For Once, Then, Something
Summary: Dean and Sam track a kidnapped girl to southern Arizona, to the winter home of a Romani family. There all seems quiet and ordinary, and the boys are welcomed into this secretive and clannish society. But someone doesn't want them there, and has the ability to strike back when they get too close. And there's an FBI agent after them. Of course.
Timeline: Second season AU, but only in the sense that John is alive, and whatever else happened in season two, didn't happen. 'Cause this is so unbelievably late.
Chapter 5: Sign of the Gypsy Queen
She probably thought this was funny. Last night Sam had agreed to the meeting without hesitation, just to get her out the room before Dean could do something … regrettable. The location was her choice, and he'd noted it down without thought, the remnants of his headache still occupying most of his brain.
Prison Hill. Leahy probably thought it was funny.
The Old West era prison that had once been here was now reduced to a tourist trap, charging entrance fees to people who liked to cringe in mock horror at the living conditions of people who couldn't get out. If there was picturesque in Yuma, it was here, a bluff overlooking the Colorado River, but to find it you had to block out the noise of the interstate roaring next door, and pretend the Colorado was a real river and not the dammed, drained and concrete-walled irrigation ditch it had been reduced to.
No doubt Agent bloody Leahy found that freaking hilarious, too.
She was waiting when he got there, sipping on a cup of coffee from a paper cup, leaning against the hood of her rented car. The prison was doing good business, winter being the busy season down here, but they were parked on the far edge of the lot where no one was going to interrupt them.
"You're looking better," she said, when he emerged from the car and stood opposite her, his arms crossed, leaned against the Impala.
"Can we just-" he stopped. Rudeness was not going to get him anywhere. He could smell the coffee in her hand. He'd slept late and managed to drag himself out of bed in time to meet her only because Dean had thrown the car keys at him with a laughing 'don't forget your date' dig.
He smiled tightly. "Can we just skip to the accusations and interrogation, please."
"Are we a little hung over this morning?"
We? Maybe he should have let Dean hit her. Just the once. But he didn't dignify that with any other response. She held the paper cup to her lips, not drinking, just letting the aroma and steam soothe the dryness. "No accusations," she shrugged. "I'm just curious, honestly. I didn't expect to find you here. In Yuma."
If she wasn't going to drink the damn thing… He should have stopped on the way here, grabbed some coffee for himself. Another couple of minutes wouldn't have made any difference. "What are you doing here then? Aren't you following us?" Plus, it might have improved his mood some.
Why would I be following you? Her false, brittle smile taunted. Is there any reason I should?
"In fact I was following up on that – what do you call it – fetish? – bag your brother found." She pulled chin length black hair back behind one ear, stirred loose by the breeze."Or placed. It took a whole team of FBI ethnographers to tell me it was Romani in origin, and then the forensics people found the yucca pollen. So I go rushing off to scout out the area's Romanies… and here you are." All friendly. As though coincidences like that didn't make the neck hairs of any investigator peg like a wire brush. "What I want to know is how you got here before me. I flew." It was almost peevish.
Sam couldn't help the twisted grin. "Would you care if I told you we exceeded the speed limit in several states?"
"It's like you already knew what to look for."
That stung. It surprised him how much. Dean had known what to look for. Not because he'd set up some elaborate con the way she expected but because this was their job, and they were good at it. They had a lifetime's experience at it. Sam's lifetime.
"We do this all the time," Sam admitted, aware of the fine line he was skirting. "We have… a specialized area of expertise, let's say." One that all the forensics teams and FBI ethnographers were not any better at than two unaccredited brothers. Not all expertise came with letters after your name.
"Let's say," she repeated, as if agreeing to a euphemism. She evaluated him evenly, and he couldn't quite place her expression. "What about your vision?"
He'd almost expected that question. But not the way she asked it, as if she was looking for an answer beyond just what she was asking. "The visions sometimes give me clues – some detail that we can use. Not so much in this case." It was tempting to go further, the way she looked at him with open curiosity rather than skepticism or derision, but instead he outlined how they had followed actual, if flimsy, evidence to bring them here. He also carefully explained that Zora herself was a dead end. In his opinion, which the FBI would no doubt distrust.
"Visions? As in plural?" Her head cocked and her eyebrow rose just slightly. "They look like they hurt."
Sam grimaced, looked away. The shiver down his spine was probably due to the early morning breeze, standing out here exposed on the hill top. With no coffee. Prickly pear and saguaro cactus were about the only things that grew here, and from the look of the specimens nearby, even they found it something of a struggle. The old prison made him uneasy, a place of suffering and death. Perhaps that was the intention, meeting here. Designed to unsettle him with the threat of the law if he was a fraud, and with the cold spirit of the place if he wasn't. Leahy wasn't here to learn about his visions, he reminded himself. Not an enemy, precisely, but still dangerous and it would be a mistake to trust her.
She sighed, subject dropped. The expression on her face was unreadable again when he turned back to look at her. "I don't, you know," she responded, grimacing around the last of her coffee, gone cold. She shook it out, and tossed the remains inside the passenger side of her car. "Discount you. I think I understand you better than you might think."
Don't bite, Sam. Don't let her hook you. "How so?"
"I know about family pressures. I looked you up, last night. And your family. You'd be surprised at the interesting picture you make."
"Really?" He was curious, admittedly, what his life looked like from the outside.
"We have this thing called family profiling. How the rules of society are sometimes subverted by the predominant family culture."
"I have no idea what that means."
Her expression doubted his ignorance. "It means that in some families the criminal culture is so ingrained that it becomes the norm. You see it in the mafia, for instance, in drug-addicted parenting, even in some sub-cultures like the Romani."
"Or the Winchesters."
"See, I knew you were the smart one." She flipped open a small notebook. "John Winchester, Marine Corps honorably discharged, last of Lawrence, Kansas, as of twenty-three years ago. No permanent residence since then. No visible source of income, no tax returns. Left Lawrence while still under investigation for the suspicious fire and consequent death of his wife, Mary Winchester."
Sam went still. He'd known this was coming too. This was why they stayed out of the reach of the cops and especially the FBI all these years. Even so, it felt like he couldn't breathe.
"Dean Winchester, suspected in the assault of two women and violent death of one person in St. Louis, Missouri. He was supposedly killed there, by some unidentified hero. Yet here he is. Also no permanent residence, no visible source of income and no tax returns. No verifiable social security number, for that matter."
"Unidentified hero?" His voice rose over this unlikely description.
"One of the victims, Rebecca Warren, maintains that she has no memory of the incident, due to her trauma." Agent Leahy's eyes stabbed him. "She was a friend of yours, I understand. A classmate from Stanford."
"If you have an actual question in there, I think I missed it."
"You were visiting her at the time."
"Yes, I was."
Sam didn't answer that one.
"Ms. Warren identified the dead man as Dean Winchester."
"Obviously she was mistaken."
She leaned forward. "Isn't that interesting, though. You and your brother disappear right afterwards, not even sticking around long enough to clear up this little misunderstanding of whether he's alive or dead." She paused, looking at Sam as if he was a particularly challenging abstract painting. "Doesn't he find it a bit inconvenient? Being dead and all?"
"Dean's a 'below the radar' kind of guy."
Leahy laughed freely. "No doubt. Who attacked your friend, Sam, and who is buried in St. Louis?"
It was like a stiletto, so sharp you didn't feel it until it was much too late. She watched him, as if waiting for blood to seep through.
Sam sighed and leaned back, re-crossed his legs, one in front of the other. "You probably won't believe me."
"It was Dean. My cousin Dean."
"Your cousin." She clearly didn't believe him. "Your cousin, Dean Winchester."
"You mentioned family profiling… does that include families that don't talk to each other for decades? My dad… he … well, I never really got the whole story. Either he was kicked out or walked away on his own, but by the time Dean – my brother – was born, Dad hadn't spoken to his family for almost ten years. My uncle – my dad's brother – named his son Dean, too."
Leahy scratched at her temple as if this was just unlikely enough to be true. And even if it wasn't, it was entertaining. "A family name, no doubt." Sam just raised an eyebrow in confirmation. "And the family resemblance?"
"Uncanny." He kept the grin off his face, but he couldn't quite control it in his voice.
"Two Dean Winchesters. The mind boggles."
"You have no idea."
"And how did you all end up in St. Louis?"
"My cousin was obviously a psychopath. Unfortunately we didn't know that when we decided to have our screwed up little 'family reunion'. We went to St. Louis to meet him, not Rebecca, dropped in on her while we were there. After that…" he shrugged. "Things sorta went south."
"Who shot your cousin?"
"I'm gonna have to take the fifth on that, Agent Leahy. Sorry."
She scowled. "It's easy enough to check."
"You're welcome to try."
"While you and your brother do another disappearing act, I suppose."
"If you have the evidence, arrest us." A calculated risk. They both knew that figuring out the Winchester family tree, disproving his claim of a near-identical cousin would take a lot longer than the forty-eight hours she could hold them without charge. It would probably take quite a bit less to gather evidence of credit card fraud, but maybe the blatant but shiny lie would distract her from the more prosaic truth.
Besides, she still wanted something from him. The missing girl, and a potential career coup.
She smiled tightly. "I'm trying to tell you that I think I understand where you're coming from. This was your family. They were your whole world. No one could blame you for that."
"Now you're just trying to flatter me." Sam fiddled with a button on his coat. Anything but look at her. The temptation to deny, to explain, to justify, was like the aching buildup to a thunderstorm. She wouldn't understand. She thought they were criminals. And yet, she wasn't actually wrong about what she said. Just about what it meant.
"Then you ran away, got into Stanford." She didn't need to look at her notebook for this part. Instead she kept her gaze on him. "Scholarship. Congratulations, by the way. Four years with an unblemished record. An academic star. Friends and teachers with nothing but good things to say about you. And then, days after your brother shows up in your life again, your girlfriend dies in another mysterious fire."
"How dare you," Sam hissed, standing erect. "Dean had nothing to do with that."
"Maybe, maybe not."
"I was there!"
"Then your friend Zack's girlfriend is killed, Zack's sister Rebecca assaulted –"
"That –" She raised an eyebrow at his hesitation. Sam forced his anger down. "That wasn't my brother." Once he got started there would be no stopping. He could see the glitter of triumph in her eyes. She was goading him for a reaction.
She was right about one thing. He was not normal. He had stood on the edge of normal for four years, looking in, never quite convincing himself or anyone else that he belonged. But he wasn't, never could be. If his family was his subculture, if that was where he belonged, then so be it. If that was where he fit, then so be it. He was a Winchester. All or nothing.
"I wanted to show you this," she said, holding out a thin file folder.
He hesitated before taking it, although he could guess what was in it. He was right. Michael Grant, six years old, a typical school portrait of a big head, crooked teeth in a shy grin, dark eyes focused on the photographer and not on the camera. Not someone Sam recognized, either from the camp or from his own search. Kati Cavanaugh, maybe all of four years old. Missing for four years.
There were five or six more photos in the file, a short profile after each, ones he recognized from his own search. He'd have to check but there could easily be one or two on his list that Agent Leahy had missed. Which made – eight kids. Nine, including Kayla Andersen.
Sam handed the file back to her. "What connects them? Why these kids?" he asked her, something that had been nagging at him.
She took the file, staring at him. You knew about this already. Well, he had. She knew something was up as well, if she'd put this profile together. "Targets of opportunity. Wrong place wrong time."
Again, that invitation in her voice. Tell me, show me. Let me in. Sam wondered distantly if they taught that as an interrogation technique in FBI school. Let's work together, a temptation worse than money or drugs. He shook his head, contradicting. "Somebody went to a great deal of trouble for these kids. For Kayla for sure."
"I only put this together yesterday. The FBI has – we never had any inkling of a serial kidnapper. You –" Leahy took a deep breath, swallowing her outrage, the thought that the Winchester brothers could do so easily what the FBI fumbled. "I don't know what you're doing as part of this, Sam. I really don't. But this is huge. This is a career making, or career busting case. When this breaks – we're talking about national news, for weeks."
Sam shrugged deeper into his coat. You wouldn't think Arizona would be so cold.
"There are going to be investigations into the investigations, Sam. Tell me what you know, get out now while you still can. I'll do what I can to protect you–"
"I'll make you a deal," he said, cutting her off.
"Astonish me," she huffed, annoyed that he would interrupt her right in the middle of her big pitch.
"We'll find the girl for you. You take all the credit. You forget about everything you ever learned about my father and my brother."
The invitation was gone, her eyes flinty. Narrowed enough to bring out the lines at the corners. Disappointed? Angry. She confused him. Why was she angry with him now?
"All of them, alive."
"I don't know if they're all still alive or not." He held up a hand to forestall her outburst. "If they are, we'll get them out."
He watched as she looked off into some middle distance, calculating something he couldn't see. Making a deal with the devil, so to speak, if she actually believed that he was a criminal. A kidnapper, or worse. It made his mouth twitch, almost a grin, thinking he'd never been on this side of such a deal.
"What?" she demanded, seeing his look.
He shook his head. "Nothing. Doesn't matter."
"If I find any indication, any breath that you or your brother had something to do with her disappearance…"
Sam shook his head wearily. "We didn't. You won't."
"Done, then." She actually held out her hand for him to shake.
He ignored the gesture. They were not friends. They were never going to be friends. All or nothing.
Her hand dropped. He didn't look at her expression. "Sam," she called, when he had already stood and shook himself out a little, turned towards the car.
He turned back.
"Just… be careful. As you say, someone has gone to a lot of trouble for these kids."
He nodded and got back in the car. He watched her as she drove away first. There was no point regretting the encounter. There hadn't been any hope from the beginning that he could persuade an FBI agent to believe him, to believe the things he and Dean knew. To trust that they were good people, trying to help. So to be disappointed in something that could never have happened in the first place was ridiculous, surely.
x x x
Dean found himself outside of Zora's ofisa without really intending it. Sam had the car, and hadn't called yet with the results of his meeting with the FBI woman. With the Romani camp itself out of bounds for the moment, their avenues of investigation were rather limited. Whatever had happened to Sam last night, whatever had attacked him, Dean had no intention of letting it happen again. The visions were bad enough. To go through that kind of mental and physical torture for no visible gain – he wished to god for something to eviscerate.
He didn't know what would happen if he went in by himself – likely nothing much, going by their first attempt. More good food and good – make that vile – drink. Good company. And he'd completely forget what he was supposed to be doing. Rip Van Winkle without the benefit of catching up on his sleep. But after lecturing his brother last night about sticking to the plan, he felt bound to abide by it himself. Not that they actually had a plan. Yet.
So a restless energy kept him walking, until he ended up here.
She appeared in the outer room when he called her name, smiled gently to see him. She waved him through the tent-like stage for the tourists into the back room, a bare loft style room, rough wood floors and grey fly-specked windows. There was table and counter, a single laundry-sized sink. Bare pipes, water, power, disused air ducts scrambled across the high ceiling and walls like a computer screensaver, evidence of a hundred years of use of this building, every occupant adding another layer of confusion. And dust.
"You're here alone?"
She cocked her head to show that she'd heard him, though she didn't turn around from filling a kettle.
"The old woman?" Dean prompted again. Zora set out two cups on the table without asking if he wanted anything. "What's her story, anyway?"
"Old Mother Elena?"
"She has many stories."
Dean rubbed at one eye. That was typical Gypsy doubletalk. It meant that Zora wasn't ready to answer directly, not without knowing what he wanted.
"How is your brother this morning?"
"He's fine." Still breathing anyway.
She smiled at him, not the mysterious enigmatic 'I know things' expression of her profession, but a young girl's grin. A teenager again. "A bit too much of the pé?" At his confusion, she indicated drinking, thumb and little finger extended, as if pouring a tankard down her throat.
She poured the hot water over loose tea. Dean would have asked for coffee, but he didn't see any evidence that she had the makings. "He wasn't drunk. Someone attacked him."
"Someone hit him?" Outrage, surprise.
"Not… physically. In the head." He spread his fingers out, shrugging, his hands floating just above the table top and not even sure what that was supposed to signal or suggest. Yes, all right, fine. This shit freaked him out. "Magically." Psychically.
Dean put his hands back in his lap. Zora's denial was honest, as far as he could tell. More disbelief than outright denial. There were few options here. He had nothing to defend himself with, or Sam, if she was truly the one behind the attack. "Who could do that?" he asked her. "Who has that kind of power?"
"Who else?" He didn't bother to debate her denial. She was either lying or telling the truth. If she was lying, there was no way for him to catch her at it right now. If she was telling the truth, accusations would only offend her, and right now he needed her help.
"You think Elena?"
"I'm asking what you think." She didn't deny it. The expression on her face clouded, thinking about it. "So you think she could. Attack someone with power."
"But why? Why would she do that?"
"She said that Sam was touched." The thought made Dean grind his teeth, an automatic denial. The first time Elena and Sam had met, Elena had spotted something 'unclean' on him in a matter of seconds. Zora looked away from Dean. "What does that mean? Zora, tell me."
She took a deep breath. "I don't know so much." She chewed on her answer, not finding any words that fit. She stood again, walking a few steps away.
"Zora!" he demanded, and she turned back to him.
"Dean, to really understand you have to understand the Romani. All of it, all that we are."
"What part don't I understand, Zora? The magic, the spirits? The way the outside world has one set of rules but the family has a whole different set? The taking what you need even if it breaks the law of the outside world? You think I don't get that every day?"
"The running away part," she inserted when he stopped, his voice running down like pressure from a burst tire. "You don't understand the running away part."
Dean closed his eyes. Because he did. He was beginning to. Sam's voice in his ear, soft and demanding, the Dean Winchester I know…. Last night, Dean had tried running. The instinct to run was in him. To fight another day. Self preservation. Survival. It was Sam who set his mulish feet against any backing down. And it was Sam who would fling himself into a fire without any hope of coming out of it.
"That's what they say about the Gadze Rom, John Winchester. The one who fought back. He never ran away. You are his son." She traced ephemeral patterns on the table top with one fingertip, dragging a drop of tea into sigils and swirls. "Some gadze – outsiders who study us – they say we came from warriors. That we were an army, captured in India and sent abroad as prisoners. I don't know." She shook her head. Not denial, more not understanding. The gadze were strange. "We teach the children, yes, but we don't have schools, or universities. There are stories everyone knows, father to son, mother to daughter. That is who we are, how we are." She paused, thinking her own thoughts. "We Rom have no stories of this time. And if we have no stories, we have no history. If we were warriors, once… we aren't now."
No stories, no history. Dean drank this in with his tea.
"None from that time. But we do have other stories –" and she hesitated. "I shouldn't be telling you this. It belongs to the Rom."
"Zora –" His heart thumped in his chest like before his father had dropped the key of the Impala into his open palm. Like any wrong movement would send what he wanted so desperately flying away, never to be captured again. "The Rom baro, last night, he said something about the Black Dog. Not really a black dog, but something that stalks the Romani-"
She made a hissing sound and slashed at the air in what he assumed was a protective sign.
She sipped at her tea. "We - we are not warriors," she repeated, emphatically. "When the Black Dog comes for us, we run. We hide, and we do our little magics to protect ourselves. We mourn our losses, and move on."
"What did Elena mean by how Sam was 'touched'?" Blood without soul.
"We have a story," she began, slowly. "Swatura, you understand. One of the real stories. The Black Dog will designate a sacrifice, a special child, to be given to him on the day he turns a man. He marks this child as an infant, but lets him grow to the delight of his parents. A beautiful child, wise and loving. So when the Black Dog comes for him all will feel his loss the more. We Romani hide our children until they are too old to be marked by the Black Dog. We tie them with charms and protection, and do not name a permanent name until then."
"The blood. From mother to child, but it is – changed. Not her blood, but his. It stains him, stains his soul."
She flinched from Dean's denial. His refusal. "This is the story, Dean."
And to the Romani, stories equaled history. "Why? What does it want with the Romani?"
Zora only shrugged, like the question had never occurred to her. The motivations of folk tales were often unfathomable, obscured by time and context and retelling.
"What happens if the child isn't turned over to him? Once he's an adult?"
Zora shook her head. "I don't know this story." Like no one had ever tried. We run, we hide.
Dean looked at her, troubled. He didn't understand the running away part, after all.
Her eyes dropped, and she reached for his tea, now empty. Her hand trembled just a little before she took the cup, but she didn't look in it right away. His eyes widened as he realized what she was about to do. He wasn't sure he wanted to know what she would see there.
"The story of the Gadze Rom has spread on wings, Dean," she whispered, not looking at him. "After a thousand years, someone who fights back."
"We're not fighting your battles for you, Zora. I don't even know if the thing –" Again the hiss and the slashed gesture, "If we're after the same thing. And it still doesn't explain what happened to Sam last night."
Zora glanced up at him, and removed her hand from on top of his tea. He couldn't read her expression, the way she was looking down, but she drew in a huffed breath, as if at pain, expected but still stinging and sharp.
Her eyes glittered. "You will live a long and healthy life."
Bullshit. More Gypsy doubletalk. "Zora," his voice warned.
"Elena knows more than me," she said instead, and he wondered if she was changing the subject or not. "I'm…" and she shrugged. "I'm just learning, still."
And why would the old woman want to attack the Winchesters if they were the great hope against the enemy of the Romani – but she hadn't attacked the Winchesters, had she? She had attacked Sam, power against power. According to Romani tradition, Sam carried the mark of the ancient enemy on his soul.
I have plans for you, Sammy, and all the children like you.
Oh, Jesus. It might have been an honest prayer. They were the same. The Winchesters called it the Demon, the yellow-eyed son of a bitch, and his mouth quirked at the unexpected coincidence of language. He somehow doubted this Dog had ever been whelped though, it must have been created out of the depths of hell itself. What was a thousand years to such a creature? A lazy afternoon in the sun.
And where did John Winchester and his sons stand in its being? Why did they rate its special attention?
Was it the demon's doing, kidnapping a little girl? Why? And the elaborate hex, why would it need that? It didn't make sense. No, this was a distraction. The girl and the Romani connection to the demon were coincidental. The girl was Romani. There were a string of other missing kids that could be connected the same way. To Zora, and thereby to Zora's familia. Dean had no doubt that Zora could lay down a pretty good hex herself, but to make things disappear? To remove someone from memory?
Power like that – and he was back to the goddamn demon. Or a demon. A summoning. Oh shit. Tying a demon down and using, compelling, its power for your own purposes. 99 of the time immediately followed by said summoner regretting he'd ever been born.
Which meant what? To summon a demon was not actually that difficult, didn't require any special skills or abilities on the part of the summoner. Teenage idiots found the workings on the internet with depressing regularity. Indeed, anyone with any sort of training or experience usually knew better than to even try.
Motive. What need did these children fulfill?
They had to search the camp. There was no avoiding it.
They couldn't search the camp, because some fucking spell made them forget everything anytime they went near it. And – probably – put the whammy on Sam when he – what? – fought back against the spell? Used his own scary brain mojo against it?
Dean was freaked by Sam's visions, wigged out by the whole notion of human powers, but he knew better than to ignore what was staring him in the face. Sam figured Kayla at least was still alive. And if there was some power protecting the camp, the same power that took her, made her parents forget, maybe – it was the perfect hiding place.
"Do you know why we're here, Zora?"
She didn't look up. "Your brother said he was looking for someone. Asked if he would find her." Her eyes were shiny when she did look up. "I said he would."
"You said he would, or you saw he would?"
Zora stood abruptly, pushing herself away from the table. Dean noted that she kept his used teacup clutched close to her. "What did you see there?" He followed her.
She held out a hand, for payment, when she saw he wasn't going to drop it or let her go.
Dean sighed. He had a few dollars in his wallet, but no real silver. Payment with money only got the gadze what they wanted to hear out of the Romani. Real silver and the inscribed sigil, while not magically powerful, was still a signal that the person was not a mere mark to be easily duped. Made it more of a trade between equals. It did not compel the truth from the Gypsy woman, but one's reputation and prestige could rest on such readings.
"We're looking for a girl. A Romani girl, adopted by a white family and then kidnapped." Dean didn't touch her, or threaten really, but he stood close enough that he knew he was invading her personal space. It was a big wide room and he all but pinned her against wall, right between the sink and the countertop.
Zora looked from side to side as he crowded her, looking for escape. She would have to touch him, physically push him back to get away.
"Her parents want her back."
Zora shook her head, whispered, "She is dead to us. You should not look here."
This close Dean could see the flush creeping up her neck, even under her caramel coloring. No Rom would stand so close. The merest brush of her skirts against him was marime, contamination. But Dean wasn't Rom. "Sam says she's here." Not precisely true, but close enough. "You just said he would find her."
"Not here." The words came out firm. She looked him full in the face for the first time, as if finding the power to do so finally. She was Phuri dai of the Cooper familia, Old Mother Elena's apprentice. Even at sixteen she held the familia's future, the knowledge of things, in her hands. "You should leave here. You and your brother. I'm telling you."
He let her go, stood back a bit, satisfied. It didn't prove anything, but under intimidation Zora only responded with strength, not a need to strike out or defend herself.
Telling him what? Threatening him? No, it didn't sound like a threat. He described the hex he'd found under Kayla's bed to her, the dead animal in the center. Her eyes widened, but she shook her head. She was just the apprentice. The old woman…
"You said Stefan was her grandson." Dean tried a different tack. Let's work together.
"The Rom baro said she had no one. She would leave no one when she died." The Romani equivalent having never been born. Family was the only thing. "Which is it?"
"I don't – He wouldn't say that. I don't understand you."
He said it slowly, because it was only now starting to make some kind of horrible sense in his brain. "Where did Stefan come from?" Her mouth opened as she reached for the automatic explanation, that Stefan was part of the familia, she'd known him forever, she'd grown up with him. "Who were his parents?"
Only the usual reasons weren't there.
"Tell me what you saw in the tea leaves." Gently. Inevitably. Irresistibly.
"Death," she said, her eyes closed. "In three."
x x x
"Did you hear me?"
"I heard you, Dean," Sam responded. "I just don't see that it makes any difference."
"She's saying that three people will die."
"And I'm telling you that we have an FBI agent on our case. She's after the girl, but failing that she's more than willing to mount our heads over her desk." He looked up from the laptop. "It's weird, though."
Dean shrugged his coat around his shoulders. Normally not a problem, but right now he had a pin hole camera fitted through one of the button holes, and a wire running underneath the coat, over his shoulder and down to a battery and transmitter at the small of his back. "What's weird?" he asked, when Sam didn't go on.
"Stop moving so much. You're fucking up the transmission."
"If it doesn't work when I'm moving–"
"Hold still." Sam got up and did something with the box attached to his back, something Dean couldn't see despite trying to turn himself in half.
"What's weird?" Dean prompted again, giving up trying to see. The battery was a thin pack strapped around his waist, under his clothes, good for six hours of continuous transmission of high quality digital video. He tried not to think about the small box transmitter though, EM radiation and its proximity to his vital organs.
He tried to see if the box poked out enough to be visible, standing, or … squatting as if he was sitting.
"Just don't lean forward," Sam advised, grinning at the poses Dean was making in the mirror. "It's this or you have to start carrying a purse."
"Fuck you. We should have gone for the body suit version –"
"The body suit version that your buddy Dave said was still experimental."
"Dad's buddy Dave. Hello, Yuma Marine Corps Air Station ten miles up the road. Of course he said it was experimental. Doesn't mean it doesn't work."
Sam made a face. "This," This being a remote surveillance and communication kit fitted out from the local Circuit City, camera, recorder, EMF detector. "Will work fine."
He then held out a tiny earpiece microphone and speaker in his palm. "This, on the other hand, I have no idea about." It was the one piece of equipment they'd needed Dad's buddy Dave for. Small enough to fit completely inside the ear canal, it was undetectable unless you were looking straight in someone's ear. And even then you could pretend it was just a hearing aid. But this fancy and expensive gizmo actually piggybacked on the video signal and it could produce sound as well as transmit. Sam could remotely direct Dean without anyone knowing.
Dean grimaced, feeling the earpiece mold itself inside his ear canal as he slid it in. "I feel violated."
"Oh, grow up," Sam said.
"You wanna see how it feels?"
Sam turned away. They both knew there was no choice in who would go in, and who would stay behind. Within range of whatever was protecting the camp, just thinking about Stefan had nearly put Sam out cold. "You just can't stand the idea of me telling you what to do."
"Yeah, that's it."
They tested it with Dean driving around. Sam sat at the video display in the motel room, pulling a headset microphone on and watching the bouncy picture as Dean walked out to the car, got in, turned the key. He had to turn down the bass tones, but the transmission came through loud and clear. The wonders of modern technology.
"If you start saying 'Can you hear me now' I'm going to have to kick your ass when I get back there," Dean warned from inside the Impala.
"Actually I was going to make you say it," Sam grinned.
Silence from Dean. He didn't find that funny. At all. As it was this setup was likely pushing all sorts of buttons in him, Sam knew. Control, loyalty, responsibility. But they were supposed to keep talking, testing the equipment. "What was weird?" Dean asked, just as Sam was about to relent and ask about Zora's tea leaves.
The way that Dean was sitting, Sam's video view consisted mostly of the dashboard and front hood of the Impala. There was no way for him to see Dean's face. Trust Dean not to let something completely irrelevant just drop.
"Sam! You said something was odd, about the FBI woman."
"Agent Leahy, Dean. Not 'the FBI woman'. It's probably an Irish name… It just makes me wonder. She kept wanting to talk about my visions."
"She doesn't believe in your visions."
"So she said."
"She thinks you're a fraud."
"She as much as said that too."
"You think she sees the little people?" Dean asked scathingly.
"I don't know, Dean. I just wonder how much she was trying to convince herself, and not me. I think she wanted to believe me."
"Huh. That's the worst kind then. Like a reformed smoker or something."
The signal faded out after half a mile. That was pretty impressive, and more than good enough for their needs. Fortunately, the microphone lasted a bit longer than the video signal, so that Sam could call him back when he was getting out too far.
x x x
"Dean, what do you see?"
Oh hell. Dean shook his head. His brother's voice was right there. Inside his head. The fuck. That wasn't a good sign.
What did he see? He saw fuck all. Literally, fuck all. The worst fog he'd ever imagined, except that it wasn't cold, or damp, but it made his head swirl until he couldn't tell whether he was moving or the fog was.
"Dean." Sam's voice again, strained patience, like his voice was tied up and couldn't move. "Dean, look at your hand."
Without really meaning to, Dean looked at his left palm. 'Do what Sam says' in black felt. He recognized his own messy handwriting even in that medium.
"Dean, I don't have time to explain it to you. Just trust me. You have to do exactly as I tell you."
Rebellion rose in him, jerked his head sideways as if his head wanted to get away all on its own from the rest of his body. Which stood still, feet glued in place. Follow orders. Trust Sam.
Sam's voice was threaded with tension, humming like high tension electricity. Keep calm, keep calm, Dean heard, as if Sam had said it aloud, though he wasn't sure who it was supposed to reassure, himself or Dean.
"Keep walking, Dean. Don't stop. I can't come get you if you – Dean, say something!"
His mind was screaming runrunrunrun at him from some other level entirely.
Dean closed his eyes, opened them again when it didn't help with the swirling motion. He had no memory of how he came here. White upon white. Where here was. He could see his feet, his dusty boots, but nothing beyond them. Not like he stood on air, but – he was falling, dizzying, endless. He clenched his eyes shut again. Only Sam's voice in his ear – and he recognized it now as in his ear and not directly into his brain, thank christ – kept him connected from one second to the next, as if memory itself was set free and floated downstream, unconnected to anything solid. Sam's voice was a line that unspooled behind him, not holding him back so much as leaving a reminder, a trail of breadcrumbs, leading him back.
Can you hear me now?
"A door. I see a door." He had seen it, before, he remembered. The door resolved itself inside his mind, image and word coming together after getting lost in the fog.
He heard Sam's gulped breath, worry transmitted more quickly with the sudden stop in the flow of words. "Jesus, Dean. Don't scare me like that."
"Sam. Door?" Do what Sam says. Sam better fucking say something pretty goddamn fast. 'Cause standing with his metaphorical dick waving in the breeze – no memory why he was here, no notion of what to do next – was going to stop being fun in a fucking hurry.
"Um, okay, I see it too. Knock on the door." Sam said. "Politely."
Dean reached out with his fingers, not trusting his eyes. Metal. He felt the metal under his hands, but when he tried opening his eyes it all seemed to flow away from him like a mirage. He knocked, couldn't tell if it was politely or not by anyone else's standards but he managed not to put all his frustration behind it. Not his fault that the door was small, and thin. And rattled a bit dangerously.
"Step back. The door opens outward."
Dean took a step back, but then stumbled a bit to find nothing behind for his foot, until it hit the step below. He was standing on stairs. Steps. Something.
Not a car door. A trailer. A vacation thing – like –
Oh, shit. He was in middle of some fucking spell, wasn't he?
This realization lanced through his head like he'd been cleaved open. Profanity spilled from him as he crumpled like a rejected love letter off the steps.
Sam's voice in his head, rising in tone and hysteria. A river of noise that just wouldn't let him let go. Jesus, Sam, just let me sleep. I promise to never ever drink –
Not drunk. Not hung over and the pain was fading even as Sam's voice continued in his head 'DeanyoufuckerItoldyou to do what I said. Can't you do what I say for once? Is it so fucking hard –" Dean moaned, all he could manage out of 'shutTHEFUCKup', but it caught Sam, made him at least take a breath. "Dean. Dean? Dean, please –"
"Yeah. What." He spat out dirt, resisting the urge to curl up with his arms around his head only because that meant moving. If this was what one of Sam's headaches felt like, Dean was surprised his brother had never asked him to beat him unconscious with a hammer. 'Cause that would have been a big improvement over this.
More swearing in his ear, this time in relief, which didn't really help either.
"Sam –" he whispered to his brother. No talk now. Please.
"Look at the door. Just – look up, turn your – so I can see – yeah, like that."
Dean couldn't see any door, couldn't see much of anything, but as he rolled over, shifted a stone from under his hip, got what he really hoped wasn't prickly pear in the small of his back for his trouble, a face sort of… materialized… in front of him. A little girl's face, dark eyes, long dark hair. Pixie, Dean thought, for no reason he could later recall. Fae, definitely, though that maybe came from the clouding mist that surrounded her.
"You all right, mister?" the pixie asked, looking down at him.
"Kayla," Sam breathed in his ear.
a/n. OMG. Yes, late.
But better than never? No excuses. I apologize.
As always, BigPink is my beta and my inspiration. I couldn't sell my soul for better in either category.
To those who wrote urging me to keep going, thank you. Both of you. Without you I could have moved on with my life. Just kidding. Truly, without you this wouldn't have happened.