SUMMARY: Sam and Dean help Bobby foil a coven's plan to ally with demons, and a vengeful witch turns to an unusual source to make sure the hunters pay. Plenty of h/c and brotherly banter, and Cas makes an appearance, too.

RATED: T for mild swearing

SPOILERS: Timewise, set mid-to-late Season 6, but no spoilers. References to canon events through the end of Season 5.

DISCLAIMER: Sadly, the Winchesters are not for sale, therefore I don't own them. Many thanks to Kripke & Co. for allowing me to play in their sand box with their toys.

A/N: Many thanks and a big hug to Harrigan for the beta and constant support. You are a gem. I tinkered after the beta so any remaining mistakes are mine and mine alone.

THREE WISE MONKEYS: CHAPTER TWO

"Dude, don't fight me on this." Sam exhaled slowly. "We agreed – it's the only way it's gonna work. Now, take my arm."

Dean sat in the passenger seat of the Impala, turned sideways, his feet on the ground outside. Sam stood in front of the open door, his hand wrapped around his brother's arm as he tried to help him up. Dean wanted to pull from Sam's hold, tell him, 'Get off. I can do this myself.'

But the fact was, he couldn't do it himself.

Dean didn't scare easily. Facing down monsters, facing death – the stuff of nightmares for so-called normal people – was just part of the job. But this…this was different. Once he stepped out of the car, he'd lose all frame of reference, all independence.

He'd quickly figured out their motel room, and riding in the Impala, he was on even more familiar turf. He'd turned on the stereo and flipped over a tape without a second thought, and as Sam drove, he'd listened to the comforting rumble of the Chevy's engine, knowing when she was shifting gears, and when Sam applied the brakes. It was like any one of the thousands of times he'd snoozed in the passenger seat while his brother took a turn behind the wheel.

But once he got up out of his seat, once he closed the Impala door, it would all be different. He'd be completely in the dark, literally and figuratively, and totally dependent on Sam.

"Dean, trust me, man. I'm gonna be your eyes, just like you're gonna be my ears." Sam's voice softened. "We can do this. But if you wanna stay, that's fine. Me and Bobby, we'll go in there, see what's what, be back as soon-"

"Shut up, Sam. I'm coming. No way am I sitting this one out."

Sam couldn't hear Dean's protest, but the smack on his arm conveyed the same message.

Dean blew out a breath, latched onto Sam's arm and hauled himself out of the car. His heart was racing and his knees didn't seem to want to lock, but somehow he stayed standing. Sam guided Dean's hand to the crook of his left elbow, where Dean grabbed a fistful of Sam jacket.

"We're gonna walk about a hundred feet up this road, then cut through the woods into the camp so we won't be seen." Sam couldn't quite mask the concern in his voice. "We'll take it slow. Bobby's on point, I've got my gun. You hear anything hinky, squeeze my arm and point in the direction the noise is coming from. You need to stop for any reason, squeeze my arm twice. We can-"

"Sam, shut up." Dean smacked his brother's chest, made an impatient 'just go' gesture, then quickly latched onto his arm again. He heard a click as Sam took the safety off his gun.

"Okay. Road's gravel, fairly loose, but should be an easy walk. Then we have to cross a culvert and climb a small hill, about a thirty-degree slope. Looks a little muddy so watch your traction. I'll give you plenty of warning if there are any obstacles. Here we go."

Dean's heart started racing as they began walking. It was such a simple thing, putting one foot in front of the other, but when you couldn't see where that foot was going…

Sam was in full-on protective mode. Once they left the road, the warnings came frequently – "Big root coming up, get ready to step over it" or "Low-hanging branch, duck…now!" He steadied Dean whenever he stumbled, which was more frequently than Dean cared to admit. Hell, he'd been steadier staggering home after downing a bottle of Jim Beam.

"Keep it together, Dean," he muttered to himself. He concentrated on each step, on planting each foot firmly before taking the next; he matched his pace to Sam's by sensing the slight swing of his brother's arm. And he listened – to the crunch of gravel under his feet change to the crunch of dry leaves and twigs, to the differences in Bobby's breathing and Sam's, one made audible by age, the other by stress – and for any potential threat.

He and Sam had been backing each other up all their lives, but never quite so literally as at this moment. Sam would have no idea if something snuck up behind them, so he had to watch their sixes – metaphorically speaking.

And so, Dean listened.

xxxXXXxxx

Sam had a headache, and he blamed it on the silence.

He glanced through the trees as they walked, eyes peeled for anything that posed a threat. It was late afternoon now and the woods were cool and shaded, dappled sunlight highlighting the forest floor where it filtered through the leafy canopy.

He flashed back to the wendigo hunt, his first case after leaving Stanford, after Jess's death. He recalled tracking the creature through a forest much like this one, but those woods had been full of noise. There were insects buzzing around their heads and birds flitting through the trees. There were the chilling cries of the wendigo as it mimicked familiar voices to lure them closer. There was Dean snarking with Hailey about not wearing shorts, and why peanut M&Ms were, in fact, a food group.

Now there was nothing but the dull roar of silence that filled his head. It was like being underwater, the outside pressure muffling everything and slowly suffocating him in the process. He wanted nothing more than to break the surface and drink in the sounds as he gulped in a big lungful of air.

Sam glanced over at Dean. His brother's eyes were hidden behind sunglasses – a suggestion from Bobby to prevent eyestrain – but his expression was a study in concentration. Sam couldn't help but smile; there was nothing weak or helpless in Dean's demeanor. He was frustrated, sure, even pissed at the whole situation but, sighted or not, he was still a hunter, determined to stay in the thick of the action, driven by nature to protect his brother and Bobby in any way he could.

He watched as Dean tilted his head to the left, then the right, listening carefully for any approaching threat. For Sam's part, he scanned the forest, peering through the trees, searching for any signs of movement, any hints of the gypsy camp they sought.

And then he saw it, in a clearing through the trees. "We're there. The gypsy camp is just up ahead."

They walked a few more yards, then Sam stopped suddenly, bringing Dean to an immediate halt beside him. Sensing something wrong, he gave Sam's arm a questioning tug. "What? What's going on?"

Sam couldn't hide his surprise. "The camp, it's … deserted.

In years past, the Romanies would have travelled in brightly colored wagons, pulled by muscular draught horses, but their modern counterparts opted for trailers and RVs of various ages and sizes. At least two dozen had been parked here only a few hours ago in what Cas had described as a bustling campsite. Now, only one remained – a vintage Coldstream, rust poking through its silver paint as battle scars of its many years on the road. Whatever truck or car had pulled it to the clearing had vanished with the rest of the trailers.

The grass in the clearing was well-flattened, suggesting heavy foot traffic. Thin tendrils of smoke still rising from the charred circle in the center, the remains of a communal firepit, said the occupants hadn't been gone long, as did the maze of tire tracks criss-crossing the muddy ground. Clothing hanging to dry on a line stretched between two trees, a shoe, a pot, a child's toy and other belongings all strewn across the ground suggested the gypsies had left in a hurry.

Bobby looked back at Sam with a questioning shrug. Sam just shook his head: he had no idea what had happened.

Dean gave his arm a tug, clearly wanting an update.

"I dunno, Dean. There's no one around. There's just one trailer left."

Bobby signalled that he was going to check out the camp.

Sam nodded. "Bobby's going in. Come on, I need to cover him."

They moved forward stealthily until they were about twenty feet from the lone trailer, but still in the cover of the trees. Then, just as Bobby was about to move into the open, Dean yanked on Sam's arm, abruptly pulling him down. In front of them, Bobby dropped, too, turning to Sam quickly and raising a finger to his lips. The two of them had obviously heard something.

Bobby pointed to the right side of the trailer.

Following his signal, Sam saw a lone figure appear from behind the trailer and begin walking toward them. Her style of dress said she was a gypsy.

Dean yanked again on Sam's arm, his expression a clear demand to know what was going on.

"Gypsy woman, about thirty feet out…walking towards us," Sam whispered – or what he hoped was a whisper. Not being able to hear made it incredibly hard to gauge volume, but he must have succeeded because he got a curt nod of acknowledgement from Dean without any accompanying 'shut the hell up' smack.

They stayed hidden as the woman approached. She appeared to be in her sixties, her long, dark hair streaked through with gray and pulled into a loose bun at the base of her neck. She wore large, silver hoop earrings, a long, brightly colored skirt topped by a black blouse and a black shawl, and around her neck hung several necklaces, holding a variety of charms.

She moved at a steady pace and, with her feet hidden beneath her long skirt, almost seemed to float along the muddy ground. About six feet from the tree-line, she stopped and pulled a knife from her pocket, using it to slash her palm. Then, she opened a small pouch hanging from a cord around her neck, dumped the contents into her hand and curled her bloody fingers around them while muttering something under her breath. Then, she looked into the woods, directly at where Sam and Dean were crouched. "You are wise to be cautious, but it's not from me you need to hide."

Sam's eyes widened. He heard the woman's heavily accented words clearly. Heard them. Then, he frowned. She was speaking, but her mouth wasn't moving. She seemed to be communicating with him telepathically.

He winced as Dean's grip on his arm tightened, but his eyes widened further when, for the first time since the previous day, he heard Dean's familiar, deep voice.

"Who's that, and why the hell is she in my head?"

Okay, apparently Dean could hear her, too.

"My name is Magda." The gypsy walked forward several feet and smiled. "This… this is better than relying on your friend over there to write notes, no?"

Sam winced as Dean's grip tightened further, the bruising hold clearly telegraphing his brother's unease over this latest turn of events. Still, whatever this Magda had done, there was no sense in hiding: she knew exactly where they were. Bobby had obviously come to the same conclusion, since he stood up at the same time Sam rose and hauled up Dean with him.

The gypsy continued walking toward them, her smile turning bemused as she took in the shotgun Bobby had pointed at her. "I am not your enemy. I come to warn you…to make amends."

Now Sam heard Bobby's voice.

"Make amends for what?"

Magda looked down at her bloody fingers. "I am the one who cursed you." She held up her hand. "But through that curse, we are connected by blood. So, now, we can talk like this, you can talk with each other, and I can tell you how to reverse this."

Bobby chambered his shotgun and held it steady on the gypsy. "Lady, helping us by cursing us…that's the biggest load of bull crap I-"

"You wanna help us, fix us." Dean was equally pissed. "Now. Then we'll chat – you know, the kind where our mouths move."

Magda turned toward Dean. "The power to fix you is no longer mine. Only you can break the curse, but you already know this. I used poppets, and they are here." The gypsy's expression remained neutral. "Know that I was honor-bound to repay a debt, and that this curse was the price. I have no quarrel with you."

"Yeah, we heard a witch asked for a favour." Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "You couldn't just tell her we were at the Colonial over on Route 6? Leave us to duke it out when they showed up? Trust me, I like our odds."

The gypsy shook her head "You use hexbags which meant you were masked to me, besides, I did not wish to provoke a confrontation. You are hunters. I knew you would piece together the puzzle, seek me out and I could deliver the means to undo this hex."

It was getting harder for Dean to curb his temper. "Lady, I'm blind because of you. Give us the damn dolls so we can fix this."

Magda expression became troubled. "I realized too late I made an error in judgment… I underestimated Serena, the lengths to which she would go."

Sam frowned. "Who's Serena?"

Magda sighed. "A young witch hungry for power, for place. She is the one who demanded the life debt, the debt which set these events in motion. You must take care. She-"

Sam shifted impatiently. "We'll handle the witch. Just give us the poppets and-"

Sam jerked sideways when Dean was yanked from his arm, thrown through air and into a tree about fifteen feet away. He hit hard, his sunglasses went flying and he crumpled to the ground, where he didn't move.

"Dean!" Sam glared at Magda as he ran to his brother, but the gypsy was no longer alone. Standing in the open doorway of the trailer behind her was a young blonde, who would be pretty if it wasn't for the twisted sneer on her face. Sam recognized her; she was the witch he'd tangled with after the summoning ceremony, the one who'd used a tree branch as a baseball bat on his leg and then his head. That was Serena.

As he ran, she pulled a white cotton doll from a satchel slung over her shoulder, looked directly at him, then gave the leg of the doll a vicious twist.

Sam yelled out as searing pain ripped through his left leg. The limb buckled and he collapsed, slamming his head into a large tree root as he hit the ground. The fall jarred loose his gun from his hand and it skittered across the forest floor stopping well out of reach.

Bobby turned his shotgun on the witch and fired, but the shot slammed into the trailer door which she used as a shield. He chambered another round and moved to the left for a better vantage point, but startled when a red-headed woman stepped out from behind a tree directly in front of him, blowing a handful of dust in his face. Bobby coughed, staggered, then collapsed to the ground.

Magda was staring at Serena, guilt painted across her face. "This is my fault. I am empowering her to do this." She looked over at Sam who had dragged himself to Dean's side. "I must go. Only this way can I protect you. I am sorry."

Sam wasn't listening. He had reached his brother, who still wasn't moving. He swallowed against the nauseating pain in his leg, then pressed his fingers against Dean's neck in search of a pulse. He found one, but relief quickly turned to rage as he looked up at the young witch.

She was alone now by the trailer. There was no sign of the old gypsy.

Serena walked toward the treeline and Sam, her smirk widening as she came closer. The doll was in her left hand but, as she reached his side, her right hand slipped into her jacket pocket.

"What the hell are you-" was all he got out before she pulled out her hand, unfurled it and blew dust all over Sam. Instantly he was dizzy, a sickly sweet taste filling his mouth. His vision swam and then went black.

xxxXXXxxx

There were many mornings Bobby woke up cursing the effects of age, although drinking and hunting were much more likely to be the causes of his routine aches and pains.

He groaned as he moved, wishing he could remember the bender that had him feeling like he'd been through the crusher at the wrecking yard, but his eyes snapped open when he realized his hands were tied behind his back.

Okay. Unless this was Tijuana, that ruled out a bender.

He didn't move, but glanced around him. He was lying next to the firepit in the centre of the abandoned gypsy camp. Mud caking his clothes said he'd been dragged there. The redhead who'd blown the dust in his face and the blonde witch were now huddled together on the far side of the firepit, whispering animatedly as they flipped through a large, leather-bound book. They blurred in the heat haze of a robust fire now burning in the pit, the wood feeding it crackling and spitting loudly, the flames leaping high into the air.

Bobby glanced to his left and his gut twisted. Sam and Dean both lay on the ground in front of a large log that had likely been used as a fireside bench. Dean was on his stomach, his face pressed into the mud his hands tied much like Bobby's.

Sam lay jackknifed beside his brother – half on his side, half on his stomach. He was similarly trussed up and, while his hair had fallen across his face, there appeared to be blood smeared across his forehead and temple.

There was no sign of Magda the gypsy.

A slight movement caught Bobby's eye and he realized that Sam was coming to. As consciousness returned, the youngest Winchester's face crumpled in pain.

"Sam? You hear me?"

Sam groaned. "Yeah, don't talk so loud."

"I ain't talking, kid." Bobby glanced over at the witches, but they were still too engrossed in their conversation to notice that the hunters were conscious. "We've got two witches at twelve o'clock but there's no sign of Magda. Her spell is still working, though. We're still hearing each other's thoughts."

"Then don't think so loud." That was from Dean.

Sam snapped his head towards his brother. "Hey. How you doing? You hit that tree pretty damn hard."

"I know, Sam. I was there." Dean's only movement was a grimace. "Someone give me a 4-1-1 while I figure out what's working and what isn't."

"We're in the middle of the gypsy camp, by the firepit." Bobby looked over at their captors. "The witches are reading some old book, and I'd bet my salvage yard it's a spellbook." He glanced around. "They've set the fire, too, and something tells me they ain't planning s'mores and a rousing chorus of Kum bay ah."

Sam was watching the witches, too. "The blonde one is Serena, the one Magda said was behind all this. Not sure how she got'em, but she has the poppets. Well, mine anyway. She twisted the leg on it and…son of a bitch." Sam hissed against the pain as he shifted his weight.

Worry creased Dean's face. "She broke your leg?"

"No…don't think so." Sam winced as he tried to straighten his leg, "but it's messed up." He looked over at Dean. "She likely has your doll, too. She-"

"Dude." Dean scowled. "Can we not call it my doll."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Since they don't get their powers back 'til after midnight, I'm guessing she used the poppet to throw you into that tree. Don't know about Bobby's. He-"

"You're awake." Serena was staring at them from the far side of the fire. She stood up and began walking towards them. "It's about time. I'd like to get our business wrapped up before midnight."

Bobby groaned as he sat up. "That when turn back into a pumpkin?" He shot a look at the redhead. "And your BFF there into a rat."

Serena smiled. "Now, don't you be badmouthing Claire. She's a good witch and a loyal friend. All my other sisters, all those who think they're better, stronger than me – where are they? Hiding until their powers return. But not Claire. She believed me when I said I could track you down, shut out your guardian angel and make you pay for ruining our plans…" She reached Dean's side and studied him suspiciously as he played possum. "Even without my powers." She kicked Dean viciously in the lower back.

Dean bit his lip to stifle a groan and turned his head toward her voice. "Serena the teenage bitch, I presume?"

Serena smiled. "The demon I summoned told me you were the smartass of the trio." She chuckled. "Oh, don't look so surprised. Anyone can summon a demon, right? You're proof of that."

She crouched down beside him, speaking in stage whisper. "But don't tax your tiny brain trying to recite an exorcism. There's no demon aboard. I'm picky about who rides with me."

"Oh, I'm not taxing anything, sweetheart. I know damn well there's no demon." Dean grinned. "Thanks to us, your meatsuit's barren for good."

Serena's smug smile vanished. "Magda wanted us to believe you poisoned us, made us unfit to be hosts, but I don't buy it."

"Oh, trust me, you bought it - hook, line and sinker." Dean leaned forward, speaking in the same stage whisper. "And you really should be thanking us. I mean, seriously, how nuts do you have to be to want to be possessed?"

"I wouldn't expect someone with your limited intelligence to understand," Serena scoffed, "but this was no ordinary possession. It was the birth of a new race, one that humans, angels and beasts alike would fear."

Dean snorted. "Hate to break it to you, sister, but the minute that demon crawled up your skirt, you were done. No demon's gonna sub-let when he can have the whole place to himself."

"You're wrong." Serena pulled a knife from a holster on her hip, grabbed Dean by the hair and shoved the tip of the knife into his throat. "And if you want to hang on to the tiniest hope of getting out of here alive, tell me how to reverse the spell."

Dean winced as the knife pressed harder against his Adam's apple. "No can do. The spell was an Angel special, irreversible. No refunds, no exchanges.

Serena stared at Dean's sightless gaze for a moment, then glanced over at Sam. "Maybe you'd change your answer if I started cutting pieces off your brother. What will it take, huh? One finger, or ten? An ear? An eye?"

"You touch Sam with that knife and I will haunt you in this life and the next," Dean growled, all vestiges of his joking demeanor disappearing the second she threatened his brother.

"Just calm down." Sam had followed the exchange thanks to Bobby. "Dean can't give you what doesn't exist. It doesn't matter what you do to me or any of us. The spell can't be reversed. It's meant as permanent protection. In time, you'll see it's a good thing. You-"

"A good thing?" Serena pointed her knife at Sam, her hand shaking. "Only to those too small-minded to see the true potential of what we would become." She stood up slowly, shock giving way to rage. "But, if what you say is true, then I have no further use for you."

She glanced over at Claire. "Fetch me the poppets."

Claire nodded, picked up a satchel and withdrew three simple, cotton dolls – the poppets. She dumped the satchel and carried the dolls to Serena, who took one, studied it for a moment and then looked over at Dean. "I threw this one against a tree and you flew through the air with the greatest of ease." She took a second one from Claire and turned her attention to Sam. "I twisted the leg on this one and, timber, down you went." She chuckled as she turned to Bobby. "Feeling left out? The only one I didn't test was yours. I think it's time to change that."

Serena reached for the third poppet but Claire held on to it. "Let me do it."

For a moment Serena looked surprised, but then she nodded. "Be my guest." As Claire turned toward Bobby, Serena grabbed her by the arm. "They have no information we need, so don't hold back."

"Now just hold on a minute." Dean strained against the ropes holding him. "Sam, she's gonna kill Bobby."

"What?" Sam's gaze jumped between Bobby and the witch as she held up the doll. "No. Don't do it."

Claire seemed to hesitate for a second, until Serena came up beside her and squeezed her arm reassuringly. Then, she nodded, grabbed the poppet by the head, and twisted it, snapping its neck.

"No!" Sam's chest was heaving as he watched Bobby flinch. "Bobby!"

Bobby screwed his eyes closed, Sam's horrified shout echoing through his head. But there was no intense pain, no loss of awareness, nothing but Dean's tense voice, desperate to know what had happened.

"What? What did she do?"

Bobby opened his eyes slowly, breathing heavily.

Sam was staring at him in shock. "He's…okay, Dean. He's okay. It didn't work."

Dean's head dropped forward in relief, but then he turned toward Sam. "But why not? I mean, thank God, but it sure as hell worked on you and me. Why not Bobby?"

Claire seemed equally shocked. "Why? Why didn't it work?"

Serena stared at Bobby for a moment, then snatched the poppet from Claire. She reached for the lapel of her jacket and pulled out a long, straight pin – a hat pin if Bobby had to hazard a guess – and stabbed it straight through the heart of the doll.

Bobby's heart skipped a beat, figuratively, even sped up a little, but otherwise kept right on pumping.

Serena's bewilderment was quickly building into fury. "No. No. This should work. This should work." She turned and grabbed one of the other poppets, and drove the pin through its heart.

Bobby's worried gaze jumped between the brothers. "Sam? Dean?"

Sam swallowed and nodded. "M'okay."

"Ditto." Dean looked puzzled. "But what did she do?"

Bobby shook his head. "The fact that you're asking me that is really good thing. Bottom line – none of the poppets are working for her any more."

Sam frowned. "Are they gonna work for us? To fix us, I mean."

Bobby exhaled slowly. "I sure as hell hope we get a chance to find out. Blondie over there looks like she's about to blow a gasket."

Indeed, Serena was livid. Eyes narrowed, she stared at each of the three men in turn. "What did you do? How did you sever the bond?" She was pacing back and forth in front of them. "No. Never mind. It doesn't matter. You took my powers, you hid from me, you got help from an angel, from a gypsy witch – but you couldn't beat me. Who still has the upper hand, huh? Me." Her eyes glittered feverishly as she turned to Claire. "We'll use Magda's spellbook."

Claire's eyes widened. "You sure we should, for something this big? We're still new to-"

"Yes, I'm sure." Serena smiled. "Now's the perfect time to experiment." She hooked her arm through Claire's, pulling her to the far side of the firepit where they'd left the book.

After the failure with the poppets, Claire seemed much less confident than before. "Let's just wait until midnight, when we get our own powers back. Then we can take care of them with magic we know will work instead of flying blind."

Serena grabbed Claire by the shoulders, squeezing hard. "The sleeping powder worked, didn't it? The power of suggestion spell to make every gypsy in this camp pack up and leave? Like a charm. We summoned a demon, angel-proofed this place and captured ourselves three hunters." Her smile grew manic. "If we can do all that now, just think what we'll be able to do when our powers return. We've gotta see how far we can take this before we go back to the coven."

Claire glanced over at the hunters. "And if something goes wrong?"

"What if it does?" Serena shrugged. "That's the point of an experiment, right? To see what works, what doesn't. These hunters, they're just our lab rats, nothing more."

Claire didn't seem entirely convinced but she nodded slowly. Serena grabbed the spellbook. "Come on. Let's see what we can try with the supplies we have on hand."

Dean shook his head. "Man, this chick is bat-shit crazy. Why do we always get the Looney-Tunes, huh?"

Bobby strained against the ropes binding his wrists. "Either of you two having any luck getting loose?"

Sam kept his focus on the witches. "I've got a bit of give, but it's gonna be a while before I'm free."

Dean swung his legs toward Sam. "If Bobby gave us a distraction, think you could get the knife from my ankle holster?"

"Yeah," Sam glanced at Bobby, "except your knife is on the other side of the fire with our guns, our wallets, our phones..."

"They take everything?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah. Everything in our pockets... including the mirrors."

"Son of a bitch." Dean kicked the ground in frustration. "So we've got just one line of defense left. Damn, Bobby, it better work."

Bobby shrugged. "I'm guessing we're about to find out."

Dean dropped his head as he strained to listen to the witches' conversation. "What are they doing now?"

"Serena's coming over here. Claire's mixing some stuff from their bag in a bowl." Sam shifted slightly to keep his hands hidden from Serena as he worked on the ropes, wincing when the movement jarred his injured leg.

Serena stopped in front of them, the large battered book open to a page somewhere in the middle. "We've made our choice. It's an interesting spell. When used with white magic, it bestows the wisdom of age upon the recipient. But when conducted with black magic, it bestows… age." She smiled. "Rapid, extreme aging, resulting in death."

Dean shook his head. "Been there, done that, got the freaking Zantac to prove it. You can't come up with something original?"

Serena moved in front of Dean. "Your only use to us now is to help us know how big we can go with this gypsy magic. Angelic sigils? That's kindergarten stuff. Sleeping powders and power of suggestion spells? Grade school." Her eyes narrowed. "Now we're looking at a little post-grad work."

"What did I tell you?" Dean muttered. "Bat. Shit. Crazy."

Claire rejoined Serena. She held a small ceramic bowl containing the herb mixture she'd blended a few moments earlier. "I'm all set."

Serena smiled. "Good. We have the flames, we have the herbs, now we just need the blood." She offered Claire her knife. "You wanna do the honors?"

Claire hesitated for a moment, then nodded and took the knife.

Bobby was still struggling to free himself. "How you doing with the ropes, Sam?"

"Working on it." Sam shook his head. "They may be crazy but they tie a damn good knot. Look out, Claire's coming this way." He twisted his wrists to make the slackened ropes look less obvious.

Claire stepped behind Dean.

He tilted his head. "What the hell's she – son of bitch!" He swore as she shoved up his jacket sleeve and sliced the blade through his forearm, catching the blood that ran from the long cut in the ceramic bowl.

"Such a baby," Serena hissed, as she watched Claire work. "Maybe with your brother, we should take it from the jugular. Or the femoral. Got a preference?"

Even blind, Dean's death stare was impressive. "Bite me."

Serena chuckled. "Could be fun, but a little messy. Think we'll stick with the knife."

Claire moved behind Sam.

Bobby frowned. He could tell by the way Sam's upper body had tensed that he was planning something. "Sam? What-" He didn't get a chance to finish his query.

As Claire shoved up his sleeve to cut his arm, Sam jerked his arms upwards, trying to get the knife to slice through the ropes. He may have partially succeeded, but Bobby also saw blood before Claire jammed the long edge of the blade under Sam's chin against his throat.

"Hold still."

"Don't provoke her." Bobby shook his head as Sam looked over at him. "Let her do what she has to. We've still got one more card to play."

Reluctantly, Sam held still as Claire stepped behind him, wincing as she again slashed at his arm, this time a little deeper than necessary. When she was done, she did the same to Bobby, then moved back to Serena's side.

The two crossed to the far side of the fire where Serena added oil from a blue glass bottle to the mix. She nodded, pleased. "Now pour it into the fire."

Claire did so, and the flames flared, turning bright red for a moment, before settling down and reverting to a deep orange.

Serena smiled, then held her hand out to Claire. "Okay, slash my fingers." In answer to Claire's puzzled look, she added. "We're reading the spell. We have to add our blood to create the connection between us and them. Do it."

Claire dragged the knife across Serena's fingers, far more gently than she had with any of the hunters, and then her own. They each held a hand over the fire, allowing the blood to drip in. Once again, the flames flared briefly.

Serena turned the spellbook so Claire could also see the open page. "Read this with me."

Together the two women read the spell.

Heart racing, Bobby listened carefully. He didn't recognize the language but that didn't surprise him. It was a Romany spell; the Roma people were nomadic, speaking hundreds of dialects, each borrowing words from the places they passed through, everything from Hindu and Bengali to Persian, Polish and Slovakian. He had to give the witches credit: they didn't stumble over the words, but worked effortlessly through the difficult passage.

And then they were done.

Serena looked at each of the hunters in turn, smiling triumphantly. The smile faded when nothing happened.

"Why isn't it working?" Claire asked. "Did we do something wrong?"

"No. No." Serena scanned the spellbook, and shook her head. "We did everything right. It should-" The wind picked up suddenly, and her smile returned. "And it is. Here we go."

Bobby ducked his head as the wind blew through the clearing, swirling around them like a mini-tornado, picking up dirt and debris with each pass. He felt his joints stiffen and his eyesight grow fuzzy. He risked a glance at the brothers. Sam's head was hanging forward, his eyes screwed shut, but his dark hair was now streaked through with gray. Likewise, Dean's hair was turning white at the temples and steel gray on top. The healthy cast of their skin had dulled and wrinkles deeply etched their faces.

Inside his head, Dean's voice sounded tired. "What the hell, Bobby? This wasn't supposed to work. Why aren't-"

The fire exploded suddenly, sending flame and sparks shooting high into the sky. The two witches stumbled backwards in surprise. Then, the wind died out, leaving the clearing in silence broken only by the labored breathing of the five occupants.

Bobby glanced up to see Sam staring at him in shock. Since he felt Methuselah's younger brother, he realized he likely looked like it, too.

With a roar, the wind picked up again, this time swirling in the opposite direction, faster and stronger than ever, scrubbing the earth beneath it and snatching up anything that wasn't fastened down. Bobby saw the witches grab onto each other to stop from being knocked over.

But then the ache in Bobby's bones began to recede and the tightness in his chest dissipate. He squinted over at the brothers. Sam's hair was still being whipped around by the wind but, as he watched, the grey faded, replaced by familiar brown and, beneath it, wrinkles softened restoring the unblemished skin of youth. Beside him, Dean once again looked like himself instead of his own grandfather.

Then, the spell's tornado shifted and narrowed. Instead of encompassing the whole clearing, it now circled only the two witches. Faster and faster it turned, seemingly aging them a year with each pass. They clung to each other screaming as their hair coarsened and grayed, their skin dulled and wrinkled, their bodies weakened and deformed. But still the wind was unsated, relentlessly gorging itself on the two women, mercilessly scrubbing skin from bone and turning bone to ash until dust was all that was left. Then that, too, was swept away by the wind.

Then the wind gone, the witches screams faded, and the three hunters were alone. There was no sign anywhere that the witches had ever existed.

In the sudden quiet Bobby could hear his own rapid breathing. He turned quickly to Sam and Dean. "Boys?"

Sam coughed, then nodded. "I'm, uh, good. Dean?"

"Depends."

"On what?"

"On whether I need to be shopping for Depends."

Sam shook his head. "Your sense of humor is as juvenile as ever, but you're the right age." He glanced down at his shirt. "The buttons worked. Good call, Bobby."

It was their last line of defense. Bobby had bought three purse-sized mirrors from the drug store but, concerned that they might get lost, broken or, as it turned out, taken from them, he wanted something more. Walking through the notions aisle, he'd noticed a card of shirt buttons hanging among all the basic sewing supplies. They were black with mirrored centers, likely a leftover from the seventies disco era and tacky as hell, but they were just what the witch doctor ordered. Sam and Bobby had sewed them on to each of their shirts with suture thread just before leaving the motel room. Hidden under their jackets, they'd gone unnoticed when the witches emptied their pockets.

"Yeah, that's another one we owe you." Dean spat out a mouthful of dirt. "So, Lady Heckle and Lady Jeckle, they're…"

"Dust." Sam resumed the struggle to free himself. "That spell aged them till there was nothing left."

"May they rest in pieces." Dean was trying to free himself, too. "Can either of you get to my knife so we cast our own spell and get back to normal?"

"Hold on." Sam grunted as he gave the rope another tug. "Claire nicked the rope when she cut my arm. Just gimme…" He strained against the rope again and it snapped. "There. I'm out."

Bobby surveyed the clearing. The wind had scattered their belonging, the witches' ... His heart started racing when he realized what else was gone. "Son of a bitch."

"What?" Sam glanced at Bobby as he dragged himself to Dean's side to untie him.

Bobby exhaled slowly. "The poppets…they're gone."

"Gone?" The panic in Dean's voice was evident. "What do you mean, gone?"

"That little windstorm the witches cooked up picked up anything not nailed down." Bobby began sidling his way toward the brothers. "But press pause on the panic. The wind was spinning in a circle – they can't have gone far. Step one, we get free. Step two, we start looking."

xxxXXXxxx

Once free, Bobby had gone on a scavenger hunt. He'd found the first poppet relatively quickly, trapped under a bush, but the other two had taken a while longer to locate. In between, he picked up three wallets, with most of their contents intact, their guns, knives and two of their three phones. Sam's was DOA after a collision with a tree.

The sun was low in the sky by the time he had all three poppets and was seated with the brothers, ready to read the Reversal of Misfortune spell.

Dean shifted impatiently as he tightly gripped the poppet Bobby had given him. He was tired of being in the dark; tired of not being able to tell for himself how bad off Sam was, since all he got from his brother was 'I'm fine;' tired of communicating with Sam and Bobby telepathically instead of actually talking to them. He ran his fingers over the doll. "How do we know this is mine?"

"It's yours, Dean." Sam's voice was tight as he tried, and failed, to mask his discomfort. "The blood streak is over the eyes. On mine it's over the ears and on Bobby's over the mouth. We're all good. You ready?"

"I was born ready. Let's go."

Together, they recited the spell they'd memorized back at the motel. It was short, relatively simple and they were done quickly. Then Bobby took the three poppets and tossed them into the fire. They sat on the embers untouched for a moment and then burst into blue flame.

Dean was seated on the ground, his back against one of the log benches that circled the firepit, facing away from the setting sun. He blinked, and looked around but everything was still black. His heart started racing. "Still can't see… The damn dolls didn't work for the witches…what if they don't work for us?"

"Just give it time." Bobby's voice was annoyingly calm. "Magda said it would work. We've gotta hold on to that."

Dean's patience had long been used up. "The gypsy did this to us in the first place, she showed up here at the same time as those witches and didn't stick around to stop them or help us. That doesn't exactly put her at the top of my trust list. She-" He screwed his eyes closed when a sharp pain pierced his skull."

"Dean?"

Dean felt dizzy and sick to his stomach, but when he opened his eyes, he no longer saw just pitch black; there were swirls of shadow and light. He blinked and the indeterminate shapes began to separate and solidify. Another blink and the shadows began to take on form and features.

"Third time's the charm," he muttered, and blinked again. When he opened his eyes this time, the hazy world slowly slid into focus.

Bobby was crouched in front of him, staring at him worriedly. "Kid?"

Dean smiled. "I see you, Bobby. You're a long way from a sexy blue alien, but I see you." He grabbed his old friend by the vest. "We're just talking, too. You're not in my head."

"Nope." Bobby grinned and clapped Dean on the side of the face. "Not really my kinda hangout, long-term anyway."

"You two wanna keep it down."

Dean's smile widened as he turned towards his brother. "Sammy? You hearing this?"

"Every sappy word." Sam sat on the ground, a few feet from Dean.

Dean's smile faded as he got his first good look at Sam. His brother was pale, with blood caked across his forehead and temple and all down his right arm. Like Dean, he sat on the ground, his left leg bent, his right leg stuck out awkwardly. "Dude, you're a mess."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Pot-kettle, Dean."

"Whatever." He hauled himself closer to Sam. "I can see, Sammy."

Sam smiled tiredly. "Yeah. It's good, huh?" He shook his head. "The things we take for granted."

Dean's face crumpled with concern. "Just hang in there, okay? Me and Bobby, we'll destroy some of these sigils, get Cas down here. He can-"

"Dean, no." Sam shook his head. "He's an angel, not a paramedic. I'm not on death's door here, I'm just a little banged up. We'll take care of this ourselves."

Dean didn't look convinced.

Bobby stood over the two of them. "I checked out Sam's leg. It ain't broken, but he's not up for a trek back to the car. You stay with him, I'll bring the car here."

"Sounds like a plan." Dean nodded his thanks, and Bobby headed off toward the gravel logging road that led into the clearing.

Sam glanced around the deserted camp. "Serena said something about casting a power of suggestion spell. That's what got all the gypsies to leave, right?"

Dean shrugged. "Think so. Why?"

Sam nodded toward the one remaining trailer. "Why's that one still here?"

Dean frowned as he studied the old Coldstream. "Good question." He pushed himself to his feet with a groan, his back loudly reminding him of his recent collision with the tree, and picked up his gun. "I'll go check it out."

"Help me up." Sam held up his hand. "I'm coming with."

"Dude, no." Dean shook his head. "Stay put. You-"

But Sam was already struggling to get himself to his feet.

Dean tucked his gun in the waistband of his jeans and moved in to help, pulling Sam's arm across his shoulders. "You're a stubborn son of a bitch."

Sam grinned. "Had a good teacher."

"Whatever." Dean wrapped his arm around Sam's waist and they began limping toward the trailer.

They approached in silence. Dean peeked through the windows as they moved toward the door but, thanks to tinting, he could see nothing inside. At the door, he let go of Sam, leaving him leaning against the trailer, and pulled out his gun. He shrugged in response to Sam's questioning look, yanked open the door and charged inside, weapon raised.

Dean looked to his left, then his right. Staring into the main section of the trailer, his eyes widened.

"What? Dean, what?" When Dean didn't answer, Sam hauled himself up the trailer steps and through the door. Following Dean's line of sight, he inhaled sharply.

Magda the gypsy sat at the small table, eyes open in an unseeing stare and her throat slit.

"Son of a…" Dean lowered his gun, moved to her side and pressed his fingers into the side of her neck in search of a pulse. He shook his head. "She's gone. Don't need two guesses to figure out who did this, but when? When they knocked us out?"

Sam frowned as he studied Magda. "Don't think so. Look at the discolouration of her skin, the way the blood's clotted." He gently lifted her arm and lowered it again. "She's coming out of rigor, not going into it, which means she's been dead more than 12 hours." He swallowed as he looked up at Dean. "She was already dead when she came to us out there."

"Damn." Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "You'd think after all these years, we'd recognize a freaking ghost when we saw one."

Sam shrugged. "There was no flicker, no popping in and out...None of the usual signs. I didn't see her leave…I was kinda focused on you."

"And I was kinda focused on hitting that tree." Dean glanced around and grabbed a dish cloth draped over the edge of the tiny sink and began wiping down anywhere they'd touched. He stopped suddenly and looked over at Sam. "Was she still there when that witch used the poppet to screw up your leg?"

Sam nodded.

"And she was there when I hit the tree – the last two times the poppets worked for Serena."

Sam raked his fingers through his hair. "Remember what she said, she could communicate with us, link us telepathically because we were connected by blood – her blood that she'd used to mark the poppets." He closed his eyes, fighting to remember the last thing she'd said to them. "She said 'I must go, it's the only way I can protect you.'" He looked over at Dean. "Her spirit stuck around to apologize for what she'd done and make sure we knew about the poppets…"

"But it was also powering those damn dolls, meaning the witches could tap into it and use them against us." Dean looked from Sam to Magda. "But when she let go, moved on, it severed the connection. That's why Heckle and Jeckle couldn't get them to work after she left the building."

He frowned. "But if her dying severed the link with the poppets, how were we still able to communicate telepathically?"

Sam shrugged. "I'm no expert in Romany magic but, if I had to guess, I'd say it was for the same reason the hex didn't die with her. It was part of a direct link between the dolls and us. I'm just glad Serena didn't toss the poppets in the fire. I hate to think – gah." He grabbed hold of the kitchen counter to save himself when his leg threatened to give way.

"Okay, that's it." Dean motioned for Sam to leave. "Let's get you outta here before you fall down."

Sam nodded, hobbling through the trailer and pushing open the door, before moving slowly down the steps. He squinted against the setting sun, which hit him full face through a dip in the treeline, and stumbled on the last step, saving himself only with a frantic grab for the door.

"Sammy?"

Sam exhaled slowly, carefully balancing himself on his good leg. "M'okay."

"Okay my ass. You're like freaking Bambi on ice." Dean took one last glance around, then followed Sam out, wiping down the inside of the door before slamming it shut. He ran the cloth over the outer handle, then turned toward Sam, shaking his head when he caught Sam's grin. "Don't give me crap about how I know about Bambi. You're the one who made me watch all those Disney movies when you were a kid."

"Made you, huh?" Sam's grin widened as he pointed a finger at Dean's shirt. "But it's not that. You're, um, sparkling."

Dean looked down. Coming down the steps, his jacket had blown open, exposing the mirrored buttons on his shirt, which now reflected the setting sun. "Oh, that is just…wrong." He grabbed the tail of his shirt and moved to yank off a button.

"Dean, don't."

Dean scowled at Sam. "Why the hell not?"

Sam shrugged. "You pull them off, there's a bigger chance of losing them before we get outta here. This is a murder scene. We don't wanna be leaving evidence behind."

Sam had a point. "Fine." Dean jabbed a finger at his brother. "But, back at the motel, you're pulling them off and sewing the real ones back on."

Sam shook his head. "No way. Bobby and me sewed them on cause you couldn't see. Next round is yours."

"I don't think so." Dean pulled Sam's arm over his shoulders and wrapped an arm around his waist to support him on the walk back to the clearing. "I sew skin, not buttons."

Sam just grinned as they limped away from the trailer. "Fine, then. Keep right on sparkling."

"Screw that, Sammy." Dean smiled when heard the distinctive rumble of the Impala's engine, as the Chevy turned off the road and drove towards them. "Twilight douchebags sparkle. Dean Winchester doesn't."

Finis

A/N: Thanks so much for reading. I'd love to hear what you think. Feedback from readers is better than cookies, and a lot better for you! Until next time, cheers!