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Arch One: Goggles
Chapter Ten: Monstrous
The cot was hard. The springs practically poked through the fabric. The fan's rattle was a constant irritation. Bobby had poor taste in décor. And the iron stink was so bad Nadine could hardly breathe without retching. All of a sudden, the panic room didn't seem like such a great idea anymore. The iron was stifling. She couldn't breathe, could barely think. Her stomach writhed and coiled, folding and twisting itself into knots as the metal sapped her appetite.
She'd been there for three days, ever since the Mother of All carved the summoning symbol into her face. The scrapes were still red and raw, impervious to all magic and only saved from infection by the tender ministrations of Bobby Singer and his whiskey. The boys left the door open, but if wasn't like any of the air around Bobby's place was particularly fresh, and Nadine struggled against the overwhelming sensation of suffocation every time she took a breath. She couldn't stay there much longer, Hunt or no Hunt. She just couldn't.
But what else was there to do? Leaving was always an option. Maybe it was time she got smart and moved on.
The plan was to keep Nadine in the iron cell, where other fey would have trouble smelling her out or reaching her. They had time. It was another month until Beltaine. The Hunt would only be released on that one night. If she could let the trail grow cold, stay locked in an iron prison for thirty odd days, it was always possible they wouldn't sniff her out. Possible, but highly unlikely.
The Hunt were the oldest of the old, second in power only to the Morrigan. All those years, all that power – she might as well pull a blanket over her head and pray the boogie man didn't find her. The panic room wouldn't do shit once the Hunt was released. It would probably keep other fey away until then, but once Beltaine rolled around, well, then Bobby Singer's old house would see a battle like it had never seen before. There would be collateral damage. Dean. Sam. Bobby. They would be hurt, likely even killed for standing in the way of the Hunt. If the angels intervened they might stand a chance, but Nadine wasn't even sure a lone angel could hold back the wrath of the Courts' mightiest warriors. And Castiel had his hands full already…
She'd explained the basics to the boys when they returned to Bobby's, after Sam and Bobby had voiced their doubts about Cas, after she and Dean defended him. After that little show-down, she'd only had the presence of mind to share the simplest of explanations: if the Morrigan were the Fey judge and jury, the Hunt were the posse sent to bring in the criminals. The hunt were all Lords and Ladies, all noble, all filled with the power only thousands of years practicing magic could bestow. On Beltaine, they would break through the veil between worlds and track down changelings and wrong-doers, leveling anything that dared stand in their path.
She shuddered as her magic fluxed. A shiver wracked through her, and with an almighty pop, her glamour failed. She groaned and buried her head in her arms, hiding behind her knees. Really, enough was enough. This wouldn't work, and she was doing nothing but weakening herself by remaining in the panic room.
The only question was what to do once she left it.
Footsteps on the creaky stairs alerted her to approaching guests, and she tried to pull herself even lower behind her legs. This was just what she needed. A peep show.
Step up, my boy, step right on up and see the monster in all her gruesome glory! What horrors! How bizarre! That's right, my boy, step up!
"Goggles," Dean said. "How y'doin'?"
"Fine," she said, still folded up like a bad piece of origami. "Just fine. Go away now, please?"
"Why?" His tone carried all the questions he didn't bother putting into words: You sure? You okay? When did you get into yoga?
"Peachy. Ta-ta, now."
"Hey." He stepped into the room, and Nadine counted the quiet reports of shoes kissing floor until they stopped, and she knew if she reached out she'd be able to touch him. "What's wrong?"
"Seriously. Just go away, alright?"
"Goggles, look at me."
Petulantly, she pulled her knees even closer. "No."
Dean scoffed, exasperated. "Why not?"
"Because I didn't put on make-up this morning. Now scoot, Winchester."
"No," he said, copying her childish tone.
"One of us needs to be a grown-up," she reminded him.
"Nah, that's what Sam's for. Now look at me, damnit."
"Will you go away if I do?"
"Promise not to scream?"
This was another bad idea, but Dean was going to win this fight, and Nadine was almost too tired to care. Almost. With grudging lethargy, she unwound herself and glared at the hunter over the tops of her knees. Dean started and took an unintentional step back, and Nadine abandoned all defense and just sat up, letting him stare at her true fey form. She'd spent enough time glaring into a mirror to know what he saw. Thin and big eyed like some novelty child's doll, her figure defied the basic precepts of human anatomy. Deep teal vines wound in convoluted patterns over her skin. Colorless eyes. The complexion of a corpse. And scars – scars from every doorknob, hinge, chair, faucet or toy that had ever burned her. He'd seen the Lady before they killed her, but not well. This was his first proper eyeful of fey physiology.
She met his stare with her fiercest scowl. "Done gawking?"
"Y-yeah." He seemed taken aback, clearly surprised. Nadine wasn't sure whether or not that pleased her. She wanted to get back at him for forcing her to reveal herself; she wanted to use her appearance for its full shock value. But on the other hand, there was the reason she hadn't wanted to reveal herself – the distanced look of a hunter that was rising in his eyes. Dean, for all his qualities, was a little stuck on the obvious. When she wasn't obviously a monster, it was easy to pretend she wasn't one. But when she looked like this… well, that was another matter entirely.
Shooting a quick nod her direction, he backed away until he reached the door, where he finally dared to turn his back and leave. He didn't try to be obvious about it, but her appearance had triggered his hunting reflexes, and a hunter never turned his back on a monster.
Once he was gone, Nadine flopped back on the cot and stared at the fan. He wouldn't have to worry about having his back to the monster for long. It was time the monster turned her back on him.
She gave him a few hours to settle down and share or not share his experience as he saw fit before she emerged from the basement. By then she'd regained control of her magic well enough to assume her usual appearance. Upstairs, Sam and Bobby were bent over their books. Dean was grabbing a beer from the fridge. At her sudden appearance, Sam blinked, frowned, and asked, "Uh, Nadine? Why aren't you in the panic room?"
She strolled idly to his side, peeking down at the old text he was studying. Old lore gathered about the Hunt from Scotland. A glance to the side confirmed that Bobby was working on the same subject, only from Scandinavian sources. She tried to ignore the way Dean tensed as she approached his brother. He tried to shake it off with a long drink of his beer, but Nadine had seen the defensive stance he'd assumed, even momentarily, and it strengthened her conviction.
"It was too stuffy down there," she sniffed. "I need some fresh air."
"Can't imagine why," Bobby said, voice dripping with sarcasm. "You alright?"
That question got redundant after a while, especially when no one who asked could actually fix anything. "I'm great. Just queasy, grumpy, and dizzy."
"The other four dwarves still on their way?" Bobby asked.
Nadine grimaced at him. "You think you're so cute."
"It's the beard."
Dean cleared his throat, rubbing his fingers along the edge of his beer's label. "Not to rush you or anything, but wasn't there a reason you were staying down there?"
"Yeah." She straightened, looking him dead in the eye. "But no amount of iron will shield me from the Hunt, and leaving me to steam in there for a month will reduce me to the efficacy level of an amoeba. All in all," she shrugged, "we're better off with me fighting fit, right?"
Dean made a noncommittal sound and looked away, leaving Sam to pick up the reins of the conversation.
"Well," he said, trying to sort out a plan as he spoke, "we can't camp here if you're not hidden."
"Sure ya can," Bobby said. "I haven't redecorated the pantry."
"What I mean," Sam said, "is that we'll be bringing a lot of fights to your door, and that will just wear everyone down."
"So we hit the road," Dean surmised.
"Yeah," said Sam. "I think it's best we keep moving." His eyes tracked up to Nadine. "What do you think?"
She smiled. "That's just what I was going to suggest. The best way to stay out of trouble is to not be there when it arrives. If we're moving, the nasty beasties should all follow us, and we should be able to outrun most of them easy."
"Most?" Dean asked.
"Well, not the Hunt, obviously," Nadine said, lifting her eyebrows. "And there's always a monster that runs faster than I do. Why do you think I have my bow? Or that sword? It's not for opening letters."
Snapping his book closed, Sam pressed his hands flat on the table and rose, letting the stiff muscles have their say as he gradually straightened his spine. "That's settled, then – Where we going?"
"I've got a list," Bobby said, clearly not pleased with the idea. "A bunch of hunts I was saving for you. Low key stuff I didn't need to assign right off the bat. Thought you could handle them after Nadine was in the clear. But…" he held up the list, "might as well kill two birds with one stone, right?"
It took less than an hour to get packed up and settled in the Impala. Nadine cracked a window open as they pulled away from Bobby's, letting the refreshing gusts of air blow over her face. There was no way she could've survived in the panic room for another month. She simply wouldn't have made it. It had been stupid to try. But now, at least, the boys might have some closure when she left: they'd done their best, tried to keep her safe and tucked away, but she chose to leave them. No need for them to understand how dire the situation really was.
Or the fact that she was going to die.
She'd just slip away when the opportunity arose, and Dean would insist that he'd seen it coming, and that all this was for the best. Goggles didn't make good pets, anyway.
She snatched her backpack from where it sat on the floorboard and began a hasty search. Not in the front pockets. Not in the side ones, either. Not in the main cargo spaces. With an oath, she dropped the pack back on the floor. "Shit."
Dean twitched a glance at her through the rearview mirror. "Something wrong?"
"No, nothing," she said, folding her arms over her chest and glaring out the window. "Just left my goggles back at Bobby's."
"Should we turn around?" Sam asked. "You might need those."
"No. No, it's fine."
They let it drop, and Nadine pretended to count the trees as they sped away from the old house in the junkyard.
They reached the first town on their list just as evening set in. Dean chose the crappiest motel in town, and they got a pair of rooms – one for the boys, one for Nadine. It cost more, but it made the world just a little less awkward, and that was all that mattered in Nadine's book. Besides, it was unlikely Dean would ever fall asleep with her in the room, not after the little peep show in the basement.
Nadine tossed her backpack on her bed and scrubbed her face with some lukewarm tap water. The iron felt like it had joined with her skin – an invisible layer, like sweat, that irritated her even through her clothes. Maybe it was all in her head. Regardless, a shower would go a long way towards making her feel coherent again.
But there was no time for that.
She delayed as long as she could, splashing more water on her face and arranging her weapons next to her bag on the bed, but soon she was out of excuses, and she stepped next door to the Winchester's room. They'd left their door open, and as she lifted her hand to knock and announce her presence, she noticed their voices carried through to the parking lot where she stood. She froze, intent on their conversation. They were discussing her.
"...can you think she's up to any of this?"
For a moment she hesitated, balancing on the thin line between doubt and action. But she was curious, and foolhardy, and – honestly – she was looking for an excuse to leave, and hearing what they really thought about her might just give her that little push out the door she needed. Before she could over-think the situation, she turned invisible and crept through the open doorway.
Dean shrugged in answer to his brother's question. "She said she was alright."
"Just look at her, Dean," Sam hissed, trying to keep his voice down, coaxing his brother to do the same. "Does she look alright to you?"
"So what, Sam?" Dean demanded, leaning forward in his chair. "She's not a kid. And she's not family."
The look Sam gave him would have put the pope to shame. It was Sam's know-it-all look – his judgy know it all look – and Dean clearly had to fight the urge to smack it off his face. "Cas wasn't family, either. Not at first."
Slowly, making sure each word had time to sink in, Dean said, "She is not Cas."
"But she could…"
"And Bobby could win the lottery and move to a sunnier climate with an underwear model," Dean said. "Or we could get lucky for a change. That would be nice, wouldn't it?"
"What is with you, Dean?" Sam scrutinized his brother, flabbergasted by his sudden animosity for their unconventional colleague. "Did something happen?"
"No." Dean stared sullenly at the wall. "Nothing happened."
That was enough. Nadine stepped back to the door and let her invisibility fall away. She knocked and sauntered in without awaiting permission, cool and casual as could be. "We ready to make some plans?"
Sam cleared his throat. His eyes flickered to Dean. "Yeah. Sure." His voice had the husky edge it always did when he came out of an emotional stand-off. For a man whose work was based on lies, he had a rotten poker face.
For a few minutes, Dean just stared at the wall, so Nadine ignored him in favor of Sam, whose bed she plonked down on as they began.
"So, what are we going after? Ghost? Vampires? Ghouls?" She crossed her legs and rested her hands on her knee, all too aware of how short the hem of her dress was.
"Ghosts, actually," Sam rushed to say, trying to fill the void his brother left in the conversation. "Well, ghost. Just someone lingering around a nursing home. Nothing bad, not a vengeful spirit or anything, but there's always the chance that they'll degenerate, and…"
"Yeah, yeah, I got it." Nadine brushed the rest of his explanation away. "So, no boogie monsters or alligators in the sewer? I'm almost disappointed."
Sam offered a tentative smile. "I think Bobby was worried about you – about how much you could handle right off the bat. And I have to say I agree with him. It looks like your time in the panic room really did a number on you."
"Meh." She shrugged. "No big deal. I've been hunting monsters for an awfully long time, you know. A few aches and pains aren't too much trouble."
Dean, finally breaking off his staring contest with the wall, snorted. "Figures. Monster in the closet? You already know him; you're the monster under the bed."
Sam reeled under his brother's assault, as if he'd been the intended target. Almost gasping, he muttered, "Dean."
Still seated on the bed, Nadine let herself freeze into the perfect ice sculpture. The words burned hot as iron, but she'd seen them coming, and she gave herself a little pat on the back for learning to read Dean so well. But the sting was still there, and she dropped her instinct to preserve their relationship, allowing her own brand of venom to spring to her lips. It was hard to suppress the urge to play off the injury with a joke, but there was enough of an ache in her chest to forge some wicked comebacks. This would be an ugly fight, but it would serve her purposes. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, right?
"Well, Shamu, at least I'm not a hypocritical asshat who drives a rust bucket with a salvage title."
"Leave. My car. Out of this," Dean said, turning his full attention on her.
"Alright, fine." Nadine rolled her shoulders and smiled, almost flirting as she bounced her foot. "Let's talk about you, Dean. The skin-deep hero with devotion as shallow as the topsoil in the Rockies. You just love giving people what-for, but what actually gives you the right to dispense judgment from on high?"
Now Sam was gawking at her, and Dean was practically steaming.
She raised her eyebrows. "That wasn't a rhetorical question, you know."
Dean lifted his chin and flared his nostrils, gladly accepting the excuse to escalate the fight. Helpless to intervene, Sam sat between the two, eyes darting between opponents.
"You know what?" he asked. "I've bled too much, lost too much, seen too much to have to justify myself to some freaky little Adams Family reject like you."
Nadine cocked her head and amped up the irony. "So you don't actually have a reason. Or is your reason that you've had a bad time with life? That is a shitty reason."
"What do you know?"
Nadine lifted her hands in an open-armed shrug. "I know I've bled, too. I've lost people. I've seen stuff. Just because I got my picture taken with the world's biggest ball of yarn doesn't mean a thing, though. This is about more than whose boo-boos are bigger." Dean rolled his eyes, and Nadine let her tone grow vicious. "You're like a child – some baby howling in the night because Daddy didn't kiss him goodnight."
"You watch your mouth," he roared.
"Sure! Once you man up and put on your big boy pants."
He actually took a step forward, ready to escalate the quarrel to a physical level, and he probably would have if Sam hadn't intervened, grabbing his brother by the shoulders. "Dean! Calm down." He glanced over his shoulder at Nadine, utterly bewildered. "What the hell is going on with you two?"
Nadine tapped her foot, egging Dean on with the repetitious noise. "Big bro' had a revelation, but it wasn't particularly enlightening," she said.
Still fixated on her, Dean snarled, "Get out."
She rose, dropped a curtsey, and turned towards the door. Her work was done. She had no desire to continue this fight. "With pleasure."
Her room was just as she left it – her pack and her weapons all arrayed and ready. She perched on the bed and dug out her oiling supplies, allowing herself a brief reprieve from the drama to clean her sword. It was a very simple weapon, one of her earlier creations, but it had a good sharp bite. And it was wrapped in enough enchantments to kill half the things they hunted with one careful swing. Dabbing some oil on a cloth, she set to work. Under her careful ministrations, the dust and dirt was banished, leaving behind a beautiful, gleaming blade. The rumble of the Impala informed her when the boys left to do the job without her, but she kept to her task and resisted the urge to peek out the window.
Once she was finished, she took that shower she'd been fantasizing about. Then she fell into bed beside her gear. It might be a while before she could rest in an actual bed again. Might as well enjoy it while she could.
The Impala returned at around two in the morning, jarring her from her dreams just long enough for her to acknowledge the Winchesters' arrival. When she opened her eyes again, it was almost eight. Usually the boys didn't wait this long before loading up again. Lucky for her, they seemed as reluctant as she was to get back in the car together. Maybe they were even debating whether or not to leave her behind.
No point letting the poor things agonize over the decision.
Nadine could almost taste the crunchy zripp as she closed up her backpack, the last item packed away, all ready for the road. This was how things were meant to be. Nadine plus her backpack, minus compromising alliances. This was right. She was doing the correct thing, and she only wished she'd had the presence of mind to do it earlier. She could've spared them so much pain. She could've saved herself so much doubt.
Of course she had to die. And she didn't need to raise the death toll by linking arms with the Hardy Boys.
She was just passing Sam and Dean's room when their door opened and Dean slipped out to check on his baby. It was bad timing, but Nadine stuck to the plan, keeping her eyes on the road ahead.
"Hey," Dean said. It wasn't his usual angry 'hey,' the one that was usually followed by his favorite explicative of the week. This was the awkward 'hey,' the one that meant he was entering into an area he wasn't entirely comfortable going – an area like touchy-feely emotional stuff. Because nothing scared a Winchester like the touchy-feelies. And that could only mean one thing…
No. Oh, hell no. He wasn't supposed to forgive her. Not that fast. Not now. Preferably not until she was dead, gone, and a vaguely bittersweet memory. Like a Sweettart. This was not how it was supposed to go down. She picked up the pace and refused to look back at him.
"Hey." It was more assertive this time, maybe even a little angry.
Forgive her, huh? Well, she'd just have to ignore him back into hating her again.
But it finally dawned on him that Nadine was armed with her backpack and was headed, fully packed, away from her hotel room without so much as a by-your-leave. From there, it wasn't hard to string the pieces together. The first shades of anger died from his voice, replaced by the slightest hint of panic. "Nadine. Stop!"
Still refusing to look at him, Nadine dropped her head and barreled forward. She could hear his heavy feet pound the pavement as he launched himself after her. With those long strides of his, it wouldn't take him long to catch up, so Nadine did what she did best: she disappeared. Dean swore and ran faster, but Nadine just skipped to the side and watched him fumble around, waving his arms like a looney, trying to grab what he couldn't see.
"Nadine! Cut it out. I mean it!" he shouted. "I know you can hear me. Stop being a bitch and face me like a big girl, alright?" When his goading garnered no response, he let his flailing limbs fall slack, but he kept turning in circles, peering around, hoping that she'd just turn up behind him. He'd spent way too much time in the company of angels. "Look, I was stupid, okay? I was mad and I was stupid. You happy? What I said was, I mean… Damn it! C'mon. I'm sorry, okay? Just get the hell back here. You can't… Come on, Goggles!"
She backed into the shade of the overhang, only a few yards away from the hunter. Her eyes drifted closed. See no evil, hear no evil.
Dean spent several more minutes groping around empty space, hoping to find an invisible friend, but soon enough he realized his efforts were in vain, and he cast his eyes toward the road. He raked his fingers back through the air as a muscle in his jaw twitched. "Shit." He sprinted inside, presumably to find Sam and get his posse on the road.
Nadine considered where they might think she'd go. Wherever that was, she didn't want to be there. It might be best to stay and watch which way they drove off, but she didn't know how much longer her determination could hold out, so she took the opportunity to cross the empty street and wind her way through the town's few alleys towards the woods to the north.
They'd never find her. She would never see them again. And that was the way it was supposed to be.
A/N: I was thinking, "Oh, I can just keep going on, because cliffies are for jerks." Then I thought, "Meh, leave 'em dangling from the cliff." Maybe I'll scare some reviews out of you. There's a Doctor Who meme going around of 10 saying "You like it." I know it's not cool to like ocs in this fandom, but clearly you do, because a bunch of you favorited/added me to your alert lists (thanks by the way!), but no one else will find this fic if the review count stays so low. You may pretend to be cool, but... "You like it." So share the love, my friends, share the love.
The good news is that I have a significant chunk of the next chapter written. The bad news is that I'm going on vacation the first part of next week, and will spend the second part of the week atoning for that fact at work. REVIEWS HELP. Seriously. A big thanks to the three reviewers for the last chapter!