EVERYONE! I am so sorry about the wait but here it finally is1 The last chapter of Like Us! Thanks to everyone who stuck with the fic and even more thanks to my insanely awesome beta Sierra! This thing was quite the under taking and I'm sad and relieved to see it finally brought to an end. Hope you guys enjoy the last chapter!
Chapter Forty: Gettin' Gone
"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be."
Dean shivered violently as the cold set deep into his muscles and joints, sinking lethally into the marrow of his bones. He felt like his joints and spine had locked up and his muscles on the edge of pure rigor. Where he wasn't completely numb there was dull pain.
But he was happy.
Sore and freezing his eyes flashed from the thick neck and mane of Blackbird to where Celia stayed with him, up to her waist in cold water sending out soothing and encouraging words that warmed up Dean's core when the rest of him was blocked in ice.
He shivered and practically clung to the buckskin stud for warmth, but even the horse was cold now. He could feel the stud shivering and twitching under his legs and hands.
He heard a splash of water and Blackbird stopped dead in the turn Dean has asked him for. A new flash of cold himt his left leg.
"He's had enough. So have ya." Celia ordered and wrapped a hand around his forearm.
Dean didn't hesitate to slide off the stud's back and crashed into the water, practically on top of Celia.
Blackbird snorted and quickly sloshed through the water onto the bank before he was enlisted into more work.
The elder Winchester shivered violently, wrapping an arm around Celia to keep himself above the water. His teeth chattered and his skin twitched violently and repeatedly. He numbly felt Celia wrap her own arms around his frame to support him as they started towards shore. In the darkness Dean only felt his heart thundering and saw the flicker of light over the disturbed surface of the Wounded Heart pond.
Dean and Celia awkwardly hauled their weight up onto the edge of the dock then over.
Dean peeled away from Celia and slumped onto his back on the dock.
He shivered once and pushed out a gasp of air that floated in a cloud of vapor above his lips. A violent tremor racked his frame, racing up and down his spine and freezing his blood like ice. He never knew it could get so cold in Nevada. And it was only September.
Dean sighed, content for the first in a long time while he stared up into the star littered night.
He felt a small but unnaturally strong hand wrap around his arm and gently pulled him up to sitting.
"Great job Dean." Celia whispered the praise, keeping her hand on his arm. Warmth starting to creep in under her hand. "Ya feel better?"
"Yeah..." Dean responded quietly.
"Nothin' better for a man's soul than a horse, Dean. And Blackbird's close to God as yer goin' to get without ridin' the Chieftain." Celia whispered encouragingly; she lifted a hand and brushed her fingertips along his temple. Dean instinctively leaned into the touch, he moved closer to her side.
The elder Winchester sighed, letting his breath cloud in front of his face. He liked the silence, the stillness and companionship that didn't have any weight, any expectations or commitments.
Dean's eyes pulled from the cold scenery and looked to the petite red head next to him. Dean held eye contact with her and found it easier than holding the gaze of anyone else in his life.
Eyes by training and instinct he should only have hate and disgust for, he watched the dim light catch and refract in the blood red pools. They carried so much, struggled with so much, it writhed and twisted like a thing in pain behind the thin glass of red. It churned and roared under the surface, it screamed for help and release and screamed about exhaustion and pain and a weakening strength. Dean could see the demon, the monster just below those pools of blood, wailing for release from the petite red head he was using… riding… wearing...
Dean broke the distance and pressed his lips to hers in a light, chaste kiss before he could stop himself. His large, calloused hand lifted to brace along her jaw, carefully holding the red head in place as if afraid that a heavier hold would break her.
She seemed so small. All that power and pain and patience packed into a tiny frame.
Dean felt her put a little pressure back, felt her hand slide to his hip and clench in his soaked jeans and tee shirt. He felt the slightest tug. Small, barely there but screaming desperation.
Dean thought he might have gone to far. He'd been overjoyed when she didn't push him back, when she allowed him to touch her.
She wasn't allowing him anything, she was accepting it.
The elder Winchester tightened up, aggression seeped into his actions. His grip on her jaw tightened, his other arm slipped around her waist and pulled her into his frame. He nipped her lower lip.
He was a little shocked when she pulled back. She didn't push him away, didn't banish him. She shrank away from him.
He felt a bar of cold lance across his heart.
"I'm sorry." His spit out almost bitterly, casting his brilliant green eyes away. Dean shifted back, intending to give her the space she wanted. He jumped when her hands rushed to his throat and fisted in his shirt collar and yanked him back, desperation clear in every line of her movement. She drew him down, pressing their foreheads together and held him there. Dean felt a shiver race across her skeleton and couldn't help slipping his arms around her small frame.
"I said 'wait' not 'fuck off'." She rasped. "Just… just wait a second…"
So Dean settled himself down and waited patiently, he swallowed thickly and sniffed heavily. Waiting for her to make the next move. His heart rate rising with each stiff and freezing second.
"It ain't fair-"
"M'amin." Dean sighed and she jerked, shivering violently at the use of her name.
"Let me finish!" She bit out and shivered again, a shaky breath sliding through her lips. "It ain't fair that I let ya go any further without ya knownin'…"
Dean waited tensely before speaking again, it became unbearable and he forced words passed his raw throat.
"Know what, M'amin?"
She shook her head.
"Know what." Dean almost ordered.
"What I am…" She rasped out and licked her chapped lips and shivered harder. "Come on."
She pulled away then pulled him up after her. Dean followed on her heels like Hell was behind them with every step. Celia led Blackbird into the stable barn and into his stall. She heaped rugs and towels in his back and with Dean on the other side rubbed his fur dry and warmed his muscles. Then turned the buckskin into his stall.
She seemed to be moving so slowly, Dean wanted to shove her, drag her around, force her to move faster across the yard, through the darkened and still ranch home. He followed her, his tension sharpening in edge with each waterlogged and muffled footstep.
Celia led him down the short hall and into Nathaniel's study, the room packed with books and artifacts on shelves and weapons on racks. The plush couch and worn rug and hardwood desk still piled with stacks of dusty paperwork and logs and recounts of Hunts. The Hunter's study. Celia moved to the shelves of thick leather tomes and searched through them for a second before pulling down one of the largest books on the shelves. She cradled it in her arms.
Dean's eyes raced over the book and the thick layer of crinkled, yellowed paper between the covers. The tome had to be a hundred years old or more.
The words written across the cover were in Latin but Dean recognized and hardened at the familiar lettering and term.
It was a demonology.
He followed as Celia eased the book down on the surface of the dusty desk and cracked it open, turning each page gingerly and carefully between her hands, like they were sheets of brittle ice in a hot room. Dean watched over her shoulder as she moved through the pages of hand written Latin and delicate engravings that probably couldn't be found anywhere else in the world.
His eyes raced over demon after demon, he felt his teeth grinding together and the heat in his throat tightening.
"Here." Celia said as her hands finally came to rest on a page marked with a thin red ribbon. A massive engraving printed across the brittle page. Dean's eyes narrowed as he studied the image his jaw locked in that way it did when he was studying something for a Hunt. He set his hands firmly on the edge of the desk and bent over the demonology.
The image was startling, a massive wolf with over large teeth, fangs so long they crowded outside the lips and muzzle crinkled in a disgusting snarl. Massive red eyes seemed to glare up at him and dared the elder Winchester to try and touch the parchment. The animal's skull was split with two sets of horns, one set rams that curled out and around its ears, the other straight up and back like a pronghorn's rack. The massive wolf's hair bristled up, almost like spikes, thick legs ended in huge feline paws with claws that looked like meat hooks. The fur in the drawing was dotted with Native American symbols and around the monster's neck hung a thick collar made of horse, wolf and human skulls. The animal stalked across the page, balancing on piles of bones and freshly slaughtered bodies of humans and animals. The only color on the page was the addition of red into the eyes, dotting the fur and streaked across the road of dead and the demon's paws and teeth.
The discolored way that it had dried, the color looked like the addition of actual blood to the page.
Dean lifted his hand and traced his fingers over the blood inked eyes of the monster.
"That's it… Tashuunka… Dog… " It was all whispered bitterly out of Celia's lips. "This is what I am Dean."
The elder Winchester stayed silent, his eyes narrowing deeper.
"What I'll always be. Always whisperin' and growlin' and pushin'… and I'll always be hungry because of him. Wake up every mornin', achin' and wishin' and prayin' for somethin' different than that feelin' that I wake up with every mornin' that I want to go out and drink someone's blood. I've got sulfur in my veins Dean… "
Her voice cracked on the last syllables. Dean heard her sniff and harden, clearing her throat roughly and sighing.
"It's what I am… I though ya should know… it's only fair…"
Dean let his eyes scan over the image again. Feeling the rough paper under his finger tips and letting his mind churn and rage, his heart beating too fast or too slow.
Dean drew in a long breath, setting his hand firmly on the thick tome and roughly shoved it off the desk to the floor. He didn't even flinch at the sound of the century old book hitting the floor with a crunch like breaking bones.
He twisted and with a single fluid motion snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her sharply into his frame and pressed a brief, blistering kiss to his lips. Celia seemed caught unawares, she didn't contribute and Dean pulled back to look down at her. Brilliant green eyes searching to catch hers but the red head refused to look him in the face.
"How can ya just cast this aside?"
"I don't care, Celia." Dean rumbled simply.
"How can ya be so sure? As far as ya know I've been stringin' ya along this whole time-"
"-All some elaborate trap to lure me and Sammy to doom? That you're just cornering us? Cornering me for an easier kill? That this is all a lie 'cause that's what demons do? They lie? And that's what you are? A demon? That you're that thing? Tashuunka? Dog?"
Celia stayed quiet, eyes cast down and flinched at every word that slipped through his lips. Like each word was a slap to the face.
"Yes…" She whispered.
Dean resisted the urge to force her to look at him. He didn't want to force her to do anything, he wanted her to just accept everything without pressure.
Dean watched her chew her bottom lip.
"M'amin… 'he' and 'you' are totally separate beings. Separate hearts. Separate minds. Separate souls…"
Celia scoffed quietly and flinched when Dean lifted a hand towards her face. She was a little startled when His hand bypassed her cheek and lifted to gingerly trace the texture and crinkles of her short horns growing from her hair line. He passed the pad of his thumb over the side of her horn, his touch dipping into a deep gash in the structure. One of the scars left over from her tangle with a puma and a canyon wall that cross hatched her throat and the left side of her face.
"Know what... I don't care if you believe me or not." Dean huffed, puffing warm air into her face and gave a soft shake of his head. Spattering water from his hair.
The elder Winchester hesitated for a moment before dropping his head, is forehead resting lightly against hers before her boldly bent further and nuzzled lightly at her temple, eye drifting shut as they stood still, breathing in each other's scent and breath.
a moment passed and Dean's frame was wracked with a violent shiver, his teeth clenching to keep from clacking. Celia easily heard the whine and grind of enamel and pulled back. For a moment Dean chased her warmth then shifted back again.
"C'mon." Celia urged gently. She bent and scooped up the demonology and set it on the desk, shutting it around the ribbon marker then nudged Dean along until he was walking slowly towards the door. They stepped out, into the silent hall, Celia closing the door behind them and ushered Dean slowly up the stairs, ducking briefly into her room and snagging lightweight sleeping clothes and fresh underwear for the both of them before stepping into the upstairs bathroom.
The space wasn't large enough for the both of them to move easily as they stripped out of their sodden clothes and kicked off their boots, leaving the soaked shirts and jeans draped half over the towel racks and half into the bowl of the tub. They mopped the remainder of the water off their skin and lightly massaged warmth back into muscles before tugging on the dry sleeping clothes.
Dean only hesitated a moment before following closely on Celia's heels into her room.
It was an odd feeling, being hesitant and unusually shy about helping himself to another's bed.
Celia unceremoniously shoved him into the mattress, the Hunter scrambling just to sprawl in place without looking ungainly or awkward. Celia climbed in before he was settled, burrowed under the comforter and sheets then curled up around her core. She seemed to pay no mind to Dean being there at all. She gave three large heaves of breath before it evened out and turned shallow and light, more natural and smooth. Dean slumped back into the mattress and stretched out slightly on his side, twisting and tilting his hips into a more comfortable position and then went still.
He tried to slow his breathing consciously, tried to match Celia's odd and irregular rhythm and failing miserably enough that his breath went short and he coughed.
"Yer goin' to have to get goin' again soon." Celia sad quietly, there was little emotion in the words and it made Dean go still.
"M'amin..." He rumbled.
"Dean ya cain't put roots down. Not yet." The red head interrupted. "Ya know ya cain't. Ye restless... for right now anyway. Someday maybe but not right now... ya know ya feel the wind comin' up again."
Dean sighed heavily and slumped down into the mattress, letting his head fall back and throat exposed to the air. His Adam's apple bobbed when he swallowed.
"Yeah... I know..." He hummed quietly then stretched out and feathered a hand through her hair, threading the russet strands and the pads of his fingers over her temple, catching the flutter of a pulse in the veins running just under her skin.
Celia let him fidget for a time before speaking, twisting her head to nuzzle his palm a bit, breathing a warm puff of air washed over his inner wrist.
"Leavin' here... not coming back-"
Dean yelped softly when Celia gave his wrist a nip with wolfish teeth. He jerked back and turned his hand over, inspecting the small flush of red in his normally pale skin and grumbled softly before blowing instinctively on the irritate skin and glared down at her with narrowed green eyes.
Celia had settle back further, eyes drifted shut as in sleep. "Keep bein' stupid and I'll do worse. Dean, just because ya leave doesn't mean ya cain't come back."
Dean made a face at her, know she couldn't se it before he rolled over onto his stomach, pressing closer to her curled form, crossing his arms under his cheek and shut his eyes, letting his breath pass lightly across Celia's and getting the same pass of air in return, he drank in her scent and listened to her breathing deepen and even out.
Dean blinked slowly, feeling lethargy and exhaustion settle in slowly. His own breathing deepen and smooth out until it nearly matched hers.
She hummed lazily as she was drawn deeper down into sleep.
Dean debated for a long moment, forcing himself to stay alert for another few moments.
"M'amin... come with us..."
A soft noise escaped her throat, low and muffled as it rattled in her throat.
"Don't say please..." She muttered. "Ya and yer big green eyes..."
Dean sighed softly before digging his face deeper into the pillow and his forearms, He shut his eyes and breathed in the scent seeped deep into the bedding. He felt a small, painful tug low in his gut that pulled into a long thread and then twisted sharply be he pushed it back down. She hadn't denied him. Not really.
Dean wasn't sure when he fell asleep, he knew that he didn't dream, or that the very least didn't remember anything that he dreamed about, only externally aware of the warmth pressed in at his side until sometime early in the morning he jolted awake to the feel of an iron grip around one ankle and he was yanked violently off the mattress and crashed down onto the hardwood of the floor with a biting snarl of pain. he kicked his ankle free and scrambled around, trying to find a good position to put up a good defense as his mind rushed to catch up.
"Damnit Eli!" Celia barked and Dean slumped, relaxing and letting out a breath of pain.
"Winchester. i warned ya to stay outta my sister's bed." Elijah growled softly, humor in his tone and Dean felt the toe of a boot hook under his knee and lift his leg into the air. Dean snarled, baring his teeth and jerked his leg back, trying to kick out that the Marine and missing when the older man side stepped lightly and smirked down at him.
"Put some pants on boy..." Elijah turned on his heel and started out of the room. Celia snarled something in Lakota after him before she slipped out of bed and offered a hand up to Dean, pulling the larger framed Hunter to his feet, when she freed herself Dean gave a light teasing tug of her hair before slipping out the door, down the hall and stairs and into the guest bedroom, quickly tugging on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt over his chest before making his way into the kitchen. Sam was siting at the head of the table with a large bowl of cereal and a cup of thick, black coffee. Dean offered him a light smile.
"Mornin' Sammy." He hummed and snagged a coffee mug and filled it with liquid, the steam rolling up and flushing against his nose and face. He drew in a deep breath and took a sip. "Hows the 'Wrecker' doing?"
Sam tilted up an eyebrow at his elder brother. Dean hadn't really asked much about the painted mare. Mostly just went out of his way to look in on Sam when he worked with her, observed for a bit before backing off. Sam wasn't sure if there was a jealousy or feeling of abandonment strung between Dean and the little mustang that was commanding all of Sam's attention and a good chunk of Celia's but something must have given way because there was nothing underlying Dean's interested tone.
"Celia thinks I might be able to get a leg over in the next couple of days, if not today."
Dean nodded and paused for a minute. "We should go for a ride today. All of us, you know?"
Sam narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
Dean blinked then glared back. "What?"
"What's the matter Dean?" Sam nearly commanded the question.
The elder scoffed and smirked, but years of exposure didn't throw the younger sibling off in anyway. Dean fidgeted for a fraction of a second before regaining himself and lifted his chin slightly.
"Look Sam, a new job can crop up anytime."
Sam looked mildly shocked at the statement before he sobered. "Yeah I guess."
Dean snorted, "They're not going to wait for us, Sammy."
"Yeah... yeah... I guess I'll start looking around." Sam muttered, sounding oddly like a child that was being told he had to go back to school at the end of the summer. Dean huffed out of the corner of his mouth and turned his attention back to his mug of coffee.
"Something close." Dean muttered and Sam let his lips twitch slightly before they looked up as Celia trotted down the stairs fully dressed and bundling her hair into a loose pony tail at the base of her skull.
"Mornin' Sam." She hummed affectionately at him and the younger Winchester grinned openly.
"Morning. Hey, Celia?"
"Yessir?" She asked as she shoved Dean bodily out of the way and poured herself a cup of coffee and drained half of it in a single pull before topping it off again.
"We were thinking about going on a ride. There time today?"
Celia cast a knowing look towards Dean who refused to meet her eyes before she side stepped and leaned out the door, whistling shrilly. It echoed in the yard and a few voices of waking horses whinnied back at the familiar noise.
A muffled shout came from the yard.
"Eli can ya handle all the chores for me? Thanks!" The red head shouted into the yard.
The returned noise was sharp and unhappy and Celia snorted with a slight smile.
Dean chuckled softly and Sam grinned before it faltered slightly. "Guess I'm not riding Homewrecker."
Celia snorted. "Oh, yer gettin' on that horse. Right now in fact. Get out there."
Sam blinked looking slightly startled before rushing through the rest of his cereal, dumping everything in the sink and dashing out the door, tugging on his corduroy jacket.
Dean smirked then glanced at Celia as she pulled out a small bowl from a shelf filled with leftover biscuits and passed him one before biting into her own and went about the rest of the kitchen, pulling thing like jars of trail mix and dried fruits and meats down then rooted into the mud room before coming up with a canvas over the shoulder bag and started stocking it with the jars and bottle of water from next to the dryer and washer.
Once the pack was full Celia slipped it over her shoulder, wrote a quick, assuring note to Rosa where they were going then urged Dean to follow.
The elder Winchester stalled, pausing in his coffee and biscuit. "Right now? It's still dark out."
"Just c'mon." Celia snorted and held the door ope while Dean tugged on his boots and a hooded sweatshirt. He swallowed down the last of his coffee and ducked out th door with Celia o his heels. The ambled passed the paddock where Honeycatcher was resting his shredded hoof and grazing quietly alone. The cremello nickered at them but realized enough not to both hobbling over to meet them at the fence as the visit would be brief and not worth the pain of the movement.
Dean followed Celia out into the stable barn where Sam had led the scarred and painted mustang, Homewrecker, and was currently saddling her while he murmured soft encouragement and affections into her pricked ears.
"Chambeau alright today Dean?" Celia asked as they walked into the tack room and tugged other favored trail all around saddles and bridle tack.
The older Hunter nodded. He and the tri-colored mare got along well, she was more tolerant and less likely to act without thinking on her own. Plus there was the added bonus that the mare would be an assuring and soothing presence around the still untested Homewrecker.
"G'wan and get her then. Ya know what to do." Celia urged while she turned and followed along the stalls, side stepping around Eli then ignoring the Marine when he turned on his heel and followed her ranting heatedly about being left to do all the chores while he was at liberty but there seemed like there was no real venom in his tone and he stood back while she set her tack down then opened a stall and led out a large, black blanket Appaloosa gelding with four tall white socks named DuShane.
Dean moved down to where Chambeau was lazing in her stall, the mare blinked and nickered softly at him and allowed the elder Winchester to easily catch her halter and tug her out of the deep bedding. He linked a lead rope to the chin ring and tied her loosely to the stall door before taking a brush to her red brown fur. Dean lazily went about grooming the mare, he paused to trace the painted mare's white markings with his fingers.
Once her hooves were cleaned out and her coat shining Dean saddled the mare, cinching up the girth and buckling the breast collar across her chest and bridle over her halter and around her ears, slipping the bit gently between her teeth and over her tongue. Dean checked over his work before untying and looping the lead rope over the horn of the saddle, slid his boot into the stirrup and lightly vaulted up into the saddle, secured his other boot and lightly turned the mare with the lightest touch and pressure of his leg and knee, turning the mare and trotting her along the line of stalls and out into the yard where Sam was gently turning Homewrecker in small circles, soothing the last of any nerves that she had not yet lost. Dean kept Chambeau back and well out of the way,, he could tell the tension between Sam's shoulders was sharp and he didn't need any kind of external pressure.
They stood, listening and breathing in the quiet of the predawn light.
After a few minutes Celia trotted out of the barn on DuShane. The black Appaloosa was a horse that was easygoing and light footed. He moved smoothly and so quick to turn it was no wonder that he was a trained barrel race horse. Celia trotted DuShane right up to where Sam and Homwrecker were stopping only a few feet away and took the pair's attention completely.
"Alright Sam, put yer foot in the stirrup and do a side mount. Basically stand up in the stirrup and lean over her back then drop back to the earth. Quite and calm."
Sam nodded and stopped the mare, urging her to stand still before he set his boot into the stirrup, before pushing down and pulling himself up and leaned his weight into the small horse. She started but didn't spook to terribly and more seemed confused and unsure of what Sam was doing until he eased down to the earth again.
"No on the other side." Celia urged and Sam stepped around and repeated the process. This time Homewrecker seemed ready and braced for his weight, still watching him in confusion until he reached the ground again.
"Alright, looks good so far. Now go back around and do it again but this time sit in the saddle and once you're there just sit there and relax a little. Don't go anywhere. If she tries to take off on ya just hold yer seat and let her run for a bit, don;t try and stop her because she doesn't know what stoppin' means yet."
Sam nodded before very carefully and slowly mounting the mare and sitting firmly in the saddle. Homewrecker stood rigid and stiff under his weight, twisting around in confusion and looking at him. When Sam didn't get back down she looked towards the other two horses, seeing them in a similar predicament but in no form of distress. She moved a few steps forwards, twisted to look at Sam again before turning, trying to get around him and finding that the younger Winchester stayed firmly and relaxed on her back.
"Sam, when she makes turns and moves around cue her to do it. Give her a little pressure." Celia urged and Sam nodded, the next time that Homewrecker moved he put a little pressure into her side and a light pull of the reins. The mare seemed surprised and went still so Sam released the pressure. Homewrecker stood blinking for a few long minutes then moved again. This time when Sam put pressure on her side and mouth she moved into it and the pressure released instantly.
"She's startin' to get it. She's a smart little thin'. Feelin' safe with her, Sammy?"
"Yeah." The younger Winchester agreed with a tilt of his lips. "I trust her."
"We better get goin' then." Celia turned DuShane around and urged him on to a light trot, Dean started to hesitated but instead move Chambeau around and urged her after the black Appaloosa. Homewrecker looked slightly afraid to be left and Sam gave her a slight pressure against her barrel. She lurched forwards, Sam keeping steady in the saddle as she rushed to keep up and hugged Chambeau's hip like her life depended on it. It didn't seem to irritate or agitate the tricolored mare so Dean did nothing of it and led the way passed Celia and an open gate. Once they were through Celia and DuShane moved lightly around, pushing the gate along until it was back in place and swung the chain over, locking it.
Dean relaxed some, they were in open land now, out side of fences and pastures. Even with the rolling open land that the Greers owned it was still fenced. Barely tamed but tamed. Even the small change between that side of the fence and this side was significant enough that dean could feel a lightening in his gut and an easing in his bones.
He breathed deeply and relaxed in the saddle, smoothing his hands over the Chambeau's mane and waiting for DuShane and Celia to take a slight lead before falling in line and Homewrecker hugged the tricolored paint's flank. Nosing at her hip and kicking nervously from time to time but stayed relatively steady and calm under Sam's weight considering it was the first time that she had been ridden by a human being.
The easy walk kicked up into a trot then a smooth lope. Homewrecker panicking slightly under the change of pace but calmed with Sam's encouragement and the steadiness of the other two horses.
DuShane and Chambeau came even and loped on smoothly, matching each others paces easily. Homewrecker settled and eased up until she was comfortably loping along at Chambeau's flank.
Dean felt something loosening in his chest as distance was eaten up under the horses' hooves.
Slowly in the distance the dawn started to creep up on the horizon, turning the greying sky a pale then clearer blue. The scrub lands thinned out and the heat that had gone missing in the night was climbing back up into the daylight hours. The ground turned hard packed as they followed some unmared root towards the Owyhee mountains to the west. The earth turned into hard rock and red sand stone. Dust kicked up behind them as they wove in and out among the low scrub brush and startled desert birds and small animals.
Sweat started to collect on the horses necks and between their shoulder blades, Dean's heavier clothing sticking uncomfortably to his frame but the elder Hunter didn't dare slow up to remove it for fear of being left behind or startling Homwrecker to much to recover. They loped on and the horizon twisted and rose in oddly shaped formations, the misshapen forms of the mountain range defined and laid large streaked shadows across the desert. Celia and DuShane steered around, swaying sideways until they were following a thin dark ribbon of a river. It looked like the other end of Blackwater River and the Canyon, after the river rose back up from under ground.
They checked their pace, slowing down to a smooth walk to catch their breath and waded into the river water. Dean quickly stripped out of his hooded sweatshirt and down to his slightly soaked tee shirt.
Sam was shrugging out of his own corduroy jacket and a flannel shirt, draping them loosely over the back of his saddle. Celia was lightening her own load of clothes and resettling the bag full of food back across her chest before urging them into deeper water, letting it lap against their heels, cooling them and the horses. Dean boldly bent and leaned far over the side of Chambeau's shoulder and dipped a hand into the water, cupping it and drawing it up to suck water out of his palm and rub it into his throat and hair, cooling himself and scrubbing away the sweat clinging to his skin and letting some roll down it spine and cool his back. Sam was doing the same, his longer hair slicking back smoothly.
Cooled and relaxed some they waded idly through the waters, sinking lower and lower as the earth rose around them where the river had carved it out a canyon. The peaks rose higher into the sky around them and as the sun cast across them. The red sand stone turned shades of gold and pink, yellow and tawny.
Celia pulled DuShane up and Chambeau eased forwards and stood aligned with the black Appaloosa, he swung his nose around and sniffed at the mare before they dropped their muzzles into the water and sucked at the smoothly and gently moving water. They drank and sighed across the surface of the river and relaxed some. Sam and Homewrecker drew up next to them and nosed in to drink in the same space as the other two horses. Nickering softly and twitching under Sam's weight. Celia dug into the pack and pulled out sealed bottles of water and passed them around. The brothers rushed through the first few mouthfuls of water before calming and drinking more slowly and smoothly.
They stood in companionable silence, watching from their place in the gut of the canyon and protected by the higher peaks as the sun light spilled over the rim and pooled into the river water around them.
They breathed quietly in unison and took drinks of water and soothed by each other's company. After ten minutes of standing Celia glanced at her watch. They'd been riding for a little over two hours and it would take that long to get back if not longer as the climb up out of the river canyon was always harder than the drop in.
"Want to go back?" She asked.
Neither brother spoke for a long moment and Celia smiled slightly before turning DuShane and leading deeper into the canyon.
They rode on slowly, not speaking and snacking on the trail mixes, dried fruits and meats and chunks of honeycomb, They worked their way back out of the canyon and wove loosely among the peaks of the mountains. Climbing a bit up their bases before dipping back into the vallies and only looped around back towards Wounded Heart when it was down to the last two bottles of water.
Splitting it between the three of them the water lasted until less than a mile from the fence line of the far western pasture. It was only when Celia dropped down off of DuShane, the brothers following her example as they came up to a gate and slipped through, that Dean realized he'd spent the day in silence.
They led the horses into the stable barn just as the sun started to slip away. Stripping saddles and forgoing just rubs downs for full out showers, washing the caked dirt and mud from the horses, smoothing and drying their fur with towels and blankets. Combing out manes and tails, soothing muscles and rewarding the horses with large helpings or sweet feed grain.
It was well after dark when Celia and the Brothers now pleasantly sore climbed across the wraparound porch and ducked into the kitchen.
Rosa looked and smiled gently at them from where she was cooking at the stove top. The trio slumped down at the table and let out a collective sigh.
"Ya'll are right on time." Rosa said quietly. "Just finishin' up a stew for us all. Ya have a good ride."
"Yes ma'am." Celia responded for the three of them and she leaned back, opened the door of the refrigerator still in her chair and pulled out a large glass pitcher of orange juice and set it on the table as she nudged the door back closed. Rosa took the cue and set three glasses down and let the trio pour their own glasses and sipped quietly at the juice, flushing lost sugars back into their systems.
Within an hour Rosa dished up the stew and called in Elijah and Imogene. Dinner was relatively quiet, most of the conversation made up of Imogene chattering about school and Elijah complaining good naturedly about having been left to take care of the ranch himself. The silence that Sam, Dean and Celia had lapsed into remained. And more than once Imogene, Elijah and Rosa looked towards the two brothers with a kind of suspicion or a kind of anticipation. As if they knew what was going on just below the comfortable silence.
Dean bullied the rest of the group into letting him wash the dishes by hand. Sam retired with the rest of the family, laptop in hand to watch a movie.
Dean drowned out the rest of the house with the sound of rushing water, foaming detergent and clinking ceramic. The sink was filled to the brim with warm water and used dishes from the entire day, not just dinner.
On the floor at his heels Valentine and Buckshot lounged on the terra cotta tile, their ears flicked and tilted towards Dean.
Dean scrubbed them clean diligently and even paused to dry them with a tea towel before setting them aside in a rack to finish drying out completely.
He jumped slightly when a hand lighted on his shoulder. He turned and looked down into the slight smile of Rosa. He gave her a lopsided grin in return.
"Ya boys are gettin' ready to lit out ain't cha?"
Dean instantly dropped his eyes away. "Rosa-"
"Hush." She gently pushed his shoulder and stopped him. "Ya got more than a right too. Ya got a callin' that doesn't stop hollarin' for ya just because ya happened to like the place ya stayed at last."
Dean digested her words before nodding slightly ad Rosa cupped his chin, tilting his head unti she pressed a light, soothing kiss above his right eye.
Dean blinked quietly as the ranch mother.
"I'll always expect ya to come back, alright?"
"Yes ma'am." Dean agreed. "Planning on it."
As he said the words the elder Winchester made a pact with himself to ensure that they weren't the same empty promises he made along the road to that point.
"Alright..." Rosa hesitated before tilting his head again and pressing another kiss to the same place she had before. "That's for the road, just in case I don't see ya in the mornin'."
Dean smiled slightly at her and nodded. Only straightening up when the woman stepped away and slipped out of sight into the den with the rest of the group.
Dean sighed to himself and turned back to the sink full of dishes, scrubbing his way through to the last glass before draining the water and drying his hands. The elder Winchester stood in the middle of the kitchen for a long moment before digging into the refrigerator for a bottle of beer, cracking the lager open as he stepped out into the cooled night air and settled himself onto one of the cushioned and raw wood porch chairs. The dogs follows, laying out on their sides on the wood decking around his feet. He wasn't there very long before Celia and Elijah joined him and shortly on their heels his younger brother. The laptop well away and out of sight so Dean knew that Sam had found something to go after.
They sat in the near dark, listening to the sounds of horses nickering to each other and cattle lowing over insects and far off in the distance the lonely howl of a wolf warbled up and hung before dying again.
The silence lingered and didn't break until Imogene bounded out on the porch in her pajamas and flung herself on Sam. She hugged him tightly and clung far to long to mistake that the embrace was the casual ones that were before bed time stories.
it seemed the Greers knew more than the Winchesters themselves did.
Imogene mumbled something into Sam's neck and the younger Winchester whispered into her ear quietly, making the child giggle. Imogene gave light hugs and planted generous kisses on Celia and Elijah's cheeks before she fell onto Dean, clinging to him as tightly, if not tighter than she had Sam.
Dean hugged her back. Careful not to squeeze her torso to tightly.
"I love ya Dean... come back please." She hummed into his shoulder and Dean stroked her hair and dipped to press a kiss into her hair.
"Promise. Good night imogene." he mumbled into her hair.
"Night." She sighed back and pushed herself up and allowed Elijah to steer her back into the kitchen and leave the trio alone on the porch. The Marine paused and sent a look towards each of the brothers, telling them clearly and without words to keep close to each other and stay alive. Sam and Dean both nodded slightly towards the older man as he stepped away into the yellow light from the kitchen.
Silence rung among them, heavier than it had been before, for several long minutes. Elijah didn't return.
"There's a chupacabra in south California." Sam said at last, quietly sealing some unsaid and unwritten expectation. "At least that's what its looking like. Live stock mutilations and a few kids have gone missing."
Celia and Dean snapped their attention towards the younger brother.
"Kids?" Dean asked.
Sam hesitated before he pushed himself up, picking up his empty. "I'll get my stuff."
The younger brother ducked into the kitchen and the sounds of his steps faded as he moved deeper into the house.
"Nothin' like kids to get a Hunter movin' faster." Celia said quietly as she stood. "C'mon."
Dean turned the thought over in his head a few times before getting up and following her up the stairs. The house was quiet. Elijah, Rosa and Imogene had darkened the house and turned in, ready to rise early the next morning.
It was a long practiced skill that made gathering and packing all their gear into duffle bags, stealing back freshly washed clothes from the dryer in the mud room, lifting up mattresses and pillows to locate stray knives and firearms and a number of other small trinkets collected in their time at Wounded Heart.
The two brothers stepped quietly through the kitchen, dropping to their knees briefly to fawn a final time over the two German Shepherds Buckshot and Valentine and even stroke back the greying ears of the Collie Alamo.
Celia stood back and only moved in to follow them out the door, standing back as they stored their duffles into the trunk of the Impala and Sam turned without a word and jogged towards the stable barn and making a bee line for the painted mustang Homewrecker. Dean hesitated before falling into step with Celia and crossed the yard, ducking into the side paddock, swinging the gate closed behind them and making their way to a pale shape of a horse laying down in the grass not far off, standing next to it was the buckskin boss horse Blackbird..
Honeycatcher tilted his head up and nickered, The other stud tilting his ears forwards and snorting softly. Dean lightly passed his hand over Blackbird's nostrils and down his neck before turning his attention to the healing cremello stud.
Honeycatcher shifted as if to get closer and lifted his head until the bridge of his nose was pressed into Dean's temple. The Hunter breathed in the horse's scent and petted his jaw gently.
"When I come back you better be ready for me, big guy." Dean hummed quietly. "I'll run you into the ground."
The stud nickered and nudged at Dean's head, lipping his hair and nickering softly when Dean stepped back and looked sideways at Celia. They paused for a minute.
"You coming?" Dean asked.
"No." Celia responded,
Dean nodded and shrugged a shoulder before stepping over and bending slightly to press a kiss into her temple. He let his lips linger, felling that pulse against his breath before he pulled away.
"Come back Dean." Celia urged with a small smile before stepped back to stand next to Blackbird.
Dean hesitated, taking final glance at her and the two studs before turning and jogging slowly towards the gate, he ducked through and swung it closed behind him, slinging the chain around and trotting across to the Impala. Sam was standing by the passenger door and waited to climb in to the muscle car in sync with his brother.
The Winchesters sat for a moment, before the silence shattered as Dean cranked the Impala's engine to life, swung her around and pulled out of the Wounded Heart drive, tires grinding in the dirt and gravel.
Dean glanced in the rearview once and smirked slightly at the sight of Celia's calmly lifted hand in a still wave.
A/N: My goodness its over. Thanks everyone for sticking with this story! Thanks especially to Sierra! LOVE YOU! Hope everyone enjoyed Like Us! It's the end of an era, it is!