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.
NOTE: I will be updating this story with a new chapter every Sunday evening, Brit time. If you like it, you know when and where to find it.
Dean dragged himself from the bathhouse and across the yard to the mess hall. He was late for dinner on account of having fallen asleep in the tub, but the guard assigned to him was at least sympathetic to his state of utter exhaustion and didn’t give him too much of a hard time.
Dean couldn’t remember ever having worked so hard in his life. He’d spent most of his life actively avoiding physical labour of any kind so nothing could have prepared him for the experience of attacking a rock wall, armed with nothing but a pickaxe. Captain Singer’s
words of warning drifted back to him; ‘back breaking’ was a fair description of the work and Dean’s whole body had begun aching like hell only an hour into his first shift. Not long after that his hands blistered and his muscles screamed in protest each time he raised the axe for another strike.
The rock face was thirty paces inside a rough-hewn cavern, produced by the sweat and toil of prison inmates. The face itself was lit by gas lamps but there was so much dust swirling round it was hard to see much of anything. It got into Dean’s eyes and made them stream; got into his throat and choked him but worst of all was the heat. He’d thrown off his prison tunic right away but his body still streamed with sweat, which mixed with the airborne dirt until he resembled a Navajo warrior. Two guards were stationed near the mouth of the chamber and in spite of the poor visibility they seemed to know when a man was slacking. They’d bark orders and threats until he picked up his pace again.
After an hour another squad of men took over and Dean’s gang was taken outside to a pile of large rocks. They were issued long handled hammers and instructed to break them into smaller pieces. While it was a relief to be away from the dry heat of the cavern and breathe clean air, the work was no easier. Now he had the sun to contend with as well, beating down relentlessly and making his skin itch as sweat and dust dried on it.
An hour later they were back in the cavern, dragging rocks from the work face to the hammering pile. The final hour before lunch was spent loading small pieces of the broken rock into barrows and wheeling them two hundred yards to the prison gates. Dean learned that traders and masons from Yuma purchased it by the ton and brought up carts to haul it away. He couldn’t see any tradesmen waiting outside today.
The loads were heavy and the guards would allow no respite. Some carried long, flexible birches and if they felt a prisoner wasn’t moving quickly enough they’d snap it across his back. The blows weren’t hard but they stung like a bitch and Dean felt the unwelcome bite several times. Throughout the long morning he was allowed to stop work only briefly in order to take in water.
Lunch didn’t last nearly long enough, the food on his plate didn’t purge his ravenous appetite and in the afternoon the whole process repeated. Four gangs of men took turns at chipping, hammering, loading and barrowing in hour long shifts. When the five o’clock bell sounded the end of work, Dean was dead on his feet and craving the period before dinner where prisoners could rest in their cells. He soon discovered he was no longer entitled to this privilege. Most inmates bathed once a week, but the rock crews got so grimy they bathed every evening. There were only six tubs and twenty men needing to use them so they took it in turns. They went in alphabetically and Dean was right at the end of the list. He subsequently spent most of that precious hour slumped on a bench and waiting to be called. Every part of him ached and his mind was whirling; too tired to form coherent thought but simultaneously recoiling from the prospect of spending even one more day like this one. Time stretched before him like a desert and all he could focus on now was breaking Fergus MacLeod before his body got broken first.
When he’d returned to his cell for lockup yesterday, MacLeod was sprawled on his bunk and smiling smugly. That wasn’t the reaction Dean expected from a man who’d just got his trial date but MacLeod didn’t off an explanation for his good humour. Dean couldn’t be bothered pursuing it either; he didn’t like the fucker and every second spent in his company was becoming a chore.
On the other hand playing the part of Dean Winchester, notorious outlaw, was becoming very agreeable. Despite nearly two years spent working as a town marshal, that part of Dean’s nature had never been entirely supressed and with each passing day it was actively gaining strength. He was beginning to enjoy the familiar feeling of satisfaction when another prisoner dropped his eyes in deference or changed direction in order to avoid his path. He even liked the fact there was an armed guard shadowing him most places he went. Men feared him and he kept telling himself that in his current predicament, a dangerous reputation was worth nurturing.
Sam had come by his cell later that evening and they’d conducted their regular meeting, though his brother insisted they speak more quietly than usual. He’d explained how MacLeod had insinuated himself into their non-existent escape plan and Dean was far from surprised. He’d never thought MacLeod stupid enough to offer information without covering his ass, and had always suspected it might come down to this.
If escape was the only way to get MacLeod talking then Dean’s official mission was dead in the water. He had no problem with that. Sam would hate the infidelity, lecture him on how defying the men in Chicago would put him right back on their wanted list, but Dean didn’t give a shit. As an outlaw he’d successfully avoided the Pinkerton Agency for years and he’d only accepted their assignment as a legitimate way to get close to MacLeod.
The only mission Dean cared about was his own. He had his own agenda and a highly personal score to settle. If accomplishing that meant coercing MacLeod into singing the right tune, he’d do it by any means necessary. For the moment though, all he needed to do was keep the limey bastard on the hook while he came up with a real breakout plan.
“Pick your heels up, Winchester or you’ll miss dinner altogether.”
Dean tried to move faster, his body protesting every step. The mess hall was noisy with conversation, the clatter of cutlery and a lot of eyes watched as he came in. In spite of his fatigue Dean squared his shoulders and put some swagger into his stride. He had to keep up appearances and didn’t want anybody thinking a day’s hard labour almost had him beat.
He was still being allocated extra portions at mealtimes and now he was thankful for it. For two weeks he’d struggled to clear his plate but today he was ready to eat a horse. He looked for somewhere to sit and cursed as he realised the only empty place was beside MacLeod. He hesitated, hoping he’d missed a seat and a guard prodded him and told him to get moving.
MacLeod’s plate was clear and he sat with his head bowed, deep in thought as Dean approached and banged his bowl down. MacLeod started then looked up, scowling as Dean flopped onto a stool and dug into his food, not even acknowledging his presence. He could feel MacLeod’s eyes on him though and waited for the inevitable conversation to pick up.
“When are we going to do it?” MacLeod’s voice was low and close. It made Dean bristle.
MacLeod spoke right into his ear. “I’m part of your crew now so how about you start spilling the beans?”
Dean jerked his head away. “Shut your mouth, MacLeod or I’ll shut it for you. I’m not discussing anything in a goddamned mess hall.”
MacLeod smirked. “Tough day at the office, eh? A man like you just isn’t built for work like that.”
Dean ignored him and carried on eating. The fact of the matter was that he had no clear idea how to break out of Yuma prison. Even with Sam and Garth around to help, the place was locked up like a fortress and heavily guarded day and night. Half an hour later, back in his cell, he was no closer to an answer. Too exhausted to think straight, he threw himself onto his bunk and closed his eyes, listening to MacLeod retrieve a bottle of whisky from his hidey hole. Dean desperately needed to sleep but that wasn’t going to be possible for a while. MacLeod wanted to talk and it didn’t take him long to start yapping.
“I assume this is private enough for you, so how about you tell me what you’ve got planned. Your Moose hasn’t been exactly forthcoming.”
Dean opened his eyes with a laboured sigh. “There’s nothing planned and I’m too tired to think. Now shut the fuck up.”
MacLeod took a slow sip of whisky. “It’ll get worse you know? Zachariah just assigned Walt and Roy to your work gang.”
Dean muttered a curse. However hard he’d been worked today, tomorrow was going to be intolerable. He flexed his blistered hands, wondering how long it would take them to start bleeding and MacLeod watched with a satisfied expression.
“So what’s it to be, boss?”
Irritated by the sarcasm, Dean propped himself on an elbow and glowered at his cellmate.
“You keep bragging how you busted out of Yuma; how about you throw me some tips?”
MacLeod shook his head. “I told you before, things were different back then. All I did was pay some guards to look the other way as I took my leave. Do you honestly see that happening now?”
Dean didn’t. Even if Sam could get keys and unlock every door in the prison, there were too many guards around and they’d be shot on sight. He lay back with a grunt and threw an arm across his eyes. He could sense MacLeod’s impatience, had to admit he was feeling much the same way right now. He needed to get out of this place, away from his cellmate’s babble, Zachariah’s spite and this new level of exhaustion. He craved the weight of a pistol in his hand, to be the master of his own destiny once more. He wanted to ride hard, get drunk and have fun with las señoras de la bordello. He wanted to kill the cocksucker who’d…
He jerked himself sharply away from the recurring train of thought. It would make him angry and careless. He dropped his arm and squinted at MacLeod, whose expression was unfocussed and blank. When he finally spoke Dean wasn’t sure he was the one being addressed.
“This place is wound up tighter than a drum, but when I was in the hospital…”
He tailed off, a smile pulling at his lips.
“They don’t watch sick men very closely. Most nights I festered in that damned bed and listened to the guard snore. That’s when he wasn’t down the corridor playing cards with his mates.”
Dean could see where MacLeod was going with this, could see the holes in it already.
“Sick men are in no shape to break out, MacLeod. And they’re all chained to their beds.”
MacLeod’s smile widened. “Moose could get the keys easily enough and listen to this; there’s a passage in the basement which leads down to the river. They use it to take dead prisoners to the boneyard.”
He sat up straighter, his eyes glinting with excitement.
“A few years ago there was an outbreak of cholera here; it sent the town into meltdown and trade dropped off for months. They dug that tunnel so nobody could see any more bodies and create a fuss. All we need is a boat and we’ll simply float…”
Dean interrupted him, frowning. “Nothing’s simple, and how the hell do you know all this?”
“I work in the library, dumbarse. Recently I’ve been perusing material not strictly meant for my eyes.”
Dean considered. Garth could get them a boat; there were plenty moored at the Yuma trading post and he could get keys copied there. All they needed was Sam to get himself rostered onto the night shift and…
He pulled up short, before he started believing this crap might actually work. There was still a fundamental flaw in his cellmate’s grand plan.
“You’ve forgotten something, MacLeod. We’re not sick or injured and those doctors see right through fakers.”
“So we get ourselves hurt and lay it on a bit thicker than necessary. All we need is one night in that hospital.”
Dean scowled. “I just spent six weeks getting hurt for no good reason. I’m not doing it again.”
MacLeod snorted disdainfully. “You may be a lot of things, but I never took you for a chicken.”
Dean stood up in a rush, his fists clenched. “If you’re so keen to get back, how about I put you there right now?”
MacLeod nodded agreeably. “You’ll get ten lashes in the yard and those guards don’t hold back. They’ll hospitalise you for sure so congratulations, Winchester; you just made your first leadership decision.”
Dean tried to get his anger under control. That was playing right into MacLeod’s hands.
“I’m not getting whipped on your account, and I’m not going to the fucking hospital. Go screw yourself.”
MacLeod shrugged. “See how you feel after a few days with your best pals Walt and Roy.”
Dean had heard enough. He shucked off his uniform, lay on his bunk and pulled the blankets over himself.
“I’ve got a hard day tomorrow, MacLeod. You can quit yapping now.”
But MacLeod was like a dog with a bone. “It’s obvious you don’t have any plan worth a shit, so I strongly suggest you think on this one. That hospital’s the only way out and we both know it. I’ll speak to Moose about it tomorrow; he’s a hell of a lot smarter than you.”
Dean didn’t respond. He couldn’t stop MacLeod doing that and Sam might even come up with a better idea. As he drifted off to sleep, MacLeod’s bullshit followed him into his dreams.
“You need to man up and take a bit of pain. Do us all a fucking favour.”