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The Winchester trail

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The rolling cart ends its dash and crumbles as it hits the flank of the house, planks immediately igniting with the multitude of small blazes carried by wisps of straw already aflame that the wind picks up and delivers all around.

Too many months of drought have rendered everything susceptible to combustion at the drop of a hat and Sam watches, powerless, as the home he built with his hands starts to go up in flame. There's no water to extinguish it.

Edgar and the other men responsible are far already, their laughs carried by the wind over the sound of their horses' hooves. Roman sent them to remind him that his time on this land is coming to an end and he'd better give up everything he's tried to build these past years. What Roman fails to understand is that the more he's pushing, the more Sam will push back. Or maybe Roman does understand, and this is why he's trying to destroy the reasons why Sam keeps fighting back.

"We have to get after them !" Junior screams, furious.

Junior is worse than him. Sam orders him to stay put, and he doesn’t know if he should be more afraid or proud of his son who grabs a blanket and tries his damnedest to shut the fire down. Madison yells at him to protect Junior and drag him far from the flames, but instead Sam grabs another darned blanket and stands by the kid to beat the fire with it.

The heat is next to insufferable and Sam wants nothing more than to take Junior away but, at 14, his son feels he's ready to take his old man's place and make up for his flaws. Ready to be a man on his own and show the scoundrels of Roman's ilk who they're trying to steal from. He's incredibly brave, and completely stupid for it.

Madison attacks the fire from inside the house and the three of them manage to contain it after Junior and Sam tear off some planks to try and limit the available burning source. Then they push out the furniture still aflame and soon the fire crawls to a slow death.

They're black and hot, reeking of smoke, exhausted, but Sam can still see the deep anger in Junior's eyes. The one he used to feel at his age, because life was unfair and Sam wanted to know why his father and brother had abandoned him all these years ago. This familiar anger that diminished with strokes of unending bad luck and went away with the loss of his left foot at war, leaving in its wake an infinite tiredness and the will to create something better for his family.

As always, Sam has failed in this endeavor.

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Since their bedroom went up in flame, Madison built them a makeshift bed out of blankets and pillows in one corner of the living room. In their misfortune, they were lucky enough that she had taken the time yesterday to go to the river – bypassing Roman's men who guard it to make sure Sam won't be able to do anything about the blockade he put in place to redirect it to a tributary and make Sam's land worthless – and most of their bed and household linen were hanging out to dry. On the contrary, most of their clothes have turned into ashes.

Madison is seemingly asleep, her back turned on him again.

They were in love, once. They were good together, and they brought to the world this wonderful son he could never abandon like his own father had done with him, and then Jake, a second boy, two perfect little men who looked so much like Sam that every day he thought he would give them everything he had been refused.

The war had seen to his plans and hopes, making him less than a man.

Then Sam had failed to provide for his family, failed to ensure that they live happy, well-fed and without worry. Failed to save Jake from tuberculosis.

Now he can hear in all of Madison's silences the contempt she never acknowledges. Every one of Madison's stares burns so deep that he's surprised he didn't disappear in smoke already. He's always refused to let her take care of or touch his mangled stump, hardly let her see the deformed thing that's supposed to be the remain of his foot since he's been shot during the war and doctors had to cut it off to fight the gangrene. Never talked about the incredible pain of amputation or the feeling of inadequacy pervading his whole existence ever since the day he woke up not whole anymore.

His own son looks at him with the same disgust, memories of the father he used to admire the only thing to keep him quiet. But he's becoming a man in his own right every day and Sam can see that damn anger settling on his shoulder, in his expressions, every time he thinks his father is a coward and a liability.

Sam has to find a way to keep them safe.

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Neither night nor dawn have brought any new idea to get out of this impossible situation. Dick Roman is still the richest man in Bisbee, and Sam still owes him much more money that he can hope to make in less than a week, the date upon which his land will automatically become Roman's possession. Madison, who discovered last night that Sam had lied and that he hadn't been able to reimburse his loan, is still mighty pissed about it, unwilling to accept he preferred to buy necessities and medicine for his family.

He needs only time to make it. A few months at most, after the rain has worked its magic and the grass is green and lush again. Then the cattle will thrive once more and Sam will be able to reimburse all his debts. But he needs time to get there.

"We should go live in town while you repair the house," Madison suggests.

"We don't have the money to pay for a bedroom at the hotel."

"I'm not talking about the hotel. Don Flack offered to let us use the room behind the store."

Sam snorts and Madison's eyes narrow.

"It would make things so easy for you and Flack, wouldn't it," Sam lets his bitterness show.

"I don't know what…"

"We're not going anywhere," he cuts her. "We don't need his charity."

"That's not charity. It's called hospitality, and community spirit. A simple extension of the help several men from the city came to offer."

A few people did come, alerted by the sight of the flames in the distance, but Sam knows they were not afraid for the Wessons' lives as much as they feared the fire's spreading farther, maybe even reaching the city.

"I don't need Flack's particular brand of help," he dismisses her for good.

He knows Madison is now just as pissed with him as Junior already is, but he won't budge on this. It's probably stupid of him to hope he will ever be able to win back his wife's affection when he's competing against the handsome and shrewd Flack, owner of the biggest store in Bisbee and provider of any and all necessities. Flack can offer to Madison the life she wants and deserves. But she's still here, and Sam can't see any other purpose to his life than to try and make his family united again.

The last thing of value he owns and is able to spare is the pendant his father forgot to take when he left him at the orphanage, the one framing inside its brass casing a tiny and blurry picture of his whole family. He's not sure if it's some kind of heirloom or a simple, useless gewgaw his brother might have given him to play with, but this is his past he's considering bargaining with, the one and only souvenir of the people he belongs to, just to keep Roman happy and get him to agree to wait longer. Maybe if he can get the loan shark to understand how much the trinket means to him, how hard he's ready to work to get it back…

As usual, Sam gets lost in his memories as his fingers trace the horns on the brass face. His adoptive parents have tried more than once to get him to throw away this thing they thought hideous but Sam held tight on it. He doesn't want to lose it, but he has to think of the future, and if it means leaving his past behind, then so be it. He'll cry about it later, when there's time for looking back.

Decision made, he pockets the pendant and calls Junior. They're going to gather the cattle, then he'll go into town and talk to Roman.

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Dean's internal clock is always right on time, and Adam's approach proves its accuracy once again.

"Coach's coming," Adam says, though he knows Dean is aware.

As the years pass, Adam takes his role at Dean's side more and more seriously. He likes to call himself his second in command. Neither of them has ever been in the army but Dean's little gang of hunters – gunslingers and killers who can pretend to act for the good of other people and see themselves as some kind of Wild West Robin Hoods – definitely works in the same way. Dean's orders are law, and God help whoever disobeys.

"Four Pinkertons outside, including the driver, and probably two inside," Adam continues. "And a Gatling."

Here comes the slightly unhinged smile that alerted Dean a long time ago about the dangerous slope his little brother had fallen down. Dean knows it's his fault. He argued with their father to keep Adam close and take care of him when he learned about his existence as the kid was about twelve. Anything to avoid abandoning Adam like they did Sam.

Nowadays, Dean wishes he hadn't found the words to convince John that he would be able to raise him as a hunter, that Adam would be a great help.

Adam is indeed a great hunter, but he lost his sanity at the same time he learned the trade. He was never meant to live the life and his first years, mollycoddled by his mother, hadn't prepared him like Dean for this harsh existence and the necessity of getting rid of their enemies. His first kill was akin to a death warrant for his humanity, along the loss of his soul. Man or monster, it doesn't matter to Adam whom he dispatches as long as the job is done and the supernatural artifacts they're going after are snatched from the Consortium's clutches to join the always growing Men of Letters' collection.

Not that Dean shows more scruples about killing when he has to, but he doesn't feel the need to dispatch always more enemies and monsters to prove to himself that he doesn't care. He's not crazy like Adam.

Or maybe he's too far gone to realize it.

Whatever the answer, the coach is coming fast and Dean already feels the excitement of the chase. Not to mention that stealing from Sinclair is always a bonus. Cuthbert has been a thorn in the Men of Letters' collective body for too long, a traitor who used the knowledge he gained in their midst to create his Consortium when he left to fend for himself and tried to shut the Men of Letters down in the process.

Dean has made it his mission to destroy him and his empire. One artifact at a time, he gets closer to his goal and Cuthbert Sinclair loses his advantage. One day, if it's the last thing Dean does, the man will only be a memory from the past, a foe best forgotten and unable to harm people anymore.

The heavily armored coach Dean's after today contains demons, and Dean is sure he doesn't want to know what Cuthbert plans to do with them. All he knows is that he can't let him keep those, it's too dangerous to let such a man play with that kind of danger. Not only could he get some of his men possessed to ensure they become a formidable threat to the Men of Letters, but he could get possessed too, and then all their secrets would be passed on to Hell.

From the corner of his eye, he can see that Adam has pushed the nearby cattle on the road and the coach is coming fast towards it. Faster yet as soon as Jake, Travis, Cole and Isaac ride at full tilt and shoot to catch the carriage from the back. Posted on the hill with his carbine, Benny quickly gets rid of two enemies, adding to the confusion, while the Gatling catches one of the outlaws' horse and sends his rider down. Dean can only hope that Gunner is still alive.

The collision is inevitable, horses going wild and jumping over the scrawny cows to escape. One of the Pinkertons jumps in his turn to avoid being crushed by the coach that's now running free and goes in the air, wheels-over-cart. Its course ends against a rock, driver ejected against another rock, and Dean imagines he can hear his neck breaking on impact.

Adam is the first to dismount for his favorite part, the moment he can show how much of a badass he really is. He goes through the wreckage, shooting the wounded and the dead to make sure no one's left who can endanger Dean or abort their mission. While he's busy at it, Christian gets to the carriage and uses first a bullet, upgrading to dynamite when it doesn't work, to break the padlock and access the sigil-protected boxes inside which the essence of five powerful demons are stored.

Dean's attention is attracted by Adam's voice a few feet to his left.

"Remember me, Pinkerton ?" Adam preens.

"Sure, you're Winchester's whore," the hated voice of Victor Henriksen replies. "The little brother who loves nothing more than raise his ass in the air for big bro to fuck him hard and fast."

Adam shoots him right in the guts. Dean gets closer just in time to see the bounty hunter turned Pinkerton topple over after. Even as he regrets the further toll it's gonna take on Adam's soul, Dean can't help but feel a little bit of satisfaction and relief, knowing that Henriksen won't be around anymore to obey Sinclair's orders and see to his client's every whims without trying to get the bigger picture. He's been a formidable enemy for years, one who cost him many men but always escaped unscathed. Seems his luck has run out today.

But Victor's not dead yet and he raises his head as he hears Dean approaching, his face a blank mask as he tries to hide the terrible pain that surely wrecks him right now.

"And here's the monster himself," Henriksen rasps. "Come to gloat, Winchester ?"

"Just saying goodbye to an old foe. I'll make sure me and my men share a drink in your memory after we're finished here, Victor."

"Kill me already, or I swear I'll be the one killing you !"

"Now, Victor, where would be the fun in shortening your suffering ?"

"Go to hell !"

"No worries, man, we'll see each other again out there sooner or later."

Dean turns his back on him, sure that Adam will see to it that Victor can't get to a weapon before he's truly dead or they're already far away, and he heads back to the coach to check on the boxes.

Dean only accepted his dimwit Campbell cousin in his team a few months ago, after he was imposed on him by the Men of Letters' Council, and there's no love lost between them. Christian is an arrogant asshole who's been challenging his decisions and command at every turn, earning himself two ass-kicking and one very public, very memorable whipping for insubordination leading to the death of two other men. Dean now makes sure to keep an eye on him permanently, as do his men who turn back to search the wreckage and herd the cattle away once they're sure Christian is supervised.

Dean keeps looking at him, sensing something is amiss. He watches as Christian takes the boxes out, one after the other, and then finally understands what's bothering him when he realizes Christian didn't seem to find the fourth box as heavy as the others. Something happened in there, and Dean is sure he knows what.

The sigil is scratched on the fourth box. The accident and the close proximity of a human were enough for a powerful demon to overcome momentarily the strong pull of the protection mark and impress the feeble mind into letting them run free as well as offer a convenient vessel.

Dean raises his Colt and aims at Christian who's bringing the fifth box next to the others to set it down on the ground.

"What's the matter, Winchester ?" Campbell asks in a mocking tone as he raises his hands in a far too relaxed way, as if he knows a simple bullet can't kill him.

Which would be true if it were a simple bullet, and a simple Colt. But this is the Hand of God, its power vibrating against Dean's palm, only man allowed to use it, and the demon Dean's sure is currently wearing his cousin has no trouble finding it inside the human's memories when Dean doesn't flinch.

His raised hands come forward in protection as much as supplication this time.

"Which one are you ?" Dean asks, taking another quick look at the boxes to try and read. "Alastor, that it ?"

"Alastair. Seems this meatsuit was right about you : all brawn and no brains."

Dean knows better than to let that kind of jibes get to him, but still it stings, for all the times his father accused him of relying too much on his physical abilities instead of learning always more. The demon sees it, of course.

"You know there's very little chance your pretty toy will work on me, and I don't think your friends at the lair would be very happy to lose the opportunity to study something like me."

"Don't worry, they'll get over it."

"Maybe, but you won't kill your own cousin," the demon taunts him.

"Watch me," Dean answers, and he shoots.

The demon doesn't wait to see if the Hand of God might kill him ; the black smoke flies immediately out of the not-yet dead body. The bullet enters Christian's skull as he opens his mouth in shock and disbelief, the demon trying to escape before the other hunters react, but Jake is a fast thinker and he was there already, holding the damaged box open to force it back in. It's fascinating to witness how Alastair can't resist Sinclair's trap, like a magnet calling to iron, but Dean can't take the time to admire the view. Before Talley's shut the box, he completes the sigil with his own blood, copying the figures he can see on the other boxes.

The job is done.

"Boss !" Cole alerts him from a few feet behind him.

What now ?! Dean thinks impatiently.

With a simple move of his head, Trenton directs his attention towards the top of the hill where two men, one adult and one still in his teenage years, are watching them, clearly stunned by the show they were just unwillingly offered. The way they dress and their general allure scream rancher and son to Dean's insight.

Dean leaps on Impala and rides to the hilltop.

"Morning," Dean salutes, collected and affable as usual in front of civilians.

It's been a long time since he felt the kind of attraction this rancher suddenly evokes in him. Tall and thin and broad, probably not fed enough in this land forgotten by God and men alike, his beautiful eyes are ablaze as he puts himself between Dean and the kid who is more than likely his son. The resemblance is impossible to miss. Too bad it means there's a missus somewhere, waiting for this Adonis. Dean would have taken him to bed in a heartbeat, had they met under more favorable circumstances.

Lips thinned by anger and fright, whole body tense in an anticipation reminiscent of the foreplay to a good fucking, the farmer is a sight to behold and Dean can't stop watching him. His eyes keep coming back to the mole next to the nose, straining to see if there's another one at the base of his neck for a reason he doesn't get immediately.

"We don't want any trouble," the rancher says, interrupting Dean's internal monologue.

"Neither do we," Dean ensures to calm him down. "If you'd be kind enough to dismount without a fuss, we'll make sure you find your horses back on the road to Bisbee."

The rancher seems to gauge him before he speaks again.

"That's my cattle you used down there. I need it back."

"Show some respect, rancher," Adam scowls him. "That's Dean Winchester you're talking to."

The man swallows, hard, but neither he nor his son seem surprised, merely wary of Adam's obvious madness, the stains on his white-leather jacket that mix the blood of several men who died at his hand. Dean knows all too well the kind of rumors that have been passed around for years ; he used them more than once to frighten people into doing his will instead of having to kill.

"No problem," Dean appeases everybody with his most charming smile. "I don't need 'em anymore. Just the horses, to make sure you won't alert the marshal before we're gone."

Dean watches as the rancher uncocks his rifle and puts it back into its sheath on the horse's right flank. He watches even more closely as the man slides down next to his mount and turns his back on him to grab the reins of both horses once his son has vacated his own saddle. The rancher's ass is a treat he wants to grab, an experience in lust he'd love to pursue and sink in that will feature in Dean's fantasies for a long time. But the mission has priority over that sinful temptation.

Won't stop him from dreaming, though. Imagining what might have been.

And he begins right now as he's passed the reins and gets them to Benny who's waiting for him a few feet away like another shadow.

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"They're late," Jimmy repeats for the sixth time, placing his watch back into his inner pocket.

He hears the marshal's annoyed sigh but can't keep at bay the certainty that this coach has been stolen too. Another one, and this was definitely something Mr. Sinclair was adamant should arrive safely to his main house.

"Watching the hour won't make it go faster, Mr. Novak," Marshal Cuevas reminds him.

He tries for a cool tone that doesn't make Jimmy feel better at all. If he loses one more coach, he's pretty sure his job is over and he'll have to find something else to make sure Amelia and Claire live decently. If he's still alive to be searching anything, that is.

They took such great care to make sure Winchester wouldn't hear of this convoy. They sent decoys to lure him in the wrong direction ; they even put the ruthless but efficacious Victor Henriksen in charge of the coach. But yet the damn outlaw found out and descended on them once again. For the twenty-second time.

Yes, Jimmy's bitter. He's allowed, isn't he ?

He settles back against the door frame and waits. Nothing else to do until the coach arrives or someone brings the bad news that the men are dead and the cargo has disappeared.

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"Help !"

Sam turns towards the voice. He's just stopped gritting his teeth like mad, only way to hide his trembling like a leaf in the wind, after seeing the outlaws riding out to town. The wounded Pinkerton reminds him why he was right to be scared.

He can't believe he came face to face with the infamous Dean Winchester and is still here to tell the tale. That the crazy guy who acted as if he was the outlaw's personal bodyguard let him live after Sam saw him kill several men.

Junior is the first to reach the Pinkerton who's trying with one hand to push himself upward and with the other to make sure his innards won't fall out of his abdomen. But he can't stop his blood from flowing and Sam wonders how long he's gonna survive. He has to take him somehow to Bisbee and a doctor, because though the guy refuses their help at first, it soon becomes clear that he's totally incapable of standing up, however much of his weight Sam and Junior try to carry for him.

The only way to get him into town is to bind planks together to make a stretcher. Sam tasks Junior with finding some in the carriage's wreckage and fetching the rope on his saddle - before remembering his horse is gone - while he checks on the wound and see if there's anything he can do at all.

"I'm Victor Henriksen," the man says suddenly, gripping Sam's wrist with his bloody hand. "There might be a reward for you if you help me get to Winchester and his gang before they disappear again till the next robbery."

To be honest, Sam is convinced the guy would be dead already if it wasn't for sheer stubbornness and he admires his will to live. But there's no way he can ride and stop the outlaws in this state. His only chance is to get to a doctor who will take the bullet out of his guts.

"Sorry, Mr. Henriksen. I'm just a rancher. I'm taking you to Bisbee, you'll have to see with Doc Garth and Marshal Cuevas for help."

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Bisbee is a quaint little thing, epitome of the western American town with its dirt roads and washed-up wooden constructions. Adam came once or twice before, years ago, fresh-faced boy in awe of his can-do-no-wrong big brother, and nothing has changed, save for the fact that he's not some fresh-faced, snotty boy anymore and he's now able to do his duty by his bossy brother, the best hunter ever known.

He's done his best to look the part of the down-to-earth rancher, stealing a ragged and patched overcoat and a battered hat on his way to the local marshal's office. His face is not as well-known as Dean's, whose pretty features and sexual prowess assure him a place of choice in the ladies' memories as well as the hatred and jealousy of their husbands, but there's still a risk someone might recognize him, hence the playing a part. He's here to get rid of the marshal and his deputies, not to be thrown in a jail.

Though it could be fun to watch Dean kill everyone to get him back.

As he arrives at the door, Adam assumes an air of absolute thickness and jubilates internally when a man sitting by a desk turns an annoyed stare towards him.

"What is it ?" the man asks.

"Sorry to disturb, sir. Thought you might like to know there was some scramble outta town about an armed coach. Pretty sure it was Mr. Dean Winchester himself that led the ruckus."

"Crap !" a well-dressed guy swears, probably Sinclair's representative. "Dean Winchester again ! Tell me the Pinkertons managed to send them on their way."

"Sorry, sir, no can do. Pinkertons looked pretty dead to me by the end of it all."

"I'm Marshal Cuevas," the seated man introduces himself as he stands up after the well-dressed one is silenced by the shocking news. "Tell me where it happened."

"'bout ten miles east from here, Marshal, right along the road. You can't miss 'em ! The bodies, I mean."

That gets him another hard stare, from both the marshal and his deputy.

"And why do you think it was Dean Winchester ?"

"Beautiful guy as they say he is, and just one man down in the ambush. Seems like his signature all over."

"There's one way to be sure," the deputy replies. "Did you see the Hand of God ?"

Adam's eyes flashes with anger. Are these guys stupid, thinking the mere rancher he's playing would get close enough to take a good look at the outlaws' weapons ?

"I was kinda busier avoiding bullets behind my rock than watching a gun."

"So that's why you didn't do anything ?" the deputy probes, judgement written all over his handsome face.

"Cesar," the marshal warns, "let it go."

"Sure, Marshal. I'm sure our friend here didn't have any… way to help."

It's just as hard for Adam to let go of the accusation of cowardice as it is for the deputy to understand why one wouldn't go against robbers. Adam would love nothing more than to show him why it would be a stupid idea, draw his gun and carve a hole in Cesar's chest, one that would make him die but not too fast, one that would make sure he had time to realize how terribly wrong he's been and let him know who Adam really is.

With a shudder, Adam listens to the marshal's advice and let it go too.

"Sorry, Deputy… ?"

"Deputy Cuevas."

Interesting. Marshal and deputy wearing the same name, albeit clearly being from different origins. Probably same mother and different fathers, or something like that. Half-brothers who stuck together against the harsh world. Adam would respect that, if it weren't for the small fact that they'd both kill him on the spot if they knew who he really is.

"Well, sorry, Deputy Cuevas. I'm but a poor worker in search of a job. Not a dashing deputy upholding the law and watching out for the good citizens of Bisbee."

Adam's not sure any of the men heard the end of his sentence as the marshal, his deputy and Sinclair's man hurry past him right to their horses and leave town in a rush. He watches them disappear in the distance before he gets back to his own horse and rides back to Dean and the gang waiting for him on the other side of the city limits.

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Dean's talent doesn't lie in research and his formal knowledge is somewhat limited compared to the masters the Men of Letters shape and educate. He's more the footman kind, but that doesn't mean he can't learn and read. Both Dad and Bobby Singer did teach him a lot.

The demons in the boxes are some of the worst out there, if the names engraved on them are to be believed. Azazel, Abaddon, Alastair – the one he thought to be Alastor, Enochian can be tricky to decipher – Adramelech, Astaroth. Only A's. Which probably means that Sinclair is just beginning with the alphabet, and many more carriages of that kind are to be expected. If only he knew where the rest of them are stored, Dean could arrange to get them all stacked in one secured place, or they could be dispatched once and for all.

Dean takes all of a second to shiver internally and then firmly puts these considerations aside.

Five boxes, five men. For once, the plan is simple.

"You gallop to the lair as fast as you can to bring those boxes to the archivist. Bobby's gonna piss himself with this !" Dean concludes, turning to Adam with a smile.

"And research to his little heart's content until he drops from sleep deprivation," Adam adds as he takes in the precious books a sixth man has gathered in two leather satchels secured on each side of his horse.

"Right," Dean laughs, fondly thinking of their archivist, a former legendary hunter who had found a new and successful career when a bad hunt had left him with a broken back. "Adam, you accompany them. Stay alert, Sinclair might have already sent a team to retrieve his lost items."

Adam turns a distraught stare towards Dean.

"What about you ? Aren't you coming with us ?"

"Nope. We'll meet again at the lair as soon as I'm done."

"Done ? With what ?"

"Unfinished business," Dean answers, and his tone indicates how displeased he feels at his brother's interrogation, especially in front of the men.

Adam backs off immediately.

"Sorry, boss. I didn't mean no disrespect, I just don't like the idea of you alone 'round these parts."

"Don't worry, boy," Dean reassures him with a gentle pat on the shoulder before he steers his horse towards Bisbee.

He needs to make a few inquiries.

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Dean goes right to the saloon and it's easy to come up with a fake reason to be searching for a rancher in his early thirties, tall and lanky, and learn that the man's called Sam Wesson – of course, he's called Sam. He's got a pretty wife and a 14-year-old son. Another boy died after the war from bad lungs, the very reason why they came here in the first place, following a doctor's advice to find a place with dryer air, but it seems they were too late already and the death of their child turned Wesson more aloof than ever and estranged him from his wife, finalizing the rift that had already taken place because of the war and the injury Wesson had sustained there.

Clearly, luck isn't on Wesson's side, as part of his ranch became ash just last night. Roman's doing, probably, who's been stealing farms along the future railroad for months and selling the land back to the rail company for a huge profit. Roman's a snake who stops at nothing to get what he wants and keeps a few men on the payroll to make sure he gets it.

Dean promises himself he'll see to that guy as soon as the opportunity arises. No one messes with his brother and lives to gloat about it.

He's sure now. Doesn't really know why but he's sure. Sam is his long lost brother, the kid Dean loved so much but that his father sent away for adoption, taking to the grave the secret of where he abandoned him and with who. The why he had shared : Sammy was too young, too much of a hindrance in their fight, a potential target for all their enemies, who wouldn't know how to fight back and defend himself or his family. Dean's anger and resentment were no match against his decision, and no amount of begging or yelling had ever made John Winchester change his mind.

Dean can't believe his search is over and that he's got Sam back. He ceased to trust in God's kindness a long time ago and he's pretty sure it can't be any good entity, in or out of this world, who granted him his longest, most important wish. But whatever the price he might have to pay later on, he won't deny himself the pleasure to reacquaint Sam with his family, to let him know he was never forgotten nor unwanted. He just can't begin to fathom how to broach the subject.

The man who tipped him off has gone away while Dean was being maudlin over his memories, and it's only him and the barmaid now.

"One more ?" she offers, scotch bottle ready to fill his shot glass.

She sends him a flirtatious smile when Dean accepts her offer.

That one's a real firecracker, Dean can tell. She's got a wicked smile and she knows how to attract his eyes to her pretty great bosom in a still chaste but very effective way. She's just his kind of woman, the opposite of shy ; she knows what she wants and how to get it.

Apparently, Dean is good enough to figure on her menu. Who is he to deny her ?

"What's your name, sweetheart ?" he asks to show his own interest.

"Bela," she replies, and he thinks the name definitely suits her.

Not only is she pretty and fiery, but she might help him get past the possibly deviant lust he felt not one hour ago for someone so different – so male and so unconscious of his own charm.

"I thought you looked familiar," he adds. "Bela Talbot, right ? You used to dance and play magic tricks in this joint back in New York, right before the night show. Pretty singer, Carmen Porter. Loved to see her come on stage, I was a huge fan. Do you remember Carmen ?"

"Of course. No one who's ever heard Carmen can forget her. She enticed men because she knew to stay aloof, never giving into their desire. The perfect fantasy, never marred by reality."

"I don't know," Dean muses, leaning over the bar to tuck her hair behind her ear. "There's definitely something to be said for reality."

His fingertips make sure to trail slowly and languorously on her cheek, and then down her throat and the river between her breast, before he takes his glass in hand again and finishes his drink.

"I have something better up there," Bela proposes, and it's clear she's not talking about scotch.

Dean smiles.

"Show me what you got."

Her room is nice and clean, that's more that he can say about many women he slept with. As predicted, Bela doesn't wait to act. She takes his face in her hands and kisses him, biting on his lower lip to make sure she gets his full attention. She's got it already, Dean's own hands covering her breast for a moment before he begins to deftly unlace her dress.

It doesn't take long with their combined efforts to get them both naked. He pushes her on the bed, and soon pushes inside her. She's a real little devil, insatiable, giving as much as she gets. Dean might keep the marks of her nails on his back for a while but he considers it a small price to pay for the pleasure of taking her.

"I wanna ride you," she murmurs against his ear, and then bites it too.

Dean lets her take the position she wants, and it's a glorious view from down here. She seems to take more pleasure than ever in what he does to her.

"Do you really want me ?" she asks suddenly, gripping his right arm with hers, disturbing the balance he got holding her hips in both hands.

"What ?" he replies.

"Do you really want me ?" she says again, and this time Dean, breathless, can only answer in the way he guesses she wants him to, lost in too many incredible sensations to care about anything else.

"Yeah, 'course."

Instead of letting go of his arm, she makes the position even weirder by sliding her hand further up, their forearms tight against each other. Dean's orgasm is coming fast, and the sudden, terrible pain on his arm somehow makes it a hundred times better until he passes out.

When he comes back to his senses, Bela's sleeping. He vaguely remembers some great sex and a pretty bad sting on his arm. Unconsciously, his eyes turn to her arm but there's nothing there, unlike his own which is still red and puffy where it's been touched by something. He'd say she bit him again but he doesn't remember seeing her using her lips, tongue or teeth on his arms. Not like his chest, dotted all along by red marks that don't sting at all. If she's a monster of a sort he didn't know, at least she's not that dangerous.

He moves and dresses again, then settles down for a moment to think about what he should do. His thoughts are already turning away from the woman on the bed, as pretty and fun as she is, to get back to Sam. His brother.

The only reason he kept working with his father for so long, hunting at his beck and call, was the hope to find at last an inkling, a credible lead on Sam's whereabouts. But now that he's here with the possibility to drag Sam back into his life, Dean realizes he's having second thoughts. What if Dad was right after all ? What if Sam was far better growing up without his family of hunters – outlaws and murderers ? Does he have the right to change his life forever ?

Dean thinks more easily when he's doing something else at the same time. He loves to build things, to repair anything that needs repairing. He loves grooming Impala until his black robe shines under the sun. He loves to draw and grasp a moment on a page, making it last forever.

His drawing hand knows the answer to all the questions agitating his mind. Sam's scared face quickly shows on the sketch, his features lovingly detailed.

Silly hand, it's not gonna make the decision for him, one way or another.

He needs to know more, and there's only one way to achieve this.

The idea comes to him as he takes in the moves down in the street, marshal and deputies trying to be stealthy as they position themselves around the saloon. And here comes Sam, rifle in hands.

Time to wake Bela up and say goodbye.

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Sam almost feels bad for the marshal, his deputy and the corporate guy – who introduced himself as one Jimmy Novak – when he tells them that Winchester and his gang rode right to Bisbee.

"Fuck !" Cesar exclaims. "They played us !"

It's clear the men only want to ride back into town, but they can't leave Sam to deal alone with the wounded Pinkerton. Junior and he have just found their horses where Winchester said they would be. Sam would like to go to his cattle, but the marshal wants him to join them so that he can help spotting Winchester's men, and he still needs to talk to Roman.

"Okay," he agrees to the marshal's request. "Junior, you go round the cattle while I go to Bisbee."

He knows the herd is in good hands with his son, and Junior is safer out there than walking the streets of the city where Winchester's gang is probably feasting right now to celebrate their success.

The ride to Bisbee is short and uneventful, even carrying a wounded guy to the doctor.

Well, doctor might be a stretch, but in time of need…

Jesse and Cesar Cuevas each take one end of the stretcher and bring it in Doc Garth's office. Mr. Novak follows hesitantly, watching the posters adorning the office's walls.

"Are you the doctor ?" he asks.

"That I am, Garth Fitzgerald to help you," Doc Garth replies and offers his hand to shake.

Mr. Novak is still hesitant, it's clear. Pinned on the walls, drawings and sketches of teeth and jaws are abundantly indicative of a knowledge that might not be the specialization needed today. But Doc Garth doesn't let it stop him. He walks to the wounded man who's been installed in a long chair by the men of law and asks for his name.

"Victor Henriksen," Mr. Novak says, "he's a bounty hunter working for the Pinkertons. He was gunned down by the Winchester's gang."

The doc whistles, obviously impressed. Sam is not sure if it is because Henriksen survived or because Garth admires Dean Winchester, like so many men out there who enjoy the tales of his robberies against establishment but never had to suffer themselves from his attacks. A bit of both, probably.

"Okay," Doc Garth says after studying the wound for a short while, "I'm gonna take that bullet out. You should hold him down."

Mr. Henriksen opens his eyes as Mr. Novak comes closer.

"You don't touch me !" he orders. "I won't move, Doc, I never do. Just do your job."

"Alright," the doc agrees and then adds with a smile, "it's nice to have a patient talking to me for once while I'm working."

Mr. Henriksen seems to take in his surroundings at this moment.

"What kind of a doctor are you exactly ?!"

Mr. Novak turns his back on the scene as the doc plunges some nasty-looking pliers into the man's guts instead of answering.

Sam has seen worse at war but he decides he has better things to do than baby-sitting those guys if he can't be of any help. He leaves and marches right to Dick Roman's office. Edgar is outside, watching him approach with a smile that is everything but friendly, probably imagining the next snub he'll get to inflict before Sam is forced to abandon his land. The man is a bulldog but he never leaves traces that the marshal can use to arrest him. Sam is far from the first guy to suffer from his particular talent and Roman's greediness. But he's prepared to be the first one to resist their combined forces.

Edgar lets him walk into Roman's office without searching him or trying to look more menacing, which is a bit humiliating too in a way. Roman hardly spares him a look when Sam enters, his attention on the strange ballet occurring in the street. It seems that Marshal Cuevas has found where Winchester or some of his gang have been hiding in plain sight after the robbery. It's such a Winchester move, daring the local law representatives to come and get him, especially after he made a fool of them. Sam thought he had been buying time to get away in the opposite direction but maybe it was too simple and straightforward for the thief.

Whatever. As fascinating and handsome as Dean Winchester might be, Sam will never see him again and he has a farm to save. A family to feed and support. He takes off the necklace he's been playing with for a while, offering it to Roman's perusal. Another quick glance and the jewelry is discarded the way Sam himself has been first.

"What the marshal and his men doing, circling the saloon ?" Roman asks Edgar.

"Dean Winchester's in town," Sam replies. "He robbed some coach and killed Pinkertons. Listen, Mr. Roman…"

"Whatever you have to say, Sam, it's not worth it. Your trinket is not worth it either. In a week, your land will be mine. Better admit it right now and leave while you still have time to move your stuff away, because it will all belong to me by then."

"You have to give me more time !"

"Really ? Why should I do this ? Do you have the money I loaned you ? What about the interest ?"

"You know I don't have it. I can't get money if I can't harvest, and I can't get the crops to grow without water ! Stop diverting the river from my land and I'll give you your money back."

"I do what I want with the river flowing on my land, rancher. Get that in your thick head and stop bothering me as long as you don't have my money."

Roman walks past him out of the office but Sam follows. Dignity means little when you're faced with the very real possibility of losing everything else. He tries once again to get Roman to look at his necklace.

"I know it's not worth that much, but it's still something. Please, take this as a show of my good faith. I will get your money back, I promise."

Sam doesn't see the punch coming from behind but Edgar's whole power strikes him hard and the next thing he knows, Sam finds himself down in the dirt, Dick Roman and his henchman watching him with undisguised contempt. He remembers the smiles and the gentle pats on his shoulder the first time he came here to borrow money to see through the winter. He knew it for the false kindness of a loan shark trying to hook a fish dumb enough to trust him, but still it hurts to be confronted with the width of his stupidity.

"Sometimes a man has to be big enough to see how small he is," Roman mocks him from his upside position, making Sam feel smaller than ever. "Railroad's more important than you, Sam, you should get it and leave."

For a moment, as Edgar and Roman walk away, Sam thinks about staying there, lying in the dirt, and wait for death in the first way it will come to him. He's failed everything and everyone. If he has to lose the ranch, Madison and Junior would be better off protected by Flack. But they can't have this unless Sam is dead.

But there might be a quicker way to reach his goal. Dean Winchester should be in there, probably some of his gang too, trigger-happy men for whom one life won't make a lot of difference in the grand scheme of things.

Or maybe… Sam stands up and goes to his horse to retrieve his carbine. A strange kind of hope is slowly taking him. Maybe he doesn't have to die. Maybe there's a reward for arresting the famous outlaw. Some real money he could give to Roman to make him wait. He has to do this, get in there before the marshal or any other man.

He walks right in, ignoring Marshal Cuevas who signals to him to stop right there, and finds Winchester looking at him from the balcony. Bela the barmaid stands behind him and it's not difficult to guess what just happened in her bedroom. She's been known to make a few townsfolks happy when she's in the mood. For some reason he can't decipher, the idea of Winchester making love to this wench displeases him immensely.

"What's the matter, rancher ?" Winchester asks as he walks down the stairway and comes to the bar, a few inches from Sam, to quench his thirst. "Got your horses back ? Everything's alright ?"

"Your little party earlier today cost me two beasts. Everything's not alright."

Winchester watches him intensely, and Sam almost takes a step back. But then the outlaw takes his purse and chooses a few coins that he pushes along the bar right next to Sam.

"How much do you make in a day ?" Winchester enquires.

"Two dollars an hour," he lies, "when I can find a job."

Another stare and then Winchester pushes more coins his way.

"Here's two dollars for half-a-day."

"What about my son's time ?" Sam pushes his luck.

Winchester starts to look annoyed, but he ends up taking more money out of his purse.

"Will that be all, Sam ?"

"You can always add five dollars for making me nervous."

He's not even sure if it's a desperate joke or another demand, but when he hears the noises made by the marshal and his men moving in, he raises his shotgun and takes aim at the thief.

He's feeling a bit giddy as the marshal handcuffs Winchester. He did it. After everything Roman said, and despite the opinion of his own family, he was the one to arrest the infamous Dean Winchester.

But soon he feels bad. Winchester's gaze is not leaving him, and there's something with the bitter taste of treason eating at Sam's heart suddenly. Edgar makes it all worse by appearing after the event and taking the Hand of God out of Winchester's holster, gloating that the most famous outlaw was arrested in Bisbee. As if he had anything to do with it. As if Sam had nothing to do with it.

"Careful with that gun," Winchester warns him. "It's cursed."

"Really ?" Edgar mocks him. "That why you've been caught ?"

Winchester doesn't stop watching Sam as he answers, and somehow Sam is sure that he knows how much Sam hates the man, and even probably why.

"Laugh while you can," Winchester adds, ominous despite his detachment, and Sam shivers with the dread of what's to come.

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He doesn't really know how it happens.

One moment, the men are talking about what to do with Winchester. Edgar suggests they kill him on the spot, but the marshal answers that the whole town will be a ghost one come next morning if they do this. They're back to no plan until Mr. Novak approaches the outlaw.

"Twenty-two robberies," he accuses him of. "Thousands of dollars lost, not mentioning the lost time. This man has to answer for his crimes and stand in front of a court of law."

"And here I thought you arrested me because of the men I killed…" Winchester remarks, the coolest of them all despite the handcuffs and the real predicament he's in.

"The Consortium will be happy to pay for taking this man to prison, Marshal," Mr. Novak goes on, ignoring Winchester's jibe. "I just need some men to escort him."

And that's how in the next moment Sam finds himself drafted to accompany the outlaw on the way to his next accommodation after he stupidly intervened to say he was best shot in his regiment and he'll come for two hundred dollars. Mr. Novak only questions him about which side he fought for, the South or the North, and agrees with Sam's price when he gets the answer he wants – Sam fought for the Union.

Mr. Henriksen invites himself, despite everyone's reservations in regard to his wound. Mr. Novak doesn't take no for an answer when he says that if the Pinkerton comes, the doc will have to come along. Doc Garth startles, scared by the idea, but Sam knows him well enough to detect the excitement right behind the fear.

Last one to join is Edgar, loaned by Dick Roman for no good reason Sam can fathom. The man will probably try to claim he was the one doing the arrest in case there's a reward. Sam is not about to let him do that.

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Mr. Novak refuses to be thanked for hiring Sam before the job is done and they're all safe. Sam just hopes he will still be here to try again and get the money.

The marshal has a plan that might help in this endeavor. First, they get the supply they're gonna need, and then they're heading to Sam's ranch. Winchester is placed in a carriage that Edgar secures on both sides with chains, in case the outlaw manages to get out of his handcuffs and is foolish enough to jump. Sam can't blame Edgar on that one ; the many rumors going on about the thief make them all wary of him, double-checking the cuffs at any opportunity.

As the carriage nears Sam's house, the left back wheel falls into a huge pothole and stops any forward motion. Sam turns his horse back to get a look at the damage – it's not good, the wheel threatens to disengage from the axletree if the horses move too fast, so they have to put it back in place before they go on, all this after they lift the carriage enough to pull it out of the hole.

They can't do this with Winchester's weight adding to the problem, so Cesar and Edgar open one of the doors and get him out.

"Good driving, marshal !" Winchester teases when he sets foot on the ground.

He looks surprised but doesn't react when Cesar takes his hat off and replaces it with his own, only to put Winchester's on his own head. Same thing with their coat while they're still hidden behind the coach, as Sam and Mr. Novak push with all their strength on the log Sam has fetched to unstuck the wheel. Once Winchester is ready, Jesse Cuevas drives the momentarily three-wheeled carriage out of the hole. They make sure the fourth wheel is in good enough condition, and then Cesar gets into the coach while Winchester is dragged away towards Sam's house to be hidden from any spying eye.

"Remind me never to play poker with you guys," Winchester salutes their little trick with good humor.

The marshal gets the horses to go on, riding fast and far from Sam's ranch. If Adam Milligan is here to watch for his brother, as they're all convinced he is, then hopefully this deception will gain them the lead they need to make it to the train in time.

No one really wants to imagine what will happen if Milligan rejoins the marshal and his deputy to find out he's been played in his turn.

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"Will they be safe ?" Sinclair's man worries.

He's not a bad man, Dean can attest to that. He believes in justice enough to want him judged and condemned, not hanged high and low at the first available tree. Still naïve enough not to apprehend the true nature of the marshal and his deputy's relationship. All of which probably means that he's not been tainted yet by Sinclair's poisonous ideas. Maybe Dean has a shot at turning him before the end of their little trip.

"They're fast," Victor states as if trying to convince himself, "they'll get to the fort by dawn. Milligan has to get his men first, if they're still around, and they can't do much against the cavalry."

Dean would be amused by such unreasonable confidence if he didn't care more for the marshal and his lover. These men did right by him too, they don't deserve to get killed for it. He needs to get in touch with Adam, but with no way to do so right now, he instead lets Sam take him to the house where a beautiful woman waits for them on the threshold.

"Ma'am," he salutes as he passes by her, tipping his hat as he can with his bound hands. "Pleasure to meet you."

She doesn't respond, nor does she make any move towards her husband. He understands she's pretty pissed to see her house, half-destroyed the previous night, now invaded by men she never invited, including the very one responsible for its poor state.

As he enters the living room, Dean finds Victor already seated by the table.

"Victor. I hoped you'd have been dead by now."

"Don't make me laugh, Winchester. I'll bury you all, and you know it."

Sam pushes him to sit not too gently. Hours tick-tock with the sound of Dean's pocket watch and the buzz of his boredom. He's not allowed to go back out until he informs Sam that he needs to take care of business.

They pass next to the doc and Edgar on their way to the field behind the barn.

"You proud of yourself ?" Doc Garth is asking Roman's henchman with a pointed look to the part of the house that has burned down.

"Just doing my job," Edgar downplays his answer, but his smile reveals just how much he enjoyed it.

Dean can't wait to make him see the error of his ways.

"Wanna watch ?" he offers, unbuttoning his trousers when they get to the outhouse as Sam keeps the door open and fails to give him space.

Sam blushes hard, even in the falling light, and takes two steps back.

"Don't do anything stupid !"

"Wouldn't dream of it," Dean assures him.

He certainly didn't let those guys catch him to disappear before he's got time to make an informed decision.

Sure that Sam doesn't watch and no one in the house can't get a view of their whereabouts, Dean gets out as soon as he's done pissing. He fakes stumbling around and swiftly bends to grab a small rock he thinks will permit him to talk with Adam. Now he's just got to wait for the right time and opportunity.

He turns to find that Sam has taken advantage of the situation to relieve himself too against a tree.

"Can I watch ?" he asks innocently.

"Stop goading me, you pervert."

Dean doesn't say anything more, but the smile he's sporting as they walk back inside is as much about Sam's reaction that took him back to his beloved past with his lost little brother than the glimpse he got of his very nice cock and the certainty – the delusion ? – that Sam didn't tuck himself back in as quickly as he could have to escape Dean's coveting eyes.

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Dinner is an interesting parenthesis in time, the perfect opportunity to learn more about Sam who is trying to keep it as formal and unfriendly as possible with Dean but can't prevent other people from talking. He can't help smiling either, whenever his son shows any little bit of admiration and love towards his father.

Madison is curious about Dean. He's not rich by any means, but he looks the part enough compared to them that she certainly wonders what it'd be like to live his life. She projects the appearance of a simple woman and he thinks she's genuinely afraid about Sam's plan. He heard her earlier trying to talk him out of it, arguing that nobody would think less of Sam for renouncing. Sam's answer that no one could think less of him had probably hurt her as much as Dean. Was it the result of being abandoned at such an early age ? The belief that you can do no good, won't ever be enough, especially for the ones you love. Dean's been familiar with these feelings for a long while and he hates to think that Sam has been through the same doubts and self-hatred, albeit for very different reasons.

Madison's cooking is good, and it's been so long since Dean ate in a true home. His good manners leave a lot to be desired – his mom wasn't around long enough to teach him to behave in society and the company he keeps, mostly men, was never incentive to learn better. They earn him a hard stare from everyone else around the table when he digs in with enthusiasm. Listening to the grace doesn't slow down his appetite, nor Junior's bragging about his father's abilities with a shotgun.

"He could kill you if he had to."

"I'm sure he's very good," Dean admits, "but killing a man is hard. Not for Victor, of course, who's able to kill men, women and children alike."

"They all deserved it," Henriksen replies with the assurance of a man who sleeps without nightmares at night.

"Of course they did. They were worth enough money for you to lose time over them. Miners, Indians, strikers… you name 'em, Victor killed 'em."

"Don't try to look like you're innocent, Winchester. Nobody's innocent here. I'm sure even Wesson had to kill during the war."

Dean turns his attention back to Sam, glad for the interruption.

"Is that how you got the limp, Sam ? Where did you fight ?"

"Second company sharpshooters out of Lynnfield, Massachusetts," Junior announces proudly, "defending the US Capitol in the district of Columbia."

It's kind of cute the way Junior beams when he thinks of his father's exploits in the army. In Sam's place, Dean wouldn't stop telling him about it, just to see the light in his eyes when he imagines his father being all heroic, but Sam looks both indulgent and embarrassed.

"Massachusetts ? I thought I heard a trace of Boston accent in your voice, Madison. Is that where you're from ?"

"Not exactly, Mr. Winchester," she says, her tone closing the topic for good.

"What about you, Sam ?"

"Dad doesn't know where he's from. He was left at an orphanage by his old man and he doesn't remember much before that."

Dean fights to keep the emotion off his face and out of his voice.

"Really ? What kind of despicable man can do this to his own son ? I wish he'd see the strong, good man you've become to take the measure of his own smallness."

He loved his father, he sure did. For a long while, Dad was the hero other kids could only dream of. But abandoning Sam had been the one mistake Dean couldn't forgive. In this moment, it all comes back to him and he wants to resume the fight that finally had them going their separate ways.

"So what happened to your foot ?" Dean takes the attention away from Sam's awkwardness – there will be time to tease his little brother about many things if they become close again, but right now he needs to get on Sam's good side – and he really wants to know the story. "Did a dragon steal it ?"

Even Sam smiles, but then two fire shots break the silence and everyone but Dean runs outside to see what's happening.

This is the opportunity he was waiting for.

First, he steals the fork that has been laying on the table, half hidden under the cloth protecting the bread, and pushes it inside his sleeve. You can never have too many weapons.

Then, because of his still attached hands, he squirms to get the rock he picked up earlier and stored in his pocket. He uses his other fork – he hasn't been allowed a knife, of course – to open a small cut in his arm and get blood. He pronounces the ritual words and presses the rock on his wrist, in the blood. And he feels the electric-like sensation that signals the bond has been opened and Adam is listening.

"I'm coming," Adam shouts, "we're all coming !"

The link is feeble and will probably end soon, so Dean cuts to the chase.

"No killing the marshal or the nice deputy, Adam, you hear me ?"

"I hear you."

His answer is full of resentment. Adam hates it when Dean talks him down like he would some unreasonable kid, and it's been worse since their old man bought the farm and Dean became the one in charge. Even seasoned Men of Letters listen to Dean's expertise and have done so for a long time, while they see the kid exactly like that : a kid.

That's all they have time to say before the company gets back in and Dean understands through their good-natured jibes that it was nothing more than coyotes or foxes scaring the good Doc Garth into shooting them. Victor is watching Dean with a wariness getting more obvious by the minute as Dean watches him back like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

"Who were you talking to ?" he demands.

"Nobody, just praying."

Of course no one believes him, but no one knows about the Sprach either, the useful means of communication taught to the German chapter of the Men of Letters by a monster ready to do anything and betray anyone to save his life. Which hadn't worked that well, if memory serves, but the Men of Letters created and adapted a useful toy out of it, and nobody out of their ranks can imagine that they have a way to communicate over distance. Maybe it's not always completely reliable – it was never designed to work with human blood, and the right kind of stone is often difficult to find, not to mention that the bond is established a lot more easily if you're emotionally close to the person you wish to talk to – but it has saved more than one hunter's life and Dean has learned to appreciate the gift for what it is.

The signal to leave is given soon after and Dean still doesn't know where they're going.

"Where are we taking this party ?" he asks, jovial.

"That's none of your damn business !" Edgar retorts.

But Victor is more than happy to tell him about his bleak future.

"We're traveling to Contention, where we will put you in the 3:10 train to Yuma the day after tomorrow. I see that noose in your future getting tighter and tighter."

"You shouldn't have told him that !" Edgar whines.

"Don't worry," Dean falsely comforts him, "that way I'll know where to meet you, should we ever get separated."

Edgar makes him pay for that slight the very next minute when Dean tries to get to his horse.

"That's not gonna happen, Winchester. This one's mine now."

Dean makes a quick and discreet sign to Impala to let him know it's okay, that he has to let the man ride him for the time being. And he smiles, thinking Edgar wouldn't be so eager to get on his horse if he had any idea of the danger he's in now.

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Two hours after his father's departure and his mother is deeply asleep, Junior sneaks off. He's got his Colt, matches and water, some bread and cheese, his dad's old and battered compass, and the need to prove himself.

He wants so desperately to believe in his father, but the man has thrown in the towel a long time ago and Junior doubts he can see to the end of this mission. He limps his way through life, both literally and figuratively. And Junior can't stand it anymore. He has to be there, if only to make sure his father won't let himself be killed in some heroic and stupid gesture.

If Dad can't be the man of the family anymore, then he'll take on the mantle and show them all what Samuel Wesson, Junior, is made of. He'll take Dean Winchester to that freaking train, even if he likes the man. The weird phenomenon he witnessed this morning, the thick black smoke that guy kind of vomited before it flew right into a box, unlike any other smoke Junior has ever seen, leads him to think there's more to the outlaw than he's willing to let on, and Junior is pretty sure his dad is just as intrigued by him, if not more, and vice versa. He hopes it will be enough for his father to make sure to stay alive.

If not, Junior will have to make sure of it.

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They haven't covered much distance before Sam insists that they stop and sleep for a while when he sees how tired Mr. Novak and the Doc look. These are not men used to hard labor. Mr. Henriksen's dark skin badly hides his exhaustion and pain, and then the horses need the rest too.

They talk for a moment, the two learned men quickly dozing off, before Winchester says he needs his private minute to commune with nature. Without thinking, even after the huge embarrassment before dinner, Sam stands up and leads him away.

"Sure you still don't want to uncuff me ?"

"Don't bother with the charm, Winchester. It won't work."

"Really ? So I shouldn't even hope you'll hold it for me at least once before we get to Yuma ?"

Sam has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep the smile from invading his whole face.

"You're a terrible flirt," he accuses him. "How you get laid so often with that kind of wit is beyond me !"

Sam ignores his memories of the last time they were in that situation and sets to relieve himself too, not surprised when he catches Winchester's eyes on him once more. Only his violent blush is better hidden by the night.

Sam closes his eyes as if to delete the image of the outlaw's evident interest in his body. When he opens them again, Winchester has disappeared.

Sam panics for a few seconds, forgetting for a moment to dress again while he runs around like a headless chicken. The fear that he managed to lose his last chance to reimburse Roman weights a ton on his stomach. He stumbles when a hand grips his coat's sleeve hard and forces him to kneel down. Winchester's second hand close over his mouth to keep him quiet and stays there. Time seems to stop, and Sam understands the outlaw is listening to something Sam never even heard.

A huge blow on his back sends him down to the ground while Winchester grabs his shotgun and shoots. Sam's pretty sure Dean just saved his life, whoever the enemy he didn't see might be. But he feels sluggish, and Winchester would be far, out of reach in a second, if he didn't drag Sam with him back to the camp.

There's another attack going on there, a bigger one. Mr. Henriksen and Edgar are putting up a hell of a fight, and even the doc and the very proper Mr. Novak fight like devils to stay alive. Their attackers are strange creatures, the likes of which Sam has never seen. They stand on two legs and use their arms and hands with the same dexterity as a man, but here the resemblance stops. The rest of their body reminds him more of a dog. A very big, very tall, very powerful dog. They have pointy ears and a snarling snout, but the bit that strikes him the most is the tail they're sporting. Long and thick, like foxes, but not the cute kind.

These foxes, for lack of a better word, snap their jaws at them and try to bite. Their claws are just as dangerous as their teeth, and they seem to be immune to the bullets that keep raining down on them. Maybe their fur is too thick to be penetrated.

Suddenly Sam feels himself panicking again. He can't believe his eyes, but here, in the middle of the worst battle he's ever seen, stands his son, armed with a gun and shooting at the wild beasts as fast as he can. Sam is more terrified than ever, certain that they won't make it and that Junior is going to die, too.

Until Dean saves the day once again. Sam lost track of him in the battle and he's glad to see their prisoner didn't use this opportunity to escape, preferring to help them. And it's clear he's the only one who knows what he's doing.

The shooters only provided distraction for their attackers. One by one, the weird animals fall down to the ground, inert, as soon as Winchester's stabbed them. There were seven of them, all taller and bulkier than Sam. Without Dean Winchester, the battle would have been lost before it had even begun.

Sam feels a little bad for keeping him chained after what he did for them, but then he remembers that this man is a killer who could just as easily stab all of them in their sleep and he's not about to put his son in danger.

"Listen to me," Winchester throws around in a voice that has everyone including Sam look at him and wait for orders. "These animals' bites are contagious. We need to check each other for bloody marks of claws or teeth. Left untreated, this could lead to a severe condition."

"What exactly were those beasts anyway ?" Mr. Henriksen tempers Dean's haste.

"Why, Victor, werewolves of course."

Everyone laughs, a tad nervous, and looks at the others with some trepidation.

"Mr. Winchester is right," the doc says. "Whatever kind of animal this might be, bites and scratches can be dangerous if infected. We should take the time to check if anyone's been even slightly wounded."

"Good !" Dean concludes. "Victor and Edgar, you two are so suited to each other, why don't you play together ? Sam, you take care of your son. Jimmy, will you do me the honor of this dance ?"

Mr. Novak blanches and stammers, like a virgin not so ready for her sacrifice, and Sam doesn't like this plan one bit.

"What about the doc ?" Sam asks. "He and Mr. Novak can check each other. You're my prisoner, Mr. Winchester, I'm not letting you out of my sight."

Sam would like to know how to erase the smirk on Winchester's face. There's nothing odd in his idea. Whatever lewd suggestion Winchester might have made twice already, Sam's not interested.

It's not any more easy to fool himself than it was with Winchester. Seeing so much bare flesh gets to his weary head, and it's worse when it's time for him to undress in his turn. He can tell himself as much as he wants that it would be extremely untoward to disrobe entirely in front of his son ; a part of him, bigger by the minute, knows he wants to bare himself for Winchester and he can't help the thrill of arousal spinning through him, nor does he asks Dean to take his hands off when the outlaw does what he does best and steals a few lingering touches of a body that had previously belonged only to one woman.

Sam closes his eyes and enjoys the caresses, feels that he can understand Madison better now, incapable to resist the lure of a gorgeous, passionate lover who shows how much they want you. Madison and him, they haven't had sex for so long, strangers living under the same roof. Sam thought for sure he had lost any desire since Jake's death, but here it is again, deep in his guts, and Sam feels alive for the first time in a long while.

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There's a weird noise going on next to Sam, something he can't recognize but makes him want to tell the dog to stop it already !

Then he remembers he's not at home but on a dangerous mission in which everything that can't be explained right away is potentially dangerous and he mostly wakes up. He needs only turning his head to the right to be back entirely.

Winchester is sitting astride Edgar, the silver knife Sam was sure he had confiscated after the werewolves were all dispatched – where Dean hid it in the first place, no one had a clue ! – gripped tight in his cuffed hands as he slashes the other man again and again.

Sam scrambles up, ready to push Winchester away, before he realizes what Mr. Henriksen and the other men have seen before him and kept them back.

Edgar is not really Edgar anymore. His arms and hands have elongated and what Sam can see of them is now covered in thick dark fur, just like his face. But his eyes are still just the same, full of contempt and hatred for anyone else. He fights against Dean despite the many slices of the knife he's already sustained, trying to dislodge his arms that the outlaw has blocked under his own legs with all his weight. The creature he is becoming, more and more with each second, is clearly strong and it's got a will to live matching Dean's determination to kill it.

Sam's eyes go from Dean's hands to Edgar's, afraid that the werewolf will be able to draw blood on Dean in his turn, thus signing his own death warrant. Edgar twists and does his best to escape Winchester's hold but it's no use.

"And that one's for taking Impala," Winchester concludes with a last hit of his knife right into the mercenary's heart.

He's bloody and disheveled, and all Sam feels is fear but also relief that Dean was able to see easily into Edgar's fake humanity and kill him before he had time to harm anyone else.

The doc and Mr. Novak seem to wake up from their trance and begin to ask questions right away about what happened, both awed and cowed. Mr. Henriksen comes and takes the knife from Dean's hands, shooting a dark look at Sam for allowing it to be stolen in the first place, even though it just saved their lives. Sam ignores him, tired of the man's constant judging attitude, and wraps a weary arm around Junior's shoulders who came and stood by his side, armed and ready, as soon as he woke up too. Sam guesses they must sport matching expressions, half-horrified, half-thank-God-we're-alive !

It's quickly becoming somewhat of a habit in Winchester's company.

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As dawn lights up the valley, Adam looks down to see the coach riding at full speed, taking his brother to prison.

He should wait for his men whom he knows are riding fast, miles behind him, since he warned them with the Sprach of Dean's abduction, but he simply can't. He has to get to Dean, show him that he can count on him, the best brother a man might dream of. And then maybe Dean will look at him the way he's been dreaming about forever.

It takes him less than half an hour to catch up with the carriage.

Dean said not to kill.

Adam shoots the damn marshal in the shoulder. A bit close to the neck perhaps, but as good a shooter as Adam is, trained by his brother since he was twelve, the moves of his horse and the jolts of the road explain his clumsiness.

The marshal falls down to the ground as a voice from inside the coach yells "Jesse !", and this is not Dean's voice.

Adam hopes the fall killed the driver. Dean didn't say the man shouldn't break his neck on the way down.

The horses slow down and quickly stop when no one's left to stir them. Adam dismounts and walks to the carriage where the deputy keeps screaming to get his brother to wake up, to move, something, anything to let him know he's still alive.

Cesar blanches as he recognizes in his attacker the same man who warned them the previous day about the coach being robbed.

"Where's Dean Winchester ?" Adam asks and fires his gun at the same time in the marshal's direction, sure that the threat to his brother will have the deputy talking faster than one to himself.

"I don't know…" the deputy begins.

Adam turns and shoots one inch away from the unconscious marshal's head.

"Stop it !" the deputy screams as Adam shoots another bullet even closer to Cuevas' head. "You're too late. They're riding to Contention, they're gonna put him on the 3:10 train to Yuma, and there's nothing you can do about it, Wesson and Henriksen will see to it. Killing us won't give you your brother back."

Dean said not to kill. He didn’t say anything about harming, right ?

Adam definitely needs to let go of some of his frustration, the feeling that Dean is slipping through his fingers, avoiding him. More interested in some backwater, failing, small-time rancher – Adam's not stupid, he saw the way Dean looked at the guy – rather than his own brother who's done nothing but live and breathe for him ever since the day they met and Dean saved him from starvation after he was left alone by his mother's untimely and very gruesome death.

Adam aims and shoots before Cesar has time to realize what's happening. He's pretty sure at least three of his bullets meet flesh and bones, but the deputy is still alive, even if he's trapped inside the driver-less coach with no way to get help, as Adam races back to Wesson's farm.

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Sam's reacting to Dean's uneasiness as they ride through the pass. The place is eerily silent, even the horses' hooves seem to be made of rubber on the red dirt. They've seen some strange markings when they got to the plateau that Dean interpreted to be a warning to not trespass on pain of death, or worse (which left them all puzzled, save for Dean, of course). But Mr. Henriksen insisted that this was the shorter road and the only way to avoid Winchester's men at all, as if they would be too scared to follow.

Sam's seen the smirk on Winchester's face, though, and he's sure they will follow their boss into hell if they have to. Their only chance is to be faster and get to Contention quick as they can. They're all tired after the night was cut short by Edgar, and it's fear that keeps them going.

But they can't gallop most of the time. They have to trade speed for sure footing as the horses get farther into the pass and ride along a deep ravine.

Victor Henriksen has taken the front, still sitting straight in his saddle despite his wound, and Sam is at the back, Junior close to him and each of them sure they protect the other. Doc Garth and Mr. Novak have spontaneously taken to flank Winchester's sides, when the path is large enough, in order to grill him for answers about what they've witnessed during the night. And his answers are chilling.

"I only know of bad werewolves," Winchester says. "Humans turned wild beasts who try either to turn other humans to join them when they need to expand their pack, or to exterminate the threat we pose to them. Some legends refer to peaceful werewolves, but I always thought them to be shapeshifters rather than wolves."

"Shapeshifters ?" the doc prods, eyes wide and worried.

"Another species able to take on a human appearance, and to change it at will, provided they've touched said human once. Tricky little buggers, but I guess most of them live peacefully among us without ever being detected, which is why I think they can be good. Maybe."

He doesn't seem that confident, and Sam wishes he could just dismiss this talk as the delirium of a crazy man. That Junior didn't hear any of it and could continue to grow up and live in a world where supernatural beasts are the stuff of scary stories, passed around a fire camp to enjoy the thrill of fright while nothing worse than a coyote might actually be lurking around.

"My God !" Mr. Novak cusses. "How many of those monsters have you come close to ?"

"Too many to count, and then I didn't fight them all. My father encountered much more than I did, and it cost him his life."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Thank you, Jimmy. My father had an obsession, and no one was really surprised that it got him killed."

"Can I ask how he died, or is it still too fresh a memory to share ?"

Without any reason Sam can fathom, Winchester briefly turns towards him before he answers.

"He had been hunting the demon…"

"A demon ?!" Mr. Novak repeats.

Everyone here is aware of Mr. Novak's profound faith. He never forgets to say his prayers several times a day – as he rides, before he sleeps – so it makes sense to see the man so riled up by the knowledge of the existence of the demons he probably considered as lore rather than truth up to this day.

"You said he had been hunting a demon ?" Junior encourages Winchester to go on, just as fascinated as Sam.

"The demon that killed my mother years before, when my brother and I were still little kids."

"He found it ?" Sam can't help asking.

"He did, after years of careful research and obstinate wandering. He did, and the demon killed him."

There's more to the story, Sam would bet money on it, but Dean chooses this moment to shut off the topic and turn to Mr. Henriksen to tease him in the nasty way they both seem to enjoy so much, like they're each other's personal nemesis. Mr. Henriksen responds in kind, and soon everyone has forgotten about the demons and werewolves, entertained by the insults flying left and right.

It becomes increasingly unclear who the bad guy really is in their little outfit.

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Dean doesn't know what possessed him to share such a hurtful part of his life story with all those people, especially with Victor right before him. It just amuses him to hear himself talking about Dad's obsession, when his own obsession with his brother might get him killed all the same. Dad would have had his hide for letting himself be taken voluntarily by someone like the bounty hunter Dean finds himself wary of a little more with each passing minute.

But then, Dad would have probably decided to get rid of Henriksen a long time ago. And Dean is closing on the same conclusion.

There's something terribly wrong with the guy, even more so than that time he saw him with his army buddies shoot a whole Indian camp and then set fire to the survivors assembled in a tipi. Dean can't say what exactly is troubling him, but he knows he has to be ready for anything and everything. He was lucky enough to manage to get to the silver knife hidden inside Impala's saddle – and that his horse is so attuned to him that he knew when to come near his master and how to present himself so Dean wouldn't lose precious seconds that Edgar could have used to harm or kill Sam in his sleep.

He only knows he's gonna have to keep watch again tonight, and that's why he accepts the strong coffee cup the doc offers to him at the end of their meager supper by the fire.

Junior has pestered him throughout the whole meal about supernatural monsters as well as his own adventures and he's visibly in awe of his exploits.

"Is it true that last year you had a tunnel imploding, with the miners still inside, so that you could get away with the golden ore they had extracted ?"

"That's a lie. I had the whole mountain imploding."

Junior snorts but everyone else looks filled with dismay.

"The miners were not human," Dean adds to make them feel better, "and they were not mining for gold."

"What else then ?" Junior wonders.

"They were creating the tunnels to host the growing family of a Spunta."

"What's a Spunta ?"

"Some kind of beetle. A very nasty, very big kind of beetle. Who likes to prey on big animals, men being one of them of course."

"How did you learn all this ?"

"I'm a hunter. That's what we do. My dad trained me since I was a little kid. I've had many years and many other hunters to teach me what I needed to know to survive."

"Weren't you afraid ?"

"I was scared stiff ! But then the only way to get the upper hand is to know how to kill a monster. You'd never have been able to get rid of the werewolves without a silver knife."

"And how fortunate you got one to kill Edgar," Victor mocks him.

"What do you mean ?" Jimmy asks.

Henriksen takes the time to look them all in the eyes to make his words more important.

"I mean that this man is a killer, and you're all listening to his old-wives tales like he's teaching you the word of God. Wake up ! He's only trying to lure you, and he'll kill you all next chance he gets."

"We did see those creatures, Mr. Henriksen," the doc insists. "We shot them, to no effect. And Edgar was changing into one of them when Mr. Winchester killed him."

"One or two freaks of nature do not make giant beetles a true fact. And I guarantee you that each of us will die if stabbed in the heart with a silver knife."

Dean decides it's more than time to clear things up with the bounty hunter.

"Now be upfront with me for once, Victor. You and Edgar didn't bother to check each other, am I right ?"

"I'm not stupid enough to fall for your fairy tales, Winchester. You might get these poor schmucks to believe you, but you'll never fool me."

"Well, that's too bad," Sam intervenes, "because if we can't trust you, we're gonna leave you here to wait for your friends to come looking for you. Right, Dean ?"

"Absolutely. So what shall it be, Victor ? A small cut or a long wait ?"

There's a smug expression glued to Victor's face as he decides for the cut and rolls one of this sleeves up, an expression that tells Dean he's not afraid of what's he's planning to do. And yet Dean is sure there's something wrong with the man. He's always suspected him to be bad, but he had chalked it up to some very human deviancy. Right now, after spending two days in his company and his sixth sense tingling like mad, Dean's sure there's more to it, and Victor is not a werewolf.

It's probably far worse than that.

There's a special compartment in his canteen, a partition first created in order to store a bit of wine – for impromptu mass, of course – at the request of the rich prelate Dean had cleaned out of the ornate object. Dean owns another flask if he wants to drink alcohol on his long journeys. The canteen serves a far more useful purpose.

Nonchalant and unconcerned, Dean takes it in hand and drinks leisurely, as if to rinse his mouth of the lasting taste of their supper. Then he switches a hidden button at the neck of the canteen to open the hidden partition and throws the holy water at Victor's head.

The scream is all the proof he needs.

While Victor holds his face in pain as the liquid acts like vitriol on him, the other men stand in alarm and ask in frantic panic what Dean has done.

"He's a demon !" Dean yells to be heard over the commotion.

And then Victor is on him. The fight against a demon isn't fair at the best of times ; handcuffed, it feels like trying to stop a mountain going at you, bashing your head repeatedly on its slope. Still he does his best, trading two-handed blows to Victor's jaw and throat for the ones that land in his stomach and anywhere else on his aching body.

He realizes quickly that sheer brutal force won't ever be enough, not against a formidable warrior like Victor, whoever the demon riding him is. He's so much more than a simple good-looking man, body strong and agile, and Dean tires too fast. It becomes harder and harder to get back up every time he's tossed away like some pathetic rag doll in a storm. Until he can't get up anymore and Victor turns towards Sam. The bullet his brother shoots in his upper chest doesn't kill him any more than the one fired by Adam in his gut did, and Victor keeps walking, arms already raised to grab Sam's gun.

The words come to Dean from a place of desperation. No way is he gonna lose his brother when he's just found him again. He recites the exorcism with little regard as to the pronunciation and it seems he doesn't do that bad because Victor stops, like he's chocking on a collar suddenly tightened at the end of an unforgiving leash. He stops and he grunts, hands scrapping at his neck, but Dean is resolute to end it here and now.

He presses on, speaks faster, ready to see the black demonic smoke get out of the host but Victor's inhabitant is just as stubborn and refuses to give up its place and privilege. It keeps chocking on itself in a bizarre parody of lungs gasping for air when Dean's pretty sure the real Victor is dead and his body doesn't draw breath anymore, moving shell and not much else.

Victor stumbles to the rhythm of Dean's incantation, his steps following a drunken path that leads him right to the precipice. Dean wants to stop him, to force him to evacuate the premises and go back to hell at once, but the demon is still alive and kicking, pushing the body in the only direction it will be able to escape Dean and his murderous words.

Dean can hardly move, and he doesn't dare using his brother or one of the other men to block Victor's retreat, lest they be possessed or pushed down through the void into the valley. Unrestrained, save for his own hands on his neck and mouth to keep the demon inside, Victor dances for a few second on the edge before he overcomes Dean's hold and plunges feet first to yet another death.

There's a stunned moment of near silence, when Dean can't quite stop whispering the anti-demonic spell, and then Sam and Junior are by his side, helping him to sit for the doc to take a look at him. Garth palpates his abdomen and Dean wants to tell him to get lost, but the man is trying to help and the fact that he's hurting him is irrelevant right now. He's alive. Sam and Junior too, no one's been possessed.

Good day.

They help him to stand up again and Dean swears enough to oppose the pain that he makes Jimmy blush like a maiden on her wedding day. There's more questions : what was it in his canteen that had Victor reeling that way ? How did Dean know something was wrong with him ? What did he say to Victor to push him to throw himself off into the ravine ?

Dean tries to answer as best he can the anxiety flood ; he gets this is all distressing, overwhelming even, to witness and admit, when your life has been so mundane before and untouched by the supernatural, that there is a whole new level of existence you never imagined or wanted to get a glimpse of. These men's lives have been forever altered. They've learned what lurks not only in the dark of night but also in plain day next to you, masquerading as human. From now on, they will scrutinize their neighbors and friends with suspicious eyes and wonder if maybe…

Dean is so tired, but he has one thing to do before he can rest. He sits by the fire, hands so close that the little hairs on his fingers get singed and Sam comes to him, concerned by his attitude. It's painful, but no more than the bruises left by the hits he just took and he's seen so much worse in his life that the hurt hardly registers.

When his ring takes on a blue color indicating it's ready to work, Dean grabs Sam's closest arm and push his clothes away to get to his brother's wrist. Sam protests but Dean is a man on a mission and he ignores everything to apply the ring against his skin. Hard, deep, five seconds of struggle but Dean doesn't relent and Sam can't take his arm away as long as Dean's grip on him remains so tight.

Sam stumbles upward as soon as Dean releases him. The others have migrated towards them, Junior ready to shoot Dean to free his father.

"What did you do to me ?!" Sam asks as he looks at his unblemished arm, the sting of the spell probably still bothering him.

"Junior, give me your arm !" Dean orders instead of answering.

"What ? No !"

"I said give me your arm. Now !"

"And I said no."

Dean doesn't have time for this so he forces himself up and grips Junior's arm.

"Dad !"

"Let my son go or I'll shoot you right here !"

Dean dismisses the risk and applies his ring against Junior's still so soft skin. The kid hisses but Dean lets him go before it gets really painful. Then he turns to Garth and Jimmy who have strategically retreated behind a boulder. Dean's attempt to get to them is blocked by Sam's carbine.

"Dean, I'm willing to give you a lot of leeway after what we've seen and the fact that you saved all our lives, but if you don't tell us what you're doing I'm going to hit you hard enough to get you down."

Sam's words register at last and Dean feels like he's getting out of this trance. He's not used to be questioned. His orders are obeyed with perfect obedience and he's got a difficult time remembering he has to explain his every act with those people, but for Sam he's got to try and make it work.

"This," he says, raising his fist to show off his ring, "has pretty much tattooed into your deep skin a figure that will prevent demons to possess you. If Victor's body is too badly damaged, his rider might decide to hitch a new ride and we need to be prepared to stop him. Now Jimmy and Garth, get right back here and give me your arms."

The men come to him, Garth first and then Jimmy, still hesitant. There's more interrogations and worries, but they do offer him their forearm and he's able to apply the protection.

When the questions die, Dean lies down to sleep. He's pretty sure Victor's demon isn't one to just give up and he might come back soon to track them, but they have a few hours before he reappears and Dean needs to regain his strength to face him.

Watched by the doc, he falls asleep immediately, Sam lying down by his side.

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He wakes up as dawn is still a few hours away, feeling both stiff and well-rested.

The camp is silent. Even the fire has died down, and that's what bothers Dean into sitting up. They had collected enough small wood before supper to last them the whole night, which probably means that the one who should be watching over them right now has fallen asleep, leaving them all open to danger.

His first check is for Sam, who's still sleeping deeply next to him, and then Junior on his other side. Jimmy Novak is on Dean's right side, and Garth is slumped over the log he had chosen to sit on for his watch. God knows how long they've all slept unaware of the mountain's perils.

He hears the footsteps when it's already too late to put up a good fight. A blow to the back of his head sends him down.

And he wakes up again silenced by a tight gag. Hands bound, of course.

Victor is in a pretty bad shape, but yet he's smiling. He sits on the log – the doc has been pushed down to the ground and Dean can only hope he's sleeping, not dead – waiting for Dean to rejoin him.

"You wonder how I managed to get back up here this fast ? I'm in a good mood, so I'll tell you. I didn't roll all the way down into the valley ! No, some conveniently placed overhang stopped my fall. After that, it was just a matter of finding a path to climb."

That's just Dean's luck that Victor escaped death one more time and managed at the same time to surprise him. At least, he had time to protect the others against possession. Even if they're still unnaturally quiet and prove strangely difficult to wake up.

"Now you wonder why they're still asleep, right ?" Victor teases him. "That would be thanks to the special ingredient I added to the plates before I passed them their supper. Don't be jealous, you got some too, and then the antidote. I wanted you pliant and easy to work with for once, but I also needed you to be able to move and ride. Because you see, your little Latin trick only served to gain you a bit of time. I had already decided to take you with me and make you disappear once and for all.

"So I used some slow-working drug, something that would catch you all in your sleep and make the others unable to rouse for a while. Guess it was a little too slow-working, right ?" Victor concludes in good humor, as if the fact that he has indeed caught Dean in the end makes up for any trouble in between.

The demon stands up and comes to help Dean up – God, he's getting too old for that shit, and the drug didn't help any ! – and then pushes him stumbling towards Impala. Victor waits for Dean to be settled on the saddle before he ties his hands to the pommel. Then he keeps Impala tethered to his own horse, taking no chances and making sure Dean won't escape.

As they leave, Dean can't help looking behind him to Sam and the other guys still heavily asleep on the ground. He hates leaving them like that, open to danger, as much as he hates the thought that Sam will believe Dean has left him behind when he wakes up. But at least they're alive.

"Ah, don't worry about them !" Victor orders. "You killed the werewolves, and very soon you'll be entertaining the other creatures lurking around this place. That leaves coyotes and maybe a few snakes, nothing to write home about ! They'll be safe, as long as you follow my orders. Probably safe… Anyway, you have more pressing matters to worry about, things like will you still be alive by this time tomorrow ? How much torture can you withstand before you tell me where your lair is and how to get in ? You see, we have much to do. Let's go !"

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He wonders at first where they are going. Until he remembers hearing about an old house Sinclair used to possess in these mountains, his first hideout created to avoid the Men of Letters and make sure he wouldn't get unwanted attention or visitors. Is this where this is headed ? Is Victor bringing him to face Sinclair to be tortured and killed in a place everyone thought abandoned ?

But Victor is a demon and now that he's not pretending anymore being a mere bounty hunter / Pinkerton hired by an egomaniacal narcissist hell-bent on creating a dominion upon which he reigns unchallenged, there's little chance he'll let Dean escape his own clutches. Demons tend to work for themselves, or someone more powerful than them in Hell. Their human allegiances last only as long as they're useful to them.

They ride for less than two hours, during which Dean ignores his bruises and many pains to concentrate on the path they're taking. He watches the sun rise and thinks about his brother, about Junior, and wonders if they've come to their senses, if Jimmy and Garth are good, too.

Parts of him want them far away from Victor, but another part needs their help and that's why he manages to use the peculiar pebbles hidden in yet another pouch on Impala's saddle, in the very case of his current kind of predicament, to create a trail he is sure Sam will be able to follow. Junior, too. Sam certainly taught him well.

Another moment and they approach an old decrepit house that would give anyone nightmares. The wind howls through the dilapidated roofs and walls dressed with cobwebs and weeds.

"As you probably guessed already, this is Cuthbert Sinclair's old home. I was the one who thought about using the house after he ran out and left his people to die when some of his precious creatures tried to make a bid for liberty. As a matter of fact, that's when I possessed Victor."

Victor doesn't miss Dean's startled expression and looks at him with a teasing grin.

"What ? Oh, I see. You're surprised it's been so long, I can tell. The great Dean Winchester can't have crossed path with a demon for more than ten years and trade casual insults with its meatsuit without ever realizing what was really there, can he ? Well, seems he did. Poor Victor has been crying for your help at the back of this skull for over a decade, you, his former lover, but it was my choice to die last night that finally set him free. Not the most famous hunter. Not your precious and cowardly Men of Letters. Me. The bane of his existence. How does it feel ?"

He seems genuinely curious and reminds Dean of the young, idealistic guy he had first met and kind of fell for, before Victor became jaded by life and crime. By a demon.

And yes, he feels bad for letting Victor down, not seeing what was really happening and leaving him to deal alone, but Victor had pushed him away first, not wanting to associate himself with someone considered a thief and a killer. He wanted to prove himself on his own, show he could make it in a world that never gave a second chance, and even less when the color of your skin was anything other than white. Dean's bitterness after being dumped had made him blind to Victor's suffering, and he would carry that knowledge forever from now on.

They dismount and Dean startles when he turns towards the house to find he's surrounded by seven men and women who look far from friendly. Dean feels his level of trepidation rise as the gag prevents him from joking the way he likes to make the situation less creepy. A lot less doomed, too. He's not getting a good vibe from the odds of his survival this time.

He'll just have to make sure to be killed and not end up as undead as the people dragging him inside the house.

In less than two minutes, he finds himself hanging shirtless, tied by his wrists to the ceiling, toes scraping by the floor for stability.

"Look what Victor dragged in…" a tall, dangerous-looking black man whispers in his ear, chilling Dean to the bone with the finger he trails down his neck looking for his pulse.

They're all watching him with hungry eyes and he wonders what they see, a man or a blood container. He knows most of them already, including Gordon Walker, whose hands are on him, and his former hunting partner, Kubrick. Last time he saw them, they had words about the way to go after the monster they were all tracking down. They parted ways unable to find a common ground.

Dean's idea was the best one, if memory serves.

Now Gordon seems happy to see him, but not for any reason Dean might care for.

"Good to see you, old friend," Gordon greets him as he takes a few steps back. "You remember Kubrick ? He was bitten not long after we last saw each other, which then led him to bite me and my little sister."

Gordon indicates a young woman who's still pretty despite her dead eyes.

"Next you have Dixon and his mate Lucy, and I think you know Luther and his mate ?"

On the other side of the room stand Luther and Kate, two vampires who would have got his father killed if not for Dean's infamous gun. And that's what bothers him : they should be definitely dead. The Hand of God doesn't offer second chances, even to vampires.

"Hello, Dean," Luther smiles at him. "Glad to see us again ? No ? Well, that hurts. Not as much as a bullet from your toy or the tortures Cuthbert put us through to find the secret of our immortality, but that hurts anyway. We'll have to show you how much."

"My friends," Victor intervenes, "don't we get ahead of ourselves. Where are our manners ? Poor Dean can't participate in this conversation with a gag, can he ? I'm sure we're all dying to catch up with him."

Dean can't believe his luck when Victor stupidly takes his gag off. Immediately, he begins to say the words that will rid the world of this constant evil only to find the words are useless and Victor – his demonic rider, at the very least – is still very much here, laughing his ass off instead of dropping down.

"We too have our little tricks, my dear Dean. Now you can recite all the spells in the world or even try to summon an angel. You'll get voiceless before you understand nothing is gonna work here, thanks to our very special sigils."

Fuck ! He really hoped to be able to use some of the incantations Bobby taught him to disintegrate demons once and for all, but if Victor is honest, it will do diddly squat. He can only bide his time and waits for the cavalry, hoping the vampires won't bite him before and make him everyone's worst nightmare.

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They've beaten him up, flogged him till blood ran on his back that the vampires drunk with moans of pleasure. Healed him with some incantations when they thought the pain didn't register enough and they wanted to start fresh. Get some more blood.

He's pissed with himself that he couldn't always keep his screams inside, but he's alive, and he's still human.

And they want him to last, so they've untied him from the ceiling and abandoned him alone in the corner of a room, his hands bound together, to sleep and gather his strength. They're probably gonna play with him like that for a while, drink his blood and make him suffer, let him wonder if they're going to turn him into a vampire too, or offer his body to a demon after they locate and destroy his deep-skin tattoo. Maybe they will just kill him once he's too weak to be of any interest.

That's why he wants to escape, make sure Sam and his son won't be taken too. He'd like them to know he didn't abandon them, but that's not the most important worry he's got right now. He has to contact someone so that hunters will come and clean the nest. Give Adam a way to find his body and give it a hunter's send off to make sure he won't return as a ghost, alert the Men of Letters or any other hunter about the very effective danger of Sinclair's supposedly empty house.

And suddenly, as the fog in his mind lifts a bit more, he remembers that he still has his pants on and no gag, which means that hopefully he can use the Sprach to call Adam.

So he twists himself up until he can catch the rock in his pocket, gets blood from one of his still oozing wounds and pronounces the words, hoping Adam will be able to answer and that Victor's sigils won't block the bond from his end.

"Why didn't you tell me they're taking you to Contention ?!" Adam yells immediately.

Dean sighs. It's gonna be a long day.

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"Why didn't you tell me they're taking you to Contention ?!" Adam yells as soon as the connection takes.

"… not enough time," Dean answers, or Adam thinks that's what he says.

The truncated response makes him think of their relationship of late. Adam always chasing after his elusive brother who takes everything like a joke and hides his feelings deep inside. Dean used to be so close, and so honest with him, but this time is long gone, trickling like sand through Adam's fingers.

Now he's being replaced, Adam can feel it, but he's not going to let it happen without a fight.

"Where are you now ?"

"…old home… don't… Cuthb…"

Nothing for a long few seconds, save for Adam yelling at Dean to come back. And then Adam stops his horse and the communication settles, sound low but understandable.

"…riksen, he's a demon, and I've seen seven vampires, including Walker and Kubrick. Be careful, they know how hunters work and they won't be fooled easily. Do you hear me ?"

"I hear you, Dean. What about the men taking you to Contention ? Are they dead ?"

"No, and I want you to let them be if you meet with them. That's an order, Adam ! Tell the guys I'll kill myself anyone who touches them. Is that clear ?"

Adam wants to hurt something or someone, preferably someone. Possibly a rancher, a corporate guy and anyone else riding with them. In the meantime, a demon and seven vampires would make a good substitute.

"Why do you care so much for these people, Dean ? They're nothing to you."

"They helped me, and they never treated me badly. And Sam… Sam Wesson is in fact Sam Winchester, Adam. He's our brother ! I finally found him !"

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Junior calls and shakes his arm at least three times before Sam finally opens his eyes.

"Dad ! Wake up ! Dean's gone !"

The last words gets his full attention and Sam turns to see the place next to him empty. Impala's gone too.

He shouldn't feel so disappointed after knowing the man for such a short time and despising him long before their meeting. He shouldn't be afraid of what might have happened to him, but the memory of the fight last night is still upfront, as well as the way Dean took care of protecting them all when he had no reason to do so for the men taking him to prison.

"Do you feel groggy too ?" Mr. Novak asks.

Sam nods and immediately regrets it. That's a killer headache he's got there.

Doc Garth comes to him and takes a look at his eyes, palps his neck and touches his forehead, listens to his heart.

"You'll live," he finally pronounces with a pleased smile. "Junior and Mr. Novak seem a little woolly too, you'd better rest."

"Certainly not !" Sam refuses. "We have to find Dean."

"If he drugged us, he won't make it easy for us to find him."

"Do you think it was him ?" Mr. Novak wonders. "Some delayed but long-lasting effect of the tattoo ?"

"I'm not sure," Sam answers, although something tells him it's not Dean's doing. "He could have left us all to die and run away more than once, but he stayed for us every time. I don't see him suddenly deciding it's time to leave and using drugs to do so when he's adept at hiding weapons and using them to solve his problems once and for all by killing those who get in his way. Plus the doc doesn't seem affected and he got the tattoo, too."

Junior snickers at the assonance, not at all repentant when Sam sends him an annoyed look.

"Then where is he ? And why did he leave ?"

"I don't know, but I'm gonna find him."

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They take the only available road to begin with, but soon Sam remarks some curious, blue-tinged pebbles disposed at more or less regular intervals. In his mind, he can see Dean sowing them all along the way to wherever he's being taken, waiting for Sam to find him and help in his turn.

The others follow his lead as he leaves the main road and pushes his horse down a barely visible path. The air is thick with moisture, and Sam wonders what the other men really think, going after a dangerous outlaw and probably chased by more of the same. Do they feel the burden of their decision to go and seek danger as acutely as he does ? Do they enjoy the ride, despite their fright ? Do they regret ever coming here or are they glad they did, just because it's something new that none of them will ever get to live again ? Glad that Dean made them feel alive like no one else ever had before. Sick with worry about him.

"Is that a storm coming in ?" Mr. Novak asks, visibly anxious.

"The Navajo call it the male rain," Junior explains with glee as he nods. "It's gonna be epic !"

Sam is a lot less thrilled, and yet it could be the answer to his prayers, water at last for his land and his cattle. But he can't seem to focus on his old worries. The storm will soon be on them and they have to find cover, but he's more worried that a big tempest might take Dean's pebbles away.

And then he sees it, about seven hundred feet away from them. An old house, and two horses that he recognizes. Henriksen's - who took off at a gallop last night, frightened by the fight - and Impala.

Sam is surer than ever that Dean wasn't brought here on his own volition but by the bounty hunter, somehow miraculously alive despite his deathly fall.

He signals to the men to stop and take cover. They can't guess how many enemies are in there, nor their species, and even if it's only Mr. Henriksen, the demonic man's a crafty hunter who's apparently impossible to kill. So their only chance is to arrive silently and take whoever's in there by surprise.

Contrary to Sam's fear, the storm helps tremendously. Thunder and lightning on the move to join them offer the perfect cover against the noises they make to approach without being heard. They also make the house look even creepier.

Ignoring his fear like he's done his whole life, Sam leads the way inside, keeping Junior close to him since he's sure there's no way the kid will stay behind and wait for them outside. He would have done the same at his age.

He probably still would, depending on who he's following.

Round the corner, he leans to look inside the next room and his heart does a double take as he finds Dean.

A shirtless Dean, hands tied high above his head to a hook in the ceiling, looking furious and ready to kill every one of the men and women surrounding him. Sam only recognizes Victor Henriksen, sitting with a huge grin on his face despite the strange angle some of his limbs seem to keep after his fall. His happiness obviously comes from seeing Dean tortured, his grin getting even bigger as a man lands a blow in his prisoner's stomach.

"That tickles, Dixon," Dean comments when he gets his breath back. "Did you ever learn to fight before you became a monster ? Maybe that's why you only ever turn girls like poor little Lucy ?"

A blonde woman takes a step forward and shows a row of pointy teeth, clearly affronted at being dismissed so casually for her gender and the way she doesn't look scary but fluffy, even like that. Dixon stops her with a raised hand without even looking her way.

On the contrary, he smiles and shows his own deadly teeth to Dean.

"Maybe I'm gonna turn you, this time. Make you my bitch, Winchester, so that you know how to obey an order."

"Don't worry about me, Dix ! I had a father who wasn't avaricious with orders and taught me the hard way to obey them."

"That's right," a tall white guy remembers with a delighted smile, "dear old John Winchester. His blood was delicious. Right, Kate ?"

"You're so right, baby. You know, Dean, Luther often recalls the great pleasure we two had with the both of you on that night. Our only regret is that we didn't turn you."

This feels more and more like some old friends' reunion and Sam wonders how many more of Dean's enemies are in this room.

"That's enough !" another guy cuts them. "If anyone turns him, it's gonna be me, but he's gonna suffer for a long while first."

"You, Kubrick ?" Dean muses, as if considering a surprising offer and coming to a negative conclusion. "Nah, you don't have it in you."

You have to give it to Dean for knowing how to piss off monsters, Sam thinks.

"You know I was the one who turned Gordon," the man replies, arrogant. "Your old friend and comrade, famous hunter Gordon Walker."

"After luring him in to try and save his little sister that you had already turned. Bold move indeed !"

Dean looks with sorrow at the pretty black girl standing further from him. A tall and big black man approaches and strikes Dean square in the jaw this time. Sam takes a mindless and aborted step but refrains immediately, hoping no one saw him. He can't barge in here alone, or with only Junior at his side. His kid is great with a gun, but after the werewolves he's not sure if that's any help against those toothy guys.

But then he turns and finds that the doc and Mr. Novak have joined them and wait for his signal to know what to do.

How is it that he became the leader here ? Although he spent time at war, he never was in a commanding position. He's never had any dream of being the one in charge. He minds his own business and likes to live in harmony with his land and neighbors.

Then here comes Dean Winchester, and Sam finds himself sort of promoted to sheriff first and then second in command, or acting captain in Dean's absence. All this in less than three days' time.

"Gordon," Kubrick says to the one who hit Dean in the face, "why don't you show our guest how much of a bitch you really are ?"

The man goes to retrieve a whip from a nearby table and posts himself behind Dean. Contrary to most of the other monsters, he doesn't smile and his sheer size and coldness make him the most ominous and terrifying presence in this room.

The first strike of the whip has Dean howling and contorting in a very strange way. Until Sam realizes he's used his momentum to detach the rope that secured him to the hook and finish untying himself, landing back on his feet a freed man.

"Sam ! They're vampires !" Dean yells, proving that he did see him earlier, and hits one of his guards at the same time, "Cut their heads off ! And don't let them bite you or feed you blood !"

Dean counts on them to help so Sam goes in and the men follow him. The thing is, they're not really equipped for this. Bullets can only do so much, but they try, shooting again and again as much to keep the vampires at bay as to try and detach their heads from their bodies.

Dean manages, just like always, to produce some new weapon out of his pants and boots, one that looks like a butter slicer that he throws at Sam and then a sharp and thigh-long blade previously hidden in the cloth's seam. Dean doesn't wait a beat before he turns to the man he called Kubrick and slices his head off. In the next moment, he's on the other side of the room, cutting Kate's head before he runs out in pursuit of Victor Henriksen.

Mr. Novak has the silver knife Dean used to kill Edgar and he's menacing the black female vampire with it. She snarls and tries to get past it several times, as fierce as she was all shy-looking a few minutes before, but he holds his own. Sam keeps an eye on Junior all along, dealing with Luther who he has already slowed down a lot by piercing his neck with many bullets.

And then Sam's view is obstructed by the big black guy who was flogging Dean, looking mightily pissed off and ready to send him to his maker. Gordon gets two punches in and Sam doubles over, breath shortened by the violence of the blows. The vampire takes advantage of his temporary weakness to close his arms around his chest and squeeze, hard.

Sam quickly feels lightheaded, dark spot dancing before his eyes. Any second now, his ribs are going to crack and pierce his lungs, and it will be a slow, painful death, shocking up as he'll try frantically to draw breath and will be unable to do so because of the blood flooding his chest.

His only chance is to play the loss-of-consciousness card and he lets his body getting lax, waiting for the second Gordon will release his hold to turn the tables on him.

It works and Sam surprises himself with the swiftness of his reaction. As soon as he's free, he raises his hands, each one holding a handle of the weapon Dean gave him, and coils the butter slicer around the vampire's neck. He squeezes, too. Harder.

Gordon's eyes bulge out of their sockets as the thin metallic thread cuts into his skin, muscles and veins, always tighter and deadlier. Sam feels his arm muscles on the verge of giving up but he refuses to back down and puts in that little bit of effort that was missing to get the job done.

Gordon's head rolls down on the floor two seconds before his body follows suit. The sound resonates in Sam's ears, vicious and loud. His arms fall at his sides, almost powerless after the tremendous effort they gave, though he succeeds to get his right one up again to get off his face the little bit of blood Gordon's lost. Sam has another moment of dizziness when he thinks that if the lore is true and vampires don't have blood of their own, it means that this is the undigested remains of the last prey Gordon drank of. Maybe Dean's ?

"Dad !"

Sam jolts back to the present and gets to his son's aid, coming behind the vampire Junior has already more than half-beheaded with bullets but still keeps fighting, his hands now closed around the kid's shotgun to prevent him from shooting again. It takes all but two seconds to get the slicer around his holey neck and finish the job.

Soon Mr. Novak gets his first kill too, the man focused and solemn in this endeavor as usual, and the ground is now covered with body parts.

"Ha ha !" the doc exults to his right. "You got Garthed !"

Sam takes a second to look at him, amused despite himself by the guy's antics. He's like a child having fun at last after being cooped up for far too long in a classroom. He's reckless and vibrates with joy after taking down one of the vampires, watching Lucy's head roll on the floor and missing Dixon coming at him with a blade that he uses to slice the doc's right calf first, incapacitating him, and then this back, seconds before he pushes him towards Sam and the other humans who almost fall under his weight.

Garth is down, crying with pain. Sam leaves Mr. Novak and Junior to take care of him and looks up and around to protect them all when he realizes the vampire is missing. Did he take off to escape death ? Did he run after Dean ? Sam's got to find the outlaw, now.

He finds him right outside of the house, fighting with Victor Henriksen. The demon has him in a chokehold and Dean's face is turning an alarming shade of red. Dixon is watching them with a satisfied snarl, too cowardly to help but eager for Dean's demise.

Sam doesn't know what to do. He can't shoot, lest he might wound or kill Dean. But he can certainly get rid of the vampire. Dixon doesn't even see him coming and Sam uses the butter slicer once again to great effect. He's becoming very fond of this small, unassuming weapon.

"Don't come any closer," the demon warns Sam, his grip tighter than ever around Dean's neck whose attempts at fighting back are getting weaker and weaker.

"Let him go, and you have a chance to live to see tomorrow. But if you kill him, you can be sure your last hour has come, too."

"You think I'm scared of you ? Just because you were able to kill some lowly vampires ? Well, think again. There's nothing you weak humans can do against me ! And I'll take care of you right after Dean here has kicked the bucket."

Dean chooses this moment to prove him wrong by overthrowing the demon's hold on him with some weird and powerful move Sam didn't think any human to be capable of. Victor Henriksen fights him off to the best of his ability, but it seems Dean has tapped into some deep and unforeseen source of power thanks to his fear for his life and that of his fellow humans. Each of his blows has Henriksen reeling and losing ground, until he falls down and finds himself laying on the ground with a very pissed off Dean Winchester sitting astride, hovering like an archangel about to smite him into nothingness.

Sam can only watch, stunned, as Dean recites words from an unknown language, one of his hands on Henriksen's windpipe and the other on his mouth to prevent the demon's escape. Henriksen gets redder and redder, not even fighting Dean off as his body is wrecked with violent convulsions.

Dean backs off and lands right against Sam's chest as some final and deadly reaction travels through Henriksen. Maybe it's the effect of the demon being unable to leave the body, or maybe this is all because of Dean's words. What they can see of the skin seems to crackle, like the dry dirt of this land, the split obviously running over the whole surface of the former human frame as displayed through the tremors wracking it, and then it suddenly all implodes in a loud whoosh.

"You're definitely free now, Victor," Sam strains to hear Dean's words.

He still has his arms around the outlaw, the way they went up on their own to keep him upright when he stepped away from the demon. And something in him doesn't want to let go any more than he thinks Dean wants to get away from him. This closeness feels right, and it's only when the sound of the others inside the house comes to them that they detach, slowly and quite reluctantly.

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Dean's not used to leaning on someone to get back on his feet. Dad weaned that need out of him a long time ago, long before he was even Junior's age. And yet he feels so complacent in Sam's arms. Recharged by the simple power of his little brother's solicitude and care.

It's a stark contrast to the overwhelming power he used to defeat Victor. He can't imagine where this came from, but he's glad it's been there at his disposal to get the upper hand. Just like he's glad that Sammy is now a man, tall and strong, who can be there for him just like Dean was when they were kids. He wants it to last, this close and uncomplicated mutual support, and become their new normal.

He feels the rest of the world can go up in flame as long as they have each other. He's often wondered if this was why Dad chose to get rid of Sam, if his incoherent love for his little brother might have been the reason why Sam had to grow up alone.

They go back inside after a while. The doc is badly wounded. He probably won't make it but he might have a chance and there's no way they can take him to Contention with them if they want him to survive.

Through the different rooms of Cuthbert's old residence, Dean finds enough cushions and sheets to create a makeshift bed for Garth and install him comfortably. If it's gonna be his last hour on Earth, and even if it's not, he should as well have it easy.

"Someone'd better stay with him while we find him a real doctor," he suggests as he gets back up. "Junior, you feel up to it ?"

"What ?! No, I'm coming with you !"

Dean nods.

"It's okay. I can understand why you'd be afraid to be left alone with a dying man."

"I'm not afraid ! I just don't see why it has to be me staying back."

"Well, Jimmy is kind of the boss in this sorry state of affair, and your dad is paid to take me to Contention. Leaves only you and me, right ? And something tells me Sam's not gonna let me stay here."

That gets a hint of a smile from Junior, something he obviously inherited from his father and that Dean loves a lot. He's already far too fond of this kid – his nephew ! – and everything that reminds him of his brother, gives him an inkling of what Sam might have been at this age, fills his heart with wonder and love. Sam might be thirty-two, he will always be Dean's baby brother, the kid Dean has to protect and love.

"Listen," he says to close the deal, "I promise to take care of your dad, okay ?"

They both turn to Sam as they hear him snort and Dean wonders if the man understands there's no one in this world who loves him more than the criminal and the kid who just made a pact and a truce over him. That they're both ready to fight and give their life for him.

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Sam's never felt helpless in his life. Alone, abandoned, boring, embarrassing, somewhat of a failure… but never helpless, not since he became a man and got his own family anyway. But with the recent events turning his life for the worse, and now this whole scary universe he's discovering with Dean, he realizes that feeling helpless might be the saner attitude.

Unless he's with Dean. Next to him, Sam feels safe, but most of all he knows he's able to take on the world. And he doesn't want that feeling to end.

But it almost happened, and he shivers at the thought of Dean tied and shirtless at the mercy of several monsters and torturers who could have turned him even more evil after they were done playing with him.

"What did they do to you ?" he has to ask.

"Nothing I want to think about again. I'm just damn glad you arrived right after they healed me, so that I wasn't a dead weight !"

Of course, that's what Dean is afraid of. He's the caring type, not big with the feelings but getting things done and protecting those who are not like him. Sam feels close to him in this need to protect others.

"What do we do now ?" he wonders.

"What do you mean ? We have a train to catch."

"Dean, after everything that happened, now knowing what you stand against, you really think I can in good conscience deliver you to the people who want to hang you ? You saved my life, man !"

"And you saved mine too."

"All the more reasons to keep you alive."

Dean comes closer and put his hand on Sam's hair, holding the side of his head with his open hand in a strangely affectionate, almost paternal move, and Sam allows it, doesn't even think about stepping back.

"Sam, you need the money to be able to keep your ranch."

"Do you think it matters to me ? Do you really think I could still look at myself in a mirror after that, knowing I'm responsible for your death ? I'm not that kind of guy."

"I know. And I also know you won't take my money. That's why I'm not giving you a choice. I am going to catch that train. Either you're here to collect the money for your trouble – and surely Jimmy will give you advance payment for Junior's help, right, Jimmy ? – or it will go to waste. Unless maybe Roman's pockets are big enough to claim the reward…"

There's no better argument to push Sam into the right direction, which here means Contention's, and Dean knows it, of course. Combined with Junior being safe away from them thanks to Dean's cunning way to sway him, Sam accepts to keep up with their original plan.

His world might have drastically expanded recently, but he still needs that money to save his ranch.

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Adam's next conversation with Dean doesn't go better than the previous one.

"Come on, Dean, if you can be alone to call me I'm sure there's a way for you to get back to Impala without getting caught and ride away."

"No, Adam. I can't leave yet."

"What ?"

"The time's not right, baby bro. I haven't found what I came here for."

"You're not making any sense ! You were taken, not… You let them take you on purpose, right ?"

Adam puts it all together, Dean walking into town while the rest of them left for the lair, not revealing that he wasn't in the coach and choosing instead to order him to spare the lives of the marshal and his deputy…

Dean simply smiles, the feeling somehow traveling along the link they share without losing any of its meaning, and it's all the answer Adam needs.

"I don't want you to worry, Adam. We'll meet back at the lair, you don't need to come to Contention, and you certainly won't touch a hair on Sam or his son's heads, are we clear ?"

Jealousy is too light a word to explain the rage taking him. No doubt Dean gets some of it at his end of the link, the way Adam can feel that Dean wants more from this stranger, wants everything Adam has been dreaming of but was never offered. Dean wants a stranger and he intends to keep him, give him Adam's place by his side.

He thought he was being replaced, but he got it all wrong. Ever since Dean took him by his side, Adam's been the one replacing someone. Keeping his place while Dean was waiting for someone else. It's just impossible to admit that the little brother Dean's been searching for all his life is now back and pushing Adam out of Dean's life, someone like Sam Wesson…

Adam shuts down the link. He doesn't want Dean to realize he's going to kill Wesson before the day is over.

He has to. Needs to protect Dean from himself. Now more than ever.

Even after rescuing Adam, even though John told him so many times that he would never see Sam again, Dean has kept on hoping all his life he would find him, looking for clues everywhere they've been. Adam has always taken John's words to mean their brother has been dead for many years now. But Sam Wesson has found the way to tear Dean's heart by giving him the very thing Adam never could.

But it's all a lie, right ? A terrible, orchestrated staging to fool one of the most dangerous men out there and lure him to prison to get the reward and the fame. Wesson has probably used magic, some powerful incantation able to sway even Dean's dominant mind into believing such a ludicrous assertion.

Wesson has forgotten but one thing : Dean has a real brother who will never let him get away with this. He's going to pay dearly for this mistake.

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Time is just slow and boring after Dad and Dean leave. Junior occupies himself by gathering all the dead bodies in one room – not forgetting the heads – that he locks up before throwing away the key. He would set the house on fire if he could.

He checks on the doc regularly but the man's sleeping off his injuries and not great company at the moment.

Until he wakes up suddenly and frightens Junior into jumping up when he appears at his side without any noise.

"God ! Are you nuts ?! I could have killed you."

Garth smiles that gentle smile of his and Junior feels all his reactional anger disappear.

"Sorry ?" the doc offers.

Junior looks him all over, and something just doesn't feel right.

"Are you okay ?" he asks.

"More than okay ! I feel great. That little nap put me all back together."

That little nap really did wonders, considering he's not even limping anymore. As if his leg wound has completely healed in less than two hours.

The little nap has also made the doc hairier, and his nails longer. In fact, even his skin looks healthier than ever, flushed but unblemished.

Junior raises his gun and aims at the man.

Scratch that, not a man anymore !

"You're a werewolf !" Junior accuses, as if Garth has done this to him personally.

"What ?" the doc answers, genuinely astonished. "No, I'm not. Junior, are you crazy ? I know you went through some terrible stuff in the last couple of days but… My God, I'm a werewolf !"

Garth only needed to follow Junior's eyes to his own hands to realize the bitter truth.

"Oh my God !" he repeats again and again as he takes in all the changes he's been going through. Only his face remains practically similar, and that's the only thing Garth can't see at all.

"You lied to us," Junior reproaches. "You waited for Dean to be gone to attack me. Did Mr. Novak know ? Is he a werewolf too ? Is my dad in danger ?"

"No, they're not. We didn't lie, Junior, we really checked each other. I don't understand… it can't be true. I don't feel any different, you have to believe me. I don't want to harm you or anybody else. Well, maybe the werewolf who did this to me, and any other violent creature, but certainly not you."

The doc's babbling is for Junior the best proof that he's still the same guy in a way. Not a vicious predator, but a slightly different man, who makes bad jokes but has proved reliable and courageous. The same man who offered him candy the day he had to have a tooth extracted and helped him forget the pain by distracting him with his non-stop talking.

What should he do ? Dean wouldn't let a few childhood memories get in the way of what's necessary. He had seemed to like Garth Fitzgerald well enough, but he would kill any werewolf to make sure no one else would be affected. Even his dad would harden his heart and consider this solution.

"Please, Junior, don’t you see it ? Even if I am what you think, I am definitely not like the monsters who attacked us. Not like Edgar either ! Remember him ? How quickly he changed and turned into a killer ? Was it so different than the human being he had been for some forty odd years ? But you know me, right ? I'm nothing like Edgar ! I've never killed or hurt anybody. Even when I've been bitten more than once by clients, I never retaliated ! Why would I become someone else now ?"

Junior has the incongruous idea that maybe all dentists are werewolves in hiding after being bitten so many times in their career, and he feels himself getting swayed by the doc's compelling arguments. Maybe it's that simple, the man infected turns into a new version of what he's been before, slightly more dangerous, but not mandatorily a monster. The doc is a gentle man, and Junior really doesn't want to kill him.

"You don't have to make a decision right now, you know that ?" Doc Garth goes on. "You can tie me, and go back to your father. Leave me here, make up your mind, and come back later if you have to."

That could work. Or he could take the doc to Dean to let him decide what the best course of action is.

"Alright," Junior comes to a conclusion. "I'll tie your wrists and you'll ride before me so that I can keep you in my firing line. We're going to Contention."

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Sam, Dean and Mr. Novak's arrival in Contention is met with disinterest. No one seems to recognize any of them, not even the infamous Dean Winchester.

They go straight to the hotel to hide while they wait for the train. Mr. Novak goes to the front desk to rent a room while Sam and Dean wait at the back door. A few minutes later, they come in and see the barman who looks at Dean with a strange expression, half-afraid, half-mercenary. Dean smiles and wishes him a "good morning" that the man hardly answers while Sam glares at him and shows off his shotgun.

"I'm sorry," Mr. Novak says as he leads them upstairs, "all they had was the bridal suite."

Gone is Sam's fierceness as they step into the room, replaced by a blush he's glad he cannot see. He doesn't know why he feels that way. Just because Dean had a few lewd jokes at his expense two days ago doesn't mean he's attracted to him or wants to bed him.

Watching Dean sit on the big bed and test its mattress with a few jolts sure doesn't help the traitorous road his thoughts have settled on. Nor Dean's suggestion that they use the time before the train arrives to freshen up.

After a boy has brought them two big jugs of hot water, Dean asks Sam to take his handcuffs off. Mr. Novak has excused himself and there's no one to tell Sam he can't do it. Once he's done, he stretches the folding screen to give Dean as much privacy as he can, and most of all to resist temptation. He's been hard ever since they arrived in this room, he certainly can't watch.

Dean sings as he makes himself cleaner. He's got no real talent, but for some reason his voice is kind of soothing to Sam's ears and he can tell Dean enjoys what he's doing, which is more than Sam will ever say about his own inability to carry a tune. Though he finds himself humming along more than once.

"Hey, Sammy boy, want to help me for a minute ?"

Sam freezes at the way Dean called him, and he doesn't even know why. And he can't go in there, see Dean probably shirtless again, without the danger of getting killed forcing him to keep a level head.

"Sam ? Are you there ?"

"I… yes, I'm here… what do you need ?"

He stays behind the screen for another moment, balancing his impossible desire with all the reasons not to act on it.

"Can you pour water over my head ?"

Sam takes a deep breath and goes in.

Dean is indeed shirtless. Sam never thought he would say that of a man one day but his back is a thing of beauty. The red marks left by the whip doesn't mar its attraction any, the play of his muscles under his skin so attractive that Sam is quick to grip the jug to make sure he won't make a foolish move. Something like connecting his hands with the magnificent backside Dean's position emphasizes to Sam's greedy eyes and sheer delight.

"Go on," Dean tells him, and Sam watches the water rinse the suds off Dean's short hair, willing to touch and tightening his grip on the veined earthenware pitcher at the risk of breaking it.

It's over too soon, Dean standing up to shake himself like a dog walking out of a river and laughing at Sam's cries of outrage.

"See if I ever help you again !" Sam rants, but he's pretty sure the smile on his face makes his protest null and void.

"I'll make it up to you. It's your turn now."

Dean pushes Sam's jacket down his arm before he has time to realize the man is once again well into his personal space. Then Dean's hands begin to unbutton his shirt, parting each side to bare Sam's throat and upper torso and, just like the night they checked each other for werewolf bites, his eyes get attached to the right side of Sam's neck, halting any movement for good.

"What is it ?" Sam asks, concerned with Dean's stillness.

"Nothing," Dean answers at last, "I thought you were hurt."

He knows he has another mole there, and maybe it can pass for a scratch or something at first glance. It doesn't seem like the truth, tough, but Dean chooses this moment to remember he should give Sam more privacy. Sam tells himself it's not disappointment he feels as he's left alone on this side of the screen to wash quickly in his turn. He doesn't dare calling for help when it's time to rinse his own hair, instead making a mess because of his nerves. He tries to get it all clean and nice, stalling before he has to go back inside the room, closer to Dean and the yearning that gets more prominent as he learns to know him.

He finds the outlaw comfortably laying on the bed with his back to the headboard. He's put the handcuffs back on himself, the long ones Mr. Novak insisted he had to wear despite his willingness to go to Contention, adding to Sam's guilt for submitting him to such a treatment on his sole behalf. But he doesn't seem to care at all, notebook in hand as he gives all his attention to sketching.

Sam settles on a padded chair next to the bed and gets his pocket watch out to monitor time. They can't miss the train, or all of this will have been for nothing. He just doesn't know how he'll be able to witness Dean climbing into the train to prison.

"What are you drawing ?" he can't help but asking after a long silence during which his eyes haven't left the man's gorgeous face and his many expressions.

"You," Dean simply replies.

"Show me ?"

Dean hesitates only a second before he offers the sketch for Sam's perusing and this is not the man he's become that Sam's eyes discover, but a much smaller figure, a child engrossed in a book who reminds him so much of himself, back in time, that Sam looks up to stare at Dean, breathless, his heart beating a wild staccato.

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He stands up and approaches even more, hovering so close that he can read the heat and the question in Dean's eyes.

"Who are you ? Really ?"

Once again, hardly a second passes before Dean answers.

"Your big brother."

Something breaks in Sam. He doesn't question because he knows it's the truth. They don't look alike but this man has felt closer to him than anyone, even his own son, almost from the day they met less than half a week ago. They get each other. They know each other. Different, but tied.

His family is back. He's not alone anymore.

His mind takes a back seat as Sam lets his need lead him. He leans down to take Dean's mouth with his own, unsurprised when Dean opens up to welcome him in, tongues battling for dominance. Sam's desire renders him putty in his brother's hands, and it's only natural progression when he climbs on the bed to sit on Dean's lap, his own bent legs tucked on each side of his brother's hips.

His brother. He's gonna use that word a lot in the near future.

They kiss, and they kiss again, feverish and needy. Sam feels strong hands roaming on his whole back and he's glad he didn't go for the short manacles, that Dean is able to touch him almost at will and they can easily forget the long chain holding his wrists together. He feels it even more when Dean rucks up Sam's shirt and his calloused hands begin to map his very skin. He's so heated by the touch that he fumbles with his shirt until he can take it off.

Immediately, Dean's fingers land on his nipples, playing with them until they feel raw and Sam thinks he will get crazy from the pleasure. The chain sliding on his skin is just as maddening, kinky reminder of the laws they're breaking together. His dick is standing at attention, ready to shoot like never before it seems, but he wants more.

Dean gives it to him when he unbuttons his trousers to hold his cock. Sam keens, ruts, pushes down and up to further the freaking friction, but Dean has his own agenda.

"Take it off," he orders, and Sam needs nothing more to understand that Dean wants him naked.

Which is utterly unfair, seeing as Sam only gets access so far to his brother's chest, but it's also the most erotic thing someone ever wanted from him. He takes everything off, ignoring the stump no one else than him and his doctors have ever seen so clearly, and all he finds in Dean's eyes is the heated desire that makes him want to give himself entirely to the other man. His big brother, who remembered him and found him, who deserves all his love and loyalty.

He stands at the footboard, heated and shy under that fierce gaze that warms places inside of him he doesn't even remember knowing could feel that way, until Dean wants more.

"Come here," he says, his voice a beacon Sam follows at once.

He gets on the bed again and crawls on his knees until he's sitting anew in his brother's lap.

Immediately, Dean's hands are on him, mapping his skin. Everywhere, they stroke and burn. They make love to his buttocks while Sam fights with Dean's belt and his pants' buttons to free the erection he feels straining against the confining cloth.

When he's done, the decision of what to do with it is taken away by Dean urging him into another long kiss, so it's his hands that get to introduce him for what he hopes to be a lengthy relationship.

"I want you, want to feel you in me," Sam murmurs in Dean's mouth before he plunges his tongue back in, giving into the first real hunger he's felt for years, picky eater that he is.

There's no need for more incentive. Dean's hands, currently occupied with Sam's cock and balls, go back to his ass cheeks and spread them to uncover his hole. They caress it for some time, increasing Sam's impatience to get there, wherever there might be.

He's outraged when he feels the hands leaving him, cuffed arms outstretched towards the bedside table, to rummage through a drawer. Until he remembers they are in the bridal suite – and in the end, isn't that incredibly telling ? – and there's indeed a good chance that the special guests be provided with essentials, courtesy of the hotel manager.

And yes, here it is, a jar of Vaseline that's going to come in handy.

He's never done this, but spending a few years in an orphanage offered him a crash course into a very large array of sexual habits and techniques. Fortunately, he never had to fight the older boys' unwelcome interests, but the promiscuity often put him where he didn't want to be and made him a privileged witness to his comrades' fucking prowess.

So, a virgin he might be to this kind of love, but he knows what he wants, knows how to get it and stands pretty confident that both of them will get the utmost pleasure from the act.

He guides Dean's hand to his hole, selects his middle finger coated with lubricant and pushes it inside him. As his body slowly opens up to let Dean in, the feeling overwhelms Sam, head thrown back and eyes shutting on their own volition. Two fingers and he's beyond restless, ready to give himself entirely to Dean who's busy multitasking, biting at his throat and finger-fucking him. Three fingers signal the moment he's gonna lose it if Dean doesn't take the next step.

He stops stroking Dean's cock only to show it the way to his asshole. It's so much more and bigger and harder… so much everything he can't seem to make a sensible whole of anything, the painful pleasure, the fullness bordering on too much that he misses as soon as Dean's almost out of him, the rhythm that he might control but yet here he is, still unable to decide on slow or fast, wanting each at once.

Dean lets him find the answers to his needs, assists him every time he feels Sam might be close to toppling over. He's so attuned to Sam's desire Sam worries about not giving him back what he deserves. But his expressive face speaks for the pleasure engulfing Dean too, and they're synchronized in this just like they've been these last days, fighting monsters and demons.

It's a long time before Sam realizes he's the one moaning more loudly with each second because of Dean's caresses over his cock, the thumb pushing gently if insistently against the head, a maddening touch that has no equal but the also-insistent one over his rim. Dean circles it, at times entering Sam along his own cock, one, two fingers that make Sam come with a cry and a lightning of pleasure throughout his whole body.

He's done, so heavy he can hardly push himself up to go with Dean's desperate push in. And he needs it, the feeling of Dean's come making him his, the reminder that they are back together and nothing will come between them now. Dean's own muffled cry in Sam's neck is the prelude to the marking he craves, Dean shooting high inside him while Sam absently rubs the semen he shot earlier into Dean's skin.

The link has been reestablished. He can succumb for the next few moments to the lethargy taking him.

He wakes up to find Dean watching him and playing with his amulet that he opened to watch the photograph inside.

"It's the last thing I have from my family," he says, voice rough. "Tell me I wasn't wrong to think it's us, you and me, and Dad and Mom."

Dean smiles, lost in memories.

"You weren't. Don't know how you found it, but you had offered the pendant to me for my birthday, and then the first time Dad took me with him on a hunt and you were left behind – you were just a little more than five, not that long before Dad gave you up – I put the photograph in and left it with you for safe-keeping. Said that as long as you'd hang tight on it, I was safe and I would always come back to you. It became our thing."

They watch each other after that, thinking of all those years spent apart until they finally found their way back.

Dean leans down and kisses Sam so gently it's like the wings of a butterfly brushing against his mouth. Sam opens up and welcomes Dean in, kissing him as if he has to make up right now for all the years they missed. Dean's right hand is busy playing with Sam's nipples, raising them into tight little nub of bliss in a way he had never known before.

Dean's lips seem intent on mapping his whole body now that they're not in the same hurry as the first time. Just like they did with Sam's mouth, they open to let Dean's tongue come out and play, tasting Sam's skin, and it feels so good Sam doesn't immediately realize where Dean's headed.

It's only when hands and mouth come down on the remains of his foot that Sam tenses. He's overwhelmed by the contradictory emotions swirling inside of him, the shame and the pleasure, unmanned by Dean's careful reverence, as if his scarred stump is a thing of beauty to be revered and worshipped.

"I'm so sorry I wasn't there to take care of you," Dean murmurs against the sole of his foot, what's left of it anyway.

"There was nothing you could have done about this. The war ruled everybody's lives. So many men didn't come back, I'm at least lucky to be alive."

"I guess, but I should have been there for you before, all along, especially when you were growing up, and I let you down."

It's a heady feeling to realize that Dean and he are of the same mind on this and both put each other before anyone else. He should feel guilty as hell for cheating on his wife, even though she was the first one to do it, but he doesn't. At all. On the contrary, it feels like he always belonged to Dean first, and somehow cheated on him by marrying Madison. He will never regret it, because Junior is the best thing that could happen to them, but his wife feels more than ever like the fifth wheel in Sam's relationships.

Dean comes back to Sam's cock, managing to get him hard again surprisingly quickly by licking and sucking with an experienced talent Sam is eager to copy. He comes just as fast, two of Dean's fingers massaging his pleasure spot deep inside him. His hole aches a bit, but it's a good ache, the kind that keeps you on your toes, alert and impatient.

Later, they kiss some more, and then Dean cleans them up before they put an end to this moment in time that Sam hopes will cement their future relationship, once they're far from Contention and Dean's certainty that he'll be able to get off the train before it gets to Yuma has become a truth.

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It's not long after they're presentable again that Mr. Novak knocks on their door. Sam finds the perfect timing to be surprising, and the man's adverted eyes as well as his constant blush lead him to think this is not the first time he came to meet them back at the suite. Sam blushes just as hard as him when he remembers the very telling noises Dean and he made while they were making love. It's also very possible that the room reeks of sex.

It's obvious Dean came to the same conclusion but his reaction looks more like pride and possessiveness. Both sentiments Sam can get behind when applied to him.

Eyes still on the carpet, Mr. Novak tells them how he occupied the time, waiting for the train and looking for help, as he lets in a man who introduces himself as Marshal Freely and his two deputies as Walt Garrison and Roy Bigelow.

"I explained to the Marshal the situation we're facing here," Mr. Novak says, "and the high risk Mr. Milligan and the rest of Mr. Winchester's gang might represent for us in case we weren't successful in misleading them far from Contention. He graciously agreed to assist us."

Sam can't help but wondering if maybe Mr. Novak doesn't entirely trust Sam's going to get Dean on that train, especially if he heard them and knows they are now lovers. How could he ? Sam doesn't even trust himself.

"Marshal Freely, thanks for your support," Sam offers, along with his hand to shake.

The marshal looks at it as if checking for signs of dirt or illness, arrogance radiating from his whole demeanor. His body seems loose and at peace but it only highlights the implied social distance between them. Sam is used to that kind of attitude. He has to, being poor and a nobody. But he waits patiently until the man relents and thrusts his arm far and stiff to shake his hand, thinking inwardly that the marshal would go berserk if he knew Sam is Dean Winchester's brother. He would also be a crying mess if he had to face the kind of monsters they've fought these past days.

"I don't foresee any particular trouble," the marshal finally answers Mr. Novak's fear about Dean's gang. "Winchester here will be in the train to Yuma in less than a half-hour, long before his men might show up, which means that even if they do they'll follow him to Yuma and leave Contention alone."

Sam briefly closes his eyes upon hearing Dean snorting behind him. If he had known Mr. Novak was going to get the local marshal, he would have let Dean run away, and probably followed him.

"Something you wanted to share with us, Winchester ?" Marshal Freely addresses Dean for the first time.

"Don't worry about me, Marshal," Dean answers in a tone that is all but friendly. "I see you got us all pegged, I can't possibly disagree with such a knowledgeable and respectable man of the law."

The marshal's mouth tightens, a clear indication of his internal fight for measure as he understands Dean thinks him a fool. Sam wonders what his brother has seen about the man that raised his hackles. This attitude is such a stark contrast to the jovial and helpful Dean who saved as many lives as he could during this trip to Hell, Arizona. The absolute opposite to the passionate, considerate lover Sam has just discovered. It feels like the past three days have been erased and the infamous outlaw Dean Winchester is back to use and abuse snarky-ness and possibly unleash the violence he's never been afraid to harness.

He can see Mr. Novak is just as worried when he catches him checking Dean's manacles. The deputies raise the shotguns they've had in hand since they came at the door, showing they will do whatever's needed to maintain law and order.

"Roy, Walt, come on," Dean placates them with a cold smile. "You boys got to keep cool, lest you might hurt yourself with those big toys of yours."

Walt is unamused. He takes a step towards Dean, and Sam puts himself between them, but a mess of raised voices and horses neighing make them all turn their head towards the open window.

"Listen to me !" a voice claims everyone's attention down in the street, high and eager.

"Adam ?" Dean recognizes.

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"Listen to me ! Come here, all of you, and listen !"

Adam has his horse making a complete turn on himself to look at everyone in the street, then waits for the people to surround him before he makes his offer.

"I'm Adam Milligan," he says, proud and angry, "Dean Winchester's half-brother and right hand man. Dean has been abducted and he's now under some people's bad spell. We have to get him free, and that's where you're gonna help me. There's a reward !"

He takes a wad of banknotes out of his jacket and lifts his hand high above his head to show it around.

"Here's an advance. But there's five times this amount for the one of you who will kill his abductors and free Dean. So, who will be courageous enough to win that money ? Is there any real man in this fucking city ?!"

Dozens of hands are raised, trying to get the banknotes from Adam who smiles wolfishly.

Then he sees the barman inside the hotel in front of which they stopped signaling to him towards the upstairs bedrooms. His smile gets even bigger.

Wesson is nothing more than a dead man walking.

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"Fuck !" Sam exclaims as he hears his own half-brother, who he only ever exchanged a few words with, plotting his demise.

Adam wasn't around when Sam was cast aside, only Dean, and their father. So it makes sense that he's never considered Adam like that before, like a member of his close family, and it's kind of surreal, more difficult to believe in a way than all the monsters he's discovered on the route to Contention.

Now, is Adam that different from those monsters ? Sam remembers the fear he felt when he found himself in front of him for the first time, the harsh demand for respect on Dean's behalf, and all the stories he's ever heard about the Winchester gang, especially the rumors whispered from town to town about the crazy little bro who was seen laughing while he cut heads. Even if Sam now realizes there's a good chance these heads belonged to vampires, the laughing part still gives him a chill.

The Winchester trail, they call it, paved with the bones of their enemies.

And yet he knows from experience that Dean is not the dangerous and insensitive killer everyone describes. Dean protects his own, and his actions have probably saved more men than he was forced to kill in his entire lawless career.

Adam is doing the same, protecting Dean with all his might and his fire power. Doesn't mean Sam wants to get killed in the process.

"I'm gonna go and talk to him," Dean reassures him, "he will obey me. Just take the cuffs off so that he can see I'm not here against my will."

"I'm afraid that's not possible," the marshal intervenes. "Whatever you might think, you're under arrest, Mr. Winchester, and if you're not willing to recognize Mr. Wesson or Mr. Novak's authority, you have to at least recognize mine. And I'm not letting you go out unsupervised."

"And I'm not letting you get the civilians killed because of your overinflated ego, Marshal," Dean spits with so much venom they all feel the insult it's meant to be.

But then Dean looks at Sam and seems to read something on his face that allows him to keep calm instead of killing the marshal on the spot.

"Alright, in this case," he tries again in a sigh, "let me talk to Adam from the window. For God's sake, you heard what he said ! I have to make him see he's wrong before he comes in gun blazing, because if he does, believe me, none of you here stands even the smallest chance to survive."

The marshal scoffs.

"You seem to be underestimating us a lot. We're not toddlers wielding spoons. We have guns, and we're not afraid to use them."

Before Dean can respond and make the marshal dislike him even more, Mr. Novak cuts in.

"I'm sure you aren't, Marshal, but the fact is, we're outnumbered. It seems to me that letting Mr. Winchester talk with his brother can't do us any harm. I'm pretty sure Mr. Sinclair would appreciate your help on the matter. Sending Mr. Winchester to prison is our only leverage to get his artifacts back before they're disposed of by his gang."

Marshal Freely levels Mr. Novak with a calculating stare.

"What kind of artifacts are these, that would be important enough to give one of the cruelest killers a free pass out of jail if you negotiate with him ?!"

"Yes, Jimmy," Dean seconds the marshal's question, "what are they exactly ? Please, do tell us."

After a scathing look at Dean's address, Mr. Novak turns back to the law officer.

"Sorry, Marshal, I'm not at liberty to say. I'll be happy, though, to relay any question or consideration to Mr. Sinclair."

"That's alright," Marshal Freely gives in, obviously annoyed but aware that such a powerful and rich man as Mr. Sinclair, who has friends everywhere it matters, is far above his reach and it means he has to back off and be gracious about it. "Very well. Winchester, get over to that window and calm down your rabid dog."

"Thank you, Marshal. That's very considerate of you."

Sam wishes Dean would stop angering the guy but diplomacy is clearly not one of his brother's strongest suit. Instead, Dean offers him his wrist and Sam takes the cuffs off.

With a last squeeze on Sam's arm, Dean saunters to the windowsill, aggravating the marshal that little bit more, and sits on it as if to admire the view.

"Hello, boys," he finally greets his men down the streets.

Sam gets closer, hidden behind the heavy curtains that were obviously chosen for their ability to conceal just-married couples and their hanky panky party in the secret of this bridal suite. From there, he can watch the gang's rapt attention and relief upon seeing Dean alive and well.

"Dean !"

Sam sees Adam almost jumping off his horse, body straining to reach for his brother until he realizes he can't just yet.

"I'm alright, Adam. Just taking a trip with my new friends. Sightseeing. Taking some me-time for a little while. How about you ?"

"We're ready to get you out, don't worry !"

"Who said I was worried ? Adam, I'm telling you, nothing is amiss and you can go back home. I'll join you there soon enough."

"We can't let you get on that train, boss !" another guy denies him.

"Yes, you can, Benny, because I tell you to. I want no bloodshed. My friends here are to be safe or you will respond to me."

There's some kind of message passing between the two men and Sam feels himself fretting. This is so not the time and place for jealousy, and yet here he is, wishing he had a good reason to get rid of that man.

"Alright," the guy accepts. "We'll do as ordered. Right, Adam ?"

Adam is far from willing to submit, but he finally nods. Reluctantly, but Dean seems satisfied as he turns to another one of his men.

"Creedy," he begins with fake joy in his tone, "we just met your old pal Kubrick and his new squeeze Gordon Walker. Had a great time together. Too bad we had to cut it short !"

The guy pales as he understands the real meaning of Dean's words. It makes Sam wonders about the time Kubrick and Walker were not monsters, but maybe friends and lovers to people who had to choose between letting them go or killing them off. People who still remembered them as good men and couldn't help being saddened by the news of their final deaths. He prays that he will never have to make that kind of decision or cry another death in his life.

"That's enough, Winchester," Marshal Freely says, "you'll have time for idle chit-chat in prison."

"Right," Dean acknowledges without turning his eyes from his friends below. "Well, guys, my train will show up soon, so time for all of us to be on our merry ways. Adam, you make sure to get them all safe back home, I'm counting on you."

"Dean, I really don't think…"

"Benny can be my second in command if you don't feel up to it. He knows how to obey an order."

"I've proved myself more than once, and you know it !"

"So stop thinking and do your job."

Dean ignores Adam's angry retort and gets back inside. The marshal is at his side in the next moment to put short manacles back on him.

"Why are you doing this ?" Sam asks, pissed off. "He's here of his own volition. He's not going to run away now."

"I'm not taking any chances. We'll be famous for being the ones who brought Dean Winchester to prison."

Sam is reminded of Edgar and his untimely death.

"You're vain, Marshal," Dean tells him. "It will be your undoing. Make sure when it happens to stay away from Sam and Jimmy."

"Sam and Jimmy ?" the marshal mocks him. "You think they're your friends ? That they will thank you for your attitude ? Well, think again ! One is your accuser and the other is getting paid to guard you. The only things they want from you is to get their money and see you dead."

Sam manages to refrain from shouting the truth but only so that he's not waylaid by the marshal right before the end if the guy thinks he might side with Dean.

"I take it back," Dean jokes. "You're not only vain, you're utterly stupid."

"Well, I'm not the one with the handcuffs going to prison, am I ?"

The marshal takes Dean's arm in hand and forces him to move. They get back down to the first floor so quickly that Sam feels he didn't have time to adapt to the new situation.

"Something's wrong," Dean stops them at the bottom of the stairs and they can see that Milligan and part of the gang are still out there. "Let's use the back door."

"My God, Winchester !" Marshal Freely gets impatient. "No one ever told me you were such a sissy ! Makes me wonder what all those tales about the brave and dare-devil Dean Winchester really have to do with reality…"

"They were invented by fools like you who forgot to mention that Dean Winchester is smart and knows to pick his battles."

Dean shows the way to the marshal and lets him take the lead. Immediately, the man and his deputies pass them, scorn on their face. Deputy Garrison pushes Sam out of his way to get first to the door and open it.

Sam lets Dean pull him and Mr. Novak farther back into the room as the three other men step outside.

"Milligan !" the marshal hollers, "you heard Winchester. Now you let us go through and we won't go after you this time."

Though not completely surprised, Sam is chilled to the bone when he hears the first shot and Marshal Freely crying, instantly followed by more shots and the answering cries of his deputies. From the wall behind which Dean pushed him as soon as the guns began talking, Sam can't see anything but two pairs of boot-clad feet and a blonde head laying on the wooden floor of the hotel entrance. All motionless, which probably means lifeless.

"That was Adam, Gunner and Creedy," Dean says.

"How do you know that ?" Mr. Novak wonders.

"Sound of their guns, cadence of shooting… I know those men and their habits like the back of my hand, I've served with them for years."

"And you knew they were waiting for us," Sam states, pretty sure of himself.

"I suspected. Adam can be a bit… opinionated at times. Nothing he hates more than a sheriff or a marshal giving him orders."

"Wonder where he learned that," Sam mutters under his breath. "So what do we do now ? Getting upstairs isn't an option anymore, they'll be in soon."

"Follow me."

They both stop when they realize Mr. Novak hasn't moved.

"I want to come with you," the man declares as he watches Sam, fear written all over his face, "I really do. I was raised as a Christian to help and sustain people, and I know what my duty to you should be. But I have a wife and a little girl, and they count on me to take care of them. I need to go where I'm the most useful, and the fact is, I'm not a fighter, Sam, not like you. I'm sorry."

Sam feels shame reddening his face. He gets what Mr. Novak's saying, and he probably should feel the same about his family, but the fact is that even if he had coerced Dean to get on that train, he would stay by his brother's side. For so many reasons, and his pride is only the least important of them now. He's ashamed to realize Madison is not on top of his list anymore either, and yet it brings him closure, now knowing what she understood a long time before him – because she met someone else long before he did. Their love was born from similar circumstances at the orphanage, the feeling that they were each other's recomposed family, but it wasn't one to stand the test of time, nor their growing older, and that bit wiser.

He's stuck to her all these years in the way someone who has already lost pretty much everything once clings to what he's got left. He couldn't see or admit his dependence while she was the center of his life. Dean's formidable (re)appearance has put everything back in context with the subtleness of a storm blowing away badly rooted trees and precarious constructions.

Dean's the only one left now. They will either live or die together. Junior is safe in the mountain, he will go back to his Mom and they'll have a great life with Don Flack. Mr. Novak can see to it that nothing happens to either of them.

"Just make sure my son gets home and to give my wife the money I earned, right ?"

Mr. Novak promises and then Sam turns back to Dean. From the back of his pants, he gets the Hand of God and returns it to his brother, indicating with a nod that now they're ready to go.

They open the back door and Dean gets out first, protecting Sam with his own body when he steps out in his turn. Which is probably a good call as Sam is shot in the wood tip of his special boot the very second it gets out.

"Lucky you !" Dean rejoices as they both sigh in relief.

They don't have time for more congratulations. Bullets flying from every roof and alley push them always farther into the city, right to the train station, through finished buildings at first, on which they can climb to run on roofs and escape the ambushed killers for a while. But then the older part of the city ends, giving way to more and more new buildings as they near the railways, most of which, still under construction, consist only at the moment of beams that don't offer much in terms of protection. Workers have fled at the first sound of a shooting coming by, and it's not a big assumption to think that some of them might even be part of the pack after them.

They shoot back again and again, trying to aim at the people out to kill them but more often ending with wild shoots.

They hear Adam yelling at his hired men that they're not to harm the guy in black and Sam sees him shooting one who didn't heed his warning, and then another before Dean grips Sam's hand and forces him to run again, faster than ever, as they go through an unprotected patch of land. They never stop, followed by bullets who magically all miss them, till they get to the station's office and dive in, half-lying on the floor to avoid being shot while they wait for the train.

That doesn't stop the shooters before a long while, windows smashed to pieces and glass raining over them. But eventually, calm settles back over the city and they're both able to hear the sound of their own breath slowing down.

"You have to get out and save your life," Sam offers. "It's a miracle they didn't get us already, so leave me here and maybe Adam will stop."

It's not an ideal situation, he knows, not with all the shooters outside who are ready to kill anyone to get the money, regardless of the victim. But it's one more chance for Dean to get out of this alive.

"You know why I don't mind the threat of being sent to the prison in Yuma ?" Dean asks, ignoring Sam's proposition.

"Because you're crazy ?"

"Good point," Dean laughs. "I've been there twice already. Also escaped twice."

Sam laughs too, absurdly happy that no prison could stop his brother.

"Bet it reminds you of the war," Dean muses. "At least getting shot a second time in that foot didn't hurt."

Sam snorts.

"Wanna know how it happened ?" he asks, because feeling so close to death makes him feel like he has nothing to hide from his brother.


"We were retreating, and the guys got confused. I wasn't shot by the enemy. One of our men did it before he got killed. I don't know why I tell you this. Nobody knows apart from me and the doctor who operated on my foot. I was too ashamed."

"And yet I see no shame there. Shame should stem from being a coward. Were you a coward ?"

"No, but…"

"There's no but, Sam. It was war. You did your job, just like you're doing it now."

Two hundred dollars. That's why he did this. The price of his land. The price he applied, however unknowingly, to his brother's life. And now it seems the price of his own, if he gets killed ; a price already paid by the army when they discharged him – discarded him – to make up for his mangled feet.

Maybe that's why John Winchester abandoned him, because he knew Sam would one day be Dean's downfall. That Sam isn't worth more than half a foot. If he has to die here, he needs to know why his own father rated him so low.

"Why…" Sam begins, and shit, he didn't know he was still so affected by it that tears form in the corners of his eyes, "why did Dad abandon me, only to take Adam along later on ?"

In other words, why did he prefer this crazy bastard to the son he already had, who loved and needed him ?

Dean looks stricken.

"Sam, I can't pretend to comprehend what was in the man's head. I can only speak for myself and I couldn't face abandoning another brother behind. I was too young to do anything about your disappearance, but when I discovered the truth about Adam's origins and the death of his mother, I remembered the loss I felt after he took you far from me and it forced me to fight to keep Adam. It wasn't him or you. It was him while I was waiting for you. He needed the love and help just as you did, and I had to be there for him at least."

Sam scrutinized him, searching for the truth, and suddenly it dawned on him.

"I'm the reason why you got yourself arrested. Is that why you came here, too ? To find me ?"

"My coming to Bisbee and meeting you was only poor dumb luck. But I suspected who you were pretty much as soon as we faced each other."

"How ?"

"Your moles. And then something… intangible. Something I hadn't felt for another human being ever since I had lost you. I thought it was sexual tension back then, but it was so much more than that."

Dean's hand comes up to stroke Sam's face, fingertips brushing the mole next to his nose, and then pushing his hair out of his eyes, and Sam feels himself going back in time, small child looking up to his big brother for everything, including the love and attention he couldn't get anywhere else.

They hear the train whistling as it gets into close proximity of the station. Sam grips Dean's hand, not ready to let go. Dean squeezes back, bringing their hands on his lap as his right one keeps a tight control on his gun, ready to shoot anyone coming for them. They can still hear a few bullets passing by and the sound of various objects being crushed by the impacts but most shooters are waiting for their next move, just making sure they know they're surrounded.

It takes long, interminable minutes to Sam's anxiety-ridden mind for the train to finally stop. Dean and he look at each other, aware it could be their last moment together, and then Dean turns Sam's universe again with his next words.

"Change of plan : you're the one getting on that train !"

"What ?"

"It makes sense. If Adam is here to chase you and he wants me back so badly, I'm staying with him and you leave with the train so that I'm sure you're safe, far from my gang."

"I don't want to leave you !"

"It's just temporary, Sam. You go back to your farm and I'll come for you. As soon as Adam sees reason, I'll be there and we'll decide what we want to do. Here, take this."

"I don't need your money," Sam tries to refuse when Dean hands him a few coins he found in one of his many hidden pockets.

"You'll need it to get on the train back home. It's not my money, Sam, it's ours, just like everything I own. I'm not really rich, no hunter is, but I'm in a better place than you right now. Might be a day when I'll be happy to get your help."

"Okay," Sam finally accepts, somewhat entranced by Dean's gorgeous smile.

"Okay," Dean repeats just before he leans in and kisses Sam, so very gently. "Let's go."

They get on their feet but stay bent in half as they reopen the door, which miraculously can still show a few of its window panes. Dean stays at Sam's right while they run along the train, protecting him with his own body until they reach the door to the first compartment.

Sam knocks and almost instantly the door slides open. A man offers his hand for Sam to help him up inside and, for a minute, he's sure they're gonna make it.

"Wesson !" a chilling shriek booms out behind them, making Sam stop and turn.

He freezes as Adam, his own half-brother, aims at him and watches him with a hatred he's never felt before directed at him.

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He's more annoyed than afraid. After grappling with life with all his might these past days and finding a new reason to live, he just can't die now.

He wants to stay with Dean and re-learn to know his brother, making love with him at night and sharing his adventures all day. He wants to watch Junior grow up and become a far better rancher than his old man, get married with a wife he sincerely loves and have children of his own.

"Adam !" he hears Dean order, "you put that gun down right now and stop with the nonsense."

"I always obey your orders, Dean, but this time I won't. Don't you see it ?! He's got you under his spell, and now you think he's our brother. But it can't be. Dad always said Sam was dead. This guy's a sorcerer, or maybe a shapeshifter, but he's not our brother."

"Dad never said that, Adam."

"He did !" Adam screeches, losing it. "He said it to me every time you brought up the subject. He knew he couldn't tell you or you would have left. The real Sam has been dead for so many years, Dean, you have to accept it and get rid of the liar who tried to fool you."

"Sam never tried to fool me, I was the one to bring it up. I don't know what Dad told you and why, but this is Sam, and I won't let you harm him."

The Hand of God is in Dean's hand, aiming back at Adam, before Sam can see it coming up.

"Stop it, both of you !" he tries for peaceful mediation but Adam's eyes only get that bit colder.

When the shot is heard, Dean has already placed himself in front of Sam and pushed him out of the way. This is why the bullet enters Sam's arm instead of his ribcage, but still the pain feels excruciating – great, he's gonna lose his arm now, just like he lost his foot – and he hardly hears the two other gunshots that have Adam falling to the ground, dead before impact.

Dean turns around to aim at somebody else to their right, ready to shoot again, and Sam's eyes reopen to find Junior, gun still raised in the direction Adam was occupying a few seconds before.

"Dean, no !" he shouts as Dean realizes at the same time who the second shooter was and lowers his arm.

"Get down ! Both of you !" Dean yells to Sam and Junior while he turns and look for the other traitors in his gang.

"Get down too !" Sam orders because Dean is now as much a target to his own men who know it's either kill or being killed after what they did.

Dean kind of obeys, crouching down in front of Sam to protect him, but he's still too easy to spot and Sam tries to take his own gun to help, impaired by his wound. Junior has managed to crawl behind a crate waiting to be loaded in the train and he's shooting back every time a bullet gets too close.

"Come forward, you traitors !" Dean yells again. "Show me you are still men instead of cowards hiding behind Adam's corpse."

There's a long silence meeting his demand and Sam is worried sick, enough that he hardly feels the pain for a moment.

"I'm coming up, boss," a voice says before a huge man looking more like a wrestler than a gunman gets out of his hiding place, hands high above his head and holster clearly empty.

"Turn around," Dean orders, probably to see if the man hasn't hidden his gun inside the waistband of his trousers.

He hasn't, and Dean has him coming closer.

"Good, Gunner, you might not be dead yet. Where's Creedy ?"

"I'm not sure, boss. He was hiding to my right, but I kinda lost him in the shooting."

"What about the other men ?"

"They left when you…"

"We're here, Dean," another voice, heavily accented, cuts him off and Sam remembers this is the guy Dean called Benny, who feels a bit like the cavalry right now, making him feel safe and sighing in relief. "Sorry we didn't go home as you asked, but I found it hard to explain why Adam would want to stay behind. Especially in the state of mind he was recently. So we came back, and we cleaned the town out, you don't need to fear more shooters coming out of the woodwork."

Sam hardly hears his last words, eyes on the cadaver one of Dean's men has thrown between them. Creedy is dead, bullet opening a new hole right in the middle of his forehead.

"Who got him ?" Dean asked.

"None of us," Benny replies. "This fellow here did it, and he claims he's with you."

Sam and Dean turn at once towards the guy Benny is indicating, and they both grin.

Mr. Novak waves at them, half-smiling, half-embarrassed.

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Dean takes it upon himself to clean and stitch Sam's wound – the bullet went through and apparently didn't nick any artery so he should keep his arm right where it's supposed to be – and bandage it.

While he works, Junior tells them what happened, and how the doc took three shooters out, clearly trying to make Dean sympathetic to his plight and reconsidering the need to kill him. Sam agrees that, as monsters go, this one might be very helpful.

Of course, against the two of them, Dean stands no chance to disagree. He's too damn happy everything turned out right in the end and that they're all alive. He even accepted a hug from his nephew, once Sam had let go of his son himself. He's still retrospectively scared stiff of what could have happened to him, had Garth Fitzgerald turned out to be a werewolf of the nasty kind they first encountered.

They spend the night back at the hotel. They use the bridal suite again, although they could choose another room since the place has been deserted by many guests after the afternoon ruckus, which allows for the whole gang as well as Mr. Novak and Doc Garth to settle in. Scared about potential retribution after his barman ratted Dean out, the owner lets them have the bedrooms for free. Junior is offered to stay with his dad but he prefers to have his own room, so it's once again Dean and Sam sharing this bed. Sam feels he could easily get used to it. Even if they don't get to do anything remotely sexy because they're too damn tired and Dean far too protective of his wounded brother.

In the morning, Dean announces he and his gang are going to escort the other ones back to Bisbee. The trip back home takes a few more days than it did the other way. There's nothing rushing them, really, and most of Dean's men are good company, rough guys with lots of stories to tell. They try to scare Junior more than once but the kid holds his own and Sam has never been so proud than when Benny declares him a Winchester through and through.

Their return to Bisbee is met with silence and they have to explain to the deputy who took the marshal's place in his absence why they're back with their prisoner. Mr. Novak – who gave Sam his money anyway, and paid Junior as well – tells him the charges have been dropped because of new evidence pointing to Dean Winchester's innocence in this matter. Dean looks furious when he learns that both Marshal and Deputy Cuevas were badly wounded by an unknown party and that they're recovering. Both in bad shape, but still there's hope they'll make it. The doc excuses himself to go see to them right away.

Then it's Mr. Novak's turn to announce he needs to get going, his employer waiting for news. Dean takes him aside and Sam simply follows them.

"I wanted to thank you for your help, man," Dean begins, offering his hand.

Mr. Novak shakes it.

"This was all very mutual, Mr. Winchester. I did nothing but give back the help you extended to us when we were under the werewolves' attack and could have let us all die to escape. And when you protected us from the demon with your sigil."

"Still, you could have gone through with the charges. You know I did rob those boxes, regardless of the fact that you're aware or not of what's in them."

"Mr. Sinclair didn't find it crucial to my mission that I know the content of the coach's cargo. I am merely here to make sure everything go as planned. And failing, obviously."

Dean comes closer and puts his hands on Mr. Novak's shoulders.

"Jimmy, this job's not you. If you ever need a change of horizon and something more satisfying to do, look for me. I can hook you up with better people than Cuthbert Sinclair."

"I know both of you are sworn enemies. Mr. Sinclair is a good employer to me."

"Then let's hope it will stay that way. Still, remember you have somewhere to go if you ever need a backup plan. And stop calling me Mr. Winchester, that was my old man. I'm Dean."

"Very well, Dean, and I shall remember your offer."

They shake hands once again, and then Mr. Novak turns to Sam to exchange a few parting words before he takes his leave.

Alone at last, Sam watches his brother.

"What about us ?" he asks. "Is this where we say goodbye too ? You go back to your life and come say hi once in a while ?"

"What about your family ?" Dean asks back. "Your ranch ?"

Sam looks down before he answers.

"Madison and I have been over for a long while, I was just too stubborn to admit it. She's got someone else, and now I have you. As for the ranch, it's never going to be the garden of Eden, but I was thinking that maybe, in a few years, Junior would like to settle here with his own family and make it his home."

He dares a look back up to see Dean grinning wide.

"You could come with me to the lair," he answers. "I want you to. You could either stay out there, we have a huge ranch around the house that we created to be self-sufficient and it needs dedicated men to make it thrive, men who know the job and are good at it. Or you could ride with me, be a hunter like me, help saving people and hunting monsters, the family business. I've seen you fight, you're not afraid, and you get the job done. I'd love to have you with me, riding through the plains and fighting the good fight."

"You're looking for another Adam to replace the dead one ?"

Dean looks affronted and he takes a step back.

"I'm looking to reconnect with my long lost brother whom I've searched for all my life since he disappeared. But he might be dead to me, just like the one I'm already mourning."

Sam feels bad for being so crass about Adam's death. But it hurts, this feeling that he might have finally found what he's missed for so long, this feeling of belonging, because he could lose it again just as fast as it happened the first time, and with no more understanding of the reason why, if Dean is not serious about them.

Sam grips Dean's hand before he can walk away.

"How do you want me ?" he asks and then clarifies when he sees the question in Dean's eyes. "Just as your brother, or will I be your lover too ?"

A smile lights Dean's face again.

"I don't think I can separate the two positions. You're mine, period."

"Are you mine too ?"

"Always been. Never will change."

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Sam's fingers keep reaching for Dean's skin. They love its texture, its softness as well as the uncompromising force of the muscles right below the surface, and the way it contracts or expands with touch and pleasure. They enjoy taking Dean's shaft in hand and caress it, loving it, even while his mouth is busy tasting, awakening such arousal he'd never thought he was capable of. But he is ! Dear God, he so is.

He recalls the last time Dean slid inside him, when his brother deemed him sufficiently healed to make slow and tender love. He had just shown him the court ruling declaring his marriage over – there's definitely some nifty advantages to having a brother who is not afraid of influencing a judge with money or threats – and stated that he was now Dean's, and only Dean's. The slow and tender part had flown out the windowless lair in all of three minutes to morph into sensual, frenetic, almost scary sex, unfathomable need driving them both.

The need is still there. Sam doesn't know how long it will last, when they'll be able to be close without being in each other's space and reaching for the other. He doesn't care. In the meanwhile, he takes great pleasure in touching, mapping the scars all over Dean's body, inventing stories about them while Dean, temporarily forgetting about Adam's death and reassured that Sam is going to be well, is dozing at last.

This one scar under his chin is the result of a fight in Topeka, back during the war, with a Southern spy disguised as a nun whose plans were foiled by Dean, modern times privateer for the Union. The one nearly bisecting his left calf was inflicted by a scimitar that caused Dean to almost lose his leg – maybe even his life – during an eventful expedition in Egypt, because of a hungry, possessed crocodile whose head had been cut off by a courageous if a bit clumsy local guy. The red raised scar on the inside of his right forearm is clearly recent and its intriguing, reversed F shape will have Sam searching for a valid explanation if he wants his fantasy to be mildly believable. Some cooking implement perhaps, which will of course involve a jealous woman named Fiona marking Dean with a branding iron of her initial and realizing too late that she had it reversed.

Sam snorts and chuckles, amused by his own imagination. He settles his head on Dean's chest and his brother's arm immediately comes around his shoulders, his other hand in his hair. He makes Sam feel content for the first time in his life.

He's got no idea what the future holds for them, but they will be together, he can tell as he feels the still angry scar sliding over the skin of his own shoulder blade and making him shiver. He can't wait to see what life and Dean have in store for him.

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