This story takes place after Everybody Loves A Clown, and was originally written for the fanzine "Roadtrip With My Brother 2."
In Loving Memory of my Father, 'The Jebel Man.'
Somewhere in Arizona
Dean opened one eye just a slit to see the rosy illumination from his alarm clock glaring back at him like the glow from a neon sign. The digits showed it was just after 5 a.m.
He grunted, expecting as much, and slipped a hand under his pillow almost mechanically. His fingers met with cold steel, and he inhaled at the welcome sensation of finding his hunting knife exactly where he had placed it. A familiar, comforting thing in an unfamiliar place.
Dean dragged down a breath; the sweet aroma of fresh linen from his pillow assaulted his senses. It was a pity the inviting odor, so uncommon to a life on the road, didn't goad him into slumber, but since his father's death that had become as impossible for Dean as it always had been for Sam.
Dean was alive, John was dead. Somehow, that equation didn't seem fair. Maybe he could take it up with Einstein some day if they met on the other side.
The alarm clock began to warble, earning it a slap that almost launched it across the room.
Dean licked his lips and swung his legs over the side of the bed, casting a glance to where his brother still slept. Funny, how roles seemed to have reversed these days. Sam wanted to hunt, Sam slept at night, and Sam wasn't the one carrying such huge freakin' secrets anymore.
Dean leaned across to where the injured alarm now lay, fumbling to find some small, yet significant item behind it. When his hand touched something soft, he pulled back, bringing the deathly black item back in his palm.
It was a bird's feather, a crow's feather to be precise, but to Dean it signified something more. He'd found the almost perfect quill the day after burning John's body--after he'd lied to Sammy, saying there had been no final words from their father before his demise.
The feather had been waiting for him on the Impala's driving seat, even though every door and window on the classic car he'd painstakingly rebuilt had been carefully closed or covered.
Dean swallowed and turned the black plume in his fingers. Maybe he hadn't found the feather. Maybe it had found him. The hunter had seen enough things in his life to believe in anything, even…
As the thought hit, Dean instantly tossed the quill back behind the alarm clock and hastily tugged on a pair of jeans that had been discarded on the floor the previous evening. There was a gig to finish and he didn't have time for sentimentality. Sam would awaken soon, and if Dean dragged his heels or was caught scrutinizing a stupid bird's feather, there would be questions.
After dressing, Dean carefully packed the weapons he'd meticulously cleaned the night before. While the coffee pot in their motel room boiled, he snatched up the keys to the Impala, fully intent on stashing the guns in the trunk and being back inside ready for some much needed caffeine before Sammy stirred.
"Yeah right, as if it's not going to be there waiting for you!" Dean had mumbled the sentence to himself before he even knew the words had left his mouth. But then, he was going to be right, wasn't he?
Every morning, rain or shine since he and Sam had built the funeral pyre and burned their father's remains, "it" had come. Of course, for some bizarre reason, Sam hadn't seen "it", or if he had, he'd had the good sense not to bring it up in conversation.
What's dead should stay dead. Those words had come from his mouth so easily recently, but suddenly, Dean wasn't so sure if he wanted it to be true.
Taking a slow gulp, he reached for the motel room door handle and gradually twisted it. The door swung inwards easily, its well-oiled hinges not even giving a hint of noise to awaken Sammy from his well-earned sleep.
Dean exhaled, welcoming the dawn radiance of the Arizona sun as he stepped outside. After only a second enveloped by its warmth, he felt like he could face anything. Anything but what came next.
As the hunter strode out into the motel's meager parking area, he spotted the Impala and its newfound companion exactly where he'd expected them. He'd eased the Chevy up to a small fence that overlooked a vast expanse of local desert the night before, hoping to keep it out of sight from too much local attention.
It would seem, however, that it had gathered attention after all.
The bird sat on one of the Impala's chrome side mirrors, its wings tucked in and its head cocked to one side in curiosity as Dean approached.
It was a black bird, a crow, and even though several pieces of road kill were squished onto the nearby road surface, offering up easy pickings, it still chose to place its attention on Dean's car, or to be more precise, Dean. The damn bird had a fatal attraction to him that he'd only really become aware of around the time of the Cooper Carnival gig.
The crow seemed to startle as he grew closer and outstretched its wings, ready to take flight. Was that really fear or was it something more? An unfinished message, perhaps?
Dean's mind jumped back to the hospital, to hurriedly whispered information given up in those familiar rumbling tones he would never hear again. His eyes began to smart and he abruptly hated the bird. It was just a bird. Da…
"Dean?" The motel room door clicked closed behind Sam, and the younger Winchester rubbed at his hair dazedly as if he were still half asleep. "Since when were you the early bird? We don't have to be in Tucson for a couple of hours. I told Norman Volkh's wife we were looking for a tour, and she said he wouldn't be home until after eleven…"
Dean unlocked the Impala and hoisted in the holdall containing the brothers' weapons stash. When he turned back, he noted the elusive crow had vanished. "Guess I'm a regular Boy Scout. Be prepared, Sammy, be prepared." He slammed the trunk, but couldn't help stealing one last glance in search of his mysterious feathered friend before re-entering the motel room.
"So, you want to tell me about it?" Sam poured out two mugs of steaming coffee and then took a seat on the end of his dishevelled bed. "Every morning you're up before the crack of dawn, and three times now I've caught you out by the car looking around as if you've seen a ghost."
Dean grinned. "Or maybe a clown?" he teased, thinking of Cooper's carnival again. Humor was always a good smokescreen.
"Dude, so not funny. Dean, I know you still have issues about Dad, we both do, but if there's something you're not telling me..?"
Great. Sam in his Samaritan mode. Tell me all your crap and I'll fix it. Riiigght…
Dean tossed the Impala's keys on the small side table near the door and took a sip of the coffee he'd been given before attempting to reply. He could do the usual Dean "trick" and lie his ass off. He could say everything was fine, or, he could tell the truth.
Except maybe Sammy wasn't ready to hear big brother's theory on the bird that seemed to stalk him, because hell, big brother was the skeptic, and Sammy was usually the one to do the arm bending. Or maybe even spoon bending, the way his abilities are going…
"It's nothing." Dean's timber was so abrupt he hoped that would be the end of it, but Sam had other ideas. He was still hurting over John and he needed Dean to be the voice of reason. Dean was the eldest. He should be nurturing his baby brother right now. Protecting, soothing, but instead all he'd done of late was push the blame on John's death to Sam. But it was me he died for, wasn't it? Even though I can't remember…
"Dean!" Sam slammed down his coffee mug so hard dregs of the liquid slopped over onto the table and began to dribble down onto the carpeted floor. "You go out there every morning and I swear to God sometimes I hear you talking to yourself. Man, I'm worried you're going to crack! Remember Roosevelt? Well, dude, you're heading back there fast!"
Dean laughed. He was on the edge, Sam was right, but he wasn't about to need mental help from beyond the grave. "Yeah, well Ellicott gotta wait his turn to get his hands on my ass." He sighed, taking a peek out of the window before facing Sam with a somewhat more serious face. "I wasn't talking to myself," he admitted. "I was talking to a bird, of the non-female, non-human variety." This was going to be much harder than he'd ever imagined, but then he hadn't ever imagined confessing his idea.
Dean nodded and slumped down on his own bed. As an afterthought he pulled out the quill he had kept. "A crow," he eventually offered up. "It's been following us for days."
Sam shot his brother a look of uncertainty. "You realize just how big the black bird family is, right? It's probably not even the same bird you're seeing. And even if it is, what's that supposed to mean?" As he talked, he began rifling through data he'd collected on their current gig.
"C'mon, geekboy, you know the legends as well as I do. Hell, probably better. Certain cultures believe that when a person dies a crow carries their soul to the afterlife. Sometimes, just sometimes, if the dude isn't ready, the crow can bring the soul back again…"
Sam placed the paperwork down as calmly as he could and stared his brother in the eye. He'd expected a meltdown from Dean maybe, heck, he'd come close himself, but this? "Dean, if this is some kind of joke, it's so not funny. Dad is gone. We burned the body. Don't I even recall you saying 'What's dead should stay dead?'"
Dean turned so that he was facing the window and his back was towards his brother, no emotion showing. Maybe he was wrong, and if he was, it wasn't fair to freak Sam out like this. Hell, if there was any truth to the legends, any chance the bird could be…could be…wouldn't Sammy's psychic side know?
"I'm sorry, Sammy, I guess part of me just wanted to hold onto something, ya know? Guess you're just not used to me turning all chick flick on you." Dean turned back, needing to change the subject before he was forced into more lies. "So, tell me again all this crap you dug up on Volkh and how we catch his spell-casting ass?"
Sam's brow furrowed. Dean never gave up on a theory so easily. He should be arguing, fighting his point about the crow myth, snark ablazing. But since John's death something had snapped inside, something that Sam wasn't sure could be repaired.
If Sam couldn't fix the problem, all he could do was keep Dean busy. "I checked on all the murdered priests in Arizona and then tried for a nationwide match on our killer's M.O. I got nothing on the actual killings, but the defilement to church property came back a match."
"So, this dude wrecked a few holy houses in his time, huh? I'm thinking somebody kicked him outta the choir at an impressionable age." Dean leaned over Sam's shoulder, reading the reports Sam had printed off from their laptop. He whistled as he came to the last few. "Looks like old Norman's been church crashing for hundreds of years. Guess he just got fed up with trashing the places and moved on to killing the occupants. Any ideas why?"
Sam nodded and pulled out more sheets of paper that were slightly smudged from wet ink being placed on wet ink. "I printed this while you were doing your whole 'Dances with Crows' act." He cocked his head and smiled, dimples blatantly challenging Dean to retort. When his brother simply scowled he continued his narrative. "I came across this photograph from 1906. It's a group picture of the congregation of a church in New Mexico that was burned to the ground."
"And this proves Norman is a very bad boy just how?" Dean countered, scrutinizing the image.
"This is how." Sam produced a new color print of a local church's three priests. In the background, the organist was quite clearly one of the congregation from the photo in 1906. "Ring any shtriga bells?" Sam looked up, watching Dean for a reaction. "This is just how I found our witch doctor last time."
"Just a little," Dean admitted, plucking the picture from Sam's hand with a sardonic grin. "I'll tell you one thing, chicks would pay mega bucks for the youth formula these guys have. Pity we can't bottle the damn stuff." He squinted, examining his brother's handiwork more closely. "I get where you're coming from that this is our priest killer, but how did you track him down?"
Sam beamed. "Because the dude is so damn self-assured he used his own name, Volkh, everywhere he's lived for the past hundred years, and that's only as far as I can track town records."
"The freak's real name is Volkh? I thought you told me earlier this thing was some kind of sorcerer?" Crow forgotten, Dean bounced down next to Sam as his brother pulled over their already booted laptop. "I mean, I wasn't expecting some guy with a beard, wand and a pointy hat with stars on but what the hell?"
"'Volkh' is more what he is than who." Sam brought up a brief web page that scarcely covered some of the more obscure European legends. "According to this, Volkh was one of the Bogatyri, a group of Slavic demon-killing sorcerers who had several superhuman powers, including the ability to shapeshift."
"Demon killers?" Dean's voice deepened in surprise. "Should we be trying to kill this thing, or hire its ass? If old Norman was one of the good guys, how come he's pissed at the church?"
"This is where it gets interesting." Sam brought up a little more data and perched the laptop on his brother's knee. "Check this out. The Bogatyri were likened to the Knights of the Round Table in their homelands, that is, until Christianity came along. Eventually, the church pushed out local beliefs and Volkh and all his buddies were considered nothing more than pagan myths."
"And you think Volkh is pissed at the church for banishing his ass after he kicked demon butt for years?" Dean pursed his lips and nodded. As usual, Sammy was on the ball.
"It makes sense," Sam agreed, closing the laptop. "How would you feel if you'd saved some damsel in distress only to get the door slammed in your face?"
"I'd need to down a few beers, not kill a few priests," Dean admitted with a smirk. "But hey, that's just me," he shrugged. "So, if you're sure Volkh is the real deal, how do we stop him?"
Sam grimaced. There really had been no mention of killing Volkh or any of his companion Bogatyri, but then, people didn't usually go around killing demon fighting deities. "The file says he's a shapeshifter. I'm thinking regular silver bullet to the heart…"
"And if you're wrong, dude?"
Sam scratched at his floppy mop of hair in thought. "Maybe you can always get that crow friend of yours to be backup?"
The comment earned the younger Winchester a glare, but no sarcastic quip.
Something was still very wrong with Dean.
Volkh's Aviation Graveyard
Dean pushed open the small screen door and entered the musty cabin that seconded as an office. Sam followed in his wake, catching the door just before it slammed closed because of the angle at which the cabin had been deposited.
"Excuse me, ma'am, we have an appointment with Norman Volkh for a tour around some of the old aircraft here?" Dean put on his best "amiable without being pushy" façade. "We're doing a paper on changes in aviation design since the sixties…"
The woman who Sam guessed was Volkh's wife eyed them with a total lack of interest and continued to flick through channels on a mini-TV set she had set up on the desk. "Norman's out in the yard somewhere, but I can't let you go look for him. It's against safety regulations. Guess you boys will just have to wait." She found some bizarre daytime soap and hovered on it before finally giving in. "Norman might be hours, I'll warn you. Came back in here with some bee in his bonnet and scooted on out among the wrecks. When he does that, I know it's time I left him alone. Maybe you should try again tomorrow?"
Sam nodded, grabbing Dean's arm and tugging before he could protest. "Thank you, ma'am, we'll do that."
Dean pulled his arm free and scowled, but nodded to Volkh's wife before following Sam back to the Impala. "Now what? If Norman Bates part deux is home and acting freaky, that means he's either getting ready for another kill, or maybe he knows we're onto his Slavic butt." Dean leaned on the Chevy's roof as Sam looked across to the multitude of aircraft hulks that stretched for miles.
"He's in there somewhere. We could go look…"
"Sammy, I know you might be psychic, but I'm not. Dude, looking for our 'Merlin the Sorcerer' in there would be like looking for a devil in hell." Nevertheless, Dean pulled his favourite forty-five from his waistband and checked its silver load.
"See any other options?" Sam asked, checking his own Glock and spare clip. "Because all I see is daylight wasting…"
"Okay…we'll split up." Dean's lip curled into a roguish smirk. "Just don't let him go casting any Frog Prince spells on your butt, or I might be tempted to leave you that way."
Sam smiled. Dean was still hurting from what they'd been through, but every now and again, the old, confident Dean emerged, that, if nothing else was worth the effort it took to get up every morning. "Whatever you say, Mr. Fairy Tale Expert…"
Dean groaned at the implication and swiftly dived through a gap in the mesh fencing before Sam could accuse him of worse.
Inside Volkh's Aviation Graveyard
Sam glanced across the yard and let his eyes pause on an old Huey Hog that seemed to call to him. Ever since leaving Dean he'd had the distinct feeling that something bad was happening right here among the scrap aircraft, and that feeling was never usually wrong. Now, the sensation was coming to a crescendo until it left his gut churning and his head aching.
The "Hog" was definitely the center of his extrasensory problem, and that meant he had to face it, and whatever lay within the rotting helicopter. "Why did I agree to splitting up…?"
Sam clasped his Glock just that little bit tighter than before and weaved between two more helicopters to reach his target.
The rear sliding door on the chopper was open, and within, the younger Winchester could see a small table laid out with very familiar items. On the left sat a photo of the latest victim, complete with a small rosary that had obviously belonged to the dead priest. On the right side of the table, lay two more pictures. One of Sam, and one of Dean.
As of yet, Volkh had no personal item to go along with his images, and that was a good thing, but he also was obviously aware that the Winchesters were onto him.
Sam kept his weapon ready in one hand and fumbled to find his cell with the other. He hit speed dial for Dean's number, and was annoyed when all he got back was voicemail. "C'mon, man, pick up…we're next on the damn list…"
Something creaked inside a nearby cockpit, and Dean froze, bringing up his automatic in line with the aircraft. He wouldn't be able to shoot through Plexiglas, but if anything exited the Gruman he'd have a clear shot.
He waited, head cocked slightly to one side as he considered whether a small zephyr or wild animal could have instigated the sound he'd heard. "Arizona State Police! If anybody's in there, you might wanna haul ass out here right about now." The cop lie tended to go down a whole lot better than "I'm a ghost hunter," particularly when it was a possible supernatural being you were addressing who might not know your identity. I hope…
"Hey, Mister, don't shoot!" A small, timid voice echoed from the fuselage of the wreck, shortly followed by its owner. "I knew old Volkh was mad at us coming here, but sheesh, calling the cops? That guy so needs something better to do with his time."
As Dean watched, a young sandy-haired kid clambered from the plane, palms and face smudged with grease and dirt. He looked no more than eleven, but griped like an eighty-year-old.
"What the hell are you doin' out here? Don't you know this place is dangerous? Heck, Volkh might be dangerous…" Dean barked.
The kid shrugged his shoulders and ambled up to Dean. "I get bored so I come and play out here. You ever been in an Intruder's cockpit, mister? It's awesome! Course, Mr. Volkh shoos me off every chance he can get. The guy is just plain wacko. You know I've seen him doing some pretty weird stuff out here…"
Dean raised a brow and leaned over until he was level with the kid's head. "What kind of weird stuff? Can you show me?"
"Uh huh, if you gimme ten bucks…"
"Ten bucks? I'm a cop, what about doing your public duty and telling me for free before I arrest your scrawny butt?" Dean smiled at the kid and offered up a fake I.D. he'd been carrying for backup.
"Man, I know my rights; I don't have to tell you anything." The eleven-year-old spotted the cord dangling around Dean's neck and his eyes lit up. "Tell you what, I'll spill for that!" He pointed upwards to the amulet Dean rarely removed.
"Not a chance, Bucko." Dean rolled his eyes and reluctantly slid a hand into his jeans pocket to pull out his wallet. He hadn't gotten it half open when he realized the kid was shaking his head as if to now refuse any money offered.
"I guess I'll tell," the youngster sighed. "But do I at least get a closer look at your lucky charm? I mean, it's cool, but I can't see what it is…"
Dean leaned low once more and slipped a hand under the gold necklace. "It's for protection," he explained. "My dad gave it to me a long time ago."
"Gee, must be really important to you then?" The kid noted.
"Yeah, I guess…"
Before Dean could think, act, or cry out in shock, the kid's tiny hand shot out and grabbed the amulet, tearing the normally resilient cord from the hunter's neck as if it had hung on a piece of cotton.
Once the gold bauble was in his possession, the boy turned tail and darted towards the center of the aircraft graveyard as if he had superspeed.
Dean stuffed his forty-five into his belt, fully intent on giving chase when something dark flew overheard, momentarily blotting out the sun and distracting him. The hunter looked up, shielding his eyes with one hand, but there was nothing.
Dean whirled, expecting to see the familiar black bird resting on one of the long-dead jets whose wings had been clipped forever. Instead, he came face to face with a very flustered Sam.
"Dean, we have to get out of here!" Sam struggled to gulp down breaths in between words as the exertion from running took its toll.
Dean pulled a face, cutting his brother's explanation off dead. "No way, some kid just stole my necklace, and I ain't leaving this junkyard till I have it back. Why, I ought to whoop his ass for this when I catch him. Almost handed over ten bucks and this is the thanks I get."
Sam shook his head and grabbed his irate sibling's arm, trying to talk some sense into him. "Dean, I found an altar -- something like the one Sue Ann Le Grange used. Volkh is using magic to help kill his victims, and he needs something very personal to do it. That was no kid you were just talking to, it was Volkh, and now he has your amulet. We have to get it back and fast…"
"Sonofabitch! He's fast, Sammy." The trusty automatic reappeared from Dean's belt and his face contorted into something more than anger. "Now how the hell do we find him again?"
"I know where his altar is. It's in a chopper in the north section of the yard." Sam gestured with his Glock. "I figure he's going to want to get those spells working pretty quickly. It's probably where he's headed right now."
Dean's expression showed distaste at the very thought of being literally "spellbound." "Right, he's probably cookin up some bad mojo as we speak…."
"Tell me you didn't hear that, Sammy?" Dean's face turned white, and for just a second he forgot all about sorcerers and amulets.
Sam looked around, slightly startled, but saw no bird. "I heard it," he confessed, "But there are hundreds of birds out here on the outskirts of the desert, Dean. I think we have more to worry about right now than some wild crow." Has he lost it? He's worried about that dang bird in the middle of a hunt? A hunt we're fast becoming the prey in…
"Yeah, well, some things are more that what they seem, you should know that, Sammy. Now can we go find this chopper and get my damn necklace back before Merlin waves his wand on me?"
Despite their situation, Sam couldn't resist a chuckle. "What's wrong, scared he'll turn you into the Frog Prince?"
Huey "Hog" Wreck
Five Minutes Later
Sam put a finger to his mouth as the brothers reached the wreck of the chopper. With so many similar vehicles in the yard, it was up to Sam to make a distinction between Volkh's little fun house and all the ordinary hulks.
"It's that one," the younger brother mouthed, hardly letting any real sound escape from his lips.
Dean nodded and carefully indicated with his hand that they should split and one approach from either side of the helicopter. At least that way Volkh had less chance of escape should he be inside.
Sam followed his brother's lead, darting off to the left and using a larger transport chopper for cover. He ducked behind the tail section's half-missing rotor and paused, eyes dissecting every inch of the "Hog" for the sorcerer's presence.
The relic appeared to be empty, but then, appearances were often deceptive. Sam licked his lips and made ready to charge the helicopter on Dean's command. He searched across the yard for his brother's form weaving among the wrecks, but Dean had vanished from view.
This wasn't part of the plan…
Sam's mind instantly hit alert mode and all thoughts of attacking the chopper were pushed aside. Dean was gung ho. Dean was sometimes all-out rash, but he wouldn't deviate from a plan like this unless there was a reason-- a bad one.
This time the guttural sound of the bird sent a cold chill through Sam's body. In many legends, Dean was right, crows were the carriers of the soul to the afterlife, but there were many more legends that said the bird was evil, an actual harbinger of death rather than an innocent.
Sam jerked his head around, scouring the massive bone yard for the jet-black bird. This time, though, he didn't have to search very hard.
The crow's wings fluttered frantically overhead and it settled momentarily on an Intruder's half-missing wing to Sam's left.
The young hunter brought his Glock up and took aim, but suddenly found he didn't have the nerve to pull the trigger. The thing could be Volkh. It could be taunting him while Dean already lay dying somewhere. And yet, as he looked into its soft, glistening eyes, something told Sam that was not the case.
The bird sensed his hesitation and launched skywards, making a beeline for where Sam had expected Dean to be waiting for him across the yard. Once it reached the spot, it circled like some hawk hunting its prey rather than a mere scavenger bird. After a few seconds, the mysterious crow dived, squawking relentlessly at some unseen thing on the ground.
Sam's mind reeled and he launched his body towards the crow, and the unseen action beyond the steely fuselages. As he grew closer, he could hear sounds of a scuffle, and what was definitely Dean grunting.
"Dean!" The scene that greeted Sam was almost unbelievable.
Volkh was back to his elder form and had somehow managed to pin Dean to the floor with just one arm. Maybe he'd used the amulet against the hunter via some heathen spell, or maybe he was utilizing some of the inhuman powers the net article talked about. Either way, the sorcerer had a dagger to Dean's throat and would no doubt have already used it, save for the bird.
The crow was repeatedly diving on Volkh, pecking, attacking, and distracting him from his task until backup arrived in the form of Sam.
Sam gaped and took aim on Volkh, but he wasn't sure he had the guts to fire with the bird so close to the bad guy. "Let him go or I fire!" What if Dean was right? What if..?
Volkh didn't back down. There was no reason to. If he let go of Dean now, Sam would shoot anyway. The Glock was loaded with silver, and every slug had his name on it. "I think not. Your brother and I will go to hell together, Winchester." The voice was guttural, as if the owner came from the very bowels of the earth.
The sorcerer plunged the blade down towards Dean's neck.
The crow dived again, clawing at Volkh's face with its talons just long enough for Sam to shoot.
One single gunshot rang out, echoing through the aviation relics as it hit Volkh square in the heart and tore on through his chest, exiting through his back. The slug ripped into the "Hog" that had been his shrine and then, silence.
Volkh's body tumbled forward and he face-planted the sandy Arizona ground with a thud.
"Nice of you to join the party," Dean groused. "Still think that crow is just a bird?" He smirked from his position on the floor and then dared to try and move his limbs. Whatever paralysis Volkh had caused seemed to be already wearing off now the sorcerer was dead.
Sam's expression changed from relief to one of uncertainty. He glanced around, but the crow had once again vanished like some winged wraith. "I don't know what I think anymore." He tucked his Glock into his jeans and offered Dean a hand up.
"Yeah, well, I know what I think. Now, can we get my necklace and haul ass?" Dean shakily retrieved his automatic from where he'd dropped it when Volkh's spell had kicked in. He looked at the sorcerer and was tempted to empty his clip into the body just for good measure. Damned if he trusted supernatural deities, especially not after the shtriga had caught him off guard that time.
"We better hurry," Sam ventured. "I have a feeling Volkh's wife will have heard that shot over her TV, and I doubt she had a clue what her husband really was…"
"Oh sweet," Dean rolled his eyes. "I get to take the murder rap again for killing yet another freakin' shapeshifter."
Sam shook his head. "Nope, technically it's my butt on the line this time. Guess we're even now, huh?" The younger brother bobbed down to avoid catching his head on the Huey's doorframe and winced as he realized the chopper was now empty. "You're not gonna like this…"
The small table and all the items on it had gone, and wherever Volkh had moved them to complete his magic, had died with him.
"Volkh's dead, at least he can't use it against you anymore," Sam suggested, knowing the knowledge would be of little comfort to his brother.
Dean turned, his face twisting as he tried to control his emotions. Maybe the necklace didn't protect him. Maybe it was just some trinket John had given him long ago, but then that was the point. John, his dad, the dad that would never return from a hunt anymore, had given it to him. The amulet was one of the last things he had to hold onto aside from the Impala that truly meant anything anymore.
Eventually he simply nodded and headed back for the Chevy. There were no words to express how he felt anyway.
Somewhere in Arizona
Three Days Later
The brothers should have moved on. Volkh was dead, his cycle of killing broken forever, and yet, Dean didn't want to leave Tucson.
Ever since the encounter with Volkh at the graveyard, the crow had remained a constant burden on his mind. The bird had visited every morning since John's death up until the fight with the sorcerer, but now, its visits had ceased.
Three mornings had passed without the crow's dawn presence, three mornings that Dean had waited for its caw and been bitterly disappointed when it had not materialized.
"Dean?" Sam lay on top of his bed, hands under his head as the morning sun dared to peek over the horizon and filter through their window. "You awake?"
"Yeah." The gruff answer suggested the hunter was more than awake, he was tired. Tired of the constant uncertainty in his life. Tired of losing people. Tired of just "being" instead of actually "living." The hole in his gut he'd once told a fellow hunter about was getting bigger. Maybe one day it would totally consume him. For a time, he'd thought the crow's presence had brought him some semblance of peace, of calm. A chance to fill that deep, dark void.
The bird had brought back some of John's earthly wisdom, if only in Dean's mind. Maybe it had just been a crow, but to Dean, it had been so much more.
Sam glanced over and noted the glassy, far away look in his brother's eyes. "Want some coffee? You look like you could do with a gallon of the stuff…" He slipped his legs over the bed and ambled across the room without waiting for a response.
The familiar cry seemed to come from one of the motel room's smaller windows, and even though the curtains were drawn, the silhouette of a bird was clear through the drapes.
Dean was up off his bed and across the room before Sam could even draw another breath. The eldest Winchester grabbed the curtains and yanked them back so hard they almost tore from their tiny plastic rail.
Beyond lay a small blistering window ledge that was quite empty save for one item.
The amulet sparkled in the early morning sun's brilliance. Dean tugged open the window with one heave and snatched up the cord. "Son of a …"
"Guess it's true what they say about black birds liking shiny things." Sam walked over and poked a head from the window, but there was no sign of their recent visitor. It was strange, but just like the sensation he'd had in the graveyard about the altar, he had a new premonition now. "Think we'll ever see the bird again?" he asked, already suspecting the answer.
Dean shook his head, carefully placing the amulet back around his neck. "I think it's done what it was here to do." The words were low, and as he spoke he flopped back down onto his bed, reaching out once again to the item behind the alarm clock.
Sam squinted, focusing on the black feather that Dean now twirled with his thumb and forefinger. "What it was here to do?" he eventually dared to ask.
Dean nodded, transfixed by the quill. "Fathers always protect their kids, Sammy. Hell, I think Dad even died for me…"
Sam shook his head. There was something strange, almost mystical about the crow that had visited them, but Dean believing it was John was just…heck, Sam didn't know what it was. Maybe part of him believed it too, or why else did he hesitate when the bird had been in his line of fire?
Dean stood again and walked back to the window. Maybe he was crazy, but to him the feather had been a message, a message from John, that although he was gone, if a parent loved their children enough, there was always a way back should he be needed. He peered outside at the ledge, and then the Impala, sensing Sam silently walking to his side.
Dean turned, dropping the weightless feather in Sam's huge palm. "You ever noticed how feather is just one little letter of the alphabet away from "father?" Makes you wonder, doesn't it?" The quirky, wayward smile appeared, and for the first time in weeks it wasn't just his "game face" to appease Sammy.