It took Trudy the better part of the day to call in enough favors to score a pair of horses for an extended chunk of time. Dean got the impression there was very little she couldn’t scam when she put her mind to it, and he was determined to stay on her good side for this very reason. Lom snuck back to the room he let at a boarding house and returned with a broad-brimmed hat for Dean and canteens for the both of them. He reported he’d seen Harper and Bales in town from a distance, so the douchebags hadn’t roasted in the fire after all. Not even a blister, apparently.
They set about packing rations of hardtack, jerky and dried fruit, but no guns. Lom didn’t own one. He reasoned, rightly or wrongly, if you lived by the gun, you died by the gun. He was probably right but Dean wanted a God-damned gun anyway. Annoyed with his cajoling, Trudy dug up a poorly conditioned shotgun and a fistful of shells. Lom wouldn’t touch any of it.
Lom did, however, own a big knife and sizeable pouch of silver bits that looked relatively pure. Dean spent the remains of the day stuffing shells with the silver nuggets; some of the chunks were big enough to fashion slugs that would surely drop a were, as long as the shot flew true. It sucked to be burning daylight with Sam out there somewhere, suffering who knew what, but they couldn’t get far without transportation and Trudy’s ‘negotiations’ took time. Dean was blatantly annoyed with having so much hope pinned on this supposed White Witch. It was a huge leap to assume that she was anything more than a huckster and there was no guarantee that once they got to her lair, she’d help them at all. As soon as the words ‘witch’, ‘lair’, and ‘help’ filtered through his brain, the scheme sounded doubly futile.
By the time Trudy returned with their rides, it was too late to head out. The fat moon had risen, chasing the townspeople indoors. Night belonged to the wolves. Dean would’ve hit the hay early, readying for a dawn start time, if not for the uncomfortable noises coming from Trudy and Lom. Not uncomfortable to them, but certainly to Dean. He pressed an old feather pillow over his head and eventually dropped off into exhausted sleep.
Morning came too soon. Regardless, Dean was glad to be moving … glad until he realized how much he missed the luxury of four wheels and an upholstered seat. His horse walked—trotted, cantered, whatever the stupid animal did—with a lumpy gait and there wasn’t nearly enough padding between Dean’s ass and the saddle. How Lom tolerated it was a mystery. Guess the guy had developed calluses, or whatever. Dean forced his imagination to meander in a different, less butt-centric direction. Just made things worse.
They crossed a rolling series of large hills—small mountains, really—that had Dean clenching his knees around his horse to the point his thighs were trembling. He’d almost pitched forward on at least three separate occasions, hands fisted around the pommel to stay vertical. Lom wisely pinched back any smirk at Dean’s expense. Once across the ridge, Mongrel was hardly visible any more. The vastness of the land was quite suddenly disconcerting. Dean got why they called this “God’s Country”; it was harsh and boring and went on for fucking ever without comment.
They didn’t talk much because the heat and dust would hang on the tongue and suck it dry. But when they did, Lom had questions. He’d look at Dean, his glasses reflecting the sun, and wonder aloud how such things as monsters and folklore could be real. He’d been to a spiritualist once, on a bet, when passing through Rochester, New York. The woman claimed to speak to departed relatives, manifest ectoplasm and foresee the future—which usually involved liberating her customer of a dollar or ten. The ectoplasm turned out to be cheesecloth soaked in gelatin, and the ghosts were just her bare toe knuckles, knocking and pinging on the floor. Not a wholly convincing performance.
Dean didn’t have any good answers for him. Just that there’d always been monsters, always would be. He didn’t dare get into the whole Eve, Mother of All thing; felt too much like tempting fate. That satisfied Lom up for another half-hour, until the guy got curious again.
“What’s it like? Your … time? It certainly does sound peculiar to say that: ‘your time.’ But then, men transmorphing into some horrific sort of beast by the light of the moon is peculiar too.”
“Yes, Lom. Yes it is.”
Dean fidgeted in the saddle, used a borrowed bandana to swipe at the back of his neck. “Well. Everybody’s got electricity, if you can pay for it. And indoor plumbing. God, I miss my indoor plumbing. Deodorant. Bacon cheeseburgers, when you can get ‘em without …” Leviathan sauce inside “… eh, never mind. Our whiskey’s better. Oh, and cars. Everyone’s got a car. I have a beauty, a ’67 Impala. Well, had. She’s locked up in storage ‘cause she’s one of a kind—a rose among thorns, my man—and me and my brother, we’re kinda Monsters’ Most Wanted right now. Got to stay off the radar. Off the grid. Uh, out of sight.”
“Did you leave a lady behind? I mean, apart from your Impala.” Lom grinned, quoting ‘Impala’ with a grand flourish.
Dean was quiet for a moment. “Not smart to bring a family into this life.”
“But your brother is in ‘the life’?”
“Yeah.” And then Dean resettled his hat lower down on his forehead. Conversation over.
Time sludged on. Dean never craved a pair of cheap, gas-station sunglasses as much as he did in that moment; his eyeballs ached from the bright and dry and endlessly boring spread of blanched scenery. Wouldn’t surprise him one bit to see camels or Ali Baba. He’d asked Lom at least a half-dozen times if they were heading in the right direction, like a kid in the backseat of the family car on vacation: Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Lom would shrug a shoulder and bob his head, which wasn’t exactly glowing confirmation. Dean would mumble an insincere “Awesome” and take a swig from his canteen, wishing it was Johnny Walker.
The sun rolled farther across the sky, bathing everything blind. Dean hardly noticed when Lom pulled his horse up short; all he saw was dirt and infinite plugs of crispy plants, all wound up in his irritation. He kept straying to the possibility that a human being could stumble through this terrain for a day, maybe two, before succumbing to the elements. Before turning into something twitching and withering. Something like what Hell did to souls.
Lom had to whistle to break the trance, a shrill warning. Dean blinked and looked to the noise.
The piano man was staring to the north-northwest, at miles of nothing.
“What?” Dean snapped.
“See what? There’s a shit-ton of empty.”
Lom tilted his head, spoke carefully. “There appears to be a dead thing.”
Instantly alert, Dean now recognized movement. Birds, big ones, milling around a piece of earth too far away to parse detail and obscured by distortions of heat. He drove his heels into the horse’s side and leaned forward. “Yah, mule. Get the lead out.”
Lom caught up easily, being the better rider. As they neared the spot, all they saw were birds—no carcass, no open ribcage bared to the sky, no bits of hide or skin turning black in the sun. For just a heartbeat, vacating adrenaline left Dean clammy and faint.
“Well that’s curious,” Lom said.
Dean rolled off his horse, hopping once to dislodge his foot from the stirrup, and took a good long stretch to let his vertebrate slot back into place. He stomped at the vultures and they bounced away, wings spread and beaks snapping, but only so far as Dean couldn’t reach them with a swift kick. Crouching, he poked a finger through their left-overs.
“Not curious,” he said, a grin starting. “Fucking amazing.” He stood up and practically skipped over to Lom, sore ass be damned. Pinched between thumb and forefinger was a tiny sand-crusted peach stone.
Sam wasn’t difficult to track; the treads of his huge boots stood out like footprints on the moon. Dean clung to the appearance of every step, scowled when he found dents the size of a body in the softer drifts which meant Sam had fallen, picked himself back up, and kept plodding. On rare occasion, it paid off to be stubborn and his brother was the king. They continued for what had to be miles. He and Lom ate on horseback, pausing only to water the horses and then vacate a little water themselves. Shallow, flat-bottomed clouds began to collect at the horizon as the sun dropped, and Lom announced they’d better set up camp somewhere before it got too dark. As much as Dean objected, the horses were not cars nor were they truly theirs to mistreat. Trudy would beat Lom to within an inch of his life if he brought the animals back in woeful condition.
Sam must’ve had a similar idea. His trail led to a hulking stand of wind-sheared boulders that once fully visible, parted in a cave opening. Dean dismounted and shoved the reins into Lom’s hand. His knees throbbed but he approached the cave’s mouth slowly, noisily. Purposefully. Lom gave half-hearted objections behind him that went ignored.
“SAMMY.” Dean’s yell bounced between the rocks and in reply, there came a noise from inside, a faint rustling. Might’ve been the scrubbing of cloth against cloth, but he didn’t dare let himself feel hope. He bounced the tarnished shotgun in his hands and inched into the entrance. “Sam, it’s me,” he said, getting nothing but relative silence in return.
It got dark, fast. With his body blocking the light, Dean strained to recognize even the roughest shapes. It sounded and felt like a tight space until his breath began to move more freely, about ten feet in. He inched forward, tapping the ground with the toe of his boot in case something—someone—laid across the path. He was too focused on the ground and didn’t notice the narrowing of the passage. He knocked his skull against a jut of rock, lost his hat, let out a choice expletive, and the cave exploded with noise.
The screeches of what had to be a hundred bats lit up the crevice. Their foul little wings pummeled about Dean’s head in the sliver of an opening, and he spun and hunched his shoulders. He squinted and watched the black tongue of creatures escape, en masse, into the dusk.
Lom smirked, peeking in the entrance. “You get ‘em all?”
Dean gave an insincere ‘ha-ha’ lip curl and continued deeper into the cave. “Can’t see shit.”
“That’s amendable,” Lom said. He untied the small lantern he’d attached to his pack and fired up the light, following Dean now that the hole was free of varmints.
Dean wormed his way through the cavity though he had to bend over like an old man. The space ballooned opened and in the dead center of the cave was a small pile of ash. Paydirt, or least indications of it. He crouched and sifted through it with his fingertips. It was long since cold but he could still smell smoke, and along the edges of the pile he found charred bits of paper. He dusted one off and pulled Lom over, angling the scrap closer to the light.
Salander was afraid of no-one and nothing. She realized that she lacked the necessary imagination - and that was evidence enough that there was something wrong with her brain. That’s all he could make out, but it was modern printing and if Dean wasn’t mistaken, Salander was the psycho-genius chick with the dragon tattoo. They’d seen the movie at a half-price cinema in Tulsa one frivolous weekend—felt like a decade ago—and he and Sammy had begrudgingly agreed that sometimes, metal rings and pins stuck through a person’s dangly-down parts was kinda hot. “Yeah, he was here.”
Lom nodded and lifted the lantern until his knuckles brushed the stone roof, illuminating as much space as possible. Dean rocked back on his heels and looked around. The dusty floor had the occasional treaded footprint and there was a big, shoulder-sized smear of rusty red on one of the walls.
As his gaze wandered the perimeter, he also noticed animal shapes and stick figures: fingerpaintings, not likely Sam-generated because Sam couldn’t paint worth a damn and certainly he would’ve had more pressing issues than interior design. They were in shades of orange and slate and dirt, the sorts of colors expected of the desert.
“This is good shelter for the night, yes?” Lom asked, to which Dean grunted. “Here, then; I should settle the horses before we’ve lost all the light.” He passed off the lamp to Dean and disappeared back out the fissure.
Dean was left, briefly, alone. He hadn’t been alone since he’d crash-landed in the wrong time, the wrong place. Alone sucked. He didn’t like being alone in the best of circumstances, and this was not them. He crouch-walked to the fingerpaintings, if only to give his mind something to do and keep from feeling so gut-wrenchingly, hope-killingly alone.
When he drew closer, the paintings actually impressed him with their level of detail. Must’ve used sticks, not fingers. Some of the four-legged figures were markedly herd animals, like cows or buffalo. Their stumpy legs were splayed in a collective gallop, stampeding away from the second set of figures which were humanoid and armed with simplified bows and spears. The scenes told little tales, stories of day-to-day living. Hunting, mostly, making Dean snort wryly. As the narrative progressed, the humanoids became the prey, and their pursuers turned distinctly dog-like. Or at least that’s the way the cartoon began. The large, canine shapes evolved until they stood upright, bulky things with long-snouted heads. Dean reasoned that they were lupine, not canine at all. Werewolves were not unknown to Native America. This really didn’t surprise him, but what did were the figures that followed the wolves. Again, humanoid. But these two-legged creatures had wide, gaping maws where their heads should’ve been. Their tongues, deeply forked, flailed out of the mouths like tentacles. Dean pushed out a hiss of breath.
What. The. Fuck.
Leviathans. Something that felt a hell of a lot like panic squeezed his lungs.
But that wasn’t where the paintings ended. As the crude Leviathan images made short work of the animals and humans, and splashes of red-brown were introduced into the color scheme, the half-wolves turned their bloody attention from the easier hunt to that of the Leviathans. From what Dean could tell, the werewolves were tearing the Big Mouths to shreds . And eating them.
Lom returned with an armload of foodstuff and provisions to start a fire. “I could use a dangerously strong cup of coffee right now,” he said, fatigue making his voice rickety.
Dean decided Lom didn’t need to know about the Leviathans. Not tonight. Not ever, if he could help it.
“I’m sorry,” the woman murmured, and the rifle drifted toward the floor. She flopped the birds on a table and regarded Sam longways.
“About what? I’m sure I owe you my life right about now.”
“About dragging you into my troubles, Angus or Sam or Donald or whatever your rightful name is.”
Ah, so she’d been through his wallet. “Sam. I’m Sam.”
She propped the gun in a corner. “Olivia Campbell.”
“I know you’re not lame in the ears. Sam.”
“I—I have cousins named Campbell, is all.”
“Small world.” She grabbed a pair of bottles from a shelf and turned her back on him, pouring golden liquor into two short glasses. The pungency of whiskey floated through the room. Maybe she was beginning to trust him. “My husband is the Campbell.”
“Was that your husband yesterday? The man you were talking to?”
She looked perplexed for a moment. “Ah, no. That was a…neighbor.”
“Where’s your husband, then?” Sam found it uncomfortable—and alright, admittedly sexist—that a man would leave his wife, however capable, alone in this isolated land. There were so many perils, both natural and not. He sat down at her table and she slid a glass in front of him.
“He’s out there, fixin’ to untangle this mess.” Her eyes flicked to Sam’s injured shoulder. She swirled the liquid in her glass and took a long sip.
Sam stared at his drink. “It was a werewolf, wasn’t it?”
In his periphery, he saw her dip her head just once, without comment.
“And he’s trying to take it down alone? He might be a damned good hunter but that’s not—”
“It’s him,” the woman—Olivia—said softly.
Sam’s jaw snapped shut.
“I’m…sorry,” she said again, meeting Sam’s stare.
He couldn’t find the words. Her eyes were suddenly glossy and nose, pink. He wanted to be furious, rip her a new asshole for letting this particular flavor of monster roam the world because Sam knew better than most how uncontainable, how lethal, these beasts were. He remembered Madison, her dark eyes when they closed and how her lashes had brushed his cheek. He remembered the talons erupting from her nail beds. He remembered pulling the trigger.
When you were a hunter, you had to do certain things.
Deep in his gut, though, he’d figured it out. He wasn’t a simpleton; he knew what the bite likely meant, but he’d been clinging to a thread of hope. Threads had a funny way of snapping just when you needed them to hold tight.
Sam picked up his drink and slammed it back in one swallow, craving the burn. And fuck, did it burn. Cheap, harsh poison.
Olivia sniffed and scrubbed at her face, composing herself. “But we’re not played out yet. We have leads. I have asked for help. Prayed for it.”
“Prayed?” He laughed uncharitably. “I sincerely don’t think God has His ear to the ground these days. Probably never did.”
“God? I couldn’t possibly attempt a spell that powerful!” Her brows shot up in alarm.
“Wait. You cast an actual spell?” Sam’s gaze whirled to the séance mat and the room kept right on spinning. He grabbed the edge of the table. “Who—?”
“An archangel. I might live to regret it though, since I just drove him away a fortnight ago but desperate times …”
Sam lumbered to his feet. He squinted at the chalked sigil again, fighting an insistent wash of heat and vertigo. Archangel, archangel. Come on, brain, work. His vision was getting smeary and he wanted to be alarmed by this, knew he should be, but he could only muster up confusion. And a fair amount of clammy sweat.
Then two things hit him.
“Oh, crap. That’s the … the mark of Gabriel.”
Olivia nodded. Or at least he thought she did. Either that or the room was bouncing up and down, making him lose the ability to stay vertical. Sam found himself kissing the floor, the bitter taste of bad liquor on his tongue.
Dean was not anxious to get back on the horse. Well, he was and he wasn’t. Sam was here somewhere, and if Dean knew his brother—and he certainly did—Sam had left a trail for him to follow. The longer they delayed, the more likely the desert winds were to erase those precious signposts. Dean ached from the middle of his back to his knees, and all parts in between. Who knew sitting could be such a grinding exercise? His horse nickered softly upon his approach, then knocked him solidly in the forehead with her deceptively velvety nose.
“Good morning to you too,” he muttered, curbing the urge to thump her in return. Cars, even stolen ones, didn’t smart back like this.
Lom repacked the rest of their things and tossed Dean a hard lump of barely edible bread. Coffee would’ve been nice but it was Dean’s own fault there wasn’t any; he didn’t want to spare the time. Lom refrained from comment but made a point to gaze longingly at the tin pot tied to his saddle whenever he thought Dean would notice. Just to be a pisser.
Hours worth of homogenous scenery later and following Lom’s vaguely acknowledged sense of where the witch lived, Dean hadn’t seen a single indication Sam had traveled this direction. Saw plenty of sun-baked nothing, but Dean was beginning to think Lom had misled them. Valid concern. Five minutes ago, Lom had taken the compass from his pocket and given it furrowed scrutiny, avoiding Dean’s stare.
Lom steered the horses over a small rise, which brought with it a whole new treasure trove of dull pain in Dean’s thighs. He grunted and groaned with each rocking step of his mount until catching up with Lom at the crest. The land grew grassier in sparse spreads across the expanse, and maybe a mile away, there sat an isolated building. Lom was beaming.
“Bet that’s it,” he said, and Dean gritted his teeth. The fucker really wasn’t sure where they’d been heading. Christ on a cracker. Dean took a swig from his canteen and gigged his horse forward, wincing.
It was a small homestead with a solemn air, tattered curtains sucking out the open windows and thin smoke leaking from the chimney. Scrawny chickens plucked sporadically at the dirt. Roughly thirty feet from the property, a horned skull sat atop a fence post in a crooked sort of greeting. And here I thought plastic flamingos were weird, Dean mused. It didn’t exactly scream, ‘Welcome to the Neighborhood’.
And neither did the ping of a bullet ricocheting off a rock to his left. He heard the shot a fraction after the ping—a trick of the echoes against the hard land—and his horse bobbled away from the sound, nearly sending Dean plummeting. Lom reined in his own horse to calm the creature as another bullet whistled between them, close enough to feel its passage and make both man and animal flinch.
Dean sputtered curses but apparently threats did nothing to settle a horse’s nerves. “God damn son of a bitch STOP! Stupid fucking—” With a twisting hop, the horse threw Dean from the saddle and dropped him solidly on his tailbone, forcing all of the breath from his lungs. He saw white spots of agony and the dust beside him puffed from yet another close shot. Lom jumped off his horse into a crouch as a voice—a woman’s voice—hollered from the inside of the cabin.
“You’d best be telling me your business or I’ll send lead through your bellies!”
“Columbus McCallum, ma’am,” Lom shouted back, as Dean was still trying to get his chest to inflate. Lom used his horse for cover, pressed to its shoulder, peering under its chin. “And Dean Winchester. We…we need your help mightily. On my honor, I am not armed!”
The last of Lom’s words faded and there was silence from the cabin. Then the door flung wide and a man stepped out. “Dean?”
Lom cocked his head and Dean dragged himself upright, stumbling. His knees threatened to buckle from the pain, the riding, and the sudden nerve-melting feeling of relief.
“Dean!” Sam, bedraggled but sturdy, loped the easy thirty feet to Dean and slammed him with a sweaty hug.
Dean bit back a grunt and as soon as he could untangle himself, he held his brother at arm’s length and gave him a serious once-over. Sammy looked…surprisingly hale. Still leaner than he had been in years and a little sunken around the eyes, but he wasn’t sun-fried or limping. His clothes were borrowed and unbloodied, and he grinned without hesitation. “Dude, you all right?” Dean demanded. “What the hell happened? How did we get here?”
“I have a theory about how we got here, and you’re not gonna like it.”
“I already don’t like it; you mean it gets worse?”
“Oh yeah. Substantially.”
Lom cleared his throat and stepped forward, both horses’ reins collected in his hands. “I surely wouldn’t mind catching a piece of shade,” he said with a nod to the cabin.
“Sam, this is Lom. Met him in town.”
Lom squinted up at Sam, his glasses dusty. “Well aren’t you built like a snake on stilts.”
Sam looked baffled for a second. “Thanks, I think? Anyway, you say there’s an actual town around here?”
Dean began walking toward the building. “Yep. Bumfuck, Nowhere. Great place to visit, but…”
“Seems they’ve got themselves a little werewolf problem. I swear, what are we, monster magnets?”
Sam chuckled humorlessly. As they drew up to the house, they were met at the door by the shooter, a woman with striking blonde hair and eyes like chips of glass. If she wasn’t the White Witch, Dean would eat his hat. She was attractive in the way of small birds of prey, fragile but sharp. He gave her a nod and a grin out of habit, and she shifted the rifle in the crook of her arm just to be sure he knew she still had it.
“Olivia Campbell, this is my brother Dean.”
“Campbell? You don’t say.”
Sam shrugged. The woman stepped out of the house to allow them passage. “Come. You can put the horses up ‘round back,” she said, ushering Lom away.
Dean whirled on Sam as soon as they were out of earshot. “Dude, Campbell?”
“Oh, it gets better.” Sam led the way into the small home, ducking under the doorframe. “She’s been futzing around with Gabriel. Asked for his help, even. I’m gonna guess that’s why we’re here. We’re The Help.”
“But Gabe is dead—”
“Not in the 1800’s, Dean.”
“Awesome.” Dean stared around the room, at the hunter-themed paraphernalia on the walls, at the shelves of creepy jars and plants and tomes. There was even a cauldron and a broom, though the big black pot was boiling away with something that smelled amazingly edible and he suspected she actually used the broom for, you know, sweeping. Two sizable birds were roasting on a spit in the oversized fireplace and Dean decided Sam definitely got the better end of the deal, here. “Okay, so if our favorite Trickster is still alive and kicking, he can send us home again, right? We just yank his chain back here like she did, and wham bam thankya ma’am, we’re golden.”
Sam stopped talking. He got that look, that ‘Sam’s thinking big thoughts’ look, the one that ran troughs in his brow and had him chewing the inside of his cheek. The one that most always made Dean’s brain hurt, and sometimes his heart.
“What?” Dean demanded.
The room suddenly felt too quiet. Airless.
Dean didn’t have to ask; he just stared, expectantly. Sam pulled aside the collar of his shirt. The skin around his tattoo wasn’t smooth. It was pink and angry with healing punctures, a bite mark of massive proportions. Unnatural proportions.
To call this a ‘complication’ was a fucking understatement.
Sam felt his face flush under the gobsmacked stare of his big brother. Dean’s hands were all over him in a flash, prodding around for further injury.
“Dean, stop. I’m okay, I promise.”
Dean’s eyes shot wide and horrified. “How can you be okay, Sammy? This is anything but okay. This is ten miles from okay.”
“I know, I know. But now you’re creeping me out with the touchie-feelie business so could you just…?”
“Shut up.” Dean took a step back but he was still visibly flummoxed. And when the witch returned, that panic morphed into abject rage. He launched at her, spitting venom. She was half his size and he forced her up against the splintery wall of the cabin, glowering an inch from her face. Sam didn’t enjoy being on the receiving end of Dean’s wrath so he could only imagine how Olivia felt. Actually, he didn’t have to imagine. Her face blanched and she shrank back from his tight proximity, the sudden attack catching her unprepared. And weaponless.
“Lady, so help me God, if you had anything to do with this…”
“Dean,” Sam said carefully.
“…I will take you and your hexbags and your curses and send everything to Hell where you belong…”
“DEAN.” Sam jerked on Dean’s shirt hard enough to get through the fury. “She saved my life; let up, man.”
A tense thirty seconds passed before Dean finally conceded. As soon as his hands dropped, the witch ducked away from his reach and threw him a glare.
Dean aimed a finger at her. “Don’t you give me the evil eye, bitch.”
The guy who had ridden up with Dean stood in the doorway, his mouth hanging open.
“I said stop,” Sam insisted, one hand held out in warning towards Dean, the other towards Olivia. The two were still staring daggers at each other when Sam pulled Dean aside, wise to put more distance between them and the witch. His shoulder twinged because Dean was not going to make this easy; he resisted like a dog at the end of its leash. “Look, here’s the quick and dirty. Her husband bit me; he’s the monster. But Olivia—”
“You’re on a first-name basis with her?” Dean spat.
Sam had a hand on Dean’s arm, the muscle bunched beneath, and he feared Dean might well punch him. “Olivia chased him off and dragged me to safety. There’s a chance—”
“Chance? Sam, damn it, you know this doesn’t end well! You do remember Madison, don’t you? Shit, Sammy.”
Olivia finally found her voice. “There is a chance. The possibility of a cure,” she said, a brave set to her jaw.
Dean’s eyes darted from her to Sam, and Sam swallowed, giving a wary nod. “We’ve gotta hear her out.”
The witch smoothed her hair and set about pulling plates from a shelf. “I was readying to set out vittles; I don’t suppose you men are hungry? We can talk and eat.”
Sam noticed her fingers were trembling.
Dean was always more agreeable when he got food in his belly and if nothing else, Olivia was a good cook. She prepared a meal with as much precision as she approached her magicks. Sam had taken the opportunity to peruse her books and spell components earlier that morning, after the previous night’s laudanum had worn off. She’d apologized for slipping him the mickey, but it had been necessary. From what information she could gather, Sam’s warning signs were progressing far faster than expected. Faster even than her husband, who had been bitten two full moons ago and the Campbells been fervently researching a remedy ever since.
“…and had I not drugged your brother to the gills, he might well have turned last night,” she explained, offering Dean a second helping of roasted grouse and turnips.
He grunted but accepted the food. Naturally. “So what symptoms are we talking, here? Fuzzy palms? A tail stump? Chasing rabbits?”
The bespectacled man calling himself Lom chuckled, and Sam growled. All the color dropped from the guy’s face. Sam was pleased.
“Accelerated healing. A hair-trigger temper. Strength beyond what a normal man can muster,” Olivia said. “But that’s before the change.”
“I’ve seen the ‘after’.” Dean shook his head. “Not pretty.”
“Ten foot tall wall of muscle and murder,” Sam said quietly.
Olivia carved into her meat. “That about sums it up.”
“Fantastic,” Dean said. “But you think there’s a remedy that doesn’t involve pumping my brother full of silver?”
“The Paiute believe there is. I’ve been trading with them for years, and their shaman has been a boon for people such as us—tangled up in the things that live on the edges of the real world.” Olivia set down her utensils and folded her hands in her lap. “I’ve been told it is not fail-safe, though. You’ve as much a chance of dying as receiving cure. My husband is already with the Ute, making ready; he did not want me to be there in the unfortunate case that it failed. But now … we have Sam to consider. Tonight is the night we must try. It is the last night the moon is full enough and the spirits are agreeable.”
Dean choked out a laugh. “Agreeable spirits?”
“I’m willing to give it a shot,” Sam was quick to say, before Dean made matters worse.
Dean gawked from Sam to the witch and back again, mouth working with words that he clearly had to swallow back a few times. Finally, he dragged out a sigh. “All right, all right. But I don’t like it. Not even a little.”
“Me neither,” said Sam. “But what are our choices?”
Sam touched at his tender shoulder. “Yeah. Bupkis.”
After the party was fueled and watered, the witch directed the men in readying for the trip to Indian country. “Native American,” Sam kept insisting, to which Olivia and Lom kept looking befuddled and Dean just snorted. Dean griped about Olivia’s pushiness but was secretly grateful they had someone who knew the big, gaping prairie better than an East Coast piano player with bad eyes.
It was agreed that Sam and the witch would ride tandem on her big black gelding, mostly because every time Sam tried to approach one of the other horses by himself, it would nicker and shy away, showing the whites of its eyes. The gelding was also long-legged and barrel-chested, and Sam didn’t look like a giant atop it.
The journey would take roughly four hours, by Olivia’s estimation. This would bring them to the edge of Ute territory before sundown, where Leander Campbell would meet them and escort them in. After that, she had no good guess what would happen. She didn’t even know if she and Dean would be allowed to observe the ritual, but she honestly doubted it. Dean had already made up his mind that Sam wasn’t getting out of eyeshot again, so the witch’s opinion didn’t matter one fuck anyway. It wasn’t up to debate.
Miles and miles floated by in the dry, wordless quiet of the land, the riders’ weary tension broken only by Lom’s occasional whistling or a hawk’s cry.
Dean’s last trip to Sunrise, Wyoming, circa 1861, had been an adventure. Not the idealized West of the movies, but successful enough to be remembered fondly. This? This was not a fond adventure, he decided sourly. This was a God-damned fiasco, is what it was. His ass was too numb to feel and grit had settled into every personal crevice he possessed. Sam looked all wrong in someone else’s clothes, eyes pulled into slits and bones too sharp under his skin. The witch’s strange, wheat-colored hair kept wafting and getting caught in Sam’s uncharacteristic scruff. The witch, herself, gave Dean the creeps and he wouldn’t trust her not to double-cross them, if it came down to them or her husband’s life. And if Dean was honest with himself, he didn’t believe a medicine man could cure lycanthropy.
His hand ghosted over the shotgun strapped to his side, the weapon loaded with life-burning silver. He prayed he’d never have to point it at Sam, but since when did his prayers get answered? Since about never.
Sam sat up taller and for a heartbeat, Dean thought his brother had read his mind. He jerked his hand away from the shotgun and made like he’d been reaching for his canteen all along.
“You hear that?” Sam said, his gaze lasering across the hilly, burnt land.
“What?” Dean pulled his horse up short, then the others followed suit.
“I dunno. Something metallic?”
As soon as the words left Sam’s lips, gunfire cracked through the sky and Lom’s horse screamed. The animal fell heavily, legs jutting and quirking, Lom caught underneath. Dean rolled off his horse before he could get thrown or targeted, and pulled the shotgun. Fuck wasting silver; it’d put a hole in a human just as effectively.
“There,” Sam pointed to a crest but Dean couldn’t see jack shit.
The gelding danced; Olivia struggled to hold him in check. “What is it?” she asked, her voice breaking.
“Two men. On that ridge.” Sam grabbed her rifle—even as she started to object—and jumped off the horse, landing in a puff of dust. He brought the gun to shoulder with a practiced snap.
Another shot blasted a tuft of dirt beside Dean; Sam returned fire. “Three men.” He adjusted his estimate with a sneer.
“Did you hit one?” Dean said, straining to see what Sam was seeing.
Olivia had dismounted and was fussing with Lom. He gasped for breath, his horse huffing in pained whistles and trying vainly to rock to its feet. “The creature is pressing the life out of him!” she cried.
“Go, Dean. GO.” Sam said. “I’ll cover you.”
Dean hesitated only a second before he slid to Lom. With the witch’s help, they managed to pull him free of the dying horse. There were no visible wounds on the man but that didn’t mean there weren’t cracked ribs; in fact Dean would’ve been massively impressed if Lom had avoided internal injuries. But Lom’s strained breathing and suddenly clammy skin indicated serious trouble. Ruptured innards or shock, probably both. He heard another volley of shots explode around him, from Sam, from the hiding gunmen.
“Got one,” Sam said, without pride.
“Lom. Look at me, man. Talk to me.” Dean tore open Lom’s shirt; his belly was already showing bruising. Dean felt something unhappy sink in his own gut.
Lom’s glasses were cracked and he struggled to find Dean’s face. “I-I fear … I may have g-gotten myself in a peck of trouble.” Bright blood bubbled at the corner of his mouth.
Olivia looked at Dean, hard. “If we don’t get cover, we are nigh done for,” she said. “There’s a Peacemaker in my pack; leave me the shotgun.”
Again with the bossiness, but Dean took it willingly. He crawled to the gelding, keeping low until the horse could provide cover. The shooting had stopped, though Dean wasn’t sure why. He dug the revolver from the saddlebag, as directed. It felt fucking glorious to have a proper gun back in-hand. Sam was still watching the near ridges, rifle up. Dean moved to him, almost knocking his shoulder.
“So?” Dean nudged.
“They smell off.”
“Off? You’re telling me you can smell them?”
Sam grimaced uncomfortably. “When the wind changes direction, yeah. I think they’re shifters. Weres.”
Of course. Nothing could be easy, could it? Dean raised his voice. “Harper! I know it’s you. Don’t be a fucking candy-ass; face us like a man. Or, uh, a man with a tail. Or …”
Sam groaned, just on principle. “Smooth.”
But Dean figured he was spot on, particularly when a person laughed from one of the scrubby rises. A figure moved, just barely noticeable as a dark speck, then it was gone.
Sam shifted his feet, clearly nervous. “Dean? Who are these guys?”
“Monsters from town. I might’ve killed one of their butt buddies.”
“All right, absolutely did.”
Sam exhaled loudly.
“You two done chit-chatting?” Olivia interrupted. “Where’re the shooters?”
The Winchesters both paused, listening.
“I don’t hear them anymore,” Sam said.
To which Dean added, “Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
Turned out, Lom had likely cracked a few ribs and most certainly shattered an arm, but the blood was from a bitten tongue and once they jury-rigged a splint, he was mobile again. Whiskey and some odd tincture Olivia supplied seemed to keep the pain manageable. The horse was lost, however, as were Lom’s glasses. He was useless, and he slowed the party considerably, but no matter how valiantly he begged to be left behind, no one else agreed to that plan.
Lom rode with Olivia while Sam and Dean took shifts on foot, though the horse skittered at proximity to Sam. Dean actually welcomed the walking, and Sam seemed tireless. Every so often, Sam would pause and listen, nostrils flaring. It unnerved Dean, these ever-increasing changes in his brother’s demeanor. He made a valiant effort to think on it as little as possible.
At one point, they broke to water the horses and Olivia sidled over to Dean, her voice low. “I suspect I don’t need to tell you we will not make Ute territory by sundown.”
“Nope,” he said, scrubbing a hand over his chin. Sam had started to get agitated the past mile, eyes snapping at every sound and Dean would swear they looked lighter, golden, even flashing like Lom’s glasses when the light struck at certain angles. It was going to get worse before it got better; this was fact. “But we keep moving.”
They both watched Sam pace for a minute, casting a long shadow in the encroaching dusk.
Eventually, she nodded. “There’s silver in the Peacemaker. Just so’s you know.” And that’s all she said before walking back to the gelding and mounting up.
Sam had been drifting farther and farther from the party as the light became scarce and all the colors of twilight bled into the edges of the sky. Lom was sleeping on Olivia’s back but the witch was sharp-eyed, anxious. She frequently exchanged glances with Dean and he would grin back, playing at confidence but feeling only dread.
The landscape undulated with black, brush-covered hills that broke into striated red rock. There were so many spots an ambush could happen that when it finally did, Dean was almost thankful.
It wasn’t gunfire this time; it was a deep, bubbling growl that the horses—and Sam—heard before the humans.
“Incoming,” Sam shouted.
Olivia shook Lom awake and practically pushed him off her horse just before it reared up and whickered frightfully, sweaty flanks trembling. Lom blinked, prone, flinching away from hooves.
A massive shape breached the east knoll, becoming larger yet when it rose from all fours to stand up on two legs, shoulders swelling. A second hulk joined it, eyes like dirty yellow headlights, teeth like the broken grill of a Chevy truck.
“Holy shit,” Dean swore, clambering off his own mount, fingers clenched around the Peacemaker.
And then the ground shook with the rumble of the beasts barreling over the bluff. The werewolf in the lead slammed into the gelding and Olivia was flung wide. Dean heard her hit the ground as he squeezed off a shot. In the fracas, he managed to hit the horse. The monster fucking laughed, spittle dripping from its maw.
Dean’s next shot, however, did not miss its mark. There was a howl and a hiss and the stink of singeing fur.
A blast lit up the dusk as a shower of silver buckshot pelted the fiend that Dean had hit. Clearly, the witch had kept her hands on the shotgun and was up and moving. The monster thudded to the ground, seizing.
The second werewolf bellowed, its scream echoing across the wasteland. It moved faster than its predecessor did and Dean’s heart pounded against his ribs as the creature ripped towards him, closing the distance before Dean could get fifteen feet. A talon caught the brim of his hat and nicked his scalp. He could smell blood in the air now.
Sam hollered from the right but the timbre sent Dean’s hair on end, even as Dean ducked and bit the dirt, face-first. He felt the wind of an enormous limb whiz over his head. Dean whirled onto his back and cocked the gun’s hammer in one long, lucky move. He pulled the trigger without the luxury of aiming, heard a blood-freezing wail. The second werewolf crashed away from him, carried by its own considerable momentum.
Dean swiped blood and sweat from his eyes and caught sight of the moon, a hole of creamy white puncturing the dark.
“Oh … G-God … Dean …” Sam’s voice was coarse and clogged and not wholly human.
Panting, nerves thrumming, Dean stumbled to his feet. He half-ran to Sam, cringing every other step because of the acute pain in his left knee—the knee that always acted up when he fell on it. Like he’d just done.
But he stopped dead when he saw Sam.
Sam was weaving on his feet, shuddering. His face glistened, slick with sweat and tilted to the moonrise, the rifle tossed aside. Even from here, Dean could see Sam’s shoulders roiling under the shirt, distending, building mass.
Dean heard Olivia cock the shotgun and he raised the Peacemaker to point at her head. Lom was making fearful, inarticulate sounds. And Sam’s bones were cracking, sinew and muscle stretching wetly.
“Don’t even think about hurting him,” Dean told her.
Olivia opened her mouth to speak. The werewolf Dean thought he’d killed, the one he had just plugged with a spiffy silver bullet, gave a heave and shook itself as if simply clearing cobwebs. Maybe he’d only grazed it. Maybe the witch’s bullets weren’t pure. Maybe he should get his ass in gear because maybe the fucker was fixing to eat his face off.
“Down!” Olivia screamed and Dean dropped, silver scattershot stinging across his back. The werewolf shrieked and launched at Olivia, narrowly avoiding Dean’s head. She flung the now-empty shotgun at the monster but it batted the weapon aside like a twig. Dean was attempting to get turned back around, his knee pounding with fresh injury, when a huge shaggy mass careened to intercept the beast.
Dean threw a desperate glance to where Sam had been standing and saw a pile of shredded clothes. He knew his mouth was flapped open but he didn’t care.
The giants collided unrestrained, all crashing teeth and bared claws that could gouge canyons. The earth shook, their bodies slamming like thunder. The newcomer was markedly larger than the wounded one. It was almost impossible for Dean to equate the feral, slavering thing with his brother but it became clear, in short order, that at least Sam wasn’t ill-equipped for the job. He was not what hunters were accustomed to in the 21st century. Hell, he wasn’t even particularly close to what Dean had seen in the jail.
Though the other’s eyes shone with a furnace-bright frenzy, it couldn’t outmaneuver or overpower Sam, who pinned the lesser beast to the ground with a single powerful arm. Sam looked to be grinning, lips pulled tight against sharp teeth. He hesitated, head tilting towards Dean, and then he licked his chops. Sam’s eyes were as black as pitch. In a blur, Sam fell upon his prey and ripped and ripped. Blood spilled so fast, the dust was muddied with it. The pinned werewolf yipped and shrieked and gurgled and finally, fell still. The carcass shriveled, fur dropping away like that of week-old roadkill. It was Billy Harper. He was shredded from chin to navel and stained red with his own ichors, ribs pointing to the starry sky. Heart gone.
Dean swallowed back bile. There was a gap of weird near-silence when all he could hear was his pulse in his ears and the slow-motion pounding footfalls of a monster approaching.
The last werewolf stopped in front of Dean, towered over him, breathing heat and the coppery odor of blood. He blocked out the moon and dripped red onto Dean’s boots from his parted jaws. His black gaze bore down until Dean had the courage to meet it.
The air shifted. Bone and muscle contracted in a sudden, raw shudder. Sam, the person, groaned and would’ve stumbled backwards had Dean not grabbed his arm, fingers almost slipping through the mess.
“Son of a bitch,” was all Dean could think to say.
It wasn’t as though Sam couldn’t have controlled himself; it was that he didn’t want to. All the rage and fear had balled up into a nucleus of hate, and that hate had become a force of nature. Or supernature, as the case might’ve been. He had freed Dr. Hyde, and it’d felt like damnation. It’d felt like giving up, like surrender. In that moment, he hadn’t cared if it had meant his undoing; he’d always known he would kill for his brother. So he did.
The moon washed him in the cold light of revelation. He’d torn out a heart, ate it even as it thudded in his hand. He was a freak. Again.
Sam trembled in the desert night air, wearing nothing but blood and sand. He looked at Dean, prepared to meet the anguish in his brother’s eyes.
But there was no anguish, merely understandable shock. “Um. That was …”
“I’d never hurt you, Dean. I swear.” Sam sounded like he’d been gargling thumbtacks, or more accurately, chewing his way through a ribcage.
“Yeah? I suppose?”
“Because you wanted to? Because you didn’t want to hurt me?”
Sam nodded, feeling a hesitant smile make its way out. “Yeah.”
“Huh.” Dean turned to Olivia, a finger raised in thought. “What do you know about the Leviathans?”
She blinked at Dean’s sudden segue. So did Sam, actually. “I’ve never set eyes upon one, fates forbid,” she said. “Never heard tell of a hunter who had! I honestly fancied them to be extinct, or mayhap never more than far-flung legend.”
“Hate to break it to you, but they ain’t legend. Sammy, that cave you were in, did you see the paintings?”
“What? No,” Sam said. “I was too busy, oh, you know, surviving.”
“There was graffiti in the cave—”
Dean squinched his eyes. “If you say so. They looked like kid-drawings of werewolves making dog food out of chompers.”
“There is obscure lore that confirms this,” Olivia agreed, “that werewolves—called the Behemoths—were purported to be the sworn and true enemy of the Leviathan. As the mongoose is to the snake. There was a great and ancient war and the Leviathan were rent limb from limb and banished to the oceans.”
Sam had moved to poke around in the ruins of his clothes, and he paused. He filtered through the fresh, new, horrible experiences he’d just suffered: the blind, single-minded instinct to destroy; the prideful swell of authority; the sheer power within the body he’d worn for a few scant moments. It had felt like having the Devil stuffed back inside but this time, Sam still had a say. He’d managed to turn it on and off again … exercise a sliver of control. And Dean seemed to be on-board with it. “Are you suggesting I might be a biological weapon?”
Dean gave a shrug and hoisted his brows.
“Folks.” Lom cleared his throat. “We seem to have company.” He was staring along a westerly ridge. Backlit by the low-hanging moon was a small silhouette, a child … a girl.
Dean leveled his gun at her.
“Emmeline?” Olivia said, dubious.
The girl approached slowly, picking her way around tufts of weed and bits of dead Billy. She stuck a wand of rock candy in her mouth and gave the scene a round of applause. “Bravo!” she said around the sweets. “I gotta say, Rocky and Bullwinkle here never fail to entertain, but you—” she wagged her candy at the witch “—are getting on my last nerve. First you give me the ol’ heave-ho, then you beg for my help? What’s it gonna be, sister?”
“I’m…I’m sorry. I just…”
“Yeah, yeah, whatevs. I send you THE infamous Winchester brothers, the least you can do is get me a fruit basket. Jeeze.”
Dean lowered his gun. “Gabriel.”
The little girl curtsied. “Nothing gets by you, does it, Deano? Oh hey, by the way, Sammy, nice look on ya, man.”
Sam straightened up and stared at the angel’s strange little vessel. Yes, he felt a tad underdressed, but there wasn’t much he could do about it; his clothes were rags. He drifted his hands in front of his crotch and shuddered, skin cooling as the adrenaline burned away. “Not in the mood, Gabriel. What do you want?”
“He just wants to screw with us,” Dean growled.
“Not true!” Gabriel had the nerve to look indignant. “Okay, maybe just a little. But I’ve had my fun now and believe it or not, I like you knuckleheads so I’m here with a peace offering. I’ll boot-scoot you right home, boys. Back to the land of Big Mouths and Obama Care. You just say the word.”
Olivia stepped forward. “Wait. The Paiute’s cure—”
Heat lightning danced between unseen clouds; off along the horizon, thunder rolled. A storm was brewing and something was making Gabriel squirm. She pursed her lips and waited for the rumbling to fade. “What about it?”
“Does it work?”
The little girl’s face screwed up in thought. “That’s a good question. Yanno, I’m not sure. It’s a slippery thing, switching scientific classifications and all. Makes the gene pool pretty damned muddy. But hey, if a vamp can be unvamped, why not a werewolf? Guess you’ll have to play the game and find out.”
The sky cracked in a jagged white bolt, fizzing with energy. The entire party flinched under the brief flare.
“Who’d you piss off this time, Gabe?” Dean asked.
“The heavenly host has no sense of humor. War this, war that. Borrrrrring.” Gabriel pouted. “Okay, so I guess this is my cue to tell you two to shit or get off the pot. Stay for the cure or run home again, home again, jiggity jig. Pick your poison, boys.”
Sam locked eyes with his brother. In Sam’s mind, there was no debate. A trace of a smile quirked Dean’s lips.
Dean walked over to Lom and bent to grasp the piano man’s hand. “Take care of yourself.”
“I always do,” Lom grinned wearily.
Sam nodded to Olivia, but since he was bare-assed naked and coated in dried blood and grit, he didn’t think she’d appreciate a parting hug.
The heavens roared again, and an archangel—in the skin of Emmeline Chivington—snapped her fingers.