Title: Into The Woods
Summary: AU: Dean and Sam take their families on a relaxing camping trip for the first annual Winchester family vacation. Not long after arriving, the angels show up on a team building exercise. Relaxing isn't quite the word for the weekend from then on. 4th in the 'Lost and Found' series.
Disclaimer: Supernatural was created by Eric Kripke. No disrespect is meant with this work of fan fiction.
Notes: To my US readers: Happy Thanksgiving this week!
Sam woke at dawn, relieved in a second to realize he was back in his own body. He had a crick in his neck from falling asleep in the folding chair and his left foot was so asleep that he couldn't tell it was there until he moved it and it started tingling. The tingle escalated into pain and he gritted his teeth. Raising his right hand, he rubbed at his neck, attempting to relieve the crick.
"Hey." Gwen came from the path to the pee pit, looking positively chipper. More so than she usually did in the morning. She came to him and brushed his hand aside. "Let me."
He relaxed against her touch. "You look better this morning."
"I feel better." She kept her voice low. "You fell asleep right before the switch. It was a bizarre sensation, like I zoomed out of your body, was in the air a few seconds, then dove back into my own. Had no trouble falling asleep after that. You didn't even wake up."
"Your body crashed last night."
"The Pamprin does that." She worked on his neck for a few minutes, Sam pondering her mood and the previous evening.
As she stepped away, with a last caress to the back of his neck, it was like a light bulb flickered on in Sam's head, the pieces of Gwen's expressions and attitude fitting together. He hadn't seen just discomfort, he'd seen real fear that she'd tried and almost succeeded in hiding. "You're afraid of the whole gender soul switch thing. It's not anything like snakes, flying, or clowns that gets to you. It's that, what we went through last night, isn't it? You're afraid of something that rarely happens to most people."
She swallowed hard and pulled her jacket tighter around herself, stepping around to where he could see her face. Gwen cast a glance at Dean and Jo's tent. "Keep your voice down. Don't tell Dean, okay?"
"Gwen, the odds of that ever happening again, even to us -"
"I know, but you've had a soul switch spell happen twice."
"The first wasn't a gender soul switch spell, it was a simple soul switch."
"Simple? Yeah. Still a switch. I also know that it doesn't really happen often and probably wouldn't have happened if we hadn't come camping. Fears like this are completely irrational and I know that. I understand it. I do, but it still terrifies me. See, when I was about five, Christian -"
He snorted. "Enough said." Christian had alternately been Gwen's favorite relative and her most hated over the years. They'd had quite the love-hate relationship that had largely depended on how much of an ass he was being at one time. His normal mode was 'ass'.
"He was supposed to tell me bedtime stories while mom and dad were busy working on a case file and he hated to, so he kept telling me this story about an annoying little girl who woke up as a boy. He told it like a horror story, made it terrible. It was obvious even then at that age that the annoying little girl in his story was supposed to be me. I had nightmares for weeks that I woke up as a boy. I know now he was just mad that he wasn't allowed to help with whatever the case was, but Sam, he was mean. He had me terrified and for awhile, every time I did anything faintly tomboyish, he'd look me over and tell me it was happening. Dad finally stepped in and Christian got in trouble when they figured out he'd been telling me horror stories as bedtime stories."
"No wonder Dean couldn't ever figure out what you were afraid of." He'd done the rounds of various practical jokes to determine her fear, too. In the process, he'd managed to make both Sam and Jo mad at him by incorporating both clowns and snakes into his pranks. "You're a complicated woman, Gwen."
"I guess I am. You won't say anything?"
"No. Let him think Supergirl isn't afraid of anything."
"Thanks." She reached for the container of coffee. "I'll get the coffee going."
In the tent, Dean laid still, Jo cradled against him, her head on his chest. They'd fallen asleep that way the night before and he'd found them still in that position upon waking. Raising his head, he pressed a kiss to the top of her head and listened to Sam and Gwen's quiet conversation outside.
So Gwen was afraid of exactly what had happened and Christian was at the root of it. Dean sighed. That Christian had done that to Gwen saddened him. Occasionally, he still wished he could strangle the man.
Jo stirred, shifting against him, her hand sliding across his chest. She made a little moan and said, "I'm a girl again," in a voice husky from sleep.
"I see that," he said back at her, sliding the fingers of one hand across her cheek as she looked up at him. "About Gwen," he started, then stopped. If she wanted Jo to know, she'd tell her, not to mention he wasn't supposed to know. Both Sam and Gwen thought they were asleep.
Right then, Dean decided to keep it to himself. If there ever came a point where they all needed to be aware of her fear for safety, he'd encourage her to admit it. It was okay with him if Supergirl pretended she had no fears.
Jo raised up onto her elbow. "What about her?"
"Nothing really. Just wondering if you think she's okay this morning. She didn't really take to being Sam."
"A shame, too. I kind of liked being you for a few hours. I'd have thought she'd be curious what Sam can do." She sat up completely. "Still, I'm glad to be myself again."
"Me, too. What's say we get up, freshen up, have some breakfast, and start breaking camp?"
"Count me in."
Dean emerged from the tent to find Gwen pouring coffee and the skunk curled up at Sam's feet. "You okay today," he asked Gwen.
"Just peachy," she replied, holding a cup out to him.
He took the cup and studied her a moment, then gestured towards Sam. "Why don't you let me get breakfast?"
"It's my turn."
"Screw the turns. Go relax."
She was suspicious, he could see it from her half frown, but took her own coffee over to the chair beside Sam and sat. "You want to cook again, I'll let you."
He got started.
"You're a complicated female, Atropos." Balthazar carefully appeared so only Atropos could see him and not the woman she was preparing to create an accident for. He'd been hesitant to follow advice from Dean and Sam, but since it actually made some sort of sense, he'd decided to try it a little.
She didn't even glance his way. "You're just now figuring that out? You are a genius." Striding across the small room, she checked her clipboard, pursed her lips, and moved a small knife. "Why are you here?"
"I've said before that I love to watch you work." It was true. He enjoyed seeing how focused she was on her particular task, a take-charge female. She moved several other items, making it very easy for the witch to turn, slip, trip, seem to catch herself and fall, taking down the bookshelves she kept her tools and references on, including several deadly objects that would ultimately be her death. Imagination and brains, that was his Atropos. He really did enjoy this.
"There." She stepped back. "Stay back and…watch."
Time resumed it's march forward. The woman completed her task at the table and then the scene played out exactly as Atropos had planned it, ending in a bloody and thoroughly gruesome death.
Atropos smiled and turned to face him. "There. Now, what was it you really wanted?"
"You have time?"
"I'll make time if it's important. Is it important?" Her brows rose.
He almost chickened out, then had the image in his thoughts of Dean and Sam smirking, then Jo, Gwen, Castiel, Abigael, and even Uzziel and Jael smirking at him as well. That image morphed into the entirety of heaven itself smirking at him, including Death. "Yes, I believe it is. It's about…us."
"What about us?" Her voice was cautious and she crossed her arms.
His vessel's heart beat fast. A sign of nervousness? Of fear? "Atropos, I can't imagine not being with you. You fascinate me and I'm not sure if my feelings are love or not. I merely know that I don't want you to ever change being who and what you are. I want you like this."
"You flirted with a nymph."
"I flirt with everyone and nymphs flirt with everyone as well. She was flirting with you as I recall. As for me, ask Castiel. I always have flirted. It's how I am. You knew that."
"Yes, I did, but even Dean Winchester knew when to change that part of himself."
"He still flirts." Yet there was a difference in it now, as Jo had made clear. Dean kept his serious efforts for Jo only.
"But he made sure his wife was secure in their relationship and that she remains secure. You don't do that, Balthazar. You make me feel insecure and I don't like that."
"How can I fix that? Tell me. What can I do to make you feel secure?" He stepped closer to her, studying her face. He found that he wanted to give her the security in their relationship that she was craving.
"Stop flirting with nymphs would be a good start."
"Done. I'll restrain myself."
One brow raised. "Balthazar."
"I'll attempt to restrain myself," he amended. "If Dean Winchester can do it, surely I can. I am an angel after all." His smile was tentative as he waited for her reply.
She was silent for several minutes, her scrutiny almost enough to make him squirm. "It's a start. Let's go have coffee and talk some more."
It turned out that taking advice from Sam and Dean Winchester could be a good idea after all. Who knew?
Sam watched Jo pet the skunk. Ever since she'd gotten up, she'd been paying close attention to it.
"Do you think Atropos was pulling Castiel's leg," she asked. "I mean, it seems strange to curse a rival to be a skunk of all things." She gently scratched under it's chin. The skunk laid it's chin in her palm. "Why a skunk?"
"It's not really strange." Sam thought about it a second. "Lore is full of stories like that. The Greek, Roman, and Norse gods were always turning people into animals for one reason or another. I'm sure if you cornered Heather she could find a spell for it pretty easily. In fact -"
The air beside Jo shimmered and where there had been a skunk a second earlier was a naked woman with her chin still on Jo's hand.
Gwen spit coffee out and Dean paused in eating his breakfast.
The woman was young, perhaps in her twenties, with long dark hair and pale skin. She gasped in a breath, opened her eyes, and stared at all of them. "C-c-cold…." she whispered.
Gwen was the first to move, taking off her jacket and draping it around the woman. Sam went into their tent, returning with a blanket that Jo and Gwen wrapped around her.
"I guess the answer is 'no'. Atropos wasn't pulling Castiel's leg." Dean set his plate aside. "Welcome back to the human world. I think you're free to go home now."
"Did she stop the spell? Did the witch end it?" The girl pulled the blanket tighter to her. "What happened?"
"We're not sure," Jo replied. "Gwen, she looks about your size. Do you have anything she could wear?"
"I'll look. I might have a pair of clean sweats and t-shirt still." She went into the tent.
"Either the spell was removed by the witch herself or…." Sam leaned forward in his chair, very glad that Atropos hadn't been joking. He hadn't relished the idea of trapping the skunk and starting an investigation only to potentially discover it really was a skunk.
"Or what?" The girl swallowed hard, her dark eyes going to each of them in turn. "Is Tom dead? Did she kill him?"
Dean poured a cup of coffee and handed it to her. "Or the witch died. Most witches we've met are spiteful, skeevy liars. They'd never end a spell just because the person they were fighting over died. I'm betting Tom is fine. I'm Dean, by the way. That's Sam," he pointed, "Jo, and Gwen's the one finding you clothes."
"Evelyn. Evelyn Carson."
"We'll get you some food, clothes, and take you into town." He began to dish up food for her.
"How much do you remember from being a skunk," Sam asked. He found it interesting that she didn't ask how they knew about witches.
Evelyn sipped at the cup. "Images, mostly. Scents. Fear. A little boy talking to me in a kind voice." She smiled. "He was very sweet. Comforting."
"Could you understand him?" Jo adjusted the blanket around Evelyn.
"Yes. I could understand all of you. I was human underneath it."
"Of course," Sam soothed. The question of why she didn't ask how they knew about witches was answered then. "Sorry for that question. We don't have much experience in people who've been be-spelled to be animals."
"It's okay. You can't imagine what it's like to be trapped inside a small animal. Especially a skunk of all things. People have a tendency to scream and throw things at you."
She lapsed into silence and Gwen opened the tent flap.
"I set some clothes out on the sleeping bag."
An hour later, when Evelyn felt strong enough to travel, Gwen and Sam took her into town. It turned out that she hadn't strayed far from the town she'd lived in, staying close by in the woods. They dropped her off at the police station, Gwen rolling down the window on the passenger side.
"Be careful, Evelyn. Might not be the same world you left."
"I know. A year is a long time for anyone. I'm just glad to be human again." Evelyn pressed her hands to the door. "Thank you. I can't say it enough. Are you sure you won't come in with me?"
"Probably best we don't," Sam told her.
With a nod, she moved towards the building. She'd told them of her plan to say she'd been kidnapped, claim she didn't know why or where she'd been held for the past year, and say she'd been blindfolded and tied, then driven out to the woods and released. No way was she going to mention witches and magic.
"Think she'll be able to pick up the pieces," Gwen asked as Sam pulled out of the parking lot and onto the street.
"Make a note of the town. We'll check the papers and internet this week, see what turns up, what the story was." He'd been surprised once to find out that Ellen did that regularly. She'd do a check after the fact to see what the media had to say about the fallout from cases. Sometimes it was good, sometimes bad. "I'm sort of glad we didn't have to do anything with this one."
"Witches are definitely not our favorite things."
Understatement of the year.
From above, Castiel observed the Winchester family taking care of the skunk turned woman and was relieved to note that Atropos had not, in fact, been playing any sort of tasteless prank. He waited until all were back at the camp before he reappeared.
"Good morning. You're all back where you belong." He looked at Dean and before he could ask, said, "The baby is still in perfect health. Your time as Jo didn't hurt the…child." Once more, he had to fumble not to give the sex away. At the rate he was going, he was going to be the one to spoil that for them before the birth.
Jo patted her stomach with a small amused grin. "And I'm having no morning sickness."
"Yes. That's good news, Jo."
"Hell yeah it is," Dean said. "Hey, can I ask you something, Cas?"
"Yes, of course."
"How did Jack know? About the woman in the skunk, I mean."
Castiel frowned, studying first Dean, then Jo. "You don't know?"
"Know what," Jo asked.
"It wasn't that he knew the skunk was a woman. He felt her emotional distress. Your son has the gift of empathy. He is able to identify with what others are feeling. The gift is currently developing and will mature fully by the time he's an adult. There will be some trial and error while he develops his gift. I'd expect him to bring many wounded animals home as he grows, along with emotionally wounded humans."
"Empathy," Dean repeated. "Are you serious?"
"Yes. Have you not noticed that he seems to know when you all need affection and care?"
Jo crossed her arms. "Well, he does always seem to know when I want a hug. And he did keep cuddling up to Gwen those three weeks she had post-partum depression. That what you mean?"
"He did," Gwen interjected. "He'd climb up with me and tell me it'd be okay. And he's always been good with Sean."
Castiel nodded. "His gift obviously extends to those who've been bewitched into animal forms as well as standard humans."
"He was pretty affectionate with the skunk woman." Sam put his hands in his pockets. "Named her and everything. Kitty Two."
He could see that Dean didn't quite believe him.
"Empathy, Cas? Really?"
"Why is that such a stretch for you to believe? You and Jo both have a touch of it yourselves. It's both a Winchester and Harvelle trait. It'll lead to him being very good with those victims of supernatural trauma. Or of any trauma. Empathy is a gift that has been disappearing from this world in the past several generations. I'd be pleased he's been given it. He'll need it in the future." Castiel took a step further into the camp.
"Awesome." Dean looked at Jo. "That's awesome, isn't it, Jo?"
"I didn't come to discuss Jack's gift however. I have a present for all of you." Castiel gestured in the air. "I've brought with me a small company of angels from the fifth battalion. You can't see them, but they're here. They're a fine group of angels and will be pleased to stand guard while you fish for a few hours and while Jo finishes her book." He leaned forward slightly. "None of them have any desire to fish or bother you. I questioned each one myself. They all could care less about fishing and reading horror novels. They'll make sure nothing else interrupts your vacation."
"You…." Dean blinked. "You brought angels to guard us so we can fish?" A tiny pleased glint began to grow in Dean's eyes.
"And so Jo can read her book. We angels interrupted your vacation and I should have told Uzziel 'no'. I apologize for that. I should know better by now that his ideas can be troublesome for others. We'll create a protective circle about all of you."
"You're making it up to us," Sam asked, brows raising and amusement playing about in his eyes.
"Yes. It's what friends do for each other." He shrugged. "We are friends. Our friendship isn't the standard human definition, but it is a friendship."
"You didn't have to -" Gwen started, but Dean interrupted her, already heading for the fishing supplies.
"Yes, he did. You're awesome, Cas. Grab your gear, let's go. Jo, enjoy your book."
In minutes, Castiel was standing alone in the camp beside Jo. Well, not alone really. He could see the members of the company who'd been assigned to stay with Jo were amused by this. Jo couldn't see them, or their grins. "I hope your book is good."
Jo raised a hand and patted his back with it. "Thank you. This was a nice gesture."
"I feel responsible for Uzziel's idea since I did have the opportunity to nip it in the bud and didn't."
"Well, I suppose I should go read while I can."
He watched Jo go into the tent, gave a few final orders to the angels staying with her, then smiled to himself and went to watch Dean, Sam, and Gwen fish.