Disclaimer: These characters belong to their creators and not to me.
Mary had gone to the library to do research. She'd left John to talk to the street kids. They scattered when he tromped down the alley. It didn't bother him that they were afraid of him. Hell, normally he would have found it amusing. But today he needed answers. He needed the little punks to speak to him.
He glared down the alleyway at a group of six kids at the corner. They huddled together, jabbing each other with elbows and stealing glances at him. Finally, a skinny kid skulked towards him glancing back like the others had dared him over. The light between the brick buildings was dim and John couldn't make out the kids features other than freckles and short hair.
"You're a little old for this alley." The kid said. The others watched him from the corner. He turned around and smirked at them before grinning up at John. "The old-timers usually hang around the park."
"That so." John stood up tall, squared his shoulders. The kid came to about his shoulder. "I want to ask you some questions."
The boy patted him on the chest. "Sure. Its two blocks west. They got chess sets and everything." He started to walk away.
John reached out and grabbed his bony wrist. "Not so fast, smart ass." He pulled him back. "Like I said, I got some questions."
The kid's arm tensed in his grip. John let him go but kept him in reach.
The boy held his gaze. "And who the hell are you?" He said.
"My name's John." He said motioning to the area. "Kids have been going missing 'round here. You know anything about that?"
"People go missing all the time here." A bitter look passed over his face. "No one's looking for 'em."
"Yeah. Well maybe I am." John rummaged in his back pocket, unfolded pictures of three of the missing boys. "You recognize any of them?"
The kid didn't reach out for the papers, but his sharp green eyes took in the details fast. "Yeah. I knew them." He said. "But I dunno what happened to them."
John doubted that. The kid said 'knew them' not 'know them'. He and Mary had suspected the worst. The boy glanced back and John followed his gaze. His friends at the end of the road skittered away. The kid sighed and slumped against the wall.
"So you knew them? What happened?" John tried to sound sympathetic. Friendly. But it came out rough and demanding even to his ears.
The boy shifted on his feet. "Like I said, they disappeared." He stepped back. "That's all I know, man." He turned and hurried away.
John watched him. Something wasn't right. It was too quick a getaway for such a cocky kid. "Dammit." He walked after the boy as he patted down his leather jacket. Little shit lifted his wallet. "Hey!" He increased his pace. "Wait up."
The kid turned back. John saw fear cross his face and thought the thieving punk was going to bolt and he would have to run him down. And John would run him the hell down. But a smirk quickly replaced the expression. The kid leaned against the brick of the alleyway and waited. Either he was not smart enough to run or smart enough to know John would catch him.
"Dude. I told you I dunno what happened to those guys."
John crowded him to the wall. "Wallet." He held out his hand.
The kid froze for a moment then shrugged. "You robbing me or somethin'. Cause, really, I ain't exactly loaded. You need to pick better marks. Maybe if you try-"
John pushed him against the wall. Not hard enough to hurt him, but hard enough to get his attention. The kid grimaced.
"Son, you have three seconds to hand it over." John said.
The kid swallowed and bit his lip like he was thinking hard. Finally, he reached into his jacket and pulled out the wallet. "I think you dropped this." He said holding it out and smiling.
John snatched it from him. He kept him trapped and checked the contents. The cash was missing. Sneaky little bastard. "Where's the rest of it?"
The kid opened his mouth. Maybe to deny having the money; maybe to smart ass some more, but snapped it shut at John's glower. The boy reached into his back pocket. "Here." He grinned again. "Hey. No harm, no foul. Can't blame a guy for trying, right?"
It was John's turn to grin. He needed information and this punk was about to give it to him. "I oughta drag your ass down to the police station, kid."
He paled. "You got your stuff back." He said.
"Tell me what you know, what you really know, about these disappearances and we'll call it even."
The boy peered up at him. "You won't believe me." He said and John knew he'd seen the creature.
"I'll believe you."
The boy snorted. "Fine." He lifted his hands up. "If that's what you want." He caught John's gaze as if daring John to accept his next words. "It was some sort of freak." He shrugged. "I don't know. It dragged them away."
"Freak? Like a monster."
The kid tensed and looked down. When he looked back up his face dripped of teenage defiance. "No. Not like a monster. An actual monster. A real, live, monster."
"You believe in monsters, kid?"
"Doesn't matter what I believe in. That's what it was." He said in a resigned tone.
"I know." John said.
The boy looked surprised at that. "You do?"
John considered the kid again. This one had seen the supernatural before. John was sure of it. "My partner and I hunt them. Monsters. And we're going to stop this sonuvabitch." He explained. "Did you get a look at it?"
The kid shifted on his feet but he nodded. "She looked like an old biddy. But she was fast. And she had claws."
That sounded right. Mary had thought it might be a harpy. "Did you see where it took them?"
"No." The kid said, frowning. "But they all disappeared in the alley behind the shelter."
"Hmm." That alley was dark and surrounded by tall buildings. It would be perfect hunting ground for a harpy. "Can you take me there?"
The kid laughed. Out and out laughed at him. He quieted quickly though. "Sorry, man. I pretty much stay away from monster-snatching grounds."
John had an idea. He looked the kid over. "How old are you?"
"What do you care?"
John didn't care that much. But he didn't want to put anyone too young in harm's way. "Tell me." He said, making his voice as authoritative and intimidating as possible.
The kid puffed up. "Nineteen."
It was John's turn to laugh. "How old are you really?"
John peered at him. It was hard to tell the kid's age under the grime of the street and his layers of clothes. Seventeen. Maybe. John could believe it. The older the better for what John had in mind. But the harpy probably sought out the younger ones. "You got a name?"
The kid huffed. "Dean." He said. "We done with the heart to heart, John?"
John shook his head. Of course that would be the name the kid gave him. That name still stung. He shook off the ache of it.
"I got a proposition for you, Dean." John said.
Dean's eyes grew big and he jerked away. He put up his palms. "Look, pervert. I don't do that." He stepped back. "Try the corner of fourth and main."
Damn this boy was giving him a headache. "Relax, Dean." John rubbed his temple. "I just want you to play bait."
"For the kid-stealing monster?" Dean's brow knitted. "Why the hell would I wanna do that?"
John opened his wallet again. "Fifty bucks." He said.
Dean bit his lip and contemplated it. His eyes lingered on the bills. "One hundred."
Well. John scratched his chin. The kid looked like he needed it. "Alright." He said.
"And I want half up front."
"I'll give you twenty." John gruffed out. "You can have the other eighty when the job is done."
"Forty." Dean said standing straight and steeling himself. "Or no deal."
"I can find someone else, son."
Dean flinched at the words, but quickly recovered. "Someone else won't believe you about the monster." He hit him with a knowing expression. "They'll run as soon as they realize it's real. I won't."
"Twenty." John held his ground. "Sorry, Dean. But I sure as hell don't trust you with more than that." He offered the bill.
Dean grabbed it and stuffed it into his pocket. "Fine. But I gotta go do something first."
"You expect me to just let you leave with my money?"
The kid rolled his eyes. "Dude. I want the other eighty. I'll be back."
That John believed. Well. Not entirely, but he believed it enough to let Dean go. "Meet me and my partner in front of the Goodwill in two hours." John caught his eyes. "And you'd better be there." He told him. He watched Dean hurry away and hoped he hadn't just given away twenty bucks.
Two hours later John stood in front of the Goodwill. The kid showed up at exactly eight o'clock. John was reluctantly impressed.
"I'm here, dude." Dean said. He crossed his arms and scoped out the area. "What now?"
"We wait for my partner. And while we do this it's 'sir' not 'dude'. Especially if you want the rest of your cash." The boy could use some manners. John glanced at his watch. "She should be here soon."
"She?" The boy sounded skeptical. "Your partner's a chick?"
"My partner's my wife." John said. Although with their current relationship 'partner' was much more appropriate. Still. "And I expect you to treat her with respect." John warned the punk. He pointed as the Impala pulled around the corner. "There she is."
"Cool car." Dean said. He squinted toward the driver's seat. Suddenly, his face drained of color. "Um…" He sounded nervous. "What's her name? Your partner?" The words came out cracked.
"To you?" John peered at him. He hoped the kid wasn't losing his bravado now. "It's 'yes ma'am, no ma'am'. You got it, Dean."
Dean peered back at him like he was searching his face for something. He glanced between John and Mary as she parked the car. Finally, he offered a wobbly smile. "Yes sir." He said.
Mary stopped the car in front of the Goodwill. This part of the city was dirty and broken, full of closed stores and lost people. The uncomfortable sights tightened her chest. She wanted to leave this forgotten place and these forgotten people and find a hunt that would save someone who could be saved, someone who wouldn't disappear into the streets after the monster was dead. And she would have given the job away, would have insisted they find a different battle, would have left this city that was just as broken and lost as she and John and would never have given it a second thought except - except this creature was taking kids - kids from the streets, runaways and hustlers, kids probably no one cared about. Kids no one missed.
Mary turned off the car and waited. She clenched her fingers around the steering wheel. Whatever capacity she had to care for these urchins and their plight had died the same night the fire had taken her boys. But it had been replaced with a deep-seated anger. The same anger she knew that burned in John's gut. It was the thing left that united them. And the monster, the harpy, was attacking these kids. And that she couldn't ignore. She couldn't forget. She was going to rip this thing apart and John was going to burn its sorry corpse to ashes.
Mary got out, closed the door with a heavy thud, and leaned against the car. John nodded to her from the corner. She didn't know if she loved him more than before they'd lost the boys or if she hated his handsome face. He wasn't the man she married. That man was strong and stubborn and loving. The man coming towards her was strong and stubborn and a hunter – and as rough and dangerous as any she'd known growing up.
John strode up to the car with one of the street kids trailing behind him. The boy was lanky and stood about at John's shoulder. A runaway or a hustler, didn't matter, she found it hard to care these days.
"Mary." John nodded to the kid. "This is…" He sighed and she knew he didn't want to give her the next bit of information. "This is Dean. He wants to play bait." He shook his head and chuckled. "For a price."
"Oh." Mary squinted at the kid. He had freckles, big green eyes and short brown hair – a cute kid under the street dirt. The harpy would definitely go for this one. But she wasn't calling him Dean. That name belonged to her little boy and no one else. She caught his eyes. "You understand this is dangerous, hon?"
"Dean." He corrected with a smirk. "Yes Ma'am. I understand." There was something odd written in his expression. Hope, maybe. He stared at her a moment, looking expectant. He stole a quick glance back to John. He shuffled on his feet. Then his face turned hard. "Whatta I got to do?"
John turned to Mary. "We know what it is?"
"Harpy." Mary said, moving around to the trunk. "Beheading should kill it."
John spoke to the kid. "All you've got to do is sit in the alley behind the shelter and look pretty."
"And?" Dean asked.
Mary placed her hand on his shoulder. "And John and I will take care of it. Just get down and stay down when we tell you too. Got it?"
Dean stared at her, eyes big and sad. "Yeah." He said finally, his voice dropping low. He looked away. "Okay."
They got settled right after dark. Mary took the corner. John hid beside the dumpster. She saw his machete gleam as it caught some stray moonlight. Dean sat cross-legged in the middle of the space. About thirty minutes into the job, the boy started whistling and fidgeting. He waved to her and pulled a funny face. She remained quiet; vigilant. She wasn't here to bond with the locals.
An hour later the air became thick. A rotten scent floated to her nose. Mary readied her knife. The boy seemed to sense it too. He leaned back and glanced above him, his face scrunched in worry.
It came from the sky – screeching and diving towards Dean with remarkable speed.
"Holy shi-" He started.
John ran out, grabbed the kid and flung him out of the way. "Stay down!" He said.
It landed. It had the face of a haggard old woman but the human resemblance ended there. Mottled feathers spread over large, disheveled wings. Talons, long and thin and stained red, jutted from the tips of its wings and feet. Its eyes focused past John on the boy behind him.
"Move." It said to John in a raspy voice. "We prefer more tender meat."
John sneered at it. "Come and get it then." He said.
The harpy attacked, wings slashing, face twisted. Mary jumped from her hiding place. She ran up behind it while it rushed John and jammed her knife into the creature's neck. It swirled around and lashed at her. She stumbled back and tripped. It raised its sharp wing for another blow. John brought his machete across its neck. The head rolled down the road and the grotesque body fell to the asphalt in a bloody heap.
John held out a hand and pulled her up. "Guess you owe me one now." He said gazing down at the monster. "Wish they were all that easy."
Mary wiped her hands on her pants. She'd never liked the fact this job was dirty. "We need to burn it." She said.
Dean crawled around the body of the harpy. His eyes widened as he got a closer look. "Holy shit." He said, climbing to his feet. He turned and smiled at them. "You guys kicked ass."
John reached into his jacket and pulled out his wallet. "Eighty bucks." He said. "Now get lost kid."
Dean stared dumbly at him for a moment. "What…what now?" He took the bills.
John grabbed his bag from beside the dumpster. He pulled out the lighter fluid. "Now Mary and I finish the job and move on." He doused the corpse. "I suggest you run along before the cops notice the blaze."
The boy glanced at her. "Mary?" He said sounding lost and looking terribly young to her eyes.
Mary sighed. She put her palm against his cheek. "Go home, Dean." She said hoping he understood she'd meant to go back to wherever he'd come from. This was no place for someone his age. She pulled her hand back and grabbed a match. The corpse burst into flames as soon as it dropped
John, whose hard face was lit by the fire, ushered the boy away. "We all need to get going." He said.
Dean stayed put. He looked down the dark street and then back at Mary. "I…I need to tell you something." He said.
"Is that so." John stuffed the knife and machete into his bag.
"Y-yeah." Dean stumbled. "I…um-" He bit his lip and looked at the ground.
Sirens blared in the distance.
Mary nodded to John. "We've got to go." She smiled at the boy. "Goodbye Dean."
"Wait. Wait." He said. "Just. I think-" The words got caught and he seemed to redirect them. "Just tell me where you're staying. Please." He said.
John snorted. He shook his head and walked towards the car.
Dean caught her eyes. "Please, Mary."
"The Bluelight." She said, turning to follow John. "Room 104." The sirens got louder.
Dean grinned at her and ran off in the opposite direction. She hurried to catch up with John.
"You told the little punk our address?" He chuckled. "Getting soft there Mary. What're you planning to do if he shows up?" Then his face fell serious. "He's got the same name. That's all. Nothing else."
"What does it matter?" She glared at him. She damn well knew that urchin wasn't her Dean. Her Dean was sweet and innocent and dead – reduced to nothing more to ashes when the demon attacked. "We'll be gone by morning regardless."