Characters: Sam & Dean, Victor Henricksen (Gen - AU)

Rating: PG-13

Words: c11,300

State: Colorado
Summary: The year is 1874 and the Winchesters' family business – hunting evil – has got them into trouble with the law. A bounty hunter and Pinkerton agent, Victor Henricksen, is hot on their trail. This is an AU broadly based on canon, so think of Season 3 sometime after Sin City. Some events have happened up till now just as they did in the show, others are slightly different. It diverges from canon from here on in.

Warnings: Character death, use of the N word, other swearing.

Thanks to my lovely friends dizzojay and Viv (Edina Clouds) for giving this little fic a very speedy beta! This ended up longer than I intended but what the heck. Written for the 50 States challenge on Live Journal.

Dean twitched, trying to lose the sensation that Sam's accusing gaze was burning a hole between his shoulder blades. He shifted uncomfortably in his saddle; his balance off now that his hands were cuffed so cruelly-tight behind his back. His horse stumbled slightly as the bounty hunter yanked on Dean's lead rein as they started ascending the steep canyon's slopes. Dean wobbled, desperately clenching his thighs to avoid sliding off the lively black mare. There was a reason Dean had called her the Imp, she sure liked to lead him a merry dance. It was alright for Sam. Dean's thoughts were full of resentment. That Pinkerton bastard had cuffed his brother's wrists together in front, so Sam could handle his reins and horse with no problem where he brought up the rear of their party.

Apparently Dean was the really dangerous Winchester, and therefore merited the additional security. So Henricksen had told the bemused brothers as he'd forced Sam to embrace Dean whilst the agent had fastened Sam's wrists together. What a palaver that had been. Though the elder Winchester had to acknowledge that the embarrassment of being pressed up so intimately against the great long streak of his giant brother was a more effective deterrent to thoughts of escape than virtually anything else that sick bastard Henricksen could have devised. Dean was only too eager to keep his own hands as far away from his brother's body as possible, so he had obeyed the command to hold them behind his own back with alacrity.

At any other time Dean would have been making the most of being considered the mad, bad and dangerous Winchester, but right now, he was failing to see the funny side.

Dean cursed a blue streak as he barely managed to regain his balance, and heard Henricksen snort with disapproval. Dean shot their captor a glare as the Pinkerton agent glanced over his shoulder, a gesture of defiance that nearly had the outlawed hunter out of his saddle again. Trust his luck to get captured by a Bible-bashing prissy mouthed bounty hunter. Maybe the self righteous prick and Sam could get together to discuss theology over the camp fire tonight, do a bit of bonding. Dean carried on swearing, but under his breath.

And the day had started so well, too.

Agent Victor Henricksen was good at keeping his head down and being inconspicuous, in spite of the novelty value of a man with his skin colour in nine out of ten of the places his job sent him. He was also very good at gauging when remaining anonymous was going to be the best way to get the information he needed; so when he rode into Round Rock, Arizona, it didn't take him many minutes to decide this was going to be one of those times.

One of the greatest mysteries posed by this particular task, handed to him by Allan Pinkerton himself back in Chicago three months ago, was how these two young outlaws somehow managed to turn a town on its head, so the last thing the local law-abiding populace wanted to do was tell an official Pinkerton agent where two of the most notorious and dangerous criminals in the west were hiding out. Even the $10,000 dollar apiece reward being offered had not been enough to persuade apparently decent folk to hand them over.

If Victor didn't know better, he'd have sworn those two had supernatural powers, and were bewitching people. Because alongside the bloody trail of bodies, the Winchesters left in their wake a small posse of individuals willing to defend those same boys to the hilt, swearing blind the brothers had saved their lives over and over from untold evils.

Yet all Victor was seeing was that death travelled with the Winchesters, and that not many of those deaths were clean, nor quick neither. Back in Milwaukee in that bank the Winchesters had so singularly failed to rob, they had left three bloody bodies, one a young woman whose skin had been ripped from her arm before she'd been stabbed in the chest with, of all things, a silver paper knife. That had been one of the worst so far, and Henricksen couldn't for the life of him understand why the girl's identical twin had been convinced that her own sister was some sort of shape shifting monster, and refused to even go to the funeral.

Shape shifters with glowing eyes, werewolves, ghosts that wouldn't rest and needed their corporeal remains desecrated and burned? It was all just madness - sheer ungodly madness that followed the Winchester brothers around like a bad smell. Well, Victor was the man to put an end to the madness. Put an end to those Winchesters too, if he had to. He was a fair man and wanted to see justice done, but from everything he'd seen, Dean Winchester at least deserved the hangman's noose, and if push came to shove, Victor knew how to shove. The man was a monster, and would get no mercy from Victor Henricksen.

Victor knew he couldn't be more than a day or two behind the brothers when he rode into Round Rock and settled his tired horse into the livery stables. After the debacle in Milwaukee, where he'd called in local law enforcement and then suffered the public humiliation of having the outlaws slip through his fingers, Victor was playing things more cautiously this time. He strolled into the town's one and only saloon bar with the minimum fuss, ordering his whiskey (a full bottle of their best rot-gut) and retiring to a quiet table at the back of the room before any of the regular clientele even noticed a stranger was in town. Not that there were many folks about to notice anything; the place was quiet as a grave for the first hour or so, but Victor was a patient man. He nursed his bottle and the chipped glass, drank sparingly and sat back in the growing shadows to wait.

As the sun coloured the horizon first gold, then deep crimson, the Rooster Saloon began to fill up with noisy cow hands, and the Round Rock saloon girls, such as they were, got busy. Victor listened carefully to the rumble of conversations, picking out the threads that sounded interesting and starting to weave them into something useful. Something like a fragile piece of rope that would lead him to the men he was seeking.

After another hour, Victor had the information he needed. He also knew that he had time to get this right. The Winchesters had been here and were staying tonight at the Lonely T Ranch, a few miles out of town. Thanks to the gossip, Victor knew exactly where he could find the two criminals the next day – heading north-west up the Indian trail towards Durango, Colorado. Perfect country for setting an ambush.

Henricksen dismissed the distracting tall tales that were woven around the hard facts he needed. The arrant nonsense about the Winchesters taking out a nest of vampires here in Round Rock, and then heading out to tackle demons in Colorado, was clearly just another case of the mysterious mass hysteria that seemed to follow the two men around.

Victor put it all out of his mind and focussed on his prime objective; the capture, dead or alive, of Dean and Sam Winchester.

The Winchesters had left the Lonely T Ranch early that morning, the sun just pinking up the sky in the east as they headed out. Sam reluctant, Dean eager to leave.

"I don't see why we can't stop here for a few more days at least, Dean. Missy Anne was mighty grateful to us, and the townsfolk too, and we could do some more research with that Indian guy Marshall Beck mentioned, before rushing head-first into trouble like we always seem to…"

Sam droned on and on, but Dean was doing a good job of filtering him out, letting the sound of the crickets in the dry grasses and the steady clopping of their horses' hooves on the hard packed earth smooth over his little brother's plaintive monologue.

Sam would run out of steam eventually, if Dean just let him talk it out.

"…and it might stop you trying to get yourself killed while we still have months to find a way out of your deal…"

Or then again, maybe Sam wouldn't run out of steam. Maybe he'd just keep scratching that particular itch until Dean was raw and bleeding again.

"Sam, that's enough."

Dean reined in his mare and blocked his brother's path, flung his arms out.

"Look. We have the old Paterson colt, and we know it works thanks to Casey and the Padre." Dean managed not to show the internal flinch that memory still brought with it – or the blank look that had leached all the warmth out of Sam's hazel eyes as his little brother had pulled the trigger on the pretty demon's meat suit.

"Thanks to Casey we also know there are hundreds of demons out there gunning for you, Sam. So hanging around drinking tea with the lovely Missy Anne is not top of my list of things to do. Going to Durango like we promised Bobby, and ridding the world of some more demons – now that is up there."

"Yeah, Dean, we do have the demon killing colt, but that doesn't make us – make you – invulnerable. You can't seem to stop throwing yourself in front of every evil thing that comes our way. Like back there in Round Rock, cutting yourself and practically inviting those vamps to snack on you."

Dean opened his mouth to argue but Sam just rode over his unspoken words.

"And then there was that crazy move with Gordon Walker and his cronies, drawing their fire on you like that."

"Oh come on now, Sam, it worked, didn't it? Both times. It worked, and nobody but the bad guys got hurt."

It was Dean's turn to cut Sam off this time. "And you going after Gordon after he turned, all on your own, killing him with nothing but a piece of wire – reckless, don't you think? As for more research, well, no Indian shaman can help me get out of a crossroads deal. Ain't nobody who can wangle that one."

Sam was frowning, looking like he was going to protest so Dean carried on hastily.

"We've been through this already, Sam. I'm not having this conversation again. If we try and get out of the deal, you die and I am not letting that happen. Not again. Not ever."

"So it's alright for you to die…"

"Yes it is!" Dean yelled. Then his shoulders slumped and he carried on more quietly. "Yes, it is. What's done is done, Sam." He left unsaid the words that were always at the back of his mind. Because you will be fine without me, you'll get over it. But I couldn't live without you.


"No, Sammy, please. I can't…" Dean paused. Swallowed convulsively, fighting to get himself back under control. He pulled on the reins sharply and turned his mare to face north again. "So tell me about these demons signs in Colorado then. What did Bobby's telegram say?"

He didn't need to look back to see the look of frustration that was crossing his little brother's face right now. In the last few weeks and months he'd seen it too many times, could hear it in the furious breath Sam huffed out as the younger Winchester kicked his heels into his mount's flanks and followed Dean along the Indian trail out of Arizona. The kid was angry, Dean understood that, but there was nothing he could do about it.

He patted the Imp's gleaming neck and tried to enjoy the scenery.

It was the distinctive sound of a rifle cocking that finally brought the Winchesters out of their angry silence.

"Hold it right there, gents," came a vaguely familiar voice, drifting down from the cover of jumbled rocks that lined the side of the trail. The brothers froze, and their mounts came to a stand, Dean's black mare tossing her head restlessly. "Hands in the air where I can see them." The voice commanded, and the brothers obeyed after a swift exchange of glances. The recognition hit both brothers simultaneously, and Sam nodded, grim faced, as Dean mouthed Henricksen at him.

"Very good. Dean first; dismount, nice and slow." Sam could see the calculating look in his brother's eyes and desperately signalled with his own for Dean to stay calm and not do anything stupid. He watched with relief as the older Winchester obediently if reluctantly followed the Pinkerton agent's instructions to the letter, and lay face down in the trail dirt. With fingertips only, Dean un-holstered his Remington pistol and with an audible groan of protest threw it awkwardly into the grass beyond his reach. Cheek pressed into the dirt, he laced his fingers behind his head and watched helpless as Sam followed suit, joining his brother prone on the ground. Both Winchesters visibly winced as the precious Paterson colt skittered into the dust alongside Dean's pistol.

"Gotta hand it to ya, Henricksen. You're certainly persistent." Dean muttered into the uncaring earth.

The canyon opened out into a wider valley, and the trail began to wind its way upwards, hugging the steep rock tumbled sides. The view was magnificent, the valley framed by wind-sculpted pinnacles of striated sandstone in many shades of pink and gold, and up ahead the vista was punctuated by the dark evergreen of pinyon pine and juniper, a promise of shade. However, Dean was no longer in the right frame of mind to appreciate the glories that Mother Nature had to offer. The river wound its way through the valley, gleaming silver in the sun, but all Dean could think of was how the shimmering light hurt his eyes. He was intensely irritated by the rivulets of sweat running unchecked down his face, unable to brush it away with his hands cuffed behind his back, and irritation turned into desperation when a droplet collected on the end of his nose. Finally he lost patience with it, and twisted his head to try and wipe off the offending drip on his shoulder. All he accomplished was to knock his hat off, so he was then being simultaneously choked by its lanyard where it hung down his back, and roasted by the rays of the sun, beating down on his exposed head.

"Son of a bitch!"

Sam looked up at that, and in spite of their predicament, laughed out loud at the chagrined look on his brother's red sweaty face.

"Hey, Henricksen, give us a minute, would ya?" Sam pulled up his mount and waited for Dean to catch up the length of the lead rein. He ignored the snick as the Pinkerton man cocked his rifle just in case. Sam knew Henricksen would take no chances, and he wasn't stupid enough to test the agent's resolve. His stubborn brother tried to pull away from Sam's helping hands, but the younger Winchester knew Dean too well and refused to be put off from his mission to straighten him out. Hat firmly back in place, the Winchesters reluctantly turned back towards their captor.

Victor was frowning, rifle held loose but ready, when his bay mare shifted her stance and the rattle snake that had been sleepily sunning itself woke up to the fact that a ton of horse-meat was about to step on it. All three men were taken by surprise, but none of the humans were as upset by the dry threatening rattle as Victor's horse was. She whinnied loud and shrill enough to wake the dead (and Dean had to hope that analogy stayed figurative not literal) and reared up, throwing the startled Agent.

Henricksen disappeared over the edge of the steep slope in a tumble of flailing limbs, while his mare took off in a cloud of dust back the way they had come.

The Winchesters were quick to respond in kind. Sam yanked his horse around, Dean's black mare's lead rein still firmly tied to his pommel, unlike Sam's own rein that had been in Victor's hand, and was consequently now hanging loose and free; an error on the Pinkerton Agent's part that Sam was happy to take advantage of. He set their horses at a canter back down the slope they'd just ascended, not slowing until they'd put a mile or more between them and the fallen Agent.

"Don't suppose you got the keys to these cuffs, eh, Sammy?" Came a plaintive, slightly breathless voice from behind him, as they slowed their mounts to a walk.

"Nope, but I do have this," Sam worked his bound hands into his waistcoat pocket, and pulled out a bent piece of wire; a paper clip. Dean would never mock Sam for collecting newfangled office stationery ever again.

"That's my boy," Dean said with a smile of satisfaction. Sam helped the older Winchester dismount, and had the lock on the handcuffs jimmied in no time at all. Dean circled his shoulders and shook out his hands, relieved of the heavy weight at last, then grabbed the mangled-looking paper clip to make similarly short work of his brother's cuffs. Sam rubbed his wrists then looked across at Dean.

"You know we have to go back, don't you."

It wasn't really a question, and Dean knew it; but he had an image to maintain, so made his token protest regardless. Sam ignored him, but Dean understood that perfectly, since he was undermining his own position by pointing the Imp's velvety nose northwards, even as he spoke.

"There's water down in the valley, and his horse will probably come back…"

"Dean, he could be injured; we can't leave him out here alone to die."

Dean sighed, rubbed his hand over the back of his neck, taking a moment to luxuriate in his ability to wipe the trickle of sweat away. He kicked his heels into Imp's sleek flank.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. He'd only come back and haunt our asses any way. Vamos compadre."

It didn't take them long to find the agent. Dean had been right - the Pinkerton agent's horse had wandered back, and was standing over the unconscious man, just a little way down the slope. The two outlaws set up a camp and by the time Dean had a fire started, the agent had woken up. To their chagrin, it didn't take Henricksen long to get over his gratitude and surprise that the Winchesters had come back for him.

"You gotta understand, boys. You are dangerous men, and I owe it to the innocent people of America to make sure you ain't gonna harm anyone else." Henricksen was saying, as he had them cuff each other again – and where the hell did he find another two sets of handcuffs anyway? Dean wanted to know. The only acknowledgement the Pinkerton man made to their gesture of goodwill was to allow Dean to have his hands bound in front of him this time.

"Man, we could have just left you to die out here, and you do this to us?" A plaintive Dean waved his steel cuffs at the agent.

Victor just shrugged, lowering his rifle now both outlaws were safely restrained again.

"I admit, I was surprised to see you hadn't run away when you had the chance." He said.

"That's because we are not the evil sons of bitches you think we are," Sam was leaning forward, giving Victor his most potent earnest face. Dean was proud of the boy.

"So how do you explain those poor women your brother tortured and murdered in California? Or the three dead people in that bank in Milwaukee?" Victor raised a hand. "And don't tell me it was a demon or a ghost, please."

"Both of those were shape shifters, actually," Dean grinned at the agent, and leaned back against a fallen tree, stretching his booted feet out towards the flames.

It was going to be a long night.

The party had unknowingly crossed the border into the state of Colorado and were approaching the flat table tops of the Mesa Verde when trouble found them again.

The trail twisted, following the eroded path of the canyon as it turned west for a mile or so into the setting sun. Its rays were angling straight into the faces of the travellers, almost blinding them as it dipped towards the horizon, and that is why none of them saw the black bear before they were on top of it. Or rather, the bear was on top of them.

The first clue that this was nothing natural was the fact that the black bear attacked them at all. Bears were not uncommon in the wooded parts of the mesas, but they tended to be wary of humans.

This one was not at all wary as it reared up to its full height and swung at Sam, who tumbled off his panicking horse onto the ground, landing awkwardly and laying still as death. It took Victor, who was in the lead as usual, a few precious moments to get his horse turned around so he could find out what was happening, by which time Dean had flung himself off his horse with a yell. Victor watched in stunned disbelief as the older Winchester rolled and regained his feet in one swift motion, only to pitch himself at a run towards the looming form of the bear that was menacing the younger Winchester. For the life of him, Victor couldn't see what Dean thought he was going to do with his hands still cuffed and no weapon.

Coming to his senses, Henricksen had his rifle to his shoulder in seconds, and fired off round after round into the broad shaggy back of the animal where it stood over the prone outlaw, fully expecting to see it go down. The bear didn't even flinch as the bullets hit. That was the second clue.

The bounty hunter was forced to hold his fire as Dean Winchester literally charged headlong into the fray, butting the bear's side as if he was a human bull. The bear staggered slightly then turned on Dean with a roar, felling the man with one swipe of a paw. Dean rolled with the blow and started to crawl away, drawing the enraged creature away from Sam. Victor raised his rifle again and took aim, but his lead flew uselessly over the bear's head as it dropped to all fours and chased after Dean.


The third clue was more of a giant house-sized sign. It was the killer blow to all of Victor's years of education and rational thought. The bear moved like a black blur and caught up with Dean. Before Victor could reload the rifle, the creature had scooped up the young man in a dark embrace and was swinging around on its hind legs again, as if it preferred being upright. Dean dangled in the bear's arms, his face white and strained, the animal's slavering muzzle pressed up against his cheek. And when Dean attempted a typical Dean Winchester wise-crack about this not being the sort of hugging he had in mind, the bear answered back.

"Dean Winchester. Always the clown."

Victor froze, rifle hanging limp in his hand, his mouth dropped open.

The words were garbled and tortuous, mangled by vocal chords designed only for growling and roaring. But they were clearly words, spoken in English by a black bear.

Sam moaned faintly as he opened his eyes, head and wrist throbbing in painful harmony. It took him a few moments to corral his scattered thoughts, and another few to realise that some of the pain in his head was being caused by the reverberation of gunfire that was rattling his eardrums. That was enough to get the adrenaline flowing again, and Sam's addled brains were not too scrambled for him to take in the scene unfolding before him. He staggered to his feet, swaying slightly, analysing the situation even as he moved.

Victor, frozen, lowered rifle in hand. Dean wrapped in the black furry arms of the bear, straining against its embrace. The bear was growling; its slaver dipping onto Dean's shoulder, sharp yellow incisors frighteningly close to his brother's exposed neck. Dean's eyes widened as they met Sam's gaze.

"Sam! It's a demon!" Dean grated out, then gasped and moaned as the creature tightened its grip on him. It was clear to Sam his brother was struggling to prevent the bear crushing his ribs, especially with his arms already pulled tight together by the metal cuffs.

Fuck. A demon meant they needed the Paterson Colt, and by some stroke of good luck, its box was just there in front of him, where it had spilled from Sam's saddle-bags when the bear had attacked him. Fortune was favouring the Winchesters for a change it seemed, but Sam was not going to question any advantage given to him when otherwise the odds seemed stacked in the bear's – no, demon's – favour.

He dove for the box, managed to get the gun out then fumbled in utter frustration to load it up. The cuffs weren't the problem, it was his left wrist. Sam thought it might be broken, but the extent of the injury was unimportant set against the fact that it was preventing him from using the only weapon they had to hand that could kill a demon. Goddam Ruby for waltzing off with that clever knife of hers. And goddam the Paterson for being such a fucking fiddly son of a bitch to load.

The demon was talking, and that might give them some leeway, as these sons of bitches sure loved the sound of their own voices, but Sam knew he couldn't afford to waste time. He was running out of options. He carefully set the Colt down on the ground.

Sam rose to his feet, trying to catch Dean's eye. He just hoped his brother would understand what he was doing, and why. He winced at the drag on his injured wrist as he raised his arms, cuffed hands outstretched in front of him, and closed his eyes. His brow furrowed in concentration, he began to call on all his reserves of dark coiled power, just as Ruby had started to teach him. Inside his self-imposed darkness, he could feel the electrifying tingle as his power latched onto the demon's essence and started to tug at its edges. Then he began to recite the exorcism.

"Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus

omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio,"

Dean felt the bear's arms tighten around his upper body until he could have sworn he heard his ribs creaking under the strain. He could feel its rancid breath moist on his cheek, and its saliva was hot and smelled foul where it was running down inside his collar. He struggled to draw precious air into his lungs, but his relief was like the smoothest whiskey when he saw Sam stagger to his feet. Sam was not injured too badly, and that was good. But then his brother placed the Colt on the ground behind him, and Sam was stepping forward, staring at Dean with an intense look Dean was having trouble interpreting. His little brother was stretching out his hands and the expression that came over his face at that moment Dean recognised instantly, and felt his stomach lurch.

Sam was going to try and exorcise this demon with his mind.

"Sam, no…" Dean gasped, then gasped again as the bear roared and tightened its grip even further. This time there was no mistaking the sound as one or more of his ribs cracked under the strain. Bright spots danced in his vision, as a wave of pain washed over him and he struggled to remain conscious. In the seconds that it took him to regain his senses, he finally realised what Sam had been trying to tell him, and without a second thought, he yelled to the bemused Henricksen, who was raising his rifle to make another futile attempt at shooting the demon-possessed animal.

"No, Victor! Use the Colt!"

Dean hoped Sam's distraction technique was working, as the Pinkerton Agent (who was, thank Christ, quick on the uptake) dropped his Enfield and swiftly rolled behind Sam to pick up the old Paterson Colt.

Then Dean had no time to wonder about anything any more, as the bear was roaring at Sam, and Dean's ears were vibrating from the close up decibel assault while his torso groaned with agony as the ends of the broken bones grated together in his chest.

"Boy king, you'd better stop that or I'll stick your pretty brother with these sharp claws of mine…"

The demon seemed to be getting better control of the poor bear's abused vocal chords, as its words were becoming more comprehensible.

Sam's look of concentration didn't waver, or his recitation of the Rituale Romanum falter, but his eyes opened wide at the threat. Dean wasn't sure if the blackness wavering in front of his face was demon-smoke or the edge of his own unconsciousness beckoning, but he sincerely hoped it was the latter. He couldn't bear to watch Sam lose himself again.

"et omnis legio diabolica adjuramus te.
Cessa decipere humanas creaturas,
eisque aeternae Perditionis venenum propinare…"

Dean thought he could see Victor fiddling with the Paterson behind Sam, but he couldn't be sure. He was a little distracted by the prick of a claw under his chin, and the feel of something sharp slicing through the layers of shirts and undershirts to scrape across his stomach.

"You'd better not hurt my brother, you son of a bitch!" Sam's voice was quiet and deadly, but the bear-demon did not seem to feel threatened. After all, it had managed to get the younger Winchester to interrupt his exorcism.

"Or what, eh Sam? You'll suck me out of here and throw me back into Hell?" The bear made an odd snuffling sound that Dean thought was supposed to be laughter. "You haven't got the juice."

Sam stepped closer, keeping his hands high. "Maybe I have, maybe I haven't," He said. "Do you want to take that chance?"

Dean choked off a cry of pain as the bear slid a claw deep into his abdomen, tried not to make his involuntary flinch too obvious in case it drew Sam in too close.

"Do you want to take any more chances with your worthless brother's life, Sammy?"

Dean could feel his blood warm and wet as it trickled from the wound, snaking its way down the waistband of his pants. He couldn't help giving a faint moan as the bear slid a second claw in next to the first. God, but Henricksen better get a move on or this creature would have him eviscerated before too long. Wearing his own entrails as garters was not a good look.

Right on cue, Henricksen rose to his feet, taking aim with the colt over Sam's broad shoulder. Dean closed his eyes. Now they would see how well Pinkerton trained his agents.

Fortunately for Dean, Victor's aim was faultless. Sam watched the milky white film over the bear's eyes vanish as the bullet smashed into the animal's big heavy skull. The demon roared as the colt worked its magic, fiery light crackling through the bear's body like molten lava, killing demon and bear in one fell swoop.

The bear fell backwards with a mighty crash (another stroke of luck as its weight would probably have crushed Dean) and his brother staggered forwards, released from the death grip at last. Sam thought for one moment that Dean was all right, when his brother stood there wavering slightly, grinning at a stunned Victor.

"Great shot, Henricksen!" He said. Then his legs buckled underneath him and he slumped down onto his knees, both hands clasping his stomach. When he raised his head his face was white, and his smile was more a grimace. Blood was staining his teeth.

Sam leaped forward just in time to catch Dean awkwardly as his brother's eyes rolled back and he slid sideways to the ground. Resting Dean against his knee, Sam yelled urgently at Henricksen.

"For God's sake, man. Uncuff us both, now!"

To give him his due, Henricksen collected himself quickly. He ran for his saddlebags and dug out a flask of whiskey as well as the keys. Once Sam's hands were free, he and Victor carefully carried Dean to a relatively flat, clear piece of ground and laid him out. Sam reluctantly accepted the Pinkerton man's assistance as his left wrist was virtually useless.

Together they gently stripped off the unconscious man's jacket and shirt, rolling up the jacket to use as a makeshift pillow. Sam couldn't help letting out a gasp as he saw the mess of blood soaking Dean's undergarments, and the single jagged claw still stuck in Dean's abdomen, where it had ripped off as the bear had fallen.


"Is that…?" Victor's voice trailed off as he caught sight of the claw. Sam used Victor's knife to cut away the cloth, exposing Dean's chest and stomach, and the full extent of the damage.

"It's a claw, yeah."

Sam prodded carefully around the entry wound, worried by the dark discolouration that was already evident spreading across Dean's stomach, the dirty yellow claw its epicentre. The risk of infection would have been bad enough had the bear just been a bear, but Sam was already concerned that something demonic was at work on his brother's body.

Victor was wincing at the amount of bruising that was mottling Dean's torso from collar bones to belly button, and Sam thought that there were probably a couple of broken ribs to contend with too, but his immediate task was to deal with the claw.

Dean moaned softly then opened his eyes.

"What's the damage?" He grated out, trying to raise his head to see. Sam didn't need to push his stubborn brother back down - the pain did that for him.

"Dean, just try and keep still, will ya?"

If possible Dean's face was even whiter than before, every freckle standing out stark in the dusky light.

"Yeah, alright, don' fuss Samantha," Dean mumbled as he let his head fall back onto the jacket.

"Victor, I need holy water as well as whiskey. In my saddle bag, there's a water skin embossed with a pentagram, could you bring it for me?"

Sam was grateful for the Pinkerton agent's quiet efficiency and ability to take orders as Victor just unquestioningly followed the young outlaw's instructions. They got a fire going as it was clear they had to make camp now, there was no way they could travel any further or try and find help with Dean in this condition. It was clear the older Winchester would die if they tried to move him.

Victor boiled water and found clean cloths to wash away the blood, while Sam got ready to pull out the claw.

"Victor, I need you to hold Dean's shoulders, keep him still while I do this."

"Sammy," Dean made the beginning of a protest but Sam cut him short.

"No, Dean, this is gonna hurt like hell," Sam admonished.

Victor didn't understand why Dean seemed to find that statement funny, and Sam just shot his brother an exasperated look when Dean gave a snort of laughter closely followed by a choked off moan of pain.

"Mmm guess I might have to h..h..hold judgment on that one, eh, Sammy?" Dean gasped.

Henricksen took up his position kneeling by Dean's head, both hands placed on the wounded man's shoulders. In another life, the Pinkerton man had dealt with injured men before, more times than he wanted to remember, and this scene was bringing back many uncomfortable memories of that war, but he gritted his teeth and braced himself as Sam took hold of the broken claw and with one swift movement, yanked it out. The blood that followed in the path of the claw flowed sluggish, and so dark it was almost black.

Dean tensed and grunted with pain, his breath coming in harsh pants, and Victor thought well, that wasn't too bad. Until Sam began to irrigate the open wounds with the holy water.

Henricksen couldn't believe his eyes as steam began to rise up from Dean's chest and stomach, wherever the water touched any of the wounds left by the demon-bear. The outlaw's back arched off the ground tense as a bow, and Victor had to fight hard, using all his weight to hold the man down as Dean screamed and screamed in agony. Sam was almost as pale as his injured brother but stayed steady, carefully flooding every gash, every tear in the elder Winchester's skin with the holy water, until thankfully Dean lost consciousness and collapsed back to the ground, head lolling against Victor's knee.

Henricksen found his hands were shaking as he tried to relax his bruising grip on Dean's shoulders.

"Jesus." He said, lost for words. Sam just nodded his agreement, clearly exhausted. Both of them sat back and looked at Dean's unconscious form. His breathing was still shallow and too fast, and his cheeks were beginning to take on a hectic flush.

Sam shook his head as if he was struggling to stay awake, so Victor helped the younger man finish dressing the wounds that were still smouldering slightly from the effect of the holy water. Two of the incisions were deep, and the blood that kept welling up could not be stopped, and was still too dark to be natural.

"What are you going to do about that?" Victor asked, feeling at a loss amidst all this strangeness.

"I don't know. If the holy water hasn't helped, I really don't know what else to do." Sam tied off the bandage tight round Dean's stomach, staring despairingly as he saw it was already stained with two small patches of dark blood where the claws had pierced his brother.

"Let me see to your wrist, Sam." Victor offered, and after a short argument, Sam eventually acquiesced. Victor was more comfortable dealing with this injury, and had soon competently set and strapped the break, and cleaned up the gash in the boy's head. Both aware, as they talked, of the still figure stretched out beside the fire.

Night had fallen whilst they had worked, and the temperature had started to drop.

"So. Demons." Victor said, and Sam nodded wearily.

"Yeah. And ghosts, shape shifters, vampires…all real."

"I never knew."

"I know, Henricksen, but now you do. What're you gonna do?"

"I don't know." Henricksen stared into the flames. "I really don't know."

Sam's head was drooping, he was clearly struggling to keep his eyes open, what with the effects of the head wound, his other injuries and the stress of the day. Henricksen eventually persuaded him to get out his bed-roll, promising that he'd keep watch over them both, and Sam reluctantly agreed.

The Pinkerton agent sat in the darkness, feeding the fire listening to the sounds of the night as the stars came out, one by one. Thinking about how his world had just been turned upside-down.

It was the humming that woke him up and it was the fire in his gut that kept him awake. Dean shifted uncomfortably and managed to pull himself up a little so his head was propped against a rock, giving him a view of their makeshift camp. He took in Sam curled on his side, sleeping soundly, and across the fire, he could now make out the source of the humming. The Pinkerton agent was feeding branches into the flames, singing softly under his breath.

"See, there above the centre, where the flag is waving bright,

We are going out of slavery; we're bound for freedom's light;

We mean to show Jeff Davis how the Africans can fight,

As we go marching on!"

Henricksen had come to the chorus, and Dean joined in, though his voice was hoarse and breathy.

"Glory, glory hallelujah.

Glory, glory hallelujah.

Glory, glory hallelujah.

As we go marching on."

Victor had stopped singing, and Dean could see the man's eyes glittering like obsidian across the leaping flames.

"So, you must have been with the First Arkansas, then." Dean said.

Victor nodded. He rose to his feet and came over to sit, Indian style, close by. Dean appreciated the courtesy. It hurt his chest to raise his voice, and besides, he didn't want to wake his little brother. Even in the dim flickering firelight he could see lines of exhaustion on Sam's face.

"How'd you know that?" Victor asked.

"Heard the words you were singin'," Dean explained. "You know we got different words to that song than you black guys. Had a friend who left our town to join up with the Firsts, said he wanted to serve alongside his brothers."

"What happened to him? Your friend?" Victor asked.

"He got captured, went and got himself killed escaping."

Victor nodded. "That'd be at Mountain Plantation. I was lucky, escaped in '63, rejoined my regiment and saw the war out. What about you and Sam?"

"Sam stayed home. He was too young when the war started. Our daddy's friend, Pastor Jim, well he was working the Underground Railroad, had come down to Lawrence to run things, so we settled Sam in with him to help with that.

Me, I was with the Kansas Regiment from '64, joined as soon as I turned eighteen, though our daddy weren't none too pleased. He couldn't say nothin' though, seein' as how he'd been fighting for the North from the start."

Dean couldn't see the Pinkerton man's face too clearly, what with the deep shadows and the fact his vision seemed to be starting to blur, but he thought the man looked a little shaken up.

"Your family helped with the Underground Railroad? You know back in '50, that was when my Momma got me and my little sister out of the slave plantation down in Louisiana. It was the Railroad that got us out, all the way to Chicago and freedom. Got those folks to thank for my job and my life."

Dean nodded, but he wasn't sure Victor saw. His head was swimming and the fire in his belly seemed to be spreading through his chest. Sparks from the fire seemed to have taken on a life of their own, they were shooting up into the sky like stars and he could hear a flute playing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, echoing their voices from earlier. Sweat ran down his face and he felt a sudden chill. He sat up, heart thudding uncomfortably hard in his chest.

"Do you hear that?" He asked, but Victor didn't reply, didn't seem to hear him. The agent appeared to be lost in some sort of trance, perhaps remembering his troubled past. Sam slumbered on oblivious.

Dean had a bad feeling about this. This did not look good.

Dean groped by his side for a weapon, his trembling fingers finding the reassuring coolness of his Remington. Sam must have persuaded Henricksen to return their weapons after the demon had been killed.

He cocked the pistol and aimed it at the slight figure that was stepping out of the shadows of the juniper trees that surrounded their camp, still playing the flute whose music he had been hearing. He held the gun as steady as he could, cussing his trembling hand.

The figure was a man, not a boy as Dean had first thought, though a very small man. His back was slightly humped, as if he'd spent a lot of time hunched over a plough, and he was naked. His hair was black and wild, standing out from his head in tangled strands. As he lowered the double barrelled wooden flute from his lips, he raised his other hand and Dean's gun dropped from fingers suddenly unable to maintain their grip.

"You do not need a weapon, Dean Winchester," the little man said.

"Who are you? How do you know my name?" Dean demanded with more bravado than courage in his heart.

"I hear things." The small man said in answer presumably to the latter question, which Dean thought, was pretty cryptic and not very helpful. The man stepped closer, and Dean backed up cautiously, wondering how he came to be on his feet seeing as how he had no recollection of having stood up. He looked around a little wildly, taking in Sam's motionless form – automatically checking his brother was still breathing, peacefully asleep – the horses standing undisturbed in the shadows, Victor Henricksen still sitting on the ground beside….

"What the…!" Dean took another step backwards as he saw Victor still sitting next to himself - his own body was there, outstretched under two blankets, his head resting back on his jacket, his eyes closed. Victor was tapping his cheek with one hand, feeling in his neck for a pulse with the other. Dean found himself drawn towards the strange tableau in a kind of horrified fascination.

"Am I dead?"

The small man laughed. "Not yet, Dean Winchester. But you will be soon, if you do not come with me now."

The stranger's assertion seemed to be born out as the Pinkerton agent sat back on his heels looking relieved, satisfied that the wounded man was still breathing.

"You didn't answer my question before," Dean said, turning to the mysterious flautist. "Who are you? Or maybe I should ask … what are you?"

"I have been known by many names over the years, but the Hopi call me Kokopelli and named my people Hisatsinom, the People of long ago. The Navajo called us the Anaasází. It means ancient ones, their ancient enemy. My people lived in these lands a very long time, long before the Hopi or the Navajo, but now they are long gone. Only I remain, here at the heart of my country. So if you want a name to call me, Kokopelli will do."

Dean shook his head. "Alright, Mister Kokopelli, that was a long winded way of telling me your name, but, well, I guess you ain't a demon, so I'll come with you."

Looking down at himself, or at the body he appeared to be occupying, his real self was lying there unconscious by the camp fire, Dean seemed to be exactly the same as he always was. He was even carrying the same injuries, although at the moment the pain appeared to be under control, and the feverish burning had abated somewhat. The bandages (made out of torn up undershirts from the look of it) were stained with blood in exactly the same places as those on the prone figure next to Victor. Dean could see also that whichever of these two bodies he cared to stay in was unlikely to live much longer if something wasn't done to stop the demonic infection spreading.

Kokopelli had moved to the edge of the pool of fire-light their little campsite nestled in, flute raised to his lips once more. He gestured to Dean to follow, and stepped into the dark. Dean hesitated for a moment, then turning his back on himself, the watching agent and his sleeping brother, followed the floating notes of music as quickly as he could manage.

Huh. Typical.

Dean knew this body wasn't real. He knew, intellectually, that he must be spirit walking with Kokopelli, yet within a few minutes of leaving their campsite, he was hurting. And wasn't that just the calf slobber on top of the pie. If he hadn't been struggling to breathe due to the cold burning pain in his chest from the demon wounds, he'd have been breathless with the sheer injustice of it all.

The tiny Anaasází god, ghost or whatever he was, never looked round to check if the stumbling outlaw was still following, he just kept playing that damned flute as if the music alone would ensure compliance. Like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn or something. But it was working, and Dean did keep following, even though every step was an effort.

Kokopelli's route seemed to be a steady climb to the top of the mesa, and Dean could see the sky was starting to lighten with the first touches of dawn when they finally came to a halt at the edge of a cliff, where a deeply shadowed canyon split the broad sandstone table top. Dean clutched his stomach as if his guts might spill out if he were to let go, and looked around in puzzlement. If this was their final destination, it was hard to see what good the Anaasází deity was going to accomplish here, unless his aim was to throw the injured hunter off the cliff. Which, Dean knew, he could have done a few miles back with far less effort. One thing this desert landscape was not short of was precipitous drops.

"So, um. Nice view and all, but..,"

Kokopelli ignored him, but the tone of the music changed to something more urgent and demanding, that made Dean feel twitchy. His nervousness was not helped when, presumably in answer to the music, a dark head suddenly popped up at his feet, seemingly from nowhere. Dean jumped backwards swearing loudly as first one, and then a procession of small dark-haired people climbed up out of the canyon. When he looked closer, he could see the top of a ladder made of two slender saplings sticking up at the edge of the cliff.

Kokopelli stopped playing his flute and beamed a smile at the small group of folk gathered around.

"My people," he said, waving a hand in introduction.

"Right, I think I got that part," Dean said, desperately trying to stay on his feet, feeling his every breath rasp in his throat.

He was wondering what had possessed him to trek all the way out here, leaving Sam behind, just to be introduced to some long dead Indian ghosts that in any other circumstances he'd be looking to salt and burn. He was starting to forget that he wasn't really there. This spirit walking fiddle faddle was confusing, especially when you couldn't even leave the pain behind you.

"This is crazy. I need to get back to my brother."

Kokopelli shook his head, his face grave.

"You cannot return until the evil you brought with you has been cleansed."

Dean looked down at his hands where they were still pressed to his wounds, as though he could see through the bandages to the streaks of poison that radiated out from the claw punctures in his stomach. He thought about his real body, lying back in the clearing by the camp fire, about cashing in before his time, about leaving Sam all alone and unprepared - at Lilith's mercy.

"I don't understand. Why are you doing this? Why do you even care?"

"Because you have an important purpose. A job to do and it isn't finished."

Dean stared, wide eyed with shock, as Kokopelli's words echoed Reverend Le Grange's from two years back. Then the Anaasází god grinned. "And because you have music in your heart, Dean Winchester."

Dean's dream body was aching and trembling by the time he reached the bottom of the long, long ladder that hung in the void off the edge of the precipice. He shook off the many hands offering to help him with a grumpy "I'm no Molly!"

Although the sun was climbing higher as he conversely descended, the crevasse itself was still in deep shadow, and Dean had to trust that his new companions were leading him down to something constituting safety at its base – or indeed that there was a bottom to be reached. This was a dreamscape, after all, and the weary hunter wouldn't put it past whoever created this place he was lost in to have filled it with never-ending ladders, just to mess with his head.

He looked around in growing wonder as his eyes adjusted to the dim light, and eventually the shaking in his legs gradually eased. He was standing on a wide flat ledge, above him swept a curving roof of pale golden rock. If he took a step to his right he would be at the edge of another drop of a couple of hundred feet down to the canyon floor, obscured by a tangled growth of pines. That was not what had taken his little remaining breath away, however. All around him the ledge was crammed with buildings, some made of pale gold mud brick, others carved out of the rock itself. It was like a great palace built into the cliff, and totally invisible from above. Take away the ladder he had just climbed down, and the place would have been virtually impregnable.

Gaping a little he muttered. "This must have been fine as cream gravy in its heyday. Sammy would love to see this!"

He was distracted from his contemplation of his strange surroundings by a gentle tug on his sleeve. One of the short Indian guys (no, not Indian but Anaasází) was pulling him towards a low wall built surrounding a circle of beaten earth, where what looked like another of the large wooden ladders was sticking up out of a hole at its centre. Kokopelli appeared out of nowhere at his side, startling him again as if he were a nervous horse.

"Now you must enter the kiva, Dean Winchester, and meet your spirit guide. Together you may be able to banish the blackness that is poisoning your blood."

"May? This isn't a sure thing then?"

"Only if your will is strong and your spirit brave enough will you succeed."

"Oh ain't that just fine and dandy. I reckon I've been dealt a dead man's hand here," Dean complained, but without much vehemence. There was a feeling of inevitability about the whole situation, and he knew he was going to have to cave. After all, he'd come this far, it would be churlish to chicken out now.

Kokopelli just stood watching him impassively as the young hunter ran a trembling hand through his hair. Dean took a deep breath and winced at the twinge in his ribs.

"Come on Winchester, quit beating the devil round the stump will ya!"

Still muttering under his breath, he forced his weakened spirit body into one last climb, down into the pitch darkness of the underground room Kokopelli had called a kiva.

"Here goes nothing," he said to no one in particular, as the small square of light that was the entrance to the kiva was covered up, and he was sealed into utter blackness.

The Winchesters were on the edge all the time, and normally it would be harder to catch one of them unawares than it would be to catch a weasel asleep. Probably it was the effects of his head wound and a belated reaction to the broken wrist, but that night Sam's exhausted sleep gave him strange and turbulent dreams, and sucked him in deeper than he or Dean would usually go.

Sam wasn't sure what woke him, but he snapped from deep slumber into full alertness and was groping for his gun before he had even opened his eyes. He was too late. A booted foot kicked his good hand and his gun went flying. His instinct to kick out with his legs and bring his assailant down was aborted when he saw the scene being played out in front of him.

Across the glowing embers of their camp-fire, were two other strangers. One had the drop on Victor, who was on his feet with his hands in the air and a look of frustrated rage on his face. The other – Sam's gut twisted and he felt the blood freeze around his heart - because the other man had Dean.

His brother was white as death in the pale morning light, eyes closed and head lolling as the guy heaved his brother up from under his blanket, limp as a kid's rag doll, and pressed the broad gleaming blade of a hunting knife to Dean's throat. Sam could see the blade was sharp; already it had nicked Dean's skin and a thin trickle of blood was running down the unconscious man's neck.

So Sam didn't resist when the man who'd kicked him stuck the muzzle of his pistol to Sam's temple, and yelled at him to hold still. He just knelt quiet and tense as a coiled spring, biding his time.

"So you're the famous Winchester brothers," the guy holding Dean drawled.

Sam kept his face as blank as he could while rage bubbled inside his chest. "Who?" He asked.

"Funny. No point in pretending, we know who y'are. Bin following y'all since Round Rock, had a bit of trouble tracking you down but," he grinned, showing a mouthful of rotten teeth, "here we all are, nice an' cosy-like."

He gave Dean a little shake, and Sam bit down on his lip to restrain himself. "Don't look so hot, does he? Thought this one was supposed to be a crack shot, but he looks like watered down belly wash. What happened to him?"

It was Victor who answered. Sam had almost forgotten the bounty hunter was there, so focused was he on his brother.

"Bear attack. And you got these boys wrong, they ain't no outlaws. Just a couple of cowpokes looking for work."

"Sure they are, and you'd be..?"

"I'm a cookie, make the best chow you ever did eat."

Sam had to hand it to Henricksen, his lies flowed with a fluency Dean would have envied, had the elder Winchester been conscious enough to hear it. Sam felt a momentary warmth in his heart for the Pinkerton man he'd not have thought possible a few days, or even a few hours, before. He couldn't help but wonder what had changed the bounty hunter's mind about them, then a cynical voice in the back of his mind said maybe Henricksen just wanted to keep the $20,000 reward for himself.

Whatever Henricksen's motive, the three ambushers were not swallowing his story. The guy with the rifle trained on the Pinkerton man never wavered, the one with the gun pressed to Sam's head hawked and spat a wad of tobacco juice at Sam's feet, while the guy who seemed to be their leader just laughed. He let Dean's limp body slump boneless back to the ground and standing up, he sheathed his bowie. Sam tensed, thinking there might be an opportunity to spring, then froze again as the big man casually drew his side arm and aimed it down at Dean's chest.

"You must reckon we're three complete coots if you think we're gonna believe that corral dust tale, nigger-boy." He sneered, looking over at Henricksen.

Sam saw Victor's shoulders tighten at the insult, and he shifted uncomfortably. His knees were starting to protest at his cramped crouched position, but he felt the muzzle of tobacco-chewing guy's gun press harder against his temple when he moved, so unwillingly he stilled again. The opportunity would come to turn the tables on their captors, but he was just going to have to be patient.

Sam realised afterwards, he had waited a moment too long to make his move. It was something he would regret for a good long while.

"Turn around, nigger." The man commanded, throwing a meaningful look at rifle-guy. Victor turned his back on the group slowly, reluctance showing in every muscle. "Now walk away, boy."

Victor started to walk and Sam saw rifle-guy shoulder his weapon. Tardily, Sam moved. Quick as lightning his hand whipped out and the tobacco-chewer's pistol was no longer in his hand but in Sam's. The next second, tobacco-guy was folded in half, left groaning on the floor, Sam's vicious elbow having punctured his gut. In the time it had taken for Sam to disarm his blowhard, Rifle-guy was firing at Victor's back and the Pinkerton man was falling forward, a bloom of blood spreading bright across his spine…but all Sam could see was the leader's gun pointing down at Dean's chest, so he knew it was the threat to his brother that had to be eliminated first.

But before Sam could shoot his borrowed gun, miraculously Dean was in motion, taking out the gang leader in one fluid movement with the knife that he always kept hidden in his boot somehow in his hand. Though shocked (and relieved beyond measure) by his brother's sudden return to the land of the living, Sam still had the presence of mind to turn his weapon onto Rifle-guy and brought him down without a second thought, with a single clean shot to the head.

Dean didn't know how long he floated in a darkness so black it was like something he could touch, like a thick velvet pall surrounding his body. But after some time (hours, minutes, days) there was light, and with it, music. A wild music that at first sounded like Kokopelli's flute, then like water running merrily over rocks, then like wolves howling love and passion and territoriality at the moon.

His eyes were open, and he could smell resin mixed with earth – rich and strong. Sunlight dappled the ground at his feet, and a faint breeze raised the short hairs on the back of his neck. He felt rather than heard the massive wolf that joined him, warmth radiating from its pelt where it stood silent by his side, his fingers a hair's breadth from brushing against its coarse fur.

He didn't know how long they stood like that, he and the wolf, just breathing, but after a while (hours, minutes, days) the air around him started to chill. He felt the wolf's hackles rise, and it started to growl, low in its throat. Dean looked around for the first time and saw the elegant pines surrounding them bend and tremble in an invisible wind. The chill from the wind grew colder, and he looked down at himself to see that the source of the wind was coming from his wounds, a wavering darkness that poured out from him and dissipated into thin air as the sunlight touched it.

He stared, feeling strangely detached and hollow as he steadily emptied, in a stream of pain and deathly chill.

Time passed (hours, minutes, days).

He had forgotten everything – even his name - when the huge wolf pounced on him, knocking him to the ground so hard he was winded, emptied of breath just as he was now empty of demon taint. Its jaws opened and teeth fastened around his throat as he lay on his back in a classic submission pose, sharp incisors just barely breaking the skin. He stared up into ice blue eyes, bluer than the sky – and blinked.

When his own eyes opened again, it was to the muzzle of a gun not a wolf, held over him by a large ugly man whose attention was – foolishly, Dean thought with dispassion – fixed elsewhere. A shot fired – from a Winchester rifle, if he was not mistaken – and Dean heard the sound of Sam hand-to-hand fighting. Instinctively he knew it was Sam, just as he knew exactly what to do next. Wounds forgotten (though he did remember his name now), Dean's hand whipped hummingbird quick down to his boot-knife and in one smooth swift motion he was thrusting up into the ugly guy's sternum, the three inch blade buried unerringly in exactly the right place to kill instantly, with all of Dean's rising weight behind it.

He stood, swaying as the blood rushed to his head and he remembered then that he was injured, and standing up so quickly was perhaps not advisable. (Or maybe even standing up at all, for that matter).

Then he forgot all that as he took in the sight of Victor Henricksen spread-eagled on the ground, blood dark on the centre of his back. Two strangers lay dead, a third was crawling as fast as he could away into the brush; Sam was standing proud, glancing contemptuously at the retreating figure but not making any move to stop the guy.

Dean staggered towards the prone Pinkerton agent, his legs gone to rubber but holding himself upright through sheer cussedness. Sam mobilised with alacrity, was grabbing him and swinging one of Dean's arms over a too-tall shoulder, so that Dean was drawn to thinking once again that his kid brother should never have grown so damned tree-like these past few years, twasn't natural.

Victor was still alive, but only just. Dean allowed Sam to help him kneel down next to their erstwhile enemy, and gently turn him over. He could see it in Victor's dark eyes, and knew Henricksen would be able to see it writ clear in his own. There would be no coming back from a wound like this one. For a second Dean tore his gaze away to look around in the vague hope that Kokopelli might be standing there in the shadows of the trees, flute in hand ready to play Victor back to life. After all, the ex-slave had music in his heart too – but the clearing was empty, the Anaasází god had gone. Long gone, together with his people, lost in the mists of time.

Only Dean remained and he was helpless, hopeless, useless. And in a few months, he would be in Hell. He still couldn't understand what purpose that would serve that was so important.

Victor grasped Dean's hand, held it in a loose grip that the hunter knew was as strong as a dying man could manage.

"Thought I might have joined your fight, but seems I won't get a chance now," Henricksen whispered. His eyes closed, and the muscles in the bounty hunter's face that had been tight with agony softened and relaxed, and Dean knew he was gone.

"Help me burn him, Sam." Dean said, his voice hoarse with unspoken emotion. Sam just nodded.

Victor Henricksen had been a good man. He was a good agent, but would have made an even better Hunter. The world was a poorer place now the Winchesters had salted and burned his bones.


Author's note:

The Anaasází village I describe is based on Cliff Palace, one of the amazing cliff dwellings you can visit (by way of steep climbs up and down ladders) in the Mesa Verde national park – I was lucky enough to spend 4 days there last year and it was an incredible place. If you are interested, there are a load of photos here on my Flickr album! flickr .com/photos/housefullofbooks/5092841075/in/set-72157625218940414

Kokopelli is a flute playing fertility god who I felt would definitely appreciate Dean's lust for life.

Victor's unit in the Union army was the First Arkansas, a black regiment who had their own version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, whose lyrics I've reproduced here.

The Underground Railroad was a network of subversives who helped escaped slaves reach a life of freedom.