Here’s Truth

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Ok, so I posted this story briefly last weekend and then freaked the fuck out about it and took the thing down. But a kind friend read it, unruffled my feathers, and encouraged me nicely to get a grip and post it again.

Here’s the deal: this story’s a Western AU for Supernatural, one that begins at the end of episode 6.18, “Frontierland.” I’m fond of it. It’s different. I hope you dig it, too.

This is Part I of III, I think.

The sheriff of Sunrise knows that something in his head ain’t right. That he don’t quite fit in, where he’s at, even if he’s not sure why. He stands out a little, sure. But then, so does the town doctor—a man who seems determined to run Sheriff outta Sunrise once and for goddamn all.

I.

 When the dust settled, the sheriff was alone.

Six-shooter, sure. Dead Phoenix at his feet. Ok. But no Sam, no fucking clue as to why watching the clock on the courthouse strike twelve felt final, once and for all.

He waited there in the street for a while. Alone, only by rights, because the rest of the town was still terrified: of him, of the thing he’d just smoked, of each other.

He stood stock still, yelling his brother’s name like it was the only word he could remember. Hell, at that point, maybe it was.

His head felt cloudy, like a June day with a storm that wouldn’t break. Like something was wrong. Like he was.

But he couldn’t remember why.

There was just Sunrise. An afternoon in April in the year of Our Lord 18 and 61.

“Well, shit,” he whispered finally, all shouted out at last.

And that was the smartest damn thing he said all day.

**

He spent the first couple a days, after, at the bottom of a whiskey well. Took to a room above the saloon and locked the door against all comers, ‘cept for the boy bearing the next bottle.

He was adrift, the sheriff, but that weren’t what got ’em drinkin’, no. It was the not knowing why he felt so outta place, like a boat got lost in a crick. That was what made him cringe. Made him do his damn well best to drown himself, to flow on over to the other side a the bank, ya know. The one on the other side of life.

At first, Louis, the barkeep, made allowances, seeing as how the the sheriff had managed to kill off Elias Finch once and for damn well all, and even Louis could see the advantage in having customers who weren’t afraid of getting killed by a hellbeast on the way to their evening beer. So he gave the sheriff the benefit of the doubt and a couple bottles of rotgut and left him alone at that.

Sheriff, though, he couldn’t quite manage to put himself under. Not for lack of tryin’, mind you. Something in him, they say, wanted to live too bad to give in that easy—no matter how much the rest a him wanted to be gone.

But after two days, even Louis got worried. Sent the boy up with some water and the kid came back down yelling, screaming about the sheriff bein’ dead when no, all he was was passed out cold. He’d puked everywhere and torn shit up and generally made a goddamn mess of his whole person, but he was still livin’ when they dumped him on the doc’s front porch. Which put Doc out but good.

“Damn it,” he groaned, shoving a hand through his hair. “Louis. What’ve I told you about takin’ in strays?” He booted the sheriff’s leg outta spite, and Sheriff moaned. Rolled over on the planks and started sucking up sawdust.

“C’mon, Doc,” Louis said, for he was not an unkind man. Unscrupulous, sometimes. But not unkind. “You can see he’s hurtin.'”

Doc leaned down, careful not to get his nightdress in the puke. “Yeah, I can see it. Smell it, too. Just not so sure s’worth dragging me outta bed for, is all.”

Louis sighed. Scrubbed his hands on his apron and took his last shot. “You’re the best doc in two states, Lionel, and you know it. Any other doc, they wouldn’t be worth pullin’ outta sleep. But you? You can help this man. Free him from the chains of his own body.”

Doc shook his head. “No need to go for the poetry, Louis. I’m gonna help ’em. Don’t mean I gotta be happy about it.” He stood up and stretched. “Now, I’m gonna get my pants on. You make yourself useful and put on some hot water. Gonna need some coffee for this shit.”

“I got a bar to run!” Louis shouted up the stairs, his words bouncing off of Doc’s back. “I ain’t got time to play nurse!”

Doc didn’t answer, which was his way of saying: tough shit.

**

The kid—cause that’s what he was, Doc decided, an overgrown fucking child—he didn’t really care for Doc’s kind of medicine.

“What the hell!” he yelped when the first bucket a cold water hit his face. “Who the fuck are you?”

Second bucket shut him up, if only for a minute.

“Goddamn it!” the sheriff howled, trying to sit up and slip sliding all over the Doc’s porch.

Doc just stood there, waiting patient for his patient to sit still already.

The kid yelled again and Doc kicked him in the shin.

“Enough!” he said, a little happier than he shoulda been, probably. “Y’aint hurt that bad, sheriff. No use screaming like a whore in church and wakin’ up the whole damn town.”

Kid sat up, blinking in the dark, that adrifting feeling washing back in quick. He looked down at himself—a wet, vomit-soaked cat—and shuddered.

“Ugh,” the sheriff moaned, elegant, and that’s when Doc knew he was gonna go on livin.’ Whether he wanted to or not.

“Yup,” Doc said, “ugh is right, son. You’re a goddamn mess, and you ain’t goin’ in my house dressed in that shit.” He made for the door and let the lamp light hit the kid in the face, just to see him flinch. “Strip it off and chuck it all in the corner there. I’ll have Clara burn it in the mornin.’ Then scrub off with the water in this here bucket–and use some goddamn soap, mind–and get your ass inside. So’s you don’t shock the neighbors, right?”

He ambled in and went straight for the coffee. Was a good way through it, too, before he heard the kid curse and the tellin’ slap of wet leather on wood.

The kid took the sullenest sponge bath Doc had ever heard, splashing and grunting and cursing more than he was scrubbing, sounded like.

“Stubborn enough, ain’t he?” Doc said, rhetorical. Poured himself another cup.

Sheriff stumbled in, still sick as a dog and none too clean, showin’ his teeth and blushing from his head to his toes.

Doc waved cheery from his desk, safe in the corner, and pointed at the blanket on the floor. “Don’t worry. I see it all before. Wrap yourself up and let’s see what I can do for what I’m sure is hell of a fucking hangover.”

The kid grabbed his head, like he’d forgotten about the pain, and almost dropped his blanket.

Doc laughed, and the kid gave ’em the dirtiest look he’d had seen in ages, lookin’ as murderous as a man can with no pants.

“You some kinda demon?” Sheriff growled.

“Nah,” Doc said easy. “Nothin’ so fancy.” He pointed at the cot propped up against the back wall.

“My surgery,” he said. “Sir. I invite, nay, I demand, that you enter.”

He banged up from his desk and took the kid by the shoulders. Steered Sheriff to the bed and bundled him in. More gentle than you woulda thought, Doc’s hands, for all a his bark.

“Now,” he said, reaching for a bowl. “Drink.”

Sheriff wanted to protest, to fight. Anything to get this damn fool to leave him be. Let him get on with his dyin’ in private. But, well. He just didn’t have the strength.

So he drank as fast as he could, his face twistin’ under the Doc’s concoction, and came up sputtering.

“What the hell was,” he managed, his eyes closin’ right quick.

Doc huffed and pushed the kid down. Tucked the officer of the law under mostly clean blankets and patted his head. “Sleep now. We’ll discuss my medicinal prowess when ya wake up.”

He turned down the lamps and settled himself behind his desk. Hunkered down right good for the night.

Turned out the sheriff snored.

“Figures,” Doc snorted to no one in particular.

**

The clock’d come all the way back around to twelve and then again well on past by the time Sheriff woke up, but he was, much to his annoyance, none the worse for wear.

“Where the hell are my pants?!” he hollered.

Good thing was, Clara was there to hush him up, to get him fed and dressed, and he was downright presentable by the time Doc deigned to come down, scratching at a two day’s beard.

“Sheriff!” he crowed, slappin’ his handiwork on the back. “Nice to see you walking. Came close to buying your own pine box last night, you did.”

Sheriff just glared and reached for more cornbread. “You expect me to say thanks?”

Doc dropped into the chair opposite and picked up his plate. “Hell no. Expect you to pay me for services rendered and then get the hell out of my house.”

Sheriff’s eyes got downright murderous. “I didn’t ask for your help.”

Doc looked right back, peaceful. “I know that. But I don’t rightly care. You wanna shout, go yell at Louis at the saloon. He’s the one who dragged your sorry ass in here.”

Something in the kid’s face, it flickered, and Doc almost felt sorry. Almost.

“Right. The saloon.”

“Yup,” Doc said, munching on some questionable ham. “So, little tip for ya, son: next time you go tryin’ to kill yourself, don’t do it with so many people around.” He grinned, greasy. “‘Sides, surely you got better ways a doin’ that, being a sheriff and all.” He looked pointed at the kid’s hip. “Though you didn’t have your gun when Louis brought you in here. Ya may wanna look into that.”

“Is everyone in this town a thieving bloodsucker?” Sherrif hissed. “Seriously. What is wrong with you people?”

Doc blinked, deliberate. Set his chair down careful and leaned close. “What is wrong, Sheriff, is what keeps you in business, right? So unless you wanna pick up and move on—which would be fine with the rest of us, I can tell you—I suggest you keep your moralizin’ to yourself and drink your goddamn coffee.”

He stood up before the kid could answer and grabbed his bag. Went forward for his hat and turned back, scowling for all he was worth.

“I don’t care if you like me or not, son, but you sure as fuck better say thank you to Clara before you leave, or lawman or not, I’ll tan your goddamn hide.”

And say what you will about the sheriff: he did. Tipped his head to the lady, real nice, thanked her for her hospitality and refrained from saying mean things about Doc, which, to be fair, Clara coulda practically recited.

Still, she liked him, this kid. Thought he coulda stood another few days of decent meals and a clean bed, rather than shacking up at the goddamn saloon and she made sure to tell Doc all a that as soon as he got home.

“Clara,” he huffed, “he’s a grown man, babyface or not, and I ain’t in a place to tell him what to do. If’n he wants to live like that, well, he’s got a pretty gold star and a gun that says he can. I ain’t gonna get involved.”

Clara, though, she knew Doc better than that. Better than he knew himself, some days.

“Bullshit,” she snorted. “You like him. I can tell. I ain’t see you as happy as you were this mornin’ in a long damn time, you know that?”

“Happy?” Doc huffed, not bothering to raise his head. “You mean, when the kid was cussin’ me out and refusin’ to pay his goddamn bill?”

Clara shoved the broom around his boots, just on principle. “You mean, the kid you let walk outta here without payin’ some imaginary bill you made up ’cause he didn’t sing you praises for saving his life?” She poked him hard with the broomstick and yeah, that got him lookin.’

“You forget, Doc, I’ve seen you chase people down the goddamn street over a fifty-cent tooth pull, and here you, what, drugged the boy but good and kept him here overnight and, oh, stayed up into the wee hours watching him not die, and then you just let him walk out with only a kind word to me as his fare? Oh, no, Lionel. Don’t even try to sell me that you-don’t-like-him shit.”

Doc crossed his arms and gave up his best growl. “You’ve got the worst mouth on a woman I ever heard.”

“And you’ve known some real peaches, Doc.”

“Oh for the love of—! Go home, Clara. I think you’ve done enough damage for the day, don’t you?”

She slammed the broom against the wall and came right back firing. “Look. Why don’t you try and look after him? He ain’t got nobody, ya know. Heard that tree trunk of a man he was with? Done and skipped town. And you, you got that room at the back empty and I’d be happy to—”

Doc stood up, fuming, right ready to put an end to this bullshit revolt. “Oh hell no. Stop right there. I ain’t gonna—”

She narrowed her eyes at him, like a rattler right before you got bit. “Go ahead. Tell me how you ain’t gonna. How ya don’t even like ’em. How you wish he’d get the hell outta town.”

“Yes!” Doc shouted, jumping up in spite of himself. “All a that! Now stop harassin’ me. I got Mr. Choderin comin’ at six and I’ve gotta get—”

Clara smiled at him, which was even scarier than her scowl. “Right. Ya keep tellin’ yourself that, Doc. ‘Case you forgot, though, the last person you were this much an ass about, hell. You almost married her.”

Doc threw up his hands and damn if he didn’t go purple. “Goddamn it! Get out of my house! Go home and run the shit outta your Annalise now, woman! Leave me be!”

He kept at it, kept yelling and waving his arms while Clara got her coat and pinned her hat.

She was calm, see, ’cause she knew that she was right. Doc’s theatrics proved it. Was only a matter a time, to her mind, before he got his head out of his ass and let himself care about something that was less than 80 proof.

She stood patient at the door until he had to stop and take a breath, his eyes crazed, his dark hair up and wild.

“You have a good night now, Doc,” she said, sweet. “Your supper’s on the stove.” She opened the door and winked at him, saucy. “And you say hello to Sheriff for me when you see him.”

The doc flung his cup at her head like a goddamn petulant child, but Clara was faster, made it out to the porch with nary a splash.

“Son of a bitch,” she breathed. “Man’s more stubborn than a granddaddy mule.”

“I heard that!” Doc bellowed, banging his hand on the window. “Get the hell off my porch!”

**

frontierland

At first, people didn’t know what to make of the sheriff.

Oh sure, he’d done killed that Finch man. The one with the nasty habit a not staying dead. And there was no denyin’ that he was aces with a gun.

“Man’s a damn good shot,” Mr. Robenson reported, just after Sheriff took out a couple a cattle thieves on his farm. “One bullet each, I tell ya. Dropped ’em cold.”

And Sheriff was fair, too. Everybody appreciated that. Like when he caught Simon Baylor from the bank out gallivanting in the crick with Mrs. Armstrong—a fine lady with the best soprano in the church choir and also, apparently, an affinity for skinny dipping for men to whom she weren’t married—Sheriff didn’t haul ’em to jail, arrest them for public indecency or some such.

“Although,” Mary Carney said, leaning confidential over the counter at the feed store, “indecent’s about the nicest thing one can say about old Baylor nekkid.”

No. Sheriff just asked them real polite if they wouldn’t mind putting some clothes on, please, because he’d had some complaints about the noise, seeing as how it was near on midnight and all. Turned his back all gentleman-like and insisted on escorting them back to town.

But even then, he was equitable. Didn’t walk the two through the streets like perverts or criminals all, but left them just on the edge of things, right outside Porter’s Stable.

“Go on straight home, now,” he said, his voice a rough kinda smile. “And next time you all want to, uh, have some time alone, best not to do it quite so close to the city limits, you know what I mean.”

See? A gentleman. And nobody woulda been the wiser, neither, had Mary Carney not been burning the midnight oil to balance that month’s ledger and see the whole thing from her window.

So it wasn’t his sheriff-ing that gave people pause. It was more his reticence, his general lack of engaging anybody in conversation beyond the how-you-do variety.

Some folks, those of the less kindly ilk, said he was tetched. Others were just as sure he’d been in one of the wars—maybe down in Texas, with the Comanches. Or some of the settler fightin’ out in Bloody Kansas—and ended up haunted, you know. Torn up inside on a account of what he’d seen. But honestly, nobody was rightly sure, ‘cause it just didn’t seem polite, asking a man what was wrong with him. Especially one who seemed all right in all the ways that counted: polite when he had to be and steel when he didn’t. Forthright in his justice, and sure, he kept to himself a good part a the time, but that wasn’t that unusual in Sunrise.

Like Louis used to say: “People don’t come out here to make friends. They come ta get away from the ones they already have.”

So with all that, it weren’t more than a month before Sheriff had most everybody’s respect, the not-so quiet confidence of the people, the ones that’d buy him a drink or two and ply him with a slap on the back before he’d run back up to his room like a monk. Didn’t take whores, him, and didn’t drink, neither, not away from the bar.

“Now that Winchester,” Chester Bennett sighed one night in April, draped heavy over his beer. “Ya know what? He’s alright.”

The rest of the room nodded, and yeah, then it were pretty much set.

Sheriff was there to stay.

‘Course, not ever’body was so keen on the guy.

The judge’s widow was still pissed, seein’ as the old coot had died right under Sheriff’s nose.

“But he wasn’t sheriff then,” Mrs. Barley insisted. “Betty. You’re bein’ unreasonable. Unchristian, practically.” All to no avail.

And the whores, Darla and Emily, they kept a wide berth, too.

“He ain’t interested,” Darla’d say loud, whenever their paths crossed over whiskey or cards. “Guessin’ he don’t like women, what?”

It worked every time: Sheriff’d blush like a schoolboy and bolt, lock himself up with his Bible or his fist or whatever it was he did in his room alone. Louis tried to shush ’em, really did, but nobody else in town paid his girls any mind. Least nothing they said, anyway.

And then, of course, there was Doc.

Doc, who staged a one-man crusade to push the kid outta town by sheer orneriness alone.

First, he stayed a week out of the saloon after he saved the ungrateful fucker’s life. Refused to go in for fear of seeing the kid, though he’d never’ve told it was fear, exactly.

“That son of a bitch ain’t around, is he?” he hissed to Louis his first day back.

Louis just rolled his eyes and reached for the whiskey.

“You still pissed at me for bringing him in ta you, Doc? That it? You been avoidin’ my fine establishment all this time over that?”

Doc made his favorite stool and slid up, easy. “Maybe. You sure as hell deserved it.”

A glass slammed down next to his hand. He looked up and saw Louis grinning and trying to look contrite.

“On the house,” he said, all magnanimous and shit. “With my compliments.”

Doc was a lotta things, but stupid wasn’t one. He drank.

“All right,” he said, twisting the glass in his hand. “It’s a start.”

“Oh for christ’s sake,” Louis sighed. “You’re not gettin’ the whole bottle. Don’t even try that shit with me.”

Doc smirked and pointed. “Just pour. I’ll tell you when to stop.”

But he was only three shots into Louis’ guilt before Sheriff wandered in, covered in dust and damn near permanent righteousness and fuck if Doc could stomach drink with that kinda man in the place.

He slammed back the last and made for the door. Made sure to shove right past the bastard as he went, bumped his arm but good, and Sheriff?

He looked right through Doc, like he wasn’t even there.

Now a course, Sheriff did that sometimes: got a little ghosty and didn’t quite see people when they spoke. Most everybody had learned that all ya had to do was speak again, or tap the man on his sleeve, and he’d come right back to Earth, those green eyes fixed quick on your face.

But Doc? He wasn’t most. And he took it personal.

“Fuck me,” he snarled to the horses outside. “What a son of a bitch.”

The horses, they just rolled their eyes right on with everybody else.

A few days later, though, Doc gave the kid another chance. Not of his own accord, mind you. No. See, Clara, she heard about the no-fight at the saloon and came at him like a nest full a bees.

“Damn it,” she shouted, waving his breakfast around. “Act like you got a lick of sense for once in your damn life, Doc! That boy ain’t done nothin’ to you.”

She made him feel bad enough about it—threatened his porridge with enough vigor—that he waved the white flag. If only to rescue his vittles.

“Fine, fine, Clara, jesus,” he hissed. “I’ll talk to the boy next time I see him. All right? Now may I please eat that shit before you chuck it all over the wall?”

He got his chance sooner than he woulda liked.

Sunday next, he was driving back from the Wallace place one county over. Papa Wallace, the damn fool, had shot himself in the leg yet again, and Doc was grouchy as hell from doin’ stitches and from having to use alcohol for strictly medicinal purposes. ‘S almost painful for him, that.

So he almost passed Sheriff right by, almost didn’t see the kid struggling to walk—walk!—up the Jackson Road into town.

When it clicked, who the dirty straggler was, Doc slowed Seraphim down to a slow trot. Gritted his teeth and raised his hat.

“Sheriff!” he called, twistin’ his mouth to smile. “Good sir. Might I offer you a ride into town? Awful long walk ya got there in this rain.”

The kid turned, water sloughing off his brim, and frowned. “No thanks, Doc. I’m doin’ just fine here on my own.”

Doc sputtered, genuine surprised, because who the fuck would choose sucking through the mud over a proper ride in the rain? Then he remembered, recalled even, who it was he was dealing with.

Right.

He nodded, brisk, and kicked Seraphim as quick as he could to full stride. Made a point of running her hooves straight through the mud outta spite and splattered Sherriff’s britches but good.

It was satisfying as hell, sure, but Doc’s problem stood. Because Sheriff, he wasn’t going anywhere. And Doc’d be damned if he was. He’d lived in Sunrise longer than anyplace else in his life and while it may not a been the happiest a places for him—not filled of sweet memories all—it was his goddamn home long before jackass McGee showed up and put on the badge and the gun.

Now the sheriff, truth be told, was kinda bewildered by the doc’s behavior. See, he knew he’d been difficult, hadn’t been the most gracious of guests, maybe, but he had been dragged there not of his own accord, after all. And for all a Doc’s bluster, his blue peacock blaze, there was part a Sheriff that saw something kindred in the man. As if they had something in common.

When he looked at Doc, Sheriff saw a little bit of drift in him, too.

Now Doc was a part of town, sure. Everybody knew him. Hell, he’d probably seen half the town naked, or at least in some sorta state of undress; kinda came along with the job, Sheriff figured. For all that embarrassment, though, people seemed to like him all right, or pay him no mind at all.

But Sheriff, he had a sense that somethin’ wasn’t quite right with Doc. The man was a little off, it seemed like, and Sheriff sure as hell knew how that felt.

There weren’t a lotta people in town that Sheriff went out of his way to talk to. To take an interest in, even. But Doc, that lucky son of a gun, he was one.

So Sheriff decided to do a little digging on his own. You know, being the law and all. But there weren’t nothing covert about his investigating.

“Louis,” he said, one afternoon early in May. “I done something to Doc?”

Louis pulled another couple of pints, thinkin’ that one over, then slid down to Sheriff’s end of the bar.

“It’s like this,” he sighed. “Doc, he is one ornery son of a bitch, and once you get on his bad side, there ain’t no tellin’ how long he’ll be wishing you dead.” He made his face up in sympathy, but Sheriff?

He just tipped his hat back and laughed, which sorta startled Louis. Finding a man’s hate hilarious and all.

Sheriff saw his confusion and held up a hand, tryin’ to get his breath back.

“No, it’s just—” he started, still grinning like a goddamn jackal. “I had lots a people not like me. That ain’t nothing new. But having a guy hate my guts outta sheer spite—for no damn good reason at all—that’s a new one, Louis. Brand new.”

“Alright,” Louis said, uncertain, ‘cause that was the most words he’d ever heard come out of the sheriff’s mouth at once, and damn if he hadn’t spent all of ‘em on Doc.

“That said,” Sheriff mused, pitching in over his glass. “He does look kinda familiar, some days. Maybe we’ve run across each other before. Maybe I pissed him off once, right good, and he ain’t yet forgotten.” He showed his teeth again, and damn, Louis thought, did he look young. “Must not of been anything good if I don’t remember him, though.”

Chester Bennett, from the dry-goods store, he’d been eavesdropping like a cat in an open window, and he couldn’t help but pounce at that.

“You know him in the army, meybe?” he drawled. “Doc, he were out in the wilds a long time. I think he were in Texas. Or one a the Dakotas. You been out them ways?”

Sheriff blinked, trying to ignore the drifty feeling that shot through him. “I don’t–No. No, I ain’t.”

“Oh,” Chester hummed, warmin’ to his subject. The man did love an audience. “Well, this woulda been years back, right? When did Doc give up the soldiering, Louis? What? Least six, seven years ago, uh?”

Louis tapped his teeth. “Got out in ’55, I think? Or ’56. I dunno.” He shrugged. “Think he were in some a them Indian Wars, but I ain’t certain. Doc, he don’t like ta talk about it.”

“True,” Chester rumbled, fumbling with his cigar. “He don’t. But I ain’t met many army men that do, be honest. Especially when they seen some fightin’, which I bet ya a dollar Doc done, yup. Well enough.”

“’Yeah,” Louis said. “’Sides, he weren’t much of a talker a’tall when he first shuffled his way in ta town.” He snorted. “Hell, believe it or not, man was practically a hermit.”

The sheriff laughed. “What, Doc? Come on.”

Chester pointed his beer. “Naw, naw, it’s true, Sheriff. Kept to himself, real quiet like. Didn’t like ta mix with anybody, hereabouts, ‘cept in his surgery.”

Sheriff looked at both of ‘em askance. “We talking about the same man here, fellas? The one about yea high, blue eyes, hair blacker than the devil’s heart—that one?”

Louis grinned and slapped the sheriff on the shoulder. “Sure enough was.”

“Like I said,” Chester said, waving his cigar. “He done seen some shit in the army, Sheriff. It were all over his face clear as day, back then.”

“Uh huh,” Sheriff said, skeptical. “So to what do we owe this pariah’s conversion? What brought Doc outta the wilderness, eh?”

Chester and Louis, they sighed. One in time with the other. Almost melodic, like.

“Meghan,” they breathed, the word a curse or a blessing. It were hard for the sheriff to tell.

“Um,” he said, wanting to ask more, but Chester—as distracted as he was by the passin’ memory a that hellfire woman and her blasted gorgeous, well, everything— he weren’t quite done with the sheriff yet.

“So,” he said long, his eyes on Sheriff eagle sharp. “You were a soldier, too, huh. Like Doc. Can see it in yur face.” He snorted. “Heh. Bet yur daddy was a fighter, too.” He nodded wise, liquor certain.

Sheriff met his gaze and smiled, wary. “It shows that bad, huh?”

He stood up so quick he startled himself by it. Flipped off the stool and slid up the stairs without another word.

“Yup,” Chester said, mouth full of smoke. “It do.”

**

So Sheriff might not have wanted to think talk about his own history, right. Or think about how foggy it was, how much he couldn’t remember. But now he was sure as hell curious about Doc’s. Along with what in the hell it had to do with Doc unjustly hatin’ his guts.

Next time Doc shot through the doors of the saloon, then, wind-whipped and smellin’ of summer flowers, Sheriff was ready for him. Had his own plan of attack. Because now, he was full-on curious. And curiosity and lawmen don’t mix nice. Made him antsy, then. The not knowin.’

So he done aimed to find out.

The saloon was humming even louder than usual, ‘cause talk of the war was everywhere, men shouting about Lincoln and Manassas and how quick the Feds would fall to their knees.

“They’ll be done by summer’s end,” Simon Baylor told anybody who’d listen. “Take Lincoln right outta the White House, they will. Frog-march him down to Richmond strapped to the back a Lee’s horse.”

“Oh bullshit,” Mary Carney snorted, reaching for another card. “That’s just your Georgia talkin’, Simon. A couple of lucky wins don’t an army make.”

“Lucky?!” Simon honked, much to the table’s amusement. “Madam. You may be well versed in salescraft, in barter and trade, but your ignorance of military affairs is apparent. General Lee is the finest soldier Virginia has ever produced, and may I remind you that that list also includes—”

“We playin’ goddamn cards here or not?” Chester Bennett bellowed, his straight flush burning a hole in his hand.

The table exploded again, got the whole place shakin,’ so it weren’t any wonder that Doc didn’t see the sheriff at first. Nah, Doc, he stormed up to the bar all bluster and charm, teasing Emily with a wink and slapping the new judge on the back. In fact, he looked down right personable and Sheriff found himself sorta agape. He hadn’t realized Doc had any sorta personality outside of drink and a bucket a water to the face.

He chewed on that for a minute, watching, then tossed his cards down, delightin’ everybody at the table, ’cause damn if the sheriff couldn’t take almost anyone for his money, his boots, his horse even before they got a look at their hand.

Doc was too busy cuttin’ up and downing the first two fingers of the night to see the sheriff moseyin’ over. Hell, the kid moved so quick that Doc didn’t even get time to swear before Sheriff was on the stool next to him, smiling in his face and offering to pay for the next round.

“Fuck me,” Doc muttered, his happy givin’ in to a scowl.

The kid grinned. “I’ll take that as a yes,” he said, waving Louis over, and what was Doc supposed to do after that?

He was a lotta things, Doc, but stupid wasn’t one. He drank.

Sheriff shot his hat back and settled up straight. “I owe you an apology,” he said, scratchy with cigars and drink. “For the way I acted toward ya, when you were kind enough to take care a me. I got no excuse, neither, other than I’m stubborn as hell, and it ain’t easy for me to admit when I got somebody wrong.”

Doc eyed him over the free whiskey and didn’t say a word. Let his blues do the talking instead.

But Sheriff, he just smiled again, the son of a bitch.

“Can we start over?” he said, all reasonable like. Stuck out his hand. “I’m Dean Winchester. Nice ta meet you.”

“Hmph,” Doc said, shaking. “I’m Doc.”

Sheriff laughed. “I got that,” he said. “You got a name, Doc?”

Louis leaned over the taps. “It’s Lionel.”

“Shut up, Louis!”

Louis smirked. “That’s his middle name, anyway. His given name’s even worse, believe it or not. It’s—”

Doc banged his glass on the goddamn bar. “Louis! Shut yer fucking trap already!”

Sheriff—Dean—he was grinning so hard it looked like it hurt. Which Doc sorta hoped it did.

“Worse than Lionel? Jesus. Your parents hate you or what, man?”

“Fuck you both,” Doc grumbled, curling into his glass. “Let me drink in peace.”

They just laughed, the bastards, but Sheriff kept buying him drinks, so Doc let himself get over it, a little. Not their fault his pappy got fancy with the naming when “John” or “Tom” woulda done just fine. ‘Sides, there were worse things in the world than having a funny name or two. Like being stuck drinking with a man he couldn’t stand, didn’t wanna talk to, goddamn it, much less listen.

Still. Man did have enough sense to keep buyin.’

Afterwhile, the bar got overrun with the boys from the mine, the coal dust thick as thieves, and Doc let himself be tugged away, over to a table and down. Sheriff kept being real charitable, too.  Askin’ Louis bring ’em something from the kitchen which, hell, Doc was sure the fuck for. Made drinking a damn sight easier, having something in his stomach besides.

Sheriff, though, weren’t as impressed by the vittles.

“Hell,” he sighed, poking at his plate. “You got it a damn sight better at home, Doc, don’t ya?”

“Hmm?” Doc said, chasing beans around his plate.

“Your wife. What’s her name? Clara? She’s a freaking amazing cook, compared to this—whatever it is.”

Doc snorted cornbread up his nose. “Clara?” he wheezed. “Dean. Please god. She’s not my wife.”

Sheriff just stared, watched him choke like a stopped-up flue for a minute. “She’s not your—? Oh! She like a housekeeper or something?”

Doc waved for a glass and drank, hard. “Or something. She’s an old friend. Takes care of my surgery and things. Cooks like a demon, sure, but only outta spite. I mean, she’s sure if she didn’t cook fer me, I’d live offa hardtack and saltpork.”

“And beer!” Louis called from the bar, unhelpful.

“Yes, fuck. And beer.”

Dean frowned at him. “Hardtack. Right. I heard you was in the army.”

Doc made a face. “You heard, huh? Damn, I wonder from whom.” He leaned his head back and roared: “Maybe our fair neighborhood bartend, eh, who cannot keep his fucking mouth shut!”

Louis banged two beers on the roundtop with a huff. “Doc, it ain’t no secret. Stop acting like I done pulled down your drawers.”

Doc shot him some daggers and got his fist around his beer. Glared at Sheriff and damn well dared him to speak.

Kid couldn’t take a hint.

“So’d you fight some Indians?” he said.

Doc sighed. “Not ‘some Indians’, Dean. The Sioux. Fine people. Lovely people, even. But your Army of the US of A, she don’t always see it that way.” He pushed his hands through his hair, scattering petals over their plates. “So when she called, I went.”

He could feel the sheriff eying him, careful. “You didn’t wanna fight,” Dean said, finally.

“That, sir, is putting it mildly,” Doc said. He looked to get away from that subject then, quick. “So!” he barked, sorta jovial. “What about you, Sheriff? Enough about my former exploits. Where you from?”

The kid, he blushed, unexpected. Looked real young beneath his badge.

“I’m—I’m not from around here,” he stuttered.

Doc snorted. “No shit. You swept in here, killed that Finch creep final, and half the old justice in this town ended up dead. No, I think it’s safe to say you ain’t from here.”

Sheriff was all the way red now. Tried to hide it behind his beer.

“Anyway,” Doc said, speculative. “You was with another dude when you came in town, yeah? Some grizzly bear of a guy, I heard. So where’d he go? You kill him, too?”

And that was a step too far. The sheriff, he jumped up, snarling, and Doc sorta noticed his gun.

“Don’t you talk about Sam that way,” Sheriff hissed, not seeing how he was drawing all eyes in the place, which really, Doc thought, tipped back with a smile, was not how a lawman should be acting in any circumstances. ‘Specially when he was still pretty new in town.

He patted the table. “Now, now, son. Just sit the fuck down already. You’re making a scene. I meant you no offense. You or this Sam guy, all right?”

Dean looked around, got the picture, ok, and sat the fuck down.

“That’s better,” Doc hummed. Aimin’ to keep things friendly. “So he’s not dead.”

Dean’s head snapped up, met Doc’s gaze, and he looked like a dog that’d been kicked, achin’ and sad.

 

Fuck, Doc thought. So much easier to hate the guy than to feel sorry.

Now he was a lotta things, Doc, but stupid wasn’t one. He drank. Took a minute to think, holding that pitiful stare.

“You wanna talk about it?” he said, casual. The tone that’d made Meghan goddamn crazy. She’d called it his fake I-give-a-shit voice, which was sorta unfair. Not inaccurate, mind you. But once and awhile, Doc did mean it. It’s just—it was hard for people to tell when, sometimes.

Sheriff sighed. Drank the rest of his beer before he answered.

“‘S my brother,” he said, soft. “Sam. And he’s not dead, as far as I know. He just—he’s gone.”

“Moved on, ya mean?”

Dean blinked a little too hard. “Yeah, something like that. Went on without me, I guess.”

Doc didn’t know what to think. Didn’t have enough facts for a proper diagnosis. So he kept prodding, searching, like a good doctor should.

“So that’s why you were so torn up, huh?” he said, fumbling for some bedside manner. “Y’all have a fight? Or he just up and leave?”

Dean laughed, more hollow than not. “Nah, no fight. Just left. Didn’t know he was going.

Though we were going together, you know? But—”

His eyes drifted away and Doc sat back, considering. Racking up the symptoms.

“So. You lost him. And now you’re here, and ya kinda don’t know what to do with yourself.” He grinned, a little rakish, and reached out. Patted the kid’s arm. “Even though you got this pretty gold star that says you should.”

“Yeah,” Sheriff sighed. “Exactly.”

He looked at Doc again, and goddamn, Doc realized. The kid was sorta pretty.

Maybe he’d had enough drink for one night, if’n his mind was going that way. Not that he beat himself up about it, appreciatin’ beauty like that. One thing he’d learned, taught himself through fire and blood, was that ya had to seize beautiful whenever you found it, no matter how strange it seemed at the time.

Those bluebells at the Sioux camp, dancin’ in the sunshine as men bled to death in between.

Meghan, dark hair and red cheeks and a fury that almost matched his own.

And Sheriff, too, in the right light.

Still. He knew not ever’body felt the same, saw beauty as something that had to be grabbed. Had to be held tight.

He talked a lotta shit when he was drunk, Doc, but that was one thing he’d never tell, one part a himself that he kept locked up, right.

So.

He met the kid’s nice blasted eyes. “Well,” he said. “Don’t know that there’s much for it, Dean. Other than you go on livin.’ Do the sherrif-ing, if that’s what ya want. And if not—you move on, too. No use wastin’ your life waiting for somebody who ain’t coming back.”

Now that, that mighta been a bit more than Doc shoulda shared, right then, but he was drunk enough not to care. That much.

‘Sides, Sheriff seemed to appreciate it. Leaned across the table and gave Doc a little smile. “Sounds like you’re speakin’ from experience, huh?”

“Maybe.”

Dean raised an eyebrow. “But you don’t wanna talk about it. That it?”

“Suffice it to say,” Doc said with an extravagant sigh. “My story ain’t far from your own, ‘cept mine involves a woman, not a brother, and she had the balls to leave my ass the night before our wedding, so. How about that?”

Which was much more than he shoulda said, than he’d ever said to anybody about Meghan, but what’d ya know?

The sky didn’t fall, in the talkin.’

In fact, Dean looked sorta impressed. “The night before, huh? Damn. That’s cold.” He grinned, all glittery green, the bastard. “But better than the night after, right? ‘Cause somebody might take that as, you know, a statement about your manliness or some shit.”

Doc punched his shoulder. “Ha ha, Sheriff. You’re just hi-fucking-larious, ya know that?”

Dean snickered. “And you’re drunker than a skunk, Doc.”

Doc sat up straight, in a way he was sure said dignified. “I am not. I’m fine.”

“The fuck you are.”

“Hey! Who’s the doctor here? Me. And in my educated opinion, I am sober as a judge, son.”

Dean leaned back and rattled their jungle of glasses. “Awesome. So stand up.”

Doc scowled. “What?”

“You heard me. Stand the fuck up, oh sober one.”

Doc was gonna ignore the little shit, really he was, but then Louis started hooting from behind the bar, got the miners in on it, too, and damn if he was gonna back down in front of them.

“Fine,” he hissed, shoving back. “Watch me.”

He got his feet under him, two on the floor, and was nothin’ but confident. He knew this, knew his own body well enough, damn it.

So he leaned up, put all his weight on his legs—

And went face first into the table.

A humiliation made worse, mind you, not by the derisive shouts from his fellow patrons, no. But by Dean’s hands on his elbow, his shoulder, the gentle ease with which the kid lifted him upright and took his weight. And the sheriff was laughing, sure, howling along with ever’body else, but when his eyes met Doc’s, they were concerned. Caring, even, and Doc just didn’t know what to make of that.

“‘M fine,” he slurred into Dean’s shoulder.

“Yeah, you’re freaking awesome,” Sheriff huffed.

“Fuck off,” Doc managed as the kid snagged his waist. Pushed himself hard into Doc’s side and started to walk and no. Fucking hell, no way was he gonna let himself be dragged home by the goddamn sheriff with the pretty eyes and not unpleasant frame and—

They were out of the doors before he could fight it, and halfway down the sidewalk before his brain caught up to the shiver a interest in his dick and that was just not right.

“Not right,” he said in Dean’s ear. “‘S not.”

He could feel Dean snickering against him. “Uh huh. Physician, heal thyself, right?”

Doc shook his head. “Don’t need healin.’ Need a drink.”

“Oh, that is the one thing you sure as hell do not need, my friend,” Dean said. He shifted a little, and Doc could feel the points of the bastard’s star bite into his back.

“Hrrnn,” Doc managed, fighting his legs’ best efforts to crumble and his dick’s equal opposite to rise.

“Yeah, hrnn is right, dude,” Sheriff panted. “Damn. You been eatin’ rocks? You don’t look heavy, but man, it’s like dragging a fucking anchor.”

“Can leave me, you. Can make it the rest of the way m’self.”

“Tempting. But I think we’re here.”

Doc opened his eyes—hadn’t realized they were closed, right—and saw his blessed, beaten porch. “Yeah,” he croaked. “Is it. House. Leave me here.”

Dean ignored him and pushed open the door.

Inside, it was dark as fuck and Doc stumbled across something right away, got to flailin’ and fell hard into the sheriff, who just sighed and held on tight.

“Fuck, Doc. Don’t kill yourself now I got you here in one piece.”

Doc could feel Dean turning them in the dark, looking.

“Where’s your bed?”

“Stairs,” Doc huffed. “Up the.”

Dean laughed, low hum in his ear.

“Yeah, that ain’t happening. C’mon. Cot for you.”

Eyes still closed or just goddamn dark, Doc wasn’t sure. Didn’t matter, anyway. Pillow was soft, light or no, and his boots made the same noise hittin’ the floor as they always did. Even if it was the sheriff who’d pulled ’em off.

“Night, Sheriff,” he mumbled. “Dean. Get the fuck outta my house.”

He felt Dean laughing over his head, which was damn disconcerting. “How come every time I come in here, you try and throw me out?”

“Because you’re an annoying little shit,” Doc tried to snarl, but no more than noise came out. So he leaned up to try again, but there was some idiot’s head in the way, some idiot with scruff and lips that were probably soft.

All that beauty, right there for him to touch.

What was he supposed to do?

Exactly. ‘S what he did.

Tilted his head hard and kissed the son of a bitch, who, it’s worth notin’, didn’t push him away or squawk or shout. Nah. Just got a fist in Doc’s shirt and kissed him right back.

For a minute, anyway. Not near long enough, ’cause the next thing Doc knew, he was pushed flat in his pillow, one hand holding him down and that damn well happy mouth much too far away.

“Go to sleep,” Dean rumbled. “Doc. Go on.”

“Naw,” Doc said, finding the words in his mouth. “Castiel.”

He heard the kid huff. “What’s that?”

“Castiel. ‘S my name. M’ given one.”

He heard Dean rustlin,’ felt that palm press fast against his chest.

“Well. Castiel, then. Go to sleep, damn you.”

“Hmph,” Doc managed, and passed out.

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