Epilogue - Like a Glove
"From what I can figure, the mouse skull was Jaffords' power object," Sam explained, tapping his pencil idly against the pages on which he'd jotted down his gathered knowledge on the hunt. He sat at the table in the motel room, laptop open and papers strewn about, as Dean sat propped against the headboard of one bed, and Jessica sat Indian style in the middle of the other.
"Power object," Jess repeated, sounding like she cared less than a lot.
"You've probably heard stories of how skinwalkers typically wear an actual animal skin over their shoulders when in human form," Sam continued, oblivious to her apathy. Dean snorted to himself – his little brother was far too into this Professor Geek shtick – and Sam ignored that too. "Well that skin is a more common adaptation of a power object, without which the skinwalker can't transform. Jaffords must have used the mouse skull in the same way."
"Except for the part where he used it in other ways," Dean corrected, adding just enough sarcasm to his tone for it to be annoying instead of just helping the explanation. The hoarseness of his voice in no way detracted from the effect.
After another worried hour or two of fever and delirium, Dean had begun to work his way back to them. It would probably take a few days of healing, but to all of their relief it seemed he'd be back to his normal, healthy and annoying self soon.
"Right," Sam agreed. He flipped to the next page of his notes for no apparent reason. He definitely had this spiel pre-memorized. "Most skinwalkers use their power objects as simply a source of the magic they need to transform, but Jaffords recognized that it works both ways. The skull gave him the magic, yes, but his use and strengthening of that magic made the skull more powerful in return. Therefore it could be used to harness other kinds of magic; give him other kinds of abilities." Sam flipped his notes closed, a triumphant grin on his face.
Dean gave him a slow, sarcastic clap for his deduction skill; he was fresh out of cookies and gold stars.
Jessica chose the more mature and more effective method of bursting his bubble. "Riddle me this, Oh Wise One. Why a mouse? You know, seeing as how he obviously saw it as a great and noble creature."
What was it they'd told him it had said? 'No, not the mouse, I don't need you'? The guy had obviously never been much of a Mickey fan.
Sam flipped through his papers for a few moments before shaking his head. "I don't know."
A Dean Winchester who hadn't just come so close to death might have gloated about the fact that he thought he did know; but facing his demise with no power to stop it was what had made him understand so well. "The mouse could have saved him, you know," he said softly, closing his eyes and leaning his head back to rest on the wall.
He couldn't see whether they were giving him questioning looks. He reopened his eyes at their silence to glance between them. "He could have gotten away as a mouse. You wouldn't have been able to shoot a running mouse." Mouse, mouse, mouse – the word kept repeating itself in his words, and for a moment he felt a fraction of how inescapable the creature must have been for Jaffords.
"In his final, most desperate moments, the mouse was there. That's why he chose it. Because he had no other choice."
"What do you mean?" Jess interrupted. "He could have chosen a dog, or a cat, or anything you'd find around –"
"No, he couldn't have," Dean stopped her. "They arrested him in the middle of his little ritual of the damned, and locked him in some grungy, lightless cell for four days. He was hanging in the limbo before he could get his powers, suspended – trapped, and desperate."
"And then he found a mouse in his cell," Sam continued, understanding.
"It found him," Dean corrected, staring blankly now into the motel's small kitchen. "And no matter what he did to overcome it, now matter how often he put his energies into being that coyote and turning it into a powerful, fugly son of a bitch, he could never escape the fact that before and after everything, he needed that mouse. It was a scrawny, dirty, fragile thing that was probably just looking for a few crumbs to eat, but it would always be more than he was."
When he'd finished his monologue, a heavy, emotionally charged silence fell in the room. No one knew quite how to respond to that.
"You know what I don't get?" Dean began again – to let them all begin again. "How did he figure out how to do it? Shapeshifting for Dummies? How to Become a Yenaldooshi in Three Easy Steps?" He paused, letting Sam and Jess's quiet laughter settle over him like a warm blanket. "Wikipedia?"
Sam stepped out the motel door, carrying his and Dean's bags out to the car – Dean had insisted he could carry his own, and his little brother had pretended not to hear him – but as Jess picked up hers to follow him, Dean's words made her pause.
"So, how does it feel to be one of us now?"
She rested her bag on the bed closest to the door and looked at him. "You mean a card-carrying member of the Winchester Pro Bono Exterminator's Club?"
Dean frowned. "Since when do we have cards?"
"And not to mention, my last name's Moore." She took a moment to really consider the question. "It's . . . kind of exhilarating, honestly. And very weird."
"Exhilarating. Yeah." Dean grinned cheekily at her. "Don't let Sam hear you say that. You know, before he went to college I never would have thought his lecturing skills could actually improve."
Jessica couldn't have helped the genuine smile on her face if she'd tried. Some days she had trouble understanding how the Winchesters, who had been forged in fire, could do so much more than simply burn.
Sam Winchester was her love, even when lately he wasn't at all, he was her warmth and security – and even as her storm she could see his underlying goodness, and all that he would do for her. Dean Winchester was her friend, someone who could become a brother to her, and in moments like these he was her freedom and air.
"It feels right," she admitted quietly, and underneath the amusement in Dean's gaze, she saw his understanding. Here, they could belong.
"I never did get what was so great about being normal, anyway," Dean said, nodding to the open doorway, to where Sam was mulling about, packing their belongings in the Impala.
"It's about the innocence, I guess."
Dean laughed again, bringing the conversation back to levity as he always did. "Innocence is for geeks who can't get laid, anyway."
Jess narrowed her eyes at him.
"Uh . . ." He had the grace to look mildly alarmed, before he formed air quotes with his fingers. "'Make love'?"
"You're impossible," Jess responded, throwing her hands in the air before picking up her bag and walking out into the sunlight.
Sam tossed her the keys as she approached the car, and she handed him her bag and slid into the driver's seat.
She turned to her window to wave to Dean as he did a double-take in the doorway. That's right, Deano. Some girl is driving your car. And she gets to pick the music.
Here we have it, ladies and gents, the end.
Thank you's go out to Mike, for reading and reassuring and helping me work out my plot rambles. Thanks to Raven for putting up with my endless Discord-related babbling – let's just say there was a LOT – and for reading every page I threw at her even though Supernatural fan fiction is my stalker-like obsession and not hers. Thanks to Ster1 for the lovely assistance with my summary – hey, it may have come halfway through the fic, but I have you to thank for finally getting the right one.
Thanks to all my reviewers and to everybody who added Matters of Discord to your alerts lists and favourites lists. You guys kept me encouraged and happy throughout the posting process. I would have still posted if it weren't for you, but it wouldn't have given me a quarter of the satisfaction. Or even an eigth. You guys are the greatest, and make it allllll worthwhile. :D
It's possible that I may continue on with the universe created for this fic in future fiction. If this makes you happy, cross your fingers for me.