The Sheriff, the Gunslinger, and the Angel ride into Sioux Falls late on Wednesday afternoon, May 17, 1905. They’re greeted at the town gates by two local deputies, a husband and wife team, Isaac and Tamara Washington. As they ride down the main street, they’re joined by Martin Creaser and a couple of other familiar faces.
“Good to see you boys,” Caleb Blacker greets them warmly.
Caleb confirms that his hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska fell the same year Denver and Kansas City did. Martin hasn’t even tried to get back to Texas.
“Smoke from the fires down south lingered for days,” he reminds the Winchesters. “Blacked out the sun and kept the temperature so low at night it felt like late fall instead of summer.”
“So what’s the news?” Tamara asks. “How is it out there?”
“Omaha’s a ghost town,” Dean reports. “But Lawrence is holding. We haven’t had an attack in over three years.”
“And who’s this now?” Caleb tilts his head at Castiel.
“His name’s Castiel,” Dean says. “Says he’s an Angel of the Lord.”
“Well, what do you know.” Caleb gives a low whistle. “Now I’ve heard everything.”
Their escort gives them directions to Bobby’s place, then heads back to their patrol duty.
As the Winchesters and Castiel ride up to the sheriff’s office, Bobby Singer strides out to greet them. Sam and Dean slide off their mounts to hug the old man, gruffly and with much macho back-slapping, of course. There’s not a dry eye between the three of them, but nobody mentions that.
Bobby asks the brothers how they’ve been doing since he last saw them, four years ago now. They accept his invitation to stay at his place, which is nothing more than an apartment behind the county jail, but it’s home.
“And who’s this?” Bobby turns his suspicious gaze on Castiel.
“He’s an Angel of the Lord, name of Castiel,” Dean explains. “Says he can help us find Mom.”
“Oh he does, does he?” Bobby looks the angel up and down critically. “Doesn’t look much like I imagined an angel would look. Where’s your...?” He draws a circle in the air above his head.
“Angels don’t have haloes,” Castiel explains. “That’s just a myth.”
“Huh,” Bobby frowns. “And wings. You got those? Doesn’t look like those are real, either.”
“Oh, he’s got wings,” Dean assures his old friend. “We’ve seen ‘em. Or heard ‘em, at least.”
“Well, I guess if he’s a friend of yours, he’s welcome,” Bobby says reluctantly.
Dean puts a hand up. “Not exactly a friend, Bobby,” he says. “More of a traveling companion. He says there’s a prophecy about him coming with us on our search for Mom, among other things. Says there’s a guy named Chuck Shurley who lives here, might have some intel for us.”
“Chuck?” Bobby frowns. “You mean the town drunk?”
Sam and Dean exchange glances and shrug.
“He’s down at the saloon, same as always,” Bobby says. “Lives there, in a little room upstairs. Earns his keep by playing the piano and guitar. Sings like an angel, no offense to present company intended.”
“None taken,” Castiel assures him.
“Let me get you boys settled in, then we can go down to the saloon to meet him, if you like. Jody Mills runs the place like a ship’s captain when she’s not on patrol with the rest of us, plus she’s a helluva cook. If we’re lucky, maybe we can get her to rustle something up for us.”
“Sounds good,” Dean nods, exchanging soulful looks with his brother.
Sam clears his throat. “This Chuck fellow. Castiel says he’s a Prophet of the Lord.”
Bobby blinks. “Well, I don’t know about that, but when he sings, you might think you’re in the room with something holy. He’s that good.”
“Huh.” Sam nods. “We look forward to meeting him.”
An hour later, three men and an angel enter Jody’s Saloon and Chow House through the swinging doors.
“Evening, fellas,” Jody greets them with a wide smile. “What’ll it be?”
“Whisky all round, Jody,” Bobby says. “And some of that outstanding prairie dog stew you make so well, along with some cornbread, if you’ve got any fresh made.”
“I have, Bobby,” Jody nods. “You wanna introduce me to your friends?”
Bobby had given them some of Jody’s backstory on the walk over from the sheriff’s office. Her’s is as tragic and heroic as most stories these days. She’d lost her son to disease, her husband to monsters in the battle for the town four years back. After she buried him she joined the volunteer militia to protect the town. Saloon manager’s her day job.
“These boys are looking for Chuck,” Bobby tells her. “Is he around?”
Jody gestured across the room, behind the piano, where a small bearded man sits alone at one of the tables, writing as he nurses a glass of whiskey.
“Right where he always is,” Jody says, rolling her eyes.
“He looks pretty sober tonight,” Bobby comments skeptically.
“It’s early,” Jody notes. “You can probably get a coherent word out of him, if you want. Go ahead on over. I’ll bring you your stew and bread in a few minutes.”
As Bobby leads the way over to Chuck’s writing and drinking table, the man looks up expectantly, apprehension clouding his features.
“It’s all right, Chuck,” Bobby assures him. “These men just need to speak with you.”
Dean gestures to Castiel. “You brought us here,” he tells the angel. “You talk to the guy.”
Castiel nods. “Chuck Shurley? My name is Castiel. I am an Angel of the Lord. This is Sam and Dean Winchester.”
“Campbell,” Sam corrects. “I’m Sam Campbell.”
Chuck blinks, looking from one to the other of the men, then back at Bobby. He huffs out a laugh. “No, you’re not.”
“Uh, yeah, actually, we are,” Sam insists. “I’m Sam, this is my brother Dean. Castiel says you can tell us where our mom is.”
Dean shoots a sharp look at his brother, but doesn’t correct him. If Sam wants to reveal the true nature of their relationship to this man, he’ll go along with that decision. He trusts that Sam knows what he’s doing.
He glances at Bobby to see if it’s news to the old man, but if it is, Bobby doesn’t give any sign of that, and Dean isn’t too surprised. He suspects that Bobby probably guessed the truth long ago.
“No,” Chuck repeats, shaking his head. “You can’t be them. I made them up.” He gestures down at the pages on the table, each one covered with neat, handwritten script. “Dean Winchester is Sheriff of Lawrence, Kansas. His brother Sam is a Master Mage who trained at Harvard. And Castiel...” He looks up at the angel. “You can’t be him.”
Sam and Dean glance at Bobby, who shrugs.
“I didn’t tell him,” he insists. “How he knows that stuff ain’t because o’ me. Of course, this is a saloon. Travelers come through on a fairly regular basis. Any one of them might have talked about you two. Him, on the other hand...” He gestures at Castiel.
Sam picks up one of the papers, reads the words out loud: “The Sheriff, the Gunslinger, and the Angel ride into Sioux Falls late on Wednesday afternoon, May 17, 1905. They’re greeted at the town gates by two local deputies, a husband and wife team, Isaac and Tamara Washington. As they ride down the main street, they’re joined by Martin Creaser and a couple of other familiar faces.” He looks up at Dean. “This just happened.” He looks down at Chuck. “This is us.”
Chuck jumps up and snatches the page out of Sam’s hand.
“No, no, no,” he says. “This is my novel. This is the fictional work I’m writing that’s gonna get me published so I can get out of this hell-hole town...”
“Hey!” Bobby protests.
“I’m a writer!” Chuck insists. “I write! Maybe not very well, but I’m getting better. But these are fictional characters, guys. Not real people!”
“How does he do this?” Dean turns to Castiel.
“He is a Prophet of the Lord,” Castiel says.
“What?” Chuck stares. “No! I’m a writer! I write!”
Sam picks up another page, frowns as he reads. “This happened yesterday.”
Dean flushes hot. “What? Let me look at that...”
“Give me that!” Chuck howls, trying to grab the page out of Dean’s hand as Dean reads quickly, relieved when he finds no mention of what he and Sam were doing last night by the campfire. “That’s mine! Give it back!”
“Hold on there, son,” Bobby warns, stepping in between Chuck and Dean as Sam picks up another page. “These folks need some answers.”
“Answers?” Chuck stares at them, wild-eyed. “What answers? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Your process,” Sam says. “Tell us about your process.”
“Yeah,” Dean chimes in. “How do you do this? Are you psychic? Is that it?”
“What? No!” Chuck insists. “These are just stories! I make them up!”
“How do you get your ideas, Chuck?” Sam says, patient to a fault, in Dean’s opinion. He’d rather grab the little twerp and shake the truth out of him.
“Answer the question, son,” Bobby growls when Chuck shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair, eyes darting from Sam’s face to the pages he’s holding.
“My ideas?” Chuck repeats, reaching for his whisky glass, taking a long swallow. “I don’t know. Sometimes they come to me while I’m sleeping. Like dreams, you know? Other times I’m just sitting here writing and they flow out. Sometimes the words come easier than others, depending on whether I’m drinking or not.”
“But how do you decide what to write down?” Sam asks. “You mention Jessica here, but there doesn’t seem to be anything about my life in Boston...”
“It’s a family saga,” Chuck says. “The novel’s about the Winchester family. I don’t bother with scenes where they’re apart. Those scenes don’t move the story forward. They’re just backstories. Extraneous.”
“Jessica’s not extraneous, you asshole!” Sam explodes, and this time it’s Dean who gets between Chuck and his brother.
“Okay, whoa, whoa, Sam, that’s enough.” Dean puts his hand on Sam’s chest, warm and firm, grounding him.
Sam blinks, backs down, tossing the pages on the table. “This is stupid,” he grumbles. “How is he supposed to help us? All he sees is things that have already happened.”
“Is that true?” Dean turns to Chuck. “You can’t see the future? Just the past? Or just whatever’s happening while it happens?”
“No!” Chuck protests. “Of course I have some idea where the story’s going. What kind of writer would I be if I didn’t?”
“He is a Prophet...” Castiel begins, but Dean cuts him off.
“Of the Lord, yeah. So you keep saying.” He glares at Chuck. “So what about Mom? Can you tell us where Mary Winchester is? How do we find her?”
“I haven’t written about that yet,” Chuck says. “The scene where she reunites with her sons is the climax of the story. It’s all up here.” He points to his head.
“So you’ve seen it,” Dean clarifies. “You know where she is.”
“I have an idea,” Chuck says. “But I don’t know if it’s how she wants it to go until I start writing it.”
“What do you mean, ‘how she wants it to go’?” Sam asks. “Does she communicate with you? Telepathically?”
“I know her,” Chuck answers. “At least as much as she lets herself be known.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dean demands.
“Mary’s a complicated character. She likes to hide and she’s very good at it. Nobody finds her until she’s good and ready. She hides her true self deep down inside. Nobody ever gets to know the real Mary Campbell-Winchester. She’s a complete enigma.”
Dean rolls his eyes. “Just tell us where she is!”
“I can’t tell you what’s in my head!” Chuck protests. “I might jinx it!”
“Either you tell us where she is, or Sam here will make sure you never write again!”
Chuck’s eyes go wide.
“Dean!” Sam huffs out a breath. “I can’t hurt him. He’s human!”
“You can damn well put a spell on his hands so he can’t use them again,” Dean snaps.
“Dean, I can’t use magic that way,” Sam says, shaking his head. “It’s against my oath.”
“Then cast a spell that will force him to tell us what he knows!”
“I can’t do that, either...”
Before Chuck can react, Castiel takes a step forward and lays his hand on the man’s forehead.
Chuck freezes, head tipped back, eyes wide. The empty glass he was holding slides out of his hand and hits the floor with a thunk, rolling until it hits the table leg and stops.
Castiel’s eyes slide closed but otherwise he stands perfectly still while the others watch, mesmerized.
“What’s going on over here?”
Jody approaches, carrying a tray with four bowls of steaming chili and a loaf of cornbread that smells like a little piece of Heaven. She sets the tray down carefully on the table just as Castiel removes his hand from Chuck’s forehead and opens his eyes, stepping back stiffly.
“What the hell was that?” Chuck squawks, clearly spooked. He stumbles backwards and might have tripped over his chair if Bobby and Jody hadn’t reached out to catch him, lowering him into it instead.
“I have the information,” Castiel announces, turning to Dean. “We should go.”
“Wait! Just hold on there, cowboy,” Dean says, putting his hands up, palms out. “We just got here. And I know you don’t eat or sleep, but we’re human. We’re hungry.”
“He doesn’t eat?” Jody frowns.
“That’s okay, I’ll eat his share,” Chuck says quickly, reaching for the bowl. His fingers tremble as they pick up the spoon.
“Did you just snag that poor man’s thoughts right out of his head?” Dean demands, glaring at Castiel.
“We have the information,” Castiel says. “He was unwilling to give it to us.”
“So you just took it,” Dean notes. “And you don’t see a problem with that?”
Castiel frowns. “I assure you, he is unhurt. I merely entered his mind long enough to find the whereabouts of your mother.”
“Without his permission,” Dean says. “Just like you took over that poor bastard you’re possessing.”
“Jimmy said yes,” Castiel insists. “He agreed to this.”
Dean shakes his head. “There’s no way the guy could’ve known what he was really agreeing to,” he says. “Losing his wife and child, his home, his life — pretty sure he didn’t sign up for that!”
“Dean. Let it go.” Sam gestures at the table, where Jody has brought whisky and water and now stands back, watching them. “What do you say we eat, sleep, and figure out where we’re going tomorrow.”
Dean turns to Castiel, glaring for another moment before he answers.
“You know where we’re going,” he says to Castiel, and the angel nods.
“I do,” he says. “We could leave tonight.”
Dean glances at Sam, Bobby, Jody, then at Chuck.
“Eat and sleep first,” he says. “We head out first thing in the morning.”
“Mary Winchester is in Blue Earth, Minnesota.” Castiel tells them. “Or she will be, in four days time.”
The food is so good they’re halfway through their second portions before Dean remembers to ask the big question. Hearing that Mary is so close feels almost anti-climactic.
Chuck stares warily at them, first over the top of his bowl, then over his whisky glass, apprehensive.
“That’s almost due east of here,” Bobby says. “About 135 miles. You should be able to make it in about four days, three if you push it.”
“What’s she doing in Blue Earth?” Sam asks.
“She is negotiating with a demon,” Castiel explains, as if that’s the most normal thing in the world.
“A demon?” Dean chokes out. When he sees Sam wince, he demands, “The demon? The Dark Man?”
“I believe they are one and the same,” Castiel nods. “The demon has yellow eyes. Yellow-eyed demons are high up in the demon echelon, which makes sense given what we know of the Dark One who cursed your family.”
“You said all this before.” Dean nods. “You said Mom’s negotiating with this demon. Why would she do that? Why not just kill it?”
“This is a very powerful demon, Dean,” Castiel says. “Killing it will not be easy.”
“We’ll just have to figure it out,” Dean snaps.
“You could use the Colt,” Bobby suggests. “It’s supposed to kill anything.”
“Samuel Colt’s magic gun?” Dean frowns. “I thought that was just a bedtime story.”
“No, it’s real, all right,” Bobby says. He scrapes his bowl clean with the last of the cornbread, washes it down with a shot of whisky. “You just gotta find it, is all.”
“What happened to it?”
“Story goes, Colt last used it in Sunrise, Wyoming in 1861. Then he passed it on to a friend of the family for safekeeping. Man named Elkins.”
“Elkins? Dan Elkins?” Dean can’t believe his luck. Again.
“You know him?”
“Dan’s Lawrence’s Chuck Shurley,” Dean says, and when all eyes turn to him with varying degrees of horror and confusion, he clarifies, “He’s the town drunk.”
“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Bobby grouses. “So you just left town without the one thing you need to confront this demon.”
Dean’s heart sinks. “We didn’t know,” he admits. “Elkins never mentioned owning something like that. Hell, I didn’t even believe him when he said he was a hunter.”
“Former hunter,” Sam corrects. “Pretty sure he hasn’t hunted since he moved to town — four years ago, at least.”
“Where did he come from before that?” Bobby asks.
“Came in with a refugee group from Denver,” Sam says. “I think he mentioned he was originally from Wyoming.”
“Doesn’t matter now anyway.” Dean sighs. “We got no way to get that gun, even if Elkins still has it. Even if one of us rode back for it, by the time he caught up and got out to Blue Earth, chances are Mom won’t be there anyway. Not to mention the demon.”
“I believe I can help,” Castiel says.
All eyes turn to the angel.
“How can you possibly help?” Dean demands. “Unless you can fly...” Dean blinks, suddenly understanding. “You can fly.”
Castiel nods. “Using my wings, I am able to travel to Lawrence instantaneously.”
“Which won’t help us,” Bobby notes. “Since the deputies there will shoot you as soon as they see you.”
“So Dean should go,” Sam says. “Can you carry him?”
Castiel nods. “I can transport one or both of you to Lawrence, retrieve the gun, and get back here before we leave in the morning.”
“What are we waiting for?”
“You people are crazy,” Chuck announces. “You’re not my characters. My characters would never be so insane.”
“Welcome to the real world, Chuck,” Dean smirks, winking.
Chuck tosses back another shot and says nothing.
They’re standing in the saloon in Lawrence, less than a minute after Castiel put the tips of his fingers against Sam’s and Dean’s foreheads and told them to close their eyes.
Dean stumbles, dizzy and nauseous, and Sam catches him.
“Well, that was awful,” Dean notes as he steadies himself on Sam’s arm.
Sam nods. “Agreed. But thanks,” he looks up at Castiel, who observes them with his usual composed curiosity.
Dean feels like a bug under a microscope when Castiel looks at him that way. It’s not pleasant.
“What are you doing here?” The bartender stares at them with a look of confusion. “I thought you left for Sioux Falls nigh on a week ago.”
“Hey Ash,” Dean greets him. “We did. We’re just stopping by to get something. You seen Dan Elkins?”
“Sure, I have,” Ash says. He’s got a glass in one hand, a towel in the other, obviously in the process of cleaning glasses. He tilts his head toward the back corner of the room. “He’s over there, as usual, doing what he does best.”
“Thanks.” Dean tips his hat.
They cross the room to the table where Dan Elkins sits slumped over, not quite snoring but close to it.
“Mr. Elkins?” Dean puts a hand on the old man’s shoulder. “We need a word.”
Elkins stirs, lifts his head and blinks at the three men gathered around him. His eyes widen when he sees Sam, and he sits back in alarm.
“The Gunslinger!” Elkins chokes out. “What — I thought you left town!”
“It’s alright, Mr. Elkins,” Dean says. “Nobody’s here to do you any harm. We’re hoping you can help us. We think you have something that could help us kill a demon.”
“A demon?” Elkins blinks. “I’m a vampire slayer.”
“So I hear,” Dean nods. “Heard you were quite the hunter in your day.”
“I was,” Elkins nods. “Taught your daddy a few things.”
Sam and Dean exchange glances, and Sam takes over the questioning. “Mr. Elkins, we understand you have a special gun, a revolver made by Samuel Colt.”
Elkins gives himself away with the startled look he gives Sam. Sam does his best to look reassuring, but he’s just too big. His reputation is too overwhelming.
Then Elkins surprises them.
“Knew you’d come for it, sooner or later,” he says. He seems almost relieved. “They don’t call you The Gunslinger for nothing. Legend of this gun says it’ll always return to them’s that needs it. Makes sense it goes to another Samuel. I shoulda seen that comin’.”
Sam and Dean exchange looks of amazement. “So you’ll give it to us?”
“Of course,” Elkins says. “It’s yours, rightfully.” He looks past them, at Ash, who’s working on a crossword puzzle behind the bar with a dull-tipped pencil. “Hey Ash! Open your safe and bring these fellas the package I gave you to keep.”
“Coming right up, Mr. Elkins,” Ash says, disappearing into the back room with his usual swagger.
Sam and Dean exchange another look. “This seems almost too easy,” Dean comments.
Sam shrugs, makes his “I got nothin’” face.
“The prophecy says, ‘He who wields the weapon will display both skill and ability,’” Castiel says. “‘He shall be known by the name that fits the weapon he wields.’”
“This just gets weirder and weirder,” Dean mutters.
Sam nods, gives his “Agreed” face.
When Ash brings the package, the three travelers stand gaping at its contents for several seconds before Sam reaches out to open it. It’s an old wooden box, carved with protection sigils. When Sam touches it, Dean half expects it to glow or sparkle, but it doesn’t. It opens easily at his touch, almost as if it was waiting for this moment.
Inside the box lies an old revolver and six bullets. Sam picks up one of the bullets, peers closely at it.
“It’s got markings on it,” he announces.
Elkins nods. “Every bullet has those,” he says. “It’s part of the magic. Each one will kill anything supernatural.” He blushes shyly. “I could’ve used them to kill any one of the vampires I hunted, but I never did. Saved ‘em for you, Gunslinger.”
Sam huffs out a breath as he puts the bullet back in the box. “How long have you had it?” he asks, obviously impressed.
“Samuel Colt gave it to me personally in 1861 in Sunrise, Wyoming,” Elkins says proudly. “‘Keep it safe, Dan,’ he said. ‘Some day it’ll be needed.’”
“Forty-four years ago,” Sam breathes. “You must’ve been a kid.”
“About the age you are now, Gunslinger,” Elkins says. He huffs out a breath. “Funny how scared I was when I first heard about you. I think I knew.”
“Sam, we should go,” Castiel says.
Sam and Dean exchange glances again. Dean reads the combination of disbelief and shock in his brother’s face, and Dean’s not having it.
“Okay,” he says, clearing his throat. He turns to Elkins. “Now we’re leaving, Mr. Elkins, same way we got here. So don’t freak out on us when we appear to disappear, y’hear? You’re not crazy.”
Sam rolls his eyes, which was the point, so Dean smiles smugly. Whatever stupid antics it takes to get Sam to relax, Dean’s up for it.
He shoots a look at Castiel. “Let’s go.”
Sam tucks the box under his arm, and the next moment they’re standing in the saloon in Sioux Falls, Bobby, Chuck, and Jody staring at them, wild-eyed.
“We got it,” Sam says.