The night Sam and Dean spent at Cal and Niko's apartment was easily the strangest they'd ever had. They'd never really met anyone like the Leandros brothers before, and just being around them was…odd, and slightly unsettling.
And Dean's little outburst really hadn't helped.
They didn't leave, though. For reasons known only to them, they simply sat in their chairs, drinking their way slowly through three beers each, while Cal reclined like a king on the couch with his legs thrown casually over Niko's lap.
Oh, he didn't delve too deeply into any topic. He certainly didn't share his entire life story, only sketching the bare bones of it as if to gauge how much Niko had said. But he did touch on other things: Niko's father and their mother, and how useless they'd been as parents; a few things about the Auphe (simple things like his and Niko's nickname for them and some of what they looked like); the merits of guns versus swords (he seemed rather smug about Dean's firm declaration that guns were the most useful weapon known to mankind, smirking until Niko was forced to swat him—quite gently—on the back of the head); and even touching for a moment on the way Niko had taken on the job of raising him almost since he was an infant.
That was the point when Niko had known—by the looks they'd exchanged—that if Cal hadn't necessarily made a friend for life in Sam Winchester, then he'd at least found someone who could at least understand him.
And that was the point when Dean cleared his throat and changed the subject to Cal and Niko's method of hiding who they really were.
He seemed rather surprised when Niko replied that they didn't. Not really, and not often.
"We obtained a fake I.D. to get Cal his jobs at various low-class bars, and my teaching certificate is hardly legitimate, but mostly we pay for groceries and the rent with cash and try to stay off the radar." Niko paused, then pointed out, "Of course, we do have a bit of income, if it isn't exactly steady. I'd imagine you must make your money with hustling and credit card fraud, yes?"
"Yeah, so?" Dean said defensively.
"So nothing. I don't see any other option, if you are to keep your secret. It must be difficult, though."
Dean shrugged. "No worse than not being able to go to the hospital when you get yourself busted up, I guess."
Niko had allowed that to pass without comment, but he'd felt his understanding of Dean Winchester grow slightly, because he could tell that Dean, at least, had had similar problems with hospitals before.
Maybe they could all understand each other after all.
It was just getting to be dawn when Sam told Cal that he wanted to meet George.
It was hard to say who was more surprised. Sam had been quiet for a couple of hours before, only speaking a few times, and then not saying very much.
Until he'd said to Cal, "Would you introduce me to your friend George?"
"Uh…" Cal said intelligently. "I guess…sure, but…"
"Why?" Dean asked, unnecessarily loud. Niko didn't know why he sounded annoyed or why Sam looked so guilty—not until Dean went on. "You want to ask her about mom, don't you? And Jessica and the YED."
Niko couldn't make heads or tails out of these questions, and plainly neither could Cal, but neither Sam nor Dean seemed wont to explain. Sam just looked at Dean and said quietly, "I need to know, man."
"No, you don't. You already do know. I've been telling you for almost a year now what I think, and she's just going to tell you the exact same thing."
"You don't know that."
"Yeah, I do. I know it 'cause it's the truth, dude."
Sam sighed. "Look, Dean, I don't want to fight about this, okay? Please?"
For some unfathomable reason, Dean only looked angrier at this, but after a few minutes he sighed in defeat and said, "Fine. Whatever. You want to go alone, too, don't you?"
"Well…I wanted to bring Cal to, y'know, introduce me, but…yeah."
Cal seemed completely unsurprised when Niko refused to let them go alone, and instead insisted on he and Dean riding with them, and simply staying in the car. He argued, of course, but it was really more a token attempt than anything, and it wasn't long before the four of them were in the Impala. Cal rode shotgun at Niko and Sam's insistence, and Niko got the sense that Dean would have been annoyed except for the fact that Cal had spent what seemed to be the "appropriate" amount of time drooling over the vintage car before getting into it. He still didn't seem entirely happy with the idea, but Niko thought he could understand that. It would be, he thought, rather like someone besides Cal cleaning his swords.
Well, he didn't really let Cal do that, either, but the idea was at least less heinous than the idea of anyone else doing it.
They got to the ice-cream parlor at about six o'clock, and Cal got gingerly out of the car while Niko watched him carefully for pain.
"This is it?" Dean asked, sounding confused. "There's no one here."
"Yeah, she might not be here for another few minutes. We'll go in and sit down—it shouldn't be long. I'll be back out once I've introduced Sam to her. You guys okay tow ati?"
"Not really," Dean said.
"Relax, Sammy, I'm kidding. Just go."
"Bring me back a scoop of vanilla. Sugar-free, if you please," Niko added. "And you, Dean?"
"Uh…nothing for me, thanks."
"Hey, you have to get something. It's the rules," Cal said.
So a dubious Dean said fine, he'd take a scoop of Rocky Road on a sugar cone and Sam and Cal left them to their own devices.
"Georgina doesn't charge for her services reading people's futures," Niko explained when they were alone. "She does, however, request that those who come to her buy something while they're here. It seems to be all keeping the old man who runs the place in business."
"Great," Dean muttered. "So there's a patron saint of New Yorkers and my brother's gone int o meet her."
"Perhaps," Niko agreed with a small smile.
"I hate New York," Dean said, so quietly that Niko felt sure he wasn't supposed to here the remark. Out of politeness, he pretended he hadn't and silence fell.
And even Niko, Zen master, was getting a little tired of sitting in silence, especially with Dean Winchester.
"You brother is really pissed at you for this, you know. Even I can tell that."
Sam shrugged as he sat down in the booth across from Cal with his sundae. "He's just looking out for me. He'll get over it."
Cal grinned. "He's a good mom, huh?"
"I dare you to say that exact thing to him when we get back to the car."
Cal chuckled. "Yeah, he doesn't seem like the type to take that kind of thing." He took a bite of his banana split and asked bluntly, "So why is he so pissed?"
Sam shrugged. "It actually comes back to an argument we've been having off and on for a couple months now, but…I don't really want to talk about it, okay?"
Cal shrugged. "Fair enough, I guess."
Sam looked at him for a second, then shrugged. "Look, let's just say I have some things I really need to find out. About my life and where it's going. It's not the kind of thing I can afford to be in the dark about, okay?"
"I get that. And don't worry, George won't say a word. She's got kind of a seer-client confidentiality thing going on. She'll take whatever you tell her to the grave—I couldn't beat it out of her if I wanted to. She's strong, that one."
The admiration in his voice was what prompted Sam to ask. "So what's she like, anyway? I mean, you told me a little, but…"
"But not enough if she's going to be digging into your future and whatever. Yeah." Cal seemed to think for a second. "Well, she's…not quite like anyone you've ever met. She's kind of like Yoda meets Mr. Miyagi meets a Native American shaman , with a little bit of princess thrown in for good measure."
"That's…a lot of meeting."
"Yeah, but it's the only explanation I can think of for how one person can know everything, accept it with the peace of a Zen master, tell you about it with the wisdom of a sage, and the entire time make you feel like you're privileged just because you're talking to her, whether she's giving you good news or not."
"Huh. She sounds…amazing. And did you…did you mean it when you said she's cool with being psychic?"
Cal shrugged. "Well, yeah. I mean, she seems to deal okay with it. But then again, she more or less lives in the future, I think—kind of half in, half out. Maybe she's only okay with it because she doesn't really have any other choice."
"Well, I'm certainly not okay with it, and I don't have a choice, either," Sam said, trying not to sound bitter.
Evidently he hadn't succeeded too well, because Cal raised an eyebrow at him and then took another bite of his banana split. After a few moments, though, he seemed to be unable to resist asking anymore. "What's it like, anyway?"
"What's what like? The visions?"
"Uh…yeah, if that's what you call them."
Sam shrugged. "I dunno. Never really thought about it. I guess it's kind of like…pressure? Y'know, it starts in the back of my head, kinda, and then just…builds, until it hurts. Worse than I ever thought anything could, and I've broken just about every bone in my body. And just when I think I'm going to die from it, I see the vision, like I'm watching TV in my head. It usually goes really fast—so I have to work really hard to hold onto the details—and the pain goes away a couple of minutes after it finishes, but it takes a while for my breath to come back. Mostly it's just…exhausting. And…they're always visions of people dying. Always. So that kind of sucks, especially when Dean and I can't prevent them. And it freaks Dean the hell out, which I hate. He pretends it doesn't, but…well, anyway, basically the whole thing is crap. I honestly don't know how your friend deals with it."
"Yeah…" Cal said slowly. "But Sam…I don't think it's the same way for her. I don't think she even sees visions. Or at least, she never seems to get flashes like you do. Whenever she reads for Niko, it's always like she's just kind of…stepping into the future. She definitely doesn't act like it hurts her."
"Huh," Sam said, his mouth twisting cynically. "Of course. I'm a freak among freaks. Figures…"
"He shouldn't be doing this."
At the sound of Dean's voice, Niko glanced at him but said nothing.
He doesn't' need to be in there. She's only going to tell him the same thing I've been telling him."
"What have you been telling him?"
Dean shrugged. "Just…you know what? Never mind. Let's just…sit here awkwardly, okay?"
Niko hesitated, then asked, "Is it about what happened to your mother?"
For a moment, he thought Dean was going to either ignore him or slug him. But then the older man said simply, "Yeah. And to his girlfriend. They were both murdered, you know. In the exact same way. A demon attacked them—pinned both of them on the ceiling and set them on fire." He paused, then said, with the air of letting loose a confession, "Both murders happened in Sam's room, over his bed. And now he thinks there's a connection, and that he's it."
It wasn't an unreasonable assumption—in fact, it sounded like it was probably true—but one that Niko knew he wouldn't allow Cal to make if his situation and Dean's were reversed. So instead of pointing it out, he said, "He blames himself, then?"
"'Course he does. He shouldn't, but he does. Doesn't help that he had visions of Jessica dying weeks before it happened. They were his first, so he didn't do anything about them—thought they were just dreams."
Now, that was a reasonable assumption, and Niko pointed it out this time without hesitation.
"You think I haven't told him that?" Dean snapped. "He still blames himself for it, and it's killing him. It has been for over a year now, and I hate watching him go through that."
"I know. Believe me, I understand perfectly. Don't you think Cal is the same way? He refuses to believe that I don't mind the way we live. He blames himself for the fact that I can't go to college, get a degree, have a normal life. He doesn't understand that I'd rather live this life, and have him, then live a perfect life without him—that I'd pay anything for it. I hate it too, Dean. But it's their way of trying to make sense out of a senseless situation, and it would only hurt them more for us to be angry with them about it."
"I'm not mad at him," Dean said, looking very much as if regretted getting into this conversation in the first place. "I just…God, I wish we hadn't come here."
Something in his tone said very clearly that he didn't mean New York, and in that instant something clicked in his mind.
"You have a secret, don't you?" he asked before he could stop himself—a rare occurrence indeed. "About your brother."
Again, Dean was quiet long enough that Niko began to doubt he'd get an answer. But then Dean sighed explosively and said—wearily, as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders and simply couldn't bear the load alone anymore—"Yes." He looked over at Niko as if in assessment, then went on, though he spoke as if every word hurt. "Before my dad died—not too long ago—he…he told me something. About Sam.. Some of it was the usual—you know, protect him, take care of him, more of the same thing I heard my whole life. But then he said something else. He told me I had to…save Sam. He didn't say what it meant—I don't have a friggin' clue what I'm even supposed to save Sam from—but he did tell me that if I couldn't save him I'd have to…to kill him." He looked out the window then, to where Sam and Cal were sitting at a booth, eating ice cream and apparently talking. "I never told him."
After a moment Niko said noncommittally, "Do you plan to?"
Dean leaned his head on the steering wheel and replied in a muffled voice, "I don't know."
Niko nodded silently, and after a moment Dean lifted his head and said, "Well?"
"Well, what?" Niko asked politely.
"Aren't you going to say anything?"
"What should I say?"
"I dunno, just…something. I thought you'd tell me what I should do, at least."
"Dean, I only met you two days ago. I'm certainly not qualified to give advice, especially on a matter such as this, when there is no solution. I can only tell you to do exactly what you would do anyway: protect Sam. Stay with him. You've been doing that for your entire life for a reason, Dean, and watching you with Sam, I know that you'll continue to do it, no matter what else happens. And really, isn't that all you need to know?"
He spoke with a firmness that must have surprised Dean, because the hunter said, "Dude, have you ever had a single doubt about anything in your whole life?"
"I have," Niko said calmly. "Many times. Never about Cal or what I will do in regards to him."
Dean huffed out something that might have been a laugh or a grunt. "Dude, I don't know how you do it."
"Yes, you do," Niko said simply.
Dean glanced at him in some surprise and murmured, "Yeah. Maybe I do."
Cal and Sam came out ten minutes later, and as far as Niko could tell George's table was still empty.
"Problems?" he asked, recalling all too well the last time George had failed to show up at the shop.
Cal shrugged. "I just called her house. Her mom says she's sick. Mono or something. I'm sorry, Sam. Maybe next time you're in town?"
But he gave Niko a darkly significant look as he spoke, and it was clear that Mrs. King had said nothing of the kind.
Niko—remembering a fogged-over glass window with a crude picture of a car, George sobbing with her head in her arms, and the secret Dean had just imparted to him—said nothing at all.
"Hey, Niko? It's Dean. Dean Winchester. I just wanted to tell you that we found Gordon…"
Author's Note: Surprisingly, that, my friends, is the end. I know, I wasn't expecting it either! But I wrote this in the fitting room again (in between writing "Twilight is not literature" in size thingies on the fitting room desk), and I was dashing off the last few lines as the store started closing, when I looked back at them and thought, "Hey, now, that makes a fine ending!" And then my manager came over and told me to get out of the fitting room, so I just came home and decided to go ahead and post it the way it was.
Hope you enjoyed the story! My next one is already in the world—another crossover, y'all—so I hope you'll read that one, too!
So anyways—if you guys felt like pressing the little button and reviewing, that'd be great!
Also, maybe someone can answer this question: if it is one sentence tacked onto the end of a chapter, does it even COUNT as an epilogue?