"Stop the car, Dean!"
Instant obedience to a shouted command from Sam was a habit long ingrained, given that on a hunt it could mean life or death, so Dean stood on the brakes and fought the wheel to bring the Impala to a halt without running it clean off the road.
Fortunately, A-264, a dusty state road in middle-of-nowhere, Arizona, was devoid of other traffic in mid-afternoon. Still….
"Sam, what the fuck?"
Sam was turned three-quarters of the way around staring down the road behind them. "People by the side of the road," he answered tersely.
"Hitchhikers?" Dean squawked. "You almost made me wreck my baby for fucking hitchhikers?"
Sam flopped around and glared at him. "I didn't say they were hitchhikers. I don't know who they are. But I think they might need help."
"I…don't know," Sam admitted, squirming a little. "Just a feeling, all right?"
Dean sighed. Knew better, though, than to question Sam's "feelings," which turned out to be significant more often than not. Also got them into trouble more often than not, but what could you do?
Dean twisted and slung an arm over the seat, backing the Impala down the road one-handed through the dust kicked up by his precipitous stop.
"See 'em?" he asked.
"Wait…. Yeah, right there."
Well, at least there actually were people by the side of the road; an old man and a girl of maybe eleven or twelve, Native American to judge by their dress and appearance. Not too surprising, given that this section of Northern Arizona encompassed sweeping tracts of reservation lands. The old man was sitting cross-legged on the shoulder of the road. He was thin and worn looking, his face a mass of wrinkles and his long hair almost completely white. The girl stood beside him, one hand resting protectively on his shoulder. Dark, solemn eyes under a fringe of blue-black bangs watched as Dean parked on the shoulder.
"Hopi," Sam said.
"They're Hopi. This is Hopi reservation land." Caught Dean's look and said. "What? I did a paper on the Hopi for a Native American culture class, okay? C'mon."
Sam got out of the car and approached the old man and the girl slowly to avoid appearing threatening. Bemused as always by the random breadth of his brother's knowledge, Dean followed his lead.
"Hey," Sam greeted them. "I'm Sam and this is my brother Dean. Is everything okay? Do you folks need help?"
The girl and the old man exchanged a long look and the old man nodded. As if the nod had been some sort of signal, the girl smiled radiantly.
"I am Talasi," she said. "My grandfather and I are returning home to Shungopavi from Walpi on First Mesa. It is a long walk and we stopped to rest, but we are fine. You are kind to ask."
"Great," Dean said. "Then we'll just be…"
But Sam rode over him before he could finish. "Can we give you a ride?"
Dean swallowed the rest of his sentence but threw Sam a what do you think you're doing? look. Which Sam ignored. He had not stopped staring at the old man since they left the car.
The old man did not speak, but he nodded again and began to rise, somewhat gingerly, to his feet. The girl, Talasi, caught his elbow and helped him upright. They started toward the car and Sam fell in behind them, ready to offer a hand if needed.
Dean engaged Sam in an entire conversation consisting of nothing but facial expressions as Sam passed by, but Sam won the exchange with a determined, stubborn glare that said Shut up, man, we're doing this louder than words.
The old man reached out a hand and patted the Impala's bumper as he and his granddaughter came abreast of the car.
"Grandfather likes your car," she offered. "It is old and strong and well loved."
And suddenly Dean found himself feeling much better about the whole chauffer thing. Although he couldn't help but wonder how the girl got all that from her grandfather's simple gesture.
The journey to the small village of Shungopavi passed quickly and largely in silence except for occasional directions from Talasi. The village was on Second Mesa, one of the three main areas of residence on the Hopi Indian reservation. Once they turned off A-264, the nameless road through the village twisted and turned between closely packed pueblo buildings. Finally, Talasi called for Dean to stop at the corner where two streets intersected.
"Our pueblo is just up there," she explained, pointing up the side street that began to rise precipitously from the intersection. "The way is narrow, so we will walk. Will Sam walk with us?"
"Of course," Sam agreed, silencing any protest Dean might have made with an oblique glance. But Dean hadn't been planning to object anyway. He had his own feelings sometimes, credited more to experience than sensitivity, and something was telling him that whatever was going on here, weird as it seemed, was no threat to Sam, and that was all he needed to know.
Sam was gone on his chivalrous errand for nearly half an hour, during which time Dean turned the car around carefully in the narrow street and then put his head back and dozed off, waking abruptly when Sam slung himself back into the passenger seat.
"You were gone awhile," Dean commented. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah, fine," Sam replied. He had a thoughtful look on his face and seemed somewhat subdued, but he didn't elaborate. Dean shrugged, figuring to tackle him about the encounter later after they found a place to stay the night.
As it turned out, later was a whole different story.
"We are so screwed," Dean said. His face wore the sort of stunned expression you might see on a rabbit just before it met its destiny as road kill.
Sam looked at him through the bars separating them with a similarly stunned look on his face. Being wanted by the law had almost become commonplace. Uncomfortable, but not insurmountable. They knew how to stay under the radar, how to take precautions against drawing unwanted attention. Sam had always believed that one of these days they would have to pay the piper, but to have it come down on them like this, in the middle of nowhere, with no warning? When they weren't even doing anything wrong?
One minute they were cruising along the highway beyond reservation lands, headed for the next wide place in the road to settle in for the night and the next they were pinned between two police cars being frisked, cuffed and manhandled into the back of one of the brown-and-whites for transport to the local jail.
The town, whose name they hadn't even learned, was so small it boasted only a squat, cinder-block box of a police station. A reception area, a few offices, an interrogation room and three cells in a dark hallway behind an iron door formed the extent of the station's amenities.
The officers themselves were stamped from the same cloth—two solid, hard-faced, taciturn men in their thirties or forties who appeared immune to humor, sarcasm, anger, or charm. They had bundled their prisoners unceremoniously into separate but adjoining cells without a phone call, a Miranda warning or even an explanation of exactly what it was they had been arrested for.
Dean ran his hand over his face and mentally shook himself. "It's okay, Sammy. We're gonna be okay."
"Yeah," Sam huffed. "How you figure, Dean? They're probably out there right now running a check on us and you know damn well where that's going to lead. The next voice we hear will probably be Agent fucking Hendrickson."
"Maybe. I don't know. There's something off about this whole thing."
"Yeah, there is. Like you said, we're screwed. I don't think we're getting out of this one, Dean."
"C'mon, Sammy. Don't give up yet. We've got time. I'll come up with a plan."
Sam grunted. The half-disgusted, half-desolate look on his face was more than Dean could take, so he launched himself on a tour of the confines of the cell. Not much to see. It was small, possessed of a cot with a lumpy mattress, a john barely large enough to merit the name and a stained sink. One barred window high up on the outside wall looked out, at the moment, on anonymous darkness. The only light in the cell came from a couple of bare bulbs in the ceiling of the corridor outside the bars.
Beneath the window, some past resident had attempted a decorative touch. In a flaky, reddish-brown substance that looked disturbingly familiar, he (or she) had written 'Cops Suck' in a shaky hand. Dean snorted his agreement with the sentiment.
The clang of the metal door to the cell block heralded the appearance of the two cops who had arrested them, lead by a third man they hadn't seen before. A head shorter than the other two, he was nonetheless imposing. He was rail thin, clad in black jeans and a black western shirt. His hair was jet black and surprisingly long for an officer of the law, hanging straight down on either side of his equine face. His eyes were equally dark but they glittered oddly in the pale light in the hall. Although his skin was dark, he still gave an impression of unhealthy paleness, like someone who spent too little time in the sun. Dean's reaction was wholly visceral; the man put his back up and made him feel mildly nauseous at the same time.
The trio stopped in a wedge at the point where the cells holding the brothers met. The dark man stared at Dean for a moment and then switched his gaze to Sam. Dean sensed the barely controlled distaste, tinged with fear, rolling off Sam and growled low in his throat. Did not like the way the son of a bitch was looking at Sam. Did not like the son of a bitch looking at Sam at all.
Abruptly, the man's gaze snapped back to Dean and his tongue, pale and oddly elongated, flickered out briefly from between his lips, the way a snake tests the air for the scent of prey.
"That one first," he said, cocking his head at Dean. He turned on his heel and walked away, leaving the two cop-clones to unlock the door and drag Dean roughly from the cell.
"Dean!" Sam called out. "Where are you taking him? Hey! We want a lawyer. You can't talk to him without a lawyer. Dean!"
"Don't sweat it, Sammy," Dean called over his shoulder to his distressed brother. "I can handle these chuckleheads. It'll be okay." And hoped that didn't fall squarely in the category of famous last words.
It wasn't that long, barely long enough for Sam to chew his right thumbnail down to the quick, but it seemed like hours before the two cops brought Dean back to his cell. Dragged him back, actually, loose and boneless in their grasp, head lolling and boot heels scraping the floor. Ignoring the cot, they dumped him carelessly on the floor of the cell, locked it and left without a word while Sam looked on speechless with alarm.
Dean had landed on his left side, back to Sam. Sam hunkered down and reached through the bars as far as he could, just managing to snag a couple of fingers in the collar of Dean's jacket.
"Dean, come on, man," he chanted urgently. "Wake up. Talk to me, man. Please, Dean."
Sam tugged on Dean's jacket until he finally managed to roll him onto his back a little closer to the connecting bars. Dean was breathing, thank God, but he was ghostly pale and his skin was cool and clammy to the touch. Sam felt for his carotid pulse, which was slower and shallower than he liked, and then planted his hand on his brother's chest.
"Dean, are you with me, man?" he urged.
Dean's eyelids fluttered and he turned his head toward Sam.
"Sammy?" His voice was hoarse and painfully weak.
"Yeah, man, I'm here. I'm here, Dean. Oh God, what did they do to you? You aren't bleeding. Did they beat you?"
"Umm," Dean murmured. "No. Didn't…hit me. Like the sign…said. Cops…suck."
"What, Dean?" Sam asked, pushing his face closer to the bars.
Dean made what appeared to be a superhuman effort to get his eyes opened all the way and glued his gaze to Sam's face, seemed to draw strength from that.
"That other cop, the guy in black," he croaked. "He's the chief or something, I guess. He's a psychic vampire, Sam. Like the Shtriga, only he doesn't go for kids. Bastard tried to suck the life out of me."
"Oh God, Dean." Sam shook his head to dislodge the image his brother's words conjured, knotted his hand in the front of Dean's shirt.
"S'okay, Sammy. I'm not dead yet. I think he likes to take his time. Make it last." Dean tried to smile reassuringly. It wasn't one of his better efforts. "Hey, the good news is, I don't think we have to worry about Hendrickson showin' up."
"We've got to get out of here, man."
"You've got that right," Dean agreed. "He'll be coming for you when he's done with me. Can't let that happen."
Sam frowned but didn't say what he was thinking. Now wasn't really the time to berate Dean for his lack of concern for his own skin when he thought Sam might be in danger.
"Did he say anything to you that could help us figure out what he is?" Sam asked.
"Not sure that's gonna help much," Dean replied. "We're kinda' short on resources here, Sammy."
"I know, but the more we know…."
"He didn't do much talking. Mostly just the, you know, sucking. Fucker put his lips right on me, dude. Just gross."
"Yeah, okay. Okay, wait. There was something. One of those flunky's of his called him something. Shit. Po- something? Pohack?"
Sam stiffened. "Powaqa?" he asked. "Was it Powaqa, Dean?"
"Sounds right," Dean agreed. "Does it mean something to you?"
"Yeah, it does. It's a Hopi word. It means 'witch' or 'sorcerer.' According to legend, the Powaqa pretends to be helpful and then steals the victim's life force to enhance his own power."
"This guy wasn't even pretending to be helpful."
"No, I know, but he doesn't really need to, does he? All he has to do is get his goons to arrest strangers passing through and throw them in here. Once he's sure nobody's likely to come for them, he can just feast at his leisure. I don't know what the other two get out of it, but he's probably got them bound to him somehow. Probably thought he'd won the lottery with us. No family, no connections, and fugitives to boot."
"We've got some connections," Dean objected softly. "Bobby would wonder what happened to us. Ellen and Ash, Jo."
"Sure, Dean. But he'd have no way of knowing that. And even if they do look for us, it's going to be way too late to do us any good."
"Yeah," Dean nodded. "Nice to know, though."
Dean was starting to lose the effort to stay focused in his weakened and exhausted state. Sam couldn't even be sure his brother would recover if they did manage to get loose and take down the Powaqa. Which didn't look very damn likely anyway.
"Dean," Sam said. "You need to get some rest. He probably won't come at us again tonight. Try to sleep and I'll see if I can come up with something."
Dean didn't even protest, which told Sam a lot about the kind of shape he was in. Sam got the scratchy, threadbare blanket off his cot and fed it through the bars awkwardly, managed to get it mostly spread over Dean. He patted Dean's chest and then turned away to lean against the bars that separated them, unwilling to move any further from his brother than he had to. It wasn't long before Dean's breathing evened out in the rhythms of sleep.
Dean awoke slowly, wondering why he felt like he hadn't slept at all, loggy and aching all over. Became aware, then, of the hard floor beneath him and the itchy blanket over him and the dim, diffuse light worming its way through the barred window high overhead and remembered. Jail. Cops. The awful feel of the whatchamacallit's cold, slimy mouth sucking his life out like a siphon. Sam's worried face.
Dean levered himself to a sitting position and blinked away the black spots that accompanied the effort. He peered into the next cell, relieved to find Sam sitting on his cot looking back at him. Unharmed, at least for the moment.
"Hey, Sammy," he said.
"Hey, Dean. How are you feeling?"
"Like I just went ten rounds with the entire membership of the WWF."
"That good, huh?"
Sam got up and came over to sit on the floor close to the bars that separated them. He was holding something in his hand, something he kept turning over and over in his palm
"Listen, Dean, I think I might have figured out a way to save us," he said. His voice had a tentative hitch in it, as if he was afraid to hold out too much hope.
"Tell me," Dean invited.
"More like show you," Sam countered, and he held up the object he had been fiddling with for Dean's inspection.
At first it didn't look like much of anything, a small wooden figurine in a colorful wrapping of cloth.
"A doll?" Dean asked quizzically.
"It's a Katsina," Sam said. "Or rather, a tithu, a representation of a Hopi god or spirit, called a Katsina. There are a whole pantheon of Katsinom with a lot of different purposes. A lot of them have to do with bringing rain to make the crops grow. But there are others who protect the people and dole out justice to evil doers. The figures are given by the men of the tribe to the children so they can learn to recognize the various Katsinom."
"Where did it come from?"
"Talasi gave it to me. When I walked her and her grandfather to their pueblo. She told me her grandfather thought I might need it. I don't think the goons even noticed it when they frisked us." Sam's eyes sparked suddenly. "Maybe I can use it to get help with the Powaqa."
"I don't know, man," Dean said skeptically. "I mean, it's probably just meant to be a good luck charm, like a Hopi version of a rabbit's foot or something."
"Maybe," Sam conceded. "But it's all I've got and it's worth a try. Dean, there was something about that old man…. "
"Never mind. Some other time. I need to think about this some more, okay?"
"Yeah, whatever, man. But you'd better think fast. We have no way of knowing when that sorcerer bitch is gonna be hungry again."
The hours wore away slowly. It was probably a good thing Dean was sufficiently weak and exhausted that all he wanted to do was sleep. Otherwise he knew he would probably have been unable to resist bugging Sam out of sheer boredom. As it was, whenever he did drift toward awareness, it was always to find Sam seated in the same position, holding the doll and staring at nothing, so still he might have been a carved figure himself. If he was honest, Dean had to admit to himself that it was just a little creepy. But his faith in Sam was implicit, even if he didn't understand what was going on. So he held his peace and tried to hold onto hope as well, for Sam if not for himself.
Apparently, the cops didn't see much point in feeding their prisoners, since they weren't going to be around long anyway. At least they had water, although the sink taps were rusty and the water was warm and bitter. Dean and Sam were left alone all day and it was nearly sundown when the cellblock door finally opened again. Dean got up off his cot and moved over to the other side of the cell. Sam was already there on his side and they exchanged a glance. I hope to God you've got something, Sammy, Dean thought. Either way, though, he intended to put up a fight.
The Powaqa was back, flanked as before by his uniformed goons. This time he went straight to Sam's cell without so much as a glance at Dean. Reaching through the bars he stroked a long index finger lightly down Sam's face from cheekbone to jaw, but Sam didn't even flinch, just stared at the sorcerer with cold eyes and a curled lip.
"Your brother is strong," the Powaqa said, its voice all liquid and venom. "But you are the prize. I will finish him tonight. Then I will come for you."
"Why wait?" Sam growled. "Why not take me now? Or are you afraid? Afraid you'll need all my brother's strength as well as your own to take what you want from me?"
"Sam…," Dean objected. But Sam caught Dean's gaze and shook his head slightly. Trust me, man, he said with his eyes alone.
"I will take you both, then," the Powaqa hissed. "You can watch your brother die and then we will see who is afraid."
He gestured to the goons, who drew their guns this time around and unlocked the cell doors, motioning to the brothers to step out.
Sam didn't step out, he lunged. Before either cop could react, he had placed himself in front of the Powaqa and raised both hands before him with the tithu clutched in them. He shouted something aloud. Dean didn't catch what. It might not have been in a language he knew anyway. The Powaqa blanched and jumped back. There was a gathering of tension and a hollow rushing noise as if all the air was being suctioned out of the room. Then with an almost audible pop, something rushed back in to fill the empty space and it was there.
The Katsina, larger than man-sized, bipedal but hooved with an oversized, horned head, flat crescent eyes, a beaklike protrusion where its nose should be and a terrifying, grinning mouth that stretched to the edges of its black and white striped face. Bright colored cloth and feathers swirled around it as it moved and its clawed hands danced in the air in intricate patterns.
The sorcerer's flunkies broke and ran, screaming, didn't even attempt to shoot the thing. Alone, the Powaqa backed away from the Katsina, gibbering with terror. The Katsina glided forward, soundless and smooth like flowing water, and reached out to touch the Powaqa with a single finger. Dean never found the words to describe what happened then. The closest he could get—and Sam agreed—was that the Powaqa imploded, folding silently in on itself until it was simply gone.
For a moment, everything froze, and then Dean felt whatever strength it was that had kept him on his feet run out of him and he slumped against the cell door and slid toward the floor.
"Whoa, man," Sam said, catching him by both shoulders and letting him down easy. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I think so. Sam?"
"I know. Just hang on a sec, all right?"
Sam stood and turned to the Katsina standing still and silent in the narrow hallway. He looked into its alien eyes for a moment and then bowed his head in a gesture of gratitude and respect that had nothing to do with time or history or belief. And the Katsina returned the gesture gravely and was gone.
Sam blew out a lungful of air and knelt down beside Dean. Couldn't seem to think of anything to say. So Dean did it for him.
"Sammy, I swear after this I'll never tease you about playing with dolls again.