Warnings: Violence, language, plentiful Sam-whumpage, and highly doubtful medical procedures.
GUNSLINGERS (Chapter One)
Dean scanned their surroundings, the sun hot on his back. Shadows stretched long and thin across compacted desert sand, and dangling chain-link rattled in the breeze. Beyond the dusty street lay miles of barren desert scrub. Enviable peace and quiet, if a man sought that kind of solitude – or if he hankered to live wild and free with only the burrowing prairie dogs as company.
Dean shuddered and stepped in closer to his brother. "You picking anything up?"
Sam tilted the EMF so Dean could see the screen.
"I don't mean with that. I mean with – " he raised one hand and made air twirls with his fingers around Sam's head – "you know.""No," Sam said, and it came out a little harsh, a touch frustrated.
"Just asking." Dean let his hands drop to his sides, his shoulders relaxing. He loosened his grip on the shotgun by his side.
Twenty minutes of scouting the ramshackle town had revealed nothing supernatural. The EMF remained tonelessly silent. Brad Jennings, the owner of the property and a man whose eyes boggled out of his skull as he told of two dead men roaming his land, had duped them. Well, Bobby had warned them as much.
Dean had kept Bobby's opinion to himself. The oppotunity to roam around the desert, nothing but a man's isolation-induced ramblings to threaten them, seemed like the ideal hunt right about now. Sam, if he had known, would never have agreed. The kid had become a demon-hunting fanatic. It just wasn't healthy.
Sam chose that moment to agitatedly tap at the EMF before he thrust it out before him. Dean smirked and languidly spun on his heel, turning in a slow circle to take in the five buildings that made up the small town: bank, grain store, two non-descript cottages that might have been dwellings, and a saloon.
"Someone ought to develop this place," Dean said. "Neaten it up, farm the land or subdivide it. All this open space.""Tourists flock to ghost towns."
"I'm not seeing any tourists, Sammy."
"Yeah, well, it's heritage listed so he can't just bulldoze it."
"No, but he could develop." Dean shrugged toward the saloon. "I see dancing girls, lights, beer on tap. Out here, all this space, no wives. Men would flock from miles."
"You'd flock from miles."
"My point exactly."
Sam pulled the EMF in close and exhaled heavily. "Nothing's showing. We're wasting our time."
"We should just check around to be sure. Where'd Brad go anyway?"
"Still slurping his Shiner maybe."
"Now what sane man uses a straw to drink beer?" Dean opened out his hands in a gesture of over-exaggerated bemusement. "I mean, c'mon. It's beer. There are rules."
Sam shrugged and looked toward the largest of the five buildings. "He could be in the saloon."
Dean tracked his brother's gaze. Single story, flat shingle roof, the double hung swinging doors shaded by an overhead verandah. The doors swung a little. They hadn't checked that building out yet, at least not inside. Though they had scanned the perimeter and no ghostly vibes registered. "Maybe they've got cold beer on tap and he's refilling."
"Don't be counting on that." Sam held the EMF out again, his face rumpled in consternation. "The history of this place is bizarre. Used to be a thriving mining town, then one day everyone packed up and took off. No-one knows why."
"No lights, beer and women."
"If I weren't a hunter, I'd be a comedian."
"You'd be broke."
"And I'm not now?"
Sam snorted and started toward the saloon. Dean fell into step beside him. "I'd give my right boot for a Demon Drop. Burns you right here." He beat at his chest with one fist. "That's how you know you're alive."
Sam paused mid-step. "You missed today's Ritalin dose?"
"Oh, that's funny. Hilarious. Sammy cracked a joke." He mock punched his brother. "I'll take the Demon Drop, you'll get the Sour Death. How's that sound?"
Sam looked ill, then angry, then incredulous – all in a cinematographic super-flash. His mouth opened but Dean grabbed his arm and silenced him.
"Dude, you are Jim Carrey. Rubber face. Holy shit, we can make a fortune. Vegas, we are going to Vegas. Along the strip, they have—"
Only one expression concreted his brother's face then, and it was not particular pretty. Six feet four of pissed off little brother was sort of scary… and immensely funny. He chortled and metaphorically backpedaled, deciding (undoubtedly with great wisdom) that referring to Ace Ventura would result in pain to his body and ego. Course, he could always use the shotgun….
"Get serious, Dean. We've got a job to do."
"All work and no play—"
"Will get us killed. When this is over, we can play."
"Promises, promises." Dean eyed his brother, discomforted by the ramrod spinal rigidity, the stress tic beneath one eye, the determined clench to his jaw. "You know," he added, his tone deliberately light, "A Flaming Nerd would suit you better. I'll order you one when we get to Vegas."
They reached the shadow of the saloon verandah. The chain-link jangled as the wind picked up. Dean reflexively grasped the shotgun as his fingers tingled. "You still not getting anything?"
Sam shook his head. "You know, not much is known about this place and Brad uses that to his advantage. His website focuses attention on the mystery of this town in the hope that tourists will be intrigued."
"Remind me never to hire his promotional company."
They stepped onto the dry-rot ted timber porch and Sam touched Dean's arm. "He wouldn't be web-camming us to increase business?"
"Web-cam?" Dean raised his hands to the side. "I'm putting the two words together and… it's not really computing."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Same principle as those porn sites you visit."
"Don't know what you're talking about."
"When you clear the history, you need to clear the cookies too."
Dean felt a rush of heat to his face. "Cookies?"
"Yeah, Dean, cookies. And not the Girl Scout type."
"Oh." He looked around, suddenly exceptionally uncomfortable. "You think we might be being watched." He shuddered. "Dude, that's freakin' creepy."
Sam pushed open the bat-wing doors, they squeaked, the sound eerie in the quiet. The EMF suddenly sparked to life, a high pitched whine as the lights flashed.
Dean's pulse spiked. With Sam in front, his huge freaking shoulders wedging the doors apart, Dean had no way to move past. He shoved at the doors, grunting as they held firm, Sam a lump of meat in a timber sandwich. The metaphor twisted his gut.
"Hey boys," a voice announced from inside the bar.
The deep Texan drawl forced the hairs to stand up on the back of Dean's neck. He touched Sam's arm, hoping to coax him back, but the younger man did not move.
"Been waiting for you to come on inside. Been watching you. Mighty brave of you to come here, after what happened and all."
Dean's skin crawled and he physically nudged at Sam, tried to get him to move aside so he could see. Sam stood stock still, frozen… as though under the aim of a weapon. It clicked in place then and Dean raised the shotgun. His fingers clasped over it as he heard the tell-tale sound of a shotgun being primed.
What the hell had Brad gotten them into?
Dean placed his free hand at the smooth curve of Sam's lower back, hard against the sweat-sticky shirt. He splayed the fingers out, palm flat, the contact firm. He tapped once, initiating communication.
"You really think you can just waltz back in here like nothing's happened? Now that makes you horse-shit dumb."
A second man laughed, a low malicious sound, and Sam shifted, almost imperceptibly, but the muscle movement was clear to Dean: two players, both armed. He couldn't get much more than that through the subtle communication, but he assumed that Brad was not present. Whether they had taken the rancher out, or he was involved, remained unclear. Apparently the boggle-eyed bastard had not been talking shit after-all.
Dean tapped again, in quick succession, signaling that he was armed and ready. The response came immediately – stand down. Evidently Sam wouldn't get clear in time if Dean tried anything. Dean blew out a breath and scanned the heat shimmering desert. The EMF meter clicked and shrieked spastically.
"Step inside, Sammy."
Dean's head jerked. How the hell did they know Sam's name? His earlier assumption that Brad wasn't involved now developed huge holes. Sam tensed against him, not communicating this time, just afraid.
"Inside, boy, before we pop ya full of lead."Sam hesitated, leaned a little closer to Dean before he stepped forward. Dean followed, close enough to feel his brother's body heat, to stay in contact. His eyes adjusted to the rapid drop in light and he found that he and his brother were being held at gunpoint by two genuine gunslingers. One of whom now had his cold dead eyes firmly fixed on Sam and a sardonic grin on his scarred face.
"I been waiting a long time for this," he drawled, fuming on dead air. "Sheriff ain't gonna protect you now, boy."