Barbed Wire

There is no kind of sunset they haven't seen before, but Sam thinks he'll remember this one.

At his shoulder, bitching and moaning rides every puff of Dean's frosted breath. "Fuckin jackass, couldn't get buried in a cemetery like normal people, got to send us stomping through Farmer Joe-Bob's pasture. Watch him show up with a shotgun or some shit. Jesus Christ, I hate Michigan."

It's easy to tune him out. Their boots crunch the new snow in irregular, squeaky rhythm, and Sam's head is full of compass points and degrees. He's got a watchful eye out for a headstone. They'd better find it soon; there's less than an hour of decent light left.

"Hey," Dean says, stopping suddenly and nodding toward the fence line. "Look there."

There's a dark shape, too bulky to be a fence post, hunched against the wind at the pasture's edge. Sam shrugs. "Probably a cow or whatever."

"Yeah." And Dean heads for it, purposeful but slow.

"Dean..." But Sam follows him helplessly, child after the Pied Piper, and tugs his beanie down tighter over his ears.

In the pale glow of snow and fog, the horse looks at first like a fairytale creature. Out of the haze of white, its shape grows solid - massive and liver-colored. Rump to the wind and head low, it nods and blinks in trancelike stillness. Maybe it's bored, or stupid, or both.

"Hey, critter," Dean says soothingly, approaching it with the care he'd show a growling dog. "You doing okay?"

"Dude, leave the nice pony alone."

Dean doesn't even glance at him. "You're not looking so hot. Here, not gonna hurt you." The horse's delicate nostrils widen and whuff nervously at his outstretched hand. "It's all right, pretty girl. We're gonna get you loose."

That's when Sam realizes that the snow around its feet is churned up and specked with red. Rusted barbed wire winds around its forelegs.

"Keep it calm," Sam says. "I've got wire cutters."

"Fuckin Boy Scout," Dean says in his sing-song pony voice. "Smart girl. You know how many horses would kill themselves trying to thrash free? But you just keep holding still, sweetheart." His ungloved hands brush the frost from its back, soothe over its nose and its shaggy neck and shoulder. "There's a girl."

Sam bends down next to its forelegs, breathing in warm horse and feeling every patient heave of its sides. Barbs catch the backs of his hands, and the wire cutters' handle bites into his cold-stiff palms. But it's a purposeful pain.

"Sammy's gonna get you loose," Dean keeps promising. "There's a sweet girl."

The sun goes down, and Sam cuts away the wire.