Category: Gen, AU, Western
Characters: Dean, Sam, Crowley
Summary: The year is 1882, the place is Yuma prison. Fergus MacLeod is awaiting trial and less than impressed with his new cellmate, the notorious outlaw Dean Winchester. Can they resolve their differences and form an escape plan, or is there a bigger agenda in play? What follows is deception, double dealing and deadly peril as the stakes increase along with the six shooters.
Dean drained the last drops of wine from the bottle and placed it beside him. He wished there was more but the alcohol had done its job, leaving him light headed and immeasurably more confident than he’d been an hour ago. No matter what he’d told Zachariah or Sam, even himself for that matter, he was dreading the punishment. He’d come close a few times but never actually experienced getting flogged; he consequently had no idea what to expect or the pain levels involved. With the benefit of booze though, he could easily take twenty lashes like a man and show no weakness. The image of Zachariah leaving the spectacle disappointed brought a smile to his lips. Ultimately, getting one over on that slimy bastard was all that counted.
And if it served to get him out of this shithole then so much the better. Dean knew the escape plan was risky, that he might wind up with a bullet through his head but anticipating the look on Fergus MacLeod’s face when he played his next card made even that a risk worth taking. His smile widened as he pictured the moment.
The sound of bolts being drawn back was deafening in the near silence of the hole and he pulled the empty bottle behind him and out of sight. Sam’s candle had burned out some time ago and as the door squeaked open, bright light speared his eyes. He threw an arm across them, tensing at the sound of quiet footsteps approaching.
“How you doing?”
Although it was Sam’s voice addressing him, Dean couldn’t relax. As his brother squatted beside him, Dean squinted at him blearily.
“Is it time?”
Sam shook his head. “It’s six thirty. I brought you breakfast.”
He pushed a beaker of water and hunk of stale bread through the bars and Dean stared at it in disgust.
“Thanks but no thanks.”
In truth he wasn’t hungry; he was beginning to feel queasy and told himself it was just the booze unsettling his guts. The portion of the yard visible through the half open door was empty, which meant the prisoners were at their morning meal and Dean could imagine them talking and laughing as they anticipated the unscheduled entertainment. Sam was watching him glumly.
“How was the wine?”
“Huh?” Dean only half heard the question and he frowned as he tried to process it. “Easier to keep down than whisky, I guess. I’ll have to remember that trick.”
He handed over the bottle and Sam tucked it into his pants. It was his turn to frown.
“Rufus Turner’s handling the whip. Apparently he knows how to put on a show, make it look good without…” Sam’s voice tailed off. “You know.”
Dean forced out a laugh but even to his ears it sounded hollow. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“Not really.” Sam’s frown deepened. “Are you okay?”
“Peachy”. But Dean’s throat was dry as the desert and he reached for the beaker of water and gulped it down. He felt Sam’s hand on his shoulder and shook it off roughly.
“I’m not scared, man. This is only to bust us out of Yuma and every one of those fuckers is gonna pay for it later. You got that?”
Sam nodded and blinked rapidly. His eyes were moist and Dean smirked.
“Save them tears, honey. I ain’t worth it.”
Sam offered him the ghost of a smile.
“They’ll be coming soon. Don’t give them any reason to make this worse, okay?”
Dean couldn’t guarantee that so he kept his mouth shut. Eventually Sam shrugged and stood up.
“I’ll see you later. Stay strong, Dean.”
Then he was gone and the cell was dark again. Dean got up and groped his way across the cage until he was at the point he estimated was closest to the door. He listened intently until he fancied he caught the shuffle of 120 prisoners coming into the yard. Imagination or not, it made his stomach churn and he fought down a wave of nausea. He pressed his forehead against the cold bars, waiting…
Eventually real feet approached and the door banged open to admit Walt, Roy and a third guard, clearly a buddy since he was wearing the same expectant grin as his cohorts. Roy was carrying a set of manacles and Dean gripped the bars as anger stirred in the pit of his stomach. It felt a damned sight better than sickness and he spat at Walt’s boots, smiling when he jumped back, cursing.
“Step away from the bars, Winchester and don’t give us any trouble. We’re coming in.”
Roy sounded eager and Dean was ready to give him the worst trouble he’d ever see until he remembered Sam’s parting caution. There was no sense taking another beating right before something infinitely worse so he moved into the middle of the cage while Walt unlocked the door. He stayed put as they swarmed in, gripped his wrists and secured the manacles. He received a couple of punches anyway, reckoned he’d gotten off lightly all things considered and then they were dragging him towards the yard.
The morning light was subdued; low, smoke-coloured clouds filled the sky but to Dean’s dark-accustomed eyes everything was too bright. He shook his head to clear his vision; the booze had made it fuzzy and the yard began to spin a little. He welcomed the sensation of detachment and tried to hang onto it as he was marched forward.
The yard was full of men, sitting in the dirt and watching intently while right ahead of him was Zachariah, standing beside the water pump. He was flanked by Captain Singer and Rufus Turner who was nervously turning a broad leather whip in his hands. Dean would have preferred to make a dignified approach but he was being pulled along with excessive force and he stumbled and nearly lost his footing several times.
By the time he got to Zachariah the wine had reached his legs. He was turned to face the inmates and stood there swaying, feeling the eyes of 120 men boring into him. All would be wondering how he’d handle himself in this situation and most would have laid bets on the outcome. Dean could acutely feel the excitement and anticipation but also sensed an undercurrent of mutinous outrage. He could hear the mutter of exchanged opinions, a few voices raised in dissent and the atmosphere was best described as tense. This was as close as anybody inside Yuma got to entertainment, but some of the audience didn’t seem happy to be there.
Dean stared into the crowd and offered a theatrical yawn when Zachariah started talking. The subsequent laughter drowned out the beginning of the governor’s speech, which proved tedious and patronising. He glossed over the circumstances surrounding the punishment, focussing instead on the necessity for a firm hand when dealing with unruly inmates. There was open disagreement from some prisoners now and their volume levels were rising. Dean blotted out Zachariah’s bullshit by keeping a bored but insolent expression on his face. He let his gaze linger on the toughest men in the prison, letting them know he wasn’t bothered by any of this and inviting them to learn from his example.
It seemed like the whole damned place had turned out to watch. All the ancillary personnel were present, from lay workers to office staff and every guard had been rostered on duty. The dozen or so on the catwalk had rifles trained into the yard and Dean saw Garth outside the guardhouse, his expression a combination of guilt and dismay. The only faces missing belonged to Macleod and Sam. True to his word, his brother was absent from the proceedings and Dean wondered what story he’d used to excuse himself. He sincerely hoped Sam was using the time constructively; fine tuning the details of their escape plan or scaring the living shit out of Fergus MacLeod. Either was fine by him.
Rough hands gripping his arms notified him Zachariah’s lecture was done and the real show was about to begin. Roy unlocked the manacles, ordered him to remove his tunic and Dean hesitated. His hands were trembling and he’d fumble the buttons if he took it off in the conventional manner. Reluctant to look foolish in front of this audience, he tried for a more impressive method; ripping the garment open and tossing it to the floor with contempt. That earned him a couple of cheers.
Walt and Roy turned him to face the wall and Dean’s eyes were drawn to the pair of iron rings set into the stonework. They could have been hitching rings, except they were six feet above the ground and four feet apart. He’d spent many an idle hour contemplating their purpose and now he fervently wished he hadn’t discovered it in such a public fashion. The guards tied ropes to his wrists, threaded them through the rings and pulled them tight, spreading his arms and flattening his chest against the rock. They were tied off quickly, securing him in place and Walt and Roy stood back as Zachariah’s voice boomed round the yard.
“Twenty lashes for this prisoner. Let punishment commence.”
The yard went silent and Dean heard the crunch of Rufus Turner’s boots as he took up his position. He was tied too tightly, too closely for much movement and though he strained his neck round as far as possible, he couldn’t get a clear look at what was happening behind him.
Rain splashed on his shoulders and thunder rumbled in the near distance as somebody yelled “one” and the first lash landed across his back. He heard the whistle and crack of leather on flesh a moment before sensation struck and nothing could have prepared him for the brittle, stinging agony it brought. He gasped in shock and clamped his jaws together to keep from making any further sound. After a second shout of “two” he was no better prepared. By the seventh stroke his skin felt hot, raw and tight enough to split. The eighth stoke completed the job and he felt blood trickling down his back. Dean’s teeth were so tightly clenched his jaw ached and more blood ran down his chin from where he’d bitten his lip or his tongue, maybe both.
The rain gained in intensity as the flogging progressed and Dean was losing his grip on reason. He couldn’t tell if the wetness on his back was water or blood, couldn’t hear the count over the pounding in his ears and there was a darkening mist before his eyes. He didn’t know if the whip was still working or whether the searing agony across his shoulders and back just made it seem that way. A detached part of his mind with a bad sense of humour told him this was Rufus Turner going easy and he nearly laughed, right before he swooned. He lost his balance and then his entire weight was dragging down on his arms as he struggled to keep upright. Only bone-headed pride kept his legs from buckling again, since there was no way on earth he’d let the whole prison watch him faint like a lady at a hanging.
Caught up in the battle for dignity, time stretched out infinitely and Dean was close to losing the fight when a voice jerked him from the near stupor.
“It’s over, son. Reckon you can make it to the hospital.”
It took him a while to realise it was Captain Singer speaking, by which time the pressure on his wrists was easing as the ropes were cut. Dean jammed his palms and forehead against the wall, still determined not to collapse and Singer’s voice came again, closer this time.
“You need some help?”
Dean shook his head and watched droplets of rainwater splash onto the dirt.
“Like hell I do.”
His voice came out ragged and harsh. He gathered every last bit of his strength and pushed away from the wall, willing his legs not to give out. They held out enough for him to turn slowly, wipe blood from his chin and face the yard. There were too many expressions to read and Dean didn’t have the time or energy to study them. He’d proven himself to every last man; hadn’t screamed or begged for mercy, hadn’t passed out now he was walking away with his head held high.
He raked water out of his hair and cast a contemptuous look at Zachariah, who was watching coldly. Adrenaline began pumping through Dean’s body, lending him some much needed vitality and he spat as hard as he could in the Governor’s direction. The bloody globule landed squarely on his polished boot and there was immediate laughter, hoots and jeers from the inmates. Zachariah’s jaw clenched but he didn’t respond, just threw Dean a glare which promised hell on earth before turning on his heel and stalking through the nearest gate. Walt and Roy were right behind him.
Prisoners climbed to their feet as Dean passed, in open defiance of guards who yelled at them to sit down and stay put. Singer and Turner were trailing him but despite their proximity, vulgar truths and opinions on the current regime were freely offered. Towards the back of the yard men began to clap and shout and by the time Dean reached the gate to the hospital, the mood was downright dangerous. Guards on the catwalk added gunfire to the quarrel which only served to inflame the situation and the noise was deafening. It was only surpassed by crashing thunder as the mother of all storms approached. As the strap-iron gate closed and locked behind him, shutting out some of the racket, Dean could hear rain hissing on the packed dirt.
Adrenalin kept him going for a few more paces and then his legs buckled. Singer and Turner caught him before he hit the deck and carried him onwards to the hospital.
Dean blacked out before they got there.
- ACES WILD (12/?)