. He'd heard stories over the years that soldiers, and especially sailors, enjoyed the intimate company of other men.
With the lack of righteous women on the frontier it wasn't that surprising. Jobs for women were few and far between, so most of the proper women were married or had jobs as schoolmarms, seamstresses, and the like. When a man needed a woman to provide him some company, the brothel is where he went.
And what were soldiers and sailors supposed to do for female companionship? Why, he knew from the years riding the trails with his father that it was rare for even cowpunchers to get into town much. A man could get lonely fast in this country. After a while, being with a man might be preferred over women, if only because there were so damn many men to go around.
Dean took the token out of his pocket and looked at it, twisting it over his fingers. It was slightly smaller than a 20-dollar gold coin, probably made of brass, with writing on one side and the picture of a devil on the reverse. The image suited the aptly named Perdition saloon, he thought.
Citizens helped by Texas Rangers weren't expected to pay. It simply wasn't done. Ever since he was little and on the trail with his father, he had been told that a man showed his worth by helping out those who were less fortunate. Dean took the lesson to heart, which is why he had become a Ranger in the first place.
He continued to play with the coin, staring at it, contemplating its meaning. He'd been with plenty of brothel women in his 29 years, but men...he'd never even considered it. Now here was a man who wanted to show his appreciation to Dean in a most unorthodox way. Morally he knew visiting prostitutes was wrong and against the Good Book. It was such a common practice that most turned a blind eye, however, because a man needed to feel a woman occasionally. But this...well, Dean didn't want to think about the kinds of sins he could be committing at the Perdition saloon.
Dean scratched at the stubble on his chin and pocketed the coin, trying to decide a course of action. He really needed a drink.
* * *
Dean's curiosity naturally led him to the Perdition, where he bellied up to the bar and ordered a shot of whiskey. He had to pay 75 cents for the honor of doing so, which was a scandalous price but expected in a town like the Flat.
Usually saloon girls were only there to entertain men who wandered in, getting them to buy expensive drinks and such, and weren't necessarily prostitutes. They would sing and dance with the customers -- which they also charged for -- but the dirty business of prostitution was left to the seedier saloons.
The women of the Perdition had no such qualms. They were barely wearing clothing, with most showing off enough décolletage to get arrested in better places. Men came and went with different women. And unlike the better-built brothels and hotels of the large cities, saloon prostitutes didn't do business there in the establishment.
The "red light district," so named because of the railroad lanterns lighting the way, extended for two blocks in a broken line of structures down each side of Griffin Avenue near the river. Known as "cribs," these were two-room shacks set up where the prostitutes could conduct business without sullying the reputation of the rest of the town. The women would ply a prospective customer with liquor, get him to pay the saloon owner, and then be taken down into one of the cribs.
Dean glanced around at the soiled doves working in the saloon that night. All of them were young but well used. Obviously since this saloon permitted the women to whore themselves to customers, it wasn't a very upstanding business.
Regardless, Dean sipped at his whiskey and listened to the songs the women were singing.
"I have to admit I'm surprised you're here."
Dean turned around to find Castiel sitting next to him at the bar.
"I needed a drink," Dean said.
"Lots of places in this town to imbibe, I'd wager," Castiel said, leaning a hand on his chin.
Dean downed the shot he had in front of him and motioned to the bartender for another.
"You talk queer for a Flat man," Dean said, furrowing his brow in confusion. "Reckon I was thirsty. Followed my boots here."
"Mm-hmm. You happen to be drinking 75-cent shots of the rotgut because you're thirsty, or because you're apprehensive about what's to come?"
Castiel leaned closer to Dean. "You're nervous about that token," he whispered.
"I ain't never been nervous about nothin' in my life," Dean mumbled, gulping another shot. He waved to the bartender again.
"What's your name, Ranger?"
"Dean, did you come here to waste your money on overpriced whiskey?"
Castiel was looking at him now. Those piercing blue eyes still seemed somehow familiar.
"I..." Dean swallowed. "I dunno."
"Perhaps we could talk about what you do want, away from the bar."
Dean felt for the token through the material of his vest. His heart was pounding harder than he'd ever remembered, even while chasing the Comanche.
"I r-reckon there'd be no harm in t-that," Dean stuttered. "Only..."
"People got loose tongues, and I don't want...y'know..."
"You don't want to be seen with me," Castiel finished.
"Please don't take no offense," Dean said, removing his hat in an apologetic gesture.
Castiel cocked his head quizzically. "No, no offense, Ranger. That's the first time someone has ever apologized for it, however."
"Can I meet you by-and-by?"
"Yes, Clampett's wagon yard is at the northernmost end of Griffin Avenue, across from the Bee Hive. Meet me near the wheelwright's shop."
Castiel slid off the stool and exited through the saloon's back door. Dean watched him retreat, and slammed money down for two more shots before he left.
* * *
The Bee Hive across the street was packed with revelers of all sorts. The sounds of billiards and roulette distracted him enough that he didn't see Castiel walk out from behind a large wagon wheel that was up on blocks next to him.
It was instinct rather than fear that caused him to draw the Colt.
"Easy does it, Ranger," Castiel said, identifying himself by stepping into the light cast by the saloon. His hands were raised.
Dean holstered his revolver. "Sorry."
"You don't have to walk next to me if it causes you distress. I'm down near the river. You can meet me..."
"No," Dean said, walking closer. He handed Castiel the brothel token. "Here, I made up my mind. Castiel."
"Please, call me Cas."
"Cas," Dean repeated, as they walked together down the packed dirt of Griffin Avenue. "What kind of name is that?"
"My parents were Bible-fearing folk."
They entered the red light district of town, where Dean could see about two dozen or so of the prostitutes' cribs. The structures were like the rest of town, made of raw timber and rather dilapidated. Some were nothing more than canvas tents.
There was a table and chairs and food preparation area in the front of the crib, while the bed was in back. There were no luxuries; although the prostitutes lived there they were mainly places of business. The one anomaly Dean noticed was a leather-bound Bible placed carefully on a shelf next to a tin of matches.
Dean took his hat off, placed it over the back of a chair, and sat down.
"The bed's back here, Dean," Cas said, pulling aside a heavy canvas cloth that hung from the door frame.
Castiel walked over and put his hand on Dean's shoulder. "C'mon. You won't be my only customer tonight."
"Yeah," Dean said, looking up into those eyes. "Okay. Sure."
He followed Cas into the back room. A crude pallet covered with blankets formed a bed. There was an oilcloth at the foot of the bed. It was a length of heavy cotton material, treated with linseed oil to create an impermeable covering. It was used because most men kept their boots on in bed, not bothering to get fully undressed. The oilcloth kept the filth from getting into the sheets.
On a small stand near the bed was a ceramic pitcher and basin. Cas left the room for a moment and returned with a bucket of water and a cake of lye soap, which he placed on the stand. He poured the water into the basin.
Dean unfastened his gun belt and tossed it on the bed, making sure the grip of the Colt pointed toward him. Then he stood there, unsure of what to do next.
"Uh, I don't rightly know what to do here. I mean...what are you gonna do?"
"Anything you want, Ranger."
"That weren't what I meant. I know what's gonna happen when I take a lady to bed, but this..."
Cas sat on the edge of the blankets. "The token is good for a screw," he said, shrugging.
"You don't got no say in the matter?"
"I do what I'm told. It's part of the job."
"So I can get you to bend over the bed yonder like I'm some deer on the rut and do whatever I want?"
Castiel glanced at the floor, but nodded.
Dean wondered how long this Castiel had been in the business of whoring. He didn't seem as shrewd and calculated as some soiled doves he'd been with. Those women would rather slit your throat and steal your money belt once they were done with a screw. Dean felt his initial reaction when he first saw Cas -- that he seemed broken somehow -- was still correct.
"Look here, Cas, you don't have to..."
"You saved my life," Castiel interrupted, looking up at him. "I owe you that."
"That weren't why I did it."
Castiel stood and moved closer, and then reached up to finger the loop of Dean's sloppily knotted tie. "You're telling me that one of the few honest men in Texas -- who's about to get his dick sucked -- risked his life to save a benny boy out of the goodness of his heart?"
"I never knew that's what you called...what you were..." Dean waved his hand. "But that don't matter none. I reckon that's how I were raised -- helping people what needed it."
"You're a peculiar sort, Ranger," Castiel said.
He began slowly to unbutton Dean's trousers.
"I could say the same of you," Dean said in a hushed voice, watching Castiel's fingers.
Castiel lifted Dean's vest and shirt from where they were tucked into his pants. He unfastened two buttons of Dean's underwear, exposing flesh and a dark trail of hair.
"Shall I touch you, Dean?"
Dean swallowed and nodded.
Castiel ran a fingernail through the wisps of hair, tracing a pattern back and forth that made Dean gasp and shiver. Every time the finger moved Dean felt his skin prickle with the sensation, sending heat low into his abdomen. When Castiel caressed the crease between his groin and hip, he twitched and his knees got weak. He had to place a hand on Castiel's shoulder to steady himself.
That elicited a smile from Castiel, who now began undoing more buttons.
Castiel placed his palm on Dean's stomach, pressing against the firm muscle. Then he twisted his wrist so his fingertips brushed the top of Dean's cock.
Dean moaned in response and closed his eyes. He was physically shaking he was so aroused, and the sound of his panting sounded foreign in his ears.
When he opened his eyes again, Castiel was staring at him.
"Can I...can I kiss you?" Dean tentatively asked.
Castiel brought their lips together in answer.
It was exhilarating and frightening at the same time. Dean had never imagined kissing another man could feel so powerful. It was rough, and hot, and he sunk his tongue deep into Castiel's mouth to drink in more of him. He could feel Castiel's heat pressing against him; his strong arms wrapped around Dean's waist; the stubble brushing his cheek...Dean whimpered at all the sensations.
Castiel slid his hands to Dean's waist and sunk to his knees.
"It's not like being kissed by a woman, is it?"
Dean met Castiel's eyes.
"No...it's better, God forgive me."
Castiel leaned forward to place a kiss on Dean's stomach and muttered, "God redeems all sins, brother."
Dean pushed Castiel away and took a step back.
"What is it?" Castiel asked, standing up.
"What did you say?"
Castiel frowned. "I said kissing a man isn't like kissing a woman."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"What are you tryin' to pull?" Dean asked angrily. There was a split second between Dean's words, and suddenly he was holding the Colt and training it on Castiel.
"What do you mean? This isn't what you want?"
"No," Dean growled.
"I can do other things to make you feel good," Castiel said, reaching for Dean. "We can..."
"No. There ain't nothin' you can do to make me feel good, preacher."
"What did you call me?"
"I called you preacher, Cas. Preacher. I had a feelin' I seen those blue eyes before! I know you!"
"You must be mistaken," Castiel said, returning to the bed to sit down.
"Last year. In February. I was at the Methodist revival goin' on down in Picketville, the one when them Comanche come in and stole the horses right out from under the noses of them settlers? I was there, listenin' to you preach."
Castiel rubbed absent-mindedly at the scratches on his face. "What do you want me to say?"
"I wanna hear the truth. I wanna know what kind of trick you're pullin', or so help me..."
"Dean, please. I'll tell you everything. Just...just don't hurt me."
"Don't move," he said. Dean reached through the canvas cover of the doorway and hooked the rung of the chair with his boot to drag it into the room. He sat down, gun still in hand.
"Now speak the truth," Dean warned. "I'll know if you're lyin'."
"You were right about seeing me in Picketville. I used to be a circuit rider," Castiel explained, not meeting Dean's eyes. "But those days have long since passed."
"A circuit rider? You mean one of them travelin' Methodists what takes to the trail to preach the Word?"
"And now you're...whoring?"
Castiel didn't answer. Dean took a moment to re-button his clothes and smooth out his shirt and vest. He put his hat back on and placed the Colt into its holster.
Castiel looked up at him.
"I can recall the herd of people at that revival," Dean said. "If you had the gift for preachin', how in blazes did you end up here?"
Castiel merely shook his head and sighed.
"I was born in the Ohio valley in 1841 to a devoted Methodist couple. They prevailed upon me from the time I was young to get an education and spread the Gospel. I wanted to see the West, and came out to Austin. The conference bishop sent me to ride the circuit and convert as many as possible to Methodism."
"The moment a young man shows talent for spreading the Word he's pushed headlong into the life by the brethren," Castiel continued. "You no longer sing, or dance, or read novels. You preach twice every weekday and three times on Sunday. When you're on the trail you have nothing but a few possessions and a trust in God. When the time came I thought I could resist temptation, but I was wrong."
"I reckon I got no right to pry, but that still don't explain why you're here in this place," Dean said, waving a hand to acknowledge the room.
Castiel ran a hand through his hair. Dean could tell he was ambivalent about revealing his past.
"I fell into drink," Castiel admitted. "I was in a...bad way when I came to the Flat, with hardly any money. I tried to gamble my way out of here and lost, and now I owe the man that owns the Perdition."
"Well that don't seem right. How much did you lose?"
"You owed money and you're workin' it off like this?"
Castiel put his head in his hands. "I had no choice."
Dean had heard about desperate men who turned to the gun after gambling away their earnings. Railroads, stage coaches, and frontier banks became targets of the destitute. He couldn't imagine how far a man had to fall to turn to a life of prostitution.
"I ain't passin' judgment on you, Cas," Dean said. "But I reckon there are less corruptin' ways to earn money, right?"
"It wasn't only the money," he answered.
"Gamblin' ain't a proper man's sport. Did he cheat you? Use them marked cards? We can go talk to him. I can help..."
"You don't understand," Castiel said, and laughed harshly.
Dean furrowed his brow. "You're damn right I don't understand! If I can help you outta this..."
"Why?!" Castiel cried, getting to his feet. "Why should you care what happens to a fallen preacher who sold his soul for fifty dollars?"
"I...I dunno, Cas. I just do."
Castiel reached for the brothel token he had placed in the pocket of his trousers.
"Here," he said, tossing it to Dean, "I suppose the righteous Ranger can't bring himself to screw someone as broken as me."
Dean flinched. "Cas..."
Castiel turned away. "Please go, Dean."
Dean turned the token over in his palm and placed it into his vest. He dug around for his coin purse and placed a dollar coin on the stand next to the bed. Then he pulled the canvas drape from the door and was halfway through it before he stopped to turn around.
Castiel looked over his shoulder.
"I can still taste you."
* * *
He spent a fitful night tossing and turning in his bed at the boarding house and rose early the next morning, anxious and unsettled.
After donning boots and hat he fetched his Winchester out of the house safe. It had cost him an entire month's pay, and aside from his horse and his father's watch, it was the most precious thing he owned.
As he often did when things were clouded in his mind, he went to seek out his pony. Haverty had one of his boys on, and after giving his horse a good brushing and some soothing talk, he blanketed and saddled her, and slid the Winchester into its saddle holster. The pony was still slightly skittish about using regular tack, as she was accustomed to being ridden bareback by the Comanche. Dean himself had to get into the practice of mounting her from the right side, because after all he had tried he still couldn't get her to hold still when he tried from the left, the typical way a Texan mounted a horse.
He didn't bother with his spurs that morning. He only wanted to get her out for some exercise, and in the mean time clear his head of what went on with Cas.
He heeled her a little bit in order to pick up the pace. He rode north out of town, past the road where the prostitutes' cribs were. The road to Fort Richardson cut through a shallow part of the Clear Fork, where he crossed amid Fort Griffin's washerwomen gathering water for the day's labor.
The hills and trees were green with late summer abundance. The early morning air was cool, and he was glad to get away from the dusty, crowded shacks of the Flat for a little while. A passel of wild turkeys strut their way through the cut in the river, walking down to its banks to drink. He paused for a moment, wishing he could bag one of them and send it down to Jessica. Her eyes would be as big as saucers with a turkey for Thanksgiving.
Clearing the river the prairie opened up, where only mesquite scrub, a few trees, and low-lying hills broke up the flat Texas terrain. He didn't want to stray too far from the fort, because it was still dangerous to be alone on the plains.
He turned around to return to the Flat, gently reining his pony out of the way of some prickly pear cactus. The crisp morning air hadn't cleared his mind all that much, and now he was hungry for breakfast.
* * *
He left the livery, returned his Winchester to the safe at the Gus, and headed back over to Shanssey's for his morning meal. The streets were still filled with late-night revelers, and at one point he had to be careful to step over a large man passed out next to the horse's water trough in front of the saloon.
Choosing his regular table, he ordered coffee and biscuits.
"We got some taters this mornin', for extra cost," the barman said.
Dean simply nodded and went over to sit down. His eyes naturally drifted over to where he had seen Cas sitting over the past two days.
His better instincts told him to drop the situation, to let the man be and live his life the way he chose. That was one of the freedoms of the frontier: no one knew you and most never even asked for your last name. You could remain a nameless, drifting soul on the prairies and never make so much as a mark on the lives of others.
Dean wasn't that kind of man. He thought back to his father, constantly reminding him that it was a great responsibility to look after your fellow man and do right by strangers. That way, his father said, you'd never be truly alone in the world.
The barman placed the plate down in front of Dean and poured the coffee. He hadn't had fresh potatoes in some time, and the hot, steaming one on his plate eased his mind a bit.
As he ate, he wondered what would make a man sell himself for losing a fifty dollar bet. It had to be more complicated than simply owing money. Why, a man could find himself a job easily in a town like the Flat, and work hard to pay it back. A man with a willingness to do work could always survive, regardless of skill.
Dean sipped at his bitter coffee. He thought about the way Castiel looked at him when confronted about being a preacher and couldn't imagine what he had been thinking. He was in pain; that was certain. There had to be something Dean could do.
At that, he licked a stray drop of coffee from his bottom lip and thought back to the kiss. As Castiel said, it wasn't like kissing a woman. He knew it was supposed to be wrong and unnatural, morally corrupt, and against all good sense. But it stirred something within him, something primal and forbidden, and he liked it. Hell, he would have given the token to let Castiel kiss him all night.
What was more unsettling, however, was that he wanted to see Castiel again, simply to be in his company. It was confusing to have these thoughts about another man. Castiel wasn't a fellow Ranger or one of his old trail riding compatriots. He was a total stranger that was affecting Dean in a way he had never experienced, striking doubt -- and even fear -- into his heart for the first time since he could remember.
And Dean also felt an odd sense of comradeship with Castiel. Dean knew that feeling of hopelessness and self-loathing. He had been living with it for years, ever since watching his father sacrifice his life to save Dean from a band of Comanche. He was still seeped in guilt over that night, and he could never forget it.
He drained the last of his coffee and slid two fingertips over either side of his mustache. No matter how he felt, one thing was for sure: Castiel needed help, and Dean was going to try to give it to him.
* * *
His first stop was the post office, to check if any member of his company had arrived for the rendezvous yet. As he had set off from Waco well before the general order went out, he was still days ahead of the rest of the company. He left his name with the postmaster and where he was staying in case any of his fellow Rangers arrived in town.
Then, after steeling himself for the matter at hand, he made his way back to the Perdition to seek out the saloon's owner. Dean was intent on getting the full story about why Castiel was being forced into a way of life he didn't want. There was nothing worse than a man who wasn't free to choose his own life's path.
He entered the saloon and motioned for the bartender, who was washing glasses from the night before.
"I wanna speak to the owner."
"One of his benny boys."
The man made a face, and left the bar to call on a man who was sitting in a small room located off the main saloon area.
The man was tall and slender, with long sandy hair that touched the nape of his neck. He was bearded, wearing a gray shirt and red silk vest adorned with ivory buttons.
"Can I help you?"
"We need to talk private," Dean said.
"I'd prefer to be introduced before going off with a stranger, if you don't mind."
"The name's Dean. I'm here about one of the men that work for you. Castiel."
"Alastair Ebbets. Shall we sit, Dean?"
Alastair led him over to one of the tables away from the bar area. Dean made sure to sit facing the room, with his back against the wall.
"Mmm, either you're a gunfighter or a lawman. Which is it, I wonder?"
"A Texas Ranger, if you gotta know."
Alastair leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. "So tell me, Dean the Texas Ranger, was my boy not good enough for you? I carry all sorts of specialties that may be more to your particular...tastes."
"No," Dean said, instantly wishing he could put a bullet through this man's skull. "I didn't...I mean, I knew him."
"You've met the preacher before then, hmm?"
"You knew he was a preacher?"
"Oh yes, from before he came to my humble little saloon," Alastair said.
"I wanna know why he's workin' for you against his will."
"My pretty little Castiel is working for me because he owes me money, simple as that. I'm not forcing anyone to do anything."
"But he said he don't got no choice other than to work for you. Is that true?" Dean asked.
"Quite." Alastair bent down to whisper near Dean's ear. "You see, Castiel was a very naughty boy before he came to the Flat. He prevailed upon an acquaintance to borrow money for a poker game, which he subsequently lost. I paid off my friend, and Castiel's debt then came to me. I needed someone to...expand my offerings here, you would say. He fit the bill perfectly, all innocence and doe eyes. The soldiers love him."
Dean involuntarily shuddered at the delight this man was taking in Castiel's misery.
"How come you didn't let him pay off the debt no other way?" Dean asked.
"That, my dear Dean, is between me and the preacher."
"Did you threaten to kill him?" Dean asked angrily.
"You seem to have taken an exceptional interest in this whore, haven't you? Are you sure you didn't bend him over the bed and treat him the way he likes?"
Dean stood up so fast the chair he was sitting in crashed back against the wall.
Alastair put his hands up and laughed. "Easy there, Dean. I'm only speaking the truth."
"You are an evil son of a bitch."
"You may be right," Alastair agreed, grinning.
* * *
Dean spent the rest of that day and evening trying to find Castiel. For a town as small as the Flat, hundreds of men passed through every day, sometimes making locating an individual difficult. He found that every time he poked his head into a saloon or dance hall, an entirely new clientele replaced the one that had been there on his previous visit.
Dean was hoping his usual meal of beans, beef, and biscuits at Shanssey's would also yield Castiel. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case. It was his captain that found his way to Dean's table that night.
Dean stood up when Captain Campbell walked through the saloon doors. He was a tall man, a little taller than Dean, with blonde hair, mustache, and dark eyes. He always kept himself neat and trimmed, and insisted on washing every day, which was unique in the company.
He was wearing clothing almost identical to Dean's, except he had two Colt pistols strapped cross-draw on his gun belt.
"Winchester! Good to see you, man."
"Sir!" Dean vigorously shook hands with his captain. He was a strong and capable leader, and Dean got on with him well. "The trip was good?"
"Not a red devil in sight, thank the Lord. That new trail was fine travelin', real fine. How about you, Sergeant? Have a nice visit with the family?"
"I did, thank you, sir. You should see little Johnny. He's burstin' at the seams, I swear. Gonna be just like his granddaddy, I reckon, full of mischief and adventure. Jess has her hands full."
"Good to hear it." Campbell took a seat next to Dean at his table. "This town is Sodom on Earth, Sergeant. I haven't seen a more tangled lair of villains since we were huntin' down Mexicans in the old days. Did you know that a wanted man runs the Perdition saloon?"
"He does?" Dean asked, his interest piqued.
"I recognized him right away. He was wanted for rustling cattle from a rancher by the name of Rand Stewart. I should take that up with the sheriff before we leave town."
"The rest of the company along with the mule train should be here by tomorrow. Plan on movin' out by then, Sergeant. Feel free to stay in town until that time if you'd like, enjoy the sights and such. We'll be scoutin' the plains this winter and I doubt we'll be near a town again for a while."
"Yes, sir," Dean said, distressed at the escalated time frame.
"Well," Campbell said, smacking his hands on the tabletop as he stood up, "I'm going to take advantage of some fine dining, such as it is in this town. The rest of the company is camped west of the fort. I'll be staying at Planter's Hotel until we move out. Report to Lieutenant Beavert tomorrow, Sergeant."
"Very good, sir. Thank you, sir."
The captain slapped Dean on the back and took his leave. Dean looked over to the empty table where Castiel usually sat, and made a promise to himself that he would do all he could to help him before he had to leave with the company. That meant he had mere hours to see the fallen preacher redeemed.
* * *
He was on his way back to the Gus for the night when he caught movement in an alley between York's bank and dry goods store. There were no street lanterns, but he could definitely make out two people by the harsh light of the moon.
Castiel was facing the wall, his trousers around his ankles, with both arms extended above his head to support his weight. Pressed against him from behind was a soldier, who had one hand wrapped in Castiel's hair and the other gripping his own dick. The soldier then thrust himself forward, and Dean closed his eyes at the sound Castiel made.
Dean wanted to run into the alley and pull that piece of filth away from Castiel, to protect him from the evil that permeated this town, to save him from destroying himself. Dean refused to allow Castiel to dwell in the dark the way he had after his father had been killed if he could prevent it.
When Dean opened his eyes again, Castiel was staring at him. There was no sound other than the grunting of the soldier, and then Castiel turned away.
Dean made up his mind at that moment, and headed back to Castiel's crib.
* * *
"What are you doing here?"
Dean rose from the chair he was sitting in when Castiel finally entered. He had almost fallen asleep waiting.
"Cas, please, set and listen to me for a spell, okay?"
"Because I wanna help you, and I don't got much time before the rest of the company moves out. Because you need someone to stand up for you."
Castiel placed a few coins in the match tin on the shelf and sat down at the table.
"I don't need you to feel sorry for me, Dean."
"It ain't that, Cas," Dean said, sitting back down and tossing his hat on the table. "I know how it feels when your heart is broke. The pain you got, the feelin' like you won't ever be right again...it ain't uncommon."
Castiel eyed him carefully. "You're speaking from experience?"
"I doubt you've ever whored yourself."
"No, but I know what's it's like to feel lost in this here world, and I'm offerin' you somethin' to hold onto, if you'll let me."
"If I put my trust in you, would you be willin' to do the same? Can you take a chance for me?" Dean asked.
Castiel sighed wearily. "I'll try."
"I went to see Alastair."
"Don't be mad, Cas. I was only tryin' to help."
"The righteous Ranger, sticking your nose into places it doesn't belong," Castiel said angrily.
"He told me he knew you, before you came to the Flat."
"He said he knew you was a preacher."
Castiel went silent and looked down. Dean reached out for Castiel's hand, and when he did so, Castiel met his eyes.
"You don't deserve to suffer like you been doin' all this time, Cas. Trust me enough to tell me the truth. Please."
Castiel took a deep breath and then let it out. "You said you knew what it was like to feel lost. Explain yourself."
"I reckon I can."
"Wait," Castiel said before Dean could start. "What's your last name?"
Dean grinned. "Winchester. No relation to the rich man what owns the gun company."
"Well, Castiel Agnus, I was born in 1846, somewhere along the Brazos in Young County. I have a younger brother, Samuel, a lawyer who lives down Waco way now with his wife Jess and my nephew Johnny. Anyway, it weren't long after Samuel was born that the Comanche burnt us outta the homestead and killed our ma."
"When was that?"
"Uh, 'round '50, I reckon."
"Daddy took it bad, real bad. He packed me and Samuel up and left us with one of his friends, a man named Bobby. When I was old enough to hold a gun, I took to the trail with daddy to hunt down them Comanche."
"What about Samuel?"
Dean grinned. "Samuel never took to the trail life. He was too damn smart for his own good. Me and daddy rode the cattle trails while huntin' the Comanche and got us enough money to send Samuel to the pay schools. Then about two years ago me and daddy caught up with the band of Comanche what murdered ma."
"This Comanche by the name of Yellow Eye and a couple of his bucks snuck up on daddy while I was lookin' after the horses one night," Dean continued, sobering. "There was too many of 'em, and daddy knew it. He couldn't call out to me, but I could see his eyes. I seen the way he was lookin' at me -- he warned me not to try and help him. I couldn't do a damned thing, Cas, and watched as they slit his throat and scalped him right there in front of me."
"His sacrifice gave you a chance to escape," Castiel said.
"This here's what I mean by knowin' pain, Cas. My daddy gave his life for me, and I never felt like I deserved it. He was a better man that I could ever be, or will ever be. That haunts my mind to no end."
"What ever happened to Yellow Eye?"
Dean let go of Castiel's hand and pulled his coin purse from his vest. "I killed that son of a bitch and made this here pouch outta his scalp."
"Lord have mercy!" Castiel exclaimed.
"Even if you wasn't a preacher Cas, I'd expect you to say somethin' of the like. I took his pony, too, and ride her with the Rangers to remind me every day what my daddy gave up for me."
"I have no doubt that your father would be proud of the man you've become," Castiel said, touching Dean's arm.
"I reckon," Dean said. "I won't ever know, will I, and I gotta live with that every day."
"I'd offer you a drink, Dean," Cas said, "but I don't keep any here to tempt me."
"Because of the bad time you had back before you came to the Flat?"
Castiel nodded. "There was a reason I lost myself in liquor. It's why I'm forced to work for Alastair."
"The money you owe."
"No," Castiel said. "I mean why I began drinking in the first place."
"Alastair said there were somethin' between you two he couldn't tell me."
"When I was riding the circuit," Castiel began, "I felt invincible in the Lord's power. I longed to spread the Word far and wide, and relished every chance I had to speak to anyone who would listen. Before I was in Picketville I was invited to stay on a rich rancher's spread by the name of Rand Stewart. He held influence over the county's settlers and gave me room and board in return for preaching to those he invited to his land to hear me."
"Rand Stewart, hmm? Reckon it had to of been a spectacle," Dean said.
"I spent time with his family, preaching the Gospel. That's where I met Gabriel."
"One of the ranch hands. He was honest, hardworking, and had a powerful faith. He was also beautiful."
Dean made a confused face. "Beautiful, like..."
"I succumbed to lust."
"I couldn't resist the temptation of the flesh."
"Oh. You mean...huh. Well, I can't say I could ever resist it, neither," Dean admitted.
"You're not a preacher, Dean," Castiel pointed out.
"Did you have to leave Gabriel for some reason?"
"Alastair. He worked as a ranch hand there too, and caught Gabriel and me together."
"So that's why that demon's got your neck in a noose, because he knows about Gabriel?"
"When he recognized me he paid off the man I lost the money to in the poker game, so that I would then owe him. If I didn't work for him at the Perdition, he threatened to tell the bishop what I did, to make sure I'd never preach again."
"You've been here ever since, Cas?"
"I have, stuck between two worlds, like purgatory."
"If we can figure out this Alastair, work it so he lets you go, then there ain't nothin' keepin' you from pullin' up stakes outta here and goin' somewhere where no one knows you, Cas. You can still spread the Word."
"There's still my guilt. I fell to the drink and gambling after what happened with Gabriel. That's how I got into this situation in the first place. I couldn't justify what I had done with my religion."
Dean thought about it for a moment. "This Gabriel, was he of age?"
"And did he feel the same way?"
"He did, though I blame myself for leading him down the sinful path. His spirit was pure and I've sullied him for eternity."
"That don't seem likely," Dean said, "if you was both in love. God don't pass judgment on love."
Castiel cocked his head in surprise. "How can you think that?"
"I ain't no educated man on the Bible, and I know what the Commandments say and all, but there ain't nothin' in there about love bein' wrong, right?"
"Look here, Cas," Dean said, "ain't there all number of ways to read the Bible? There can't be just one way to understand them jumble of words."
"No," Castiel said, "I suppose there isn't."
"I don't think you was in the wrong. You need to work through that in your head, and in your heart. Reckon you'll have to live with the pain, like I do with my daddy. But find a way to make it count for somethin'. That was why I joined the Rangers. I couldn't help my daddy, so I'm gonna try and help others what need it."
"Is that why you took such a strong interest in me, Dean?" Castiel asked, touching Dean's arm again.
Dean looked down at Castiel's hand. "I couldn't bear seeing you in pain, Cas, and I wanted to help. I don't rightly understand why."
Castiel smiled knowingly, and recited:
"Were I inspired to preach and tell
All that is done in heav'n and hell;
Or could my faith the world remove,
Still I am nothing without love."
"You're a peculiar sort, Cas," Dean said.
"I could say the same of you," Castiel answered.
"Cas," Dean said, taking a deep breath, "we're movin' out tomorrow. I...don't know what to do with myself."
Castiel reached up to push a strand of hair behind Dean's ear. "Stay for tonight."
Dean reached into his vest pocket. "I still got this." He handed Castiel the brothel token.
"If that's what you want..."
"No, Cas, it ain't. This ain't a life for you no more. Can I use it for somethin' other than what this here token says?"
Cas frowned. "I suppose, although no one's ever asked for it."
"Well, I am. Just kiss me."
* * *
The following morning Dean had risen early, leaving Castiel to sleep. He entered the livery and found his pony.
"We'll be out on the plains again by-and-by, girl," he said to the horse quietly. "No more settin' around these parts."
He began to brush her, speaking soothingly to her as he did it.
His mind was still muddled over what to do about Castiel. The company was moving out in a few hours, and Dean had yet to decide a course of action that could assist Castiel in any way.
The company had plans to patrol west of the Brazos into the winter, which meant they weren't going to be near the Flat again until the spring most likely, when it came time to re-supply. He couldn't leave Castiel at the mercy of Alastair for another six months or more. Dean took his hat off and slid an agitated hand through his hair. He pulled out his father's pocket watch to check the time, noting how few hours he had left to spend in the town, and how soon it would be until he had to be away from Castiel.
He sighed and watched the hands tick down the minutes. He was going to lose Castiel if he didn't do something soon.
Dean knew there was something more between them than simply his desire to help. He wasn't that smart, but it didn't take a genius to understand the way he felt when he was around Castiel. He felt protective, and confused, and...happy.
He hadn't felt that way in years, and there was no way he was going to give it up so easily.
Dean glanced at the watch again, and knew what he had to do.
* * *
Later that morning, he quietly let himself back into Castiel's crib. He knelt down next to the bed to gently shake Castiel awake.
"Dean? What are you doing up? Are you leaving?"
"Not yet. Get up, I wanna show you somethin'."
Castiel rubbed at his eyes. "What is it?"
Dean held up a piece of parchment. "This here's your freedom, Cas."
Castiel reached for the paper and began to read. "...and thus I declare the debt of Castiel Agnus paid in full...Dean, what is this?"
"That there's a letter I had Alastair write to declare you paid off and free to live your life the way you see fit."
"How did you get this? Dean, you didn't...oh Lord, you didn't kill him, did you?"
Dean looked confused. "What? No...I sold my daddy's watch."
He held up the empty chain still attached to his vest.
"You sold your..." Castiel could only shake his head; his eyes welled up with tears.
"I promised I would help you, Cas. You needed to have faith."
"You did," he said, his voice hitching. "But it was never only the money with Alastair. How did you get him to sign that paper?"
"He was a wanted man, and I asked my captain to hold off arrestin' him 'til we got back from winter scout. That way, I got that evil man to sign that he wouldn't go writin' any letters to your bishop, neither," Dean said. "And Cas...there were enough money left over to get you a stage ticket to Waco, where Samuel is. I wired him this mornin' and told him to expect you, the new preacher in town."
"New preacher? Dean, but that means...I can't see you again."
"No, it don't. You're gonna restore your good name in Waco. I'm gonna finish up my duty with the Rangers, and then work the trail for a spell to save up enough for some land. Would you be willin' to try ranchin' when the time comes, Cas? With me?"
"I ain't askin' you to give up preachin', neither. This here's a big world, and we can go somewhere no one knows us. We can find us a little town where people need Bible-learnin', and we can ranch while you still teach the Word."
"That...that would be wonderful."
"You do too many things to me, Castiel," Dean admitted. "My heart beats faster when I'm around you, and I feel lighter and happier. I don't rightly know how to work it out in my head yet, but I know that I ain't givin' it up. I wanna be with you."
"I want to be with you, too."
"I don't reckon we ever gotta be broken again, do we Cas?"
Castiel smiled in response. "No, Dean. Never, ever again."
The Texas Rangers
"The Texas Rangers" episode of The Real West, 1993 Arts & Entertainment Television
Gillett, James B. "Six Years with the Texas Rangers, 1875 to 1881." Can be purchased on Amazon here.
History of Fort Griffin
Methodist Circuit Riders
Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts, Hymn 134 (a renowned hymn writer, as mentioned in the Eggleston book above)
"Brothels" episode of Wild West Tech, 2004, Arts & Entertainment Television
Friedman, Mack. Strapped for Cash: A History of American Hustler Culture, pp. 11-19. Can be purchased at Amazon here
Finally, some other things that I left out of my author's note for space considerations.
1. Mares were not accepted in the Texas Rangers, and definitely not Indian ponies. I got a little creative here with Dean's back story and wanted to include the paint horse he took from the dead Comanche.
2. I used some fictional description for the inside of Shanssey's saloon. There are no photos. The description of the outside I took from a photo showing the saloon after historians rebuilt it on its original foundation.
3. I took Alastair's last name from the character Christopher Heyerdahl played on the miniseries Into the West, James Ebbets.
4. I don't actually know what Captain G.W. Campbell looked like. I made that up.
5. The pitcher and basin in Dean's room at the Gus and in Castiel's crib is called a "peter pan." This was used so that before cowboys has sex with a prostitute they could wash their "peter," and thus the name was coined. I wanted to include this but I decided to keep Dean filthy from the trail, LOL.