Devil on Horseback

by Brate and JJJunky

OW crossover with Supernatural

Waking to the smell of heaven, Sam Winchester rolled over to accept a tin cup from his brother. He wrapped his frozen hands around the hot metal and watched as the first rays of sunlight cleared the peak of the mountains in the near distance. Sitting up, he took a sip of the hot coffee, savoring the taste as it washed across his tongue and warmed his chilled bones.

"Good sleep?" Dean asked.

Sam knew what his brother was really asking: any nightmares? "Good sleep," he answered, erasing the worried frown from Dean's brow. Marveling that it had been almost three weeks since his last nightmare, Sam used the remainder of the brew to wash down a leftover biscuit.

Dean nodded. He resumed cleaning their pot and put out the small fire. "We should make it to town by midday," he said.

"Hope we're not too late."

"We do what we can." Dean shoved the remainder of their supplies into his saddlebag. "Can't ask for more."

"Yeah." Sam's shrug was noncommittal. They'd been over the same ground too many times. While Dean tried to be philosophical about what they did, Sam knew it tore at his brother's soul every time they failed and someone died. He knew, because he felt the same way. Rising, he stretched before leaning over and retrieving his bedroll.

The need for further discussion unnecessary, the brothers broke camp and readied their horses. Dean mounted his appaloosa with a fluid grace. The saddle's leather creaked as he shifted to get comfortable. Laying the right rein on his mount's neck, he turned south.

Sam finished securing his saddlebags and climbed on his pinto, nudging him after his brother. Keeping to a slow jog, they rode in silence, alert to their surroundings.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Walking their mounts slowly down the main street, Dean guardedly eyed the town. Accustomed to the trail, he wasn't as comfortable surrounding himself with people, even in a small community such as this. Conversely, he knew his brother thrived on it: meeting new people, hearing their stories…. Any semblance of a normal life. A life they would never, and could never, have.

Which was fine with Dean. He had Sam for company on the trail and he never failed to find a companion on the nights they were in a town. He never made promises, knowing he wouldn't stick around to keep them. Sam wasn't quite so free with his affections, but Dean had made sure he wasn't completely celibate. It was the least he could do.

The brothers effortlessly navigated their way to the livery. After checking the stalls and seeing they were clean and filled with water and hay, they handed Bandit and Sinjin to the blacksmith. Neither brother would leave before they knew their "friends" would be well looked after.

Their saddlebags over their shoulders, they followed the blacksmith's directions to the hotel. They trudged up the stairs after acquiring a room for the night. Their job had taught them to sleep with one eye open, especially on the trail. Such diligence had saved their lives more than once, but it could get wearing.

"What do you want to hit first?" Dean asked, throwing his pack on the bed, and wishing he could join it.

"I spotted the newspaper office. Why don't I head there and you do what you've been dying to do for the last week?"

Dean wasn't even sure he could fake an innocent look anymore, but he gave it a try. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"I saw you practicing your sleight of hand," Sam said with a pointed look at Dean's coat pocket where he always kept a deck of cards.

"Samuel Winchester, I don't need to cheat, I have too much skill." Dean tried for "offended" this time.

"I know you don't need to cheat; you just think it's fun."

"More of a challenge than fun, really."

"The challenge of getting out of town without being shot?"

Dean grinned at his brother. "Exactly."

Sam shook his head, trying to hide his smile. "I'll catch up with you at the saloon."

"Take your time," Dean said, scooting out the door.

He checked his weapons without conscious thought before walking down the stairs. Not only did they deal with the supernatural, but also with the ordinary, unsafe life of the western frontier. Not that Dean wanted anything different. His life had been determined long ago and he had no regrets. The one thing he would change would be the loss of his mother. She'd been killed when Sam was a baby, killed by a demon. The tragedy had set his father, John, on a life of revenge, hunting down anything and everything that preyed on humans, from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts.

Over the years, the Winchesters had found they weren't alone in this quest--far from it. There was a network of hunters spanning the country, and others who helped their cause. Some had lost members of their family, some had lost friends, while others were simply doing what they thought was right.

The thunder of hooves startling him from his reflection, Dean watched as a stagecoach raced through the town on its way to its next destination. Waving dust away from his face, he crossed the street and entered the saloon.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Loading another line of type, Mary Travis once again wished her assistant, Malcolm, wasn't stuck at home tending to a sick Lucy. She could use a break, but needed to get the edition out by the next day even more. Failure to do so could mean financial troubles. Mary stepped back and brushed a stray hair from her face. Lifting her arms, she closed her eyes and stretched, releasing the tension in her back.

A loud crack telling her she was successful, she opened her eyes and jumped in surprise when she found a stranger standing in front of her. She hadn't heard the door open or close.

"I'm sorry," he said, holding his hands out. "I didn't mean to startle you."

"It's all right," Mary told him. He seemed honestly upset to have scared her. She didn't recognize him, and since she knew everyone in town, he was either a new addition, or just passing through. Her own eyes had immediately been drawn to his, making her think he was older. It wasn't until she stepped back and saw his angular face, too long hair, and lean frame that she realized he couldn't be more than fifteen or sixteen. His clothes were clean, but heavily patched. Stains marred the fabric around the repaired holes, making her wonder if the discoloration was caused by spilled blood. He wore his guns strapped to his waist as if he had been born with them. Yet, there was no air of danger that made her believe he was a gunfighter. There was only a sadness that brought out the mother in her. He wasn't the usual type of patron that came to her newspaper office.

"Is there something I can help you with?"

"Yeah, uh, I wanted to ask you about this."

Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out the paper she had published the previous week. She remembered her main story had reported the wolf attacks plaguing Four Corners.

"Are you Mary Travis?" The boy motioned to her byline.

"I am." She didn't like being at a disadvantage. "And you are?"

"Sorry… again. I'm Sam Winchester."

He extended a hand and she shook it, giving a smile. "What did you need to know?"

"I was curious whether a wolf has actually been found," Sam said.

Now she understood his concerns; he must be worried about the danger, but didn't want to admit it. She was puzzled; he didn't seem like the nervous type. "It's all taken care of," she said.

There was a look of surprise on his face. "It is?"

Realizing she hadn't done a very good job of reassuring him, Mary explained, "Someone was sent out to track and kill it."

"Which way did he go?" Sam demanded, no longer the shy teen, his hands rested on his guns.

Suddenly nervous, Mary stuttered, "I don't know exactly--"

"Just a general area." Obviously realizing he had made her uneasy, Sam softly added, "Just so I can avoid the vicinity."

"West, past the Parson's homestead."

"Thank you." Sam turned on his heel and left as quietly as he had arrived.

The conversation replayed in her head as Mary tried to return to the task of setting type. Nothing the boy said or did should make her anxious, and yet, she was. The letter in her hand dropped to the floor as she remembered the price on Vin Tanner's head. Had she inadvertently put him in danger? It might have been a big mistake, disclosing Vin's location. Cursing herself, she wiped the ink off her hands.

She needed to speak to Chris Larabee.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Ezra Standish sighed as he won yet another hand. Usually happy with such an outcome, today it was evoking the opposite emotion. He needed a challenge. Winning money off an ape required no skills or brains. As he was lamenting another successful pot, the batwing doors swung open and a stranger stepped through.

The dusty clothes and wary attitude reminded Ezra of Vin. The similarities ended there. This boy had a cockiness that shone brightly even in the dim confines of the saloon. Ezra could tell without a moment's pause the newcomer would be the challenge he was seeking. Young--as young as JD, he'd wager--the kid would normally be bypassed without a second thought by the gambler, but his expression reflected something else: Hunger. And stubbornness. This one had already discovered life was hard and had learned some harsh lessons. He had seen more in his brief existence than his years should allow.

Apparently impervious to the gambler's scrutiny, the young man stared directly at Ezra, eyes narrowing, before heading over.

"Is there room for one more?" he asked, motioning to the cards.

"By all means." Ezra gestured to the empty chair across from him. "Mister…?"

The stranger paused long enough to pull out his money before answering. "Winchester."

"Like the rifle?" Mr. Adams asked with a sneer. He had lost most of his money to Ezra and had imbibed the rest.

Winchester gave a strange smile. "Like the rifle."

Ezra grinned in anticipation, flashing his gold tooth. "Gentlemen, shall we continue?"

Within a few hands, Ezra happily realized he had guessed correctly regarding his new opponent's skill. The young man had taken only one of the last four hands, but had effectively maneuvered the players into making that pot larger than the last three combined.

And worse, he had flashed Ezra a smirk as if he knew Ezra had figured out his game. After Winchester won another generous pot, Ezra couldn't contain his growing curiosity. "So, tell me, friend," he began dealing the cards, "what brings you to our fair town?"

Winchester hesitated as he lifted his cards, taking a moment before answering. "The view."

Ezra smiled, refusing to show any reaction to the obvious lie. He wouldn't give his adversary the satisfaction… or the advantage. "Yes, I agree, the desert is lovely this time of year." The gambler ignored the amused looks of Adams and his fellow players, locals who knew better. "Are you traveling alone?" Ezra persisted.

"Nope." Winchester signaled for one card.

The bets continued around the table. The pile of bills rose to a substantial height. It was a tempting sight for someone who hadn't been paying attention to his opponents' skills, or was too confident of his own.

Ezra dealt the cards, giving himself two. Winchester's expression did nothing to give him away, but Ezra had the feeling he would lose if he were to bet further.

Before he could fold, a boy entered the saloon. He was even younger than Winchester--a tall, gangly youth, whose arrival was instantly noted by only one other person. Ignoring everything else, he came straight to the poker table and Winchester.

"We need to go."

"What is it?" Winchester asked.

The boy bent over and whispered, "Someone's out tracking the wolf."

The words did not escape Ezra's sensitive hearing. He instantly realized the boy could only be referring to Vin.

Winchester didn't hesitate. Throwing down his cards he excused himself from the game, grabbing his previous winnings. The legs of his chair scraped across the floor as he pushed it back. He rose, adjusted the gunbelt on his hips, and followed the boy out the door.

Ezra reached over and inspected the abandoned cards: four Aces with a Queen kicker. Winchester would've easily won the pot.

He needed to see Mr. Larabee.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

They rode west, urging their mounts to a canter once they'd cleared the town. Sam pushed Sinjin harder, hoping to reach whatever gonesucker the town had sent out to die. No way would the tracker--or anyone else--be prepared for an Amarok. It didn't matter how good a shot this guy was if the ammunition he used wouldn't kill his prey. The hunter would find himself the hunted.

Ducking his head lower to shield his face from the wind, Sam could hear Dean's horse panting next to his, just as willing to push itself hard. Both animals had been well-trained for the type of work the brothers did. They had been taught not to move when their reins were lying on the ground, no matter how scared they were, or what they smelled. No sound could cause them to spook, even the discharging of a gun at point-blank range, or the roar of a werewolf.

"You sure these rounds will take care of it?" Dean yelled. To double their chances of success, the brothers had split the ammo they hoped would be effective: Sam's gun carried consecrated iron rounds, Dean's silver.

"One of them should," Sam answered.


Sam heard the incredulity over the pounding hooves. "There wasn't enough information on the Amarok to do more than make an educated guess."


"It's afraid of fire."

"I'm sure it'll be nice enough to wait to attack us until after we've set up camp," Dean replied.

In an effort to deflect his brother's irritation, Sam asked, "Are you sure this is the right direction?"

A cloud of dust rushed toward them. Easing back on their reins, the brothers pulled their weapons, ready for whatever should reveal itself. They exchanged glances when a black horse charged past them, scared as hell and heading back toward town. Its neck was white with lather, indicating it had covered a fair distance at a great speed.

His eyes following the panicked horse, Dean nodded. "Pretty sure."

How his brother could manage such a sarcastic tone in a yell, Sam would never know, but he felt his tension easing--as he knew Dean had intended.

They urged their horses faster, easily following the fresh tracks.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

"I'm sure Vin'll be fine, Mary, but I appreciate you letting me know." Chris Larabee wasn't worried. Well, not much, anyway. He had faith Vin could handle anything that came his way.

Chris nodded again at Mrs. Travis, assuring her he'd take care of it as he escorted her to the jailhouse door. His gaze followed her until a rapidly moving figure pulled his attention away. His hand came off the butt of his pistol when he saw Ezra coming his way at a fast clip. He didn't want to think what burr was under the gambler's saddle and contemplated--just for a second--ducking out the back. Loyalty and responsibility quickly overrode the cowardly thought, however, and he stood, waiting.

"Mr. Larabee," Ezra said without preamble, "I believe Mr. Tanner is in danger."

Since this was the second person in as many minutes to tell him this, Chris began to doubt his initial faith in Vin's abilities. "Tell me on the way to the livery."

"I believe more than two guns might be required in this endeavor." Ezra looked around for any of their fellow regulators. "From what I was able to observe, these men could be formidable adversaries."

"How many men are there?"

"Well, only two," Ezra admitted before sheepishly adding, "And, technically, they're only boys."

Chris paused in his rush to glare at Ezra. "Then I think we can handle them."

When Chris started forward again, Ezra had to run to catch up. "They might be young, Mr. Larabee, but I would bet Chaucer that they know how to handle themselves."

The declaration made Chris realize the danger they--and Vin--could be facing. Not only had Ezra spent a lot of money to buy his horse, he had invested a considerable amount of time training him. It made Chris wish they could have more backup. "Nathan's delivering Mrs. Johnson's baby, Buck and JD are out at Nettie's, and Josiah's in Eagle Bend. It's just you and me, Ezra."


Under other circumstances, Chris would've been amused by his companion's reluctance. He would even have taken the opportunity to tease the gambler. But he could find no pleasure in it when there was a threat to Vin's life.

Within minutes, he and Standish were saddling their horses. Chris listened with barely-contained horror as Yosemite told them about the two strangers who had wanted to know the way to the Parson's place. Chris couldn't ease the dread building inside him; he had a feeling only the sight of a healthy and whole Vin Tanner could do that.

Chris tightened the cinch on his saddle, hoping they'd reach Vin in time. If those boys did anything to hurt Vin, there would be nowhere on Earth safe for them.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

As he stumbled into a hole, wrenching his ankle, Vin cursed Peso. "Goddamn it!"

Something had spooked the damn mule and he'd run off, leaving Vin a long walk back to town, unless someone found his horse and came looking for him. He did have his Mare's Leg, but he would've felt more comfortable with a rifle in his hands. Unfortunately, it was in its scabbard on his saddle, somewhere between here and Four Corners.

Vin's senses had just registered the proximity of two horses when strangers cantered into the clearing. Dirt flung up off the horses' hooves as they came to an abrupt stop. Their stomachs heaving, lather coating their necks, both animals stood panting heavily. The riders jumped to the ground and dropped their reins. Vin saw their heads swivel as they searched the area, their sweaty faces shadowed by the brim of their hats. One hand on his weapon, he quickly took in the fact that they were fairly young, but that didn't mean they weren't dangerous.

The taller one, his dark brown hair curling below his ears, walked up to Vin and demanded, "Have you seen the wolf?"

"Who the hell are you?" Vin shot back. It was his job to track the marauding animal and kill it. He'd be earning some extra, much-needed money for it, money he had plans for.

"I'm Dean, that's Sam," answered the other one, pushing his hat off his head to reveal shaggy blond hair. "Now, answer his question."

Shocked by the audacity of the boys, Vin hesitated. His silence was filled by a loud growl.

"Too late, it's here." Sam drew his gun; Dean already had his in a tight grip.

Drawing his weapon, Vin should've been anxious for his own safety--these two could be bounty hunters--but he was feeling more annoyance at being ignored. "What's goin' on?"

"We're gonna save your ass." Dean snorted, as he eyed Vin's Mare's Leg. "That ain't gonna help."

Vin's irritation turned to anger. Who the hell was this kid, telling him his weapon was useless? He was about to demand an explanation--at the point of his gun if he had to--when a mound of gray fur burst through the bushes. Vin brought his arm up, but before he could get off a shot, the creature tackled Sam, sending the boy's weapon skidding out of his hand.

"Hold fire," Dean shouted, aiming his gun at the creature trying to tear out Sam's throat. "Your ammo won't work."

Sharp, jagged teeth, dripping with saliva, snapped at Sam's gullet. He held it off, hands clenched in its fur.

Moving into a position that would keep his brother from being struck if his bullets went through the beast, Dean fired. Although his shots were dead on, there was no reaction from the animal.

"Where'd the other gun go?" Dean shouted at Vin.

Vin blinked in disbelief. No wolf he had ever seen was that large, or had a shoulder hump, or could withstand two bullets fired from pointblank range. He indicated the bush where he'd seen Sam's gun disappear as he hurriedly limped toward the thing, determined to help the kid in trouble. He used his shotgun like a club, whacking the snarling beast on the side of its head, accomplishing his goal. The wolf's attention turned to Vin.

Vin backed up slowly as the animal lumbered off Sam and moved toward its new prey. For the first time in his life, Vin knew how the animals he hunted felt. Just as it crouched, ready to pounce, Vin heard a shot. The wolf dropped, an outstretched claw tearing Vin's pant leg. Looking at the rends in the thick fabric, he realized he was lucky it wasn't his flesh. Even though he now knew how ineffectual the action would be, he pointed his weapon at the creature. It didn't move.

The three men warily eyed each other. Though the creature appeared to be dead, two guns remained trained on the motionless head.

Dean breathlessly spoke. "Guess iron rounds work."

"Told you," Sam said smugly.

"Maybe if you hadn't dropped your gun again…"

"Next time a five-hundred-pound monster jumps on you, I'd like to see how you do."

"I sure as hell wouldn't let go of my only weapon."

"'Scuse me," Vin tried to interrupt, but they kept arguing.

Sam snorted. "If you're so sure--"

"I am," Dean confidently stated.

"Then next time, I'll hold back--"

This time Vin shouted in an attempt to get their attention. "Hey!"

"--and you can face the thing on your own."



"Just remember…" Sam trailed off as the sound of thundering hooves echoed through the clearing.

What Vin hadn't been able to accomplish with words, Chris and Ezra did with their sudden appearance. Riding in, they drew their guns and pointed them at Sam and Dean.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Feeling danger even the Amarok hadn't brought forth, Sam swallowed hard when his gaze rested on the man dressed in black. He raised his arms, taking no chances. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dean do the same. His brother was protective, but he wasn't stupid. The two mounted gunmen eyed them with a dangerous expression, not something either of the Winchesters was willing to test at the moment.

The man in black moved his horse over near Vin. "You okay?" he asked.

Vin nodded. "You can lower yer guns, they're all right."

"They're not…?"


"You sure?"


"Okay then."

Sam watched the abbreviated exchange, not really sure what was going on. Now he knew how people sometimes felt when he and his brother talked. Sam sighed with relief, a little surprised, when the black-clothed man put his gun away and dismounted.

Still, it took a second or two before the brothers felt it was safe enough to lower their arms. Even then, Sam kept his hands away from his holster. The fact it was empty didn't seem relevant when he looked into the older man's foreboding expression.

Shifting his gaze to the other new arrival, Sam remembered seeing him in the saloon, playing poker with Dean. His green eyes were focused on the dead Amarok, a corner of his lip curled in disgust. Sam hid a smile at the confusion and fear evident on the gambler's face.

Ezra fought the horse dancing beneath him. It was obviously as frightened by the unusual odor of the dead creature as its rider was by its appearance. "What the hell is that abomination?" he demanded.

Vin smiled at the Winchesters as Ezra dismounted, holding tight to the reins. "I was just getting ready to find out m'self."

"Just give us a minute," Sam said, holding up his finger. Keeping an eye on the other men, ready to stop if his actions caused an adverse effect, he pulled Dean a short distance away.

Dean shook his arm out of Sam's grasp. "What's your problem?"

"I'm thinking we should get out of here while the gettin's good."

"And I'm thinkin' we explain the situation, collect any reward, go back to town, and celebrate with lots and lots of beer."

"How do you know we won't end up in jail?"

"We just saved Rawhide's ass, no way they'll put us away. Besides, we still have to check for a message from Dad."

"All right," Sam unhappily agreed.

"Good," Dean said, "I really need to win back the money you cost me at the poker table." He flashed a grin toward the gambler. Ezra's intent stare turned suspicious, causing Dean's smile to grow broader.

Still wary of the three men, Sam followed his brother back to the group. For a cautious man, Dean could sometimes be overly familiar.

Dean nodded at the wolf's corpse. "We need to burn it."

"Why?" Chris asked.

Scratching his cheek to hide his embarrassment, Sam said, "Just in case."

"But it's dead," Ezra said, kicking it to prove his point.

Dean gathered some small branches and dried leaves, laying them around the dead animal. "We want to make sure it stays that way."

"Two pieces of lead in the head has always worked for me," Ezra grumbled.

Vin shrugged. "They seem to know what they're doin'."

Although he clearly didn't see the point, Chris ordered, "Let's give them a hand. It'll be night soon."

Obviously thinking the two boys were being overly cautious, the three regulators reluctantly helped build a pyre around the huge creature. Sam ignored Ezra's snide remarks as he threw salt over the mound and backed away, allowing Dean to light the fire.

When the creature was reduced to ashes, they threw dirt on the fire, smothering it. Only when Sam and Dean were satisfied did the men mount their horses for the long ride back to Four Corners. To keep from crippling the already exhausted horses, Vin took turns riding behind each of the other men. Sam wondered what the man would say if he knew what he was sitting near when he climbed behind Dean. The wide assortment of charms and armaments was not the usual contents of a cowboy's saddlebag. But, then, the Winchester brothers weren't cowboys--they were Hunters. Even though what they hunted wouldn't be found in anyone's storeroom, or on anyone's table.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Dean closed the door to their hotel room and leaned against it with a relieved sigh.

Looking up from writing in his journal, Sam regarded his brother. He hadn't been surprised when he'd woken up that morning to find Dean hadn't returned to their room. All-night poker games were not unusual for the elder brother. But Dean usually arrived crowing over his winnings, or depressed at losing, the few instances it happened. Relief was not a normal reaction. "What's wrong?"

"This town is plumb loco," Dean said. "Standish is saying I'm a cheat, just 'cause he lost a few hands. I got this short kid asking me all sorts of questions--I swear he wouldn't shut up. Then there's this tall feller with a mustache who keeps giving me the evil eye."

"What did you do to him?"

"Nothing," Dean swore. "He didn't even pay attention to me until this barmaid came over and sat on my lap."

Sam snorted a laugh.

"To top it off, Vin and Larabee kept exchanging these weird looks and grinning." Dean pulled his saddlebag off the end of his bed. "Pack up and let's get out of here before any more of these crazies show up. I'm beginnin' to think they're possessed. And I don't think it's anything we can exorcise."

Sam smiled as he collected his things and shoved them in his saddlebag. "Any word from Dad?"

"Oh, yeah, here." Dean handed over a telegram.

Sam read the note: DON'T LOOK FOR ME. STOP. CHECK BANK. STOP. "What's he mean by that?"

"Sounds like he's on a job," Dean said, handing Sam a portion of his winnings. "You get some supplies, I'll go see what he left for us. I'll meet you at the livery."

Accustomed to the division of labor, Sam nodded and swung his saddlebag over his shoulder. After the hard ride the day before, he was anxious to check on Sinjin. His loyal mount had more than earned the extra flake of hay Sam had thrown in his stall upon their return.

When they exited the hotel, Dean headed down the sidewalk toward the bank.

One of the first places Sam had looked for when they entered the town was the general store. Crossing the street, he entered the building to find a plump, middle-aged woman behind the counter. The black wardrobe told him why her husband wasn't there to wait on the customers as was usual in such an establishment. Taking out the money Dean had given him, Sam gave her the list of supplies they would need on the trail. He nodded to the only other customer, an older man wearing a long coat with embroidered panels on the shoulders.

As she placed things on the counter, Sam put what he could into his saddlebags. The rest he placed in a flour sack the woman had given him. The last item, a stick of candy, Sam slipped into his coat pocket. Handing the woman the money he owed plus a bit more, he touched the brim of his hat. "Thank you, ma'am."

"Such a well-mannered young man." The woman softly smiled. "You're welcome here any time."

"Thanks again." With a polite smile, Sam stepped out the door and hurried over to the livery. He had Sinjin brushed and had started to clean Bandit's feet, when Dean arrived with a box. "What's that?"

"I don't know." Dean picked up a brush to groom Bandit. "I didn't want an audience when I opened it."

"Good thinking."

"Of course," Dean said with a smirk.

They quickly finished grooming and saddling the horses. Riding out, they headed north without having to discuss it. Desert and plains spread before them in the other directions, neither of which offered the privacy they were seeking.

Once into the mountains, the brothers stopped in a clearing. They dismounted and waited to be certain they hadn't been followed before taking the package out of Dean's saddlebag.

While Dean kept watch, Sam set the bundle on a rock and tore off the brown paper. Pulling off the lid, he paled as he looked inside.

Dean took a worried step toward his brother, before his training kicked in. He knew better than to make them easy targets by being in close proximity. "What?"

"Why?" Sam lifted out a revolver. "Why would he send us this?"

Dean fought against his own shock. The Colt was sacred. Their father hadn't let it out of his possession in years, not since Samuel Colt had made it for him. Why would he leave it for them now?

"Don't look for me," he said, softly quoting the telegram.

Sam finally drew his gaze away from the gun to look at Dean.

"He's telling us he's gone to ground." Dean wiped his face with his hand, the only visible sign of his agitation. "We aren't supposed to look for him…. We're supposed to continue the fight."

"That's crazy. Why would he--" Sam cut himself off, eyes opening wide. "He's found the demon; he's on its trail."

"That doesn't make sense." Now it was Dean's turn to question Sam's interpretation. "Then why wouldn't he keep the Colt in order to kill it?"

"Maybe he's afraid the demon is on to him, too."

Dean nodded. "He's trusting us to keep it safe."

"Holy shit." Sam laughed uneasily. "We need to stash it somewhere."

"We have to keep it with us," Dean disagreed. "Dad had it in a fucking vault and he didn't think it was safe. It's up to us to protect it until we can use it."

Taking a shirt from his bag, Dean carefully wrapped it around the gun. He bunched up the sleeves to distort the shape so it wouldn't be obvious what it contained. While he was proud his father trusted them with such an important task, he was scared, too. The responsibility weighed heavily on his shoulders. This gun was the only way to kill the monster that had killed their mother; to lose it would tear Dean's heart out.

Taking the small box from the wrappings, he pushed it into Sam's hands. "You carry the ammunition."

"One isn't good without the other," Sam protested.

"Exactly," Dean replied. "If the demon catches one of us, it'll only have half a chance to stop us."

Sam hesitated before putting the box at the bottom of his bag. Mounting his horse, he said, "Let's ride; we've got work to do."